People give samples for coronavirus at an Indo-Tibetan Border Police quarantine unit
- Health Minister Harsh Vardhan briefs members of Rajya Sabha
- 29 people in India are infected by the Novel Coronavirus
- An employee of payments firm Paytm has tested positive
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan today briefed members of the Rajya Sabha on the steps taken by India to control the outbreak of the highly contagious Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19. Twenty-nine people in India are infected by the virus, which was first detected at a seafood market in China's Wuhan in December last year.
"We're confronted with new challenges… We have started a containment facility in Agra," the Health Minister said. "We are particularly concerned about Indian pilgrims and students stranded in Iran (where the coronavirus cases are high). The Indian government is following up with Iran on their condition," Harsh Vardhan said.
An employee of payments firm Paytm has tested positive for the coronavirus, pushing the e-wallet company to shut its Gurgaon office for two days.
The figures took a leap after a group of 15 Italian tourists tested positive for the disease in the last two days. An Indian driver, who was travelling with them, has also tested positive.
"The WHO (World Health Organisation) has termed this outbreak as a crucial concern. Though it has not declared it pandemic, it has asked countries to remain alert. Once the person is exposed to the virus, the disease might be infected within one to 14 days. In our country, 29 positive cases have been reported as of March 4," the Health Minister said.
"For the last three days, new travel cases have reported positive. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is regularly monitoring the situation personally. A Group of Ministers has been constituted to keep an eye on the situation. Video conferences are being held with states every other day. Indian citizens are advised to refrain from travel to places like China and Korea and other COVID-19 countries," he said.
The government on Wednesday said it has started screening passengers on all incoming flights from abroad. More than five lakh people have already been screened. Elsewhere, the outbreak continues unabated.
India has now stepped up preventative measures including barring visitors from Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, except diplomats and officials from international bodies. The Health Ministry has asked people not to travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. It has also asked all citizens to avoid non-essential travel to other affected nations.
"As on March 4, a total of 28,529 people were brought under community surveillance and are being monitored," Harsh Vardhan said today.
The Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad said the centre should tell people not to panic. "Everywhere we go, markets, shops, and even at home people and family members are warning don't eat certain things, don't touch certain things… The main message the government must give is 'don't panic'," Mr Azad said.
The novel coronavirus spreads through contact with respiratory droplets spread during coughing and sneezing, doctors say. Besides keeping contact to a minimum with an infected person, the preventive measures include frequent washing of hands and use of hand sanitisers. Fresh tissues should be used while sneezing and coughing and then discarded, to ensure the virus does not spread.