The number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 137 on Tuesday, and one more death was reported, taking the toll to three. The deceased was an elderly man from Ghatkopar suburb of Mumbai.

The novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19 and categorised as a pandemic, has infected at least 1,85,067 people, and killed 7,330 worldwide, according to an estimate from Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization and additional sources. China has the highest number of fatalities at 3,213, followed by Italy with 2,158 deaths and almost 28,000 cases.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said on Tuesday that guidelines for the management of persons infected with novel coronavirus have been formed, to define a set of protocols in handling such cases, PTI reported. Over 5,700 people who came in contact with those who tested positive are under surveillance, the ministry said.

“Guidelines for dead body management towards precautions, infection prevention and control measures, handling of body and environmental disinfection has been formed,” Ministry of Health Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said in a press briefing. He said all tests at private laboratories should be offered when prescribed by a qualified physician, as per guidelines established by the Indian Council of Medical Research. The ICMR, at a press conference, appealed to all private laboratories to offer testing for the coronavirus free of cost.

The Centre, meanwhile, advised all its departments and ministries to install thermal scanners and set up mandatory sanitiser dispensers at the entry of their buildings to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic. To discourage visitors into government buildings, the Centre ordered the immediate suspension of routine issuance of temporary and visitor passes to outsiders.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told the Rajya Sabha that 54,000 people across the country are being kept under community surveillance with the help of healthcare workers, PTI reported. Vardhan added that ICMR scientists are in touch with scientists all over the world regarding use of retroviral drugs in treating coronavirus patients.

To a question, Vardhan said he agreed that facilities at some quarantine centres may not be top-notch. “It is quite possible that at some places bathrooms may not be five-star type,” he said. “We are conveying in strongest possible manner on such complaints. These are rare complaints and are not frequent complaints received.”

India extended its ban on flights from foreign countries, adding Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia to the list. No flight is allowed to take off from these countries after 3 pm Indian Standard Time on Tuesday, and the ban will be in force till March 31. The order was issued a day after the Centre announced that passengers from all 27 European Union countries, all four European Free Trade Association member nations, Turkey and the United Kingdom cannot enter India between March 18 and March 31.

Meanwhile, Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan went into self-quarantine, despite not having any symptoms of the coronavirus. He has tested negative for the virus. Muraleedharan had allegedly came in contact with a doctor who has since tested positive.

The World Health Organization on Monday urged all countries to ramp up their coronavirus testing to try to reduce the severity of the pandemic. However, India defended its extremely limited testing policy, which has resulted in among the lowest testing rates in the world. Until March 13, fewer than 6,000 people had been tested in India.

The Indian government has restricted coronavirus tests to only those with recent travel history to affected countries or those known to have come in contact with confirmed cases and with symptoms of the disease.

At least 254 Indian pilgrims stranded in Iran, a country badly hit by COVID-19, have tested positive, reports said on Tuesday. According to several pilgrims that spoke to, Indian embassy officials in Iran have assured them that all those stranded will be airlifted back to India in the next few days.

Meanwhile, budget carrier GoAir cancelled all its international flights till April 15 and offered its employees leave without pay on a rotational basis.

States act to control outbreak

In a bid to discourage gathering of large crowds in view of the coronavirus, some zonal railways have hiked the platform ticket charges from Rs 10 to Rs 50, PTI reported. This has been done by six divisions of the Western Railway zone – Mumbai, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Ratlam, Rajkot and Bhavnagar, together comprising 250 stations. In Central Zone, prices have been raised at Mumbai, Bhusawal, Nagpur, Solapur and Pune stations. Southern Railway has raised the prices only for Chennai.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said on Tuesday that the government would be forced to take the “harsh decision” of stopping bus and train services in Mumbai if people don’t avoid unnecessary travel, PTI reported. He also dismissed reports of a week-long holiday for government offices. The number of cases in Maharashtra touched 40 on Tuesday, the highest among all states in India.

The Maharashtra Election Commission postponed all local body elections in the state. State Election Commissioner UPS Madan said the government had requested that the elections be postponed in view of coronavirus infection.

The Rajasthan government banned all gatherings at public places exceeding 50 people till March 31. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot took the decision after a high-level meeting on Monday night.

The Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, extended the closure of all educational institutions, cinemas, multiplexes and tourist places in the state till April 2. It also shut all tourist places in the state and asked government employees to work from home. “An appeal has been made to religious leaders to avoid crowding in temples, mosques, gurudwaras and churches and exercise caution,” government spokesperson Shrikant Sharma said.

Sharma said Adityanath has indicated that COVID-19 patients in the state will get treatment at no cost. Government employees infected by the virus shall continue to get their salaries, he added.

Like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu also shut down several tourist places in the state, PTI reported. In Nilgiris district, all tourism spots were shut down. The government asks visitors staying in hotels and resorts to return home within 24 hours.

World famous heritage sites in Mamallapuram, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in a summit last year, were also closed for visitors.

The Himachal Pradesh government closed government-run temples, PTI reported. The Jai Ram Thakur government said there will be no darshans in government-run shrines.

The Srinagar district administration in Jammu and Kashmir has planned televised classes for students, for which schools and colleges have to submit proposals by March 20. The administration has also directed shutdown of all hostels, canteens, parks, gardens, restaurants and roadside eateries in the city till further orders. It has also banned home delivery of food. Conferences, rallies and sit-in protests have been banned in the district till March 31.

International developments

China continued to report a declining number of new infections, with just 21 new cases being reported in the 24 cases preceding Tuesday morning. The semi-autonomous Chinese region of Hong Kong decided to place arrivals from all foreign countries under home quarantine, The South China Morning Post reported.

Pakistan reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday. The total number of confirmed cases in the country were 236, including 172 in Sindh province itself, Dawn reported. Sindh ordered the closure of parks, malls and restaurants for 15 days.

Two cases of COVID-19 were found at the World Health Organization headquarters, AFP reported. They both have gone home and have self-isolated, a spokesperson said

A scientific report published in the United States warned that if no action was taken by government and individuals to slow the spread of coronavirus, 2.2 million people could die, The New York Times reported. To curb the epidemic, drastic restrictions would need to be imposed on work, school and social gatherings for periods of time until a vaccine was available, which could take 18 months, the report warned. Over 4,000 people have been infected in the US, and over 90 people have died.