The toll in the coronavirus pandemic rose to 16 in India on Thursday, as seven more people died. The total number of cases increased to 694, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Of these, 633 patients are still being treated.
Globally, the total number of cases rose to 4,95,068, and the number of deaths to 22,295, according to an estimate by Johns Hopkins University.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Tuesday announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown starting midnight. The number of people under lockdown worldwide increased to three billion on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore for the poor, to help them tide over the impact of the countrywide lockdown. The benefits – through cash and food – were targeted at farmers, migrant workers, the poor, women and the disabled, among others.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, 80 crore poor will get additional food for free, over and above the Public Distribution System benefits they already get, Sitharaman said. This will comprise five kg of wheat or rice and one kg of pulses per household for the next three months.
Sitharaman said that under the farmers’ welfare scheme PM-KISAN, 8.69 crore farmers would immediately benefit through direct cash transfer of the first Rs-2,000 instalment for the upcoming financial year in the first week of April itself. The finance minister announced medical insurance of Rs 50 lakh each for “our warriors – doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare workers” who are on the frontline of the battle against Covid-19. She also announced an increase in wages of MGNREGA workers that will benefit five crore families.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended an emergency virtual G-20 summit convened to discuss the pandemic. While the G-20 leaders agreed to release $5 trillion to combat Covid-19, Modi said that they should put human beings rather than economic targets at the centre of their vision for global prosperity. He called for free and open sharing of medical research for the benefit of humanity.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare claimed that though the number of coronavirus cases were rising, the rate of their increase had diminished. Lav Agarwal, joint secretary of the ministry added that this can only be seen as an initial trend, and the government cannot relax.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation extended the ban on international flights till April 14, the last day of the lockdown. The ban will not apply to cargo flights or those specially approved by the DGCA.
The chief ministers of Delhi and Maharashtra announced that medical and grocery shops, as well as shops selling other essential commodities, can remain open all 24 hours of the day. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal added that shop owners will not require any additional license or permit to operate. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said that shopkeepers have to take care of the well-being of the customers by enforcing social distancing and other norms prescribed by the government.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation announced that all metro services in the national Capital will be closed till April 14.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands report first case
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands reported their first coronavirus case on Thursday. A man who returned from Kolkata two days ago tested positive for Covid-19, a government official said.
The Chhattisgarh government took control of the privately-run Raipur Institute of Medical Sciences in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The takeover, under the Chhattisgarh Epidemic Disease Covid-19 Rules, 2020, gave the state control of all staff and healthcare facilities at the hospital.
The Karnataka government, like the Delhi government on Wednesday, warned landlords against evicting doctors and paramedics from their residences. The government said such behaviour amounted to obstructing a public servant in discharging their duties. It warned that strict penal action will be taken against such landlords.
More than 1,000 people are stranded on the Telangana-Andhra Pradesh border due to the nationwide lockdown, a report said. They had set off from Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, to various districts in Andhra Pradesh after obtaining special travel permits from the local police. The passengers, including students and children, were stopped at Garikapadu around 3.30 pm on Wednesday.
Congress president backs lockdown
Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed support for Modi’s decision to lock down the country for 21 days. In a letter to Modi, Gandhi said it was everyone’s duty to rise above partisan interests and serve the country and humanity at large in this time of crisis.
Meanwhile, animal rights groups wrote to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, demanding the immediate shutdown of illegal meat trade and pet markets. In a joint letter, organisations such as People for Animals, Humane Society International/India, Mercy for Animals India Foundation, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations and Ahimsa Trust urged the health minister to take immediate action to crack down on markets that do not follow food safety guidelines.