Govt calls for social distancing as confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 1242 min read . Updated: 17 Mar 2020, 12:28 AM IST
- The GoM on Covid-19 on Monday issued an advisory urging all states to take social distancing measures as a preventive strategy for implementation till 31 March
- 'As a scientist, my immediate worry is to find evidence of us landing into community transmission mode,' says ICMR's Raman R. Gangakhedkar
New Delhi: There could be an explosion in the number of Covid-19 cases in India, unless states take strict steps to ensure social distancing, a senior government scientist warned on Monday amid growing scepticism over how a nation of a billion-plus people could have an infection count of only 124.
“As a scientist, my immediate worry is to find evidence of us landing into community transmission mode. We don’t have that yet. So my worry is finding it out," Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientist Raman R. Gangakhedkar told reporters on the sidelines of a press conference.
Community transmission takes place when a virus is transmitted locally within a community. The accepted belief so far has been that Indians have contracted the virus abroad and that patient quarantine has stopped community transmission.
However, the absence of data and possible low rate of self-reporting has been a concern.
ICMR is conducting a surveillance of random samples to confirm whether there has been any transmission of the disease in any community. Each of its 52 laboratories is taking 20 random samples from nearby public and private hospitals to test for Covid-19.
The preliminary report of the surveillance will be out by Wednesday, Gangakhedkar said.
ICMR laboratories have conducted 10,000 tests so far from designated public hospitals, he said, adding that the government has ordered for one million probes in order to widen the testing.
So far, the government has maintained that there is no evidence of community transmission of the disease, but that all patients that have been confirmed have acquired the disease during their international travel or from a relative who had a travel history.
However, on Monday, a senior government official said that some patients had travelled by public transport, and that health authorities had used all means to trace the people they had come in contact with.
Nearly 5,300 contacts of the 114 patients have been traced so far and are being monitored, health ministry joint secretary Lav Aggarwal said.
Separately, the group of ministers on Covid-19 in a meeting (GoM) on Monday issued an advisory urging all states to take social distancing measures as a preventive strategy for implementation till 31 March.
The measures include closure of all educational establishments, gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres. For education institutions, the Union health ministry recommended online tuition, adding that students should be advised to stay at home.
As a majority of Indians travel by public transport, the government advisory is to avoid non-essential travel.
“Buses, trains and aeroplanes should maximize social distancing in public transport besides ensuring regular and proper disinfection of surfaces," the advisory said, adding that private sector organizations and employers are encouraged to allow employees to work from home wherever feasible.
According to the recommendations, meetings should be held through video conferencing. On the food industry, the government asked restaurants to ensure adherence to hand washing protocol and proper cleanliness of frequently touched surfaces and ensure physical distancing (minimum 1 metre) between tables; and encourage open air seating where practical with adequate distancing.
Similarly, the Centre said that the organizers of sporting events and competitions involving large gatherings should postpone such events. The government on Monday prohibited the entry of passengers from the European Union, Turkey and UK into India as a step.
Globally, more than 6,703 people have died due to Covid-19, while the number of those infected stands at over 175,250. India reported four new cases—one each from Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Kerala—of Covid-19.