NEW DELHI : India reported 78 new cases of novel coronavirus infections on Wednesday as the country entered a 21-day lockdown to slow the expanding pandemic, taking the total positive cases to 635. The toll remained at 10, the same as on Tuesday, and 43 people recovered.

Maharashtra reported 21 new cases, taking its total to 128, the highest in the country. Kerala added nine cases to reach 118, Telangana six to touch 41, while Gujarat and Delhi added five each to reach 38 and 35, respectively. Madhya Pradesh added seven cases to reach 14. A death in Delhi earlier attributed to Covid-9 was found not to be so.

The government warned that those found violating orders for home quarantine will be punished. In India, around 64,000 people have arrived from abroad since 21 March, 8,000 of whom have been quarantined and 56,000 isolated at home. The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, lays down punishment as per Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for flouting such orders. As per Section 3 of the Act, there are penalties for disobeying any regulation or order made under it—simple imprisonment of six months or a fine of 1,000 or both.

“We are fighting an infectious disease. In order to protect ourselves and others, it is highly important that we follow all the protocols, guidelines and directions issued by the government, failing which may lead to legal actions u/s 188 of IPC," said Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary in the ministry of health and family welfare.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said India has “tremendous capacity" to control the spread of Covid-19, considering its success in eradicating small pox and polio. “India also eliminated polio, another silent killer, and did a tremendous job on surveillance, on finding cases and vaccinating and doing all the things that needed to be done. India has tremendous capacities," said Michael J. Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

“Our efforts have proven successful in the past for small pox and polio. Together we can fight coronavirus, although a vaccine would be needed," said Arun Singhal, special secretary in the Union health ministry.

“Past surveillance-focused experience with elimination of small pox and polio would come handy. IPE Global has worked closely with Unicef and WHO in India on polio elimination and that level of door-to-door surveillance, combined with isolation of each identified case, seems to be the only possible long-term solution," said Himanshu Sikka, lead-health, nutrition and WASH at IPE Global, an international health research consultancy firm.

The decision on punishing quarantine violators was taken at a group of ministers’ (GoM) meeting on prevention and management of Covid-19 in India. The GoM discussed the actions taken so far, status of social distancing measures and stringent actions taken by states so far. Health minister Harsh Vardhan repeated his appeal to all those who are in quarantine about observing it as per protocol.

“We discussed how to strengthen capacity of states, which need to devote adequate resources for creating dedicated Covid-19 hospitals, equipping the medical institutes with PPEs, ventilators and other essential equipment, etc.," said Aggarwal.

“States have been asked to ensure that essential services and supplies remain open. These include hospitals, medical shops and establishments engaged in manufacturing of medicines, vaccines, sanitizers, masks and medical devices," he said.

The GoM was informed that Gujarat, Assam, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Goa, Karnataka, MP and J&K are setting up hospitals dedicated to managing Covid-19. A total of 118 laboratories have been included in the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) network of Covid-19 testing. “At least 29 laboratories have been registered by the government for testing Covid-19 and these have more than 16,000 collections centres," said Aggarwal.

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