Modi on Thursday hinted at a “staggered” exit from the ongoing
lockdown after the 21-day period ends on April 14.
“It is important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends,” the PM emphasised in a interaction with state chief ministers, asking them to send their suggestions for such an exit strategy.
States were asked to “work on war footing, identify virus hotspots and encircle them” to contain the infection. The focus for the next few weeks must be testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine, the PM told states.
In its latest update, the Union Home Ministry put the consolidated nationwide tally at 53 deaths and 2,069 confirmed cases of infection, including 55 foreign nationals.
In the total tally, about 400 COVID-19 positive cases have been found whose epidemiological linkage can be traced to the Tablighi Jamaat cluster in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, said the Union Health Ministry, which asserted there was no evidence to widespread community transmission and 20 existing and 22 potential hotspots have been identified across the country.
A Home Ministry official said while 9,000 Tablighi Jamaat members and their primary contacts have been quarantined till now across the country due to “massive efforts” to check the outbreak, the Centre has written to all states and union territories that “the lockdown measures should be implemented in letter and spirit”.
Modi will share a video message with people on Friday morning. Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said the prime minister has urged states to manage the coronavirus crisis at the district level.
In the meantime, sporadic attacks on doctors, social workers and police personnel also came to the fore raising concerns over their safety and prompting warnings by authorities.
Seven persons were arrested for the alleged attack on health workers in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore city, who had gone there to quarantine relatives and acquaintances of a COVID-19 patient but were attacked with stones by an unruly mob leaving two women doctors injured. A video of the attack went viral on social media.
Authorities also continued to take action against those violating the lockdown, which entered its ninth day on Thursday.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to all chief secretaries of the states and union territories to action against those violating the lockdown or making false claims under the Indian Penal Code and the Disaster Management Act.
Bhalla said those violating these laws can be punished with jail term of up to two years and fine.
However, hopes of the lockdown getting removed, at least partially, after its 21-day period rose further after Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said airlines are free to allow ticket booking for flights after April 14. He also said resumption of international flights will be considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on which countries they are coming from, after the 21-day lockdown ends.
Separately, Air India also said it has got approvals from Indian and Chinese authorities to operate cargo flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong to get medical supplies.
At the same time, several states including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala reported significant rise in the number of positive cases.
In Maharashtra, at least 81 more tested positive during the day, taking its tally to 416, while two more patients succumbed to the infection increasing the toll to 19.
The death of a COVID-19 patient from Mumbai’s Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in Asia, sparked fear of its spread in the highly congested area. The Union Health Ministry said contact tracing and testing as per protocol is being conducted in the area. Several small-scale industries and workshops of leather goods, pottery and textiles operate from the slum colony spread over 613 acres.
Officials in the state also said around 1,400 persons from Maharashtra attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi and 1,300 of them have been traced. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said no social events including religious congregations would be allowed in the state.
The state was also allowed by the Centre to roll out rapid COVID-19 testing on mass scale.
In Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said there are 208 COVID-19 patients in the national capital, of which 108 were evacuated from the Nizamuddin Markaz (centre) of the Tablighi Jamaat.
He said two people who had attended the congregation died due to COVID-19 on Thursday and cautioned that the number of positive cases may shoot up in the national capital in coming days.
The Health Ministry said domestic indigenous manufacturing of N-95 masks has been stepped up, while orders have been placed for over 1.5 crore personal protective equipment (PPEs) and supply has begun too.
Globally, more than 9,40,000 people have tested positive since the deadly virus outbreak in China in December 2019, while more than 47,000 have lost their lives.