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Coronavirus India update March 19: Death toll rises to four, total cases now at 173

The death toll due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has risen to four in India after a 70-year-old man, who returned from Germany via Italy a fortnight ago, died at a hospital in Punjab’s Nawanshahr district. The septuagenarian, who had diabetes and hypertension, tested positive after he died at the Banga community health centre on Wednesday. The Ministry of Health, in its latest update, also confirmed that the number of positive COVID-19 cases has jumped to 173 in India on Thursday, including 19 who have recovered and four deaths.

In a press briefing, the Health Ministry announced that no scheduled international commercial passenger aircraft shall be allowed to land in India from March 22 for one week. It added that no evidence of community transmission has been found in India as of yet. The Ministry also stated that Air India will be mounting a 787-Dreamliner to Rome on March 21 to evacuate stranded students and other travellers.

The government also requested states to enforce work from home for private sector employees except those working in emergency/essential services. It also said that in order to reduce crowding, all Group B and C central government employees will be asked to attend offices on alternate week and staggered timings for all employees.

A study by scientists at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai has found that the relatively slow increase in the number of novel coronavirus patients in India, as of now, could be the fact that every infected person has been passing on the virus only to another 1.7 people on an average. If the same rate persists, India is likely to have around 200 positive cases in the next five days, says the study.

According to Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO’s representative in India, the country’s response has been comprehensive and robust. He said, “India does need to step up testing, and it is on that path. What is important is that since mid-February, India has included testing for patients having severe acute respiratory illness from the surveillance system — these are people who have no travel or contact history. Some results have already come out negative, other results will be out by end of the week.”

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