31st case in India, global virus infections top 100,000
A third Delhi resident was confirmed as a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) patient on Friday, taking the total number of reported cases in India to 31, even as the disease continued to proliferate in new regions of the world and crossing the 100,000 global infections mark in less than three months since it began spreading from central China.
The latest Indian patient is a man from Delhi who had recently been to Thailand and Malaysia, health officials said and added that they had begun contact tracing – the intricate process of identifying and reaching out to people who may have been infected further.
India’s disease control authorities are racing to track down potentially thousands of such cases every day, poring over piles of flyer forms to identify people who arrived from cities where the outbreak is now serious, or have been in close contact with people who were sickened by the virus.
The outbreak has killed more than 3,400 people and spread across more than 90 nations, with six countries reporting their first cases on Friday.
World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated on Friday a call for all countries to intensify efforts to track down and restrict the spread of the disease. “It (the epidemic) is geographically expanding and deeply concerning. We are continuing to recommend that all countries make containment their highest priority,” he said.
A second massive contact-tracing effort was launched in connection with an American tourist who tested positive for the disease in Bhutan. The patient, a 76-year-old man travelling with his wife, had been in Mumbai, Kolkata and Guwahati during his 11 days in India, a period when he could potentially have passed on the infection to others.
During the India leg of his trip, the American couple were also on a 7-day river cruise operated by Adventure River Cruises, its CEO Sanjay Basu told HT. The vessel, MV Mahabaahu, had four American tourists as part of a total 39 passengers (including crew).
It set sail on February 23, made brief stops at Kaziranga, Jorhat and Majuli where the passengers went ashore, and was completed on March 2.
It is unclear if this person had symptoms during this time, and experts and scientists have said that people not giving any indication that they may be infected are among the most significant factors that could contribute to the disease’s spread.
“This infection seems to be spreading ten times faster, and evidence suggests even asymptomatic people can potentially infect others,” said Dr Srikant Sharma, senior consultant, internal medicine department, Moolchand Hospital.
On Thursday, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan told parliament that close to 30,000 people are being tracked as part of the contact-tracing operations.
In one case that highlighted the challenge health workers faced, an Irishman suspected of being infected with the coronavirus fled from a Cuttack hospital on Thursday but was traced to a hotel in Bhubaneswar where he and another person he had come in contact with have been kept in isolation, officials said on Friday.
Though the two were allowed to remain in isolation at the hotel, the administration later decided to put them in a special isolation ward.
Across the country, a number of events related to Holi and Women’s Day celebrations were cancelled while the University Grants Commission asked universities to avoid large gatherings as a precautionary measure.
Through Friday, minister Harsh Vardhan held a meeting through video conference with health ministers, chief secretaries of all states and union territories, central ministers and representatives from related organisations to review preparedness. The minister stressed on the need for keeping testing and quarantine facilities, isolation wards, and labs in active readiness.
Indian authorities are also attempting to help citizens stranded in Iran, which has emerged as one of the worst-hit regions.
By Saturday afternoon, a flight operated by Iran’s Mahan Air will bring back swab samples of 300 Indians. Once these Indians are considered free of the disease, they will be cleared to fly back home.
India is also working with the government of Iran to facilitate an evacuation of about 2,000 Indians stranded in Iran, and sending back about 2,000 Iranian nationals currently in India.
Several schools and offices have been closed, and more employers are asking their staff to work from home.
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