NEW DELHI: The government on Sunday directed all district heads to ensure seamless functioning of pharma units making devices and medicines, while the education minister said a decision on reopening of schools and colleges will be taken on April 14 after a review of the coronavirus threat in an indication that the 21-day lockdown could be lifted as scheduled.
Also Sunday, eight Malaysian citizens who attended a Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin here were caught by immigration authorities at the IGI Airport while trying to flee the country on a special flight arranged for the stranded travellers.
They had emerged from hiding in the Delhi-NCR region and made their way to the airport to try and get on a special flight arranged by the Malaysian High Commission for their citizens stranded in India.
The health ministry said the death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 83 and the cases climbed to 3,577 in the country on Sunday after 505 new infections were reported in the past 24 hours.
The active COVID-19 cases stand at 3,219, while 274 people were either cured or discharged and one had migrated, the ministry stated.
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However, a PTI tally based on figures reported by states directly showed at least 126 deaths across the country, while the confirmed cases reached 4,111.
Of them, 315 have been cured and discharged.
According to the Health Ministry data, Delhi has reported the highest number of confirmed cases at 503.
Asserting that there was no evidence that coronavirus was an airborne infection, the health ministry also said the rate of doubling of COVID-19 cases in India is 4.1 days currently, but if the cases linked to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation would not have happened, it would have been 7.4 days.
"If it was an airborne infection then in a family -- whoever has a contact -- they all should come positive because they are living in same surrounding as the patient and the family is breathing the same air.
When someone is admitted in hospital, other patient would have got exposure (if it was air borne) but that is not the case, an official of the Indian Council of Medical Research said.
Unsure of what turn the COVID-19 pandemic will take in India, various key ministries and departments have cautiously started to chalk out re-emergence plans and strategies to come out of the 21-day nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Globally, the pandemic has claimed more than 65,600 lives gand inflicted over 12 lakh people The focus of the Central and state governments currently appeared to be on two key aspects ---continuing with efforts on a war footing to contain the fast-spreading virus, and working on exit and staggered re-emergence from the lockdown.
During his interaction with chief ministers last week through video conferencing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pitched for formulating a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ended.
While making it clear that a decision on how and when to restore passenger services will be taken in coming weeks, sources in the Indian Railway said several proposals were being looked at as it was gearing up for the end of the lockdown on April 14.
From making passengers wear masks to using the Arogya Setu app to check their health status before allowing them to travel and encouraging social distancing on board are a few proposals that are being looked at, sources said.
With all schools and other educational institutes closed in the country due to the coronavirus lockdown, Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' said the government will take a decision on reopening of schools and colleges on April 14 after reviewing the situation.
In an interview to PTI, he said the safety of students and teachers is of utmost importance to the government and his ministry is prepared to ensure there is no academic loss to students if schools and colleges needed to remain shut beyond April 14.
In continued efforts to fight the virus, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba instructed district level officials to ensure that pharma units making devices and medicines run seamlessly.
The direction came a day after India put curbs on exports of diagnostic kits with a view to discourage shipments and meet domestic requirement.
Gauba met Sunday with district magistrates, superintendents of police, chief medical officers, state and district surveillance officers, state health secretaries and district health secretaries and chief secretaries, Joint Secretary in the health ministry Lav Agarwal said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister spoke to several leaders, including his predecessor Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and former president Pranab Mukherjee, on the situation arising out of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Sources said Modi also called up various leaders, including Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, DMK's M K Stalin and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal.
Modi spoke to former president Pratibha Patil and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda to discuss issues related to the deadly COVID-19 (coronavirus disease).
The prime minister will also interact with floor leaders of various political parties via video conference on Wednesday.
With a rise in number of coronavirus cases in the national capital, Delhi Lt Governor Anil Baijal has directed the health department to identify private hospitals which can be taken over by the government, official sources said on Sunday.
They said the government has limited resources and hence ICU wards, beds and other facilities of private hospitals can be used to deal with the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.
Officials have been asked to prepare a list of private hospitals that can be taken over if needed.
"In a recent meeting, the LG directed officials to prepare a list of private hospitals which can be taken over by government in case a need arises and their infrastructure can be used to treat COVID-19 patients.
The government will provide treatment to coronavirus patients admitted at these hospitals," a source said.
Millions of Indians across the country switched off lights at their homes and lit candles, diyas or turned on mobile phone torches for nine minutes at 9pm on Sunday night, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal to show the nation's "collective resolve and solidarity" in its fight against coronavirus.