NEW DELHI: As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases crossed the 120-mark in India, the Centre on Monday proposed detailed social distancing measures that included urging states to close down all schools, universities, theatres, swimming pools, gyms and museums till March 31 while “exploring the possibility of postponing all examinations.”
The government also said that ongoing examinations should be conducted after ensuring a distance of one metre amongst students. Students should be advised to stay at home and online education should be promoted, it added.
"Social distancing is a non-pharmaceutical infection prevention and control intervention implemented to avoid or decrease contact between those who are infected with a disease-causing pathogen and those who are not, so as to stop or slow down the rate and extent of disease transmission in a community," the advisory by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.
It (social distancing) eventually leads to a decrease in spread, morbidity and mortality due to the disease, the advisory added.
The guidelines from the Centre come even as it has been insisting that there is no community transmission of the disease yet.
Many states, like Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, however, have already announced the closure of educational institutions and theatres and have issued orders against large gatherings.
The government has also asked private-sector organisations and employers to allow employees to work from home wherever feasible and also advised that meetings, as far as feasible, should be done through video conferences.
Social distancing measures, public health experts have said, are the most effective way of breaking the contagion chain and could limit the number of transmissions significantly.
"Measures like quarantining affected and suspect people and aggressive social distancing could bring down the total number of likely coronavirus cases in India by 62 per cent," Dr Tarun Bhatnagar, a researcher with the National Institute of Epidemiology under the Indian Council for Medical Research told The New Indian Express.
The details of the analysis, which Bhatanagar has done along with the others, are set to be published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research by the ICMR.
Meanwhile, the advisory by the Centre said that all meetings involving a large number of people should be minimized or rescheduled, restaurants should ensure hand-washing protocol and proper cleanliness of frequently touched surfaces and physical distancing between tables and also encourage open air-seating where practical with adequate distancing.
It also said that planned weddings should have a limited gathering and all non-essential social and cultural gatherings be postponed.
Government prohibits entry of passengers from European Union, Turkey, UK from March 18
With the cases of the coronavirus swelling in the country, the government on Monday prohibited entry of passengers from EU countries, Turkey and the UK from March 18 till March 31.
The 'contact tracing activity' of these positive cases has led to identification of more than 5,200 contacts, who are kept under rigorous surveillance, health ministry officials said.
"Travel of passengers from member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and United Kingdom to India is prohibited with effect from 18th March 2020," said Lav Aggarwal, the Joint Secretary in the ministry, said.
"No airline shall board a passenger from these nations to India with effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020. The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure," he said.
Both these instructions are temporary measures and shall be in force till March 31 2020 and will be reviewed subsequently, he said.
The interventions the government has proposed:
Closure of all educational establishments (schools, universities), gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres.
Students should be advised to stay at home. Online education to be promoted.
The possibility of postponing exams should be explored. Ongoing exams to be conducted only after ensuring physical distance of one meter amongst students.
Encourage private sector organizations to allow employees to work from home wherever feasible.
Meetings, as far as feasible, should be done through video conferences.
Minimize or reschedule meetings involving large number of people unless necessary.
Restaurants to ensure handwashing protocol and proper cleanliness of frequently touched surfaces, also to ensure physical distancing between tables and encourage open-air seating where practical with adequate distancing.
Keeping already planned weddings to a limited gathering, postponing all non-essential social and cultural gatherings.