(Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP)

Mumbai: As the number of fresh coronavirus cases in Maharashtra mounted by 5 to 19, with two persons testing positive in Nagpur and one each in Pune, Mumbai and Ahmednagar, the State government announced closure of gyms, cinema halls, drama theatres and swimming pools from Friday midnight until March 30.

The closure is applicable in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Nagpur, Pune and Pimri Chinchwad. However, shopping malls have been spared thus far.

There are now ten confirmed coronavirus patients in Pune -- four in Mumbai, three in Nagpur, one each in Thane and Ahmednagar.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in the state assembly and later at a press conference said the decision was taken as a preventive step to avoid further spread of coronavirus infection.

Thackeray further announced that schools in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad areas will remain shut till further orders. However, the SSC exams in these schools will continue as per schedule.

The move comes close on the heels of similar decisions being taken by the governments of Kerala, Delhi and Karnataka. He however, clarified that the government has not taken any decision on the closure of schools in Mumbai and Thane.

He admitted, though, that some private schools have decided to close down. “Wherever possible, corporates and owners of private companies should allow employees to work from home from Monday. Avoid large gatherings,” said Thackeray.

As reported by FPJ on Friday, Thackeray said that the government was invoking the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 from midnight. With that, coronavirus has been declared an epidemic in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Nagpur.

The British-era Act ensures that all advisories issued by the Union Health Ministry and the state governments from time to time are enforceable.

As provided under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, people should avoid visiting malls, hotels, restaurants, and other crowded places. Social, political and religious events are barred and the prior permissions given for such events stand cancelled.

Thackeray said bus and train services fall under essential services and they cannot be stopped. However, he urged the people to curb travel that is not necessary.

“We will review the situation and take further decision,” he noted. He also mentioned that the symptoms of those who have tested positive in the state are mild and some of them have no symptoms of the disease at all.

As per the Centre’s advisory, passengers arriving from China, South Korea, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Iran are being quarantined, whether they show any symptoms of the disease or not.

“We will ask the Centre to include the US and Dubai in the list since patients diagnosed as positive in the state have arrived from these two countries,” Thackeray said.

Thackeray said that the state government has asked all tour and travel operators to provide a list of people from Maharashtra who had arrived after visiting foreign countries.

Thackeray pointed out that all those who had returned from foreign trips would need to be screened for the coronavirus. “The virus is not being spread locally. People who have returned from abroad have been infected,” he added.

Minister of Public Health Rajesh Tope informed that as of date 133 suspected patients have been admitted to hospitals across the state.

The 1,60,175 passengers who arrived at Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur have been screened. About 532 are admitted in isolation wards since January 18, of which reports of 441 are negative.

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