Coronavirus
Coronavirus
(Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP)

New Delhi: With coronavirus cases swelling in the country, the government banned the entry of passengers from EU countries, Turkey and the UK from March 18 till March 31 on Monday.

Union health ministry officials also said four new COVID-19 cases -- one each from Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Kerala -- were reported on Monday, taking the total number of cases in the country to 114.

These cases include 10 discharged, three cured and two reported deaths.

The "contact-tracing activity" of the positive cases had led to the identification of more than 5,200 persons, who were kept under a rigorous surveillance, they added.

The government had earlier suspended all visas, barring a few categories such as diplomatic and employment, in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

After a Group of Ministers (GoM) meeting, the government proposed a set of social-distancing measures to be in force till March 31, the officials told reporters.

"Travel of passengers from the member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the United Kingdom to India is prohibited with effect from March 18," Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Aggarwal said.

"No airline shall board a passenger from these countries to India with effect from 1200 GMT on March 18. The airlines shall enforce this at the port of initial departure," he added.

These temporary measures shall be in force till March 31 and reviewed subsequently, Aggarwal said.

The GoM held its seventh meeting on Monday and after detailed deliberations, social-distancing measures were proposed as a preventive strategy, he added.

The key measures proposed included closure of all educational institutions, gymnasiums, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres, Aggarwal said.

Students should be advised to stay at home and online education should be promoted, he added.

Non-essential travel should be avoided. Buses, trains and aeroplanes to maximise social distancing in public transport, besides ensuring proper disinfection of services," Aggarwal said.

Restaurants should ensure a handwashing protocol and proper cleanliness of frequently-touched surfaces, he added.

They should also ensure a minimum of one metre physical distancing between tables and encourage open-air seating, Aggarwal said.

The government urged the local authorities to have a dialogue with the organisers of sporting events and competitions involving large gatherings, adding that they might be advised to postpone such events, he added.

It also advised the local authorities to have a dialogue with opinion makers and religious leaders to regulate mass gatherings and ensure no overcrowding.

"Local authorities should have a meeting with traders' associations and other stakeholders to regulate hours, dos and don'ts...and take up a communication drive at market places such as sabzi mandi, anaj mandi, besides at bus depots, railway stations, post offices etc., where essential services are provided," Aggarwal said.

Private sector organisations and employers were being encouraged to allow employees to work from home wherever feasible, he added.

The government also called for meetings to be held through video-conferencing as far as feasible.

Meetings involving a large number of people should be minimised or re-scheduled unless necessary, Aggarwal said.

The fourth batch of 53 evacuees from Iran arrived in the country on Monday. They were being quarantined at an Army facility in Rajasthan's Jaisalmer. All of them were reported to be asymptomatic currently, Aggarwal said.

The government also called for compulsory quarantine for a minimum of 14 days for passengers coming from or transiting through the UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait. This measure will also come into effect from 1200 GMT on March 18 at the port of first departure.

The GoM chaired by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan was attended by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S Puri, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai and Minister of State for Health Ashwini Choubey, among others.

The Centre has suspended the pilgrimage and registration for the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan, beginning Sunday midnight, in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

It has also suspended the movement of all types of passengers through the international border points with Pakistan.

On Saturday, the government announced suspension of all types of passenger movement from 00:00 hours on March 15 through the Indo-Bangla, Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bhutan and Indo-Myanmar borders, barring a few specified border checkposts.

All types of passenger movements through the immigration land checkposts located along the India-Bangladesh, India-Nepal, India-Bhutan and India-Myanmar borders were suspended with effect from 00:00 hours on March 15, except through a few checkposts, and at the India-Pakistan border, with effect from 00:00 hours on March 16 until further orders, according to a home ministry order.

The government has asked Indian nationals to avoid all non-essential travel abroad.

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