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VIRAL FEAR

With coronavirus on the prowl in neighbourhoods, Indians are panicking

Niharika Sharma
By Niharika Sharma

Aviation and social media reporter

From our Obsession

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With the novel coronavirus knocking at doors in urban neighbourhoods, a sense of dread is setting in among Indians.

The total count of confirmed cases with Covid-19 had reached 29 in the country by yesterday (March 4) after a Paytm employee in Gurugram, near Delhi, tested positive.

“As a precautionary measure, we have suggested the team members of our affected employee get health tests done immediately. We have also advised all our colleagues to work from home for a couple of days while we get our offices sanitised,” a Paytm spokesperson told Quartz. “However, there will not be any impact on our daily operations and Paytm services will continue as usual.”

Gurugram being the hub of several important companies like Paytm, with hundreds of their employees travelling abroad regularly, the boom-town is deeply worried. “I’m not sending my daughter to play outside till I know what is happening. Nobody is sure what could happen,” said a resident of a Gurugram high-rise and a mother of a three-year-old. She didn’t want to be identified.

Five schools in the Delhi National Capital Region have been shut as a precautionary measure. The Shriram Millennium School, Noida, where the two children of a Delhi resident who tested positive on March 3 study, will remain closed till tomorrow. Six of his relatives have also tested positive now.

The Shiv Nadar School, Noida, announced holidays till March 10. The Shri Ram School in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar and its other two campuses in Gurugram will also close from March 9 as it advanced its spring break, The Times of India reported.

The Indian health ministry has advised schools to avoid large gatherings of students.

Among other cases, 16 were reported in Jaipur, including the wife of the 69-year old Italian tourist who was tested positive on March 3, and 14 others from Italy who’d been travelling with them. Then there was also their Indian bus driver. They have all been sent to the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police’s (ITBP) quarantine facility in Chhawla, Delhi.

The family of the Delhi man who tested positive on March 3 is in isolation at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. Other cases include one in Hyderabad and three others in Kerala (these, though, have already been discharged following recovery).

Seventeen Indians abroad, too, have been infected, the government informed parliament yesterday. Sixteen of these were reported in Japan on a cruise ship and one in the UAE.

Today, an Oppo employee in Uttar Pradesh’s Greater Noida, bordering Delhi, locked himself up in his apartment after he suspected that he was infected.

“We confirm that one of our employees, who had been suffering from fever, has been tested negative of the virus, as confirmed by local authorities. The person is recovering now and is under observation at home,” an Oppo spokesperson told Quartz. “Additionally, we have issued an advisory for restricting travel and gatherings and regular screening of body temperature is being conducted for employees and visitors at our office premises. As a responsible corporate, we are co-operating with local government authorities to ensure the safety of all our staff.”

Hyderabad’s IT sector is reportedly panicking following reports of a woman employee of a global firm testing positive. However, there was no confirmation.

Yesterday, in southern India’s Karnataka, three people showing coronavirus symptoms have been admitted at the Bidar Institute of Medical Science. This includes a software engineer who returned from Norway, an individual who returned from Qatar, and the latter’s son.

Battlefront

Yesterday, stepping up the level of preparedness, the Indian government decided to begin universal screening at all airports and seaports of every individual entering India. Earlier, the checks were restricted to people returning from 12 nations: China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan.

“Decisions were also taken to rapidly implement opening of proper testing, isolation, and quarantine facilities in various parts of the country, down to the district level, in partnership with the state governments,” read the statement from the prime minister’s office. “It was decided that all government departments and ministries shall consult the ministry of health before organising conferences and international meetings in the country at present.”

Yesterday, prime minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter to say that he will not join any Holi gatherings this year.

So far, 600,000 people have been screened for the disease across 21 airports. Additionally, a million people coming in through the country’s open borders with Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar have also been screened, union minister Prakash Javadekar told the media in New Delhi yesterday.

Party, politics, and prevention

While the world is dealing with the outbreak, with the death toll reaching 3,285, a Hindu rightwing organisation in India plans to organise a “gaumutra party.”

“Just like we organise tea parties, we have decided to organise a gaumutra (cow urine) party in Delhi, where we will inform people about coronavirus and how, by consuming cow-related products, people can be saved from it,” Chakrapani Maharaj, who heads a faction of the Hindu Mahasabha told ThePrint on March 3. “The event will have counters that will provide gaumutra for people to consume. At the same time, we will also put cow products like cow-dung cakes…upon using these, the virus will die immediately.”

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, took a dig at Modi over India’s apparently weak response to the coronavirus scare.

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