Two suspected deaths and an infected three-year-old: India braces for a long coronavirus battle

Battle ready.
Battle ready.
Image: REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
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Two persons in India died over the weekend following symptoms of coronavirus, media reports say, though there is no confirmation yet from authorities.

A 76-year-old former policeman died yesterday (March 8) in Ladakh, India’s newly formed Himalayan union territory, after he was hospitalised with conditions similar to a Covid-19 infection, health administration officials said. However, the deceased had a history of other illnesses, too. At least one report said he died of urinary tract infection and other complications. Authorities await the final test results to confirm if it was a case of coronavirus, news channel NDTV reported today (March 9).

Another person died yesterday in West Bengal’s Murshidabad under similar circumstances.

While the Ladakh man had travelled recently to Iran, the deceased person in West Bengal had been to Saudi Arabia.

The total number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in India till now is 40 (excluding the Ladakh and Murshidabad case). Six new cases, including that of a three-year-old from the southern state of Kerala, have emerged over the past 36 hours; one was reported in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Up to 110,066 across the world have been diagnosed with Covid-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, till now. The number of people who have died of the disease globally stands at 3,830 currently.


Under these circumstances, prime minister Narendra Modi has cancelled a scheduled trip to Bangladesh. In Bengaluru, pre-primary and kindergarten schools have been ordered shut until further notice.

Testing capabilities

Currently, only government-run hospitals administer the test for the novel coronavirus strain. It is free and involves the sampling of various bodily fluids (pdf). The results for these tests can take up to five hours.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, has put out a list of 52 laboratories (pdf) capable of administering the test.

Testing facilities in India.
Testing facilities in India.
Image: ICMR

In addition to these, ICMR has also enabled 57 medical facilities (pdf) for sample collection. As on March 6, “a total of 4,058 samples from 3,404 individuals have been tested by the network,” ICMR says (pdf).

Personnel involved with the initiative at all the 57 collection centres and 52 laboratories have been trained by ICMR and Pune’s National Institute of Virology.


The central and state governments have instructed hospitals to set aside quarantine wards for confirmed cases of Covid-19. The Indian health ministry has directed New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to use a part of its new emergency wing in Delhi for dedicated beds for suspected coronavirus cases. Six other AIIMS hospitals in the country have been asked to keep aside 12-15 beds for such cases, The Hindu newspaper reported on March 8.

What these wards look like can be seen through the experience of Mallu Traveller, a vlogger from Kerala.