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India readies for lockdown as death toll rises to 7

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New Delhi, Mar 23: India reported three more coronavirus deaths on Sunday, including the first casualties from Bihar and Gujarat, taking the toll to seven and the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 341, officials said, as authorities suspended all passenger train and inter-state bus services till March 31 in unprecedented steps to contain the spread of the infection.

A 38-year-old man with a kidney ailment and recent travel history to Qatar died at AIIMS-Patna and a 67-year-old man died at a hospital in Surat in Gujarat, state officials said, but the Union Health Ministry was yet to confirm the deaths. Another death was reported from Mumbai of a 63-year-old man.

India readies for lockdown as death toll rises to 7

As the virus cases climbed, the central and state governments decided to lock down 75 districts from where COVID-19 cases have been reported to break the chain of transmission, and the Health Ministry said states would earmark hospitals to exclusively treat coronavirus patients.

Millions of people stayed indoors to observe a "Janta Curfew on Sunday after an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but they stood outside their homes or in their balconies at 5pm to thank the health workers at the forefront of the fight against the virus.

Delhi locked down: What you should know

Beating bells, metal vessels and conchs, people acknowledged the services of the thousands of doctors, nurse and other medical staff leading India's response to the deadly virus and making sure essential services remain unhindered.

Prime Minister Modi thanked the people for expressing their gratitude and solidarity.

Shortly thereafter, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that his government was placing the national capital under a lock down from 6 am on March 23 till midnight March 31. Essential services will continue, Kejriwal said.

Several states, including Maharashtra, Kerala, Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, announced partial or complete lockdown for varying periods. Nagaland said it was imposing an indefinite lockdown from midnight Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, the Railways announced it was suspending all passenger services until March 31 and said only goods trains will run during the period. The suspension includes all suburban train services. Trains that commenced their journey prior to 4 am on March 22 will complete their journeys, it said, adding that passengers can claim a full refund for trains cancelled during this period till June 21.

The government also suspended all inter-state bus services until March 31.

The country's largest car maker Maruti Suzuki India said it has decided to suspend production at its facilities in Haryana that churn 15.5 lakh vehicles per annum with immediate effect.

The extraordinary decisions were taken by the government a day after the Railways reported three incidents (12 positive cases) of people asked to remain in quarantine travelling on trains and amid an exodus of people from urban areas to their home states, raising fears of the virus spreading to the countryside.

The West Bengal government said in a notification that Kolkata and several other areas of the state will be under lockdown from Monday 5 pm till Mar 27.

16 districts in UP locked down

According to the Health Ministry, Maharashtra has reported the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 63, followed by Kerala (52) and Delhi (27).

Uttar Pradesh has recorded 25 cases, Telangana 21 cases, Rajasthan 24 cases, Haryana 17 cases.

Karnataka has 20 patients. Punjab and Ladakh have 13 cases each. Gujarat has 14 cases while Tamil Nadu has 6 cases. Chandigarh has reported five cases.

Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal reported four cases each. Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand reported three cases each. Odisha and Himachal Pradesh reported 2 cases each.

Puducherry and Chhattisgarh reported one case each.

The Indian Council of Medical Research said they are ramping up testing efforts, but added that they won't do indiscriminate testing for COVID-19. The strategy is to test only those who show symptoms, its director general said.

The paramilitary forces, comprising about 10 lakh personnel, also ordered immediate suspension of movement of troops and directed them to 'be where they are' till April 5, officials said.

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