The number of coronavirus cases rose to 39 in India on Sunday, after a couple and their son, who had flown from Italy last month and evaded airport screening, and their two relatives tested positive in Kerala, prompting the state authorities to warn of strict action, including prosecution, against those hiding travel history and symptoms of the infection.
Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja said the state has been put on high alert in the wake of the new cases, reported more than a fortnight after India's first three coronavirus patients -- medical students from Wuhan -- were discharged from hospitals in the state.
The minister said all the passengers who travelled with the infected family in the Venice-Doha Qatar airlines QR 126 flight on February 29 and Qatar Airlines flight QR514 from Doha to Kochi that arrived at 8.20 am on March 1 should get in touch with health authorities.
The airlines, in a statement, said it was working with Indian health authorities in this regard.
The state health department said failure to inform authorities about travel history and symptoms would be considered a crime, while the state police separately said it was "illegal and punishable" if anyone hid such information.
"Strict action, including prosecution, will be initiated against them. Directives of various government agencies should be followed in this regard," a police release said
The Kerala government, however, has decided to go ahead with "Attukal Pongala," one of the largest all-women religious congregations to be held on Monday, while issuing fresh guidelines including asking those coming from abroad especially from the affected countries to make the offering in their hotels itself.
The minister said the couple in their fifties and their 24-year old son had taken a flight from Italy to India on February 29 and evaded health screening at the airport. The two others affected are their relatives, Shailaja said, adding they hail from Ranni in Pathnamthitta district, she said.
"As of now their condition is stable. But there is need to take extra care", the minister. Two nonagenerian members of the family will be shifted to the Kottayam Medical College hospital s a precauation, she added.
The three, who had returned from Venice, at first refused to cooperate with health officials, following which they were forcibly admitted to the isolation ward of the Pathnamathitta general hospital.
"The Italy-returned family hid their travel details from the health authorities. Such practices have to seen as a crime. Those who come from countries like Iran, Italy, South Korea and China should report to the health department immediately," Shailaja said.
The number of COVID-19 cases in India, which was just six till last Tuesday, now stands at 39 including 16 Italians. The figure also includes the three Kerala patients who were discharged last month following recovery.
The minister said persons showing any symptoms of the virus should keep away from the congregation at Attukal temple complex. Temple officials would be asked to ensure that people with fever or any other symptoms do not participate in the festivity.
Medical stall and ambulances will be stationed near the temple complex and video clippings of the festivities would also be taken, the minister said.
Meanwhile, a cruise ship with a Panama flag 'MSC Lirica' was turned back at the New Mangalore Port on Saturday following the Centre's advisory to deny entry to cruise ships till March 31 in the wake of the coronavirus scare.
In Tamil Nadu, a 15-year old boy who arrived in Chennai from the US via Doha with his father was sent to the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai as he showed some symptoms associated with fever durig screening at the airport, officials said.
After Sikkim, the Arunachal Pradesh government has also decided to temporarily suspend issuing Protected Area Permits to foreigners to check the spread of coronavirus.
It is "learnt that the spread of the coronavirus in India is primarily from visitors who had history of travelling abroad recently or through tourists who have visited India," the government order said.
"In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Arunachal Pradesh, it has been decided to temporarily suspend issuing Protected Area Permit...," it added.
Isolation facilities are being augmented in several hospitals across the country.
The Union health ministry has asked the AIIMS administration in Delhi to designate a part of the new emergency wing for setting up of isolation beds for suspected COVID-19 patients.
Six other AIIMS have been directed to keep an isolation bed capacity between 12-15 for coronavirus patients, which can be scaled up to 30 if need arises, an official said.
Besides, the ministry has asked the National Cancer Institute in Jhajjar to augment its isolation bed capacity to 125 from the existing 25.
Also, the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry has been asked to keep aside 13 beds for isolating patients.
The Delhi government has ordered DTC and cluster buses, metro and hospitals to be disinfected on a regular basis as a precautionary measure to deal with the novel coronavirus, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.
Addressing a press conference, Kejriwal said 168 isolation beds had been set up at 25 hospitals for coronavirus patients.
He appealed to the people in Delhi to inform the government if any person in their neighbourhood had returned from abroad in the last 14 days.
The chief minister, who chaired a state task force on Sunday, said the government was fully prepared to deal with the novel coronavirus, adding that people do not need to panic.
The Union health ministry has made 52 laboratories functional for testing samples while 57 labs have been designated for helping in sample collection to enhance the capacity for diagnosis and detection of the virus.
As of March 6, a total of 4,058 samples from 3,404 individuals have been tested by the network, officials said.
The number of novel coronavirus cases stood at over 105,800 including 3,595 deaths, across 95 countries and territories. China, where the epidemic emerged in December, had 80,695 cases, of which 3,097 were fatal.