Amid rising cases of coronavirus, India on Thursday banned the landing of all international commercial passenger flights from March 22 to 29 while asking the civil aviation ministry and railways to suspend all concessional travel on flights and trains, except for students, patients and disabled people.
No incoming scheduled international commercial passenger aircraft shall be allowed to disembark its passengers, foreigner or Indian, on Indian soil after 2000 hours GMT of March 22, 2020.
The decisions were taken by a group of ministers comprising ministers of health, shipping, civil aviation, external affairs and home who reviewed the status of coronavirus cases and the steps taken by the government so far to prevent the spread of the contagion.
In continuation of the steps taken till now in the direction, the committee of secretaries chaired by Cabinet Secretary analysed the current situation and gave their recommendations to the GoM, Joint Secretary in the ministry of health Lav Aggarwal said.
The government had issued a detailed advisory on social distancing measures as a non-pharmaceutical intervention on March 16.
"Social distancing primarily implies avoiding/decreasing contact so as to stop or slow down the rate and extent of diseases transmission. This has been found to be a useful approach to decrease the morbidity and mortality due to the disease," he said.
The health ministry on Thursday also advised senior citizens and children below the age of 10 years to stay indoors in view of the spread of coronavirus, even as they assured the general public that there was no community transmission of the disease in the country so far.
The ministry said the fourth death reported from Punjab was that of an elderly person who had co-morbid conditions like diabetes and cardiac issues.
"In order to protect the most vulnerable of our population, all states shall issue instructions wherein all senior citizens above 65 except for public representatives/govt servants/medical professionals should be advised to remain at home and avoid gatherings except for medical reasons," Aggarwal said.
The ministry also said the department of pharmaceuticals and the ministry of consumer affairs have been asked to take necessary action against anyone charging exorbitant prices for masks, sanitisers and other health-related logistic materials.
Aggarwal further said N-95 masks are available in adequate quantities in the country.
In consultation with medical professionals, a detailed advisory shall be issued for all health establishments to avoid non-urgent hospitalisation and minimise elective surgeries.
"This is being done to avoid hospital-related infections to the vulnerable and prepare hospitals for meeting challenges posed by COVID-19," he said, adding, "We have sufficient expertise in the country as far as the management of the disease is concerned."
Responding to the issue of people stocking up on ration and food items due to the coronavirus scare, Aggarwal said, "There is no need for panic but there is a need for awareness in the community that preventive measures need to be taken".
States shall take necessary actions to ensure that all sporting events, competitions and religious gatherings shall be postponed and it shall be ensured that required social distance is maintained even in small gatherings.
With respect to public transport, it is directed that metros, railways, buses and airplanes shall consider decrease in frequency of their services and alternate seating to ensure social distancing.
Effective disinfection and crowd management be ensured in places like railway stations, metro stations, bus stands, and airports, Aggarwal said.
To discourage unnecessary travel especially by the vulnerable category of senior citizens, Railways has already issued orders in deference to GoM directions wherein travel concessions for senior citizens and all others except for patients, students and divyangjan category since 0000 hours of 20 March 2020 have been temporarily suspended.
The GoM also directed that people should be sensitised on appropriate use of masks which should be utilised only when needed and to wash hands with soap.
The Centre has requested states to enforce work from home for private sector employees, except for those working in emergency and essential services.
Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Dammu Ravi said 201 Indians were evacuated from Iran on Wednesday.
"On March 21 Air India aircraft would be going to Rome to bring back students or any Indians stranded there. The flight would return on March 22," said Joint Secretary, Aviation Ministry, Rubina Ali.
As directed by the GoM, to reduce contact and congestion in government offices, the DoPT has issued orders stating 50 per cent of Group B and C employees are required to attend office every day, and the remaining 50 per cent staff should be instructed to work from home.
Weekly roster of duty should be drafted for staff and they are to attend office on alternate weeks, as well as working hours for all employees who attend office on a particular day should be staggered.
India reported its fourth coronavirus death on Thursday from Punjab as the total number of cases of COVID-19 rose to 173.