The nationwide tally of confirmed Coronavirus cases crossed the 1,000-mark and the death toll reached 27 on Sunday, even as the central government ordered sealing of all state and district borders to check community transmission of the deadly virus by migrant workers and asked those having left already to be quarantined for 14 days.
The national capital alone reported 23 fresh positive cases, taking its count to 72, while more people tested positive in adjoining Noida as also in Maharashtra and Bihar, among other states.
The new cases included a SpiceJet pilot with no history of international travel.
The total number of positive cases has increased by 106 in the last 24 hours to reach 1,024 and eight more persons died in this period to take the nationwide toll to 27, according to the latest official figures.
As the 21-day lockdown entered its 5th day, the exodus of migrant workers from big cities continued unabated, desperate to return to their villages after being left jobless and many of them without food or shelter.
Charitable organisations, volunteers, religious institutions and government bodies including Railway Protection Force fed tens of thousands of people across the nation but many more remained outside the safety net.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his 'Mann Ki Baat' radio broadcast, sought the nation's forgiveness for the hardships caused by the stringent nationwide lockdown, saying it was necessary because the country was fighting a battle between life and death.
He, however, expressed confidence that "we will definitely win the battle" against the coronavirus menace and praised the front-line workers in this fight against as well as countless workers delivering the essential services.
The government announced some more exemptions to the lockdown by allowing movement of all goods, irrespective of those being in essential or non-essential categories.
But, a panic-like situation emerged due to mass exodus of migrant workers from various parts of the country, including the national capital, Maharashtra and Kerala, where a large number of people came out of relief camps and demanded being allowed to go to their homes.
A migrant worker reportedly died of heart attack in Uttar Pradesh after walking more than 200 kms on way to his hometown in Madhya Pradesh from Delhi.
"People are talking about the danger of some virus which can kill all of us. I don't understand all these. As a mother, I am pained when I cannot feed my children. No one is there to help. All are equally worried about their lives," Savitri, 30, a New Delhi slum dweller, said as she walked along the Mathura Highway carrying her belongings on her head.
"We will die of hunger before any disease if we stay here," she said, determined to walk 400 kms to her village in Uttar Pradesh's Kannauj district.
Hundreds of migrant workers also gathered again near the Anand Vihar terminus near the Delhi-UP border, hoping to board buses to their villages but they were turned back by police. A large number were seek walking in groups on highways and even on railway tracks.
Concerned over such movements causing the risk of a community spread, the Centre asked state governments and Union Territory administrations to effectively seal all state and district borders and said those having already left be quarantined for 14 days.
During a video conference with chief secretaries and DGPs, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla asked them to ensure that there is no movement of people across cities or on highways as the lockdown continues.
"There has been movement of migrant workers in some parts of the country. Directions were issued that district and state borders should be effectively sealed," an official statement said.
States were directed to ensure that there is no movement of people across cities or on highways and there should be strict implementation of the lockdown.
Only the movement of goods and of those involved in delivery of essential services is allowed during the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Modi on March 24.
States have been also told to ensure timely payment of wages to labourers at their place of work during the period of lockdown without any cut.
House rent should not be demanded from the labourers for this period. Action should be taken against those who are asking labourers or students to vacate the premises, the government statement said.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Maharashtra's Uddhav Thackeray, among other state leaders, asked migrant workers in their respective states to stay put and promised them food and other facilities.
The Indian Railways said it will now run special trains of parcel vans to ferry essential commodities.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also wrote to Modi, saying the sudden lockdown has created immense "panic" and "confusion". He called for steps other than a total lockdown announced by some developed nations to tackle the deadly disease.
Gandhi said the number of poor people in India who are dependent on a daily income is too large to unilaterally shut down all economic activities in the wake of the pandemic.
"The consequences of a complete economic shut down will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from COVID-19," he feared.
The Prime Minister's Office said Modi is interacting with over 200 people on a daily basis to get a first-hand feedback on India's fight against the coronavirus crisis. These include phone calls to governors, chief ministers and state health ministers, as also with doctors, nurses, health workers and sanitation staff in various parts of the country.
The PMO also constituted 10 different high-level committees to suggest measures to ramp up healthcare, put the economy back on track and reduce misery of people as quickly as possible post the 21-day lockdown period.
In its latest update on Sunday evening, the Union health ministry said the death toll due to COVID-19 has risen to 27 and the total number of positive cases has risen to 1,024 as on 7.30 pm.
The number of active COVID-19 cases in the country was 901, while 95 people were either cured or discharged and one had migrated.
So far, Maharashtra has reported 6 deaths, Gujarat 5, Karnataka 3, Madhya Pradesh 2, Delhi 2, Jammu and Kashmir 2 and Kerala, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Punjab, West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh have reported one each.
An earlier update, released at 10 am Sunday, had put the total positive cases at 979 and deaths at 25.
No fresh cases were reported from Punjab on Sunday.
The health ministry also issued guidelines on disinfection of public places including offices and the standard operating procedure for transporting suspect and confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Several ministers, as also various government departments, announced donations towards the coronavirus fight, while a number of corporates also announced their own contributions to relief funds.
The government said such contributions by companies would qualify as their statutory Corporate Social Responsibility spending.
While the total number of deaths in India is still low compared to many other countries, there are widespread concerns including among the experts that the count may see a sudden spike and social distancing remains the only way to prevent community spread.
Globally, the death toll crossed 31,000 on Sunday with more than 20,000 deaths in Europe itself, while Spain and Italy have reported more than 800 deaths in a day.
Nearly one-third of the world population is under lockdown to check the spread of this virus with the jobs, manufacturing and all economic activities coming to almost a standstill.
The confirmed infections worldwide has topped 6,67,000, with the United States topping the list with more than 1,04,000 cases.
Ironically, authorities in China's Wuhan, from where this deadly virus is said to have begun before eventually becoming a worldwide crisis with a 'pandemic' declaration, began steps towards partial re-opening of the city after more than two months of near total isolation for its 11 million people.