The COVID-19 crisis appeared escalating on Monday as the government reported more than 200 new cases of infection and at least five more deaths across India but maintained it was still in the local transmission stage. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, cautioned that fear and panic are becoming a bigger problem than the coronavirus.
The government also said there was no immediate plan to extend the 21-day lockdown period, which entered its sixth day on Monday, while the Indian Army dismissed as "fake" social media posts about a possible emergency declaration next month.
In its latest update, the Union home ministry said the death toll due to COVID-19 has risen to 32 and the number of total positive cases to 1,251 as on Monday 9.30 pm, up from 1,024 positive cases and 27 deaths as on Sunday evening. While there are more than 1,100 active cases, nearly 100 have been cured.
At 227, this is the largest one-day increase in the number of cases for India. At least 25 fresh cases were reported from Delhi alone, taking the national capital's tally to 97, as per the Delhi Health Department.
Interacting with organisations involved in social work via video conferencing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked them to counter misinformation and superstition on coronavirus as he observed that people
have been flouting social distancing norms in the name of belief.
Modi also held a video-conference with 130 Indian missions abroad on COVID-19 and said extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions and referred to "unprecedented" and early steps taken by India since mid-January to reduce the risk of importing the coronavirus infection and prevent a large outbreak.
As fresh cases of coronavirus cases were reported from various parts of the country including in Rajasthan, Haryana, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, including in Noida in the national capital region, the Delhi Police cordoned off a major area in Nizamuddin where several people showed symptoms of coronavirus after taking part in a religious gathering a few days ago.
Officials said over 2,000 delegates, including from Indonesia and Malaysia, attended the Tabligh-e-Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin West from March 1-15. More than 200 people have been admitted to hospitals after showing symptoms of the disease and test results for many of them are expected on Tuesday.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal later ordered FIR against the person who led the congregation.
The Delhi government separately converted its 11 schools into night shelters in a bid to help migrant workers stay in the city during the lockdown period, which would be in addition to the existing 238 night shelters in the city.
However, some good news came in the latest update from the Union health ministry which said the COVID-19 is still in local transmission stage in India and it took 12 days for cases of infection to rise from 100 to 1,000 at a rate of increase slower than some of the developed countries.
Addressing the daily press briefing on the actions taken, preparedness and updates on COVID-19, Joint Secretary in the ministry of health Lav Agarwal said it is still technically in the local transmission stage in India and there has been no community transmission as yet.
Earlier on Sunday, a standard operating procedure issued by the health ministry had referred to the current phase of COVID-19 pandemic in India as "local transmission and limited community transmission".
Agarwal urged all to maintain social distancing, saying even one person's carelessness may lead to spread of coronavirus pandemic.
He attributed the slow pace of rise in cases in India to people's participation in strictly following the social distancing guidelines and the collective preemptive actions taken by the Centre in tandem with state
The worldwide tally of deaths crossed 35,900, with more than 26,000 people dying in Europe. Globally, more than 7,40,000 people have been detected positive so far, out of which nearly 1,42,300 have recovered, as per various reports.
In United Kingdom, Prince Charles appeared recovering and moved out of self-isolation, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered quarantine after an aide tested positive for the deadly virus. His test is reported to be negative.
Raman R Gangakhedkar, Head of Epidemiology and Communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research, said 38,442 tests have been conducted till now in India, out of which 3,501 were done on Sunday.
He said 47 private laboratories have been given approval for conducting COVID-19 tests and in the last three days, 1,334 tests have been done in private labs.
However, the government had to clarify that there was no immediate plan to extend the 21-day lockdown amid fears that shutdown of businesses across the country to counter the spread of the virus may trigger severe economic and social distress.
The Indian Army also clarified that no effort is being initiated to rope in services of retired personnel, the National Cadet Corps and the volunteers enrolled under the National Service Scheme in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
The Supreme Court also stepped in amid a crisis created by thousands of migrant workers trying to return to their villages after being rendered jobless and homeless due to the lockdown.
The apex court observed that the panic and fear are becoming a "bigger problem than coronavirus", and sought a status report from the Centre by Tuesday on the measures taken to prevent the exodus.
Hearing two separate petitions through video conferencing, the court said it would not create more confusion by issuing directions on measures which the government is already taking, before looking at the status report from the Centre.
Separately, the government told all its departments to pay high priority to public grievances related to coronavirus.
The Railway Board told its zonal units to be ready to convert up to 20,000 train coaches into isolation wards for treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Steps have also been initiated for releasing thousands of prisoners in overcrowded jails across the country on interim bail or parole in an unprecedented step to prevent the spread of coronavirus and also to avoid any clashes.
Among new cases, 16 new coronavirus positive cases were reported in Uttar Pradesh, taking the total tally in the state to 88. Of this, 14 have fully recovered and discharged, while the national capital's adjoining Gautam Buddh Nagar district alone has reported 36 cases, officials said.
Top administration officials across the country, including in the national capital, were warned of strict action for any laxity during the lockdown period.
In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee warned that any one ostracising healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients will be arrested.
In Uttar Pradesh, some officials were seen forcefully sanitising a group of migrants with 'chemicals", which prompted the apex child rights body NCPCR to demand disciplinary and penal action against officials responsible for this.
The Congress and other opposition parties also demanded action on such behaviour.
The main opposition party also demanded that the central government bring in a law or rule to ensure there is no retrenchment of workers in the private sector for six months till August in the wake of lockdown due to coronavirus.