"As far as India is concerned, we are 100% transparent. We are following protocol," Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary at the Health Ministry, said, adding that the government was moving cautiously so as to not create panic. "We don't want to just test people for the sake of testing. We are constantly updating the number of cases," he added. India has tested 11,500 samples since January 21, at the rate of around 700 per day.
Many have expressed concern that COVID-19 cases in India, the second-most populous nation after China, where the virus originated, may appear relatively low because of poor testing facilities. Some point to South Korea, which has done over two lakh tests at nearly 15,000 per day. The World Health Organisation, which has praised India for its handling of the pandemic, has urged all countries to "test, test, test".
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the government's main medical research body, has argued against indiscriminate testing, saying that it was not a "practical" given the country's size and population Balram Bhargava, the Director General, also said the WHO's directive did not apply to India. Mr Bhargava conceded private labs could be roped in to help once certain safeguards were in place.
As of now patients who do not have a travel history but are showing symptoms are not tested in view of limited facilities. But such testing is essential to figuring out level of contagion and steps needed to control it. Aggressive mass testing is how South Korea controlled the spread.
A group of entrepreneurs, linked to some of the country's most successful start-ups, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, urging for at least two phases of "strict lockdown" and the imposition of Section 144 (to ban large gatherings) to contain the outbreak. In a 10-slide PowerPoint presentation, the entrepreneurs said tough containment measures, including encouraging people to work from home, now could save nearly 10,000 lives. The presentation, also cautioned the government to ensure supply of essential goods - food, water and medicines - and functional public transportation.
India's third COVID-19-linked death was that of a Mumbai man who had returned from Dubai on March 5. He did not disclose his travel history to the authorities and went to a private hospital, where he was treated for respiratory problems. His wife also tested positive but she is stable. The two other deaths were reported from Delhi and Karnataka.
Also on Tuesday two new cases were reported from Noida near Delhi and a man who had arrived from England on Sunday tested positive in Kolkata, making him Bengal's first case. Meanwhile, cases were also reported from Ladakh. Maharashtra has the most number of cases in India, with 38, followed by Kerala with 25 and Uttar Pradesh with 15.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi warned of an "economic devastation" in the next six months, saying "people of the country are going to go through unimaginable pain" if India doesn't prepare itself amid coronavirus outbreak.
The COVID-19 outbreak, which has claimed nearly 7,000 lives around the world and infected 1.7 lakh others, has massively impacted stock markets and business. The UK has approved a package for affected businesses, and the US has planned to spend billions to help Americans affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic.
The outbreak has also affected the world of sports, with a number of international events, including soccer's European Championships and Copa America, tennis' French Open and golf's Masters being postponed. In India, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has also been deferred, as has the India-South Africa cricket series.
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