18/03/2020 8:34 AM IST | Updated 20/03/2020 8:45 PM IST

UPDATES (Mar 18): Increase Coronavirus Testing, Add Private Labs, WHO Advises India

The government, meanwhile, continues to say no community transmission of the virus has been observed in India. Follow today's live updates here:

A 64-year-old man who had tested positive for the coronavirus died in Mumbai on Tuesday. This was India’s third coronavirus fatality.

According to the Union health ministry, there are 147 coronavirus patients in the country. Of the 147 patients, 25 are foreign nationals. Fourteen people who had the virus have recovered and been discharged.

The government, meanwhile, continues to say no community transmission of the virus has been observed in India and there have only been a few cases of local transmission so far.

A Health Ministry official said on Tuesday over 5,700 people who had come in contact with the positive cases have been identified through contact tracing and are under vigorous surveillance.

Here are the day’s updates:

4.55pm: Karnataka cabinet earmarks Rs 200 crore

Karnataka cabinet has earmarked Rs 200 crore to combat spread of coronavirus in state, chief minister BS Yediyurappa said.

4.41pm: WHO says India needs to increase testing

WHO’s regional director said his advice for India was “more and more testing”.

In an interview to NDTV, Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said:  “Just random sampling is not enough to check community transmission. A comprehensive strategy is needed. Increase testing. Severe cases of respiratory issues should also be tested.”

“In our last letter to India we wrote that they should add private labs. The 51 accredited private labs that they are talking of right will be better if even more are added,” said Dr Singh.

4.26pm: Kerala to test all foreign nationals, as per new guidelines

As per new state government guidelines, all foreign nationals in the Kerala will be tested for coronavirus and those testing negative will be allowed to leave the state.

“Once they are tested negative for coronavirus, they will be allowed to travel. Persons tested positive will then be moved to isolation wards and observation centres,” Ernakulam sub-collector Snehil Kumar Singh told The NewsMinute

4.17pm: Section 144 imposed in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir

4.11pm: Puducherry CM announces closure of all liquor bars from tomorrow


4.05 pm: Railway officials find 4 people with ‘home quarantine’ stamp on train near Mumbai


3.51 pm: India to pay extremely heavy price for govt’s inability to act decisively— Rahul Gandhi 

3.01pm: 255 Indian infected with coronavirus in Iran, Govt admits in Lok Sabha

The government told the Lok Sabha that there are 255 Indians infected with the coronavirus in Iran, 12 in UAE, five in Italy and one each in Hong Kong, Kuwait, Sri Lanka and Rwanda, Indian Express reported.

A day earlier, the ministry of external affairs had said they cannot confirm whether more than 250 Indians in Iran had tested positive but acknowledged that they were aware of such a list of people being circulated. 

2.56pm: Telangana reports 6th coronavirus patient

2.14 pm: Two more cases in Bengaluru, another in UP

Chief Medical Officer, Gautam Buddh Nagar’s chief medical officer said a person, with a travel history to Indonesia, had tested positive, the fourth person with the virus in the area.

Karnataka’s health minister reported two patients in Bengaluru.

1.59 pm: White House asks US Congress for additional $45.8 billion in emergency funding

Huffpost US’s Dominique Mosbergen reports the White House Office of Management and Budget asked the US Congress to release an additional $45.8 billion in emergency funding to help in its battle containing the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the pandemic growing, resource needs have also grown,” Russell Vought, the acting OMB director, wrote in a letter to lawmakers, CNN reported. “The unprecedented mobilization the Administration has achieved has forced agencies to incur unanticipated costs. These costs must be met with a legislative response to ensure full operational capacity.”

Congress approved a $8.3 billion in emergency funding earlier this month to fight the virus.

1.31 pm: Australia to enforce restrictions not seen since WW1

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a number of unprecedented restrictions as coronavirus cases surge in the country. The measures include bans on gatherings of more than 100 people in pubs, clubs and restaurants and a “Level Four” ban on overseas travel to every country in the world. “This is a once in 100 year type event. We haven’t seen this sort of thing in Australia since the end of the First World War,” Morrison said. HuffPost Australia reports that at least 450 people in Australia have tested positive while five people have died after contracting COVID-19

1.12 pm: Coronavirus-positive Indians stuck in Iran finally moved to isolation facility

HuffPost India’s Betwa Sharma reports:

The Indian government working with the authorities in Iran has moved half of the 252 pilgrims from Ladakh who tested positive for coronavirus while they were stranded in Iran and isolated them in a facility with more than 200 beds in the holy city of Qom, HuffPost India has learnt.

In an interview, Asgar Ali, a tour guide who is heading an informal committee to speak with Indian and Iranian officials in Iran, said the rest of the pilgrims that tested positive would be moved today. 

On Tuesday, HuffPost India reported on the more than 800 pilgrims who have been stranded in Qom following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The Government of India had cancelled all commercial flights after 26 February from Iran, the worst-hit country after China and Italy.

12.59 pm: Goa health minister retracts statement based on ‘hoax call’

Goa Health Minister Vishwajit has retracted his remarks and said the test results for the Norway national were not clear yet.

Rane said the earlier information was based on a ‘hoax call’ to the concerned nodal officer. 

12.34pm: Goa records coronavirus patient

Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane said a Norway national had tested positive for coronanvirus in the state.

12.29 pm: Bombay Archbishop exempt people from taking part in Sunday mass

The Archbishop of Bombay put out a statement exempting the faithful from attending Sunday mass.

The Archbishop also urged those who were ill and people above the age of 60 to not come to church to attend mass.


12.26 pm: Shashi Tharoor says Parliament should adjourn

12.19 pm: Maharashtra will open 7 more labs for coronavirus testing, minister says

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said seven more laboratories will come up across the state for testing suspected novel coronavirus cases.

At present, only three labs are operating in the state at Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune where samples of suspected persons are tested.

“KEM, JJ Hospital and Haffkine Institute will soon get the testing facilities. Most likely they will commence operations in the next five days,” Tope told reporters.

Similar laboratories will come up in different parts of the state, he said.

12.11pm: No BJP protests or demonstrations for a month

The BJP president JP Nadda has said the party will not hold any protest or demonstration for a month in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

“PM, yesterday in the Parliamentary party meeting, had desired that because of coronavirus we should avoid any type of agitation, dharna, demonstration. Keeping that in view, the BJP has decided that for the next one month the party won’t participate in any agitation, demonstration,” Nadda said.

11.59 am: King George’s Medical University doctor tests positive in Lucknow


11.52 am: Karnataka CM calls emergency cabinet meeting

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediuyurappa has called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the coronavirus outbreak and indicated the lock- down in the state will continue.

“We will discuss and will take what more stringent measures that needs to be taken,” he said, PTI quoted.

Yediyurappa said, ”...we need to take more stringent measures, when the US President has recommended avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people in his country. We will discuss in the cabinet and take all necessary measures.“

Responding to a question on whether the lockdown in the state would continue, the Chief Minister said, “most probably it will continue.”

11.43 am: US working on providing immediate cash payments to Americans

US President Donald Trump said the White House was discussing a “substantial” spending bill with the US Congress that would include immediate cash payments to Americans, according to AFP.

Officials did not give hard numbers but The Washington Post reported the amount could reach 850 billion, with a chunk destined for airlines fearing ruin. “We’re going big,” Trump told reporters.

Meanwhile, the European Union shut its borders to travellers from outside for 30 days to stem the pandemic’s ferocious spread.

11.37 am: NBA player Kevin Durant tests positive

Kevin Durant confirmed that he has tested positive for COVID-19, marking the growing number of NBA players infected with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The announcement came after the Brooklyn Nets said four of its players tested positive for COVID-19, though the team did not list which players. One of the infected players had been displaying symptoms, according to the team. Durant told The Athletic that he’s feeling fine despite testing positive.

11.32 am: Coronavirus has now spread to all 50 states in the US

The novel coronavirus has now officially spread to all 50 states in the United States. A patient in West Virginia, which was the only state with no confirmed cases until now, tested positive for coronavirus, Gov. Jim Justice (R) said Tuesday. 

11.21 am: Amitabh Bachchan tweets photo of ‘Home Quarantine’ stamp

The Maharashtra government said it had decided that people undergoing ‘home quarantine’ for suspected exposure to the coronavirus would be stamped on the left hand to identify them easily in case they mingle with the general public.


11.07 am: Supreme Court takes suo motu cognisance of midday meals during school shutdown 

The Supreme Court has issued notices to states and Union Territories on how children are being provided mid-day meals while schools are shut.

10.59 am: IIT-B shuts down campus in Powai, no entry or exit from March 21

The IIT Bombay has announced a virtual shutdown of its campus at Powai till March 31 and decided to ask students to vacate hostels by March 20 evening.

The institute held an emergency meeting of all heads of departments and other academic and administrative units on Tuesday night, PTI reported.

“All academic activities of the Institute including research will be effectively closed till March 31,” a statement from the institute said.

The statement said that since all departments will remain closed, students will not be allowed to enter the departments and academic areas.

The director said that nobody will be allowed to enter or exit the premises from March 21 onwards.

10.53 am: Army soldier tests positive for coronavirus

A 34-year-old soldier of the Indian Army has tested positive for the infection in Leh, PTI reported.

The soldier, a resident of Chuhot village in Leh, came in contact with his father, who had returned from a pilgrimage in Iran by an Air India flight on February 20 and tested positive for COVID-19. He is currently in quarantine at the Ladakh Heart Foundation since February 29.

Before being quarantined, the soldier’s father had met the family members.

The soldier has been isolated at the Sonam Nurboo Memorial (SNM) Hospital. His sister, wife and two children are also quarantined at SNM Heart Foundation.

10.29 am: 51 entrepreneurs, including Urban Company and Snapdeal, write to PM asking for lockdown

“The Government of India should impose a 2-3 week lockdown with section 144 across major impacted cities right, and be prepared for a second lock-down later.”

Their document has suggestions for how the lockdown should be imposed but does not address how the poor and the marginalised will manage in such a situation. 

“Most public health advisories that have been released in the past few weeks are highly urban upper and middle class centric,” three doctors write in this The NewsMinute article.

10.11 am: National Restaurant Association of India asks members to shut shop till March 31

The National Restaurant Association of India has sent an advisory to all its members asking them to shut operations from March 18 to March 31, in view of the coronavirus and the health risk to employees and customers, The NewsMinute reported.

Their statement said: “We find ourselves today in an unprecedented situation where we are compelled to make some difficult decisions which have massive financial implications on our businesses but we are doing this in the larger benefit for our teams, our guests and our communities.” 

NRAI has not decided whether restaurants should stop deliveries and has outlets to deliver food following the current global practice of contact-less delivery, TNM reported.

9.53 am: Gentle reminder to wash your hands

Advisories by the government, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization stress on the importance of frequently washing hands to prevent the spread of the virus.

Here’s the Kerala police showing you how to do just that:

See more fun handwashing videos here

9.24 am: 147 coronavirus patients in India, highest in Maharashtra

The health ministry says that, as of 9 am on March 18, India has 147 coronavirus patients. 

Maharashtra has the highest number of patients at 41, followed by Kerala at 27 and Uttar Pradesh at 16.

Health ministry
Coronavirus cases in India

9.15 am: Wife and son of deceased Covid-19 patient in Mumbai in stable condition 

The wife and son of the Covid-19 patient in Mumbai, who died on Tuesday, are being treated at the city’s Kasturba Hospital and are stable. They were informed of his death but will not be allowed to attend his cremation as per protocol, the Mumbai Mirror reported.

“It was a very emotional moment for them. But we tried to console and counsel them. We told the other relatives that they too won’t be allowed to go for the cremation. They all cooperated with us. They are in a state of shock.,” Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani told the daily.

9.01 am: Facebook bug caused legitimate coronavirus posts to be marked as spam

Facebook’s head of safety said a bug was responsible for posts on topics including coronavirus being erroneously marked as spam, prompting widespread complaints from users of both its flagship app and photo-sharing app Instagram, Reuters reported.

“This is a bug in an anti-spam system, unrelated to any change in our content moderator workforce,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for integrity, said on Twitter.

“We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics - not just those related to COVID-19. This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too,” he said.

8.44 am: One more person tests positive in Pune

This makes a total of 18 patients in Pune and 42 in Maharashtra, Pune district magistrate said.


8.37 am: Health ministry recommends antiviral drugs for high-risk patients

The Union health ministry has recommended use of the antiviral drugs on a “case-to-case basis” for “high-risk patients” aged above 60 years with underlying conditions, Indian Express reports.

The Italian couple who tested positive in Rajasthan, a 69-year-old man and 70-year-old woman, were given the Lopinavir/ Ritonavir combination, drugs that are used against HIV.

The two have since recovered from coronavirus.

The ministry has recommended Lopinavir-Ritonavir for symptomatic patients having hypoxia, hypotension, new onset organ dysfunction (one or more), increase in creatinine by 50 per cent from baseline and any other organ dysfunction among others.

8.29 am: Bengal reports first coronavirus patient

An 18-year-old man, who recently returned from England, tested positive for novel coronavirus on Tuesday, making it the first confirmed case in West Bengal, a senior official of the state government told PTI.

He started showing symptoms of COVID-19 since morning, following which he was admitted to the isolation ward of the Beliaghata ID hospital in Kolkata, they said.

8.25 am: 252 coronavirus patients among 800 Indians stranded in Iran

Huffpost India’s Betwa Sharma reported that at least 800 Indian nationals, 252 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19 were stranded in Iran, as a consequence of the government’s refusal to evacuate its own citizens who have tested positive for the virus.

People said absence of any support from the Indian embassy to isolate and quarantine the sick has forced the healthy to share the same hotels as them. 

8.21 am: MEA says it can’t confirm if Indians in Iran tested positive for coronavirus

The External Affairs Ministry officials on Tuesday said they cannot confirm whether more than 250 Indians in Iran have tested positive for novel coronavirus but acknowledged that they were aware of such a list of people being circulated.

“Of course in a situation like that, you will find some positive cases among the Indian pilgrims given the extensive spread of virus in Iran,” MEA Additional Secretary Dammu Ravi told reporters.

“Rest assured that every care is being taken by mission in cooperating and coordinating with the government of Iran for safety of Indians there. The ambassador is giving a lot of attention to them,” he said.

He, however, said that it was not possible that all the tests of the Indian pilgrims would have come out negative as they were located in Qom.

8.14 am: Delhi Police tells people not step outside for leisure activities

The Delhi Police on Tuesday appealed to the people to remain indoors as far as possible and not come outside for leisure activities in view of coronavirus, official said.

“To prevent spread of Coronavirus, police appeal to the people of Delhi to remain indoors and not to come outside unnecessarily for leisure or entertainment activities which involve close contact with more than four to five people at any place,” a statement said.

The statement also appealed to people not to assemble at any place for protest, dharna, rally, or any other activity, whether in close space or open, till March 31.

On Monday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said religious, social, cultural and political gatherings comprising more than 50 people will not be allowed in the national capital till March 31.

8.01 am: One out of 131 samples tested positive in Mumbai, says BMC

On a day Mumbai and Maharashtra recorded first coronavirus-linked death, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said that only one person tested positive for the infection out of 131 samples examined at the civic-run Kasturba Hospital.

A 49-year-old man from N-ward of the city was admitted to Kasturba Hospital on March 16 and he tested positive on Tuesday, the BMC said in a release.

So far 15 persons have tested positive for the coronavirus in Mumbai, including eight who hail not from the city but from peripheral areas. It also includes the 64-year- old man who died at Kasturba Hospital on Tuesday.

7. 43 am: Jammu and Kashmir bans entry of foreign tourists

The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Tuesday barred foreign tourists from entering the Union Territory as a precautionary measure in view of coronavirus outbreak.

Covid-19 Vaccine

Two major pharma companies - Pfizer from the US and BioNTech from Germany on Tuesday announced they were joining hands to co-develop and distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine aimed at preventing COVID-19 infection.

The companies have executed a Material Transfer and Collaboration Agreement to enable the parties to immediately start working together, a media release said on Tuesday.

According to the statement, the collaboration aims to accelerate development of BioNTech’s potential first-in-class COVID-19 mRNA vaccine program, BNT162, which is expected to enter clinical testing by the end of April 2020.

The rapid advancement of this collaboration builds on the research and development collaboration into which Pfizer and BioNTech entered in 2018 to develop mRNA-based vaccines for prevention of influenza, it said.

Indian govt enlists private sector

The Health Ministry on Tuesday issued guidelines for notifying COVID-19 in private facilities. It shall be mandatory for all hospitals (Government and Private), medical officers in government health institutions and registered private medical practitioners, including AYUSH practitioners, to notify such person(s) with COVID-19 affected person to concerned district surveillance unit.

All practitioners shall also get the self-declaration forms who, within their knowledge, have travel history of COVID-19 affected countries as per the extant guidelines and are falling under the case definition of coronavirus (suspect/case), the guidelines read.

Incase the person has any such history in the last 14 days and is symptomatic as per the case definition of COVID-19, the person must be isolated in the hospital and will be tested for the disease as per the protocol.

Information of all such cases should be given to the state helpline number (list enclosed) and also to national helpline 1075.

A total of 137 people have tested positive for coronavirus in India. Three persons have died of the disease.

GoAir offers staff leave without pay

Budget carrier GoAir on Tuesday announced suspending international operations and offering leave without pay programme for its staff on a rotational basis, amid “unprecedented” decline in air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, GoAir said the aviation industry has been one of the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic as governments have issued far reaching travel advisories, customers have curtailed their individual travel plans and businesses have restricted the movement of their employees.

The carrier said it was temporarily suspending all international operations, starting March 17 until April 15.

Indian Economy

S&P Global Ratings on Wednesday lowered India’s economic growth forecast to 5.2% for 2020, saying the global economy is entering a recession amid the coronavirus pandemic. The agency had earlier projected a growth rate of 5.7 per cent during the 2020 calendar.

On Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service had lowered India’s economic growth forecast for 2020 to 5.3% (from 5.4%), in the wake of the coronavirus impact on the economy.