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Coronavirus Updates, March 23: Maharashtra, TN Announce Closure of Borders; Curfew in Punjab

Coronavirus Updates, March 23: Maharashtra, TN Announce Closure of Borders; Curfew in Punjab

An official uses a thermal screening device on Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray on March 20, 2020. Photo: PTI

After the 14-hour ‘janata curfew’ ended, the Centre on Sunday decided to shut down over 80 coronavirus affected districts across the country until March 31. During these days, only essential services will be allowed to operate in these districts.

Meanwhile, India’s coronavirus cases continued to rise. As of 6 pm on Monday, there were 433 total confirmed cases in the country. This includes 24 who have been cured or discharged and seven deaths. Overnight, Maharashtra and Gujarat reported 18 and 11 new cases respectively. While it took 50 days for the confirmed cases in India to cross 200 (on March 20), it took only three days (March 23) for the number to cross 400.

Globally, total cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, stood at over 339,000. More than 14,000 people have died because of the disease. Italy continues to report many deaths, with more than 650 people succumbing on Sunday. China, the country where the virus originated, once again claimed that no new domestic cases were reported.

‘Larger interest’: Punjab announces curfew

Hours after announcing a curfew in Punjab to combat coronavirus, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday said he was forced to take the extreme measure in the “larger interest” of the state.

Appealing to the people to voluntarily adhere to the curfew imposed to tackle the prevailing “war-like situation”, Singh also warned of strict action against the violators.

The Punjab government on Monday clamped a curfew to fight coronavirus, making it the first state to take the drastic measure after finding that many people were ignoring the state-wide lockdown ordered by it.

Assam on lockdown from Tuesday

Assam will be under lockdown from 6 pm on Tuesday till March 31, health and family welfare minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced.

Addressing a press conference here on Monday, Sarma said essential services like pharmacies, medical, water supply, banking, and petrol pumps would be exempted from the purview of the lockdown.

The state border will be sealed and no vehicles, barring those on essential duties, will be allowed, the minister added.

Tripura to be under lockdown from 2 pm on Tuesday till March 31

Tripura will be placed under a lockdown from 2 pm on Tuesday till March 31 in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb announced.

Public transport would be not permitted during this period and shops, commercial establishments, offices, factories and workshops will remain closed, he told a press conference on Monday.

Any gathering in public places is banned as prohibitory order under Section 144 of the CrPC has already been imposed.

Maharashtra’s borders to be sealed

After sealing the state borders, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Monday announced that district borders will also remain sealed across the state until March 31. This step, he said is taken to ensure that effective measures are taken at the right time to contain the spread of the virus. “This is a turning point for us. This is the moment that we make a concerted effort to stop this coronavirus’s spread completely. Otherwise, we would be making the same mistake that several other foreign countries have made,” he said.

However, essential services will continue to be available and measures are taken to ensure they are not disrupted, Thackeray said in a video message broadcasted on his official social media pages.

Among the essential services, Thackeray mentioned groceries, food, medicines, medicine producing companies, transports used to ferry these essential services will continue to be available. He also mentioned that pet food and other veterinary hospitals will also be open. In the agricultural sector, he said, all centres providing seeds, and other essentials for farming will remain available.

On March 22, the entire country had observed the “janata curfew”, as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While the janata curfew was lifted at 9 pm, the Maharashtra government had imposed section 144 of the CrPC across the state, directing people to stay at home. However, many people had stepped out. “I am left with no choice but to tighten the provisions now. No one can be seen loitering on the street. Private vehicles can ply but only when they are absolutely essential,” he said.

While Maharashtra has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases, they are concentrated in a few districts. “I look at this as an opportunity and consider sealing district borders will help us contain the disease within the infected districts. We have to ensure it doesn’t spread in other districts which have fortunately not been touched by the illness yet,” he said.

All local trains and long-distance trains in the city have already been stopped. Buses too are allowed to ply only those working in the essential services sector.

Thackeray has also written to PM Modi, asking to shut down airports and the entry of domestic flights. “Flights from other cities will keep coming and that would only add to our burden. These are all momentary restrictions but are a must,” he said. International flights have been stopped over a week ago. The civil aviation ministry has announced that domestic commercial flights will be suspended from Wednesday midnight.

Thackeray has also mentioned that plans have been chalked out to train home guards and Anganwadi workers to help them curb the spread of the coronavirus in the state.

Philippines man who had recovered from COVID-19 dies in Mumbai

A 68-year-old man from Philippines, who tested positive for coronavirus infection and later recovered, has died at a hospital in Mumbai, the city civic body said on Monday.

This is the third death reported from Mumbai in connection with the coronavirus.

The man had initially tested positive for coronavirus and was under treatment at the civic-run Kasturba Hospital here. He was later shifted to a private hospital after his test report came out negative, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said in a statement.

Domestic flights suspended from Wednesday

All domestic commercial flights will be suspended indefinitely from midnight on Wednesday, the civil aviation ministry has announced. Cargo flights will be allowed to function.

Tamil Nadu announces lockdown

Starting from 6 pm on Tuesday, Tamil Nadu will be under a lockdown until March 31 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Chief minister E.K. Palaniswami said that Section 144 of the CrPC will be invoked for its implementation.

Making a statement in the assembly on Monday, the CM said that barring essential and emergency services, public and private transportation will not function.

The announcement came a day after the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state rose to nine.

Delhi HC, district courts suspended until April 4

The Delhi High Court on Monday suspended its functioning as well as of the district courts in Delhi until April 4 in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Matters of extreme urgency will have to be mentioned before the registrar or joint registrar telephonically and hearing will take place through video conferencing.

The high court also said that the limitation period for any court proceedings would not be considered from Monday until April 4, subject to further orders. Period of limitation means the time period under which a suit, appeal or application has to be filed.

The decision was taken by an eight-judge committee headed by Chief Justice D.N. Patel.

Regarding the functioning of trial courts, the high court directed the district and sessions judges to prepare a roster of judicial officers for dealing with remand proceedings related to fresh arrests.

“For fresh matters of extreme urgency, one administrative officer (judicial) be nominated in each district who can be contacted telephonically by the advocate/ party,” it said, adding that the matters which are already fixed up to April 4 be adjourned to subsequent dates and the information uploaded on the courts’ websites.

PIB debunks claim that noise produced during janata curfew reduced risk of COVID-19 

After rumours on WhatsApp claimed that noise produced during the five-minute applause on Sunday during the janata curfew would reduce the risk of the coronavirus in India, the Press Information Bureau tweeted a fact check to debunk this claim.

Punjab IAS officers to contribute one day salary to CM Relief Fund

The Government of Punjab said on Monday that the IAS officers of the Punjab Cadre will be contributing one day’s salary to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to help those whose livelihood will be affected as a result of the lockdown imposed on the state to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Kerala health minister on how to control a pandemic

Kerala health minister K.K. Shailaja, in an op-ed for The Hindu, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the “ubiquitous fault lines of India’s public healthcare infrastructure”. In the op-ed, she discussed the guidelines and procedures followed by the Kerala state government, which has received praise for acting quickly and efficiently in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

She said the “meagre health spending” or poor allocations in the Union budget has resulted in a system that cannot even “ensure fully functional toilets in public health centres”.

She said the Kerala government had begun discussions on how to address the threat of coronavirus in mid-January. “When various countries started confirming cases, Kerala was the first State to draft measures for its containment. The measures became more stringent when the State reported its first case on January 30. Since then, the government has become more vigilant and taken proactive measures to trace people who have had primary and secondary contact with those who tested positive,” Shailaja wrote.

After a family with travel history to Italy had tested positive, the minister said that the government began ‘vigorous tracing’ of people who had come in contact with them, and also tightened the norms for people returning from other countries. Measures such as strictly implementing isolation and quarantine were also followed, she says.

Medics put ‘home quarantine’ stamp on passengers after thermal screening in the wake of deadly coronavirus, at Guwahati Railway Station, March 23, 2020. Photo: PTI

She advocates “aggressively” tracing and testing potential cases of COVID-19, citing the example of South Korea. She said though Kerala has “superior mechanisms for healthcare”, the state faces the challenge of “limited resources and labs for testing”.  The minister highlighted initatives such as a mobile application called GoK Direct, the ‘Disha helpline’ to spread awareness and the ‘Break the Chain’ campaign that tries to limit the virus’s spread.

Shailaja concludes, “The healthcare system in Kerala is decentralised to achieve the potential gains of improvement in service delivery and access. Consequently, in the context of COVID-19, the State has been successful in tracing individual cases and implementing measures like the ‘Break the Chain’ campaign successfully.”

PM Modi says lockdown should be taken seriously

In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said many people are “still not taking the lockdown seriously”. He asked state governments to make sure people follow the rules and laws imposed during the lockdown.

It may be noted here that during the janata curfew on Sunday, many people congregated on streets, ignoring the tenets of social distancing. The PM had asked people that at 5 pm on Sunday, five minutes of applause should be observed to express gratitude to health workers who are engaged in efforts to tackle the virus.

No more in-person hearings in Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the lawyers chambers in the court premises to be closed down and suspended in-person hearings until further orders. The court is considering the possibility of allowing lawyers to argue via videoconferencing.

The Supreme Court Bar Association had on Saturday requested the court to declare vacation for four weeks, saying lost days could be accommodated from the forthcoming summer vacation.

Delhi government to decongest prisons

The Delhi government informed the high court on Monday that it has decided to decongest prisons by providing convicts with the options of special parole and furlough to check the spread of the coronavirus.

The Delhi government told a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad that it was going to amend its prison rules to provide the options of special parole and furlough. A notification would be issued within a day to amend the prison rules to include the new provisions.

Taking note of the submission, the bench directed the Delhi government to take steps during the day to implement what it has proposed, disposing a plea moved by two lawyers seeking decongesting of the prisons. It observed that a similar issue has been taken up by the Supreme Court.

According to the yet-to-be-notified decision of Delhi’s home department, one of the rules would provide a 60-day parole in one spell in case of emergent situations like an epidemic or a natural disaster or any other situation which warrants easing of the inmate population.

The other rule would provide a temporary facility of special furlough “to such category of prisoners and for such number of days as may be specified in the order, in the event of emergent situations like an epidemic or a natural disaster or any other situation which warrants easing of the inmate population”.

Buses are seen parked at the Indraprastha Cluster Bus Depot after lockdown in New Delhi, March 23, 2020. Photo: PTI/Arun Sharma

One more positive case in Chandigarh

A 21-year-old man tested positive for the coronavirus infection in Chandigarh on Monday, taking the total number of positive cases to seven in the city.

“A 21 year-old male resident of Chandigarh (contact of positive Covid-19 case) has turned out to be positive for Covid-19,” said an official statement of the Chandigarh administration.

He came in contact with the brother of a 23-year-old woman, who was the city’s first coronavirus patient, an official told news agency PTI. The man was admitted to a government hospital in Sector 32 of the city.

“Total cases in Chandigarh till now is 7. The condition of all the seven positive patients is stable,” the administration’s statement said.

Harvey Weinstein tests positive for coronavirus

Former Hollywood producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for coronavirus while in prison. According to the BBC, he has now been placed in isolation.

Last month, Weinstein was found guilty of rape and sexual assault and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Weinstein is being held at Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo in upstate New York. Two prisoners at the facility tested positive for the virus on Sunday, an officer who wanted to remain anonymous told Reuters.

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