The total number of identified coronavirus cases in India increased sharply to 29 on Wednesday, consisting of 16 Italian tourists who had been tested positive for the disease along with an employee of a major digital payments company, Paytm who had recently traveled to Italy.
A sharp rise in cases
On Monday, the second-most populous country of the world had only six reported cases of coronavirus; however, it is one of the places U.S. intelligence agencies are most intently monitoring due to concern over how it would cope with a widespread outbreak.
Authorities are escalating screenings at airports and border crossings and asking citizens to avoid big crowds.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated he would not attend celebrations for the big Hindu Holi festival that was scheduled to be held across the country next week.
“Experts across the world have advised reducing mass gatherings to avoid the (virus) spread,” Modi stated in a tweet on Wednesday. “Hence, this year I have decided not to participate.”
An employee of Paytm which is an Indian payments company whose parent firm is supported by Alibaba and SoftBank, who went for a vacation in Italy and lives in Gurugram near New Delhi was tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson said late on Wednesday.
“We have also advised all our colleagues to work from home for a couple of days while we get our offices sanitized,” the spokesperson explained in a statement, adding that daily operations and services would not be affected.
Paytm has six offices around New Delhi, consisting of more about 3,000 employees.
An Italian tourist visiting the western desert state of Rajasthan was among those who had been tested positive earlier.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan stated 15 out of 21 tourists from Italy, which is the worst-affected country of Europe. The person had been taken to a quarantine facility on the outskirts of New Delhi and had tested positive for the virus. Their Indian driver was also taken in for quarantine.
Stock markets in Indian slid nearly 2% following the government revealed the rise in cases, before trimming losses late in the day.
Vardhan said authorities are taking extra precautions to counter the spread of the virus after the sharp increase in cases.
“We will now screen all international passengers. We will not limit our screenings to 12 countries as we did earlier,” Vardhan said in a news conference.
More than 93,000 cases have been registered worldwide, and several thousand have perished from the flu-like coronavirus, which surfaced in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has since spread to over 80 countries.
India, being the largest supplier of generic drugs in the world, has restricted the export of pharmaceuticals due to fears of coronavirus-related shortages and this has caused “panic” in Europe, the head of the country’s top pharmaceuticals export group told Reuters on Wednesday.
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