The RBI on Friday announced its steepest interest rate cut in more than 11 years in a bid to counter the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the government stepped up efforts to battle the fast-spreading virus, amid warnings from health experts that there could be a risk of community transmission if people violated the lockdown.
As the country entered the third day of the nationwide lockdown, the Union health ministry said there were 17 deaths due to COVID-19 and the total number of cases were 724 with 66 of the patients being discharged so far. The ministry continued to maintain that there was no case of community transmission yet.
Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba has asked states to immediately strengthen the surveillance of international travellers who entered the country before the lockdown as there appeared to be a "gap" between the actual monitoring for COVID-19 and the total arrivals.
In a letter to chief secretaries of all States and Union Territories, Gauba said the gap in monitoring of international passengers for coronavirus "may seriously jeopardise the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19", given that many amongst the persons who have tested positive so far in India have history of international travel.
Apart from announcing the rate cut, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also allowed banks to put on hold EMI payments on all term loans for three months as it slashed the cost of fresh borrowing by cutting policy interest rate, a move which was dubbed by Prime Minister as "giant steps" to safeguard the economy from the impact of coronavirus.
"The announcements will improve liquidity, reduce cost of funds, help middle class and businesses," Modi tweeted.
On its part, the Delhi government assured people that medical staff were ready to tackle the situation even if the cases go up at a rate of 100 per day, and there was adequate medicines and testing kits.
While Army Chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane launched an initiative christened 'Operation Namaste' to extend all possible assistance to the government in containing the spread of coronavius, the NDRF chief said the force is getting battle-ready should its services be required amid rising cases.
"We have prepared 84 small core teams per battalion. The force is trying to cover 600 personnel in each battalion with personal protection equipment (PPE). We have informed the chief secretaries of all the states that we are on standby and can be called in, as and when required..." NDRF Director General S.N. Pradhan told PTI in a telephonic interview.
While the numbers—both the death toll and the total number of coronavirus cases—may not paint a grim picture compared to other countries, including the developed nations like the US and the UK, concern is growing among healthcare experts who believe that if people do not follow the lockdown or social distancing seriously, the situation can quickly go out of control.
Dr Arvind Kumar, lung surgeon at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH) in New Delhi, said "the only way" to slow down the virus' transmission is to follow the lockdown diligently.
Dr Kumar, also founder trustee of Lung Care Foundation, cautioned that "one infected person can spread the contagion to three more persons, which then increases in a geometric progression".
"So, you can imagine the threat India is facing if people violate lockdown and roam around, especially in the affected ones. It will be so difficult to trace contacts then," he added.
Kumar also warned that sometimes a COVID-19-positive person may not have fever but regular flu symptoms with breathlessness, and it is important for such people to be self-isolated.
India is under a complete lockdown for 21 days since Wednesday, in a desperate measure to contain the spread of the virus. Globally, the death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 25,000 with more than 5.4 lakh cases reported in over 170 countries and territories.
As per the Union health ministry, four deaths have been reported from Maharashtra while Gujarat had registered three deaths.
Karnataka has reported two deaths so far, while Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Punjab, Delhi, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh have reported one death each.
According to the data, the number of active COVID-19 cases in the country stood at 640, while 66 people were either cured or discharged and one had migrated.
The total number of 724 cases included 47 foreign nationals, the ministry said.
Asked about the cases from clusters, Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal, at the press conference, said contact tracing of all the cases is being done diligently as per defined protocols and in areas where more than one case has been reported, special teams have been deployed for house-to-house surveys.
Raman R. Gangakhedkar, Head of Epidemiology and Communicable diseases at ICMR, also reiterated that there has been no community transmission yet in the country.
Agarwal said,"75 new cases of coronavirus and four deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours and that the Centre is working in tandem with states to ensure that social distancing is followed and the lockdown is implemented effectively."
In Shillong, the Catholic Church has written to its parishes across the Khasi Jaintia Hills region to open the facilities as centres for quarantine, if needed, amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Shillong Archdiocese administrator John Madur in a letter said,"I understand we are in difficult times. But I am sure we can be of some services to humanity."
The Catholic Church is one of the biggest churches in the state with over 3 lakh members.