Kerala declares coronavirus a 'state calamity' to intensify efforts to contain spread in the south Indian state

Medical staff in full protective suits carry medical waste as they exit from the coronavirus isolation ward in Kochi, Kerala, India, on Feb 3, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - Kerala has declared the new coronavirus a state calamity, in a move officials said is aimed at marshalling resources to contain the spread of the virus which has seen three medical students admitted to isolation wards in different hospitals in the southern Indian state.

"Kerala has decided to announce the disease as a state calamity," Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Feb 4).

By declaring it a state calamity, the entire state machinery is geared up, with all medical officers, even those on leave, expected to report for duty, said officials.

Health Minister K. K. Shailaja told reporters that the decision to declare a state calamity was made at a meeting of the State Disaster Management Authority after the three students tested positive for the virus which originated in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China that is the epicentre of the outbreak.

The three had returned from Wuhan and are the only confirmed cases in India so far. Their condition, according to a health bulletin, is "satisfactory".

"The announcement is not meant to scare people. It is to help take proactive steps to intensify efforts to contain the spread of the virus," Ms Shailaja told reporters in Kerala.

The Kerala government said that out of 2,239 people who had travelled to Kerala from China and other virus-affected countries, and were placed under observation, 84 people have been admitted to hospitals while 2,155 are under quarantine at home.

Those not showing symptoms have been told to stay at home for 28 days.

So far, 140 people in Kerala have tested for the virus, with 46 cleared. The state government said the results of the others are still pending.

India's third confirmed case was reported on Monday from Kasaragod district in Kerala while the second case was reported on Sunday from Alappuzha district and the first case last week from Thrissur district.

The state has also set up a 24-hour helpline.

India has taken several measures to help contain the virus including thermal scanning of passengers at 20 airports.

As of Sunday, Indian authorities had screened 58,658 passengers from 445 flights for fever, which is a symptom of the virus.

The Indian government announced on Monday that the e-Visa facility for Chinese passport holders had been temporarily suspended and that e-Visas already issued to Chinese nationals have been declared invalid for now.

The government also released a fresh travel advisory for residents to refrain from visiting China. Anyone who travelled to China after Jan 15 would be quarantined on their return.

The South Asian country, which has a population of 1.33 billion and porous borders, has also evacuated over 600 people including students, professionals and others from the Chinese province affected by the virus. It also includes citizens of Maldives, who remain in quarantine in India.

All those evacuated are at present in facilities set up by the Indian Army in Manesar, near Delhi, and in Delhi by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

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