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Exclusives - 18 March, 2020

India shuts Taj Mahal, cancels 76 trains as coronavirus precautionary measure

India on Tuesday closed the Taj Mahal, its principal tourist site, and the financial hub of Mumbai ordered offices providing non-essential services to keep half their staff at home in increased measures... #Tajmahalshuts

Samuel Mathai

Mumbai: India on Tuesday closed the Taj Mahal, its principal tourist site, and the financial hub of Mumbai ordered offices providing non-essential services to keep half their staff at home in increased measures to curb the coronavirus in South Asia. Along with the Taj Mahal, dozens of other monuments and museums including the Ajanta and Ellora caves and religious sites such as Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Temple were closed.

The Indian Railways has cancelled 76 trains as precaution against the spread of coronavirus and due to low occupancy, officials said. It has also issued a set of guidelines to zonal railways for its catering staff stating no employee having fever, cough, runny nose or difficulty in breathing "should be deployed in the business of food handling on Indian Railways".

Mumbai, having 18 million people, also authorised hospital and airport authorities to stamp wrists of those ordered to self-isolate with indelible ink reading “Home Quarantined” and displaying the date the quarantine ends. The curbs in Mumbai come just days after the city shut down schools, cinemas, malls and gyms, and also banned mass gatherings.

There have been concerns that over-stretched health systems in India and the rest of the region could struggle to handle a surge in cases. New Delhi has already taken measures including suspending most visas into the country. Indian health authorities are analysing data from more than 1,000 patients who had not travelled to coronavirus-affected regions or known to have come in contact with confirmed cases, to determine whether the disease has begun spreading through the country, a senior official from the Indian Council of Medical Research said.

Maharashtra has been the hardest hit with 39 confirmed coronavirus cases, or about a quarter of the 137 cases in the country. A patient there died after contracting the virus on Tuesday, Praveen Pardeshi, who heads Mumbai’s civic body, told Reuters. It was the third death in India.

Neighbouring Sri Lanka said it would suspend all international flights for two weeks beginning Wednesday. Indian airline GoAir suspended all international operations and asked some of its employees to take unpaid leave.

Pakistan reported the number of confirmed cases had more than doubled for a second consecutive day, reaching 195. Officials said the jump was largely due to errors in testing and quarantine of travellers who recently returned from Iran through a border crossing in Balochistan province. The country also postponed its Pakistan Super League cricket tournament. (With inputs from agencies)

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