New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: The number of positive cases of coronavirus in India rose to 694 on Thursday with the death toll touching 16, the Health Ministry said. As many as 88 fresh cases were reported on Thursday - the highest single-day count till date.    

Maharashtra reported the highest number of 124 cases, followed by 118 in Kerala. Telangana has so far reported 44 cases, 55 in Karnataka, and 41 each in Telangana and Uttar Pradesh.   

The Health Ministry, however, maintained that there has been no solid evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 in India as yet and the infection appears to be relatively stabilising considering the rate at which it is increasing. 

At the same, it said the latest figure does not establish a clear trend and in no way the government is relaxed about anything at this point.

"While the numbers of COVID-19 cases are increasing, there appears to be relatively a stable trend or even little bit reduction in the rate at which they are increasing," said Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary in the ministry of health, at a press conference.

"This however does not establish a clear trend and in no way are we relaxed about anything at this point," he added.

Agarwal said the ministry is hopeful of containing the spread of the coronavirus by social distancing policy, conducting a proper contact tracing of positive cases and by ensuring that all people at home quarantine are monitored.

While adding a note of caution, Agarwal said the community transmission phase of the disease will begin if the community and the government do not work collectively and follow the set guidelines of social distancing, home quarantine and treatment.

He urged people to support the lockdown announced by the prime minister saying social distancing can be an effective intervention to break the chain of transmission and all the efforts will go into waste even if one person does not follow the policy for containment of the disease.

Commenting over the cases reported in Hyderabad and Bhilwada, Raman R Gangakhedkar, head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at ICMR said, "Going by one or two cases we cannot say there has been community transmission. Also why should we hide if there has been a community transmission."

"There is still no solid evidence to say there has been community transmission of coronavirus in India," he asserted.

Agarwal further said that 17 states have started work on earmarking hospitals for dedicated treatment of COVID-19 patients on their request. He also denied that the virus spreads through mosquitoes.

Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an economic relief package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore which included free foodgrain and cooking gas to poor for three months, and cash doles to women and poor senior citizens as it looked to ease the economic impact of the nationwide lockdown.

While over 80 crore poor ration card holders will each get 5 kg of wheat or rice and one kg of preferred pulses free of cost every month for the next three months, 20.4 crore women having Jan Dhan bank accounts would get one-time cash help of Rs 1,500 spread over three months.

The package, she said, is being announced within 36 hours of the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by the Prime Minister to protect the nation's 130 crore people from the fast-spreading coronavirus. "We do not want anyone to remain hungry."

The package included advancing the payment of one-third of the Rs 6,000 a year pre-2019 general election cash dole scheme for farmers, government contributions to retirement funds for the next three months of small companies with 90 per cent of staff earning less than Rs 15,000, and a Rs 50 lakh insurance cover to healthcare workers.

For rural workers, the daily wage under the MNREGA employment guarantee programme has been increased to Rs 202 from Rs 182, benefiting 5 crore workers of about Rs 2,000 in all.

India joins countries -- from the US to Singapore -- that have pledged spending to contain the economic fallout of the pandemic that has infected almost 5 lakh people globally and left over 21,000 dead.

Posted By: Abhinav Gupta