On Friday, 707 employees of a Noida-based leather company were put in home quarantine after one employee at the firm tested positive for COVID-19. The infected employee, a 46-year-old man, had recently returned from Italy, which has emerged as one of the nations worst affected by the virus outside China. The number of confirmed cases in Italy stands at 17,660, jumping by over 2,500 in twenty-four hours. Italy’s COVID-19 death toll is already 1,266—meaning seven percent of confirmed cases in the country have been fatal.
Prior to the mass quarantine at the leather company, the infected employee had continued to work even after showing initial symptoms of infection. Health ministry officials clarified that quarantine does not indicate suspected infection. “We are in touch with the people who’ve been recommended to isolate themselves,” Lav Agarwal, a joint secretary at the ministry, said at a press briefing on Friday. “If they show symptoms, they will be moved to a quarantine centre and given appropriate medical attention.”
The circumstances of the case, and the quarantine in response to it, indicate a serious chance of local transmission of COVID-19—that is, transmission that has not occurred outside Indian borders. At two separate press briefings held on Friday, both the health ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research—also a government body—downplayed the possibility of local transmission. The latest Situation Report from the World Health Organisation, issued on Thursday, categorised India among countries having local transmission. India has joined countries such as Italy, Korea and China in the category, all with high burdens of the virus and ongoing human-to-human contagion domestically.