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6 killed, 3 injured in road mishap in Bihar’s Katihar

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Katihar (Bihar) [India], February 23 (ANI): Six members of a family were killed and three others were injured when the car they were travelling in collided with a truck on National Highway 31 in Bihar’s Katihar on Tuesday morning, the police informed.
According to the police, the accident took place near the Kursela police station area.
The three injured are in critical condition and currently undergoing treatment at the primary health centre in Kursela, said the police.
More details are awaited. (ANI)

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Man held for stopping Ajay Devgn’s car over his tweet on farmers’ protest

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Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India], March 3 (ANI): Mumbai police arrested a man for allegedly stopping Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn’s car over his tweet regarding farmers protest, in the Goregaon area of Mumbai on Tuesday morning.
The man identified as Rajdeep Ramesh Singh was later released on bail on the same day, police said.
Farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders for over three months against the newly introduced farm laws.
Several international celebs like Rihanna and Greta Thunberg were seen supporting the farmers. After Rihanna and Greta’s tweet, the Singham actor had tweeted, “Do not fall for any false propaganda against India or Indian policies. It’s important to stand united at this hour w/o any infighting.”
Meanwhile, the farmers’ protest — which began on November 26 last year against the newly enacted three farm laws — continues as no new dates for discussions between the government and farmers’ unions have been declared.
Farmers are protesting against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 at Delhi’s borders. However, the implementation of the three laws was in January put on hold by the Supreme Court. (ANI)

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India saved itself with a timely lockdown, travel restrictions: Study

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On 16 September 2020, India had recorded 97,859 cases of Covid-19, the highest single-day number since the beginning of the pandemic. As cases had risen rapidly and the country had been put under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, critics had viewed the restrictions with suspicion. However, since then, India has seen a major decline in total active cases and the number of daily cases, which dropped to about 11,000 per day in February 2021—something being termed now as a ‘mystery’.

To demystify India’s success with handling the pandemic and bringing about a drastic decrease in the number of daily cases, a recent research paper by Sunil Kumar Raina of Dr R.P. Government Medical College and Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute has reviewed the strengths and policies which worked in India’s favour, most prominently India’s restrictions on the movement of people and ramping up of testing capacities.

Among the existing strengths that India had were fewer urbanised areas, limited modes of domestic travel, a lower international tourist footprint and, most importantly, prior experience and success with pandemics. While the last factor made it easier to regulate the spread after the government took proactive measures, the first three factors limited transmission between communities and led to an uneven distribution in cases.

As the paper demonstrates, although Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the country, the highest numbers of cases were restricted to certain regions only. This had also been seen in the case of the 1918 Spanish flu, which had wiped out an estimated 10-20 million of India’s population then but had affected the state of Bombay more than Bihar, for example. Similar observations had been made during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Even currently, the majority of daily cases in India seem to be coming out of only six major states including Maharashtra.

However, just as India had done during the previous pandemics, with Covid-19 too, the country has shown a great ability to identify these strengths and leverage them to its advantage. The paper credits the policymakers and government for imposing the nationwide lockdown, which started on 25 March 2020, and putting stringent restrictions on person-to-person transmission, calling it probably the most effective step taken.

The government’s gradual move to a “smart lockdown”, where zones were identified and strict restrictions continued in the worst-hit districts and states, also helped India strike a balance between keeping an eye on affected areas and relaxing norms just enough to restart economic activities. In fact, stringent restrictions and curfews are still in place in certain parts of Maharashtra, where Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has threatened another lockdown if people do not follow safety protocols.

The closure of schools and universities for extended periods has also been listed by Raina and Bar-Yam as a major factor for lowering the number of Covid cases in the country. However, with plans being put into place about partial reopening of educational institutions, the researchers say that its epidemiological consequences remain untested.

Along with the nationwide lockdown, the country’s restriction on inter-state and foreign travel early during the pandemic also kept the spread in check. While movement between states and entering the country has been allowed to certain extents now, travel is still being regulated through e-passes and foreign travellers requiring to undergo quarantine and RT-PCR tests.

Besides the policy of shutting down places and taking punitive action against violators, the government’s strategy of immediate isolation and contact tracing for positive cases also proved to be a success. As the research paper notes, “Quarantines of locations (not just of individuals) are also applied (where) the area/building or site is sealed off if the cases come in a cluster. In one such case when 14 inmates of an old age home in the state of Himachal Pradesh tested positive on 31st of January 2021, a 50 meter area around the old age home was completed sealed off and contained.” The movements of the contacts are restricted till they are confirmed to be negative.

This also highlights a major leap taken by the Indian government in tackling an unprecedented public health crisis: The rapid development in laboratory testing capacities. “From a single lab capable of doing RT-PCR for Covid-19 to more than 2300 (in both Government and Private sectors) has been a significant public health initiative. The addition of a greater number of labs has reduced the test result return time, strengthening the isolation/quarantine strategy,” state the researchers. In fact, the ICMR-backed testing strategy had yielded 8 crore tests till 30 September 2020, out of which 3.1 crore tests had been done in September alone, with a daily average of 10,42,750 tests. The ability to conduct rapid tests, along with initiatives like door-to-door tracing and testing, helped highly dense states like Uttar Pradesh turn a morbid situation into a manageable one. Even as recently as 13 February, the total number of tests being conducted was 6,97,114, which add to the impressive cumulative total of 20,62,30,512 tests across the country.

Another crucial area where India showed a tremendous response was manufacturing of necessary protective equipment like masks and suits and medical equipment like ventilators. “The industry responded to the needs of the pandemic like never before. From a country producing no high-end masks and personal protective equipment to its capability of being able to supply to the world, the shift was swift and decisive,” say Raina and Bar-Yam. In fact, the scaling up of manufacturing capacities was so quick that India’s production of PPE kits went from zero to the second-highest in the world within two months.

Now, with what is being called the world’s largest vaccination drive, the Government of India is one of the leading forces in the battle against Covid-19. Depending largely on the indigenously made Covaxin and the Serum Institute’s Covishield, India started its vaccination programme on 16 January. While the first phase covered the country’s healthcare professionals and frontline workers, the second phase, which began earlier this week, will cater to senior citizens and older adults with co-morbidities. The approach is expected to have an increasingly significant impact on the outbreak, foresee the researchers.

According to the paper, to further reduce the number of daily cases, India needs to strengthen what it has been doing so far with its strategic combination of restriction and relaxation and quick response to new cases. “As the country intends to vaccinate 300 million individuals by July 2021, a vaccination strategy integrated into the pandemic response programme may be helpful,” suggests the research article.

India’s strategy has served a major example for other countries, especially Western observers. With global powers like the US still struggling to rein in the virus, India has shown a prime example of how the “travel and time of local response are the key components of this pandemic’s outcomes”. As the researchers highlight, the states which continue to have restrictions on travel have done better than others, for example, Kerala, which had a significantly high number of cases, owing also the large number of expatriates coming back.

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1.48 crore Covid vaccine doses administered, India sees 12k new cases

Sabyasachi Roy Choudhury

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India reported 12,286 fresh Covid-19 cases on Tuesday and the tally has climbed to 1,11,24,527 while the number of recoveries has surged to 1,07,98,921. The death count has gone up to 1,57,248 in the country with 91 more fatalities reported in the last 24 hours.

Over 1.48 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered so far in the country, as per the Union Health Ministry on Tuesday. Giving out details of the second phase of the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive for age-appropriate population groups that started yesterday, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said: “More than 1.48 crores doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered till 1 pm today. Out of this, 2.08 lakh doses have been given to people who are 45 years to 59 years of age with comorbidities and people with above 60 years of age.” Although certain states in the country have seen a surge in the number of active cases, the recovered cases are more than 97% and active cases are still less than 2%, he added. 

Delhi recorded no new coronavirus-related fatality on Tuesday. A total of 217 new cases pushed the infection tally to 6,39,681. The positivity rate fell from 0.44% to 0.33%. 

Maharashtra reported 6,397 fresh Covid-19 cases, taking the cumulative caseload to 21,61,467. The state saw 30 fatalities in the last 24 hours, pushing the overall death toll to 52,184. Senior citizens were administered the vaccine in the second phase.

Puducherry clocked 29 new coronavirus cases raising the aggregate to 39,763. There was no new fatality and the toll remained 669.

Gujarat reported 454 fresh Covid-19 positive cases, taking the count of infections to 2,70,770. There was no new fatality.

Arunachal Pradesh reported a new case of Covid-19 after remaining coronavirus-free for two consecutive days. The tally rose to 16,837 while 16,780 patients have recovered from the disease. A total of 56 people have so far died due to the contagion. The recovery rate and positivity rate stand at 99.66% and 0.005%, respectively.

Jammu and Kashmir recorded 85 fresh coronavirus cases, taking the tally to 1,26,589. There was no new death. Odisha’s caseload mounted to 3,37,351 as 74 more people tested positive for the infection while one new fatality pushed the death toll to 1,917. WITH AGENCY INPUTS

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SRI LANKA OFFERS STRATEGIC PORT TO INDIA, JAPAN

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In what is being seen as a bid to balance its “traditional ties” against China’s growing regional influence, Sri Lanka has decided to allow India and Japan to develop a strategically located deep-sea container terminal at the country’s main port. What highlights “the China angle” in the new offer by the island nation is that India and Japan are the members of Quad, a group of Indo-Pacific nations that also includes the US and Australia seeking to counter Chinese influence in the region.

Importantly, Colombo’s U-turn, offering India and Japan to build and develop West Container Terminal (WCT), has come a few weeks after scrapping a deal with the two countries to develop one of the key terminals at the same port. Sri Lanka had reneged on the 2019 agreement for India and Japan to develop and operate the crucial East Container Terminal at Colombo Port. Scrapping of the agreement by Colombo “unilaterally” had not only upset New Delhi and Tokyo, but was also interpreted as Sri Lanka playing into the hands of China.   

It was said that the protests by trade unions and Opposition parties leading to scrapping of agreement on ECT development were at the behest of China actually. Even MEA had expressed its concern over Colombo showing a tilt towards Beijing at the cost of diplomatic relations with India, Japan and other nations which are unhappy with the Dragon’s objectionably assertive and expansionist behaviour.

There is no denying that Colombo has had a bad experience with some of Beijing’s projects in the region where it has run into huge debts, thereby falling into the trap of the Dragon. Apart from that, Sri Lanka has earned the wrath of the US for allowing Chinese foothold at Hambantota. Washington has been expressing concerns “that it could give Beijing a military advantage in the Indian Ocean”.

The MEA is yet to come up with a definite reaction on the new offer. However, it is learnt that Indian High Commission in Colombo has approved it.

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Mumbai grid failure a human error, not cyberattack: Power Minister

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Union Power Minister R.K. Singh spoke to The Sunday Guardian on Tuesday and said that the Mumbai power outage last October was caused by a “human error” and there is no evidence to prove that it was triggered due to a cyberattack by China.

A report by a US-based cybersecurity firm claimed that Chinese-state sponsored groups had targeted the power sector in India with malware. On Monday, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that according to a preliminary report, the massive blackout on 12 October last year was an attempt at “cyber-sabotage”. A report of the incident prepared on the basis of an investigation by Maharashtra’s Cyber Police Department was handed over to the state Energy Minister Nitin Raut. Excerpts:

Q: Was Mumbai’s power outage last October due to cyberattack by Chinese hackers?

A: Two of our teams went and investigated the Mumbai grid collapse. The first team was an expert on transmissions and the grid. The other team that went comprised of digital and cyber experts. The first team concluded that the grid collapsed due to human error, as in there were some incorrect decision-making and actions taken. This we will share with the Maharashtra government so that they can take up the matter at their end.

Q: Did this incident take place because of a cyberattack?

A: No, it did not. Both teams concluded the same that the grid collapse wasn’t due to a cyberattack.

Q: Has a cyberattack taken place other than this?

A: Yes. It happened on two regional dispatch centres. Not at the time of the grid collapse, it took place later. The attack happened on Mumbai’s SCADA system as well. We got to know about the cyberattack as our agencies alerted us about it; we identified where it took place, how it took place and what malware was used to do this. We cleaned our systems, which was different to the one used by the grid, took the affected computers offline and rebooted our operating systems, servers. We strengthened our firewalls and our anti-virus software. We were always alert to the situation; about two years back, we had set up a committee on this and are working on its recommendations. Last July, we had sent out an order that any system before connecting to the mainframe should be thoroughly checked. Our systems are working, we are alert, but of course there is scope for improvement and we will keep improving as there are many elements who are India’s enemies.

Q: You have been MoS Home and there are reports about attacks on vaccine centres as well. Can you enlighten us on how prepared the government is to all of this?

A: We have an entire drill and organisation that works on cyber security which is always on the alert. The Home Ministry would be best answering this situation.

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BJP sweeps Gujarat rural local body polls, Congress decimated

Abhijit Bhatt

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The BJP is poised for a landslide victory in the Gujarat municipal and local body elections, while the huge poll debacle for the Opposition prompted resignations from Congress’ state unit president Amit Chavda and leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani. The BJP registered a massive win in the Gujarat district panchayat polls, winning all 31 seats, thus wiping out the Congress.

The counting of votes for Sunday’s local body polls in 81 municipalities, 31 district panchayats, and 231 taluka panchayats was conducted on Tuesday. By 7 pm, the BJP registered a massive lead in all 31 district panchayats. The top BJP leadership, including party president J.P. Nadda, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, congratulated the party cadre for the performance.

In 2015, the BJP had won 22 seats and Congress seven, while two were won by others. But this time, the BJP wiped out the Congress and all others by bagging all seats.

The Congress performance in the district panchayat polls dipped to the extent that the grand-old party even failed to open its account in the Panchmahal district. In 29 districts, the number of its winning candidates did not even touch the double digits. The Congress even lost the district panchayat polls in Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani’s constituency Amreli. Congress candidates also lucked out in other party bastions like Anand, Sabarkantha and Jamnagar districts.The party did poorly in areas led by Congress veterans like Paresh Dhanani, Amit Chavda, Bharat Singh Solanki, Ashwin Kotwal, Vikram Madam, etc.

In fact, Amit Chavda resigned from the post of Congress president, while Paresh Dhanani resigned from the post of Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, and the resignations were accepted by the party high command. It can be said that after the big defeats, the Congress may see some new faces by the end of March. Until the Congress announces the name of the new president, acting president Hardik Patel can take charge of the organisation.

In the midst of experiencing a crushing defeat, only in Devbhoomi Dwarka and Rajkot district panchayats has the Congress been able to reach double figures. The BJP has succeeded in winning Gandhinagar district panchayat for the first time. In Anand, Amreli, Sabarkantha, Jamnagar district panchayats, too, the Congress is on the verge of defeat. The chinks have been exposed in the strongholds of Congress veterans Dhanani, Amit Chavda, Bharatsinh, Ashwin Kotwal and Vikram Madam.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and state president C.R. Patil had campaigned vigorously for victory in district-taluka panchayats and municipalities. CM Rupani on Tuesday congratulated his party workers for their performance in the state’s recent local body polls and said that the people of the state have wiped out the Congress. “In the results of district panchayats, taluka panchayats and municipalities, the saffron colour of Bharatiya Janata Party is flying all over Gujarat,” he said.

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