Commercial international flights to and from India will be resumed from 15 December, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said on Friday, even as different countries started imposing restrictions on airlines flying in from countries belonging to the southern part of Africa, which saw the emergence of a new variant of the coronavirus, B.1.1.529—now known as the Omicron variant—with over 30 mutations and which may be vaccine-resistant. Scheduled international flights have been suspended in India since 23 March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, special international passenger flights have been operating since July last year under air bubble arrangements formed with 31 countries. Questions are now being raised if India will be in a position to open up on 15 December, given the current panic over the spread of B.1.1.529.
The World Health Organisation on Friday designated the B.1.1.529 as a “variant of concern” and named it Omicron. The WHO also described Omicron as “highly transmissible”.
Apart from some countries in Africa, including South Africa, the virus has been detected in Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel among passengers returning from Africa. The new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529, which is causing an increase in new infections in South Africa, has not been found in India so far, said official sources on Friday.
The matters concerning the new coronavirus variant identified in southern Africa is a “developing story” and WHO has held a meeting on the matter, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday. “As regards the issue of the South African variant, this is a developing incident. We just saw a report of and briefing by WHO. I don’t have any immediate information on the steps we are taking. It is an issue more for our health authorities. This is a very developing story,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at the weekly briefing. He was responding to a query about the new variant labelled as B.1.1.529 by scientists.
Asian and European countries have tightened restrictions after the variant was detected in South Africa, with Singapore and Britain announcing stricter border controls and more rigorous testing. UK has banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from Friday, and asked returning British travellers from these destinations to quarantine. Singapore has joined Britain, with its government saying that it would restrict arrivals from South Africa and countries nearby as a precaution. Japan has also decided to tighten border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries, as per latest media reports. France on Friday suspended flights arriving from the southern African region for 48 hours.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) held a meeting on Friday to discuss the newly-identified Covid-19 variant. WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said after the meeting that early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study. “It’ll take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has. Researchers are working to understand more,” she said.
Sajid Javid, UK Health Secretary said that this variant was “highly likely” to have spread to other countries. Most of the cases in South Africa have been from its most populated province, Gauteng, of which Johannesburg is the capital city.
In Hong Kong, the variant spread during hotel quarantine of a person who had arrived from South Africa and another hotel guest who tested positive a few days later. WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said that the global health organization was following up the development and that “at this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against, the WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing (curbs).”
The news of the new variant impacted the global markets amid fears that the world might witness a surge in cases and possible waves. Experts said that the new variant has a spike protein which is totally different from other variants of coronavirus. The vaccines made for coronavirus may have little impact on this new variant.
Since the start of the pandemic, about 100 sequences of the Covid variant have been reported worldwide. Talking to The Daily Guardian Nishank Shekhar Thakur, a New Delhi-based public health specialist said, “The said variant needs to be looked at very seriously. We don’t have any data available about it. Only thing we can do now is to prepare ourselves, our health infrastructure and follow Covid appropriate behaviour. In South Africa only 25% of the population is fully vaccinated, which may have resulted in the rapid spread of cases. But we need to be very vigilant.”
Speaking to a news agency, Dr Atul Gogia, senior consultant, Department of Medicine, Sir Gangaram Hospital said, “This virus is known to mutate and as long this virus is multiplying in the population there is a chance of it mutating. The variant that has been found in certain parts of the world is the latest variant whose mutant capacity is more than the earlier variants. As the virus mutates there is an apprehension that it may escape our immune response. We need to see whether this variant causes a more severe disease or is more contagious. However, we do not need to panic. At the same time we cannot lower our guard.”
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Budget 2022-2023: Healthcare sector expects substantial increase in budgetary allocation, tax sops
Coronavirus crisis has brought healthcare to the focus of priorities for the common people and the policymakers alike. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is likely to give a big push to investments in health infrastructure and provide some other financial support to healthcare sector in the Union Budget 2022-23 scheduled to be presented on February 1. Public expenditure on healthcare in India is among the lowest in the world. As per the government data, it stands at around 1.2 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Compare it with other countries: the United States spends over 16 per cent of its GDP in public healthcare. The countries like Japan, France, Germany and Canada spend around 10 per cent. Even the poorer countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh spend around 3 per cent of their GDP on public health system. The world average is around 6 per cent of GDP.
Clearly, India requires to give a big push to investment in health sector. In 2021-22 budget presented in the parliament on February 1, 2021, the finance minister announced to more than double the budgetary allocation for health sector. The budgetary allocation to health sector was increased to Rs 2,23,846 crore for the financial year 2021-22, which is 137 per cent higher when compared with the outlay of Rs 94,452 crore in 2020-21.
Sitharaman not only announced 137 per cent increase in the budgetary allocation to health sector in 2021-22 budget but also gave assurance of continued support and enhanced allocation in the future.
While presenting the 2021-22 union budget, Sitharaman stated that while the investment on health infrastructure in this Budget has increased substantially, “progressively, as institutions absorb more, we shall commit more”.
According to a survey conducted by the industry body ASSOCHAM, the finance minister is likely to give top priority to health sector.
As many as 47 per cent of the respondents in the industry survey expressed hope that the finance minister will give top priority to healthcare in 2022-23 Budget.
According to Covid-19 Induced Healthcare Transformation in India’ report published jointly by FICCI and KPMG in October 2021, public health sector allocation is expected to increase to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2024-25 from around 1.2 per cent of the GDP in 2021-22.
The report notes that the Covid -19 pandemic not only brought into focus that the healthcare sector is the backbone of a country but also opened a floodgate of opportunities for the country to head towards a more resilient and robust healthcare system one that is capable of not only fighting the current situation but also in safeguarding populations against any unanticipated challenges in the future.
“The Covid -19 pandemic exposed weaknesses in our health systems and amplified already existing challenges pertaining to gaps in health infrastructure, workforce, accessibility and equity in health services. But at the same time, it also reinforced an urgent need to make greater investments in augmenting health preparedness and quality of care,” said Alok Roy, Chair, FICCI Health Services Committee & Chairman, Medica Group of Hospitals.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has suggested that the public investment in healthcare should be increased to at least 3 per cent of the GDP by FY 2025. The industry body has also pitched for creation of a Medical Innovation Fund that should support private sector and empower them to innovate and conduct research and development (R&D). The Fund should also support in implementation of new digital healthcare platforms and adoption of new technologies. The healthcare sector also expects some tax sops from the finance minister. The industry has been pitching for reduction in GST on raw materials that goes into active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) from 18 per cent to 12 per cent. There has also been demands for reduction import duties on medical devices.
GOVERNMENT SHOULD FOCUS ON EDUCATION IN THIS BUDGET, REDUCE DIGITAL DIVIDE
In comparison to 2021, India is in a much better state to handle the upcoming wave of Covid-19 cases. A majority of the sectors has recovered and is now back on track for rapid growth. One sector, however, has seen the slowest recovery – the Education sector, with students still unable to attend school physically and unable to get vaccinated, either.
We expect the Government to shift a lot of focus to the Education sector in this version of the budget in the following ways:
Higher allocation in overall budget
1. Last year, the Government slashed it’s allocation towards Education in the Annual Budget by 6%, amounting to a total allocation of Rs. 93,223 crores, against Rs. 99,311 crores in the year before that. This year, we expect the Government to increase allocation by around 10%, since last year the 6% slash was attributed to funds allocation towards healthcare and other emergency services.
Reducing the digital divide
2. We expect this year’s Education budget to focus on reducing the digital divide, which has kept a significant number of students – that rely on the country’s public education system and belong to challenged socio-economic backgrounds – from accessing education during the pandemic. We have already seen states like Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat provide devices and connectivity to needy students for free, or with heavy subsidy; we expect the Central Government to address this issue to ensure that students can resume classes virtually.
Reduced GST rates
3. The pandemic’s impact on the education system, particularly the public education system, has increased reliance of all students on supplementary sources of education that are provided by private organisations. Traditionally, such sources have been categorized under ‘Educational Services’ and taxed at 18% under Goods & Services Tax (GST). We expect the Government to revise the GST rate for this category to 5%, thereby easing the financial pressure on the students’ parents, particularly those from lower and middle class families .
Partner with private companies
4. Given the utility of education-technology (EdTech) tools during the pandemic, we expect the Government to announce a host of schemes this year to make EdTech tools accessible to students across the country. These schemes could pertain to Public Private Partnerships (PPP), subsidies or Direct Bank Transfers (DBT) to enable citizens to procure devices, connectivity and even subscription to educational services that will enable them to garner knowledge amidst closure of their educational institutions
Focus on vernacular languages
5. Since a significant number of students relying on the public education system learn in vernacular languages which are largely ignored by private EdTech players – it is quite likely that the Education budget will observe the Government mobilising resources towards creation or curation of regional-language educational content that will be aimed at such students. Efforts in this direction have already been initiated over the last few years, however, they are likely to receive a shot in the arm this year.
I believe that these key features, if addressed in the upcoming budget, will help India’s education system get back on track to recovery and help students continue their education even if they are unable to visit their schools till the students get fully vaccinated.
The Author is the Co-founder of ConnectEd Technologies which is an ed-tech social enterprise
YOU END UP SAYING THINGS IN WRITERS ROOM THAT COME OUT ONLY DURING THERAPY: GARIMA PURA
In this exclusive conversation, Garima, who is the co-writer of the Netflix show ‘Little Things’ opened up about her journey of working as a screenwriter.
Writer Garima Pura joined NewsX for a candid chat as part of NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, Garima, who is the co-writer of the Netflix show ‘Little things’ opened up about her journey of working as a screenwriter.
Garima started off by giving us insights about her fellow writers and sharing her experience of being the writer of a prominent show like ‘little things’ she said, “ The first and second season were written by Dhruv Sehgal, he is the original writer. When Netflix picked it up for the third season is when they asked for a diversity in the writers teams. Writers room experience per say was all heart. You end up saying things that come out only during therapy. Writing is a personal experience. There is craft and technique but mostly there is experiences and emotions. So all the writers have to become friends and get to know each other well. You just put all those experiences in the mix on the table and then pick what is good for the show. She went to say that, ‘’This is not purely experience based, there’s fiction too
Talking more about her writer’s room experience and how she bagged the project, Garima shared, “Little things writers rooms was first few in the country. This concept is seen an advent with the advent of OTTs. At that time, I was already floating my work with the production houses to see if I get something or not. I was presenting and asking to be given an opportunity. That is when ‘Little things’ team went through my profile. We had to write sample scripts and a solid screening process post, which we were picked. Then we found ourselves in a little writer’s room where we met day and day out.
Sharing about the overwhelming response from the audience on the third season of the show, Garima expressed, “There are so many talented people out there who deserve their writing to be showcased. Being in this position, I feel so honored and privileged that I got an opportunity so early in my carrier to contribute to an already solid show. I feel great and humble at the same time and it also inspires me to do better work and tell stories which are honest and people feel close to.”
When asked about her previous work experiences, the writer said, “I have made documentaries in the past and I’ve been different types of writer at different stages. Until the time I was in studying in Chandigarh, filmmaking was nowhere in the horizon, I just wanted to be a writer. I had published poems and stories and enrolled in a media course to become a journalist. So there I felt like film making is a good vessel to share my experiences and be heard.”
For our final question, we asked Garima about her upcoming projects, to which she revealed, “Right now I am doing dialogues for an 8 episode web show. I am extremely excited for this because its North Indian dialogues as I have a good command over this lingo. Next, I am working with Audible and a couple of short films here and there. I wrote a feature documentary “Sacred bond” which is about an orphan elephant who is being taken care of by human parents”.
ANDRE LEON TALLEY: VOGUE MAGAZINE’S PRODIGY AND BEACON OF INSPIRATION
Talley was one of the last great fashion editors, who had an incredible sense of fashion history. He could see through everything you do to the original reference, predict what was on your inspiration board.
The death of André Leon Talley at age 73 on January 18 2022 owing to a heart attack is a setback to the fashion industry.
Andre Leon Talley has died aged 73Talley and Naomi Campbell wear Alexander McQueen for the AngloMania Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art 2006
The former creative director of Vogue, Talley was recognised for his larger than life personality and expansive knowledge in sartorial topics, requisites that deemed him as a fashion icon in his own right.
Born in Washington D.C. and raised by his grandmother in North Carolina, Talley studied French literature at Brown University before becoming an apprentice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1974.
He went on to work as a fashion journalist at Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue, attending regular fashion shows in New York and around Europe.
Talley landed a role as Vogue’s Fashion News Director, and was later named the magazine’s first Black male creative director in 1988. He returned to the publication in 1998 to serve as editor-at-large, ending his tenure in 2013. Talley often advocated for diversity during his time at Vogue and within the fashion industry. “He also was very involved in fighting for more diversity on the runway, for more Black models,” New York Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis said. “Mostly on the runway it started, and then certainly that became a movement about in every aspect of the industry”.
He once served as a stylist for United States President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during their time in the White House; as well as styling Melania Trump for her 2005 wedding to Donald Trump.
Beyond print, Talley was a judge on America’s Next Top Model, starred in 2016 documentary The Gospel According to André, and wrote two memoirs.
In the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, the character Nigel Kipling portrayed by Stanley Tucci is widely believed to be a depiction of Talley.
The kaftan or robe clad journalist he served as the creative director and editor-at-large (chronologically) at Vogue was usually seen at events next to Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
In his time there, Talley became a close comrade of big-name designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Paloma Picasso; and his representatives noted his “penchant for discovering, nurturing and celebrating young designers”.
Vogue’s Anna Wintour remembered him fondly as “magnificent and erudite and wickedly funny”.
Belgian designer Diane von Furstenberg said no one was “grander and more soulful”, adding: “The world will be less joyful.”
Famed American designer Marc Jacobs said he was “in shock” over the news. “You championed me and you have been my friend since my beginning,” he posted online.
BRITAIN CALLS FOR UNITY AGAINST CHINA AND RUSSIA
Britain had cautioned Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Western world stands united to fight for democracy against dictatorships which it said were more emboldened than at any time since the Cold War.
Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said, “The West must respond together to global threats, deepen ties with democracies in the Indo-Pacific and face global aggressors. Global aggressors are emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the Cold War.” The Foreign Secretary highlighted that the 21st Century will be the century of struggle between democracies and rivals such as China and Russia who are challenging the post-Cold War consensus through all means be it militarily, economically and technologically.
She added, “They seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world. That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing.”
She emphasised on the need to work with allies like India, Japan, Australia, Israel and Indonesia to face down global aggressors and threats to the world order.
In her speech, Liz Truss, called Russia a dictatorial model which is governed by a mercurial elite that had been involved in irresponsible escapades such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, attempts to meddle in US and European elections, and a series of high-profile espionage and assassination attempts abroad. Truss further cautioned Moscow to desist and step back from Ukraine before it makes a massive strategic mistake and added that “Kremlin has not learned the lessons of history that invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya.”
In the last few months, tensions in the West on one hand, and China and Russia on the other hand, had increased in multiple theaters across the globe.
CANDIDATES QUESTION HEIGHT MEASUREMENT TECHNIQUE BEING USED FOR POLICE RECRUITMENT IN HARYANA
The process of male and female police constables recruitment for 5500 posts is going on in Haryana. But amid this, what came to the surface is that a lot of candidates continue to visit the Haryana Staff Selection Commission every day having complaints of irregularities which led to an increase in the troubles of the commission. It is learnt that aspirants miffed over the physical assessment technique being adopted by the Haryana Staff Selection Commission (HSSC) during the aforesaid recruitment. The candidates raised their fingers over and accused machines and equipment of wrong physical measurements being used to measure their heights. The issue has become the talk of the town these days as a lot of candidates had visited the HSSC headquarters having complaints pertaining to the irregularities in the recruitment which emerged as a huge problem for the commission.
While reacting to the media over the ongoing issue, Bhopal Singh Khadri, the Chairman of the HSSC outrightly rejected the possibility of any kind of irregularities saying that there are no such irregularities during the physical measurements of the candidates. If any candidate is not satisfied with his physical measurement, then he will be given another chance and the concerned candidates are suggested to give written complaints or presentations before the commission regarding the issue further he said, the commission has already formed a redressal committee to address the issue of candidates.
Besides, few of the Haryana male aspirants were reportedly upset over the issues of irregularities pertaining to their documents on part of the commission. Many candidates hailing from the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) standing outside the HSSC offices here on Friday said that their documents were up to mark but not accepted which is annoying.
Several candidates Rohit, Manish, Deepak hailing from Rohtak, Rewari and Palwal took a dig at the physical measure technique being used for police recruitment saying that how the height measured in 2021, of a candidate can differ from which was measured in 2019. So the issue of measurement technique for the recruitment is at the Centre of discussion requiring the HSSC to look into the matter. It is pertinent to mention that the physical measurement technique is still the same since 2019 for police recruitment.
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