India was downgraded to “partly free” for the first time since 1997 in an annual ranking of democracies by the US government-funded research group Freedom House. The report cited worsening civil rights, continuing discrimination against Muslim citizens and increased harassment of government critics under PM Narendra Modi for the slip in rankings.
The report titled “Freedom in the World 2021—Democracy under Siege”, released by the Washington-based organization, downgraded India’s status from a ‘free’ country to a ‘partly free’ country, giving it a ‘global freedom score’ of 67/100 – down from a score of 71 in 2019 and 75 in 2018—after judging it on the basis of various political rights and civil liberties.
India “appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader”, said the report, adding that India’s fall “from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards”.
The report, however, left several Indians enraged. Many of them were angry over the biased nature of the report and the fact that it did not consider J&K and Ladakh to be a part of India.
The report, citing “key developments” in 2020 that contributed to the ‘downgrading’ of India, mentioned that in February 2020, more than 50 people, mostly Muslims were killed in the communal violence that followed the protests related to Citizenship Amendment Act.
According to critics, the report failed to mention that the CAA didn’t aim to change the citizenship rights of Indian citizens, and was meant to help persecuted minorities from neighbouring Islamic nations to get Indian citizenship without hassle.
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MEET VARSHA VERMA, WHO FERRIES BODIES OF COVID VICTIMS TO GRAVEYARDS FOR FREE
Outside the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Lucknow, a woman wearing a PPE kit is seen providing free carriage service for bodies of Covid-19 victims these days.During the course of the day, there are countless trips to the crematorium, sometimes from Lohia to KGMU, sometimes to Baikunthadham or Gulala Ghat to Kakori, Malihabad to Mohanlalganj. During the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, when people are fearful for their and their family’s safety, Varsha Verma not only provides free vehicle service for the bodies of Covid-19 victims but also assists the kins of the deceased even to the cremation ground.
Varsha, an author and a judo player, says that one of his friends died last week from Covid-19, after which it was difficult to find a vehicle in the hospital to ferry his body. She said that some vehicle owners demanded exorbitant charges. “Then it came to my mind that at the time of such a pandemic if I am not ferrying a dead body to the funeral, what else could be an inhuman treatment? After that hired a car to take him to the crematorium for the funeral after which I am engaged in this work of providing free ferries,” she told ANI.
It was the fifth day for Varsha on Wednesday since she started this service. She has hired another car and arranged a driver for it. Now with these two vehicles, she offers help to those who call her. She waits in front of the hospital and comes forward to help the needy
Varsha says that she no longer remember the number of trips between crematoriums and hospitals. ANI
Gujarat forms task force to tackle surge in Covid cases
‘This is World War III. We are fighting the virus without weapons.’
The Gujarat government has formed a task force to monitor and curb the spread of the coronavirus in the state, as the Covid-19 situation has spiraled out of control. A press conference of the members of the Covid Task Force was held on Thursday. The Covid Task Force has decided to include Ivermectin and FabiFlu (Favipiravir) in the clinical protocol.
Dr V.N. Shah, a member of the Covid Task Force, said that about 90,000 researches have been done on the coronavirus, even as the World Health Organization said today that Remdesivir injection is not effective. “Walk at home for six minutes and if the oxygen drops below 94, there is an alarm. Vaccination is essential for herd immunity. This is World War III. We are fighting the virus without weapons. The Prime Minister has announced vaccinations for people above 18 years of age. We have to push the vaccination drive for herd immunity. The target is to vaccinate 59 crore people by June. The logistics are ready. Not just talking in the air. But we are playing blind.”
Dr Tushar Patel, a member of the task force, talked about increasing the lungs’ capacity, as the coronavirus attacks the lungs. “Prone posture means sleeping on the stomach to increase oxygenation. Oxygen is not properly absorbed if the pupa is asleep. Abroad, home isolation and prone prosthesis are done and paracetamol given.”
Dr Tushar Patel further said: “We can exercise at home with an incentive spirometer instrument costing Rs 200-250. There is no need to be hospitalized if yoga and pranayama are done from the beginning. Incentive spirometer exercises that maintain oxygen between 94 and 96 can avoid hospitalization.”
“Prevention is better than cure,” said Dr R.K. Patel. “The first wave, the second wave or the third wave comes. Masks are even more effective than vaccines. Surgical masks are especially effective. Wear a mask at home too. Do not wear while sleeping or eating. We should not go to social gatherings. Maintaining distance and washing of the hands are important. Don’t die from corona, get it out of your mind. If it feels like a cold, isolate yourself. By then, the diagnosis will also be made. Take Azithromycin and Paracetamol. Hospitalization does not lead to treatment. The prone position is an exercise that will increase the capacity of the lungs.”
Dr Dilip Mavalankar said SMS means “Sanitization, Mask and Social Distance”. “Now three Vs have been added to these, they are Ventilation, Vulnerable and Vaccination. Vaccination should be done as soon as possible from 1 May.”
DELHI GOVT BID TO AIRLIFT OXYGEN FROM ODISHA
The Delhi government is making efforts to airlift its enhanced quota of oxygen supply from Odisha, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Thursday, as several city hospitals reported shortage of oxygen amid rising cases of Covid-19.
CM Kejriwal said that a large amount of oxygen is being transported from Odisha, but it has been time consuming due to the distance.
“A lot of the increased quota is coming from Odisha. This will take time to reach Delhi. In the meanwhile, we are attempting to transport it by air,” the Chief Minister said in a web address.
A few minutes later, CM Kejriwal tweeted thanking Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for assuring him of help. “Received a call from Naveen Patnaikji. He has assured complete support to Delhi in facilitating lifting of Delhi’s quota of oxygen from Odisha. He has put a special officer on the job. Thank you so much, sir. Delhi is indeed grateful,” the tweet read.
Chief Minister Kejriwal also thanked the Centre and the High Court for their efforts towards raising Delhi’s oxygen quota for treating Covid-19 patients, and said the supplies have started reaching the national capital.
He said a major chunk of the freshly allotted quota of oxygen to Delhi comes from Odisha, which is over a thousand kilometres away, and the Delhi government is planning to airlift it to save time at this critical juncture in the fight against Covid-19.
He said Delhi had a daily quota of 378 MT of medical oxygen that has been increased to 480 MT, and thanked the Central government for it. But, he said, more supplies are needed as according to estimates, Delhi needs 700 MT of oxygen daily.
Delhi received its quota of oxygen as fixed by the Centre from other states, he said, but added that some states stopped trucks headed to the national capital.
“This is not fair. This is a huge calamity and we need to fight it unitedly. If we are divided, India will not survive,” Chief Minister Kejriwal said.
The Chief Minister appealed to state governments to help each other and promised to provide them surplus oxygen, medicines and doctors if the Covid-19 situation came under control in Delhi.
No Maha lockdown, but more curbs to break Covid chain
Rethink after Prime Minister Modi’s plea to states to consider lockdown as a last resort.
The Maharashtra government, which was all set to impose a lockdown, instead issued new stricter restrictions under the “Break the Chain’ initiative in the state till 1 May in the backdrop of rising Covid-19 cases. It was a “unanimous suggestion” by all ministers in Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. The rethink on the lockdown option is being attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message to states to consider lockdown as only the last resort and considering the PM’s appeal, a decision for a lockdown was called off.
Maharashtra Cabinet Minister Aslam Shaikh said, “The Maharashtra government had planned for a strict lockdown, but because the PM said that lockdown should be the last resort, we took back our decision and applied strict restrictions. In any case, people will have to follow the strict norms.”
As per the fresh set of guidelines, Central, state and local governing body offices shall function with 15 per cent attendance. But emergency services dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic will be exempt from this rule. Other government and private offices, allowed to operate as per the earlier rules, can function with 15 per cent strength or five people, whichever is more, stated the notification. For all the office works required for essential services mentioned in Section 2 of the “Break the Chain” order dated 13 April 2021, should work at lowest required capacity for the same and in no case exceed 50%.Attendance of personnel actually delivering the essential services on the ground should also be minimized, but can be extended up to 100% as per the requirements.
Restrictions were also imposed with respect to marriages which will be a single event in a single hall not extending beyond two hours with a maximum of total 25 persons attending the same. Violation of this rule will attract a fine of Rs 50,000, the notification said.
Restrictions were put on travel, too, including a ban on inter-city and inter-district travel in an attempt to bring the spiralling coronavirus infections under control. As for inter-city and inter-district travel ban, exemption will be made for travel for medical emergency, essential services, funeral or medical attendance. Travelling will be allowed with 50 per cent capacity of the vehicle.
Passengers travelling by private buses will have to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days after they reach their destination. Bus operators will have to stamp the passengers’ hands to indicate they are supposed to stay at home for 14 days.
Meanwhile, local trains, known as Mumbai’s lifeline, will run only for employees from the essential services, whereby only government employees, doctors, nurses, and essential service personnel can use the local trains. Other citizens cannot travel by local trains.
To contain the spread of the virus, the Maharashtra government on Tuesday announced stern curbs in the state. The Maharashtra government restricted operation timings for grocery shops from 7 am to 11 am.
PM calls for increase in production, distribution of oxygen; MHA steps in
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday chaired a high-level meeting to review the oxygen supply across the country and discuss ways and means to boost its availability. PM Modi asked the officials to ensure that oxygen supply to various states happens in a smooth, unhindered manner. He spoke about the need to fix responsibility with the local administration in cases of obstruction. He also stressed that the states should come down heavily on hoarding.
On the issues of “obstruction’ and “hoarding”, meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday issued orders under the Disaster Management Act that no state can hold up supplies of oxygen to another state. Passing a series of instructions, the order issued by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said: “No restriction shall be imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between the States and transport authorities shall be instructed to accordingly allow free inter-state movement of oxygen carrying vehicles.” It also made it clear that no restrictions could be imposed on “oxygen manufacturers and suppliers to limit the oxygen supplies only to the hospitals of the state/UT in which they are located”.
The MHA order also banned the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except those exempted by the government, till further orders are issued.
In the high-level meeting he chaired, the Prime Minister also spoke about the need to work rapidly on multiple aspects–increasing production of oxygen, increasing the speed of distribution and using innovative ways to provide oxygen support to health facilities. The officials briefed the Prime Minister on the efforts undertaken in the last few weeks to improve the supply of oxygen. There has been an increase in demand of oxygen due to a surge in Covid-19 cases in the country in the second wave of pandemic. According to an official release, the Prime Minister was informed that an elaborate exercise is being done in co-ordination with the states to identify their demand for oxygen and ensure adequate supply accordingly.
He was briefed on how oxygen supply to states is steadily increasing. Against the present demand from 20 states of 6,785 MT per day of Liquid Medical Oxygen, the Centre has allocated 6,822 MT/ day to these states from April 21. It was noted that in the last few days, availability of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) has been increased by about 3,300 MT per day with contributions from private and public steel plants, industries, oxygen manufacturers as well as through prohibition of supply of oxygen for non-essential industries. Officers informed the Prime Minister that they are working together with the states to operationalize the sanctioned PSA oxygen plants as soon as possible. PM Modi also asked ministries to explore various innovative ways to increase production and supply of oxygen. The release said that various measures are being undertaken to rapidly increase the availability of cyrogenic tankers through conversion of nitrogen and argon tankers, import and airlifting of tankers as well as manufacturing them.
PM Modi stressed on the need to ensure faster transportation of oxygen to the states. It was discussed that Railways is being used for rapid and non-stop long distance transport of tankers. First rake has reached from Mumbai to Vizag to transport 105 MT of LMO. Similarly, empty oxygen tankers are also being air-lifted to oxygen suppliers to reduce one way journey time in oxygen supply. Representatives from the medical community also spoke about the need for judicious use of oxygen and how an audit in some states has decreased oxygen demand without affecting the condition of patients. The meeting was attended by Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary to PM, Home Secretary, Health Secretary and some other senior officials.
Meanwhile, the MHA order said: “No authorities shall attach the oxygen-carrying vehicles passing through the district or areas for making supplies specific to any particular districts or areas,” it said. “The District Magistrate/ Deputy Commissioners and senior superintendents of police/ superintendents of Police/ Deputy Commissioners of Police will be personally liable for the implementation of the above directions,” the order added. WITH AGENCY INPUTS
INDIA LOW ON OXYGEN AS NEW COVID CASES BREACH 3L MARK
2,104 deaths due to Covid-19 reported across the country on Thursday, taking India’s cumulative death toll to 184,657; hospitals facing unprecedented crunch of oxygen supply and beds.
India recorded 3,14,835 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday—the world’s highest daily tally—as the second wave of the infection raised fears about hospitals running low on oxygen supply and beds and the healthcare system collapsing under immense pressure.
In Delhi, Aakash Healthcare on Thursday raised an alarm for an immediate supply of medical oxygen for Covid patients admitted to the hospital. In a video, COO Dr Kousar A. Shah said the hospital had only around 90 minutes of oxygen supply left. “We have 233 Covid patients admitted to the hospital and 75 percent of them are totally dependent on oxygen. We only have oxygen stock of 1 to 1.5 hours. We don’t know how we will manage,” he said.
Shah said his whole team is trying to arrange oxygen from all possible avenues but nothing can be arranged. “Our whole team is trying to make arrangements for oxygen, but help can’t be arranged. Yesterday, with the help of the Delhi Police, some cylinders were arranged but those lasted for just a few hours. We are absolutely helpless,” he said, adding, “Our oxygen supply from other states can’t reach us as states are not allowing the transport. We are in dire need of some help.”
A similar situation arose at Delhi’s Shanti Mukand Hospital, where chief Dr Sunil Saggar broke into tears on Thursday, saying that they have only two hours of oxygen supply left. “We have 110 patients on oxygen, 12 on ventilators and 85 on more than 5 litres per minute of oxygen. Apart from this, there are other cancer patients and cardiac patients. It will be an unfortunate condition. As a doctor, we should give them life and we cannot even give oxygen. If a patient comes here, they will die,” the CEO of the hospital told ANI, breaking into tears.
The AAP government has approached the Delhi High Court stating that Saroj Hospital and Shanti Mukund Hospital will run out of oxygen soon and that supply was being stopped by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Meanwhile, 2,104 deaths due to Covid-19 were also reported across the country on Thursday, taking India’s cumulative death toll to 1,84,657. Crematoriums have also reported they are overwhelmed with bodies. In East Delhi, a crematorium built funeral pyres in its parking lot to accommodate more bodies.
The infection also claimed the lives of renowned Islamic scholar and Padma Bhushan recipient Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and the older son of Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, Ashish Yechury, on Thursday. President Ram Nath Kovind took to Twitter to condole the demise of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. Yechury also expressed his grief over his son’s death in a tweet, while thanking doctors and frontline workers who helped.
“The infrastructure is crumbling,” Shahid Jameel, a virologist and the director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, told Reuters. “Right now there are no beds, no oxygen. Everything else is secondary.”
This week, PM Modi urged people to stay indoors and assured the government was working to expand oxygen and vaccine supplies. He also cancelled a visit to West Bengal scheduled for Friday.
The Union Health Ministry said on Thursday that over 75 percent of the new Covid cases have come from only ten of India’s states—Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan.
Maharashtra reported its highest daily new cases at 67,468, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 33,106 and Delhi with 24,638 new cases.
Kerala on Thursday also reported its highest-ever single-day figure with 26,995 new Covid-19 cases. With 1.56 lakh active cases, the test positivity rate stands at 19.97 per cent.
In a first since the pandemic started last year, Punjab’s daily case count crossed 5,000-mark as the state reported 5,456 Covid cases in 24 hours.
The number of total cases in India has now reached 1,59,30,965, including 22,91,428 active cases.
Many countries including the UK, the UAE and Israel have issued travel bans or warnings for India.
Madhukar Pai, professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Canada, said India was a cautionary tale for the world. “If we declare success too soon, open up everything, give up on public health, and not vaccinate rapidly, the new variants can be devastating,” he tweeted.
The total number of vaccinations in the country stands at 13,23,30,644.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), 27,27,05,103 samples have been tested for Covid-19 up to April 21.
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