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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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PUNJAB CM ORDERS GRANT OF PROPRIETARY RIGHTS TO 3,245 SLUM DWELLERS

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Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday ordered proprietary rights for 3,245 slum households in three districts under the BASERA scheme, with directives to complete the process of grant of such rights to a total of 40000 households by September this year.

Chairing the second meeting of the Empowered Committee under the Chief Minister’s Slum Development Programme – ‘BASERA’, Captain Amarinder asked the concerned department to expedite the process of verification and grant of proprietary rights in order to benefit the maximum slum dwellers in the state. He reviewed the progress made so far under the scheme by various districts.

The 3,245 households approved for proprietary rights are located at 12 slum sites in the districts of Faridkot, Sangrur and Fazilka.

Till date, 186 slums having 21,431 households have been identified in 20 districts, wherein the verification process is being carried out full swing, the Chief Minister was informed. The virtual meeting was further apprised that the verification of 25,000 households shall be completed within the next two months and the process of granting proprietary rights to eligible slum-dwellers shall be initiated simultaneously. The verification of 40,000 households shall be completed by September 2021, it was decided at the meeting.

The Empowered Committee, at the two meetings held so far, has given approvals, under the scheme, for 21 slums involving 4705 households, spread over Moga, Bathinda, Fazilka, Patiala, Sangrur and Faridkot districts. The identification of another 186 slums, involving approximately 22,000 households, is currently underway.

The scheme, aimed at helping slum-dwellers realise their dream of owning a home, was launched in January this year by the Chief Minister as a visionary step towards inclusive urban development and planning.

Punjab is the first state in the country to launch such a scheme for conferring proprietary rights to every slum household occupying state government land in a slum in any urban area on the date of notification of ‘The Punjab Slum Dwellers (Proprietary Rights) Act, 2020’, i.e., 1st April 2020.

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Maharashtra SSC, HSC exams postponed amid corona crisis

Preeti Sompura

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Maharashtra government on Tuesday postponed the date of SSC (class 10th) and HSC (class 12th) board exams which were scheduled to be held in April in view of a steep rise in Covid-19 cases in the state. The board exams of class 12th, which were to begin from 23 April, will be held in May. The board exams of class 10th, which were to start from 30 April, will take place in June.

The decision was taken in a meeting between Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad after consultations with various stakeholders: students, teachers, parents, elected representatives from across parties, academicians and tech giants.

“Given the current #Covid-19 situation in Maharashtra, we’ve postponed state board exams for class 10th and 12th. The present circumstances are not conducive for holding exams. Your health is our priority,” said Gaikwad.

“During the consultations, various alternative assessment options were evaluated keeping the health, well-being, and future of our students in mind. Postponing exams seemed to be the most pragmatic solution. We’ll also be writing to the CBSE, ICSE, IB, and Cambridge boards, requesting them to reconsider their exams dates,” she wrote on Twitter.

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HARYANA IMPOSES NIGHT CURFEW IN WAKE OF SURGE IN CORONA CASES

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Chandigarh: In wake of the surge in Corona cases in Haryana, the government has imposed night curfew in the state. It is pertinent to mention that the Home Minister Anil Vij had already warned and appealed to the people saying that they should follow the guidelines properly so that the deadly disease can be controlled immediately. In case people don’t do the same, it will make the government come up with strict measures. The casual approach of the people towards the disease has compelled the state government to impose the night curfew which will be in force from 9 pm to 5 am till further orders. Anil Vij, the Home Minister of the state also shared the information regarding the same on social media platform.

The order issued by the Haryana State Disaster Management Authority clearly says that any person violating the norms will be liable to be proceeded as per the provision of Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act 2005 besides taking legal action under Section 188 of the IPC and other legal provisions as applicable. In view of the emergent nature of the order, it is being ex-parte and is addressed to the public in general. There shall be prohibition on movement of individuals for all non-essentials activities. No persons shall leave their home and move on foot or by vehicle or stand or roam around on road or public places during the above said period. The activities belonging to essential services in hospitals, chemist shops, and ATMs shall be allowed. Besides, the movement of pregnant women and patients getting medical-health services along with those passengers going and returning from airport or railway stations will be exempted. Besides, there shall be no curbs on inter-state and intra-state movement of essential and non-essential goods. All vehicles/persons in bonafide transit (inter- state/intra-state) shall be allowed to pass, but only after verification of point of origin and destination.

It is worth mentioning that Haryana continues to witness more than 2200 cases a day which has put the health department in a state of problems. Besides, more than 10 deaths per day are being reported in the state, which is an alarming situation. Besides, a huge decrease has been reported in the recovery rate.

“The health department continues to mull every possible strategy to tackle the disease in the state and no stone is being left unturned to control the disease”, said Director General ,Health Dr. Veena Singh. In wake of this, sufficient arrangements are being made to increase awareness so that the infection can be controlled, she added.

Apart from this, it is learnt that the way cases are getting increased, the government is likely to come up with some strict decisions in future which would undoubtedly lead to spurt in the problems for everyone. The experts are of the opinion that the rise in the cases has left the government with no options except imposing night curfew. 

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MAMATA INSTIGATED PEOPLE LEADING TO COOCH BEHAR DEATHS, SAYS AMIT SHAH

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Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday alleged that it was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who instigated people to snatch away the guns from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which led to firing in Cooch Behar on Saturday that resulted in the death of four people.

Addressing a public meeting in Dhupguri, Amit Shah said, “The fourth phase polls were held in North Bengal. Didi instigated people and told them to gherao CRPF and loot them. People listened to her, weapons were snatched, bullets were fired and four people died. Didi had you not instigated them they would not have died.”

“A fifth person also died. A youth, Anand Burman had gone to cast his vote but TMC goons shot him dead. Didi is speaking about the four but nothing on Anand Burman. Why? It’s because he belonged to the Rajbongshi community that is not a part of her vote bank,” he added.

Shah said that Banerjee criticising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a futile exercise. “Didi is abusing BJP unnecessarily. You are mistaken that BJP is contesting against you. It is the mothers, sisters of North Bengal, Rajbongshi community, the Gorkha community, the tea garden workers, the farmers who are contesting against you.”

“If you listen to Didi’s speeches you will find that she talks more about me than she talks about Bengal. Now it is being said ‘Amit Shah resign’. I will resign the day people of Bengal ask me to. But you will be ready with your resignation on May 2,” he further said.

Amit Shah said BJP will not only form the government in West Bengal, but it will do so with absolute majority.

Polling for the first four phases in West Bengal already took place. Violence erupted at a polling booth in Cooch Behar during the fourth round of polling. The ruling TMC alleged that Central Forces opened fire twice at polling booths in Cooch Behar where people were casting their votes. Official sources in Cooch Behar had earlier confirmed the death of four people in firing.

Polling for the first four phases has been concluded in West Bengal. The fifth and sixth phases of the ongoing elections will take place on 17 April and 22 April. Counting of votes will take place on 2 May.

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AFTER EC, BJP MOVES SC PANEL OVER TMC CANDIDATE’S DALIT REMARK

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A day after BJP knocked at Election Commission (EC) doors over TMC candidate Sujata Mondal’s remarks allegedly against the Dalit community, the saffron party on Monday approached the Scheduled Caste Commission, demanding strict action be taken against her for allegedly likening Dalits with beggars.

A party delegation led by Dushyant Gautam, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, met SC Commission chairperson Vijay Sampla and submitted the memorandum for the same. The delegation also had singer turned politician and Karol Bagh MP Hansraj Hans and Sunita Duggal, who represents Hisar constituency in Loksabha. Later, speaking with media persons at the BJP HQ, Gautam said the remarks made by Sujata Mondal has exposed the very anti-Dalit mindset of the TMC and added that the growing support for BJP has baffled Trinamool Congress.

“TMC leaders can’t digest the fact that Dalits are realising how Trinamool have always exploited them for electoral gains and therefore, now shifting towards BJP after being impressed by the leadership of PM Modi. This has rattled Mamata Banerjee and her cadre and such statements are actually manifestation of their frustration.”

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Sampla, SC Commission chairperson, said that notices have been issued to West Bengal Chief Secretary, State and Central Chief Election Commissioner and DGP to know about their stance on the entire row since the onus to conduct smooth elections lies on them.

On Sunday, the BJP had filed a complaint before the EC against Mondal, who has allegedly described Scheduled Caste voters as “beggars by nature” in a video clip which has now gone viral in the poll-pound state.

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HC tears into Gujarat govt’s ‘inaction’ on Covid front

Abhijit Bhatt

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Taking a serious note of reports that Gujarat’s health machinery has failed to handle the worsening condition of Covid-19 in the state, the Gujarat High Court on Monday slammed the state government and asked it some scathing questions during the hearing of a suo motu PIL.

The HC questioned some policies of the government: Why is Remdesivir injection available in one place? Why can’t people get injections at home? If there are enough beds and oxygen in hospitals? Why is there a line of 40 ambulances outside hospitals? With such questions, the High Court has directed the government to take immediate action. The PIL, titled “Uncontrolled Rise in Covid Control and Serious Management Issues”, will now have a further hearing on 15 April at 11 am.

A bench led by Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Bhargava D. Karia held a hearing on the PIL registered suo motu on Sunday. Advocate General Kamal Trivedi is representing on behalf of the Gujarat government and Chief Secretary of Gujarat Anil Mukim, Additional Secretary of Health Department Dr Jayanti Ravi and Health Commissioner Jayaprakash Shivahare participated in the hearing online. The bench expressed displeasure over the government’s policies in handling Covid-19. The HC questioned the shortage of Remdesivir injections as well as the large number of people gathering in public places.

After the cases came down, the government forgot in February that Covid-19 was there, the Chief Justice said. “You say, but here the situation is different. Tests for normal people take five days, you know? Not knowing what is going on in other states. We want to know what happens in Gujarat.” Advocate General Kamal Trivedi said that some people take the test only to allay their fears. “It’s not fun to get someone tested,” he said.

At one point in the hearing, the government argued that reports in the media were unfounded and irresponsible. Hearing the argument, the bench reacted sharply, saying: “We look at both media reports and the actual situation. On the contrary, the media is now doing responsible journalism. Instead, the government will present an affidavit of any action taken by the 14th and the next hearing is scheduled on the 15th.”

At one stage, the HC Chief Justice had stopped the public prosecutor from comparing Gujarat with other states. He said, “We don’t need to compare any other state. If we are in Gujarat, talk about Gujarat. Though we are so modern, why is this situation? Even today, it takes 4-5 days for a common man to get the result of RT-PCR test. Reports are received by evening if there is a VIP. Why is Remdesivir not available in private hospitals? If there was a long line outside Zydus, why does one agency have all the control?”

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