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Severe Covid situation, whole country potentially at risk: Govt

Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat account for 78.56% of the new cases.

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India is facing an increasingly severe Covid-19 situation in some districts and the whole country is potentially at risk and all efforts to contain the virus should be taken, said Dr V.K. Paul, Member (Health) of the NITI Aayog, at a press conference on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra continued to report the highest daily new Covid-19 cases with 31,643 in the last 24 hours, followed by Punjab with 2,868 and Karnataka with 2,792 new cases, informed an official statement. With this, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat cumulatively accounted for 78.56 percent of the new cases, according to the Central government.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan added that Maharashtra also accounts for eight out of the ten districts with the most number of active cases across the country. The ten districts are Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur, Thane, Nashik, Aurangabad, Bengaluru Urban, Nanded, Delhi, and Ahmednagar.

However, the Centre also signalled on Tuesday that Maharashtra’s call for door-to-door Covid vaccination might not be met for now. The health ministry, though, indicated that it has received no formal request yet from the state, which is seeing the highest numbers in the emergent second wave of the infection.

Earlier, the Brihanmumbai Corporation chief Iqbal Chahal had told reporters, “We requested the state to in turn request the Centre to allow us to do door-to-door vaccination”. “When the Centre’s team had visited 10 days ago, I had requested them to allow us to go door to door, so we can go on vaccination drive in a big way,” he said, adding the request was also made during the Centre’s video conference with the states earlier this month.

However, Rajesh Bhushan said, “Till date, we have not received any specific update about what you call door to door vaccination”. The clarification came amid the government’s insistence on “saturation” vaccination in districts that are showing a surge. The Centre also responded that there is a need to exponentially increase tests in states and Union Territories that are reporting a spike in Covid-19 cases. “We spoke to representatives of these states. We asked them why they are not increasing testing when cases are increasing. It is essential to increase testing with a focus on RT-PCR tests. Rapid Antigen tests should be used for screening in densely populated areas,” Bhushan said.

Bhushan, in a letter addressed to the Chief Secretary of all the states and Union territories, also emphasised, “…efficient implementation of “Test Track and Treat” remains the only proven strategy for control of the transmission. Each district, irrespective of whether it is seeing a surge right now, or is with a current low burden, should make a District Action Plan with clear timelines and responsibilities.” It added that public health measures to contain the virus by quarantining and testing individuals suspected to be positive including close contacts of positive persons (at least 25 to 30 such contacts per positive person) shall be done in every state.

Bhushan’s letter further elaborated that the said action plan shall include mapping of cases, reviewing sub-area wise indicators, reviewing the geographical spread of the infection on a day-to-day basis and setting up of Emergency Operations Centres.

Apart from the action plan, the Health Secretary suggested that individual actions such as the proper wearing of masks covering the nose and mouth, maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others, and sanitizing one’s hands frequently shall be checked and enforced.

In the letter, Bhushan outlined, “After having successfully brought down the number of new Covid-19 cases from mid-September 2020 to February 2021, India is now witnessing a rapid rise in cases. You have been leading the effort of Covid pandemic management with your teams so far. The current rise in cases is of concern and has the potential of overwhelming health care systems, unless checked right now.”

Underscoring that “any complacency at this stage, and at any level, will have heavy costs”, the Centre also said, “All districts with high case load and fast growth of cases must ensure 100% saturation vaccination of the priority age group of 45 year and above, in the coming two weeks.”

In what is billed as the largest vaccination drive in the world, as many as 6,11,13,354 vaccine doses have been administered through 10,07,091 sessions till 8 am on March 30. The Union Health Secretary also informed that the recovery rate in the country stands at 94 percent and the case fatality rate stands at 1.34 percent.

The country’s present active caseload now stands at 4.47 per cent of India’s total positive cases. According to Bhushan, the weekly national average positivity rate is 5.65 percent. Maharashtra has a weekly average of 23 percent, Punjab 8.82 percent, Chhattisgarh 8 percent, Madhya Pradesh 7.82 percent, Tamil Nadu 2.50 percent, Karnataka 2.45 percent, Gujarat 2.2 percent, and Delhi 2.04 percent.

The health secretary also said that 807 cases of the UK strain, 47 cases of the South African variant, and one case of the Brazilian variant of the Covid-19 virus have been found in India so far.

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Naxals using drones for recce on security forces

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Nagpur: Naxals are using small drones for surveillance of security forces near the Chhattisgarh borders, said Maharashtra Police on Friday.

Speaking to ANI, Sandip Patil, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Gadchiroli said, “Naxals are using small drones for surveillance of our posts near the Chhattisgarh border. In the last 4-5 months we have reported 7-8 incidents. Considering all the possibilities we are taking anti-drone measures.” “These small drones are generally used in wedding ceremonies for photography. They use these drones to check the locations of police parties and security parties from the mountains,” said Patil.

He said considering the drone incident that happened in Jammu, the Maharshtra Police has increased the vigilance and been adopting anti-drone measures. Asked about if there is any coordination with Chattishgarh, the DIG said, “Drones were used in Chattishgarh 7-8 months back. We are working in coordination with IG Bastar and SPs and CRPF. We have made a counter-drone strategy with coordination with them.”

Patil further said that the prima facie information suggests that Naxals procured the drones from Hyderabad.

ANI

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STUDENTS REACT AS CBSE DECLARES CLASS 12 BOARD EXAM RESULTS

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As the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) released the much-awaited class 12 results on Friday, mixed reactions were received from students. This year, the pass percentage stands at 99.37 per cent.

Some expressed their happiness calling the decision perfect while the others felt the entire year along with their preparations was wasted. Speaking to ANI, Vanshikha Gupta, a Commerce student said, “Did not expect to get 98.4 per cent, I’m very happy. Keeping pandemic and safety of students in mind, the government took a good decision,” Vanshikha Gupta, a Commerce student.

Abhishek Chaudhary, another student from Delhi said, “Results were not what we were expecting. I was expecting over 80 per cent score but I am disappointed. I wanted to get into a government college but it seems difficult now.”

“I’m extremely happy, was not expecting to score over 90 per cent,” said Khushi, a humanities student in Ludhiana.

The exam was scheduled to be held in May but was cancelled due to a surge in Covid-19 cases. This year, the CBSE 12th results have been prepared in an alternative way as board exams could not be held this year due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The board had adopted an alternative assessment scheme to finalise the result.

WITH ANI INPUTS

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ASSAM ISSUES ADVISORY AGAINST TRAVEL TO MIZORAM

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The Assam government on Thursday issued a travel advisory asking people not to travel to Mizoram and advised people from the state working or staying there to “exercise utmost caution.”

Assam and Mizoram also traded accusations over deployment of security forces along the interstate border on Thursday, three days after both sides were locked in a fierce gun battle near the boundary that left six policemen and a civilian dead.

Amidst the ongoing border dispute between the two states Assam and Mizoram, Assam Minister Ashok Singhal on Thursday informed that Mizoram civilians are threatening the people of Assam.

While speaking to ANI, Ashok Singhal said, “In the video footage, Mizoram civilians are threatening us and they are carrying weapons too. So we have issued an advisory for the people of Assam not to visit Mizoram. If somebody still goes there, we will not take his/her responsibility.” “Provocative statements are still being issued from the other side.

Further, talks will take place with the mediation of the Union Home Ministry. We have handed over the post to neutral forces but Mizoram has still not withdrawn its personnel from post”, said Cachar Guardian Minister Singhal.

Taking stock of the situation, Assam’s Cachar Superintendent of Police, Ramandeep Kaur said, “The CRPF is manning the border. Assam police have withdrawn as per directions of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) but on Mizoram’s side, the police are still out there which is making the situation tense. Assam people should abide by directions and advisory given by the government of Assam.”

Meanwhile, Assam police also issued a notification saying that in order to check trafficking of illicit drugs, all incoming vehicles from Mizoram will be thoroughly checked at all the entry points along the Assam Mizoram border.

On July 26, the border dispute between the two states peaked and a fierce gun battle between the forces of the two states resulted in the death of five Assam police personnel and one civilian.

One injured policeman succumbed to his injuries later taking the total toll of policemen to six. At least 50 people were injured in the incident. A total of six companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been deployed at the site where the policemen died.

WITH AGENCY INPUTS

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Malls, multiplexes may soon reopen in Maharashtra

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The Maharashtra government may soon allow malls, multiplexes, restaurants and gymnasiums to reopen and operate at 50 per cent capacity while shops and other establishments may get extended hours of operations, beyond 4 pm, in 25 districts with low Covid-19 positivity rates. State Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that a formal order on easing the restrictions will be issued in the next few days.

On Thursday, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held a meeting with the state Covid task force and senior health department officials to discuss the easing of restrictions a day after several ministers demanded relaxations in the state cabinet meeting.

Tope said on that Mumbai and 24 other districts will be in Level 2. Eleven districts, including Palghar, Raigad, Ahmednagar and Pune, which are part of MMR or share borders with it, will remain in Level 3 because of their higher test positivity rate and cases.

He also said that after the meeting that the issue would be decided by the Chief Minister regarding the resumption of the local trains.

Weekends may see some relaxations but Sunday will remain completely shut. Only fully vaccinated (2 doses) citizens will be able to travel in local trains. As of now only government employees and people involved with essential services are allowed to travel in local trains. 

Cinema halls likely to be open for the public with limited capacity. Local shops, hotels, and gyms will be allowed to remain open for longer hours now.

Districts which will still see the curbs are Pune, Solapur, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Beed, and Ahmednagar. These districts have higher positivity rates than average.

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INDIA-CHINA TALKS TODAY, GOGRA, HOT SPRINGS DISENGAGEMENT ON CARDS

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India and China will hold the 12th round of Corps Commander-level talks on Saturday. It will be aimed at discussing disengagement from the remaining friction points in the eastern Ladakh sector Army sources told ANI.

India and China have already disengaged from the banks of Pangong lake after extensive talks and the Gogra Heights and Hot Springs areas are left to be resolved as these friction points were created post-Chinese aggression last year. According to Army sources, the 12th round of Corps Commander level talks between India and China is scheduled to be held in Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control around 10:30 am.

“12th round of Corps Commander level talks between India and China to be held in Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control around 10:30 am. India and China expected to discuss disengagement from the Hot Springs and Gogra Heights areas,” Army sources said.

The two countries have been engaged in a military standoff for almost a year but disengaged from the most contentious Pangong lake area last month after extensive talks at both military and political levels.

The credit for the disengagement was given to all stakeholders by Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane who also talked about the country benefitting from the inputs given by the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval during the crisis.

Earlier, India and China held 11 rounds of talks at the Corps Commander level to reach the arrangement to disengage from the Pangong lake area.

With ANI inputs

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IT WILL AFFECT FREEDOM OF PRESS: HC TO SHILPA SHETTY ON HER MEDIA GAG PLEA

Urvashi Khona

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The Bombay High Court on Friday, while hearing a defamation case filed by actress Shilpa Shetty Kundra against media outlets, said that passing a blanket gag order on the media against reporting anything against her shall impact the freedom of press, adding that there is a judicial limit on what can be construed as good or bad journalism. However, some media outlets were asked to take down a few videos and contents that were found to be defamatory by the actress.

Shilpa Shetty, wife of Raj Kundra arrested in the pornography case, on Thursday filed a defamation case against 29 media outlets.

The Bombay HC, however, directed the three videos uploaded on YouTube channels of three private persons be deleted and not uploaded again as they were malicious in nature. The court noted that the freedom of press has to be balanced with the right to privacy of an individual.

The actress, in an interim application, had sought for the media to be restrained from allegedly publishing any incorrect, false, malicious and defamatory content.

The court noted that the articles referred to by Shilpa Shetty in her suit do not seem to be defamatory. “It cannot be like if you (media) are not going to write or say anything nice about me (Shilpa Shetty) then do not say anything at all. How can this be,” it asked.

vThe court noted that most of the articles referred to in the suit, including one that claimed that “Shetty cried and fought with her husband Kundra” when he was brought to their house by the police for joint interrogation, was based on what police sources said.

Shetty had objected to news articles about the actress breaking down and confronting Raj Kundra when Mumbai Police raided their residence. Saraf said, “It was something that had happened between a husband and wife and it was private and should not have been reported.” To this, the court said that the act of Shetty happened in front of outsiders (policemen) and it was reported from “crime branch sources. Also, the act of crying was not defamatory but it shows that she’s a human”.

The HC also said that the media just can’t sing praises and that Shetty is a public figure and that such articles are not defamatory. “You (Shetty) chose a life in public life. Your life is under a microscope. It cannot be that if the media is not going to say anything nice about her (Shetty) then they will be asked to say nothing at all.”

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