WE ARE STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF COVID WAR, LET’S STOP BLAME GAME - The Daily Guardian
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WE ARE STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF COVID WAR, LET’S STOP BLAME GAME

Examining if election rallies and Kumbh Mela were actually super-spreaders, as they have been made out to be.

SANKALP MISHRA

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The second Covid-19 wave sent the nation into deep crevices of misery and dejection. For the innumerable teary eyes, the countless desolate faces, the infinite gasps of worried breaths, and the thousands who couldn’t breathe to tell a tale, the nation bows in grief and anguish to express solidarity and belongingness. This time, the second wave shook the conscience, broke the resolution, and shattered the confidence of millions. The nation in this short span of time went through thousands of failure stories and a million successful ones. But, in all of this, anything that was worse than the crumbling health infrastructure, anything more depressing than the cremation snapshots, and anything more tyrannical than the vaccine and oxygen hoarders, was the politics of blame game played to shift the responsibility for the second wave. In order to understand the politics and the surrounding narratives, it is first important to go through the Covid timeline in India. Let’s traverse through the Covid timeline from March 2020 till now:

Source: https://prsindia.org/covid-19/cases/statewisecomparisonSource: https://prsindia.org/covid-19/cases/statewisecomparison

Tables 3 and 4. (Source: https://prsindia.org/covid-19/cases/statewisecomparison)

• March 2020-September 2020: There is a sharp incline in the number of new Covid cases every day from March to September with the number of daily new cases peaking in mid-September.

• October 2020- February 2021: There is a continuous decline in the number of new covid cases every day in the country. The numbers were less than 10000 new cases in mid-February.

• March 2021: There is a sudden increase in the number of covid cases with the number of new cases rising from close to 12286 new cases on 1st March to 72330 new cases on 31st Match

• April 2021- May 2021: Things go out of hand with the number of new cases rising from 81446 new cases on 1st April to 414188 new cases on 6th May followed by a gradual decline with each successive day.

Thus the second wave can be said to have started sometime in Mid March and peaking in May first week. This is an important timeline to remember while going through some of the narratives being spread in the blame game politics.

Let’s go through some of the most prevalent narratives disseminated:

WERE POLL RALLIES RESPONSIBLE FOR SECOND WAVE?

If this theory is to be believed then the continuous downward trend at the end of October and the first week of November 2020, during the Bihar elections would not have been a living reality. Though people might argue on stricter norms for the conduction of rallies there can be no disagreement that most of the times such norms were more on paper than in reality. Zooming into the present second wave, it is important to do a comparative analysis of the poll-bound states and the non-poll-bound states for establishing the truth in this case. Let’s look at the tables (1 and 2) below for understanding the active cases variation in poll-bound states and non-poll-bound states during the early phase of the second wave from 1st March till 6th April (election finished in three states):

If we analyse the data for poll-bound and non-poll-bound states we clearly see that the percentage increase in the non-poll-bound states is way higher than the poll-bound states. Maharashtra which had 78212 active cases on 1st March went up to 452777 active cases by 6th April. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu which had the highest percentage change in poll-bound states from 1st March till 6th April, shows a jump from 4022 active cases to 23777 active cases. Moving to Bengal, which got a lot of attention for poll rallies. Bengal saw a jump from 3307 active cases to 11446 active cases which is less in comparison to Delhi which showed a jump from 1335 active cases to 14589 active cases with almost 1/5th of the population of West Bengal.

Though questions may be asked on the testing numbers which vary in each state but by the plain reading of the data, election rallies cannot be termed as the reason for the second wave in India. The non-poll-bound states show a higher percentage increase in the number of active Covid cases in the same duration The second wave had well and truly grappled the nation by April 6th and the poll bound states weren’t directly responsible for it.

To turn our attention to Bengal for the rest of the phases till 29th April let’s understand the table below:

Thus if we compare West Bengal, which was poll-bound, to non-poll-bound states like Maharashtra and Delhi we see an increase of almost the same proportion as the non-poll-bound state like Delhi. Most of the cases might be attributed to the migrants returning home after losing employment opportunities in other states as some states started lockdowns. Also, rallies in the fag-end of the election around 20 April and later were reduced dramatically in the state when almost all the parties refrained from holding rallies as the cases started going up. Hence, the whole narrative around election rallies was cooked up to completely shift the blame for the second wave. Though elections rallies and polling on election days cannot be totally absolved the entire blame shouldn’t be put on it to malign the institution and the electoral process.

DID KUMBH MELA PLAY THE ROLE OF ASUPER-SPREADER?

There are numerous Twitter threads and social media posts from responsible politicians blaming the Kumbh congregation as the super spreader event in the second Covid wave. Though public gathering of anysort was unacceptable, let us again look at some relevant data to understand whether Kumbh was a super-spreader event or not. To have a clear understanding it is first important to go through the important Kumbh dates to analyse a timeline for the Covid cases accordingly. The important Kumbh dates were:

• Makar Sankranti 14 January 2021

• Mauni Amavasya 11 February 2021

• Basant Panchami 16 February 2021

• MaghPoornima 27 February 2021

• MahaShivratri 11 March 2021

• SomvatiAmamvasya 12 April 2021

• Baisakhi 14 April 2021

• Ram Navami 21 April 2021

Chaitra Purnima 27 April 2021

Now, let’s go through the number of cases in Uttarakhand on the above dates till 17th April when the top seers participating in the event mentioned that the event will only be symbolic from that day onwards. Also, let’s understand how the other states were doing at the same time in terms of the number of active cases:

Thus if we observe the the table (3 and 4) above it is amply clear that in the first four important dates or ‘Snans’ the number of Covid cases has continuously decreased in the state of Uttarakhand. While on the other hand, the number of Covid cases started rising in Maharashtra, Punjab, and Delhi from 16th February onwards. The jump in the number of active cases was almost more than three times in the state of Maharashtra and Punjab between 16th February and 11th March. The second Covid wave supposedly had already picked up in the country by Mid March. Even on 17th March, the Prime Minister in a meeting with Chief Ministers of different states warned them against the rising second Covid wave in the country. Even till 12th April when the number of active Covid cases in Delhi had reached 34341, Uttarakhand had 7323 active cases in the state. In this, it is to be kept in mind that the population of Delhi is close to 1.9 Crore while that of Uttarakhand is 1.01 Crore with additional tourists visiting the state because of Kumbh. It is highly foolish to assume that the super spreader event won’t affect the state in which the event is held but is responsible for the spread everywhere else. This is the level of IQ of people who had doubted the event for their personal goals and agendas. Hence, just by the pure observation of the data, it is amply clear that blaming Kumbh as a super-spreader event was with an agenda to malign the great intangible heritage of India. Also, it was primarily done to shift the blame for the second Covid wave.

This is Part 1 of the two-part series.

Sankalp Mishra is an engineer, lawyer, entrepreneur and an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus. The views expressed are personal.

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RUSSIA WILL ACCEPT CONDITIONAL HANDOVER OF CYBER CRIMINALS TO US, SAYS PRESIDENT PUTIN

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Three days before the US-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the two countries need to engage in a constructive dialogue and establish mechanisms for interaction as there are areas in which Moscow and Washington can cooperate.

“[We need] to restore our personal contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create really functioning mechanisms of interaction,” Putin said in an interview broadcast by the Smotrim.ru media outlet. The President noted that the US side is well aware that there are a number of areas that are of mutual interest, such as strategic stability, regional conflicts, environmental protection measures, and climate. “There are areas in which we can really work effectively,” Putin added.

In the process, President Putin said that Russia would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington did the same for Moscow and the two powers reached an agreement to that effect.

The Russian leader said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts, adding that important issues for the two men included strategic stability, Libya and Syria, and the environment.

Putin also praised Biden for having shown “professionalism” when the United States and Russia agreed this year to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting. That issue is in the spotlight after a cyberattack disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

A Russia-linked hacking group was behind that attack, a US source familiar with the matter said last week.

Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cyber criminals, Putin said Russia’s behaviour here would depend on formal agreements being reached by Moscow and Washington.

Both sides would have to commit to the same obligations, he said.

“If we agree to extradite criminals, then of course Russia will do that, we will do that, but only if the other side, in this case the United States, agrees to the same and will extradite the criminals in question to the Russian Federation,” he said.

“The question of cyber security is one of the most important at the moment because turning all kinds of systems off can lead to really difficult consequences,” he said.

With agency inputs

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12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in China

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HUBEI: At least 12 people were killed and 138 were injured in a huge gas explosion in central China on Sunday, state media reported.

A gas pipe exploded in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province at about 6:30 am local time. The number of casualties is still being verified as the search and rescue operation is underway. According to the local authorities, 150 people have been pulled from the debris, and the injured are being treated at local hospitals.

Apparently, the explosion destroyed a wet market there and greatly affected nearby residents. “Hearing the loud bang, I immediately scrabbled beneath the table, thinking it was an earthquake,” a resident surnamed Liu, told the Global Times via phone.

Images are circulating on social media, which appeared to be from the scene, showed rescue workers in orange jumpsuits working through the wreckage of flattened houses.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the city government, which informed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

Rescue operation is underway and more details are awaited. ANI

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SAUDI ARABIA BARS FOREIGN PILGRIMS FROM HAJJ DUE TO COVID-19

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Amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has once again barred foreigners to perform the Hajj, and set a limit of maximum of 60,000 pilgrims inside the Kingdom.

“Only 60,000 vaccinated residents and citizens living in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform this year’s Haj pilgrimage due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the Ministry of Haj and Umrah announced in a statement cited by Gulf News on Saturday. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Every able-bodied Muslim who has affordability tries to visit it at least once in a lifetime.

“Against the backdrop of what the world is witnessing and due to the continuous developments of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the emergence of new mutations, Haj registration will be limited to residents and citizens from inside the Kingdom only,” the ministry also Twitted.

“Muslims between the ages of 18-65 and are fully vaccinated, or those who received their first dose at least 14 days prior, those who are vaccinated and have recovered from a Covid-19 infection are allowed to register,” the ministry added.

This is the second year in a row that Saudi Arabia limits the Haj pilgrimage to Muslims inside the Kingdom. However, only 10,000 Muslims were allowed to perform Hajj last year.

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US AND JAPAN DEEPEN TIES WITH TAIWAN, DRAGON FINDS ITSELF IN TIGHT SPOT

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The US and Japan have been deepening their engagement with Taiwan to help guard it against a growing threat from China. The move has out Beijing in tight spot.

J. Michael Cole, writing in The National Interest said that the regime in Beijing, which continues its effort to isolate Taiwan internationally, is now in the difficult position of having to express its discontent over coronavirus response while avoiding overreaction that could create the rationale for even closer relations between Taiwan and other countries. Taiwan has had a fairly positive past month in terms of its engagement with, and support by, regional partners.

Beijing’s setbacks began back in April, with the joint statement between US President Joe Biden and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which “underscore[d] the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”

Such direct reference to Taiwan by a Japanese prime minister had not been heard for more than half a century, reported The National Interest. This was followed the next month by a similar statement, this one by President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which again “emphasise[d] the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

The unprecedented reference to Taiwan by a South Korean leader also signalled those countries within the region were becoming increasingly alarmed with China’s destabilising behaviour—particularly the high number of intrusions by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Navy into Taiwan’s southern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), wrote Cole.

Four days before the Biden-Suga joint statement, a total of twenty-five PLA aircraft–14 J-16 multi-role fighters, four J-10 multi-role fighters, four H-6K bombers, 2 Y-8 anti-submarine planes, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane–entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, a new high since the PLA began intensifying its military activity in the region in 2020, reported The National Interest.

But now, China is in a tight spot as Taiwan is receiving more attention from allies. One strategic mistake Beijing may have committed earlier this year was its refusal to reduce its military activity around the Taiwan Strait during the transition period in Washington, wrote Cole.

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WHO chief asks China to cooperate with probe into Covid-19 origins

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has called on China to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 amid renewed call to further probe the virus.

Dr Tedros made these remarks after taking part in the Group of Seven (G7) summit by video conference on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The WHO Director-General hoped there would be better cooperation and transparency when the next phase of the probe into the virus’s origin is underway. “As you know we will need cooperation from the Chinese side,” he said. “We need transparency to understand or know or find the origin of this virus…after the report was released there were difficulties in the data sharing, especially in the raw data.”

He further said that the preparations for the probe’s next steps were underway and that the issue of the origin of the virus was discussed by G7 leaders on Saturday, WSJ reported.

Earlier this week, the US and the UK had extended support to a “timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process” for the next phase of the WHO-convened study of Covid-19 origins. “We will also support a timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened COVID-19 origins study, including in China, and for investigating outbreaks of unknown origin in the future,” a joint statement said after US President Joe Biden met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.

This comes amid growing calls for a timely, transparent, and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened origin study.

Recently, the calls to investigate further the origins of the virus have intensified. President Biden has also ordered a fresh US intelligence inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

The origin of novel coronavirus that caused havoc around the world has remained a mystery even after 1.5 years the first case of infection was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Now, scientists and world leaders are calling for further investigations to figure out whether the virus originated naturally or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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G7 NATIONS CALL OUT CHINA OVER XINJIANG, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN

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In a veiled criticism of the Dragon, Group of Seven (G&) leaders called on China to respect human rights in its Xinjiang region, allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, and refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilise the East and South China Seas, Reuters reported quoted a draft version of the G7 summit communique.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said in a communique that was almost finalised.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also said they underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”

“We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China,” the communique, which is almost finalised, said.

“The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.

“We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China, and says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

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