May 2020
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National News
COVID-19: Focus shifts to rapid tests in hotspots; Govt says numbers in control sans one ''event''
New Delhi: Ramping up their efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, authorities on Friday announced exclusive isolation wards and initiated rapid tests in areas identified as hotspots of the deadly virus infection while a record of more than 8,000 samples were tested in 24 hours. While more than 380 new confirmed cases were announced by various states during the day, taking the nationwide tally to close to 2,900 with at least 82 deaths, the Union Health Ministry officials said the rise in the numbers in last few days have mostly been due to one event -- referring to the Tablighi Jamaat''s religious gathering in the national capital attended by thousands of people last month.

Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said the tally has not risen sharply otherwise due to the lockdown and the government''s efforts to promote social distancing. According to the ministry, at least 647 cases reported in last two days are linked to the Jamaat congregation. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also said there is no need to panic as the situation is under control and that the community spread of the virus is not taking place in the national capital. Delhi''s tally of confirmed cases has risen to 384, after 91 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours, while five have died in the city. Only Mahrashtra and Tamil Nadu have higher tallies at 429 and 411, respectively.

These three states were also among those reporting new cases, while fresh deaths were reported from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh among others. At least 207 people have recovered across the country so far, as per updates from various states. In its evening update, the Union Health Ministry put the nationwide tally of confirmed cases at 2,547 and 62 deaths. After nine days of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also released a video message, in which he asked people to continuing following social distancing and stay indoors, as he urged everyone to switch off the lights at their homes and light up lamps, candles or mobile phone torches for nine minutes at 9 pm on April 5 to display the country''s "collective resolve" to defeat coronavirus.

There have been indications that the lockdown would be eased in a phased manner after the 21-day period ends on April 14. The main opposition party Congress, however, said Modi failed to address critical questions on India''s fight against COVID-19 in his message, dubbing it as "just a feel-good moment curated by India''s photo-op Prime Minister". The BJP asked its workers to spread Modi''s appeal among the masses. The opposition leaders also referred to hardships being faced by the people during the lockdown and the economic cost of it. Fitch Ratings said India may post a GDP growth of 2 per cent in the current fiscal, the slowest since the economy was liberalised 30 years back, while the stock market suffered another day of meltdown and the rupee slumped 53 paise to slip below the 76-mark against the US dollar.

Leading industry chamber the Confederation of Indian Industry said the pandemic would have a debilitating impact on India''s tourism sector with an estimated overall loss of Rs 5 lakh crore and job cuts for 4-5 crore people. The World Bank, in the meantime, announced an emergency funding of USD 1 billion for India to help it tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Support appeared pouring in from several other quarters as well, with more than 31,000 doctors, including retired government and Armed Forces Medical Services, and private physicians volunteering to help the government fight against COVID-19 pandemic, a senior government official said. An ICMR official separately said 182 labs across country are functional now for COVID-19 diagnosis, out of which 130 are government labs.

Around 8,000 samples were tested for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, he added. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), in an advisory, has also recommended use of a rapid antibody test in the country''s coronavirus hotspots. In Maharashtra, the state government said more than nine lakh people have been surveyed for coronavirus symptoms under the state government''s `cluster containment action plan'', which started areas where three or more patients were found. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan announced that the trauma centre at Dr RML Hospital will function as a dedicated COVID-19 isolation ward while the Safdarjung Hospital''s super specialty block has been converted into a state-of-the-art isolation management centre in Delhi. The government also asserted there is no shortage of medical supplies in the country.

It has also placed orders to procure over 10 crore hydroxychloroquine tablets, which the ICMR has recommended to be used as a preventive medication for those involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Amid reports of attacks and misbehaviour with doctors and medical staff from some parts of the country, officials said the Home Ministry has asked states to take strict action against people allegedly abusing health workers. In Madhya Pradesh, the Indore district administration invoked the National Security Act (NSA) against four men involved in the alleged attack on health workers in the city. In Uttar Pradesh also, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said this stringent act will be invoked against quarantined Tablighi Jamaat members accused of misbehaving with the nursing staff at a Ghaziabad hospital.

In the national capital also, doctors from some hospitals, where the Tablighi Jamaat members are admitted, have complained to the Delhi government about their non-cooperation with the medical staff. Five people have been arrested in Bengaluru also for allegedly manhandling health workers conducting a coronavirus survey. A Group of Ministers, headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, also reviewed the entire situation arising out of the lockdown. They deliberated on various arrangements being made to deal with increasing number of coronavirus cases as well as to ensure adequate supplies of medicine and essential commodities during the lockdown, sources said.

President Ram Nath Kovind also expressed concern over the gathering of migrant workers in Anand Vihar and the congregation of Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin, saying these two incidents caused a setback to the efforts to combat coronavirus, according to a statement issued by Rashtrapati Bhavan. In a video-conference with the Governors, Lieutenant Governors and Administrators of states/union territories, the president emphasized the need to ensure that no one remains hungry during the nationwide lockdown, enforced to check the spread of the virus. Several states, including Haryana, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh announced more people linked to the Jamaat gathering have been quarantined.

Prime Minister Modi also spoke to a number of sportspersons through a video-call and sought their support in the COVID-19 fight with many of them vowing to raise awareness and spirits amid a national lockdown. Officials also referred to the cases remaining largely under control in India as compared to various other countries. Since its outbreak in China last December, more than 1 million people have been infected globally with this deadly virus and more than 51,000 have died including more than 6,000 deaths in the US alone. The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted its first resolution on the coronavirus pandemic, co-sponsored by India and 187 other nations, calling for intensified global cooperation to defeat the deadly disease that is causing "severe disruption" to societies and economies.

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