India sees 2.6 lakh COVID-19 cases as Maharashtra, Delhi register record spike; Manmohan Singh pens letter to PM
Singh, who penned the letter a day after Modi held a review meeting on the COVID-19 situation in the country, suggested five measures to curb the crisis, including ramping up vaccination and boosting the supply of medicines
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday with recommendations of measures to tackle to an exponential new wave of COVID-19 in the country.
This, on a day that 2,61,500 new cases were recorded in 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 1,47,88,109 and the Union Health Ministry said that the daily coronavirus positivity rate in India has doubled to 16.69 percent in the last 12 days.
Singh, who penned the letter a day after Modi held a review meeting on the COVID-19 situation in the country, suggested five measures to curb the crisis, including ramping up vaccination and boosting the supply of medicines.
Additionally, the veteran Congress leader said that “one must not look at absolute numbers” but consider the total percentage of the population that has been vaccinated.
While several states are grappling with a shortage in crucial medical facilities such as oxygen and the remdesivir drug, the numbers were particularly grim in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh with the states reporting their highest single-day spikes in cases on Sunday.
On the other hand, several states including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal on Sunday reported their highest single-day rise in coronavirus cases. The National Capital reported 25,462 new cases while Uttar Pradesh recorded 30,596 new cases.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday and said that the COVID-19 situation in Delhi is “very serious.”
Also writing to Modi, he said, “The COVID situation has become very serious in Delhi. There is a huge shortage of beds and oxygen. I request that at least 7,000 out of 10,000 beds in Central government hospitals in Delhi be reserved for COVID patients and oxygen be immediately provided in Delhi. We are making all efforts at our level. Your help is needed.”
Meanwhile, in a bid to help the states tackle a spiralling supply of medical oxygen, the Indian Railways is set to run ‘Oxygen Express’ trains over the next few days, to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country.
Amid the new COVID-19 wave, the demand for medical oxygen in the country has gone through the roof.
Empty tankers will begin their journey from Kalamboli and Boisar railway stations in and near Mumbai on Monday to load liquid medical oxygen from Vizag, Jamshedpur, Rourkela and Bokaro, PTI quoted officials as saying.
“Railways is leaving no stone unturned in the battle against COVID-19 . We will be running Oxygen express trains using green corridors to get Oxygen in bulk and rapidly to patients,” said Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal.
Roll on Roll off Oxygen trucks getting loaded for Oxygen Express. Under PM @NarendraModi ji’s leadership, Govt of India is committed to doing everything possible to help COVID-19 patients. pic.twitter.com/dFgHeKLRxr
— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) April 18, 2021
On the political front, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi cancelled his pending campaign rallies for the West Bengal Assembly election and exhorted other political leaders also to consider doing the same in view of the COVID-19 situation.
In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal.
I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 18, 2021
West Bengal, which is witnessing an eight-phased Assembly poll that is slated to end on 29 April, reported 8,419 COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president JP Nadda, and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee are among the leaders who held rallies and roadshows in the state on Sunday.
Politics also played out in Maharashtra, with the state government and the BJP sparring over the supply of the remdesivir drug, which is in short supply currently.
On Saturday, the Mumbai Police detained and interrogated Rajesh Dokania, director of Bruck Pharma, on charges of stocking 60,000 of vials of remdesivir. PTI on Sunday reported that the police are likely to quiz Dokania over the matter again in the coming week.
Police have said that they had information that the remdesivir stock was going to be flown abroad by air cargo, despite a ban on the export of the drug. “Dokania was questioned at the BKC police station,” the official said, adding that the cops later allowed him to go, but asked him to remain present for inquiry whenever he is called.
However, Maharashtra Leader of Opposition and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis visited the police station on Saturday night, and questioned why Dokania had been detained.
Fadnavis also said that the FDA had granted permission to donate the stock of remdesevir vials to the Maharashtra government, as remdesevir stocked for export cannot be diverted to the domestic market without the nod of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) or the FDA.
Additionally, the BJP sought an FIR against NCP leader and Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik for alleging that the Centre was blocking the supply of remdesivir e to the state. The saffron party accused Malik of “spreading panic through false information”.
The BJP said the Uddhav Thackeray government should file a case against Malik under the Disaster Management Act.
In view of the rising cases, the JEE-Main exam, scheduled to be held from 27-30 April, was postponed on Sunday. According to an official order by the National Testing Agency (NTA), “looking at the present situation of COVID-19 pandemic and also taking into account the safety and well being of candidates and examination functionaries, it has been decided to postpone JEE-(Main) April session”.
Manmohan Singh writes to Modi, suggests 5 ways to tackle COVID-19
In his letter to Narendra Modi on Sunday, Singh also said that invoking compulsory licensing provisions for drug manufacturers, and giving some flexibility to states to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years are some of the steps that can be taken.
“The key to our fight against COVID-19 must be ramping up the vaccination effort. We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated,” he said in his letter.
Noting that India currently has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population, Singh said he is certain that with the right policy design, “we can do much better and very quickly”.
“There are many things we must do to fight the epidemic but a big part of this effort must be ramping up the vaccination programme,” he said while making several suggestions.
He said some states may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend courts as frontline workers, and they can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years.
Singh said the Centre should publicise vaccine dose orders placed and accepted for delivery over the next six months. He said the government should indicate how vaccine supplies are to be distributed to states.
The suggestions come a day after the Congress Working Committee met and discussed the efforts required to fight the COVID pandemic.
Centre bans supply of oxygen to industries
The Centre on Sunday banned the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes except in nine specified industries in view of the shortage of the essential public health commodity in several states amid a spike in COVID-19 infections. The decision will come into effect from 22 April.
In a communication to all states, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that in view of the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and resultant rapid demand for medical oxygen, particularly in high-burden states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, the central government-constituted Empowered Group-II has reviewed the supply of oxygen for industrial use in order to divert the same to meet the rising demand for medical oxygen in the country and save precious lives.
Accordingly, the EG-II has recommended to prohibit the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes by manufacturers and suppliers from April 22 till further orders, with exceptions of nine specified industries.
The recommendation of the EG-II has been accepted by the government, the home secretary said in his letter.
“I, therefore, urge you to issue necessary instructions to all the authorities concerned in your State to ensure compliance to the decision of the EG-II and take necessary measures to prohibit supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except those exempted nine industries. It will help in augmenting supply for medical oxygen in the country and in saving precious lives,” the letter addressed to the chief secretaries of all states and union territories said.
Tamil Nadu, Bihar impose night curfew
Amid rising COVID-19 cases in the country, Bihar and Tamil Nadu governments on Sunday imposed a night curfew.
While the curfew in Tamil Nadu will be effective from 10 pm to 4 am, the restrictions in Bihar will be effective from 9 pm to 5 am.
The Tamil Nadu government on Sunday announced the postponement of class 12 public examination, complete lockdown on Sundays and effective April 20, night curfew from 10 pm to 4 am.
After Chief Minister K Palaniswami chaired a high-level meeting here to review the COVID-19 scenario in the state, the government announced measures, including the Sunday lockdown to help prevent the rapid rise in the spread of virus.
Though the class 12 public examination is deferred, the ongoing practicals would be conducted as per plan, the government said in an official release.
Originally, the government had planned to hold the Higher Secondary Second Year exams from May 3 to May 21.
Visit to beaches, zoos, parks, monuments, museums and all tourist destinations like Nilgiris, Yercaud and Kodaikanal is barred on all days.
Considering the rapid spread of infection during the killer second wave, the Bihar government on Sunday decided to impose a night curfew from 9 pm to 5 am as part of new measures to check the spread of the disease.
Declaring newer measures taken to halt the surge of coronavirus cases, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said a decision has been taken to extend the closure of schools/colleges/coaching centres till 15 May from 30 April.
Religious places of all faiths will remain shut till 15 May in view of the sudden spike in coronavirus cases in Bihar, the chief minister told reporters. Earlier, they were closed till 30 April.
The government offices with one-third strength will function only till 5 pm instead of 6 pm now while shops/mandis/business establishments will be closed at 6 pm, an hour before then what was decided last week, he said.
Attendance at funerals has been reduced to 25 from 50 earlier and likewise gathering in marriage/shraddha curtailed to 100 from 200 earlier till mid-May.
Mamata Banerjee demands 5.7-cr vaccine doses for West Bengal
The West Bengal chief minister sought Modi’s intervention to ensure an adequate supply of COVID-19 vaccines, medicines and oxygen to the state, which has been reporting a sharp spike in fresh infections.
In her two-page letter to the prime minister, Banerjee said that vaccines, medicines and oxygen are of paramount importance to contain the second COVID wave.
Noting that vaccination is of top importance in densely populated West Bengal and particularly Kolkata, she said, “Unfortunately for us, the supply of vaccines from the Centre has been scarce and erratic, which is negatively affecting our vaccination programmes.”
“We have to vaccinate around 2.7 crore people for which we need 5.4 crore doses. We request for an urgent intervention to ensure that the state gets its requirement of vaccine doses fulfilled at the earliest,” she wrote.
She complained that her government wants to purchase the doses from state funds and had earlier written to the prime minister about it but did not receive “requisite clearance” yet.
Banerjee also urged Modi to ensure a steady supply of essential medicines to combat the surge in coronavirus cases. “The supply of essential medicines like remdesivir and tocilizumab is extremely scarce and uncertain today, which has been a matter of grave concern for the doctors here. We need around 6,000 vials of remdesivir and 1,000 vials of tocilizumab every day.”
“Presently, only 1,000 vials of remdesivir are available every day and no fresh supply of tocilizumab is coming. It may be seen that the relevant authorities step up their efforts to ensure a steady supply of these most essential supplies of medicines as soon as possible,” she
Northern Railways says 463 isolation coaches ready
The Northern Railways has deployed 50 isolation coaches, each having two oxygen cylinders, at Delhi’s Shakur Basti railway station and 25 such facilities will be placed at Anand Vihar by Monday, General Manager Ashutosh Gangal said on Sunday.
“We have 463 such coaches across our network. Fifty beds have been placed at Shakur Basti and 25 will be placed at Anand Vihar by Monday. We have purchased oxygen cylinders and two such cylinders will be placed in each coach.
“If more is needed, the state government has to arrange it. However, since these coaches are for mild COVID-19 cases, we do not expect huge demand for oxygen,” Gangal said.
Many young people testing positive in second wave, say experts
In comparison to the first COVID-19 wave in India, the latest surge is seeing many young people testing positive for the disease and “are reporting symptoms different than what were common when the infection initially began spreading,” ANI quoted Dr Gauri Agarwal, founder-director, Genestrings Diagnostic Centre, was quoted as saying.
A lot of young people testing COVID positive as compared to old people. Symptoms are different this time. Many are complaining of dry mouth, gastrointestinal issues, nausea, loose tools, red eyes & headache. Everyone doesn’t complain of fever: Genestrings Diagnostic Centre chief https://t.co/3JkPwWC0si
— ANI (@ANI) April 18, 2021
COVID-19 caseload details
The Union Health Ministry on Sunday also said that the weekly positivity rate has increased to 13.54 percent in the past one month.
India reported a record 2,61,500 new coronavirus cases and 1,501 deaths on Sunday, while active cases have surpassed the 18-lakh mark, the ministry data stated.
Ten states — Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan — reported 78.56 percent of the new infections, it said.
“The daily positivity rate in the last 12 days has doubled from 8 percent to 16.69 percent,” the ministry said in a statement. “The national weekly positivity rate has increased from 3.05 percent to 13.54 percent in the last one month.”
Chhattisgarh reported the highest weekly positivity rate at 30.38 percent, followed by Goa at 24.24 percent, Maharashtra at 24.17 percent, Rajasthan at 23.33 percent and Madhya Pradesh at 18.99 percent, according to the ministry.
The active cases in the country mounted to 18,01,316, comprising 12.18 percent of the total infections and a net increase of infections in a span of 24 hours.
Five states — Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala — account for 65.02 percent of India’s the active cases.
Out of the 1,501 deaths, 10 states account for 82.94 percent of the new deaths. Maharashtra saw the maximum fatalities at 419, followed by Delhi with 167 deaths.
With inputs from PTI
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