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Move may be aimed at preventing ‘opportunistic takeovers’ by Chinese entities

In a move that will restrict Chinese investments, the Centre has made prior government approval mandatory for foreign direct investments from countries which share a land border with India. Previously, only investments from Pakistan and Bangladesh faced such restrictions.

The revised FDI policy is aimed at “curbing opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic,” said a press release from the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade on Saturday.

‘With land borders’

“A non-resident entity can invest in India, subject to the FDI Policy except in those sectors/activities which are prohibited,” says the new policy.

“However, an entity of a country, which shares land border with India or where the beneficial owner of an investment into India is situated in or is a citizen of any such country, can invest only under the Government route.” Pakistani investors face further restrictions in requiring government approval for FDI in defence, space and atomic energy sectors as well.

India shares land borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Investors from countries not covered by the new policy only have to inform the RBI after a transaction rather than asking for prior permission from the relevant government department.

With many Indian businesses coming to a halt due to the lockdown imposed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and valuations plummeting, a number of domestic firms may be vulnerable to “opportunistic takeovers or acquisitions” from foreign players. Last week, housing finance company HDFC informed the stock exchanges that the People’s Bank of China now holds a 1.01% stake in the company. This was an instance of portfolio investment through the stock market and not FDI.

The official statement added that a transfer of ownership of any existing or future FDI in an Indian entity to those in the restricted countries would also need government approval. The decisions will become effective from the date of the Foreign Exchange Management Act notification.

83% of all deaths so far have been due to co-morbidities

In a major spike in COVID-19 cases, the Indian Council of Medical Research reported that a total of 16,365 individuals have now been confirmed positive in the country. On Saturday till 9 p.m., 2,154 persons (the highest in a single day) were found positive for SARS-CoV-2.

The Union Health Ministry reported that there were 36 deaths in the past 24 hours.

“An encouraging trend has been noted in 47 districts across 23 States with no positive cases being reported over the past 28 days. This includes 22 new districts in 12 States that have not reported any fresh case during the past 14 days,” Joint secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said.

Among the 22 new districts are Lakhisarai, Gopalganj, Bhagalpur in Bihar, Dholpur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, Pulwama in J&K, Thoubal in Manipur, Chitradurga in Karnataka and Hoshiarpur in Punjab.

The Health Ministry added that the mortality rate in the country is currently around 3.3%.

“An age-wise analysis indicates that 14.4% deaths have been reported in the age group of 0-45 years. Between 45-60 years it is 10.3%, between 60-75 it is 33.1% and for 75 years and above it is 42.2%,” Mr. Agarwal said. He added that 83% of the cases had co-morbidities.

According to reports from the State Health Departments, the death toll stood at 522, with 12,874 active cases out of 15,667 positive cases. With 3,105 active cases, Maharashtra leads the tally followed by Delhi (1,778), Gujarat (1,230) and Madhya Pradesh (1,206).

Not a good sign: A crack that developed on the eastern part of Ambukuthi hills in Wayanad. Special Arrangement

A huge crack has developed on the eastern part of Ambukuthi hills, on which the Edakkal caves are situated. The crack was exposed after a fire devastated the area a few days ago.

Sulthan Bathery Tahsildar A. Sunil Kumar and District Soil Conservation Officer P.U. Das visited the site on Saturday.

Mr. Kumar said the crack had formed along a 60 m stretch on the hill slope. The exact cause could be ascertained only after a study by experts, he added.

Mr. Das said the crack could have developed during the heavy rain witnessed last year. The crack would not lead to a landslip during moderate rain, but the possibility of landslips in the area during heavy rain could not be ruled out, he added.

19.87 lakh reports of such material uploaded from country

In a global compilation of reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) found online, India stands right on top of the list, with 11.7% of the total reports or at 19.87 lakh reports, followed by Pakistan, which contributes 6.8% of all reports (11.5 lakh reports). Bangladesh comes in fourth with 5.5 lakh reports and a share of 3.3%.

The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) urges people to report CSAM found online across the world annually, on their online platform CyberTipline.

This year, the Centre received a total of 1.68 crore reports. The material thus reported by the members of the public and electronic service providers, principally comprises still pictures and videos depicting children in a clear sexual angle.

Three of the top four countries were in South Asia, raising concerns among child rights activists about the online safety of children in the region.

The NCMEC adds that the reports include geographic indicators related to the upload location of the child sexual abuse material, but country specific numbers may be impacted by proxies and anonymisers.

John Carr, a member of the Executive Board of the UK Council on Child Internet Safety, says, “It has long been suspected that India was very high (as CASM source) but the data wasn’t being published before now so I guess nobody on the inside track will be surprised. Their suspicions have merely been confirmed.”

Mr, Carr added, “I am not going to venture any guesses as to why India is the world’s number 1 but it is astonishing that three out of the four top countries — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — are all in the same part of the world.”

Vidya Reddy of Tulir Centre for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, raised concerns about the fact that the reports only account for material that has been uploaded.

“We are not even talking of downloading or browsing. We need to focus on finding out whether this is re-uploading content already circulating on the net, or whether it is new content being uploaded,” Ms Reddy said.

Pointing out that the numbers are consistent with Google searches on sexual content across the world, she said, “We need to look at the South Asian region with great interest and concern, at their interest in using children’s pictures for sexual stimulation.”

Lockdown impact

There is also concern that the lockdowns across the world will lead to an exacerbation of the situation.

Mr. Carr says: “Police and child welfare experts around the world are all expressing great anxieties about the impact of the mass lockdown. Paedophiles who work online are seeking to exploit the situation, looking for bored children. It might be some time before official figures show any increase in arrests or harms to children. That’s unavoidable but also, sadly, inevitable.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented rise in screen time,” said Howard Taylor, of Global Partnership to End Violence Executive Director.

Rapid antibody tests for epidemiological studies, surveillance in hotspots

Testing times: A swab sample being taken during a free medical camp in Mumbai on SaturdayAPAP

The Union Health Ministry has said that the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) is the gold standard frontline test for COVID-19 and that rapid antibody test cannot replace it.

The statement comes after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s national taskforce issued guidelines on testing strategy to all States, following a review of the worldwide testing methodology.

“The Rapid Antibody Test gives us an idea about prevalence of disease in a particular area and thus is used for epidemiological studies and surveillance purpose in hotspots. It can also be used in districts which are not hotspots to study emerging trends,” Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said on Saturday.

He added that data generated by surveillance through rapid testing can be used for contact tracing if any positive case arise in an area.

Presently, the government is using the RT-PCR tests to detect novel coronavirus from samples of throat or nasal swabs of people with symptoms or high-risk individuals who might have come in contact with positive patients.

The Ministry has noted that to make all data of Rapid Antibody Test available for surveillance at State, district and national levels, an order has been issued to register in the portal: covid19cc.nic.in/icmr before conducting rapid antibody test, so that the information can be made available at all levels.

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