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MHA issues guidelines for movement of migrant labourers within State

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Sunday clarified that supply of non-essential goods by e-commerce companies will remain prohibited during the lockdown.

The Ministry also issued guidelines for the movement of migrant labourers living in relief camps to their workplace, within the boundaries of a State, in areas where the lockdown will be relaxed from April 20.

The Ministry asserted that there will be no inter-State movement of labourers. They will be registered, screened and those who are asymptomatic would be transported to their places of work by ensuring social distancing measures. The relaxations will not apply to hotspots or containment zones, and public transport will remain prohibited till May 3.

On April 15, the MHA had revised its guidelines issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to allow the States to decide on the additional public activities to be allowed from April 20 in non-hotspot zones. It said the additional facilities would have to be based on strict compliance with the existing guidelines on lockdown measures.

As per the April 15 order, “e-commerce companies” and vehicles used by their operators had been allowed but it was not specified if it was applicable to items others than essentials.

On Sunday, the MHA wrote to the States to exclude the e-commerce category from the revised guidelines.

In another letter, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla clarified that e-commerce firms would continue to operate for home delivery of essential goods, as earlier.

Commerce and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted that he was grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the clarification that “e-commerce companies can only supply essential goods during the lockdown”. “This will create a level playing field for small retailers,” he added.

The Confederation of All India Traders issued a statement claiming credit for the exclusion of e-commerce companies.

On Sunday, ICMR reported 17,615 positive individuals

A day ahead of a possible relaxation in lockdown curbs, confusion reigned on the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the country registered on Saturday.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which coordinates testing and is the central node of data regarding the daily infections, reported that 16,365 individuals had been confirmed positive. Of these 2,154 were confirmed on Saturday alone — the first time the daily case load breached the 2,000 mark.

However, the Health Ministry, the point-Ministry for all information regarding COVID-19, reported only 14,792 cases and 957 new cases.

On Sunday, the ICMR reported that 17,615 individuals have been confirmed positive. However, the Ministry, which updates figures twice daily, continued to report the lagged figures. At the daily afternoon briefing, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal updated this to 15,712. By Sunday evening, this had crept up to 16,115 but still fell short of the ICMR’s Saturday numbers.

Feeding primates could lead to mutated SARS-CoV-2 infecting hapless animals

Hungry troop: A forester feeding monkeys, facing a food shortage during the lockdown, near Madurai. S. JamesThe Hindu

Feeding monkeys during the COVID-19 pandemic could have profoundly negative effects in the long-term, such as helping the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutate and infect primates, biologists have said in a note, advising caution.

Honnavalli M. Kumara, principal scientist at the Salim Ali Center for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), said it was well documented that viruses and endoparasites could transmit between humans and primates.

“The worst-case scenario is that SARS-CoV-2 mutates and infects other primate species. This could lead to many scenarios, such as the virus affecting the health of the affected animal populations or the animals serving as reservoirs or hosts and spreading the disease to other species or human populations,” another senior wildlife biologist from Tamil Nadu said.

“It is a matter of common sense to limit interaction between humans and wildlife, especially primates,” he added. Feeding primates should be discouraged regardless of the pandemic, in order to prevent not just the spread of diseases but also to minimise problematic human-primate interaction.

Ashni Dhawale, a researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Studies at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who is studying ecology and behaviour of the endangered lion-tailed macaque, said primates and humans share a complex relationship.

A ‘provocation’

Monkey troops accustomed to being fed by people could view denial of food as a “provocation,” leading to hostile interactions. “Monkeys start associating humans with food, and when food is denied, can attack them,” she said.

The principal fault is with Beijing and not WHO, which is still a body dependent on member states, says Shashi Tharoor, former Under Secretary General of the UN

As the World Health Organization (WHO) grapples with its greatest crisis, facing criticism over its initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a funding cut from the United States, Shashi Tharoor, a former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, says the situation is an indictment, not so much of the agency alone but of the member states that demand it remain beholden to them.

How unprecedented is the current challenge facing the WHO?

The WHO was established in 1948 and there hasn’t been a worldwide pandemic with this kind of devastation that has come across its path. Something like this is calamitously challenging for the WHO. And then you have the decision of the United States [on April 15] to withhold funding at this peak time. The U.S. contributes something like 15% of the WHO budget. That is a pretty substantial sum of money that is going to disappear from the WHO’s kitty. All of that adds to the challenges it is facing.

Is the U.S. criticism valid?

I really think Mr. Trump is honestly trying to find a scapegoat for his own administration failing in preparing the U.S. sooner for what has turned out to be the biggest public health emergency they have ever had. The fact is, if you look at what the WHO did or didn’t do, one can certainly accept the charge that they were to willing to give China a free pass at the beginning of the crisis. I don’t think it’s easy to blame the WHO for it.

One of the institutional challenges for any UN body is that it tends to be beholden to its most powerful member states. I am afraid the problem is if this was something that started in the U.S., they would have probably been deferential to the U.S. also. The difference is the U.S. being a democracy with a free press, they would have not found it easy to suppress the kind of details that are only now emerging from China.

Is it the case that WHO and most UN agencies are reliant on the information they receive from member states?

We have a constitutional problem with all UN agencies that the head of the agency who is elected after all with support of powerful member states, does not enjoy the independence and autonomy that should come with a position of that stature. If we were, for example, to adopt a policy of a single, non-renewable term for maybe six or seven years, rather than two terms of five which is normal practice, then you might actually give a leader authority to take certain independent actions. Nonetheless, don’t forget the UN is not larger or more powerful than its member states.

The principal fault is with Beijing and not the WHO, which is still a body that is dependent on member states. India is a member of every UN body and every country knows how these bodies work. The governments of the world actually want UN agencies to be beholden to governments, for the most part. When they fail to assert enough independence and autonomy, the same governments start making these agencies a scapegoat. When I was at the UN, my then boss [Secretary General] Kofi Annan would often jokingly say about the initials SG by which we used to call him, ‘I know what that stands for – scapegoat!’

On one hand, we are seeing countries turning inward. On the other, the pandemic is bringing an awareness of the limitations of global institutions. Faced with two somewhat opposing impulses, which way will we go?

The signs are indeed for a resurgence of national sovereignty. This suggests we will actually go in the wrong direction and likely throw up more barriers. I believe that is the wrong way to go. India must play a role in defying this impulse of closing countries off to the international community.

We have to recognise if the WHO had limitations, these are limitations that governments have imposed upon it. If the world has to draw from this a conclusion that we actually need institutions of greater independence in all our collective interest, then maybe we can reform these institutions, to give them that independence. I hope a country like India will be a sane voice for this.

All seven cases test negative, but no time for complacence, says Chief Minister

Positive milestone: Goa on Sunday became the first green State in the country with no cases. AFP-

Goa on Sunday became the first zero COVID-19 State in the country with the last seven cases also testing negative.

This makes Goa the first green State in the country with no case of COVID-19 being reported from April 3. The coastal State had a total of seven positive cases, of whom six had travel history and one was the brother of a patient.

“Goa is now COVID-19-free, all seven patients have tested negative. They will be quarantined at government facility and later at home,” Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said. Goa has in all tested over 800 people of whom seven had come positive.

Dr. Sawant said that though Goa was the first State to be free of any tested positive case and a happy moment for everyone, especially the frontline workers, it was important to realise that this was no time for complacence.

The Chief Minister said that from April 20, the government would scrutinise reports of its three-day door-to-door citizens survey done last week and decide on testing people for COVID-19 wherever felt necessary.

“We have to ensure that we remain a zero COVID-19 State. The lockdown will continue till the Central government decides. Our borders with Maharashtra and Karnataka will continue to remain sealed. Anyone entering the State under special circumstances will have to stay in a government quarantine centre,” he said.

The Chief Minister said government offices would resume 100% work from Monday. “To ensure that we continue to remain a green zone State, social distancing will have to be maintained. State transport buses will ensure this while shifting government staff. Two-wheelers will have a single occupant and 1,000 thermal guns will be positioned at various places,” he said.

Dr. Sawant announced that subject to permissions from designated officers, industrial units and private businesses would be allowed to start functioning.

Seafarers issue

On the issue of seafarers, the Chief Minister said the Centre would be announcing the repatriation mechanism any time. “Once the government makes the mechanism official, it will take about 3-4 days for the first lot of seafarers to return. Those already at Indian ports or closest to the coast will return first. For the rest, discussions are on whether it would be the sea route or air route that would be taken to get them back,” Dr. Sawant said.

All these seafarers would be subjected to quarantine followed by home quarantine, he said. Goa has made available 8,000 rooms for Goan seafarers.

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