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Those in markets, market complexes and malls will remain shut, says govt.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Saturday clarified that all shops in rural areas, except those in malls, could open. In urban areas, all standalone and neighbourhood shops and those in residential complexes are allowed to open but not those in markets, market complexes and shopping malls.

The MHA said all restaurants, salons and barber shops would remain closed as they “render services” and the relaxation was granted only to shops selling items. In a statement, the MHA added that liquor shops continued to be prohibited and e-commerce platforms could only be used for the sale of essential items.

Several officials of the State governments said they would stick to the ongoing restrictions and would not immediately implement the order. An official said the final decision on the opening of shops would have to be taken by the States.

Manoj Parida, adviser to the Administrator of the Union Territory of Chandigarh, said on Twitter that in the city, a containment zone, “the opening of neighbourhood non-essential shops will not happen till May 3”.

Piyush Singla, Deputy Commissioner of Udhampur district in Jammu and Kashmir, said queries poured in about the opening of shops and “it is clarified that the present ongoing set-up shall continue till any further communication. Anyone violating the directives shall be booked as per law”.

Assam’s Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna said that no further relaxation, like the opening of shops and beauty parlours, had been decided by the State and a decision would be taken only on April 27.

Sudhanshu Sarangi, Commissioner of Police, Bhubaneswar-Cuttack, said the Odisha government would take a decision based on the local situation and requirements and till then, “shops, except for those already exempted, will remain closed.”

It will review suggestions by panels

Panels set up by the University Grants Commission (UGC) have submitted recommendations on the revised academic calendar and suggestions for holding examinations at a time when the country is under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission’s members are likely to discuss the recommendations via video-conferencing on Monday and issue advisory guidelines for institutions of higher education by the middle of next week, according to UGC officials.

Meanwhile, Press Trust of India reported that a panel headed by Central University of Haryana Vice-Chancellor R.C. Kuhad had recommended that the new academic year begin in September, instead of July. Another recommendation was that universities conduct their year-end examinations online if they had the resources to do so. If not, they should wait until the lockdown is lifted to set a date for the hand-written examinations.

No semester exams yet

Most colleges and universities have not yet held their semester examinations to close the current academic year.

Apart from Dr. Kuhad’s panel, another panel headed by Indira Gandhi National Open University Vice- Chancellor Nageshwar Rao also submitted its report on improving online education in the midst of the lockdown.

It’s highly unlikely going by the rise in numbers in Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal, say experts

On Friday, V.K. Paul, NITI Aayog member and head of a key government empowered committee on medical management, presented a study to suggest that the lockdown had slowed the rate of transmission and increased the doubling time, the period it took for cases to double, to about 10 days. Though India continues to show a rising trend in cases, his projection also showed a forecast that says new cases would cease by May 16.

From May 3, India would hit its peak in adding daily new cases at a little above 1,500 and this would drop to 1,000 cases by May 12, and down to zero by May 16. In all, this would mean that no more than 35,000 cases would be added between Saturday and the first fortnight of May.

Independent experts, and one of the members of that committee, who didn’t want to be identified said this was “highly unlikely”. For a decline in the national average, there would have to be declines that lasted over two weeks in key States such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal that were fuelling the rise in numbers. “So far there is no such evidence of a decline. So I don’t know the basis of that forecast. We are planning, in terms of keeping ventilators, beds, ICU facilities ready on the assumption that this will last much longer,” the member told The Hindu.

This week, the Indian Council of Medical Research also published a research strategy detailing how it was planning to ramp up testing far beyond April. Though this paper was prepared based on an assessment of resources at hand on the March 31, it projected 2.1 million RNA test kits, the gold standard in detecting the infection, in May and 2.8 million kits in June. In April, it expected at least a million kits. On average, one kit corresponds to one sample. So far, the ICMR has tested 5.4 million samples though this includes repeat tests on the same individuals. In other words, it expects to be testing more people not less in coming months. This also doesn’t include the antibody test kits to be used for community surveillance to gauge the spread, though the use of these kits has now been put on hold because of concerns of accuracy. The ICMR’s 200-odd labs now test around 40,000 samples a day.

This study, Strategic planning to augment the testing capacity for COVID-19 in India, is co-authored by scientists at the National Institute of Epidemiology, an ICMR body, and the ICMR’s headquarters in Delhi as well as WHO representatives.

Text messages sent to Dr. Paul requesting a clarification on the basis for decline weren’t answered.

An independent epidemiologist, who advises State governments and didn’t want to be identified, also felt that such a decline was unlikely. “To bend the curve or reduce down from the peak, the R0 (a number that shows how many a single person can infect) must stabilise around one for flattening and then go below one to bend it. West Bengal and Gujarat are peaking just now but case detection rates are rising. There are many hidden cases in West Bengal.”

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