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PM also sought ideas from them on steps to bolster domestic manufacture

After an interaction with Chief Ministers via a videoconference last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday sought suggestions from his Council of Ministers for a calibrated exit from the 21-day lockdown, imposed from March 25 to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

He also sought measures to bolster domestic manufacturing as the pandemic had brought home the fact that essential goods manufacture within the country is very important.

Mr. Modi asked the Ministers to coordinate with the district authorities for not just harvesting and procuring agricultural produce but also preparing business continuity plans to address the economic situation once the containment ends.

At a meeting of the Council of Ministers, just before a first-ever Cabinet meeting via videoconference, he asked for the suggestions, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that any rollback of the lockdown on April 14 will be in a very calibrated manner.

“Prime Minister Modi asked all of us for suggestions, including after speaking to district-level officials and stakeholders on how the rollback of the lockdown could be effected without a huge impact on positive cases,” said a minister who was at the meeting.

“Actually, the calculations of our peak cases and its timing are now awry as they have to factor in the Tablighi Jamaat cases, which are still being followed up,” he added.

“The peak, which was supposed to have manifested itself this week has now been pushed to the next week or more because we are still tracking the contact chain of the Tablighi Jamaat cases,” the source said but pointed out that the PM did not mention these issues.

“We were asked to think in terms of micro plans for districts and specifically focus on the harvest season now on as well as how best procurement can be done from farmers. He spoke about coming up with innovative ideas for getting the harvest to the mandis for sale, like starting a “truck aggregator” system just like a cab aggregator system in urban areas,” the source said.

The saved amount will go to fund to combat COVID-19

The Union Cabinet on Monday approved a 30% cut in the salaries of all Members of Parliament and a two-year suspension of the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) scheme so that the amount saved can go to the Consolidated Fund of India to fight COVID-19, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Monday.

Addressing a press conference after a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Javadekar said the Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved an ordinance to amend the Salaries, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954, to cut the salaries of MPs by 30%.

He said all MPs, including the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers, would take the salary cut for financial year 2020-2021. In addition, the Cabinet had decided to suspend the MPLAD funds for 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. Many MPs had already pledged to use their MPLAD funds, ₹5 crore a year, for efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“All MPs were feeling that charity begins at home. Therefore, we have decided on an ordinance...Many MPs had contributed their MPLAD funds for COVID-19 related measures. So, instead of piecemeal efforts, a comprehensive decision was taken to suspend MPLADS for two years,” he said, adding that the amount saved from the scheme would be ₹7,900 crore.

Mr. Javadekar said President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, as well as all Governors, had decided of their own volition to take a 30% salary cut. All the amount saved would go to the Consolidated Fund of India.

When asked about how much would be saved from the MPs’ salary cut, he said: “It’s not about the amount, it’s about the message it sends to the country about the will of MPs.”

Later, government spokesperson K.S. Dhatwalia clarified via a tweet that only the MPs’ salaries would be cut, not allowances or the pensions of ex-MPs. According to the Act, as amended in April 2018, MPs are entitled to a monthly salary of ₹1 lakh, apart from various allowances.

Congress reaction

Reacting to the Cabinet decisions, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a tweet that the Congress supported the salary cut for MPs. However, suspending the MPLAD scheme would undermine the role of MPs, he observed.

“Dear PM, INC supports the salary cut for MP’s! Please note that MPLAD is meant to execute developmental works in the constituency. Suspending it is a huge disservice to the constituents & will undermine the role & functions of MP,” he tweeted.

Maharashtra reports 21 deaths in past 24 hours; 704 new cases nationwide

India has registered the largest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the past 24 hours with 704 new cases and over 30 deaths reported. The tally on Monday stood at 4,281 confirmed cases and 111 deaths, according to the Union Health Ministry.

According to reports from State Health Departments, the number of confirmed cases nationwide was 4,664, with 4,164 active cases.

The death toll rose to 141 since Sunday, while 359 persons had been discharged after recovery. The highest number of active cases were reported from Maharashtra at 868, with 52 deaths — 21 in the past 24 hours.

Andhra Pradesh reported two more deaths, while Punjab, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh reported one fatality each.

Giving a break up of the data so far at the daily press briefing, Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said, 76% of the confirmed cases were male and 24% female; 47% were below 40 years of age, 34% between 40 to 60 years and 19% above 60 years.

In terms of fatalities, 73% of the victims were male, Mr. Agarwal said. In terms of age, 63% were above the age of 60, 30% between 40 and 60 years and 7% below 40 years.

The official added that as of now, 86% of those who succumbed to the disease exhibited pre-existing health problems, including diabetes, chronic kidney issues and heart related problems.

“With 19% confirmed cases among the elderly, and 63% deaths observed among them, elderly people form a high risk population, Mr. Agarwal pointed out.

“Further, with 37% deaths reported from people below 60 years, approximately 86% of deaths amongst people with co-morbidities indicate that young people with co-morbidities are also at high risk,” he said.

Meanwhile, 52 staff members of a private hospital in Mumbai, including nurses, doctors and others, tested positive for the disease on Monday.

136 government and 56 private laboratories can handle 18,000 tests a day, says Council

Testing times: Health workers collecting samples for testing from the residents of Bhatwadi in Mumbai. P. SrushtiP. Srushti

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Monday that it was procuring 10 lakh reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) kits used for COVID-19 diagnosis. Seven depots have been established for uninterrupted supply of reagents across the nation for efficient distribution to government testing laboratories, it added.

Addressing the Union Health Ministry’s daily press briefing, the ICMR’s Head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, R. Gangakhedkar, said the existing 136 government laboratories and 56 private laboratories had a testing capacity of 18,000 tests a day.

“If the labs start working in two shifts, testing capacity will go up to 25,000 but more important is to choose who you are testing,” Dr. Gangakhedkar said.

The ICMR has prepared a data portal for streamlining the data collection from all the laboratories on a real-time basis, he added.

Constant vigil

“The ICMR has a constant vigil on the national testing strategy in line with the current trend of the outbreak. RT-PCR is the gold standard testing method for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis and is in place in all the laboratories for diagnosing the disease,” he said. Giving details of how ICMR is preparing for worst-case scenario, a press release said interventions were being actively considered to scale up testing capacity to one lakh tests a day in the coming months.

“ICMR is now considering scaling-up interventions such as moving to 24x7 working model at existing labs, coordinating with states to increase manpower for various functions including data-entry, redeploying automated and manual RT-PCR machines already in the country to aid COVID-19 testing effort, and optimising in-lab processes such as RNA extraction to reduce turnaround time between sample receipt and testing,” the release added.

Evaluation of kits

New RT-PCR kits are being validated by four ICMR institutes for their use.

“Till now, 19 non-U.S. FDA EUA/CE IVD real-time RT-PCR kits have been validated of which five have been recommended based on 100% concordance with positive and negative samples. The recommendations have been shared with the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for taking it forward,” a release from the ICMR said.

Apart from this, antibody-based tests have also been made available for sero-surveillance.

The ICMR has developed guidelines ranging from preparation of network of government and private laboratories to ensure efficient validation/evaluation of new diagnostic kits.

“ICMR has validated Truenat beta CoV test on Truelab workstation as a screening test. All positives through this platform will need to be reconfirmed by confirmatory assays for SARS-CoV-2,” the release said.

“We have recommended the empiric use of hydroxychloroquine for prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 infection in both asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and asymptomatic household contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases,” Dr. Gangakhedkar said.

The exercise showed that the Indian grid could handle large load changes if done in a planned way

Smooth transmission: Data showed regional variations in the demand dip from 8:45 p.m. to 9:10 p.m. B. Velankanni RajB_VELANKANNI RAJ

The total reduction in all-India demand during the lights out at 9 p.m. on Sunday was 31,089 MW, which is more than 25% of the demand on a typical Sunday, according to the Power System Operation Corporation Limited (POSOCO). The lowest demand recorded was 85,799 MW at 9.10 p.m. after which the demand started picking up and settled at 1,14,400 MW at 10.10 p.m. Grid frequencies varied from 50.26 Hz to 49.70 Hz. In the run-up to the event, POSOCO had expected a demand variation of 12,000 MW to 14,000 MW over a shorter period of time.

POSOCO data showed regional variations in the demand dip from 8.45 p.m. to 9.10 p.m. The dip was 30% in the northern region, 32% in western region, 17% in the south, 39% in the east and 40% in the north-east.

Demand variations

Just as the power managers had planned, the generation from hydro power plants toed the dip and surge pattern of lighting loads. Hydro generation was maximised by 8.45 p.m. to 25,559 MW. From then it was reduced to 8,016 MW at 9.10 p.m. This meant the 75% reduction in hydro generation achieved in 25 minutes took on the bulk of demand variations. Simultaneously, a reduction of 10,950 MW was achieved through thermal (6,992 MW), gas (1,951 MW), and wind (2,007 MW) between 8.45 p.m. and 9.10 p.m.

Advance actions such as switching off transmission lines and taking reactors in service were undertaken to keep voltages and line loads within permissible limits, POSOCO said in a release, adding that the event was managed smoothly without any untoward incident.

Hydro and gas-powered plants can support fast changes in load. Gas turbines can ramp up or ramp down rather quickly and, world over, they are often used to support the grid supplied with fluctuating wind power. Similarly, water can be stored in dams and reservoirs and can be released in a planned manner to achieve a sharp increase or decrease in hydro power. Coal plants have a more limited ability to handle sharp load variations. Nuclear plants even lesser.

On Sunday, the changes in load, though swift, happened over a more prolonged period of time than the 2 to 4 minutes expected by power managers. The coming back to normal took longer, probably indicating that people eased out of the lights out more gradually than expected. They took longer to switch on their house lights, likely spending more time on rooftops and balconies.

The exercise showed that the Indian grid could handle large load changes if done in a planned way. Blackouts are a different matter and typically happen unplanned. Blackouts at one place can spread to other places when power plants that are not designed to take sharp load changes are forced to take those changes.

(The author is an

independent journalist)

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