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The country is going through a ‘social emergency’, PM tells political parties

At a videoconference on Wednesday with parties’ floor leaders in Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it won’t be possible to lift the 21-day nationwide lockdown in one go as scheduled for April 14. He, however, noted that he would consult the Chief Ministers before deciding the exit strategy.

Speaking at the end of a nearly three-and-a-half-hour meeting, Mr. Modi said the country was going through a “social emergency”.

Many countries are using lockdown and physical distancing to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. “In the coming days, you have suggested that the lockdown should not be lifted all of a sudden, it should be staggered. Till now, the suggestions I have been getting are that it won’t be so simple to lift the lockdown. We will have to take some strong measures to ensure social distancing,” he said.

Mr. Modi thanked the parties for their support. “Today, the situation in the country is akin to a social emergency; it has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant,” he said, and sought their continued support. “Kareeb, Kareeb yeh mood ban raha hai ki ek dum se lockdown uthana sambhav nahi hoga (The general mood is that it won’t be possible to lift the lockdown at one go).”

Leaders from 18 political parties attended the interaction. Top Central officials gave presentations on the steps being taken to meet the emerging challenges, including the status of distribution of benefits under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana.

The Congress supported an extension to the lockdown. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “There is no question of supporting it or opposing it. It is a decision to be taken by the government. If they consult everyone before taking the decision, we shall welcome it.” The majority of the parties felt that there should be a calibrated exit from the lockdown, he added.

32 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, taking toll to 149

With 32 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, the Union Health Ministry on Wednesday said building hospital infrastructure, aggressive contact tracing and total enforcement of the lockdown with the help of people were the main focus now in the fight against COVID-19.

The country has 5,194 cases and 149 deaths, with 402 patients recovered. The Indian Council of Medical Research said 1,27,919 tests had so far been done and 13,143 samples were reported on Wednesday.

Reports from the State Health Departments put the number of confirmed cases at 5,598, with 4,932 active ones. The death toll in the country stood at 182, while 404 people have recovered. The most number of cases have been reported from Maharashtra (1,135), followed by Tamil Nadu (738) and Delhi (576).

‘Early identification key’

At a press conference here, Lav Agrawal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, said: “We are speeding up infrastructure-building and grading up our response as the number of cases...has shown a rise over the past few days.”

He added that the country was facing an unprecedented challenge, in which “we are getting cases of both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients acting as carriers. The need of the hour is to break the transmission, and for that, the lockdown is the key, and we seek the cooperation of people.”

“When we are dealing with an infectious disease, it is an everyday battle, and even a single slip-up will cost us [dear]. Early identification is the key to managing the cases,” he said.

An expert committee headed by former Kerala Chief Secretary K.M. Abraham has recommended a phased relaxation of the lockdown to contain COVID-19 for areas outside the seven hotspot districts in the State from April 15.

“It should be borne in mind that the phased withdrawal is sustainable only if there is a steady recovery and decline in the number of cases leading to initial flattening of the infection curve and then gradual tapering of the curve to zero infection cases,” the committee said.

It has asked the government to advise the people that in the event of a resurgence, they should be ready and willing to undergo the rigours of a complete lockdown once again.

Phase I relaxation

For qualifying for Phase 1 relaxation, there has to be not more than one new case in the district for the entire week prior to the date of review on April 14. No increase more than 10% of the number of persons under home surveillance in the district and no hotspots of COVID-19 anywhere in the district as identified by the Health Department are the other criteria fixed.

Criteria for Phase II

A district will qualify for Phase II relaxation at the time of second review only if there is no more than one new case for the entire fortnight prior to the date of review. Not more than a 5% increase in the number of persons under home surveillance from the date of the previous review and no infection hotspots are the additional criteria.

Phase III relaxation

A district will qualify for Phase III relaxation only if there is no new case of infection in that district for the fortnight prior to the date of review. Also, a decrease of more than 5% of the number of persons under home surveillance from the date of the previous review and no hotspots anywhere in the district are needed.

76% of confirmed cases in India, and 72% in Pakistan are men

In a striking contrast with many countries, men in India more than women appear disproportionately likely to test positive for COVID- 19, an analysis of global data shows. This anomaly, experts told The Hindu, could be a statistical reflection of relatively low testing for the disease in India. On April 6, the Health Ministry said 76% of the confirmed cases in India were men. That day, the total number of confirmed cases stood at 4,506.

Many countries — including the United Kingdom and the United States — while publicising data on cases and death rates don’t have sex-segregated national data. However, data from 40 countries, which do share such data and compiled by GlobalHealth5050, an independent research initiative that tracks gender and health, suggest that the gender-split in all countries is roughly 50-50, barring two exceptions: India and Pakistan. 72% of our neighbour’s 4,004 cases have been confirmed in men.

Greece, for instance, with 17,551 cases is 55% male; Italy assailed with 124,547 cases is 53% male. China too, even though data has not been updated since February 28, showed that its 55,924 cases then were almost evenly split 51:49 among men and women. Another unusual exception was South Korea — the country that has conducted the maximum number of tests as a proportion of population — in that more women tested positive than man. 60% of its 10,000 cases, as on Wednesday, were women. Germany, another country that has tested significantly, notes an even split, 50: 50 in its case load of 99,255.

However, men in all countries were significantly more likely — almost twice — to die than women, though this data point is available for only 18 countries. India hasn’t yet shared national figures on COVID-19 mortality rates in men and women.

Experts told The Hindu that India’s wide disparity was more likely due to sociological factors and when testing increased and more infections detected the male-female gap would likely narrow. Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist associated with the Public Health Foundation of India, said it was likely that in most countries international travellers — the key source of the initial tranche of infections in most countries — were equally likely to be men or women. “It’s possibly more reflective of employment trends in India. Women are less likely to be travelling for work internationally from India.”

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