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Over 1,18,000 positive cases have been reported globally across 114 countries

Growing concern: People enquiring at a COVID-19 helpdesk in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday. S. MAHINSHA

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said that according to its assessment, COVID-19 “can be characterised as a pandemic”.

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak round-the-clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” it said.

According to the WHO, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations. It noted with concern that 1,18,000 positive cases had been reported in 114 countries, and more than 90% of cases were in just four.

Visas suspended

With 60 confirmed cases in India, the Central government on Wednesday issued a travel advisory stating that all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment and project visas, stand suspended till April 15, and this order will come into effect from March 13 at the port of departure.

The new advisory, issued following a meeting of the Group of Ministers, noted that visa-free travel facility granted to OCI card holders would be kept in abeyance till April 15. It added that any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reason may contact the nearest Indian mission and all incoming travellers, including Indian nationals arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after February 15 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.

“Provision for testing primarily for students/compassionate cases in Italy to be made and collection for samples to be organised accordingly. Those tested negative will be allowed to travel and will be quarantined on arrival in India for 14 days,” the release added.

It also noted that international traffic through land borders would be restricted.

Fresh cases

The number of confirmed cases in India is 60 with two fresh cases — one each from Delhi and Rajasthan being reported — according to a release issued by the Union Health Ministry.

However, as per health officials from the States, the number of cases may be up to 65, but they are yet to be confirmed by the Centre. “There are now 60 positive cases [including the 3 cases from Kerala discharged earlier],” noted the Health Ministry, which confirmed cases from Kerala (8), Karnataka and Maharashtra reported earlier this week by the State governments.

Climate change and use of pesticides bring mulberry disease under control in the State

A file photo of the cocoon market in Ramanagaram.

Cocoon production in Karmataka, which had been hit by a mulberry disease, appears poised to pick up just in time to meet the growing demand for indigenous silk.

The leafroller insect, which eats the shoots of mulberry plants, had affected the production in the State. With the climate change in the last few days and the use of pesticides bringing the disease under control, most cocoon markets have reported an increase in arrivals. The prices of cocoon, which had remained high for the last three months, had begun to ease in the last one week, said Deputy Director of Sericulture in Ramanagaram district Munishi Basaiah.

The cocoon market in Ramanagaram, one of the largest in the State, was trading 25 to 30 tonnes of cocoons daily during the last three to four months when the production was low. But, in the last one week, the arrivals had crossed 50 tonnes a day, consequently bringing down the price, the officials said.

The average price of cocoons, used to between ₹480 and ₹495 for the crossbreed and between ₹630 and ₹670 for the superior quality bivoltine during January and February, has eased to an average of ₹400 for the former and ₹492 for the latter in the last one week.

“Several reeling units in the region were functioning to almost half the capacity because of the cocoon prices,” said Mr. Basaiah. With the price of cocoons easing and the demand for raw silk expected to increase owing to COVID-19 disrupting the import of silk from China, the production of indigenous raw silk is likely to increase. The available stocks of Chinese silk are fast exhausting. With no consignment of silk from China for almost two months now, the indigenous silk is expected to bridge the gap.

Ashok Karbawala, a silk trader from Bengaluru, said they had to cancel many orders for imported Chinese silk. “One consignment of 10,000 metres of fabric is unable to leave the port in China owing to COVID-19,” he said.

But according to a Central Silk Board (CSB) source: “Indian silk weaving industry caters primarily to the domestic market. Exports play a limited role.”

The silk goods manufacturers catering to the local market , including the sari makers, are unperturbed. “We use only home-grown silk to weave our Mysore Silk saris,” said Krishnappa, General Manager of Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation (KSIC) in Mysuru. President of the Karnataka Weavers’ Federation T.V. Maruthi said that most sari manufacturers do not depend on Chinese silk like earlier.

Centre has constituted a Group of Ministers to review the steps taken for the management of COVID-19

Precautionary steps: Medical personnel checking tourists at the Junagarh fort in Bikaner on Wednesday. PTI

“It has been decided that all States/Union Territories should be advised to invoke provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 so that all advisories being issued from time to time by the Ministry/State/UTs are enforceable,” Health Secretary Preeti Sudan said on Wednesday, after a meeting of a high-level Group of Ministers here.

The GoM was constituted to review the measures taken for the management of COVID-19 in India.

Ms. Sudan added that as a measure of prevention, it is reiterated that as per the travel advisory, passengers with travel history to China, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Japan, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, Iran, Malaysia, France, Spain and Germany should undergo self-imposed quarantine for 14 days from the date of their arrival, and their employers should facilitate work-from-home for such employees during this period.

The meeting was also attended by Secretaries and other senior officials of the relevant Ministries and Departments.

IMA’s appeal

Meanwhile, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said that sharing data of infected people on a daily basis with the public has created panic across the country.

It appealed to the government to “classify the data” of the pandemic and take appropriate action with “clinical precision.”

In a release, the association noted that doctors and hospitals remain a silver lining in otherwise clueless situations for the common man, and every doctor should function as a source of credible information in their locality and instil confidence and trust in the public.

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) also issued new guidance to help protect children and schools from transmission of the COVID-19.

Practical checklists

“The guidance provides critical considerations and practical checklists to keep schools safe. It also advises national and local authorities on how to adapt and implement emergency plans for educational facilities,” the release said. The release noted that in the event of school closures, the guidance includes recommendations to mitigate against the possible negative impacts on children’s learning and well being. “This means having solid plans in place to ensure the continuity of learning, including remote learning options such as online education strategies and radio broadcasts of academic content, and access to essential services for all children. These plans should also include necessary steps for the eventual safe reopening of schools,” it said.

The group added that the guidance, while specific to countries that have already confirmed the transmission of COVID-19, is still relevant in all other contexts.

“Education can encourage students to become advocates for disease prevention and control at home, in school, and in their community,” the guidance said.

Due process of law is must, says Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has reiterated that forcible dispossession of a person of his private property without due process of law is a violation of human rights.

In a recent judgment by a Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul, the court stressed that right to property is both a human right and a constitutional right — the latter under Article 300A of the Constitution.

“It is accepted in every jurisprudence and by different political thinkers that some amount of property right is an indispensable safeguard against tyranny and economic oppression of the government... Property itself is the seed bed which must be conserved if other constitutional values are to flourish,” the judgment quoted a precedent.

The verdict came on the acquisition of a few acres in Sikkim by the State’s Agriculture department in 1980 for building the Progeny Orchard Regional Centre. The land was recorded in two names — 1.29 acres in the name of the Maharaja of Sikkim and 7.07 acres in the name of Man Bahadur Basnett, who was the father of the original appellant in this case. The judgment found that “in this case, the appellant could not have been forcibly dispossessed of her property without any legal sanction...”

The court gave the State three months’ time from the date of the judgment for it to “make up their mind as to what they want to do”. “Would they still like to retain the land by issuing a proper notification, or would they like to surrender possession of the land. In either eventuality, the question of payment for use and occupation would still arise, which will have to be determined in accordance with law,” the judgment said.

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