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Fresh cases in Maharashtra, Delhi, Ladakh, A.P., U.P.; MEA advises BCCI against IPL

Geared up: An ambulance driver at a screening and isolation facility at the Government Medical College Hospital, Ernakulam, on Wednesday. Thulasi Kakkat The Hindu

Health officials in Karnataka reported the country’s first COVID-19 death late on Thursday after samples of a 76-year-old man, who was a suspected COVID-19 patient and passed away on Tuesday night, tested positive for the disease. The patient from Kalaburgi also had co-morbidities such as asthma, hypertension and diabetes.

He had returned from Saudi Arabia on February 29. According to reports, he fell ill soon after and was admitted to a private hospital and later shifted to the Gulbarga Institute of Medical Sciences (GIMS). His throat swab was sent to check for COVID-19 infection.

Despite efforts by the District Health Official to convince his family that he be shifted to the GIMS isolation ward, he was transferred to a private hospital in Hyderabad. Later, he was discharged from the hospital and was being brought back to Kalaburgi when he died en route.

The Union Health Ministry confirmed the COVID-19 death in a late night statement.

Karnataka Health Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey, who confirmed that the patient’s samples tested positive for COVID-19, said contact tracing, isolation and other measures as per protocol are being carried out. The government of Telangana has also been informed.

Earlier in the day, the Union Health Ministry said the number of patients in the country has risen to 74, with fresh cases reported from Maharashtra, Delhi, Ladakh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, as well as one foreign national. India is still seeing local transmission, the Ministry said.

The rise in the number came a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

The Ministry of External Affairs advised the BCCI not to go ahead with the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL). Following a directive from the Sports Ministry, the remaining two ODIs between India and South Africa in Lucknow and Kolkata, and the Indian Super League football tournament final in Goa are among the events to be played in empty stadiums.

Indian benchmarks register their biggest single-day fall

A day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, equity markets worldwide went into a bear phase — denoted by more than 20% fall from the recent highs of the benchmarks.

The Indian benchmarks registered their biggest single-day fall on Thursday, with the Sensex plunging 2,919.26 points, or 8.18%, to close at 32,778.14 — over 22% lower than its January high of 42,273.87. This was the lowest close for the index in nearly two years.

Deep losses

All 30 stocks in the Sensex ended the day with deep losses, with heavyweights such as HDFC Bank, TCS, Axis Bank, ONGC, State Bank of India (SBI) and ICICI Bank shedding over 9% each on Thursday. Most of the Sensex constituents touched their 52-week lows.

The dampened investor sentiments could be further gauged from the fact that more than 500 stocks touched their lower circuit on the BSE, even as 2,265 stocks ended in the red as against only 201 gainers.

The broader Nifty fell below the psychological 10,000 mark to close at its lowest level since June 2017. The index lost 868.25 points, or 8.30%, to close at 9,590.15.

The India VIX index jumped over 31% after witnessing a jump of 35% on Monday last.

The announcement by President Donald Trump restricting travel to the U.S. from Europe further dented investor sentiments.

Scientists have isolated the virus, says ICMR official

Health crisis: A man seen buying a hand sanitiser in New Delhi on Thursday. The virus has affected at least 74 people in the country so far.Sushil Kumar Verma

Senior health officials have said a COVID-19 vaccine will take at least two years to develop even with expedited clinical trials and approvals. The virus has affected at least 74 people in the country, including 17 foreign nationals (16 Italians and a Canadian).

Raman. R. Gangakhedkar, head of the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases-I (ECD-I), Division of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said Indian scientists have managed to “successfully isolate the COVID-19 virus”. “This is needed for making a vaccine. There are two ways of going for vaccine preparation — either you look at the sequences of the gene which then may lead to development of antibodies, or you actually have the strain and then you try to develop a vaccine which is always an easier option,” he said.

Dr. Gangakhedkar said the COVID-19 virus is difficult to isolate.

“But the efforts of Indian scientists have been successful and about 11 isolates are available, which is a prime requisite for doing any kind of research related to viruses,” he said. He cautioned that in certain viruses, even if vaccines are given, when the infection tends to occur, there could be a flare-up and the severity of the infection is likely to increase.

“This is an evolving virus and we are still learning about it. We would say right now we must try to prevent it as much as possible, contain it and wait for things to happen,” he said. Asked if high temperature kills the virus, a senior health official said there is no study or evidence to suggest that.

He said those avoiding quarantine are not only risking their life but also that of the loved ones ... The ICMR will start surveillance to examine whether any infected person has been left undetected. “So far there is no evidence that we are missing any cases,” he said.

The government is finalising the ‘intermediaries guidelines’ to make the social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, more responsive and accountable.

“The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is in the process of amending the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, to make the social media platforms more responsive and accountable. The rules are being finalised,” Minister of State for Electronics and IT Sanjay Dhotre said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.

The government had first released the draft for proposed amendments to the IT Act in December 2018, inviting public comments. It proposed to make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to trace the “originator” of “unlawful” information and remove such content within 24 hours of notice.

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