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First case in Uttarakhand; experts call for more testing to check for community transmission

Figures released by the Union Health Ministry late on Sunday put the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country at 110. However, according to reports from States, 114 persons have tested positive. Of the new cases, two were from Maharashtra, two from Kerala and one each from Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana and Uttarakhand.

Ten persons have so far been discharged after treatment.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed action taken by States and Union Territories and preparedness regarding prevention, containment and management, along with senior officials.

The government has maintained that no cases of community transmission — people testing positive for the virus who have no traceable link to travellers who’ve come into India from abroad — have been detected.

However, a senior researcher at an institution affiliated to the Union Science Ministry, who did not wish to be identified, said “it is likely” that community transmission is ongoing in India but has not been recorded in official counts due to inadequate testing.

Uttarakhand reported its first confirmed case with a probationer at the Forest Research Institute (FRI) testing positive. The probationer had returned from Spain on March 11, Director (Health) S.K. Gupta said.

Samples from a 45-year-old woman in Kalaburagi, who was in contact with the 76-year-old man who died of COVID-19 in the district last week, have tested positive. The number of infected persons in Karnataka has now risen to seven, including the victim.

A third case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Telangana of a 48-year-old man, who returned from the Netherlands and was admitted to the Gandhi Hospital on March 11.

Two people, including a U.K. national, tested positive in Kerala, taking the total number of affected in the State to 21, as the government launched a “break the chain” initiative to prevent the spread of the virus.

Earlier in the morning, an Air India flight from Milan in Italy arrived in Delhi with 218 evacuees. They have been quarantined at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police camp at Chhawla.

Extends $10 mn as India’s contribution

Narendra Modi

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) should create a fund to fight the threat of COVID-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday.

Addressing the first-ever videoconference of the heads of member countries, he extended $10 million as India’s contribution to the fund.

“We all agree that we are facing a serious challenge. We do not as yet know what shape the pandemic will take in the coming days. It is clear that we have to work together. In this spirit of collaboration, let me share a few ideas on what India can offer to this joint effort. I propose we create a COVID19 Emergency Fund which could be based on voluntary contribution from all of us. India can start with an initial offer of 10 million U.S. dollars for this fund,” he said.

He said India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and his counterparts from other member countries should meet and decide on the plan for the creation of the fund.

MPs’ panel also worried over uneven spread of spending

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, in its March 13 report, has flagged the under-utilisation of funds by the Labour and Employment Ministry, which was yet to spend almost 20% of its 2019-20 Budget (revised estimate) as on February 10.

The committee, chaired by Bhartuhari Mahtab, wrote in its report on the demand for grants by the Ministry for 2020-21 that it was concerned about the unutilised funds. The report said the Ministry had utilised 81.64% of the ₹11,184.09 crore allocated to it in the revised estimate.

“The committee is concerned to note that underutilised funds amounting to ₹2,053.59 crore still remain for the fiscal 2019-20. The committee further finds that for the current fiscal 2019-20, the utilisation of funds was not evenly spread out across all the four quarters, which stood at ₹504.88 crore, ₹5,975.92 crore, ₹1,806.77 crore, ₹842.93 crore (up to 10.02.2020) respectively,” the report stated.

The report noted that utilisation of funds for the National Career Service (NCS) project of the Ministry, which facilitates job-seekers, was the worst compared to other schemes. The committee said that while the Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Protsahan Yojana, which gives employers incentives to generate new employment, recorded 100% utilisation, compared with the revised estimate, in “most other schemes, utilisation percentage has been to the extent of 70% and above, while the NCS recorded a low of 60.88%”.

While 3,751 job fairs had been conducted under the scheme till December 2019, “only 3.69 lakh” of the 19.71 lakh candidates had received job offers. The Ministry explained that it had introduced a feature on the NCS portal in March 2018 for employers to record the number of hirings, but this was not mandatory. Since 2018, employers had notified 2,115 hirings, the Ministry said. Asked why there were so few successful candidates, the Ministry said the job fairs were to bring employers and job-seekers on a common platform.

It’s a deviation from norms laid down by the government, say telecom companies

Some units of the the Department of Telecom (DoT) are seeking huge call data records of people in some circles on a routine basis, a practice alleged to be in deviation from the standard operating procedure laid down by the government, according to sources.

Industry players have raised concerns over such a practice in a communication to the Telecom Secretary, the sources said.

They claimed the DoT unit of Delhi had demanded the call data records (CDRs) of the entire State for February 2, 3 and 4, 2020, and for specific routes in Delhi with the residences of Ministers, MPs and judges and important offices.

Following this, they gave a representation to Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash to raise concern.

An email query to the DoT elicited no reply.

SOPs in place

The source, who did not wish to be named, said the DoT had already issued detailed instructions and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for providing CDRs to law enforcement agencies in August 2016 and April 2019.

The DoT, including its field units, are required to ascertain the identity of the subscriber, examine the justification for the demand, detail the purpose and not use them for any other purpose, define the officers authorised to seek and approve such a request.

However, various licence service area (LSA) units of the DoT are not adhering to the process and seek voluminous CDR details on a regular basis.

“Almost all LSA units of the DoT seek one day CDR details from telecom operators on a monthly basis in States like Andhra Pradesh on the first and fifth day of the month, Delhi on the 18th day, Haryana on the 21st day, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir on the last day of the month, Kerala and Odisha on the 15th day, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab on the last day of the previous month and the first day of the current month,” the source said.

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