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Number of cases rises to 137; Centre bans entry of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines, Malaysia

India reported its third death from the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, with the Union Health Ministry putting the number of positive cases at 137.

The deceased person had a history of travel to Dubai and was being treated in Mumbai, Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said at a press conference.

Earlier, a 76-year-old man from Kalaburagi in Karnataka with a travel history to Saudi Arabia and a 68-year-old woman in Delhi, whose son had tested positive, died from the infection.

Fourteen of those who had tested positive have been “cured/discharged” and 24 of those who had tested positive in India were foreigners, the Ministry said. With 23 fresh cases reported across the country in the last 24 hours, Maharashtra continues to top the list at 36, followed by Kerala with 24, Uttar Pradesh at 14 and Karnataka at 11.

However, reports from the States put the number of positive cases at 143, including 41 from Maharashtra. West Bengal reported its first case of an 18-year-old youth, who recently returned from England, and was admitted with symptoms on Tuesday.

Extending travel curbs, the Centre prohibited the entry of passengers from Afghanistan, the Philippines and Malaysia from 3 p.m. on Tuesday and advised the closing of all educational institutions, gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, and theatres. Students were advised to stay at home.

Assisting State govts.

Thirty Additional Secretaries and Joint Secretaries have been deputed to assist State governments in managing the outbreak.

Mr. Agarwal said the government was increasing the number of bed and health care facilities across States and emphasised that there was as yet no “community transmission”, or instances of the virus being found in people who had no travel history abroad since March or links with those who did.

It signifies exemplary team work between various stakeholders, says HAL

Up in the air: A file photo of a Light Combat Aircraft Tejas in 2017. Somashekar G.R.N.Somashekar G.R.N.

The first Light Combat Aircraft Tejas in Final Operational Clearance-standard (SP-21) took to the skies for its maiden flight here on Tuesday, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited said.

Piloted by Air Cmde. K A Muthana (Retd), Chief Test Flying (Fixed Wing), the aircraft took-off from the HAL airport at around 12.30 hours, the Bengaluru-headquartered defence PSU said in a statement.

Exemplary work

It was airborne for 40 minutes. This flight signifies exemplary team work among the stakeholders of the LCA Tejas programme such as HAL, Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance, Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, IAF and Aeronautical Development Agency, HAL CMD, R. Madhavan said.

“HAL achieved the momentous feat within a record time of 12 months after release of Drawing Applicability List [DAL] and SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] by CEMILAC,” the statement said.

“This would pave the way for production of remaining 15 fighters from FOC [Final Operational Clearance] block, which are planned to be delivered during the next financial year.”

Advanced features

The FOC aircraft are equipped with advanced features such as Air-to-Air refuelling and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile system.

“It imbibes a lot of manufacturing improvements which were based on the operational feedback of LCA IOC [Initial Operational Clearance] fleet with IAF,” HAL said.

Bench says denial of permanent commission to SSC officers reeks of a stereotypical mindset

At the helm: The court quashed the stipulation making permanent commission for women prospective. K.R. DEEPAK

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the right of serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers of the Navy to be granted permanent commission (PC) on a par with their male counterparts.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi said the “101 excuses” devised by the government, including motherhood and physiological limitations, reeked of a stereotypical mindset.

“The battle for gender equality is about confronting the battles of the mind. In the context of the armed forces, specious reasons have been advanced by decision makers and administrators. They range from physiology, motherhood and physical attributes to the male dominated hierarchies,” Justice Chandrachud observed in a 64-page judgment.

Policy letter

The judgment was based on a case filed by 17 women SSC officers, represented by senior advocate Aishwarya Bhati, who were denied PC and discharged despite completing 14 years of service as SSC officers.

They had challenged a February 26, 2008 policy letter of the government granting PCs to SSC officers in all the three branches of the Armed Forces. However, the offer was restricted to certain categories and was to operate prospectively for the benefit of future batches inducted on SSCs after January 2009.

In a slew of directions, the court quashed the stipulation in the policy letter of September 26, 2008, making permanent commission for women prospective and restricting its application to specified cadres/branches of the Navy. It directed that SSC women officers found suitable for the grant of PC shall be entitled to all consequential benefits, including arrears of pay, promotions and retirement benefits as and when due.

In the judgment, Justice Chandrachud referred to a submission that vessels of a Russian origin are deployed by the Navy and they have no bathrooms for women officers. The court called these submissions both illusory and without any foundation.

“Women officers have worked shoulder to shoulder with their men counterparts in every walk of service. The supposed explanations based on duties at sea or Russian vessels are devices adopted to justify an action which is not germane to the proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline among members of the Armed Forces,” the court said.

Contrary

It held that such submissions were plainly contrary to the policy letter of February 25, 1999 issued by the Ministry of Defence to the Chief of the Naval Staff, emphatically stipulating that women officers of all branches/cadres could be directed to serve on board ships, both during training and subsequent employment in accordance with the exigencies of service. “In the face of this communication, it is impossible to countenance a submission that women cannot sail alongside men sailors.”

Researchers will do tests on 108 healthy persons

Fighting the virus: Chinese President Xi Jinping, second right, visiting the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing on March 2. AP

China has given the go-ahead for researchers to begin human safety tests of an experimental coronavirus vaccine in the race to develop a shot against the COVID-19 epidemic that has killed more than 7,000 people worldwide. Researchers at China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, affiliated to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), received approval to launch early-stage clinical trials of the potential vaccine starting this week, the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily reported on Tuesday.

Scientists in the United States said on Monday that clinical trials had begun for a vaccine developed by its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the U.S. biotech firm Moderna.

Details in the Chinese clinical trial registration database show that a “Phase 1” test that will examine whether experimental shot is safe in humans aims to recruit 108 healthy people.

The volunteers will take part in the study to take place from now until December 31.

The trial will be conducted by China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and the Hong Kong-listed biotech firm CanSino Biologics, the database showed.

Experts at the World Health Organization say they do not expect any fully tested and approved vaccine to reach the market until the middle of next year.

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