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271 cases confirmed nationwide, with 12 new ones in Kerala and Maharashtra

As India braced for a nationwide 14-hour lockdown on Sunday to break the spread of the novel coronavirus, and several State governments announced new, stringent measures to enforce social distancing, the Centre said there was no evidence of community transmission yet in the country.

The total number of people testing positive for the virus stood at 271 with 65 new cases on Saturday, the Union Health Ministry said.

Authorities are tracing 7,000 people who have come in contact with the affected persons, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said. All cases confirmed so far could be linked to imported cases, the official insisted, adding: “So far there’s no confirmation of any community transmission.”

Mr. Agarwal was responding to questions on reports of suspected COVID-19 infected persons in Tamil Nadu, Pune and Nagpur, who had no travel history or known history of contact with people from abroad.

Reports from the States put the number of cases at 323.

Maharashtra and Kerala reported 12 new cases, Gujarat seven and Karnataka five.

The government held a conference call with Chief Secretaries of the States. Critical care training was imparted to 1,000 hospitals across the country and State health centres are scheduled to take part in a “mock drill” on Sunday on preparing for ventilator use and advanced care to patients, Mr. Agarwal added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for people to stay at home from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday, observing a ‘Janata Curfew’. Essential services will not be disrupted during the lockdown.

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the national capital could be put under an extended lockdown, if needed. The Chhattisgarh government ordered closure of all its offices, except those providing essential and emergency services, till March 31.

Decision due to Health Ministry guidelines on mass contact

President Ram Nath Kovind was supposed to be the first Indian to be enumerated in the Census and NPR exercise.

The Union government looks all set to postpone the house-listing Census and updating of the National Population Register (NPR), which was scheduled to kick off in certain States on April 1, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two government sources confirmed to The Hindu that the Census and NPR exercises would not go ahead, given the Health Ministry’s guidelines limiting mass contact on account of the pandemic. A formal announcement is, however, awaited.

In line with Odisha, the Delhi government has written to the Centre asking that the Census-NPR operations be deferred by “at least one month” and the rescheduling of this exercise may be “reviewed in the last week of the deferment”.

President Ram Nath Kovind was supposed to be the first Indian to be enumerated in the Census and NPR exercise, but his schedule has been cleared and he is not meeting members of the public due to the growing threat of the novel coronavirus. In a letter to Census Commissioner of India Vivek Joshi, the Delhi government, on March 18, pointed out that a “high state” of alert had been declared in the capital territory and the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, invoked.

The letter to Mr. Joshi also pointed out that since enumerators will have to go house to house to collect details , the “spread of COVID-19 may be exacerbated”.

Earlier in the week, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that mobilisation for the Census-NPR would pose a great risk for field functionaries and a decision to postpone the two exercises be taken immediately.

Multiple efforts to contact Mr. Joshi on his response to the letters of the Odisha and Delhi governments were to no avail. He did not respond to either text or telephone calls on the issue.

In December 2019, the Union Cabinet, chaired by Mr. Modi, approved over ₹3,941.35 crore for updating the NPR across the country, barring Assam, and ₹8,754.23 crore for conducting the Census of India, 2021.

Around 2,000 turtles have dug up the sand for their nests

Olive ridley turtles arriving at the Rushikulya rookery.Lingaraj Panda

Mass nesting of olive ridleys started at Odisha’s Rushikulya rookery coast from early hours of Saturday.

According to an unofficial estimate, around 2,000 turtles dug up nests in the sand to lay their eggs. Each nest, on an average, contains around 100 eggs. Usually these turtles nest in darkness, but there have been instances in the past when they have nested during day time.

According to Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Amlan Nayak, at around 3.10a.m., mother olive ridleys started coming of the sea to the beach. The nesting process went on till the sunrise.

“Thousands of mother olive ridleys are in the sea near the Rushikulya rookery, which hints that on Saturday night and on the next few nights, thousands of these marine turtles may arrive for mass nesting,” said the DFO.

Proper enumeration of nesting turtles will start from Saturday night.

As per the experts, rain at the rookery delayed nesting by seven to 10 days. Rain had tightened the sand on the beach and mass nesting process started only when it got dried.

The Union Cabinet has approved the inclusion of the AYUSH Health and Wellness Centre (AYUSH HWC) component of Ayushman Bharat in the National AYUSH Mission (NAM).

Holistic model

“The proposal entails an expenditure of ₹3,399.35 crore — ₹2,209.58 crore as Central Share and ₹1189.77 crore as State share — for operationalisation of AYUSH HWCs within a period of five years (from financial years 2019-20 to 2023-24),” noted a release issued by the government on Saturday.

The move is aimed at establishing a holistic wellness model based on AYUSH principles and practices focusing on preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative healthcare by integration with the existing public health care system.

The National Health Policy 2017 has advocated mainstreaming the potential of AYUSH systems (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-rigpa and Homoeopathy) within a pluralistic system of Integrative healthcare.

Self-care

“The vision of the proposal is to establish a holistic wellness model based on AYUSH principles and practices, to empower masses for ‘self care’ to reduce the disease burden and out of pocket expenditure and to provide informed choice of the needy public,” noted the release.

The Navy had so far carried out coordinated patrols only with maritime neighbours, and had rejected similar U.S. offer

Strong bonds: A French crew boarded the Indian Navy’s P-8I aircraft for the joint patrol of the Reunion Island.File photo

India and France have conducted joint patrols from the Reunion Island for the first time, signalling New Delhi’s intent to engage with friendly foreign partners in expanding its footprint on the Indian Ocean, focusing on the stretch between the East African coastline and the Malacca straits.

India has so far carried out coordinated patrols only with maritime neighbours and had rejected a similar offer by the U.S.

The Indian Navy conducted a joint patrol with with the French Navy from the Reunion Island in February. The patrol was conducted by a P-8I aircraft with French Navy personnel onboard, two defence sources independently confirmed to The Hindu.

Greater understanding

“We have robust engagement with the French,” one of them said. The surveillance was done in the southern Indian Ocean off Mauritius. “The P-8I was there for a week,” he said.

There was greater understanding between India and France on each other’s concerns, especially in the maritime domain, the source said. “They also have capacity constraints there, and we can share responsibilities. The patrols will be periodic. There is no set pattern,” the source added.

As reported by The Hindu last November, visiting French Navy Chief Admiral Christophe Prazuck had stated that they were “looking forward to organising joint patrols with the Indian Navy” in 2020 and working on the precise objectives. Speaking at an event, he said the region of the patrols could be north-western Indian Ocean or southern Indian Ocean “around the islands that are part of France”.

“France is a safe country for us, there will be no concerns in conducting joint patrols with them,” a third official said on why France was the first country selected to conduct joint patrols. France is also the first country to deploy a liaison officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC-IOR) as part of efforts to improve maritime domain awareness (MDA).

Major strategic partner

France has steadily emerged as a major strategic partner for India with big-ticket defence deals and increased military-to-military engagement.

The Indian Navy is currently inducting French Scorpene conventional submarines, being built in India under technology transfer, and the Indian Air Force will soon get the first batch of its 36 Rafale fighter jets.

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