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Cabinet Secretary chairs meeting with Chief Secretaries; focus on special trains

India reported 3,277 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours and an additional 128 deaths, taking the total tally to 62,939 and 2,109 deaths on Sunday.

During this period, 1,511 patients were discharged after treatment, which takes the total recovery rate to 30.76%, according to the data released by the Union Health Ministry.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that so far a total of 16,09,037 samples have been tested.

Data released by the Ministry noted that in 10 States/Union Territories no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the past 24 hours.

State Health Departments reported a total of 66, 918 positive cases nationwide, with 43,888 active ones. The death toll stood at 2,200.

West Bengal reported 14 more deaths, taking the toll in the State to 113. Of the 14 deaths, Kolkata alone accounted for 10. The State also reported 153 new cases, the highest in a day so far.

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Chief Ministers on Monday, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba chaired a video conference with the Chief Secretaries and the Health Secretaries of all States and Union Territories to review the status of COVID-19 management.

Mr. Gauba noted that more than 350 Shramik Special trains have been run by the Railways carrying 3.5 lakh migrant workers and requested State governments to cooperate with the Railways in running of more such trains.

Safe passage for doctors

Mr. Gauba emphasised that the movement of doctors, nurses and paramedics should be totally unhindered and all steps should be taken to facilitate and protect the corona warriors.

The Chief Secretaries said while protection is required from those infected with COVID-19, economic activities also need to be stepped up in a calibrated manner, a government release said.

They will start from New Delhi; Railways to add more services in phased manner

Home calling: Migrant labourers wave as they leave for Barauni in Bihar from Amritsar, Punjab, on Sunday.PTI-

The Indian Railways on Sunday said it planned to restart passenger services in a phased manner — initially with 15 pairs of trains — from Tuesday onwards, almost 50 days after the services were stopped amid COVID-19 lockdown.

The announcement comes even as the Centre has extended the lockdown till May 17 to contain the spread of the virus.

To begin with, the 15 pairs of trains, meaning a total of 30 return journeys, would be run as special trains from the New Delhi station connecting Dibrugarh, Agartala, Howrah, Patna, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Secunderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Madgaon, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad and Jammu Tawi.

Following this, the Railways would start more special services on new routes, “based on the available coaches after reserving 20,000 coaches for COVID-19 care centres and adequate number of coaches being reserved to enable operation of up to 300 trains every day as ‘Shramik Specials’ for stranded migrants,” said an official statement.

The reservation for these trains would start on May 11 from 4 p.m. and would be available only on the IRCTC website.

“Only passengers with valid confirmed tickets will be allowed to enter the stations,” the railways said. It would be mandatory for passengers to wear face cover and undergo screening at departure. “Only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to board the train,” it said.

AC coaches

A Railway spokesperson said only AC coaches would be run and the fares would be equal to that of equivalent Rajdhani trains.

Details of the train schedule along with more details would be issued to due course.

In a separate release, the Railways said it had run a total of 366 ‘Shramik Special’ trains till Sunday afternoon. These trains had ferried migrants to Tiruchirappalli, Titlagarh, Barauni, Khandwa, Jagannathpur, Khurda Road, Prayagraj, Chhapra, Balia, Gaya, Purnia, Varanasi, Darbhanga, Gorakhpur, Lucknow, Jaunpur, Hatia, Basti, Katihar, Danapur, Muzzaffarpur and Saharsa.

Several soldiers were injured in scuffles

Two incidents of face-off occurred between Indian and Chinese troops last week, resulting in injuries to several soldiers on both sides, Army sources confirmed.

The first incident occurred in eastern Ladakh on May 5 and the second at Naku La, Sikkim, on May 9. The issues were resolved locally.

“An incident of face-off took place between the troops and, as a result of aggressive behaviour, minor injuries were caused to both sides. Troops disengaged after dialogue and interaction at the local level,” Army sources said on Sunday, speaking about the incident in the Naku La sector, ahead of Muguthang, at an altitude of over 16,000 feet. A large number of troops were present, and at least four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers were reportedly injured.

Sources said the face-off in Ladakh occurred on the intervening night of May 5 and 6 near Pangong Tso lake, a major part of which China holds. Several soldiers were injured in a scuffle. “The issue was resolved locally by the morning of May 6,” the sources said. Pangong Tso has witnessed such incidents in the past, including in 2017 and 2019.

Temporary and brief face-offs occur because the boundary is undemarcated, and troops resolve such issues as per the established protocols, the sources said. “Such an incident occurred after a long time,” the sources said, commenting on the Naku La incident.

Move follows row over Kalapani region

Pradeep Gyawali

Nepal will increase the number of security outposts and deploy more armed personnel in the border with India, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali told The Hindu on Sunday.

The senior Minister said Kathmandu expects India to avoid any unilateral measures in the Kalapani region and remain committed to the ‘fixed border’ principle as agreed during the past official talks.

The Kalapani region is claimed by Nepal but India has been maintaining that the new political map of 2019 has shown the territory “accurately” as part of Uttarakhand.

Nepal’s decision follows protests in Kathmandu on Saturday after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday inaugurated a link road to Lipulekh pass that will reduce the travel time for pilgrims to the Kailash Mansarovar region.

“The number of border posts on our side is less when compared to the security arrangement on the Indian side. We have approximately 120 border posts at present and are planning to increase the numbers in the future,” said Mr. Gyawali over the phone from Kathmandu.

In a strongly worded statement, Nepal’s Foreign Ministry had said the decision to build the road through territory that it claims is a breach of an agreement reached between the two countries.

Indigenous ELISA test will be used to screen 30,000 samples from 75 COVID-19 hotspot districts

While RT-PCR test can detect current infection, ELISA can map past infection, even in asymptomatic cases. Thulasi Kakkat

The National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, has developed an immunological assay — enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — to detect antibodies that the body develops in response to infection by the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus, an official source told The Hindu. The test will detect antibodies in blood samples. ELISA is routinely used for detecting HIV infection.

“This kit was validated at two sites in Mumbai and has high sensitivity and accuracy. Besides, it has the advantage of testing 90 samples together in a single run of 2.5 hours,” Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan tweeted.

He also tweeted to say that NIV had transferred the technology to Zydus Cadila for mass-scale production.

The Drug Controller General had granted commercial production and marketing permission to Zydus Cadila, he said.

This is the first time India has developed an indigenous ELISA test for coronavirus. While ELISA tests for coronavirus are already available in other countries, procuring them in large numbers may be a challenge, particularly during a pandemic. In contrast, availability will be a non-issue when a locally developed test is manufactured in India.

The company that has been licensed to manufacture the ELISA test kit will have about a month to make the tests available as collection of 30,000 blood samples taken randomly from the general population in the 75 hotspot districts will begin by the third week of May.

Balram Bhargava, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research, could not be reached for comments.

Of significance

The ELISA test developed by NIV gains significance as the rapid antibody tests imported from China were found to be unreliable and hence the States were instructed not to use them for detecting previous novel coronavirus infection.

The ELISA test will be used to screen 30,000 samples from 75 hotspot districts to understand the extent of spread of the virus in the community. India has thus far maintained that there is no community transmission despite there being over 63,500 cases so far from across the country.

Since the ELISA test is based on detection of antibodies, it can only help in knowing if the person has been previously infected by coronavirus. Since it detects antibodies, even people who have remained symptom-free (asymptomatic) during the entire course of the infection will test positive.

While the RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test, which detects the RNA of the coronavirus, enables detection of current infection, it will not be useful if the testing is carried out days after the infection clears as the virus will no longer be present.

However, antibodies developed in response to the coronavirus infection will be present in the blood for a longer duration and hence the ELISA test can help detect past infection.

Harishankar specialised in European history

Harishankar Vasudevan

One of the foremost scholars of Bengal, Harishankar Vasudevan, a professional historian who was a specialist in Russian and European history, and Indo-Russian relations, died here on Sunday after contracting COVID-19. He was 68.

Son of an aeronautical engineer at the Defence Science Organisation (later Defence Research and Development Organisation) Methil Vasudevan and Sreekumari Menon, Professor Vasudevan — “Hari” to all — grew up in many places in India, Europe and Africa.

After completing studies at Cambridge University in the early 1970s, Prof. Vasudevan settled in Kolkata as a Reader in European History at Calcutta University.

He set up the Central Asia programme at Jamia Millia Islamia and worked as the chief of the Textbook Development Committee for the Social Sciences at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

He was involved in projects on Indo-Russian relations, and the Radiating Globalities project initiated by Gayatri Spivak of Columbia University. At the Observer Research Foundation, he was evaluating the overlap between the ‘Look East’ and ‘Look Far East’ policies of India, and the relationship between the Greater Eurasia ideas of the Russian establishment and the Chinese establishment.

One of Prof. Vasudevan’s latest engagements was to initiate a process so that a museum-cum-research centre could be developed at the spacious south Kolkata residence of another early 20th century historian Ramesh Chandra (R.C.) Majumdar.

He has seminal works on Indo-Russian trade and military cooperation to his credit, and his works range from early European and 15th century Russian trader Afanasy Nikitin’s journey in India to the recent, as yet unpublished memoir of his mother titled Memoirs of a Malabar Lady.

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