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In interaction with Chief Ministers, PM says country must plan for a new reality

Key assessment: Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacting with the Chief Ministers in New Delhi on Monday.PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said at a video conference with Chief Ministers that the lockdown would continue in some form or the other even after May 17, but that the State governments should send in their plans for ramping up economic activity in green zones between May 15 and 17 for consideration by the Centre.

In a marathon meeting that lasted (with a half-an -hour break in between) for nearly six hours, and saw most Chief Ministers speak their mind, Mr. Modi said the imperative was to protect rural areas from the COVID-19 pandemic as these areas were largely untouched at the moment.

According to one Chief Minister who spoke to The Hindu, Mr. Modi indicated that a full exit from the lockdown was not possible in the current circumstances, especially since five Chief Ministers, including those of West Bengal, Telangana and Bihar, asked for an extension.

He lauded the State governments for their work in containing the pandemic till now, and said it was to be a united effort.

Migrant labour

He also said the movement of migrant labour to their native States should be expedited within the next 10 days. “This may lead to some problems in terms of States that employ them and even in their native States where there may be a spike in cases,” Mr. Modi is reported to have said. All States, however, should now think in terms of economic revival as well, he emphasised.

He said, “I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the second phase and similarly the measures needed in the third phase are not needed in the fourth.”

“And therefore, we can now further focus our strategy in this battle against coronavirus, as should be the case. We have a twofold challenge — to reduce the transmission rate of the disease, and to increase public activity gradually, while adhering to all the guidelines, and we will have to work towards achieving both these objectives,” Mr. Modi said.

He said the new way of life would be on the principle of “Jan Se lekar Jag Tak,” from an individual to the whole of humanity. He said we must all plan for the new reality.

Pleas sought restoration of 4G facility

The Jammu and Kashmir government’s orders do not reveal any reason for making mobile 4G Internet inaccessible across the Union Territory (UT), the Supreme Court said in an order on Monday.

Besides, the government orders snipping the Internet speed to 2G were meant to operate for only a limited time.

“Although the present orders indicate that they have been passed for a limited period of time, they do not provide any reasons to reflect that all the districts of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir require the imposition of such restrictions. At the same time, we do recognise that the Union Territory has been plagued with militancy, which is required to be taken into consideration,” a three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana observed in the 19-page order.

The order was based on petitions filed separately by media professionals, school associations and private citizens claiming that lack of access to high-speed Internet in J&K had crippled medical efforts to contain the COVID-19 contagion and pulled the rug under online education and businesses. The government, on the other hand, maintained that high-speed Internet was a facilitator of terrorism in the UT.

The top court appointed a special committee led by the Union Home Secretary to “immediately” determine the necessity of continuing the restrictions.

The gas will be transported in two consignments

Safe entry: Policemen unlocking a house at R.R. Venkatapuram as people return home in Visakhapatnam on Monday. K.R. DEEPAK

Jolted by the death of 12 persons and hundreds falling sick due to the gas leak at the LG Polymers factory in Visakhapatnam, the Andhra Pradesh government has begun the process of transporting 13,000 tonnes of styrene gas in two consignments of 8,000 tonnes and 5,000 tonnes to South Korea.

The remaining gas in the storage tanks of the factory that leaked has been converted to 100% polymer.

The government is also drawing up plans to shift the hazardous industries to places far away from cities and towns to avert such accidents. At a review meeting through video conference on the situation in the affected areas, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy asked the officials of industries and factories departments to conduct a safety audit, particularly those involved in the manufacturing and processing of harmful chemicals.

Safety protocols

Mr. Reddy emphasised on the need for relocation of hazardous industries and strict compliance with safety protocols stipulated by the Central government.

Visakhapatnam Collector V. Vinay Chand informed the Chief Minister that the danger at the plant had subsided as the temperature of the styrene gas had been brought to relatively cool 73 degrees Celsius. “Around 13,000 tonnes of gas stored in tanks is intact and it is being loaded into two vessels. The process will be completed in around five days,” he said.

Ministers M. Srinivasa Rao and Botcha Satyanarayana said ex gratia was paid to the five bereaved families whose legal heirs were finalised and the remaining ones would get the solatium in the coming days. Sanitisation of the villages in the vicinity of the factory has almost been completed, they said.

Mr. Reddy instructed the officials to pay ₹10,000 to each resident of the five affected villages irrespective of their age and credit it to the unencumbered bank accounts of the women in those families.

During lockdown, they venture deep into the forest and collect a record 1,800 kg of wild honey

Tough work: Tribesmen usually get close to beehives and scare the worker bees away using torches.Special Arrangement

It was bumper harvest time in Kerala’s Vazhachal forest during the lockdown, as tribesmen brought home record quantities of wild honey.

Around 300 tribesmen, confined to their hamlets, harvested 1,800 kg of wild honey, which is double of what they collected last year. In 2018, they could collect only 670 kg.

Tedious process

The harvest season, from April to May, saw them traverse the deep forest in batches of six or seven people.

“It is on tall trees in the deep forest that bees usually form hives. We enter the forest in the morning hours to spot beehives and return home in the evening. The harvest, a tedious process, starts only the next evening,” said Kochugovindan of Vazhachal colony.

Armed with torches and plastic ropes, the groups approach trees by sunset when the worker bees return.

Steps are made on trees by driving bamboo spikes into the wood, to climb up. The expert members of the groups who get close to the beehive scare the worker bees away using torches and collect the honeycombs in containers. Honey collectors are paid ₹450 a kg at the processing centre run by the Vana Samrakshana Samiti. After processing and packing, the Samiti sells the product at ₹650 a kg. The profit from the retail sale is given to the collectors as bonus during Onam, said S.V. Vinod, Divisional Forest Officer, Vazhachal.

Honeybees usually form hives on tall trees like Thanni and Ilavu, which grow to 30 metres, said Nithin Lal, Range Officer, Sholayar.

“When the harvest takes long, the groups stay in the forest till dawn. One needs to be cautious while venturing into the deep forest and staying there due to the risk of wild animal attacks,” said Mr. Kochugovindan. Men from nine tribal settlements went for honey harvesting as the lockdown denied them other employment.

Principal Scientific Adviser says 30 ‘attempts’ on in the country, which is participating in global efforts

K. VijayRaghavan

There are nearly 30 “attempts” from India to develop vaccines, K .VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Union government, said at an online web conference on Friday.

“There are over a 100 vaccines being developed worldwide and at least 30 attempts in India. These include efforts where India is participating in global attempts and partnerships among Indian academia and industry,” he said during the webinar organised by the Confederation for Indian Industry (CII) and the Technology Development Board of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

NIV initiative

On Saturday, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) announced a collaboration with the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd. to develop a potential vaccine based on a SARS-CoV-2 strain isolated at the ICMR-National Institute of Virology in Pune.

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India has tied up with Oxford University that is testing a vaccine using a weakened adenovirus (which causes common cold). Early trials have already been conducted, and the Serum Institute has said it is ready to start an initial run of production in June, without waiting for clearer results of the vaccine’s efficacy.

Bharat Biotech is also involved in two other vaccine development projects with different groups.

Test kits

At the webinar, Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, said a major thrust was to develop antibody tests that would help with a graded exit out of the lockdown.

“Lots of professors and heads of institutes from the IITs [Indian Institutes of Technology] ask me how can we reopen colleges and hostels. Having effective testing kits will be useful in taking decisions such as these,” he said.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry announced the development of an ELISA antibody test kit that would help in district-level sero-surveillance. This is a cruder but cheaper way of checking a sample of the population to determine exposure to the virus.

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