New lockdowns ordered as India coronavirus cases near one million

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People stand in queues to get tested for COVID-19 at an urban health centre in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, July 16, 2020. (AP)
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Migrant labourers and their families travelling from Kerala to Assam states wait, stranded, at a bus station after a new lockdown was imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Siliguri on July 16, 2020. (AFP)
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A health worker takes a nasal swab sample of a man at an urban health centre in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, July 16, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 16 July 2020

New lockdowns ordered as India coronavirus cases near one million

  • Bihar, a largely rural state with feeble health infrastructure, went into a 15-day lockdown at midnight
  • IT hub Bangalore — home to 13 million people — shut down for a week on Wednesday

PATNA: One of India’s most impoverished states went into lockdown Thursday, but near-normal traffic on Bihar’s streets showed the difficulty of corralling over 125 million people.
The lockdown in the northern state bordering Nepal started as India reported more than 600 deaths in the previous 24 hours, and the Red Cross warned the virus was spreading at “an alarming rate” across South Asia.
With India’s caseload fast approaching one million — and fatalities nearing 25,000 — local authorities across the country are reimposing restrictions that have only recently been lifted.
Bihar, a largely rural state with feeble health infrastructure, went into a 15-day lockdown at midnight, a day after IT hub Bangalore — home to 13 million people — shut down for a week.
All schools, clubs, temples and non-essential businesses were ordered to close in Bihar, but construction and agricultural activity are allowed to continue.
And while public transport was shut down, private vehicles are still permitted to operate, and the streets of the state capital Patna thronged with cars, lorries, bikes and auto-rickshaws.
“The lockdown is not being fully enforced,” businessman Ranjeet Singh said. Many people were still shopping for food with little regard for social distancing advice.
A lack of coronavirus discipline forced Goa, another Indian state, to announced a three-day shutdown from Thursday evening and a night curfew until August 10.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said too many people were “stepping out to meet people at parties” and that there was a low level of “awareness and sensitivity.”
“We have more than 40,000 people fined for not wearing masks, plus there are many who are detained for flouting rules, but they continue to loiter,” Sawant told local media.
“This only establishes that people only understand the language of the law.”
Bangalore’s lockdown was stricter and the streets were much quieter.
Many firms that handle the back-office operations of global corporations were little affected by the re-imposed restrictions with staff already working from home.
Still, the health minister of Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital, said Wednesday that “only God can save us” as the state’s caseload approached 50,000.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the entire region was fast becoming the next epicenter for the coronavirus.
“While the world’s attention has been focused on the unfolding crisis in the United States and South America, a concurrent human tragedy is fast emerging in South Asia,” the organization said.
“COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in South Asia, home to a quarter of humanity.”
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have between them recorded more than 1.4 million cases and almost 33,000 deaths.
Many experts say however that authorities are not testing nearly enough people and that the official figures underplay the seriousness of the situation.


Trump admits he’s blocking postal cash to stop mail-in votes

Updated 39 min 53 sec ago

Trump admits he’s blocking postal cash to stop mail-in votes

  • Trump’s statements come as he is searching for a strategy to gain an advantage in his November matchup against Joe Biden

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump frankly acknowledged Thursday that he’s starving the US Postal Service of money in order to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him the election.
In an interview on Fox Business Network, Trump explicitly noted two funding provisions that Democrats are seeking in a relief package that has stalled on Capitol Hill. Without the additional money, he said, the Postal Service won’t have the resources to handle a flood of ballots from voters who are seeking to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”
Trump’s statements, including the false claim that Democrats are seeking universal mail-in voting, come as he is searching for a strategy to gain an advantage in his November matchup against Joe Biden. He’s pairing the tough Postal Service stance in congressional negotiations with an increasingly robust mail-in -voting legal fight in states that could decide the election.
In Iowa, which Trump won handily in 2016 but is more competitive this year, his campaign joined a lawsuit Wednesday against two Democratic-leaning counties in an effort to invalidate tens of thousands of voters’ absentee ballot applications. That followed legal maneuvers in battleground Pennsylvania, where the campaign hopes to force changes to how the state collects and counts mail-in ballots. And in Nevada, Trump is challenging a law sending ballots to all active voters.
His efforts could face limits. The US Supreme Court on Thursday rebuffed Republicans who challenged an agreement in Rhode Island allowing residents to vote by mail through November’s general election without getting signatures from two witnesses or a notary.
For Democrats, Trump’s new remarks were a clear admission that the president is attempting to restrict voting rights.
Biden said it was “Pure Trump. He doesn’t want an election.”
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said it was “voter suppression to undermine the safest method to vote during a pandemic, and force Americans to risk their lives to vote.”
Negotiations over a big new virus relief package have all but ended, with the White House and congressional leaders far apart on the size, scope and approach for shoring up households, reopening schools and launching a national strategy to contain the coronavirus.
While there is some common ground over $100 billion for schools and new funds for virus testing, Democrats also want other emergency funds that Trump rejects.
“They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent. That’s election money, basically,” Trump said during Thursday’s call-in interview.
Democrats have pushed for a total of $10 billion for the Postal Service in talks with Republicans on the COVID-19 response bill. That figure, which would include money to help with election mail, is down from a $25 billion plan in a House-passed coronavirus measure.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said that the agency is in a financially untenable position, but he maintains it can handle this year’s election mail. A major donor to Trump and other Republicans, DeJoy is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who is not a career postal employee.
“Although there will likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic, the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so,” he told the Postal Service’s governing board last week.
Memos obtained by The Associated Press show that Postal Service leadership has pushed to eliminate overtime and halt late delivery trips that are sometimes needed to ensure mail arrives on time, measures that postal workers and union officials say are delaying service. Additional records detail cuts to hours at post offices, including reductions on Saturdays and during lunch hours.
Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, have sent DeJoy several letters asking him to reverse his changes and criticizing what they say is a lack of openness by he agency. Late Wednesday, Senate Democrats again wrote DeJoy, this time saying postal leadership is pushing state election officials to opt for pricier first-class postage for mail-in ballots to be prioritized.
“Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote,” the Democrats wrote.
Separately, in a letter last month, the Postal Service warned Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson that the agency might not be able to deliver ballots in time to be counted under the state’s deadlines for casting mail-in votes.
A spokesman for the Postal Service, David Partenheimer, said in a statement that “certain deadlines concerning mail-in ballots, may be incompatible with the Postal Service’s delivery standards,” especially if election officials don’t pay more for first-class postage.
“To the extent that states choose to use the mail as part of their elections, they should do so in a manner that realistically reflects how the mail works,” he said.
Judy Beard, legislative and political director for the American Postal Workers Union, said postal workers are up to the task of delivering mail-in ballots this year.
“We definitely know that the president is absolutely wrong concerning vote-by-mail,” she said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, chair of the House subcommittee on government operations, said Trump is acknowledging that he wants to hold up funding for the US Postal Service to hinder Americans from voting.
“The president admits his motive for holding USPS funding hostage is that he doesn’t want Americans to vote by mail,” Connolly said in a statement Thursday. “Why? It hurts his electoral chances. He’s putting self-preservation ahead of public safety, for an election he deserves to lose.”
Trump has requested a mail-in ballot for Florida’s primary election Tuesday. Ballots were mailed Wednesday to both the president and first lady Melania Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort, which Trump lists as his legal address, according to online Palm Beach County elections records. Both voted by mail in the presidential preference primary in March, according to records.