India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. (AP)
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Updated 07 May 2021

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

  • Lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns
  • On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours

NEW DELHI: With coronavirus cases still surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough.
Many medical experts, opposition leaders and some of the Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen. Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead.
On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours. Its tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 additional deaths, bringing the total to 234,083. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.
The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.
Over the past month, nearly a dozen out of India’s 28 federal states have announced less stringent restrictions than the nationwide lockdown imposed for two months in March last year.
Modi, who held consultations with top elected leaders and officials of the worst-hit states on Thursday, has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus to poorly equipped state governments.
Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said a complete, aggressive lockdown is needed in India just like last year, especially in areas where more than 10 percent of those tested have contracted COVID-19.
Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private consultancy, acknowledged that different states were experiencing different intensities of the epidemic, but said a “coordinated countrywide strategy” was still needed.
According to Reddy, decisions need to be based on local conditions but should be closely coordinated by the center. “Like an orchestra which plays the same sheet music but with different instruments,” he said.
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, also suggested that a complete shutdown in India may be needed two to four weeks to help ease the surge of infections.
“As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian television CNN News18 news channel on Thursday. He did not provide specifics of what a shutdown should entail.
He said it appears there are at least two types of virus variants circulating in India. He said B117, which is the UK variant, tends to be concentrated in New Delhi and that the 617 variant is concentrated in the worst-hit western Maharashtra state.
“Both of those have increasing capability of transmitting better and more efficiently than the original Wuhan strain a year ago,” Fauci said.
Modi imposed a two-month stringent lockdown last year on four hours’ notice. It stranded tens of millions of migrant workers who were left jobless and fled to villages with many dying along the way. Experts say the decision helped contain the virus and bought time for the government.
Modi’s policy of selected lockdowns is being supported by some experts, including Vineeta Bal, a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology. She said different states have different needs, and local particularities need to be taken into account for any policy to work.
In most instances, in places where health infrastructure and expertise are good, localized restrictions at the level of a state, or even a district, are a better way to curb the spread of infections, said Bal. “A centrally mandated lockdown will just be inappropriate,” she said.
Dr. Yogesh Jain Ganiyari of the Peoples Health Support Group, a low-cost public health program in the central state of Chhattisgarh, said that scientifically, lockdowns are the most effective way of curbing infections.
“But we don’t live in a lab. We need to take into account the humanitarian aspect,” said Ganiyari. “Those who look at lockdowns just as disease control mechanisms are heartless. You have to think about the people.”


Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations

Updated 56 min 33 sec ago

Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations

  • Over 4,000 people rallied outside Greek parliament to oppose mandatory inoculations for healthcare workers and nursing staff
  • A rally on Wednesday was marred by violence

ATHENS: Greek police used teargas and water cannon to disperse people who had gathered in central Athens on Saturday to protest against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
More than 4,000 people rallied outside the Greek parliament for a third time this month to oppose mandatory inoculations for some workers, such as health care and nursing staff.
A police official, who asked not to be named, said some protesters had thrown petrol bombs, prompting the police to respond with tear gas.
A rally on Wednesday was also marred by violence.
Recent polls showed the majority of Greeks would get the shot against the COVID-19 which has claimed 12,890 lives in Greece since the pandemic broke out last year. About 45 percent of a population of 11 million are fully vaccinated.
Greece has ordered the vaccination of health care and nursing home staff as cases have risen and urged school teachers to get the shot in time for the start of the school year in September.
Nearly 2,500 cases were reported on Saturday, bringing the total number of infected people to 474,366.


Far-right and others march against French virus rules

Updated 24 July 2021

Far-right and others march against French virus rules

  • Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday
  • French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns

PARIS: Far-right activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement protested Saturday against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and other venues and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers.
Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday, as virus infections are spiking and hospitalizations are rising anew. The French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns.
Most French adults are fully vaccinated and polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures. But not everyone.
Protesters chanting “Liberty! Liberty!” gathered at Bastille plaza and marched through eastern Paris in one of several demonstrations Saturday around France. Thousands also joined a gathering across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower organized by a former top official in Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party.
While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march. Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer. Other projectiles could also be seen in a video of the incident.
Many marchers focused their anger on a French “health pass” that is required to enter museums, movie theaters and tourist sites. The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues. To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.
Lawmakers have debated the measure amid divisions over how far to go in imposing health passes or mandatory vaccinations.
Last weekend, more than 100,000 people protested around France against the measures. They included far-right politicians and activists as well as others angry at President Emmanuel Macron for various reasons.
Remaining members of France’s yellow vest movement, largely from political extremes, are using the virus bill to try to rekindle its flame. The movement started in 2018 as a broad uprising against perceived economic injustice and led to months of protests marked by violence between demonstrators and police, but subsided after the French government addressed many of the protesters’ concerns.


Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Updated 24 July 2021

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

  • The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time
  • The resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts

KABUL: Afghan authorities on Saturday imposed a night-time curfew across 31 of the country’s 34 provinces to curb surging violence unleashed by a sweeping Taliban offensive in recent months, the interior ministry said.
“To curb violence and limit the Taliban movements a night curfew has been imposed in 31 provinces across the country,” except in Kabul, Panjshir and Nangarhar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time, Ahmad Zia Zia, deputy interior ministry spokesman said in a separate audio statement to reporters.
Since early May, the Taliban have launched a widespread offensive across the country that has seen the insurgents capture border crossings, dozens of districts and encircle several provincial capitals.
With the withdrawal of American-led foreign forces all but complete, the resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.


Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

Updated 24 July 2021

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

  • The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public
  • In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam announced a 15-day lockdown in the capital Hanoi starting Saturday as a coronavirus surge spread from the southern Mekong Delta region.
The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public. Only government offices, hospitals and essential businesses are allowed to stay open.
Earlier in the week, the city had suspended all outdoor activities and ordered non-essential businesses to close following an increase in cases. On Friday, Hanoi reported 70 confirmed infections, the city’s highest, part of a record 7,295 cases in the country in the last 24 hours.
Nearly 5,000 of them are from Vietnam’s largest metropolis, southern Ho Chi Minh City, which has also extended its lockdown until Aug. 1.
In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths.
A meeting of the National Assembly that opened in Hanoi on Tuesday with 499 delegates is going ahead, although it was shortened to 12 from the original 17 days.
The delegates have been vaccinated, are regularly tested for the coronavirus and are traveling in a bubble, and are isolated at hotels, according to the National Assembly.


At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods

Updated 24 July 2021

At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods

  • Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say
  • Parts of India’s west coast have received up to 594mm of rain, forcing authorities to move people out of vulnerable areas

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Rescue teams in India struggled through thick sludge and debris on Saturday to reach dozens of submerged homes as the death toll from landslides and accidents caused by torrential monsoon rain rose to 125.
Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say. Downpours lasting several days have severely affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, while major rivers are in danger of bursting their banks.
In Taliye, about 180 kilometers southeast of the financial capital of Mumbai, the death toll rose to 42 with the recovery of four more bodies after landslides flattened most homes in the village, a senior Maharashtra government official said.
“About 40 people are still trapped. The possibility of rescuing them alive is thin as they’ve been trapped in mud for more than 36 hours,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to talk to the media.
Harsh weather has hit several parts of the world in recent weeks, with floods in China and Western Europe and heat waves in North America, raising new fears about the impact of climate change.
Parts of India’s west coast have received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rain, forcing authorities to move people out of vulnerable areas as they released water from dams about to overflow. The hill station of Mahabaleshwar recorded its highest ever rainfall — 60 cm in 24 hours.
Rescuers were searching for victims of landslides in four other places in the state, the official said.
“Around 90,000 people were rescued from flood affected areas,” the Maharashtra government said in a statement, as authorities released water from overflowing dams.
Thousands of trucks were stuck for more than 24 hours on a highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was in anguish over the loss of lives.
“The situation in Maharashtra due to heavy rains is being closely monitored and assistance is being provided to the affected,” Modi said on Twitter on Friday.
In the southern state of Telangana, heavy rain caused flooding in the state capital of Hyderabad and other low-lying areas.
Indian environmentalists have warned that climate change and indiscriminate construction in fragile coastal regions could lead to more disasters.
“The rain fury that lashed Mahabaleshwar ... is a strong warning against any more tampering with the ecologically fragile Western Ghats,” environment economist Devendra Sharma said on Twitter referring to the range of hills along India’s west coast.