The great pandemic: A longish update
First the numbers: We reported 369,957 new cases and 3,455 deaths yesterday. Maharashtra is at #1 with 56,647 cases, followed by Karnataka (37,773) and Kerala (31,959).
Good big picture reads: Rahul Gandhi lays out an articulate case against the government in this wide-ranging interview. There’s been a lot of anxiety about false negatives—with many who display clear symptoms failing to test positive. Indian Express looks at possible reasons why. And Jacob Koshy in The Hindu raises important questions about the nation’s leading health authority, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court: The Supreme Court stepped in to issue a flurry of directives. It said the supply of oxygen to Delhi must be fixed on or before midnight of May 3—and the government must create a buffer stock to prevent hospitals from running out. The Court also asked the government to consider imposing a national lockdown—while making preemptive provisions to protect migrant workers. And it suggested that the current vaccine procurement policy (explained here) may violate basic rights:
“Prima facie, the rational method of proceeding in a manner consistent with the right to life (which includes the right to health) under Article 21 would be for the Central Government to procure all vaccines and to negotiate the price with vaccine manufacturers. Once quantities are allocated by it to each State Government, the latter would lift the allocated quantities and carry out the distribution.”
Meanwhile, at the High Court: On Saturday, the Delhi High Court directed the union government to ensure that Delhi receives its allocated share of 490 metric tonnes of oxygen, saying “Much water has gone above the head. Now we mean business. Enough is enough." And it also said that the failure to do so would result in contempt of court proceedings. The Centre went back to court to challenge that order—blaming the Delhi government instead for not distributing and utilising the allocated oxygen in “a judicious manner.” It also argued that the court’s orders will cause “serious harm” to Covid management efforts and “impair the entire nation.”
Speaking of lockdowns: The leading US Covid expert Dr Anthony Fauci strongly urged India to consider an immediate shutdown for a few weeks to get the second wave under control (read the full interview here). Also pushing for a lockdown: members of the government’s Covid taskforce—calling it the “only acceptable scientific tool to bring the surge under control.” Taking heed of the advice: Delhi which has extended its lockdown, Haryana which has announced a week-long lockdown, and Odisha which will enter a two-week shutdown. Others like Punjab have announced greater restrictions.
About those deaths: Bangalore has reported 1,400 deaths in two weeks, and its mortuaries and crematoriums are also running out of space. Also see: These powerful photos taken at a Delhi crematorium by photojournalist Tashi Tobgyal.
Oxygen prices: The Finance Ministry has lowered the GST tax on Oxygen concentrators—ordered or sent from overseas as a gift—to 12%. They are also exempt from custom duties. No answer as to why they are being taxed at all. Related read: Mint on Indians who are dangerously trying to make oxygen at home.
Covid treatments: The Health Ministry’s guidelines on appropriate treatment is inaccurate and not based on medical evidence. Example: it still recommends hydroxychloroquine—which has widely been proved to be ineffective. The Hindu dissects the guidance.
Covidiot alert: The local community decided to throw all caution to the wind to celebrate a traditional fishing festival near Madurai. No word on what the authorities were doing. The Hindu has the story.
Good samaritan alert: Lactating moms came together to help feed a newborn baby whose mother tested positive. BBC News has an uplifting story on wealthy NRIs stepping up to send assistance and aid—including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Silicon Valley investor and billionaire Vinod Khosla. Also watch: Pakistani musicians Zeeshan Ali, Nauman Ali and others sing a version of ‘Arziyan’ in solidarity with India:
Last not least: This photo of a 75-year-old woman who recovered from Covid embracing her doctor in Kolkata:
A bizarre political spat over oxygen
The government got into an inexplicable fight with the youth wing of the Congress party over oxygen cylinders delivered to two embassies in Delhi. Here’s how it unfolded:
- On Friday, the Philippines embassy requested help in sourcing oxygen cylinders from the covid relief operations team of the Youth Congress—led by BV Srinivas.
- The cylinders were delivered Saturday evening—and Srinivas shared a clip of the same.
- Hours later, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh used it to take a jab at the BJP, tweeting: “[A]s an Indian citizen I’m stunned that the youth wing of the opposition party is attending to SOS calls from foreign embassies. Is the MEA sleeping @DrSJaishankar ?”
- The External Affairs Minister took great offence and replied: “MEA checked with the Philippines Embassy. This was an unsolicited supply as they had no Covid cases. Clearly for cheap publicity by you know who. Giving away cylinders like this when there are people in desperate need of oxygen is simply appalling.”
- Too bad the Youth Congress folks had receipts—i.e. screenshots of the request from the Philippines embassy.
- If that wasn’t silly enough, the New Zealand High Commission landed itself in hot water on Sunday by tweeting at Srinivas and his team—asking for urgent help sourcing a cylinder.
- Then it suddenly deleted the tweet and said instead: “We are trying all sources to arrange for oxygen cylinders urgently and our appeal has unfortunately been misinterpreted, for which we are sorry.”
- To make things more embarrassing, Srinivas showed up at the gates of the high commission asap—and delivered the cylinder (clip here).
- To cap it all, the Ministry of External Affairs has now chastised diplomatic missions in Delhi, asking them “not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen.”
- We’re going to call this a self-goal.
A great tragedy in Israel
A small passageway at a pilgrimage site in Mount Meron was the scene of a horrific stampede—resulting in the death of at least 45 people, including children. The youngest victim was four years old. Here’s what happened:
- The festival had permission for 10,000 pilgrims, but the actual number was 100,000.
- The site includes several large gathering grounds and stages, connected by a network of narrow paths.
- Some said the incident was triggered by the police closing one of the passageways, which was only 3 metres (10 feet) wide.
- This resulted in a huge crush of people trapped inside a small space.
- According to one witness: "A pyramid of one on top of another was formed… People were piling up one on top of the other. I was in the second row. The people in the first row—I saw people die in front of my eyes."
- And then the tragedy snowballed because there was simply not enough space to evacuate people.
- The Guardian has a searing account from the ground. BBC News has more context and background.
Nobody better talk about Virat
Royal Challengers player Dan Christian offered some interesting revelations about his captain Kohli in a podcast. One was that Kohli tried to trick pacer Kyle Jamieson into revealing his bowling secrets—and failed. But more damning was this:
“You don’t see Virat a lot off the field, you see a little bit. He will, maybe, come to half of the things but he has his family here too from the start so we might see more of him now. So AB (de Villiers) is the happiest, most humble... never got a bad word to say about anybody, will be there from start to finish. Maxi (Glenn Maxwell) is there from start to finish as well.”
Now, the podcast interview has been pulled after RCB “issued a warning for breach of contract.” RCB, however, insists it was “a gentle reminder regarding the team’s media protocol.” And what was that all-important protocol? “The primary media commitments of all our players are to Indian publications, and then if time permits, overseas publications are slotted in after those.” Yup, that must be it. (Indian Express)
In other sports-related news: Manchester United fans stormed the Old Trafford stadium and gheraoed the team’s hotel. While the European Super League has been cancelled, the anger against the Glazer family which owns Man U remains strong. FYI: the match against Liverpool had to be cancelled. Sky News has the details. See the video below:
Say hello to Ms Marvel
Leaked set photos from ‘Ms Marvel’ reveal the fab costume of the first South Asian superhero—Kamala Khan who is played by Iman Vellani. FYI: you can also watch the teaser released earlier—which doesn’t have her in costume.
The unsuitable boys
A new study found that people associate men who wear clothes with large designer logos with a ‘cad’—someone who “flirts often”, “knowingly flirts with someone else’s partner” and “would date more than one person at a time.” No news on how folks rate women who flaunt giant LV symbols all over their bags. (The Guardian)
OTOH, a very good bet: for a life partner is the elderly gentleman who took a makeup and hair course. According to the head of the cosmetology school: “He started to explain that his wife was struggling with her vision right now, and was struggling to curl her own hair and was burning herself. He really wanted to help her.” Awww! Also, here is a photo of him in ‘class’ (yeah, this isn’t really news but…):