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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

India Fights COVID-19: Unlock 2.0, More Locks And PM Speaks…!

Late last night the Government of India announced Unlock 2.0 to commence from the 1st of July 2020 till the end of the month after Unlock 1.0 ends today. The guidelines contained herein do not offer much as compared to Unlock 1.0 as most of the locked services continue here too, for example: schools and colleges are to remain shut till 31st of July; all educational training institutions to remain shut too till at least 15th July; cinema halls/gyms/auditoriums/bars/entertainment parks also to remain shut; all social/cultural/religious gatherings still banned; metro rail services not operating till 31st July despite requests from a few states. The exit plan Phase-2 and Phase-3 concerning primarily reopening of educational institutions/ metro services/international flights still under hold after extensive discussions with all stakeholders. Unlock 2.0 allows more domestic flights and train services, and offers further relaxations in the night curfew hours which will now be from 10 pm to 5 am. International commercial flights not to operate till 15th July except for the continuing ‘Vande Bharat’ evacuation flights aimed at bringing home all stranded Indians from all over the world. Lockdown will continue in all containment zones as usual till the end of July.

However, as India enters second stage of unlocking more lockdowns are being imposed by various states of the country. One reason for this being the permission granted by the National Disaster Management Act to the states to impose more curbs if necessary; but the primary reason for this is the worrying spikes in COVID infections. Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu—two of the three worst-hit with Delhi—already announced full lockdown till 31st July with strictest measures in selected areas/districts. The Municipal corporation of Thane, satellite city of Mumbai, announced a strict lockdown from 2nd to 10th of July not allowing even essential services during the period except for medicine and milk supply. A similar lockdown was also imposed by Assam in its capital city Guwahati from 29th of June for two weeks and a week-end strict lockdown all over the state. Manipur and Nagaland have also imposed full and partial lockdowns in selective areas of the states. West Bengal had eased lots of curbs, but has extended lockdown till 31st July due to rising cases. Several other states including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana have also been pondering imposition of stricter curbs in a day or two.

Therefore, Unlock 2.0 does not amount to much at the moment in terms of easing livelihoods raising the question of ‘lockdown how long’. In the beginning it was made clear that Lockdown is a temporary measure aimed at containing the virus till medical facilities are created to tackle it which also makes it clear that the new Coronavirus is bound to have a spiral at some stage and if that is happening now in various parts of India then extending Lockdown more and more is not the solution. Earlier we raised the issue here that concerned the implementation of the Lockdown from 25th of March 2020 in India—easing of curbs too soon, wrong decisions and overall laxity had impacted it adversely. Good sense must prevail before ‘lockdown’ becomes a plaything with the authorities—imposing it whenever they feel like. Of course, a few states that were implementing lockdown very efficiently had been affected adversely by happenings at the national level. In any case, nobody still knows enough about the killer virus, and the World Health Organization has not stopped terrifying people by repeating ‘the worst is yet to come’ too often.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, today addressed the nation emphasizing on the precautions that the citizens must follow to defeat the virus. The highlight of his address was ensuring free supply of food grains to around 800 million poor including the migrants of the country for five more months till the end of November 2020. However, many political leaders and experts were not happy as they maintained from the beginning that direct cash transfers must be made to the poor to make them sail over the distress successfully and also improving the demand situation of the economy. Many others expected the PM to say something on the raging India-China Faceoff, particular after India banned 59 Chinese apps last night. The Government, of course, has promised creation of more jobs, particularly for the migrant workers at their home regions.

Today the total number of COVID-19 infections in India has risen to 5,66,844 registering a spike of 18552 new cases in the last twenty-four hours with the number of recovered patients being over 13000. The recovery rate has improved further to around 60% now and the death rate is also hovering around 3% which is still one of the lowest in the world.  

Monday, June 29, 2020

Mumbai: Rainless Monsoon Continues…!

This year the South West Monsoon seemed to be obsessively focused on covering the whole  of India as fast as possible, and in in fact, after arriving dot on time and reaching the state of Maharashtra on 11th June, 2020 the monsoon started its journey covering region after region and finally arriving in North India 12 days earlier—thus successfully covering the full country in record time. Now, the point is about doing what it’s supposed to do, that is to say, providing the much-needed rains for the cultivation season all around. It had rained in the first days in Maharashtra in good measure helping the farming community, but later it relaxed and lapsed into a mode of fits and starts. As we pointed out in our last piece the monsoon has been kind enough to provide just one good shower to Mumbai and adjacent areas so far . The Met department noted this and made a forecast that the relaxed monsoon would be active again from 28th of June. However, this has not happened so far causing worries over its future generosity, because lack of rains in the financial capital and its catchment areas will eventually cause water supply shortage and may also lead to bouts of load shedding. Weather forecasts available to citizens are being constantly snubbed, even a 100% forecast of thunderstorm or rains is being defied by the Nature’s emissary.

So, the sweating spree in Mumbai and adjacent areas has no end in sight thus far. The temperatures are refusing of come below 27 degree Celsius while the maximum continues to be in the range of 32-34. Even the normal winds available this side vanish absolutely at most times, particularly during the nights. Humidity in the range of 80-90% is making the heat unbearable for millions who are not fortunate enough to have spacious flats and air-conditioners. The weather follows more or less the same pattern on a daily basis: clouds floating around aimlessly, not able to shun out the sun at most times, and the resultant gloomy atmosphere increases the intensity of the humid heat. There are build-ups though almost every day with dark promising clouds enveloping the sky and a cool wind providing the incentives; but finally rains stop short of falling down frustrating all expectant stakeholders. At times, rare though, you hear a grumbling thunder with occasional blasts with proper cloud cover; but again, the rains do not oblige. On all occasions the skies eventually clear up with almost every wind-less night having the ‘benefit’ of a starry sky.  

The case of Navjyot Singh Sidhu, a star Indian ex-cricketer, who was once described as a ‘stroke-less wonder’ due to his inability to convert strikes to fours and sixes comes to the mind: if we apply this to a ‘rain-less monsoon’! Soon afterwards strokes began to shower Sidhu: we hope this happens to our monsoon woes too. On a recent sun-set the sky assumed a reddish glow all over: it is not clear if it were a warning or a red alert to expect something in a severely COVID affected city and the state. We can only watch and wait. Of course, watching the skies has been becoming a bit tiring due to the resultant frustration and the streaming sweat. We can take solace only in the fact that in various monsoons in the past there had been dry months—sometimes June or sometimes July. So, time is still not running out…and all here are looking at an extended lockdown after the end of this month still...

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