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Here’s How the Lockdown Has Affected New Delhi

New Delhi Shutdown Brings Cleaner Air, But No One Breathes Easy

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New Delhi
Messages to practice social distancing and frequent disinfection are displayed on a building in the business hub of Gurugram that adjoins New Delhi. VOA

By Anjana Pasricha

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” said Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers. Living in the teeming Indian capital for more than four decades, I easily could have added another two items: the incessant clamor of traffic, and perpetual crowds in public places.

Until the coronavirus pandemic changed that.

I cruise along an eight-lane arterial road that ferries officegoers in New Delhi to a vibrant business hub bordering the city. It is eerily empty, a sight I never imagined possible when I used to negotiate this dreaded commute, repeatedly checking Google Maps in hopes that the clogged roads had magically cleared.

It has happened, though not quite the way I had wished for. I encounter only a handful of vehicles and two police barricades. In a city notorious for flouting rules, police check every vehicle to enforce a strict lockdown that has been in place for the past 10 days. I can venture out only because of my press card.

New Delhi
Police in New Delhi have set up barricades to enforce a strict coronavirus lockdown. VOA

The once noisy, bustling capital, home to 20 million people, is now surreal, a virtual ghost city.

Small roadside shacks that made a living selling piping hot tea in winter and cold drinks in summer are shuttered. The street carts that sold meals like omelets and bread to the line of auto rickshaw drivers who waited for customers outside a shopping mall near my home have gone. Fuel stations are open but there are virtually no customers. I spot only three members of a family trudging along the road, along with a few deliverymen.

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Glitzy advertisements on hoardings have been replaced with health messages about the coronavirus: “Keep minimum six feet distance;” “Practice frequent hand washing with soap;” “Say Namaste Instead of Handshake.”  

The ever-vibrant business hub adjoining New Delhi, the aspirational office address for young people, is desolate, its tall glass and chrome buildings silhouetted against vacant streets.

New Delhi
Gasoline stations in New Delhi are open but in a city on lockdown there are virtually no customers. VOA

Inside my gated residential complex in Gurugram on the edge of New Delhi, walkers and joggers who liven up the road inside the community every morning and evening are missing — people are not supposed to step out of their homes for exercise, only for essential jobs. And gone is the army of cooks, maids and gardeners who walked in every morning.

A friend stops outside my gate to chat for a few minutes. He tells me he went out briefly to pay his maid her monthly salary — she was down to her last $5.

That is the worry for millions of low-income workers who have no credit cards, no bank balances and were caught in the lockdown announced with just four hours’ notice on March 24 before they were paid their wages.

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We are all painfully aware that the worst consequences of the virus brought by overseas travelers from the middle classes and the elite are being borne by the poor.

The men running the small grocery and vegetable shop in my complex tell me they are lucky because they have not had to pull down their shutters. The grocery shop’s stocks are running low after the wave of panic buying. There are no more sodas and chips for customers to consume as they while away quiet evenings watching television. But the vegetable shop owner is doing brisk business as most people hesitate to venture outside the complex.

New Delhi
A police officer mans a checkpoint enforcing New Delhi’s coronavirus lockdown. VOA

In some countries, people who cannot hunker down inside their homes because they have to work may not count themselves fortunate at this time. But for millions of Indians in the lower economic strata, like these shop owners, protecting livelihoods is a far bigger worry than the coronavirus.

“I use a mask when I go to the wholesale market to pick up vegetables. Other than that, I don’t care. If something has to happen to me, nothing can stop it,” the vegetable shop owner, Shankar, tells me cheerfully, echoing the fatalistic philosophy that millions down the economic strata swear by in this country.

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While announcing the lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told citizens, “Remember when there is life, there is hope,” to drive home the need for the drastic measure.

That message might have been lost on six daily wage laborers whom I had watched for months refurbishing a house opposite mine. The project is stalled. Were they among the tens of thousands of migrant laborers who walked hundreds of kilometers to their villages — the only refuge for unemployed labor when jobs are lost and money runs out?

Also Read- Social Distancing and Lockdown are The Strongest Vaccine: Health Minister Harsh Vardhan

With everything at a standstill, the twitter of birds has replaced the clamor of a noisy city. The spring has lasted longer than usual, and flowers are still in bloom. The skies in the world’s most polluted capital have turned blue — something a city typically shrouded in gray smog would have celebrated with gusto in normal times. I can switch off the air purifier and open the windows to let in air that is the cleanest in years.

Although we are breathing fresher air, none of us is breathing easy as we exchange one public health threat for an even deadlier one. We all know that cities like mine, with a massive population, will struggle the most if the infection spins out of control. (VOA)

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Bumble to Give Grants Worth A Lakh Rupees Each to 13 Indian Entrepreneurs

To serve local communities and support small businesses Bumble is giving out grants worth a lakh rupees each to 13 entrepreneurs in India

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Entrepreneurs
social networking app Bumble is giving out grants worth a lakh rupees each to 13 entrepreneurs in India. Pixabay

BY SIDDHI JAIN

In an initiative to serve local communities and support small businesses, social networking app Bumble is giving out grants worth a lakh rupees each to 13 entrepreneurs in India. Part of a larger cohort of 150+ businesses that it is monetarily supporting across 11 countries, the timely move comes at a time when companies find themselves at the brink due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The Bumble Community Grant program, launched in the light of the global pandemic, aims to support local businesses and their workers around the globe, and keep them afloat while money is scarce. The program has been offered in the US, UK, Russia, Germany, Australia, India, France, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, and New Zealand.

“When we first realised things were getting serious in March, we pulled together leaders across the company to figure out how we can support both our employees and our Bumble community of nearly over 90 million users in 150 countries during this unprecedented time. We were all watching the news daily and reading updates hourly. Unfortunately, the overall situation was changing rapidly and there were varying degrees of severity in each market that we operate in. Some areas were going under complete lockdown immediately, while others were a few days or weeks behind.

“As all of this was unfolding, we started seeing early reports that a pandemic of this size and with this level of potential impact could trigger loneliness, isolationism, and economic devastation – and we knew that Bumble could help. From using Bumble as a way to stay connected to real people during this time or to provide monetary support for small business owners, we knew we had to act quickly to support our community,” Priti Joshi, Vice President of Strategy at Bumble told IANSlife in an email.

Beginning March 26, in India, applications were available via an online registration form accessible in all three modes of the app (Date, BFF, and Bizz). Users had the opportunity to submit an entry for themselves as a small business owner or nominate a small business in their community. As the deadline closed in on April 9, the team saw a tremendous response.

Small business
In the light of the global pandemic, this campaign aims to support local businesses and their workers. Pixabay

“Within two weeks, we received over 2,000 entries in India from small businesses that have been impacted by the crisis,” Joshi said.

The 13 cross-industry MSMEs that received the grant include Culture Aangan, a company that is developing villages as tourist destinations; The Wishing Chair, a home-grown women-led design brand creating artisanal products as perfect gifting options; and The Curator Collective which aims to publish works of independent or upcoming visual artists and musicians.

From the fashion segment, recipients include Alankaara India, a small craft-based studio working with small sectors of women SHGs; and Bunavat Retail Private Limited who promote sustainable, ethical and timeless fashion.

In the health, CSR, and business sector they have chosen Bloodport Healthtech Solutions, who save lives using their digital platform for blood banks and blood donation drives; Suicide Prevention India Foundation, a non-profit that offers free counseling services to the Covid-19 affected; Mitti Social Initiatives Foundation, a non-profit working for sustainable livelihood opportunities for persons with disabilities; Thinkerbell Labs that have built a tech ecosystem to enable self-learning and classroom teaching of Braille and will go regional; and Happy Turtle OPC Pvt Ltd, a bootstrapped company that works towards minimising plastic consumption.

In F&B and Hospitality, the grants will be given to The Little Farm Co., who produce fruit, vegetables and spices using organic fertilizers in MP; Happyjars.in, a health and food brand from Haryana that offers natural peanuts, almonds and cashew nut butter; and Poshinda Restaurant, who source ingredients from rural farmers and serve food to the farmers and students who come from rural areas to Ambajogai for work.

Bumble initiative
13 cross-industry MSMEs will receive this grant. Pixabay

Suicide Prevention India Foundation told IANSlife: “We use the WHO-recommended strategy called Gatekeeper Training to prevent suicides. We aim to help individuals using evidence-based interventions by creating awareness through talks and workshops on suicide prevention. COVID-19 has pushed us to aggressively train everybody in our growing circle to counsel those who are emotionally distressed/ suicidal due to the uncertainty/loneliness the pandemic has brought along.

Also Read: Smoking: Its Ill effects On Fertility and Child Birth

“Unfortunately, to continue training the mental health professionals we were lacking funds as COVID-19 has impacted our funding pipeline and eliminated our face-to-face business to host training with laymen, students or/and corporate professionals. The current situation has led to an increase in demand but a lesser willingness to pay. There has never been a drastic spike in the incidents of self-harm, suicide ideation or suicide attempts in the recent past. With the grant from Bumble, we will again continue to train the common people and mental health professionals who are our front liners to support emotionally distressed individuals.” The grants will be given to the winners this week, as per Bumble. (IANS)

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Current COVID Testing Strategy Gives Priority to People With Higher Risk: Harsh Vardhan

Health Minister also said that testing 1.3 billion people is neither possible nor feasible

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Health minister Harsh Vardhan
Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that testing 1.3 billion people is neither possible nor feasible. Wikimedia Commons

According to Covid-19 pandemic in India updates, testing 1.3 billion people for COVID-19 is neither possible nor feasible, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in an exclusive interview with IANS on Thursday.

Responding to a question on India’s strategy and the status about testing, he said, “The current testing strategy is need-based and gives priority to individuals who are primarily at risk or have symptoms. It is revised regularly according to the evolving situation.”

Speaking about the details of testing data and capacity the Health Minister said, “As on May 27, our testing capacity is 1,60,000 per day and we have done 32,44,884 tests till date. On May 26, itself, we have conducted 1,15,229 tests. If for a moment, we talk of repeated testing of 1.3 billion population to curb the disease, you would appreciate that this is not only a resource expensive exercise but also neither possible nor feasible.”

He also asserted that from one laboratory at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune in the first week of February 2020, the number of facilities in the country have increased to a total of 624. This includes 435 government labs and 189 NABL-accredited private laboratories involved in testing at present.

lockdown  Harsh Vardhan
“”The current testing strategy is need-based and gives priority to individuals who are primarily at risk or have symptoms.”, Harsh Vardhan was quoted saying., Pixabay

Vardhan said priority based and targeted testing will be helpful in detecting more cases of COVID-19 and curbing the disease. “With our efforts at sustained and quality assured scaling up of the testing facilities, I am sure, we shall be better placed for maximum case detection.”

Also Read: 80% Cases of COVID-19 in India Exhibit Nil or Mild Symptoms: Health Minister

On March 16, World Health Organisation Chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said, “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”

India is constantly ramping up its testing infrastructure, along with indigenous development, validation and production of testing kits for RT-PCR in order to have early and aggressive tracing of the infection and by validating TrueNat-based test for COVID-19 and including alternative testing platforms like CBNAAT/GeneXpert and Abott HIV viral load testing machines. The testing criteria has also been widened and evolved from time to time, for instance testing migrant labourers. (IANS)

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80% Cases of COVID-19 in India Exhibit Nil or Mild Symptoms: Health Minister

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan says that nearly 80% of COVID cases in India are asymptomatic

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Harsh-Vardhan Symptoms
Health MinisterHarsh Vardhan said that almost 80% COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. Wikimedia Commons

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said almost 80 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in India are asymptomatic or at best with very mild symptoms, according to Covid-19 pandemic in India updates.

In an exclusive interview to IANS, the Health Minister said, “Even today, in almost 80 per cent of the cases of COVID-19, which are being reported in India, the patients tend to exhibit either nil or mild symptoms. These patients are mostly contacts of confirmed cases. Interestingly, had it not been for our contact tracing efforts, and if left to their own in isolation, these patients may not have even remembered or reported their infection.”

Harsh Vardhan, who has recently been elected the chief of WHO’s Executive Board, was answering a query on whether asymptomatic patients who are potential virus carriers and who can take the virus deeper into rural India are causing worry to the government.

He said, “I am aware about WHO’s mention of some laboratory-confirmed cases that are truly asymptomatic. It is equally true, that as on date, there has been no documented asymptomatic transmission.”

However, he added that recently, more symptoms like headache, muscle pain, pink eye, loss of smell, or loss of taste, intense chills, rigors and sore throat have been included in the list of COVID-19 symptoms by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States. “It will require more studies before these symptoms are finally included in our list in India,” he quipped.

symptoms
Recently, more symptoms like headache have been included in the list of COVID-19 symptoms. Pixabay

Also Read: Delhi Govt Issues Advisory for Spraying Pesticides to Deal With Locust Attack

He added that the new symptoms were very subjective and vague which might go unnoticed, might not be remembered by the patient and, thus, might even go unreported. “Moreover, if for a moment we talk of testing such asymptotic patients, identification of all these asymptomatic cases will require repeated testing of 1.3 billion population which is a resource expensive exercise for any country and is neither possible nor recommended,” the Health Minister said.

He emphasized on priority-based and targeted testing and said that it will be helpful in detecting more cases of COVID-19 and curbing the disease. “With our efforts at sustained and quality assured scaling up of the testing facilities, I am sure, we shall be better placed for maximum case detection,” he concluded. (IANS)