Covid-19: PM Apologises For Hardships Amid Lockdown

Addressing the 63rd edition of his monthly radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for the forgiveness of all countrymen, and especially the poor, for the nationwide lockdown in the country in the view of the novel coronavirus.

“I seek forgiveness from all countrymen, and my conscience tells me that you will definitely forgive me as I had to take certain decisions which have put you in a lot of difficulties, especially when I look at my poor brothers and sisters, I definitely feel that that they must be thinking, what kind of Prime Minister is this who has placed us in this difficulty. I especially seek their forgiveness,” Modi said.

The Prime Minister, in his first ‘Mann ki Baat’ since the lockdown came into force, further said that he understood that many people would be “possibly angry at me for being locked in their homes.”

“I understand your troubles, but there was no other way to wage a war against corona for a country like India with 1.3 billion population. It is a battle of life and death and we have to win it and, therefore, such strong measures were absolutely necessary,” Modi said.

The Prime Minister further said that “nobody likes to take such strong measures, but after looking at the situation all over the world it seems this is the only option to keep you and your family protected.”

During his address to the nation on March 24, the Prime Minister had announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the deadly virus. (ANI)

Covid-19 Cases Breach 1,000-Mark In India, 90 Recover

More than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in India, disclosed various data apps monitoring the condition on Sunday.

“Under Indian Railways, 1.25 lakh wagons transporting essential commodities, such as food grains, sugar, salt, coal, petroleum, etc, have been operated in the last 5 days,” said Lav Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Union Health Ministry.

There have been 27 deaths among the reported cases while 90 patients have recovered from the pandemic condition.


Congress Chief Press Conference

Rahul To PM: Take Poor, Daily Wagers Into Account

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to take India’s conditions into account, which thereby mandates taking “different steps than other large countries who are following a total lockdown strategy.”

The Wayanad MP further stated that this needs to be taken into account now as he suspected that the government could have to extend the lockdown period even further.

“The world has been forced to take urgent, immediate measures to contain the rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus and India is currently in the midst of a three-week lockdown. I suspect that the government will eventually extend this even further. It is critical for us to understand that India’s conditions are unique. We will be required to take different steps than other large countries who are following a total lockdown strategy,” Gandhi’s letter read.

“The number of poor people in India who are dependent on a daily income is simply too large for us to unilaterally shut down all economic activity. The consequences of a complete economic shut down will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from the Covid-19,” it added.

Gandhi urged the government to “consider a nuanced approach that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration. Our priority must be to protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable from the virus and to clearly and strongly communicate to the young the dangers of proximity to older people.”

The Congress leader also warned that a vast number of India’s elderly live in villages and the complete lockdown, which has resulted in youth rushing back to the villages will increase the risk of them “infecting their parents and the elderly population living there”, resulting in a catastrophic loss of life.

Through the letter, he urged the government to set up big dedicated hospitals and manufacturing the required equipments for treatment as fast as possible. He also urged to increase the number of tests to get a more accurate picture of the spread of the infection.

Gandhi said that the Centre should provide help to the migrant workers and labourers struggling to return to their native places from big cities after the lockdown was imposed in the country by providing them assistance and direct financial help.

“It is also absolutely critical that we set up a defensive wall around our key financial and strategic institutions to protect them from the shock wave that is bound to come as the true impact of the virus and our economic shutdown hits us a few weeks from now. Our informal economy and immense network of small and medium businesses and farmers are going to be vital to any rebuilding effort. It is crucial that we engage them in a conversation, build their confidence and protect their interests with correct and timely action,” the letter added.

Delhi CM Asks Migrant Workers To Stay Back

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday termed the gathering of migrant workers as ‘dangerous’ and requested them to stay back, stating that his government is working tirelessly to provide them with all basic facilities during the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“People are migrating from cities to villages across the country. This is very dangerous. This will take the virus to villages as well. Yesterday, I saw pictures of the gathering of thousands of people. When you are standing in a crowd, even if a single person among them is infected with COVID-19, you will also get infected. Think about your own life and your family,” Kejriwal said while addressing a digital press conference.

“When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced lockdown in the wake of coronavirus, he said — ‘Stay wherever you are’. I think it is the mantra of this lockdown. If we don’t follow this, the lockdown will not be successful and the country will fail in the fight against this virus,” he added.

Appealing to migrant workers to stay back in Delhi, Kejriwal said: “Delhi government is providing lunch and dinner to more than 4 lakh people every day. We are putting in all the efforts to make sure that everyone gets food in the national capital. There is no dearth of food and water.”

Delhi’s Anand Vihar Bus Terminal witnessed a sea of people on Saturday with migrants and daily wagers making serpentine queues to get a ride home.Many groups have also attempted to walk back to their villages.

The Central government had on Tuesday announced a 21-day lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly virus that has left several thousands dead globally. In India, the virus has infected 979 people so far. (ANI)

Nirala Greenshire

‘Locked Inside For A Week, We Are Going Nuts’

After two positive cases of Covid-19 were found in his housing society, Nirala Greenshire, Greater Noida, Rupesh Kumar along with 1,000 residents have been living in quarantine since March 22

On the evening of March 22, two of the residents in our society were tested positive of Covid-19. One of them had returned from Denmark a few days back and was staying with his family. He and his mother were tested positive and since then all seven of his family members were put into home quarantine.

All senior officials from city administration, police and health department are camping the society since then. And realizing that the two patients must have come into contact with other residents too, the entire society has been put under a lockdown.

We have been asked to stay indoors and avoid physical contact with anyone. This is nothing short of being quarantine for us. Since then, scores of Aganwadi workers have stormed into the apartments wearing masks and carrying sanitizers and thermometers. Those were the only outside contact with us since last two days. We are anxiously listening to the announcement from our balconies and we can do nothing at all.

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The administration said they will sanitize the entire apartment blocks and test each and every suspect to confirm any chances of community spread of Coronavirus pandemic. Our rations are drying, milk is not available, and we are missing simple things like our morning cuppa. Private security guards of the society are helping us with groceries and other daily needs but it’s too little but most of them time half of the stuff we order does not reach us due to short supply.

There are over 1,000 residents in this society and very few security guards so it’s not possible for them to meet everyone’s demand. We are surviving on bare minimum. Since no maids are allowed, we have to clean our flats on our own, cook and wash dishes. We are wearing masks throughout the day till we go to bed. It’s a horrible thing to be put in quarantine like this.

ALSO READ: How Finland Is Coping With Covid-19

We know the gravity of the situation and we are cooperating with the administration but it just happened all too suddenly and we were not ready for this. Since no outsider can enter the society, the milkmen are also not allowed. Those who have small children are totally dependent on security guards who are making sorties on their two wheelers and cycles to buy for those in need. It’s like we are living a bad dream. We don’t know who is contaminated. The fear of catching the disease has made us behave strangely.

The District Magistrate and the Commissioner of Police have asked us to be patient. What else can we do? We are hoping to get out of this situation soon. People are getting anxious. Some residents had verbal spat with cops when they went down without permission. We can only speak to the officers from our balconies.

We have requested the administration to complete the process as soon as possible but we know with such large number of people living in such small area, it’s hard for them too. This incident gives us a lesson to be prepared.

LokMarg team spoke to Rupesh Kumar from his balcony at a distance

RBI Cuts Lending Rates, Puts 3-month Moratorium On EMIs

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday lowered the key repo rate by 75 basis points to 4.4 per cent in a bid to arrest the economic slowdown amid coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The reverse repo rate now stands at 4 per cent, down by 90 basis points, said RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das adding this has been done to make it unattractive for banks to passively deposit funds with the central bank and instead lend it to the productive sectors.

The six-member monetary policy committee (MPC) met on March 24, 25 and 27 and voted 4:2 in favour of the repo rate reduction. The MPC also decided to continue with the accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy while ensuring that inflation remains within the target.

“The need of the hour is to shield the economy from the pandemic,” said Das. “We need to mitigate the impact of coronavirus, revive economic growth and provide financial stability.”

Repo rate is the rate at which a country’s central bank lends money to commercial banks, and the reverse repo rate is the rate at which it borrows from them.

The RBI Governor further said that the economic growth and inflation projection will be highly contingent depending on the duration, spread and intensity of the pandemic.

“Global economic activity has come to a near standstill as COVID-19 related lockdowns and social distancing are imposed across a widening swathe of affected countries. Expectations of a shallow recovery in 2020 from 2019’s decade low in global growth have been dashed,” said Das.

“The outlook is now heavily contingent upon the intensity, spread and duration of the pandemic. There is a rising probability that large parts of the global economy will slip into recession,” he said.

However, the RBI has injected liquidity of Rs 2.8 lakh crore via various instruments equal to 1.4 per cent of GDP. “Along with today’s measures, liquidity measures equal to 3.2 per cent of GDP. The RBI will take continuous measures to ensure liquidity in the system.”


How Tiny Finland Is Combating Corona Pandemic

(The author is based in Vaasa, a city on the west coast of Finland)

At the time India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was announcing a complete curfew-like lockdown of the country—1.3 billion people are not allowed to step out of their homes for 21 days—up in the Nordics, Finland’s government, a coalition of five parties, headed by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, and her cabinet of mainly young women ministers were huddled together to discuss how to go about locking down Uusimaa, a southern province that, including the capital city of Helsinki, is home to 1.68 million Finns. That number might seem like a drop in the context of India’s vast ocean of people but compared to Finland’s population of 5.5 million, it’s a sizeable chunk.

Uusimaa is the worst affected province in the raging spread of the pandemic Coronavirus (COVID-19) and accounts for an estimated two-thirds of the total of 915 cases (at the time of writing) and five deaths. At an all-party meeting, Marin and her cabinet debated whether shutting down Uusimaa would impinge on the deep freedom, independence and autonomy that Finns have constitutional rights to. The negotiation took time and then, after nearly three days, the Finnish Parliament approved the requisite changes in the law to enable the lockdown for a period of three weeks.

ALSO READ: Life In Quarantine Can Be Aweful

Finland treasures the rights of its people and its democracy is driven by consensus among parties ranging from leftists to centrists to right wingers. The good thing is at the time of national crises, these ideologically opposed parties manage to bury their differences and come together for the greater good of the people. The Coronavirus’ spread, like anywhere else in the world, has been an unprecedented crisis in tiny Finland. But a quick resolve to take measures has borne some fruit. The spread of the virus, at least till date, has been limited to some of its 19 provinces, while others have been largely spared its onslaught.

Yet, the measures have been effective. People have been advised to socially distance themselves; not gather in crowds of more than 10; avoid public places and restaurants and bars (most of which have been shut down); and stick scrupulously to personal hygiene such as frequent washing of hands. Self-isolation and quarantine for citizens coming back from abroad has been recommended and are largely voluntarily being followed strictly. In Finland’s cities—small as well as big ones—you see hardly any people on the streets but shops are stocked with food and other essentials. In the initial weeks, some panic had set in (not unlike in many other places in the world) and people were frenetically shopping for food, toilet paper and other items of daily use. But once they realised that supplies were not going to disappear that panic abated.

WATCH: Is India Ready To Battle Covid-19?

Finland and India can never be compared. Besides their incomparable sizes of population, Finland is a rich country. Per capita income (in terms of purchasing price parity) in Finland is over US$45,700; India’s is 7,060. Finland’s free universal healthcare, free education, and social security system is among the world’s best. And, to boot, in the past two years, the country has ranked as the happiest nation in the world in a survey that is adjudged as credible. But then Finland is also a scarcely populated country: 19 people per square kilometre; contrast that with India’s 420 inhabitants per square kilometre. Also, that average figure is weighted by the cities. The fact is that nearly 74% of Finland is under forests.

Such demographic advantages help when a crisis such as Coronavirus hits. Finnish hospitals and health-care centres are well-equipped. Food supplies are adequate and there is, at least till now, no reason to fear a collapse of those essential services. Statistical models suggest that in the next four to six months the virus could mean that 11-15,000 Finns could be hospitalised, but the authorities are trying to take measures to stagger the possible spread so that it would ensure that no more than 900 people. The Uusimaa lockdown is a step in that direction.

Like in many other countries, the Finnish army is also on standby. Finland has compulsory conscription for young men (for women it is voluntary) and if needed conscripts and other trained personnel could be summoned to help in the containment measure that the virus’ spread would require. An example of the quick response: as soon as the death toll and incidence of infections increased, the government swiftly doubled the healthcare system’s intensive care facility.

But there are other scares. The virus scourge could contract the nation’s economy by 5%. Finland has a GDP of US$ 251.9 billion that has been growing at an average of just under 3%. But the virus’ impact has already cost 100,000 jobs and that puts pressure on the social security net. Moreover, it is vastly different from India in terms of its population distribution by age: the average age of its population is 42.5 years (in India it is 26.5) and 1.2 million of its 5.5 million population is above 65. As many as 1.46 million Finns are entitled to pensions. Already, the Finnish Pension Alliance, Tela, has said that the coronavirus-related fall in the markets has wiped out Euro 20 to 30 billion off pension firms’ investments. This could put pressure on sovereign debt and also perhaps affect people’s individual budgets.

The coronavirus’ impact in Finland (as in the rest of the world) could impact its economy and its citizens for a prolonged period even after the pandemic subsides. A couple of days back the Finnish government announced a Euro 15 billion package to prop up the economy by helping businesses and individuals and this could adversely affect state debt. But as Prime Minister Marin said that was a secondary consideration. “We are not thinking primarily of how much additional debt the state will have to take on,” she said.

Covid-19: Centre Announces ₹1.7L Cr Plan To Help Poor

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced a relief package of Rs 1.7 crore for urban and rural poor, including migrant workers.

Ms Sitharaman also noted that healthcare workers will be provided with Rs 50 lakh medical insurance.

Speaking at a media conference, on the second day of the 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ms Sitharaman laid bare a relief package for the urban as well as rural poor.

“For now, the government’s priority is to consider the poor,” said the minister, who is heading a task force evaluating the financial impact of the outbreak and charting out the way ahead.

“No one will go hungry,” the Union finance minister assured, adding that “other concerns” would be “considered separately”. The measures announced on Friday will come into effect immediately, said Anurag Thakur, the junior minister of Ms Sitharaman, who also attended the press conference.

The package includes direct money transfer, LPG cylinders and distribution of grain and pulses to poor families, widows, daily wagers, farmers and the disabled. The data generated under schemes such as Ujjawala and Jan Dhan accounts will be made use of for the measure to reach the needy.

88 New Coronavirus Cases Reported, Highest In A Day

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said 88 new cases of coronavirus were reported on Thursday, the highest in India in a single day, with the total number of infections rising to 694. The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 16.

In its updated figures, the ministry said that as of 8pm on Thursday, Gujarat and Maharashtra reported three deaths each, Karnataka reported two, and Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Punjab, Delhi, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir reported one death each.

While the numbers of COVID-19 cases are increasing, “there appears to be a relatively stable trend or even little bit reduction in the rate at which they are increasing”, said the ministry joint secretary Luv Aggrawal.

“This, however, does not establish a clear trend. We are hopeful that by following the policy of social distancing, conducting a proper contact tracing and by ensuring all people at home quarantine are monitored, we will be able to combat the disease,” said Agarwal.

‘Lockdown Is Fine, But How To Handle Panic Buyers’

Pankaj, a Delhi resident who went to a local market after Narendra Modi announced 21-day lockdown to combat Covid-19, rues the rush & panic buying at stores

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a 14-hour Janata Curfew, or self-imposed isolation to be observed on Sunday (March 22), people by and large complied. His other appeal to come out of homes at 5 pm and clap as a mark of respect for health workers, however, was followed with extraordinary gusto. People not only came out to clap but also banged utensils, played drums and danced in close proximity, throwing caution to the wind and defeating the real purpose of isolation. But we are like that only.

On Tuesday (March 24) therefore, when Modi announced that the country would go into a 21-day lockdown from midnight onward to combat Coronavirus, what else would you expect from the Delhi residents than flood the market, crowd the grocery stores, and stock up whatever you can lay your hands on? I too stepped out to buy some essentials, and also to watch the tamasha. I wasn’t disappointed on the latter.

WATCH: Are We Prepared For Coronavirus?

Tamasha is the right word to describe what I saw at our local market in Mayur Vihar. Buyers behaved as if the apocalypse was on us. Many youth grabbed as many cigarette packets as their pockets could allow; the family man rushed from vegetable store to ration shop and took home the bucketful of whatever was available; shopkeepers, instead of assuring the customers of enough supply, goaded them into buying large amounts. Even before Modi’s address was over, the entire stock of breads, buns, instant noodles, meat and grain in our local Mayur Vihar market had gone off the shelves. It was sad and funny at the same time.

The buyers were still not satisfied. Many of them made their way for small, unauthorized shops in nearby clusters to stock up more. These shops, run by relaxed locals who had never experienced frantic buying, were at loss of their wits by the onslaught. Unable to keep with the rush and shouts for various items from all corners, they shouted back at the customers. “Police aa jayegi. Ek ek kar ke bolo. Halla matt karo (Police will come, speak at your turn one after another. Don’t make a racket).” Worse was their money management. They fumbled for the right amount of change and repeatedly punched at calculators to get their calculations right. The impatient customers egged them on to make more mistakes.

Petrol pumps were not spared by some panicky vehicle owners. Sedans queued up as if they were going to leave Delhi without thinking that the lockdown was for the entire country. Either, there was no clarity in the PM speech about essential supplies or people hadn’t bothered to sit through the entire address. I received several calls from friends if liquor could be available in my area at this hour.

ALSO READ: ‘Living In Quarantine Was Aweful’

As I moved back to my house with one litre of cooking oil and some onions in my hand, I kept thinking how we are going to tackle the deadly virus and the lockdown if we cannot fight the hoard mentality. And at a larger psyche level, this also proved that even though people follow Modi’s commands as their leader, somewhere in their minds they have little trust in his crisis management ability.