Medicine Donation During Covid

Medicine Donation During Covid-19 Increased Its Impact On Intnl Stage: UN Chief

Terming India a partner of choice of the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that New Delhi has increased its impact on the international stage due to the donation of medicines, equipment, and vaccines at height of Covid-19 to neighboring countries.

Addressing the students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, Guterres said, “From your donations of medicines, equipment, and vaccines at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, to your humanitarian assistance and development finance to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, you’re increasing impact on the international stage. India is today a partner of choice of the UN.”
UN Chief, who arrived in Mumbai today, said that India’s digital platform Cowin is the largest vaccination program for Covid-19 which is delivering more than 2 billion doses.

He further said that India was the first country to launch a single-country south-south cooperation support framework via the India-UN development framework partnership.

Talking about India’s contribution to UN Peacekeeping, Guterres said, “India is also the biggest provider of military and police personnel to UN missions, including the first all-women UN police contingent to a peacekeeping mission. Over 200,000 Indian men and women have served in 49 peacekeeping missions since 1948, a remarkable contribution to peace in the world. “

“As a member of UNSC for two years, India’s contributed significantly to promoting multilateral solutions and addressing crises,” he added.

In the opening of his statement, UN Chief said that he is delighted to celebrate with India, the 75th anniversary of independence. He also congratulated India on its achievement over the last 75 years “as the world’s largest democracy and now as the fastest-growing major economy.”

Guterres said that India was a founding member of the United Nations. The drafters of the UN Charter took great inspiration from Gandhiji’s message of peace, non-violence, and tolerance.

Earlier, UN Chief paid tributes to the victims of the 26/11 terror attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai.

“Terror is absolute evil. There are no reasons, no pretext, no causes, and no grievances that can justify terrorism. terrorism is absolute evil. It has no room in today’s world,” Guterres said while addressing the presser at Taj Hotel.

UN Chief further said, “I feel deeply moved to be here where one of the barbaric terrorist acts in history took place where 166 people lost their lives. I want to pay tribute to the victims they are heroes of all world and I want to express my deepest condolences to their families, to their friends, to the people of India, and to all those that are coming from other parts of the world that have lost their lives in Mumbai.”

He also said that “fighting terrorism must be a global priority for every country on earth and fighting terrorism is a central priority for the UN”.

On the very next day, in Gujarat (Ekta Nagar, Kevadiya), he will join Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the launch of the Mission LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) booklet, logo, and tagline.

External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar would hold bilateral discussions with the UN chief on issues of global concern, and steps to deepen India’s engagement with the UN, including through India’s upcoming Presidency of the G20 and reformed multilateralism, added the release.

In Kevadiya, Guterres is expected to pay floral tributes at the Statue of Unity. He will also be visiting India’s first solar-powered village in Modhera (Gujarat) and other development projects in the area. UNSG will also be visiting the Sun Temple in Modhera, before departing for his onward destination. (ANI)

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Delhi Festival Season After 2-year Gap

Delhi: Sales See Rise In Festival Season After 2-year Gap

With the festive season inching closer and COVID restrictions in abeyance, sales saw a rise as markets in the national capital opened fully after a gap of two years due to the pandemic.

A crowd of people can be seen on the streets of the national capital, especially in markets for shopping for the upcoming festive season which includes festivals like Diwali. Dussehra was celebrated recently.

Chandni Chowk in Delhi is once again a witness to shopkeepers opening their shops without any restrictions and the customers thronging their shops in large numbers to get new clothes.

Expressing their ecstasy over the full-fledged business after a long time, the shopkeepers said that their sales have been boosted by nearly 200 percent compared to during the pandemic.

Speaking to ANI, a local shopkeeper said, “Business is going well with festivals around. Rush increased, sales boosted by almost 200 percent as compared to the pandemic.”

Some of the shopkeepers and wholesalers said that their business is doing well with the regular arrival of customers these days at the shop.

“During the festive season, our business ran very well. Our business was boosted by 200 percent from the pandemic. All going well nowadays. Customers come regularly but a few of them only do bargaining and go. We don’t know the reason. Despite all of that, our sales increased after the pandemic because the number of buyers in the market has increased,” said a shopkeeper.

A customer from Jabalpur said that she was happy with the reopening of markets and had come all the way to Delhi for shopping.

“I heard about Chandi Chowk and today I saw the reason why. I purchased a Lehenga here. The quality is very good. The same quality and brand, if I had purchased from some other place, it would cost nearly Rs 2 lakh, but we purchased it here for only Rs 30,000,” she said.

Another first-time visitor who came from West Bengal’s Murshidabad said that the items are cheap in the market and their quality is satisfactory. (ANI)

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We Want To Transform India Into Manufacturing Hub: Modi At SCO

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday reiterated to make India a manufacturing hub in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war which has caused global supply-chain disruptions.

“The world is overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Several disruptions occurred in the global supply chain because of the COVID and Ukraine crisis. We want to transform India into a manufacturing hub,” PM Modi said while addressing extended format of the 22nd Summit of the Council of Heads of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States (SCO-CoHS) in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand.
Highlighting the country’s economic stability, he said India has more than 70,000 start-ups and over 100 unicorns.

“We are focussing on a people-centric development model. We are supporting innovation in every sector. Today, there are more than 70,000 start-ups and over 100 unicorns in our country,” said PM Modi.

“India’s economy is expected to grow at a rate of 7.5 per cent this year. I’m glad that ours is one of the fastest growing economies among the largest economies of the world,” he added.

The Prime Minister also raised the issue of “transit rights” of food supplies between the neighbouring nations highlighting that it took many months for India to send supplies to Afghanistan via Pakistan.

The SCO Summit usually has 2 sessions – a restricted session, only for the SCO member states, and then an extended session which includes participation by observers and special invitees.

Earlier, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev welcomed PM Modi to the Congress Centre in Samarkand for the 22nd SCO Summit. India has been working closely with Uzbekistan towards the success of their Chairship.

The SCO Member States, Observers, Special Guests of the Chair and representatives from regional organisations come together for a meeting in the expanded format.

This is the first in-person SCO Summit after the Covid pandemic hit the world. The last in-person SCO Heads of State Summit was held in Bishkek in June 2019.

The SCO currently comprises eight Member States (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), four Observer States interested in acceding to full membership (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia) and six “Dialogue Partners” (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey).

The Shanghai Five, formed in 1996, became the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2001 with the inclusion of Uzbekistan. With India and Pakistan entering the grouping in 2017 and the decision to admit Tehran as a full member in 2021, SCO became one of the largest multilateral organisations, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the global GDP and 40 per cent of the world’s population.

SCO has potential in various new sectors, wherein all the member-states could find converging interests. India has already pushed hard for cooperation in Startups and Innovation, Science and Technology and Traditional Medicine.

From the time of its full membership, India made sincere efforts to encourage peace, prosperity, and stability of the whole Eurasian region in general and SCO member countries in particular. (ANI)

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New COVID-19 Cases

6,422 New COVID 19 Cases In The Past 24 Hours

India recorded 6,422 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, informed the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs on Thursday.

India’s active caseload currently stands at 46,389, which accounts for 0.10 percent of the total cases.
The recovery rate currently is at 98.71 percent.

As many as 5,748 recoveries were made in the last 24 hours, taking the total recoveries to 4,39,41,840.

The country has recorded a daily positivity rate of 2.04 percent.

As part of the nationwide vaccination drive, the government of India has been supporting the States and Union Territories by providing them with COVID-19 vaccines free of cost.

In the new phase of the universalization of the COVID-19 vaccination drive, the Union Government will procure and supply (free of cost) 75 percent of the vaccines being produced by the vaccine manufacturers in the country to the States and UTs.

So far, under the nationwide vaccination drive, 215.98 crore total vaccine doses (94.48 cr Second Dose and 17.92 cr Precaution Dose) have been administered, of which 31,09,550 doses were jabbed in the last 24 hours alone. (ANI)

Omicron, The Crafty Virus

It would appear as if there is a central committee of viruses that meet, learn from their experience and adapt with new strategies. That is of course a metaphoric statement. Viruses are not meant to have brains nor a sense of social community, let alone a strategy team. But what has happened and has happened in the past with dangerous viruses, is not far from this myth.

The Omicron variant of the SARS-Cov-2 Virus is far less potent than its predecessors but more infectious, spreading like wildfire once it takes hold in a population. According to three studies quoted in the British Medical Journal, the infection rate is faster but hospitalisations rate is about 15-80% less than its first predecessor and even the Delta variant. It also lasts shorter, between two and seven days. Some people have almost no symptoms but found to have the Omicron virus on testing.

The studies were done in England, Wales and South Africa. The number of people needing intensive care and oxygenation is even lower. Deaths are far fewer than the first Covid wave.

However that is no reason to let the virus rip through society. India is beginning to see an exponential increase in Omicron cases. That is the pattern with this virus. It starts with a few cases, but then within weeks, there is a steep curve of number of people infected.

The three studies so far have different populations. The South African study is based against a background that over 70% of South Africans have contracted Covid-19 last year and then subsequently the Delta variant. They have developed a natural immunity as the number of vaccinated people are less than countries like UK or India.

Cheryl Cohen, the South African doctor from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases who did the study even declared that their study suggests a positive story with reduced severity.

The England and Wales studies were against a background of over 80% people having been vaccinated twice. The percentage of people with the third, booster vaccine dose, was lower when the study was conducted. The study shows that people with booster dose are least likely to have any serious illness from Omicron. Those with two doses are at slightly higher risk. But most people needing hospitalisation have been those who were not vaccinated. Britain has escalated its booster dose programme and has even declared that it will reach its target before the end of the year. Vaccinators were working during the holidays too.

The studies have implications for India. The number of triple jabbed people is not high. India’s hospital infrastructure needs a lot of investment and is no where near that of developed western countries.

ALSO READ: More Covid Questions Than Answers

As Omicron starts to spread, the number of people relative to number of hospital beds and doctors is again going to be highly unfavourable. Even if a mere 0.5% people become seriously ill in India, that is over a 5 million patients. Where is the infrastructure to deal with that?

Consequently, India needs to take precautions urgently. Many European countries who have only just finished second vaccination, have gone into full or partial lockdowns. Some countries require quarantine for visitors. These measures have not started in India. There is a general belief among people that the virus is less virulent and therefore will require less stringent measures. There have been demonstrations against Government lockdowns as a result.

The Coronavirus story is typical. A new strain of virus can be extremely virulent as it is with the original SARS-Cov-19. However after a few mutations, it either becomes extinct or finds a form that causes minimal reaction within the human body but also enables the virus to do what it wants. The virus simply needs a host, replicate and die.

It is the reaction by the human body that causes health problems with Coronavirus. Macrophages (cells of defence and clean up) react, cells die and the toxins produced overwhelm the body’s ability to get rid of them. Consequently the SARS-Cov-19 virus now has found a mutation that can slip by through most human defences, cause less disruption and cell death and therefore less toxin production.

Eventually it might end up being treated as another cold. That is beneficial to both the virus and human beings. It seems surrealistic to paint a picture of nature engaged as a silent mediator between a virulent virus and a determined anti-virus human race and finds a settlement that appears to be in sight. The virus becomes less dangerous and humans start tolerating it. However this is in fact mythology or fiction.

When a new strain of virus comes into human race, sometimes it can cause havoc. This was the case with Bird flu, the Spanish Flu (of 1918), Ebola and Zika virus and now the Coronavirus.

Some viruses in history are thought to have become extinct. While others have become so benign that they don’t pose any problem.

What actually happens is that the genetic code is not static. As it replicates, it continues to develop mistakes, changes, mutations etc. Some times the mutation can be deadly for the host, such as humans or an animal. Sometimes the mutations can be self destructive and the virus goes into extinction. Sometimes mutations can become benign and cause fewer symptoms.

Benign viruses can also suddenly develop a mutation that becomes deadly. The Omicron Coronavirus may be less dangerous now but as its genetic code, the RNA in the case of Coronavirus, continues to develop faults, changes and mutations, a future mutation from the Omicron could be fatal.

It will be best if the Virus disappears altogether. However that is unlikely. Coronavirus has already had hundreds of mutations. Some have caught the headlines because they were virulent. Many have disappeared. Others may be lingering in benign form in animals or even humans without symptoms. Any of these could mutate into dangerous ones.

The spread of viruses depends on several factors but mainly transmissibility. Some, like HIV, can only be got through direct sexual contact or fluid exchange. Others like Covid seem to be airborne too and can jump easily from one person to another. Some viruses transmit when the host is fully infected while others jump when the host is still asymptomatic.

Consequently, it will be silly not to take Omicron Virus seriously. There have been quite few other small epidemics and pandemics in the last 20 years. It will be equally silly not to be vigilant for new variants. The vaccines give us hope. Equally Government need to put in place rapid reaction response strategies in case a dangerous mutation evolves. In the war between viruses and humans, indeed between viruses and all species, there are no winners. It is a perpetual war that will carry on as long as life exists on earth.

3rd Wave Covid

‘3rd Wave Is Upon Us; Of All Gatherings, Election Rallies Are Worst’

Dr Mridul Sharma, 24, from Amritsar, says our leaders lecture others on Covid-appropriate behaviour but fall short of following the protocols themselves

No matter where the Covid-19 has come from, it is certain that it will go very far in destroying the health of millions. And we doctors and other frontline healthcare professionals are the first line of defence when the virus attacks. The Delta variant has shown just how devastating the effects of the mutated virus can be and I am pretty sure the Omicron variant is going to cause as much, if not more, damage. The third wave is a certainty and we should brace ourselves for it.

People have no idea how much pressure healthcare workers come under, when the cases surge and peak. Not only are we ill equipped to fight the virus, as it is mutating faster than we can understand it, we are also overwhelmed with the volume of cases.

Conducting a political rally when the third wave is imminent, isn’t a good idea. In fact any gathering is not a good idea, be it a marriage or funeral, but political rallies are the worst. A big rally is scheduled for January 5 in Punjab and in my opinion by January 15, there are chances of the third wave striking in force. I wish people understood the situation.

I myself contracted the virus twice, once in August 2020 and the second time during the second wave. And since I live alone, it gets difficult to manage the infection on one’s own. My oxygen saturation levels went dangerously low while I was infected. On Covid duty during the second wave, I had to take up rented accommodation near the hospital, so that I didn’t have to commute much and there were lesser chances of me infecting someone else.

Sharma lost his grandfather to post-Covid complications but had little time to grieve his death

Most other people can cope with the slow recovery but a healthcare professional, especially a doctor, has to get back on one’s feet immediately. I lost my grandfather aged 86 to post-Covid complications in April. He was full of life and someone with a healthy lifestyle and yet it was difficult for him to fight the long Covid complications. As healthcare professionals we don’t even get time to grieve our loved ones. When people conduct election rallies they must understand that human lives at stake.

ALSO READ: Health Workers Are Anxious About Omicron

My sister is a dentist and during the second wave, healthcare professionals from other streams were also asked to pitch in to enhance resources. My parents get anxious to see both their children stand in the frontline. I wish governments understood that individual families get impacted when prevention isn’t done well and each story ends up differently.

Tamam umr sarkarein yahi bhool karti rahi, dhool chehre pe thi aur aaina saaf karti rahi. (Governments commit this mistake all the time: find fault in others’ behaviour, forget to check their own record). Political leaders should lead by example so that the public knows how to behave and follow Covid protocols. As the virus mutates, the complications are also getting severe: the Guillane-Barre syndrome, body paralysis, long Covid etc. And people with co-morbidities have it tougher.

India has better immunity than most countries because of our food habits, but we also have enormous numbers. We are bracing ourselves to report on Covid duty once again. Even if we report on duty for one day, we have to quarantine ourselves for a fortnight. It isn’t easy to be confined for that long every few days. And when we are called on duty, the workload is beyond overwhelming. We all need to take the right decisions every step of the way to fight the virus.

Covid Is Not Over Yet

‘People Forget Covid Waves, Health Workers Worried About Omicron’

Anita Kumari, a 42-year-old auxiliary nurse & midwife in Jharkhand, says masks have come down and social distancing gone for a toss but Covid is not over yet

I have been in the medical profession for nearly 15 years now, but never have I seen anything as devastating as the coronavirus, and the various mutations that it springs upon us from time to time. The Delta variant, the Omicron variant, who knows what other variants are lurking around us. I wish people took more care to wear masks and sanitise hands. The prevention is easy (at least the virus doesn’t have as debilitating an effect) but the cure and treatment is difficult. The public mindset is such that they give up once the peak number of cases come down.

This lackadaisical attitude proved to be so deadly during the second wave. Then we frontline workers are left to pick up the pieces and put ourselves and our own health at greater risk of catching the virus. My Covid duty is to administer vaccines to people. We are a five-member team that administers vaccines to people.

Earlier we would be giving these doses at dedicated centres but now we have to go from home to home. We need to collectively step up on our public duty of wearing masks, getting our tests done if the symptoms arise, otherwise a third wave is imminent.

Off to work: Anita Kumari says public must understand Covid isn’t over yet

The general public should understand that the pandemic has been very challenging for frontline workers. When people are in lockdown at home, we still have to go about our duty. We have to convince people to take vaccines and it’s not an easy thing to do, especially for the elderly population, or even those above 45.

ALSO READ: ‘We Haven’t Learnt Anything From Previous Waves’

I am happy that those from 18-45 age group have shown tremendous enthusiasm as well as a sense of public duty when it comes to vaccines. Seeing them many in the 45+ age group have been inspired to co-operate. We have to travel in public transport and come rain or sun, we cannot relax. Sometimes even Sundays are working and then we have to take care of our household responsibilities as well.

The general public needs to understand that the government and healthcare workers are all trying their best to tackle the virus but without the cooperation of people it cannot be defeated. Immediate isolation and treatment are very important. I myself caught the virus during April this year and suffered. Many others can take more time off to recover, but healthcare workers have to report on duty after the quarantine period.

People’s attitude are at their careless worst in public transport. They feel they don’t need to wear masks while commuting or walking on the roads and you can’t ask them to follow those protocols because many time people pick up fights. We have seen how much healthcare workers have had to suffer during the pandemic. Each person is important in the war against Covid and its many variants. We are all in this together. I commute long distance every day to get to work. It would be nice if the public walked the path of social responsibility too.

As told to Yog Maya Singh

Weekly Update: Could Covid Horrors Return to Haunt India; Hatred Rears Ugly Head, Again

In a late night address to the nation on Saturday, December 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would be administering third shots of vaccination (booster jabs) for those above 60 with co-morbidities as well as for frontline healthcare workers. He also announced that children aged 15-18 would also be eligible for COVID vaccines. These are timely decisions given that COVID’s latest mutant, Omicron, could spread rapidly in India. The challenge of vaccinating a population as large as India’s is daunting but the good news is that, at least according to official reckoning, 75% of adults have received the second dose of the vaccine.

That’s the good news. The not so good news is that if you take the entire population of the country, then just a little over 41% are fully vaccinated.  Also, it may be a fact that the renewed surge of the virus may be inevitable. According to official estimates, at the time of writing, there have been around 422 reported cases of people infected by COVID. The actual figures in a country as large and as divided by inequality, accessibility, and lack of testing facilities could be way higher. The earlier waves of COVID’s spread were marked by a pattern: initial detection rates were slow, leading to complacency; and then, like a sudden horrific storm, the country was gasping for oxygen and hospital beds.

From most reports based on, albeit limited, research into the Omicron virus it seems that the latest mutant of the pernicious pandemic virus is milder, particularly when it affects fully or partially vaccinated people. However, these are not conclusive findings because the Omicron variant was detected very recently. What is known and is of concern is that this variant is more contagious and spreads much faster than earlier variants.

The other area of worry is the experience of other countries where Omicron is spreading. In Europe, UK, and the US, it is seen that the virus is affecting younger people (aged below 30) more than it is the older population. While there is little research yet to establish reasons behind this phenomenon, the fact is that India’s youth (18-20 year olds) account for more than 20% or more than 260 million people (that is more than half of the total population of the EU region of 447. million). Also, a large proportion of the Indian youth is not vaccinated yet. In that context, Prime Minister Modi’s announcement of vaccination for 15-18 year olds is in the right direction.

There is, however, another area of concern. Many countries in Europe have already slammed the emergency brakes in the form of new restrictions on public events, commuting, entertainment venues, and so on. Many states in India have also taken similar action. But when it comes to compliance by the Indian public, it is a different matter. The correct use of masks is nowhere near universal in India’s densely populated cities; and bans on congregations and public events are still flouted routinely. These can have alarming consequences.

When the second wave hit India, the anguish that millions suffered was heart-wrenching. A total of 48,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of COVID in India. Many more have suffered or are still suffering long-term consequences of the virus. Public memory is short but this is a virus that we need to be prepared to grapple with for a long time. And, while the authorities can attempt to do their bit by ensuring vaccination for all and stipulation of restrictions, much of the onus is on us, the ordinary citizens of the country, to be sensible in the face of adversity.

Hatred Rears Its Ugly Head… Again

The perceptible change in Indian society–no matter which socio-economic echelon you look at–is the increasing insecurity, anxiety and existential angst that minority communities in India have been experiencing over the past decade. It is probably not a coincidence that such feelings have intensified after the Hindustva-espousing BJP-led government came to power at the Centre in 2014. This has manifested in several events: a spate of violence involving alleged cow slaughter; pre- and post-election rioting; and targeted discrimination against certain minority communities.

In mid-December, at a three-day convention of Hindu hardliners in the ancient city and religious pilgrimage destination of Haridwar, several speakers made speeches that were inflammatory and could spark or incite violence against minority communities. In some instances, what was said was in innuendoes. But in a few, there were undisguised call for violence and even genocide.

In a country where secularism and equality for all are principles enshrined in the Constitution, instances such as these coming nearly 75 years after Independence are abhorrent. More importantly, it is the response of the authorities that is of concern. Although there were many protests against the speeches and FIRs were filed, no one had been arrested at the time of writing, more than a week after the convention was held.

What is also of concern is the silence of those in power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet to comment on or condemn the speeches. His colleague, home minister Amit Shah has also not responded. Hindus make up 79.8% of India’s population and Muslims account for 14.2%; Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the remaining 6%. A surge of majoritarianism and hatred of the kind that is demonstrated by the Haridwar gathering is an ugly development in a democracy that prides itself on tolerance and equality. If, in the hour of need, people at the highest level of power choose to remain silent, does it not legitimise the hate?

Schools Reopened After A Gap of Several Months

‘Won’t Send My Child To School Till He Is Fully Vaccinated’

Anita Jha (39) did not send her 15-year-old son, studying is Class 10, to his school in Faridabad when it reopened after a gap of several months. She narrates the reasons behind her decision

On August 1, 2021 we received a communication from my son’s school that they were planning to reopen and asked us to convey if we would be willing to send our ward to the school. The notice also mentioned that the offline and online classes will continue simultaneously, and parent were free to choose any option.

I decided NOT to send my son to school.

The reason is simple: Saket, my son, is not vaccinated. I know virology experts say that even after vaccination, an infection may occur and we need to follow same prescribed precautions as earlier. However, the inoculation does provide the body a better ability to fight and defeat Covid-19 infection. And therefore a jab would have given us some assurance of our child’s safety.

Having stated my reasons, I fully support the government decision to reopen schools. Nothing can compensate a physical classroom when it comes to inclusive learning. But, till the time Saket is fully vaccinated I don’t want to take any risk. Some of my friends have chosen otherwise. In my son’s class of 37 students, about one fourth have chosen to attend the school. To each its own; let this be a personal choice for every parent.

Some people may argue that if parents can take their children to shopping malls, outdoor parks and other public spaces, what is the harm in sending them to a school. My counter to them is: in all such cases, the children are under direct supervision of the parents while at school, the children, either carelessly or under peer pressure, may throw caution to the wind.

Anita Jha says her son Saket improved his grades while attending online classes

This is what happened when the schools reopened last time. Infections soared and the government had to hastily retract their decision. We should have learnt our lessons from that.

I do not doubt the preparedness of the school. Over the last few months, my son went to school for collection of some study material and he told me that proper social distancing was being maintained and in one class they were asked to sit leaving two benches in between. And since only class 9-12 are called, social distancing norms are easily maintained.

ALSO READ: Online Classes Drain The Parents Completely

However, how does one keep a watch on the kids all the time? Even if a few children follow Covid-19 protocol, they cannot enforce similar pandemic-appropriate behavior on others in the absence of the teacher. We all know how teenagers are.

Besides, thanks to our access to high-speed Internet and other gadgets, I didn’t see any challenges in my son’s academic performance during online classes. In fact, there is now some self-discipline and improvement in his grades. If the purpose is taken care of by online class then why rush with offline learning in these uncertain times! Why can’t we wait till the vaccination of children is also complete?

It is not only about maintaining precautions in school premises. Not every family can afford a personal vehicle to pick and drop the child from school and hence they have to end up taking a shared or public transport. This increases the risk manifold.

Already, there have been talks of a looming third wave and new variants of the virus that may infect young children too. That worries me. Of course, if the government makes attending schools mandatory, we would have no choice. But I sincerely hope that we make quick progress on vaccination of adolescents and only after that think of reopening schools.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

Covid Has Deepened India’s Poverty Pit

Stark poverty and hunger is stalking contemporary India but no one wants to see it or talk about it, especially the establishment and its economists. If statistics could tell stories of infinite sorrow, then nothing less than a mass tragedy, devastating, invisible and ghettoized, is currently stalking the inner lanes of an unhappy Indian landscape, and spreading with as much deathly intent as the deadly delta virus. 

First, let us talk of the ‘missing women’. The unorganized sector, with practically no rights for workers, operated by cold-blooded sharks outside official labour laws, with not even job protection for fixed days, or fixed wages, shelter and crèches for children, no maternity and health benefits for women, no provident fund/gratuity/pension, or trade union rights, etc, constitutes more than 90% of the Indian workforce. Barring some states like Kerala, Delhi and West Bengal, workers in the unorganized sector largely don’t have fundamental rights. Half of them are women – and most of them are from the poorest communities – landless Dalits, adivasis, extremely backward castes, Muslims.

The fact is thousands of women seem to have disappeared from the work force since the pandemic. So where have all the women gone?

It’s a fact that majority of domestic helps, working in the gated societies, for instance, lost their meager income since March last year. Many of them were socially ostracized, unceremoniously sacked, not paid their wages, and banned from entering the gated societies. Many were compelled to ‘migrate’ back to their jobless small towns or villages with eternally stagnant economies.

Workers were told by their employers to leave the dingy tenements in urban ghettos, where 5 or more would share a room, because they could not pay the rent. Their children opted out of schools. Many women, and their kids, were seen ‘begging’ outside the posh markets in Noida, even as the rich filled their cars with goodies during the relaxation in curfew hours.

ALSO READ: No Country For Migrant Workers

Many families have been starving, or eating one meal. All of them want to work and earn with dignity; others are afraid to stand in long, crowded food queues because of fear of the virus. For a long period those who did not have Aadhar or ration cards, had no clue how to get food from the public distribution system, even in a city like Delhi.

Consulting firm Dalbert, in a study conducted during March-October last year, reported that women have reduced their food intake because of less income, their rest hours have decreased and ‘unpaid care work hours’ have increased, at least a tenth of the women said that food is in very short supply and they are eating less, 16% had limited or no access to menstrual pads, while 33% of married women had no access to contraceptives as the pandemic disrupted public health outreach programmes. More than 43 per cent women were yet to recover their paid work. While it was terrible last year, the second surge devastated them. The study surveyed 15,000 women and 2,300 men from low-income households in 10 Indian cities.

“If the virus does not kill us, poverty will kill us,” said a balloon seller last winter in Noida. The invisible working class ghetto inhabited by Dalits and extremely backward caste people from Bengal, Bihar and UP, in Noida, surrounded by swanky highways and palatial houses, became jobless overnight on March 24, 2020. The street food vendor found no buyer, rickshaw-pullers no passengers, traffic light sellers no customers, even as thousands of construction workers were rendered jobless as the real estate industry crashed. Workers in the unorganized and small-scale industry, its back broken by demonetisation and GST, found a quagmire beneath their feet – rapidly sinking, and not a straw to hold on.

Stark poverty and hunger has been systematically turned invisible in India in the neo-liberal era, especially in the metros. Therefore, it was disconcerting for the cocooned affluent society when images of thousands of migrant workers suddenly emerged on highways, walking under a scorching sun. Pray, who are these condemned and exiled people?

With their worn out clothes, sacks and plastic bags, mothers holding their children, often barefoot, hungry and thirsty, with absolutely no relief from the central government, they were escaping the stark social/economic uncertainty after a lockdown was suddenly declared by the Centre. Among many enduring images of this Indian reality was the image of a dead mother at the Muzaffarpur Railway Station, her little child tugging at her sari. She was a migrant worker trying to go ‘home’ – from Ahmedabad to Bihar.

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Delhi is classified as the most urban state (98%) in India. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Delhi reported the lowest labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women during the pandemic. Female LFPR was as low as 5.5% compared to the male LFPR of 57. Unemployment among women was 47%, compared to 21 among men.

As many as 10 crore people reportedly lost their jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown. While in the pre-election scenario in 2019, India marked the highest rate of unemployment in 45 years, a reality the Modi-led government tried to fudge, currently, it is estimated, approximately 140 million people are jobless, and this includes the corporate sector. The jobless figures are hazy; unemployment has shot up to 11.7 %, last year it was 8. Job losses have been higher in Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, due to the impact of Covid.

A new Pew Research Center study states that consequent to the ‘deep recession’ in 2020, the middle class has shrunk by 32 million. This substantiates the speculation that millions of middle class households have been pushed into low income groups. The 32 million listed by Pew accounts for “60 per cent of the global retreat” in the number of people in the middle-income tier (defined here as people with incomes of $10-20 a day).

The number of people who are poor in India (with incomes of $2 or less a day) has increased by 75 million because of the COVID-19 recession. This factor also accounts for 60% of the global increase in poverty.

According to the Pew study, only 19% women remained employed and a high 47% suffered a permanent job loss, not returning to work even by the end of 2020. That is, almost half of the women workforce has effectively ‘disappeared’.

The study reported: “Prior to the pandemic, it was anticipated that 99 million people in India would belong in the global middle class in 2020. A year into the pandemic, this number is estimated to be 66 million, cut by a third. Meanwhile, the number of poor in India is projected to have reached 134 million, more than double the 59 million expected prior to the recession…”

Surely, there are millions of micro cases spread like unwritten stories of infinite inequality and economic/social discrimination across the remote rural terrain and in urban ghettos. They need to be documented, filmed, and written. The scale of this human tragedy could be epical.

Indeed, Mamata Banerjee made a cryptic point recently in Delhi: she said that it’s high time we have ‘sachche din’ in India –we already have had an overdose of ‘achche din’.