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India offered to evacuate people from all neighbouring countries from Wuhan: Jaishankar

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New Delhi, Feb 7 : India had offered to evacuate people from all the neighbouring countries while bringing back Indian students from the Chinese city of Wuhan in the wake of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told the Rajya Sabha on Friday.

The minister said that seven Maldives nationals chose to avail the offer during the evacuation carried out recently by Air India.

“At the time when two flights were going, we had told all the students and the larger community in Wuhan that we were not only prepared to bring back our own people, but all the people in our neighbourhood who would like to return,” Jaishankar said.

“It was an offer made to all our neighbours. But only seven nationals of the Maldives chose to avail the offer. The offer was made to everyone,” he added.

Jaishankar said that nearly 80 Indian students are still in Wuhan, including 10 students who were not allowed to board the special flights due to running fever.

He said that about 70-odd people chose to voluntarily stay in Wuhan and not get evacuated by the two flights.

Wuhan in China is the epicentre of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The deadly virus has fast spread in China, infecting more than 30,000 people while the death toll is estimated to have reached 600.

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Corona Karma: The Mythology of Illness

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Coronavirus

A few years ago, my mother had a severe case of shingles, a disease that causes the patient’s nerve endings to become sore from a pathogen that is moderately contagious. Its source is the vestigial presence of the varicella-zoster virus lying dormant in the subject’s body, invariably from a childhood case of chickenpox. I had, of course, researched the illness before I visited my mother, but no sooner had I entered the gated community of apartments where my parents lived then, than I was informed of my mother’s diagnosis. “Mata ka prakop,” the neighbors called it, shaking their heads disapprovingly, from side to side. My mother had invited the wrath of the Goddess.

Every culture has gone through the many stages of making meaning of dreaded diseases. Often the deities devise ways of conveying their displeasure to the people inflicted with an inexplicable phenomenon. This is true not just of “primitive” societies, but of scientifically “advanced” cultures as well. Remember the argument of the 1980s and 90s about AIDS in America, and how it was God’s way of punishing homosexual men for their ungodly ways. It seems every new disease has a karmic connection!

So when we conjecture about how some people may have gotten infected with the Corona virus thus: “kyapata, unke karma honge,” (“who knows, this might be a result of their karma) I am reminded of the “wrath of the Goddess,” meted out to my mother.

My problem with using myths to give meaning, stems from the fact thatevenlong after we have found a vaccine and a cure, the mythicdimensions of the pathogen will remain lodged in our collective unconscious. And when in the future stray instances of the illness flare up, whenwe, as a society, are under stress, vested interests will be able to generate panic and fear among the people by just tapping into our unconscious. Religiosity is a crude instrument of ideology.

In 1978 Susan Sontag, an important cultural critic gave a talk, “Illness as Metaphor,” in which she contrasted tuberculosis and cancer by citing countless examples of the representation of these illnesses in literary, operatic, theatrical, and poetic texts. Tuberculosis, Sontag argued, was the disease of the 19th century, of poverty, poor labour conditions, or a life wasted in leisure or unrealized genius. Cancer by contrast, was the disease of the 20th century, a moral contagion, a hostile takeover bid, that required a militaristic response. Extending this analogy, I want to argue that the Corona virus is shaping up to be the disease of this present century, already saturated with metaphors of geo-politics on the world stage. Here in India, it is a campaign to corralan out of control, leaking, irrepressible pollutant, that must be plugged.

President Donald Trump’s effort at branding the pathogen as the Wuhan or the Chinese virus is being played out as a protracted chess gamebetween two superpowers, with the WHO cast as the adversarial Queen by both sides.

In India, the Corona virus pandemic is being “treated” (no pun intended) as a more virulent and mutated strain of both tuberculosis and cancer. It is an insidious, surreptitious malware that is being countered with predictable software patches deployed in emergencies, but with no long-term strategy for the containment, management, or prospective cure for the patient. People suspected of carrying the virus, are being exiled rather than given refuge in a sanatorium. Economically vulnerable migrant workers are being treated as though they were children playing truant or escaped convicts. Police forces in virtually all the states where these workers are travelling have used tactics of mob control more than the benevolent practices of relief agencies.

I cannot help but wonder if this is not a perverse response to the political agitations that were gaining strength earlier this year. The virus has become a metaphor for out of control people: citizens determined to define citizenship in progressive rather than punitive determinants; and workers of the informal sector responding to a sputtering economy. When markets cannot regulate the demand/supply and price of onions, even the person on the street knows how to read the signs. As in other authoritarian regimes, the lockdown appears designed to function more as a gag order than a prophylactic measure against a pandemic.

When the metaphor of karma is used loosely to explain the apparently random patterns in which the disease is spreading, in a society where cleanliness and uncleanliness are indelible markers of caste, we run the risk of creating a new caste of Corona untouchables. Already the (conspiracy) theory that the virus came to India through the Tablighi Jamaat convention attendees in Nizamuddin, New Delhi, has tinged the virus with a communal hue.

Let us return to the origins to the Corona virus’s journey from bats to humans. How can a virus found in bats find its way into the human eco-system? It is because habitat and biodiversity loss have diminished the spatial distance between humans and wildlife. The Coronus virus is conjectured to have come from people eating “bush meat”. What is bush meat and why do people eat it? It is the meat of small, semi-wild animals that live in the shadows of the urban sprawl and are relatively easy to catch. This meat is less expensive than farm raised poultry and meat. It is also not regulated for hygiene, freshness, and disease. I would never know what the Civet Cat on my plate, ate, where it lived, or how it died. Actually, we don’t even know whether it is cat!

The extraction of natural resources through mining the earth and logging the forests, without any thought to replenishing them, has left vast stretches of the earth barren. The planting of monocultural crops has caused an imbalance in the natural eco-systems that kept a natural balance between harmless and beneficial viruses and other microorganisms. Further, the unchecked growth of urban sprawl and the attendant pollution has compromised the repair work that trees were meant to do.

Is it any wonder that the rage of Mother Earth has been unleashed upon us? “Mata ka prakop,” is punishment for our collective karma.

By: Poonam Arora

Ph.D., has until recently been a professor in the Humanities, focusing on the liberal arts. She is now a Delhi based writer. She can be reached at [email protected] (The views expressed are personal of the author, who retains the copyright)

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Covid cases to surge from migrant influx, but we are ready: Harsh Vardhan

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Harsh Vardhan

New Delhi, May 24 : Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Sunday said that coronavirus cases will increase in different parts of the country till the migrant influx continues. However, he assured that the situation is being closely monitored and the country’s health infrastructure is ready to handle the situation.

The Minister said this in a social media ‘interview’ with BJP leader G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, who asked about the “strategic and gradual exit from the lockdown”.

“Many restrictions in this lockdown were lifted as per the strategic and gradual exit of the country from it. Number of (active) cases in the country is nearly 70,000 now. As per my knowledge, now we can treat even 10 lakh Covid patients at one time. What message would you give to the people of this country when the lockdown is about to be lifted and there are chances of rise in the number of cases?” asked Rao.

In response, Harsh Vardhan said: “If we have relaxed the lockdown and are sending lakhs of migrant workers to their destinations with confidence, that clearly indicates that we know our situation and are closely monitoring it. Our strategies are ready. We are testing migrant workers and quarantining them.

“I think for one to two weeks, the cases will increase till all of them reach their states.

“However I want to say to people of this country that if the relaxations are used optimally with discipline, by following social distancing and hygiene, using masks etc, we will be able to restore normal life.”

He also said that many experts including one from the US had predicted that there will be millions of cases and deaths in India between May and June. “Fortunately, nothing like that happened. The PM had given instructions and guidance to handle the worst scenario even as there were only a few cases in the country,” he said.

Harsh Vardhan also said that learning “from the experience of countries like Italy etc where numbers spiked due to common hospitals, we earmarked dedicated Covid hospitals, separate Covid Health and Covid Care centres. There are 2.5 lakh beds of isolation plus ICU and oxygen, 1.7 lakh beds in 2,065 Covid Health Centres. We created 7,063 Covid care centres in the country which have 6.5 lakh beds.

“All combined, it goes to over 10 lakh. We have also reserved beds in private hospitals but I don’t think that there will be a requirement. There are more than 10,000 quarantine centres in the country.”

The Minister said that now the country has the capacity of doing 1.10 lakh tests per day.

“From one lab in February in the country, we now have 599 labs including 422 government labs. We have prophylactic medicine hydroxychloroquine for our people as well as other countries too. We are fully prepared to handle even the worst scenario. I want to assure the country that they need not to worry about it.”

Noting that India successfully handled the situation during dangerous diseases like Nipah and Ebola, Harsh Vardhan said: “We know the location of our Covid cases due to our surveillance mechanism and are doing everything required as per the strategy to stop it from spreading.”

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Stranded in India and want to fly out? Here’s all you need to know

The stranded individuals making the cut will be flown in the same non-scheduled flights which will be used to bring back stranded Indians from various countries.

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Coronaviurs in China Outbreak

New Delhi, May 24 : Six days after the beginning of lockdown 4.0, the Indian government on Sunday came up with new Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) to fly out those who are stranded in India due to the lockdown.

All such individuals have to apply with the Ministry of Civil Aviation or agencies designated by it, to start with. However, the government has made it clear that only those people will be allowed who are either citizens of those countries that they are travelling to or hold a visa of that country for a duration of a year, or are green card or OCI card holders.

Meanwhile, if there is a case of a medical emergency or detain the family, Indians too can travel abroad taking advantage of this window, provided they have a visa for at least six months.

The stranded individuals making the cut will be flown in the same non-scheduled flights which will be used to bring back stranded Indians from various countries.

Meanwhile if any seafarers are keen to take up job opportunities abroad, they too can avail this facility, provided the names are cleared by the Shipping Ministry.

However, even those who qualify will not necessarily be able to be flown out. It ultimately depends on the country they are travelling to and their recent guidelines of admission of foreign passengers. Only if that box is ticked, will the Civil Aviation Ministry confirm their ticket, says the SOP.

Meanwhile, no prize for guessing that the cost of the flight will have to be paid by the passengers because it’s not an evacuation exercise. Also the passengers will be subjected to necessary medical screening before they can board the flight where only asymptomatic travellers will be allowed. While inside, baic health hygiene and precautions like wearing a mask will be compulsory.

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