Thu, 21 May 2020
Pune hospital claims plasma therapy successful

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23:51   Pune hospital claims plasma therapy successful
The first experimental use of plasma therapy for treating a COVID-19 patient has been successful at Pune's state-run Sassoon general hospital, a senior doctor claimed on Thursday.

A 47-year-old woman, who had co-morbid conditions such as hypertension, hyperthyroid and obesity and who was in critical condition, was given convalescent plasma therapy twice on May 10 and 11.

"The condition of the patient improved and her repeat tests following the 14-day period came out negative. The woman has been shifted out of COVID ward and will be given discharge soon," said Dr Murlidhar Tambe, the dean of Sassoon Hospital.

Convalescent Plasma Therapy is an experimental procedure where plasma from the blood of a recovered COVID-19 patient is transfused to a critically ill coronavirus patient.

The blood of a person who has recovered from COVID-19 develops antibodies.

When injected into the blood of another patient, these antibodies are supposed to help that person fight the infection.  -- PTI
23:44   Vande Bharat 2 to continue till June 13
The government on Thursday said its mega mission to evacuate stranded Indians from abroad will continue till June 13 and the extended phase will cover 47 countries.

The second phase of the 'Vande Bharat Mission' was to end on May 22.   

However, Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastana said the ongoing phase will last till June 13 and that India is looking at making Frankfurt a hub for the mission.

As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 23,475 Indian nationals were brought back home under the mission which began on May 7.

Srivastava said there will be a third phase of evacuation after June 13 and that private airlines may be involved in it.

"We are looking to bring back our nationals from 47 countries on 162 flights. In this phase, we are including places like Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh city, Lagos etc and increasing flights to the USA and Europe," Srivastava said at an online media briefing.

"We are also receiving our nationals stranded abroad flights from other countries which are coming in to evacuate nationals of those countries. We are bringing back our nationals from far flung areas like Argentina, South Africa, Peru, Mongolia," he added.

He said a flight from Buenos Aires arrived early Thursday morning with a total of 62 Indian nationals.

The total Indians evacuated included 4,883 workers, 4,196 students, 3,087 professionals among others.

A total of 2,59,001 people registered to return from 98 countries.  

"Operations under this very large and complex exercise are going on smoothly. The ministry and its missions are working very closely in this whole of government exercise with the Ministries of civil aviation, home affairs, health and family welfare, bureau of immigration as well as with concerned state governments," he said.

In the first phase of the mission from May 7 to 15, the government evacuated around 15,000 people from 12 countries.

As per government's policy for evacuation, Indians having 'compelling reasons' to return like pregnant women, elderly people, students and those facing the prospect of deportation are being brought back home.  -- PTI
22:46   Mumbai's COVID-19 tally crosses 25,000 mark
The count of coronavirus positive  patients in Mumbai crossed the 25,000 mark on Thursday with the addition of 1,382 cases, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the country's financial capital now stands at 25,317, it said.

The civic body said that the death toll in the city also rose to 882 as 41 more patients succumbed to the infection.

A total of 285 patients were discharged from hospitals, which took the number of recovered cases to 6,751, the BMC said in a release.   -- PTI
22:43   India's new UN envoy presents credentials virtually
T S Tirumurti, India's new Permanent Representative to the United Nations, presented his credentials virtually as he assumed charge as the Ambassador amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Privileged to take Permanent Representative of India to the UN in New York. During these COVID-19 times, I was the second Ambassador/ Permanent Representative to the UN to present virtual credentials!' Tirumurti tweeted Wednesday.

Tirumurti arrived in New York on May 19 to assume charge as India's new Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

A 1985-batch Indian Foreign Service officer, Tirumurti succeeds Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, who retired on April 30 and returned to Hyderabad.

Tirumurti previously served as Secretary, Economic Relations at the Ministry of External Affairs headquarters in New Delhi.

Before leaving for New York, Tirumurti called on President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu.

The UN General Assembly will hold elections next month for the five non-permanent seats of the UN Security Council for the 2021-22 term.

India's seat as a non-permanent member on the 15-nation Council for the two-year term is assured as it is the sole candidate vying for the lone seat from the Asia Pacific grouping.

New Delhi's candidature was unanimously endorsed by the 55-member Asia-Pacific grouping, including China and Pakistan, in June last year.  -- PTI
22:11   No Maya, Akhilesh, Kejri at Sonia's meet
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's mega Opposition meet tomorrow via video conferencing will see three notable absentees.

Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have decided to stay away from the online conclave, a development that can only warm the cockles of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's heart.

The Congress party had sent invites out to 18 Opposition parties; the actual attendees will be known tomorrow at 3 pm.
21:54   Railway cancels tickets of special trains in Maha
The railways on Thursday cancelled tickets of all passengers of special trains whose originating and terminating stations fall within Maharashtra after the state government prohibited inter-district travel.

In an order issued on Thursday, the railways said all the tickets of the special trains scheduled to run from June 1 in Maharashtra will be automatically cancelled and full refund will be provided to passengers.

It also said that till further notice, intra-state bookings within Maharashtra should not be permitted.

This, however, does not mean that trains cannot originate from stations in Maharashtra, a railway spokesperson said.

"It means that people cannot board and de-board a train from within the state," he said.

For instance, if a train from Mumbai to Kanpur goes via Nashik, no passenger who has boarded the train from any station in Maharashtra can deboard within the boundaries of the state.

However, a passenger can board the train from Nashik and travel outside the state, the spokesperson explained.

"Only those who have availed tickets to travel within the state cannot do so now," he added.

The 100 pairs of special trains, including the Duronto Express, Jan Shatabdi and several popular mail and express trains, are scheduled to begin their journey from June 1.

The railway board order also stated that passengers should be sent an SMS stating that, "Due to restrictions imposed by  Maharashtra government for travel within the state by train, your ticket has been cancelled and full refund shall be given."   -- PTI
21:48   Partial ST bus services in Maharashtra from May 22
The Maharashtra government on Thursday decided to start intra-district State Transport (ST) bus services, excluding in red and COVID-19 containment zones, from Friday with certain conditions.

The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) announced resumption of intra-district bus operations from May 22 (Friday).

The bus operations will resume with certain terms and conditions, the MSRTC said in a statement in the evening.

The state-owned public transport body had stopped it's statewide bus operations since March 22 due to 'janata curfew' and the subsequent COVID-19-enforced lockdown.

Since the past two months, MSRTC's bus operation has been restricted to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, where it is ferrying staffers on emergency and essential services duty.

Since the first week of May, the corporation has also ferried over two lakh migrants till Maharashtra's borders with other states and to various districts within the state.  -- PTI
21:12   Cyclone Amphan: PM to undertake aerial survey
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will undertake an aerial survey of 'cyclone-hit' areas on Friday, official sources said.

A powerful cyclone Amphan tore into West Bengal, leaving 72 people dead and thousands homeless, battering several parts of the state and washing away bridges and swamping low-lying areas.

Amphan also wreaked havoc in Odisha damaging power and telecom infrastructure in several coastal districts.

When asked whether the prime minister will make an aerial survey of both West Bengal and Odisha, the sources did not specify and said he will take the survey of 'cyclone-affected areas'.   -- PTI
21:10   Cyclone Amphan: PM to undertake aerial survey
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will undertake an aerial survey of 'cyclone-hit' areas on Friday, official sources said.

A powerful cyclone Amphan tore into West Bengal, leaving 72 people dead and thousands homeless, battering several parts of the state and washing away bridges and swamping low-lying areas.

Amphan also wreaked havoc in Odisha damaging power and telecom infrastructure in several coastal districts.

When asked whether the prime minister will make an aerial survey of both West Bengal and Odisha, the sources did not specify and said he will take the survey of 'cyclone-affected areas'.   -- PTI
20:52   BJP doing vendetta politics: Cong on Sonia FIR
The Congress on Thursday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of indulging in vendetta politics after a case was registerd in Karnataka against Sonia Gandhi for raising questions over the PM-CARES fund.

The party also hit out at the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, alleging that was it playing dirty politics by registering a case against the party's state unit chief Ajay Kumar Lallu and arresting him twice on Wednesday.

The party also urged Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to review his decision. "It is extremely unfortunate that at a time like this, when the world is facing a disaster like coronavirus and where in India crores of people have lost their livelihood and are forced to walk home, instead of helping them and providing for them all that you (BJP) want to do is vendetta politics.

"You are not just misusing government machinery, you are also inciting vendetta politics. We strongly condemn this," Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said at a press conference held through video conferencing.

A case has been registered against Congress president Sonia Gandhi at Sagara town in Karnataka's Shivamogga district on a complaint that @INCIndia, the official Twitter handle of the Congress, tried to create distrust among the masses with its tweet by spreading 'baseless charges'.

The complainant alleged that on May 11 at 6 pm, the INC India Twitter account posted messages against Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging 'misuse' of PM-CARES Fund set up to enable people contribute to help the government fight the coronavirus and 'similar distressing situations'.

Shrinate said it was not just about the FIR against Sonia Gandhi, 'this gives us an insight into how the BJP and Mr Modi operates'.

"Even at a time like this, what is important for them is vendetta politics. This is a democracy and in a democracy opposition leaders have a basic right to ask questions," she said.

Shrinate said this was a not a question on the state of affairs, but on the PM-CARES Fund, where thousands of crores have been deposited and even with so much funds available why are migrants still forced to walk and why are people still suffering.

"Why can this money not be released... every Indian wants to ask this question," she said.

About about the arrest of Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu, Shrinate said, "This is political vendetta. We request that you leave aside this politics, reconsider the allegations against Ajay Lallu ji and end this politics of vengeance."

The Uttar Pradesh Congress chief was arrested twice on Wednesday -- first in Agra for sitting on a dharna to protest against UP government not granting permission to allow buses arranged for migrants by the Congress enter the state.

He was granted bail by an Agra court and released, before being rearrested by a team of Lucknow police in a second case filed here in connection with the Congress' standoff with the state government.

"This is a murder of democracy. We strongly condemn the detention of Ajay Lallu ji. The Chief Minister should reconsider this. It seems that the BJP government is indifferent to the suffering of the people," Shrinate said.

She said that 'dirty politics' was being played even at the time of coronavirus pandemic.

"Not only did the Adityanath government rejected our offer of help with the buses, but even sent UP Congress President Ajay Lallu in custody."

The Congress leader alleged that all charges against Lallu are ridiculous.

"In the FIR, he has been accused of causing loss to the people, which is ridiculous because he was helping people," she said.

"Everyone in Uttar Pradesh understands this dirty politics of the BJP government. Ajay Lallu ji has struggled a lot and worked hard. He is being targeted for helping the labourers," Shrinate alleged. -- PTI
20:39   DGCA issues 7 fare bands for domestic flights
JUST IN: Directorate General of Civil Aviation has issued seven fare bands for domestic flights that are set to resume from May 25:

Domestic flights with less than 40-minute duration to have lower and upper limit of Rs 2,000 and Rs 6,000.

For flights with duration between 40-60 minutes, lower and upper fare limit is Rs 2,500 and Rs 7,500.

Lower and upper fare limit for flights with duration between 60-90 minutes is Rs 3,000 and Rs 9,000.

Flights with duration between 90-120 mins, like ones on Delhi-Mumbai route, to have lower and upper fare limit of Rs 3,500 and Rs 10,000.

Flights with duration between 120-150 mins, like ones on Delhi-Bengaluru route, to have lower and upper fare limit of Rs 4,500 and Rs 13,000, the DGA said.

Flights with duration between 150-180 mins, like ones on Delhi-Imphal route, to have lower and upper fare limit of Rs 5,500 and Rs 15,700.

Flights with duration between 180-210 mins, like ones on Delhi-Coimbatore route, to have lower, upper limit of Rs 6,500 and Rs 18,600, the DGCA order said.   -- PTI
19:37   1,230 migrant workers test COVID-19 +ve in UP
With over 20 lakh migrant workers returning to Uttar Pradesh in last few days, the state, specially its eastern part, on Thursday saw a quantum jump in the COVID-19 cases, with overall 1,230 people testing positive, including 95 in Barabanki, said officials.
"Over 5.42 lakh migrants were screened by health workers and among them 1,230 have been found positive for coronavirus. Samples of 46,142 have been sent for testing," said Principal Secretary (Medical and Health) Amit Mohan Prasad here.
Prasad said the state government has asked migrant workers to strictly observe home quarantine protocol while the 'village/mohalla nigrani samitis' have been asked to keep a strict vigil on them.
During home quarantine, they have been asked specifically stay away from elderly people besides children and pregnant woman, said Prasad.
Barabanki District Magistrate Aadarsh Kumar said of the 245 samples sent for testing on May 15-16, 95 have been found corona positive.
Among those who tested positive, 49 are migrants who had recently returned from other states, the DM said, adding all infected people have been admitted to hospitals as per the COVID-19 treatment protocol.
The remaining 46 are those who had come in contact with six infected persons and had been kept in isolation, the DM said.
According to Basti DM Ashutosh Niranjan, 16 more coronavirus-positive cases were found in the district on Thursday, raising the total number of infected cases there to 120.
All 50 new cases detected on Tuesday were of migrant workers who had returned recently from other states, said Niranjan.   
Pratapgarh reported 10 new cases and Ghazipur 18 on Wednesday, while on Thursday, 15 cases were reported in Azamgarh with DM N P Singh saying that the coronavirus infection graph has gone up with the return of migrants from other states.   
In Siddhartnagar, 11 new cases were reported on Thursday with most of them being migrants having returned from Mumbai, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Seema Rai said.
Another 16 cases were reported from Jaunpur of which 15 had come back from Mumbai and one from Surat, District Magistrate Dinesh Kumar Singh said.
Besides, eight migrant workers who had returned from Maharashtra and Gujarat  tested positive in Maharajganj, DM Dr Ujjawl Kumar said.
Uttar Pradesh reported 181 fresh cases on Thursday, taking the total number of coronavirus cases to 5,356 while 127 people having died of the disease so far, officials said.  
There are 2,130 active cases of COVID-19 in the state. As many as 3,099 patients have been discharged from hospitals after recovery. -- PTI
19:27   Why mortality rate low in India? Govt explains
India may witness COVID-19 cases peaking in mid-July if the current lockdown is lifted this month-end but expected to be a "lower surge" due to strong containment measures in the past nearly two months, a noted public health expert and epidemiologist said on Thursday.
The country at present is definitely at a lower trajectory in terms of COVID-19 deaths compared to anywhere in the world which means it has contained the transmission of the virus to a great extent, Professor and Head of Life Course Epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India Giridhara R Babu said.
"If the lockdown is lifted on May 30, then we will have peak around mid-July because if you take three incubations period, which is one-and-half months, that will be enough for you to know how the disease spreads when nothing is controlled, he said.
He hastened to add: "But nothing-is-controlled never happens in India now because even if you let people to be free today they dont do things that they used to do because of phobia. So, we will have probably a lower surge compared to what we would have had if nothing was done from the beginning."
Syndromic surveillance should be stepped up in high-burden areas such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata along with testing, which has already been scaled up, said Babu, who has worked with the World Health Organisation for nearly six years, during which his efforts included stopping polio transmission in Karnataka.
"We have to prevent transmission going from urban to rural," Prof. Babu, who is trained in Epidemiology (MPH and PhD) from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), said.     

My sense is we will continue with the lower trajectory. Only thing is we should not let our guard down now. We should continue with the same seriousness with which we started, he said, adding, Bengaluru was not that much affected as Delhi or Mumbai because the city enforced strict controlling early.
In the low-burden areas, the population is scattered, and you wouldnt expect the same kind of surge that you would see in Mumbai or in any crowded area. "As we move ahead, our areas of focus will still be cities where overcrowding is generally the case," Babu added.
He said strict measures should be taken wherever population density was high. Containment measures in slums should be stronger because of overcrowding there, he said.      

Physical distancing, and reduced movement, these are very critical as we move forward. If we are able to do that to the extent of 60 to 70 per cent, I think we will maintain the same lower trajectory as it has been so far, he added. -- PTI 
19:07   Pak continues to be a priority in neighbourhood diplomacy: China
China said on Thursday that it will continue to accord priority to Pakistan in its neighbourhood diplomacy and reinforce iron-clad' ties as the all-weather allies celebrated the 69th year of the establishment of their diplomatic relations.
Pakistan recognised China in 1951, a year after India established diplomatic ties with Beijing. India became the first non-Communist country in Asia in 1950 to establish diplomatic relations with China. 
Though a late entrant, Pakistan, an Islamic republic, has emerged as Communist China's closest ally and the two countries in recent years firmed up their all-weather alliance with USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the biggest overseas investment by Beijing.
"Today marks the 69th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between China and Pakistan. I offer congratulations," foreign ministry spokesman told a media briefing here on Thursday.
Zhao, who worked earlier as China's Deputy Ambassador to Islamabad, had a personal note of praise for his stint in Pakistan.
"I had the pleasure of working in Pakistan. Before leaving the country, I said that Pakistan stole my heart. I believe it shows the deep-rooted friendship between the two countries," he said.
"In future, we have every confidence in the development of bilateral relations. We will continue to put Pakistan a priority in our neighbourhood diplomacy and work together for high-quality CPEC development", Zhao said.
India had protested to China over the CPEC as it traversed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.  
"We are all-weather strategic cooperative partners. In the past 69 years, this relationship has stood the test of the changing international landscape, and has remained firm as a rock," he said.-- PTI 
18:57   MEA's statement on India-China standoff
Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC in the Western Sector or the Sikkim sector is not accurate. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously. 

All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering Indias normal patrolling patterns. Indian side has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management. At the same time, we are deeply committed to ensuring Indias sovereignty and security.

The Indian troops strictly follow the procedures laid down in various bilateral agreements and protocols to resolve any situations which may arise due to difference in perception of LAC. The two sides have established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue. Both sides remain engaged with each other to address any immediate issues.

In accordance with the consensus reached in Chennai, Indian side remains firmly committed to work for the common objective of maintenance of peace and tranquillity in border areas. This is an essential prerequisite to the further development of Indian-China bilateral relations.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/
18:46   China hindering normal patrolling along LAC: Govt
India on Thursday rejected China's allegations that Indian troops crossed over to the Chinese side of the frontier in Ladakh and Sikkim, asserting that New Delhi has been taking responsible approach towards border management.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said it was the Chinese side that recently undertakook activities hindering India's normal patrols in the areas.
"Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the Line of Actual Control in the Western Sector or the Sikkim sector is not accurate," Srivastava said.
"Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously. All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC," he said.
The LAC is the de-facto border between the two countries.
"In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India's normal patrolling patterns. Indian side has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management. At the same time, we are deeply committed to ensuring India's sovereignty and security," he said.
China has accused India of unilaterally attempting to change the status of the un-demarcated border in Ladakh. -- PTI 

18:36   COVID-19: UK begins anti-malaria drug trial
The first United Kingdom frontline National Health Service worker will be enrolled as a participant into COPCOV, the largest multinational interventional clinical study into the prevention of COVID-19 using the investigational medicine hydroxychloroquine.
Enrolment begins on Thursday at the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, the first of 20 UK hospitals to participate in this trial involving the anti-malaria drug. 
Under the multinational plan, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine or a placebo will be given to more than 40,000 healthcare workers from the UK and Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. It will test whether the drugs can prevent healthcare workers exposed to the virus from contracting it. 
Accord Healthcare, a UK-based medicines manufacturer, said it has donated over 2 million tablets to enable the "landmark trial" to go ahead.
"Based on the known pharmacology of hydroxychloroquine, coupled with the emerging knowledge surrounding SARS-CoV-2 [novel coronavirus] viral replication and COVID-19 pathophysiology, we were very keen to test the effectiveness of this molecule in a preventative, rather than late-stage treatment setting, said Dr Anthony Grosso, Vice President and Head of Scientific Affairs, Accord Europe, Middle East and North Africa.
"A large-scale, prospective, randomised, double-blind clinical trial in a high-risk setting is the only way to robustly determine if this medicine can lessen or prevent human infection. Previous studies have not adequately tested this hypothesis; the results of COPCOV are therefore of critical importance to public health," he said.
The company said it is working on manufacturing the required hydroxychloroquine and matching-placebo for the study, which comes amid criticism of US President Donald Trump who admitted to using the drug as a preventive medicine despite it being unproven to be effective against the deadly virus and despite warnings that it may be unsafe.
Over 130 UK frontline healthcare workers have lost their lives from COVID-19 and the new study will test if hydroxychloroquine/chloroquine can be used to effectively protect these frontline medical staff, allowing them to undertake their vital roles more safely.
18:14   Declare cyclone Amphan national calamity: CPI-M
Cyclone 'Amphan' should be declared a national calamity, the Communist Party of India-Marxist demanded on Thursday and said people in West Bengal and Odisha need the support of the Centre.
The extremely severe cyclone 'Amphan' has left at least 12 people dead and ravaged Kolkata and several parts of West Bengal and Odisha.
"Relief and rehabilitation are priority at the moment. The country and the people are already in the midst of a grim struggle for survival combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. People in both states urgently need the support and solidarity of the government and people of the country, the party said in a statement.
"The central government must immediately declare this as a national calamity and substantially help states in facing the impact of this disaster," it said.
In a tweet, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that cyclone 'Amphan' has been more devastating than cyclones Aila (2009) and Bulbul (2019).
"We are with the people at this critical time when they are besieged, anyway combating COVID-19 and its consequences. At this difficult time, everyone must join to help the people deal with this disaster," said Yechury. -- PTI
18:01   FM to meet PSU bank chiefs on Friday
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will hold a review meeting with CEOs of public sector banks on Friday to discuss various issues, including loan disbursement, as part of efforts to revive the economy reeling under the COVID-19 impact, sources said.
The meeting, which was earlier scheduled for May 11, got deferred due to the stimulus package announcements, they added.
The meeting assumes significance as the banking sector has to implement many schemes under the Rs 21 lakh crore economic package announced by the finance minister in five tranches last week.
The Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday gave its nod for many of the schemes announced as part of 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan' package to prop up the economy reeling under the COVID-19 crisis.
The meeting, to be held via video-conferencing, will also take stock of interest rate transmission to borrowers by banks and progress on moratorium on loan repayments, the sources said.
The RBI had on March 27 slashed the benchmark interest rate by a massive 75 basis points and also announced a three-month moratorium to be given by banks to provide relief to borrowers whose income has been hit due to the lockdown.
At the Friday meeting, chief executives of public sector financial institutions will also be present as some of the schemes have to be implemented by them.
The Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday approved additional funding of up to Rs 3 lakh crore at a concessional rate of 9.25 per cent through the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) for the MSME sector hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier this month, RBI governor Shaktikanta Das held a meeting with heads of both public and private sector banks to take stock of the economic situation and review implementation of various measures announced by the central bank.
The deployment of excessive funds by banks under the reverse repo route may also come up for discussion on Friday, sources said.
Besides, progress under the targeted long-term repo operations for the NBFC sector and microfinance institutions, and sanctions under the COVID-19 emergency credit line will also be reviewed. -- PTI 
17:20   Limits on air fares set in seven bands as per flight duration: Puri
Limits on air fares have been set in seven bands as per the flight durations and they would be in place till August 24, said civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday.
The minister said the first band, which would have its specific lower and upper limits of air fare, will consist of flights that are of less than 40 minutes duration. 
Second, third, fourth and fifth bands of upper limit would be of flights with durations of 40-60 minutes, 60-90 minutes, 90-120 minutes and 120-150 minutes, he said.
The sixth and seventh bands would consist of flights with durations between 150-180 minutes and 180-210 minutes, he stated.
Aviation Secretary P S Kharola, who was also present at the press conference, said 40 per cent of the seats would have to be sold at the mid-point of the lower and upper air fare limits set for the flights.
The minister said he can't comment right now on when flight operations would be restored completely.
If a passenger does not have the Aarogya Setu app on her or his phone for some reason, she or he can give a self-declaration form, the minister said, adding that such a passenger will not be stopped from boarding the flight.
The minister added that private carriers will join the Vande Bharat mission to repatriate Indians stranded abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
Domestic flight operations will resume in India from May 25. All commercial passenger flights were suspended in the country from March 25, when the Modi government imposed a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. -- PTI
17:04   4 additional NDRF teams being airlifted to Kolkata
Four additional teams of the National Disaster Response Force are being airlifted to Kolkata on the request of the West Bengal government and will reach the city by late evening on Indian Air Force aircraft, the chief of the force, S N Prasad, said on Thursday.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Pradhan said two teams each from Chennai and Pune are being airlifted to Kolkata in view of the damage caused by Cyclone Amphan and they will be at the disposal of the West Bengal government.
He said the teams were scheduled to depart at 4.30 pm and arrive at Kolkata at around 8.30 pm.
Pradhan said according to the feedback received from the states that have been battered by Cyclone Amphan, it seems life will start returning to normal in the impact zones of Odisha within 24-48 hours, while West Bengal has suffered more damage.
The extent of the damage done by the extremely severe cyclonic storm will become clearer after surveys in the coming days, he added. -- PTI 
16:29   72 dead in Amphan fury in WB: Mamata
Update on Cyclone Amphan: -- West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee says at least 72 people have died so far in the state. 
-- Rajiv Bansal, CMD of Air India says two aircraft parked at Kolkata airport are not damaged, but there is some damage to the hangar. A small private aircraft which was parked in the hangar has been damaged.
-- The Union Cabinet Secretary held a meeting with the West Bengal & Odisha Chief Secretaries to estimate the damage and response, earlier today. Normalcy will return in the next 24 to 48 hours in Odisha: NDRF Chief SN Pradhan.
16:03   Shramik trains cancelled, migrants gather in Mum
Amid the coronavirus spread, hundreds of migrant labourers on Thursday gathered at the grounds in Kandivali's Mahavir Nagar in the hope of boarding Special Shramik trains to return home. Notably, today two out of three trains scheduled to leave from Borivali for Uttar Pradesh, were cancelled. 

The police have requested the migrants to return to their shelter homes and vacate the spot as a precautionary measure to halt the spread of the virus.

Notably, these special trains had the capacity of 1,200 to 1,700 passengers with maintaining social distancing norms.Under the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs, proper thermal screening of passengers has been ensured before boarding the train.

During the journey, passengers are also being given free meals and packaged drinking water, the statement further said. -- ANI
IMD chief Mrutyunjay Mohapatra
IMD chief Mrutyunjay Mohapatra
15:53   Odisha govt says IMD forecast getting better with time, thanks 'cyclone man' Mohapatra
The Odisha government on Thursday showered praises on the India Meteorological Department, saying the weather forecast is getting better with time, a day after cyclone 'Amphan' rolled past its coast causing minimal damage in the state. The government thanked IMD's Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra for accurate predictions. 

The IMD's predictions on the cyclone's trajectory, wind speed as well as its character in sea and impact were "to the point" and "accurate" which helped the state in making required preparation to face the calamity, Odisha's Chief Secretary A K Tripathy said. 

Stating that accurate forecast of the natural calamity is a great weapon to contain the damage to life and property, Tripathy said, "The IMD is valuable in this area and its forecast is getting better with time."

"We thank Mohapatra, NDRF DG S N Pradhan and everyone in this valuable national body," Tripathy told PTI. 

Odisha's Additional Chief Secretary-cum-Special Relief Commissioner P K Jena, the officer responsible for the management of the cyclone, also acknowledged Mohapatra's efforts. "I especially thank Mrutyunjay Mohapatra who time and again re-assured us to have complete faith in his prediction and forecast on cyclone 'Amphan'," he said.  -- PTI
15:33   UP govt jailing those helping migrants: Priyanka
A day after the standoff between the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government and the Congress over the latter's offer to provide 1,000 buses for migrants, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra claimed those trying to help stranded labourers are being jailed and asked party workers to carry on with the fight. 

Uttar Pradesh Congress chief was arrested twice on Wednesday -- first in Agra for sitting on a dharna to protest against UP government not granting permission to allow buses arranged for migrants by the Congress enter the state. He was granted bail by an Agra court and released, before being rearrested by a team of Lucknow police in a second case filed here in connection with the Congress' standoff with the state government. 

"Have you seen the the method of Yogi (Adityanath) government to fight the coronavirus epidemic? When the Congress arranged buses for migrant labourers, the Yogi government sent Uttar Pradesh Congress president to jail in a false case," Priyanka Gandhi, the general secretary of the party, said in a message. 

The party's Uttar Pradesh unit's media convenor said Lallan Kumar said she asked the party workers not to be afraid and carry on the fight for the migrant workers. 

Gandhi said, "The entire nation is standing united to fight the epidemic but the UP government is putting those making arrangements of bus, train tickets, food and ration for the labourers in jail." 

Referring to the 30th death anniversary of her father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, she has said, "Rajiv ji gave his life for the country. He loved Hindustan and its people. He could not see their pain. We have learnt from him to help the weak." 

Lallan said that Priyanka Gandhi has called upon about 50,000 Congress workers of the state to raise their voices for the labourers through 'Facebook live' on Thursday against the "oppression", as that would be the "proper tribute for Rajiv Gandhi". PTI
Coronavirus death toll in Delhi mounts to 194; highest single-day spike of 571 fresh cases takes tally to 11,659: Authorities.
15:12   Trump revives idea of hosting G7 meet in-person at Camp David
US President Donald Trump has said he may seek to revive a face-to-face meeting of G7 leaders near Washington, following the previous cancellation of the in-person gathering of world leaders owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I am considering rescheduling the G7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, DC, at the legendary Camp David," Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

"The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all - normalization!" he added.

In March, the Republican US president had cancelled the physical summit scheduled for June, shifting the gathering to a video conference as nations grappled with the shutdown of international travel and multiple US closures amid the pandemic.

The G7 leaders had gathered back in April but the discussions were only limited to teleconferencing.

But in a tweet, Trump said holding an in-person summit would be a symbol of the US and other countries seeking to return to normal, something the president has urged should happen quickly despite concerns from public health experts.

Asked about Trump's suggestion during a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would look at any US plans to change the meeting format and what measures would be taken to keep attendees safe, but declined to endorse the idea, Al Jazeera reported. -- ANI
15:09   Maha CM recalls Rajiv's contribution in telecom, IT
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday paid rich tributes to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary, saying that he laid the foundation of telecommunication and information technology (IT) in the country. 

Thackeray said Gandhi's contribution to India's progress can never be overlooked. 

In a statement issued on the 29th death anniversary of the former PM, Thackeray said, "Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the telecommunication and IT revolution in the country and we are now witnessing the benefits of the steps taken at that time." 

"Let's take a pledge to eradicate terrorism and violence from human life. We need to strive to achieve that. It will be a fitting tribute to Rajiv Gandhi," Thackeray said. Gandhi was assassinated on this day in 1991 in Tamil Nadu's Sriperumbudur by a suicide bomber during an election campaign. -- PTI
15:03   Migrant worker from MP dies just before boarding train to MP
Tragedy struck an elderly migrant worker who was looking forward to joining his family as he died on reaching a nearby railway station to board a Shramik Special train to his home state Madhya Pradesh, police said on Thursday. 

The 69-year old man, who worked in a coffee estate in Chikkamagaluru, collapsed and died soon after getting down from a state-run KSRTC bus that brought him and others to the Chikkabanavara Railway station on Wednesday. 

According to police, fellow labourers said he had been ailing for quite some time. The cause of his death would be known only after a post-mortem, police added. Karnataka government has been sending back thousands of migrant workers stranded in the state due to the COVID-19 lockdown by arranging the special trains. -- PTI

Image: Migrants wait to board buses to the railway station in Surat under the searing heat. No water being distributed, not even temporary shade for them. Pic: ANI 
14:52   Maha govt paid Rs 67cr for migrants' train travel
The Maharashtra government has so far released Rs 67.19 crore through the Chief Minister's Relief Fund to bear the cost of train travel of the stranded migrant workers to their native places from the state, an official said on Thursday. 

The government, which had initially provided Rs 54.75 crore for the purpose, has now released additional Rs 12.44 crore from the CM Relief Fund, an official of the Chief Minister's Office said. 

"The state government had already spent Rs 54,75,47,070 to buy the train tickets for migrant workers. The funds had been transferred to the district collectors across the state, where migrant workers had registered themselves to return their home states," the official said. 

"In the second round, Rs 12,44,08,420 have been released from the CM Relief Fund for six districts. The state government has thus spent Rs 67,19,55,490 so far to bear the ticket fares of the stranded migrant labourers," he said. 
Mangled remains of vehicles pile up at a street in Kolkata
Mangled remains of vehicles pile up at a street in Kolkata
14:35   HM speaks to CMs of Odisha, Bengal; assures help
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday spoke to chief ministers of Odisha and West Bengal -- Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee respectively -- and assured them of all central help to deal with the situation arising due to cyclone Amphan. Shah also said he was constantly monitoring the situation in the two cyclone-hit states. 

"I have also spoken to CM Odisha, Shri Naveen Patnaik ji & CM West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee-ji over situation arising due to the cyclone and assured all possible help from centre," he tweeted. 

The home minister said the teams of the National Disaster Response Force are already on the ground to help the people affected by the cyclone. 

"We are closely monitoring the cyclone Amphan and are in continuous touch with concerned authorities," he said. 

Shah said the Narendra Modi government is committed for the safety and security of every citizen. "I urge people of West Bengal and Odisha to stay indoor and follow instructions. Praying for everyone's safety and well being," he said. 

The cyclone has left at least 12 people dead and damaged infrastructure in West Bengal. The rains and high-velocity winds too caused massive damage to standing crops, plantations and infrastructure in Odisha. -- PTI
A waterlogged street in Kolkata
A waterlogged street in Kolkata
14:30   India stands in solidarity with WB: PM on Amphan
No stone will be left unturned in helping those affected by cyclone 'Amphan', Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday. The cyclone has left at least 12 people dead and damaged infrastructure in the state. "In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal. Praying for the well-being of the people of the state. Efforts are on to ensure normalcy," he tweeted.

"Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by #CycloneAmphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal. Praying for the well-being of the people of the state. Efforts are on to ensure normalcy," the PM said. 
14:23   Case filed against Sonia for Cong tweet on PM-CARES Fund
A case has been registered against Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Karnataka in connection with a tweet posted on the party's official handle alleging misuse of PM-CARES Fund, police said. The Sagara town police in Shivamogga district registered the case on Wednesday based on a complaint by Praveen K V, who alleged that @INCIndia, the official Twitter handle of the Congress, tried to create distrust among masses with its tweet by spreading 'baseless charges.' 

The state Congress condemned the registration of the case. The case has been registered under Sections 153 and 505 (1)(B) of the IPC, which relate to wantonly provoking people and inciting them to commit offence against any other class or community. 

The complainant alleged that on May 11 at 6 pm, the INC India Twitter account posted messages against Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging 'misuse' of PM-CARES Fund set up to enable people contribute to help the government fight against coronavirus and "similar distressing situations." 

-- PTI
A traffic signal is bent over an uprooted tree in Kolkata
A traffic signal is bent over an uprooted tree in Kolkata
14:11   Amphan weakens significantly, currently lays over Bangladesh: IMD
The India Meteorological Department said on Thursday that 'Amphan' has weakened significantly and moved over to Bangladesh as a cyclonic storm after clobbering West Bengal, leaving at least 12 dead and blowing up shanties, uprooting thousands of trees and swamping low-lying areas. In the next three to six hours it will further dissipate into a deep depression and a depression, the two stages that signify a further weakening of the cyclone, it said. 

The IMD said under the influence of the storm, squalls with wind speed 30 to 40 kilometres per hour are very likely in Meghalaya and west Assam during the next 12 hours. The western districts of Assam and Meghalaya will also witness "light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places", it added. 

According to the weatherman, Amphan was the fiercest cyclone to hit West Bengal in the last 100 years. The extremely severe cyclone packing winds of up to 190 kmph rampaged through coastal Odisha and West Bengal on Wednesday, dumping heavy rain, swamping homes and farmland. 

Kolkata and several other parts of West Bengal wore a battered look on Thursday after the extremely severe cyclone 'Amphan' ripped through the state. 

Large parts of Kolkata and other affected districts were without electricity as power poles had been blown away. Mobile and internet services were also down as the cyclone had damaged several communication towers Senior state officials said it was too early to estimate a toll on life or damage to property as the hardest-hit areas were still not accessible. -- PTI
14:00   'PM's stimulus pkg fails to address healthcare'
Fitch Solutions has said that the latest stimulus package does not address immediate concerns of the healthcare system which is reeling under the pressure of COVID-19 pandemic. On March 11, the Ministry of Finance increased allocation - 0.008 per cent of the country's GDP - to the health services division to support an expansion of healthcare spending, Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research (a unit of Fitch Group) said. 

It is to be noted that this is not a new budgetary allocation, but only a rerouting of existing expenditure, it said, adding that the "stimulus package is lacking in addressing the immediate concerns of the healthcare system". 

The unprecedented crisis due to COVID-19 has highlighted the need to increase investment in the healthcare sector in the country. Despite several healthcare reforms, India is badly placed to tackle the rapid spread of coronavirus. 

The continued lack of medical funding and healthcare infrastructure suggests that the impact of further spread of the disease will be worse in India if it is not adequately contained, it said. 

Moreover, the significant inefficiency, dysfunctioning and acute shortage of the healthcare delivery systems in the public sector do not match up with the growing needs of the population. 

The low level of public spending on health is both a cause and an exacerbating factor accounting for the poor quality, limited reach and insufficient public provisioning of healthcare, it said. 

"Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the critical importance of the public sector in health provisioning," Fitch added. 

Rapidly declining revenues and sharply eroding profits are leading to the closure of many private hospitals. Despite all its shortages and constraints, the public sector has had to step up to play the main role of addressing healthcare needs during this pandemic as the private hospitals have responded inadequately to the crisis, it said. 

Private hospitals, which make up for two-thirds of hospital beds in India, and almost 80 per cent of available ventilators, are handling less than 10 per cent of the critical load of COVID-19 patients. 

Many are not even offering non-COVID-19 healthcare services, thus leaving the burden of providing healthcare on the shoulders of public health sector, which is already strained. Only a few private providers have come forward to extend support to the government. -- PTI
13:47   In a 1st President Kovind accepts digital credentials of envoys
President Ram Nath Kovind accepted the credentials from Ambassadors and High Commissioners of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Senegal, Trinidad & Tobago, Mauritius, Australia, Cote d'Ivoire and Rwanda through video conference today. This was the first time in the history of the Rashtrapati Bhavan that credentials were presented digitally. 
13:42   To be kind to those who are unkind to you... Priyanka remembers her father
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweets this image with her father Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary today and writes, "To be kind to those who are unkind to you; to know that life is fair, no matter how unfair you imagine it to be; to keep walking, no matter how dark the skies or fearsome the storm; .To nurture a strong heart, and fill it with love no matter how great it's sorrows; these are the gifts of my father's life." This was her last photographer with her father, she said.  
A quarantine facility in Srinagar
A quarantine facility in Srinagar
13:11   No infrastructure to quarantine lakhs of returning migrants
Uttarakhand minister S Uniyal on Thursday said that the state does not have enough infrastructure to quarantine lakhs of people as coronavirus cases are increasing in several districts due to influx of people from outside. "As people have started coming from outside, cases have emerged in Tehri, Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Almora and Bageshwar. You need infrastructure to quarantine two to three lakh people, I believe we do not have it currently," he told ANI.

Yesterday, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat spoke to the senior government officials and the District Magistrates via video conferencing to review the coronavirus situation in the state.

The Chief Minister directed "the local administrative staff to work under the leadership of village heads in order to create awareness about COVID-19."

Rawat had also said that strict action will be taken against those found flouting the quarantine rules. -- ANI
A platform is cleaned and disinfected
A platform is cleaned and disinfected
13:08   Passenger train ticket bkg centres open tomorrow
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal announces that booking of train tickets will resume at around 1.7 lakh common service centres from tomorrow across the country. Bookings will also resume at counters of different stations in the next 2-3 days. The government is developing a protocol in this regard.

So far, 1,49,025 tickets have been booked for 2,90,510 passengers for the 73 passenger trains to be operationalised from 1s June, Goyal said.

In the last 2.5 hours, over 4 lakh tickets have been booked for second class passenger trains which start from June 1. 

"So many people want to go home. Also, there are so many people who want to return to work in cities which is a very good sign. We are going to announce the resumption of more trains in the upcoming days. We have also permitted the operation of shops at railway stations. However, only takeaways will be allowed," the minister said. 
12:51   On Rajiv Gandhi's death anniversary, Cong ditches ads, resolves to help labourers
The Congress on Thursday said that it has decided not to publish advertisements on the death anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and instead use this money to help labourers and daily wage workers amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

The party said that its workers across the country have also resolved to help those in need and commit their efforts in this direction.

"What would be better than to use the amount spent in advertisements on Rajiv Gandhi's death anniversary to help the coronavirus-affected laborers. Rajiv ji had always given priority to the interests of the poor of the country. This decision of the AICC is definitely in line with his views," Congress tweeted on Thursday, along with an official statement.

The statement said that the citizens of the country remembered former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary.

"Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Congress party has decided not to publish advertisements on the death anniversary and instead use this money to help labourers and daily wage workers. Congress workers across the country have also resolved to help those in need and focus all their efforts in this direction," the statement said.

This comes as migrant workers across the country have taken a hit to their source of income due to the restrictions during the ongoing lockdown, imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. -- ANI
12:44   Amphan: Stay indoors till all clear, warns NDMA
Amid cyclone Amphan, the National Disaster Management Authority on Thursday advised people against going out until government's green signal. "Only venture out after a cyclone when "all clear" messages are declared by the Government Officials," NDMA wrote on Twitter.

Cyclone Amphan made landfall in the coastal region of Odisha and West Bengal on May 20 and has had an adverse effect on the weather of various parts of the country.

NDMA said that thunderstorm accompanied by lightning and squall is likely over Bihar; with lightning and gusty winds at isolated places over Arunachal Pradesh and Assam and Meghalaya.

Lightning and gusty winds at isolated places over Lakshadweep, Kerala, and Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura, and with lightning at isolated places over South Interior Karnataka, it said.

The NDMA also said that squally wind speed reaching 30-40 kmph gusting to 50 kmph expected over Meghalaya and West Assam. -- ANI

Image: An uprooted tree at Kalyani, West Bengal, in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan. Pic: Ujjwal Haldar/
12:39   Bengal wakes up to devastation
A fallen tree at Kalyani in Nadia district of West Bengal in the aftermath of the Amphan cyclone yesterday. Kalyani is a self-contained township approximately 54 km from Kolkata. Electricity lines were down this morning. Pic: Ujjwal Haldar/
Chef Vikas Khanna with his mother
Chef Vikas Khanna with his mother
12:25   Vikas Khanna to feed 1.75 lakh people on Eid
Michelin-Star chef Vikas Khanna is set to organise the "world's largest Eid feast" in Mumbai to feed nearly 1.75 lakh people in the city worst-affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The 48-year-old world-renowned chef, author and film-maker, who has distributed millions of dry ration meals to the needy across 79 cities in India amidst the COVID-19 crisis, is working round the clock to organise the feast beginning on Friday. 

"The food is being collected at the Haji Ali Dargah from where it will be loaded in trucks and distributed around Mohammed Ali Road, Dharavi and Mahim Dargah in Mumbai with the help of over 200 volunteers and personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) while adhering to all guidelines of social distancing," Khanna told PTI. 

"With your blessings, we are putting together the world's largest Eid feast - 100,000+ Kgs of dry rations, fresh & dry fruits, spices, kitchen utensils, chais, sweets, juices, etc," Khanna tweeted on May 17. 

He said that within hours of the tweet, he had received tremendous support from individuals and companies offering to provide raw materials and other essential items for the meals. 

"As India observes Eid at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has spread fear and chaos in the world'this feast showcases the soul of our country. It has been made possible by absolutely everybody coming together. It shows that in the time of such a crisis, we are holding hands and people are there for each other," he said. 

"India will win against the virus. India has said it will win and this effort is our stamp. This will be the common man serving the common man," he said. His initiative has been supported by some of the major food brands, foundations and companies. -- PTI
11:47   50 mn Indians don't have access to hand washing
Here's the reality check: More than 50 million people in India do not have access to effective handwashing, putting them at a greater risk of acquiring and transmitting the novel coronavirus, according to a study. 

Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the US found that without access to soap and clean water, over 2 billion people in low- and middle-income nations -- a quarter of the world's population -- have a greater likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus than those in wealthy countries. 

According to the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, more than 50 per cent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania lacked access to effective handwashing. 

"Handwashing is one of the key measures to prevent COVID transmission, yet it is distressing that access is unavailable in many countries that also have limited health care capacity," said Michael Brauer, a professor at IHME. 

 The study found that in 46 countries, more than half of people lacked access to soap and clean water. In India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia, more than 50 million persons in each country were estimated to be without handwashing access, according to the study. 

"Temporary fixes, such as hand sanitizer or water trucks, are just that -- temporary fixes," Brauer said. "But implementing long-term solutions is needed to protect against COVID and the more than 700,000 deaths each year due to poor handwashing access," Brauer said. 

He noted that even with 25 per cent of the world's population lacking access to effective handwashing facilities, there have been "substantial improvements in many countries" between 1990 and 2019. 

Those countries include Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nepal, and Tanzania, which have improved their nations' sanitation, the researchers said. The study does not estimate access to handwashing facilities in non-household settings such as schools, workplaces, health care facilities, and other public locations such as markets. -- PTI
11:39   I welcome migrants returning to MP: CM
Asserting that returning migrant workers are "our brethren", Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Thursday said he would welcome them with open heart in the state and that they cannot be blamed for the rise in coronavirus cases.

"Migrants are humans too. They are our brethren. We do not have any objection in migrants coming back to the state and we will embrace them (unhe gale lagayenge)," Chouhan told PTI in an interview. 

He also rejected reports that have hinted possible increase in coronavirus cases due to migrants and asked, "Did corona not spread at places where migrants were not there? There has been an increase in COVID positive cases in Madhya Pradesh. Migrants and other stranded people too have come to the state. Why do we blame migrants for increase in coronavirus cases? It will not be appropriate to blame them for the rise in coronavirus cases. Any increase in cases is not only due to the movement of migrant workers," Chouhan said. 

He said the entire issue of migrants returning to their native places need to be seen with the prism of humanity. "There is humanity and sensitivity involved in this crisis. Who are these migrant workers? They are our brothers and sisters. They went out for earning livelihood. If they want to come back, Madhya Pradesh will welcome them with open heart," the chief minister of the BJP-ruled state said. 

He said arrangements have been made not only for the workers of the state but for those from other states as well. "We have brought back a large number of migrants of our state. As many as 1,000 buses of Madhya Pradesh have been pressed into service to drop migrant workers of other states to our state borders so that they don't have to set off their journey on foot. Whether they are from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand or those coming from south-western states, we are looking after each one of them," Chouhan said. 

The chief minister said around 4 lakh workers have been brought back to Madhya Pradesh from other states so far. "We have decided to provide an amount of Rs 1,000 to 7,000 workers of other states who are stuck in Madhya Pradesh. We have provided them medical facilities for check-up and we are also providing them food. We are also sending them through buses and trains and in addition to it we are ensuring that all the expenses are borne by the state. No labourer should be charged for this," he emphasised. 

Chouhan had recently written to the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh highlighting the practical difficulty in the movement of labourers -- that the state "does not get to know how many labourers from other states are coming to the border of Madhya Pradesh and at what time". 
11:32   Trump says his HCQ regimen finishes soon
US President Donald Trump has said that the regimen of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine that he is taking to ward off the coronavirus will finish in the next day or two. Trump disclosed on Tuesday that he was taking the drug despite medical warnings about potential serious side effects and questions about its effectiveness in preventing the coronavirus. 

"I think the regimen finishes in a day or two," Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday when asked how long he will continue to take the antimalarial drug. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president's taking of the drug as a preventive measure against the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Hydroxychloroquine has been a drug that has been in use for 65 years for lupus, arthritis, and malaria. It has a very good safety profile. But as with any drug and as with any prescription, it should be given by a doctor to a patient in that context. So no one should be taking this without a prescription from their doctor," she said. -- PTI
And another image of the devastation at Kolkata airport. 
The collapsed roof of the AI hanger
The collapsed roof of the AI hanger
11:28   Amphan: Kol airport flooded, AI hangar collapses
Kolkata's domestic and international airport at Dum Dum is inundated by the floodwaters left in the wake of the devastating super cyclone Amphan which made landfall last evening. Images of a flooded runway, a collapsed Air India hanger, floodwaters in offices at the airport, have been released by news agencies as several videos doing the rounds on social media. 

Flights to and from Kolkata were suspended two days ago. 

Meanwhile, road clearance and restoration work by National Disaster Response Force personnel are underway after extremely severe cyclonic storm Amphan hit West Bengal on Wednesday.

NDRF Director-General SN Pradhan on Thursday shared on Twitter photographs of restoration work by NDRF personnel at various locations in West Bengal, including North 24 Parganas, Purba Medinipur, Howrah, Kolkata and South 24 Parganas.

Two persons were killed and 5,500 houses damaged in North 24 Parganas as cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal and left a trail of destruction in the state. Two persons sustained severe injuries. -- ANI
10:44   Men make their debut as terrorists, arrested
Three newly recruited terrorists have been arrested by joint forces at Sogam of Kupwara district. Further investigation underway, says Jammu and Kashmir Police.
10:42   1000-fold increase in quantum of COVID-19 tests: ICMR
For every positive COVID-19 test more than 20 negative tests have been done, the ICMR has said, asserting there has been a 1,000-fold increase in the quantum of tests per day in the last two months. A total of 25,12,388 samples had been tested by 9 am of May 20, and the testing capacity has been scaled up to 1 lakh tests per day, it said. 

Starting with less than 100 COVID-19 tests per day just two months ago, a 1000-fold increase in just 60 days was made possible by dedicated teams from research institutions, medical colleges, testing laboratories, ministries, airlines and postal services working together, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said in a statement. 

In January, India had only one laboratory testing for COVID-19, at the Indian Council of Medical Research's National Institute of Virology, Pune. "Today there are 555 laboratories across the country, performing molecular tests for diagnosis of COVID-19 - an unparalleled achievement in the history of the Indian health system," the apex health research body said. -- PTI
10:38   Aarogya Setu app mandatory for air passengers
The Airport Authority of India on Thursday issued standard operating procedures (SOP) for airports for recommencement of domestic flights. It said the Aarogya Setu app is mandatory for all passengers except children below 14 years of age.

Passengers must compulsorily walk through thermal screening zone on city side before entering the airport terminal building, the AAI said.

Airport operators must make appropriate arrangement for sanitisation of passengers' baggage before entry into the terminal building, the AAI said. 

Take a look at the SOPs alongside. 
10:28   Man stranded at Delhi-Ghaziabad border finally boards train
As his father's health worsened, Mohammad Shamshad, 28, made all efforts to rush back to his village in Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh. But he found all roads that could take him home blocked at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border. Sitting under a flyover on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border on Wednesday afternoon, Shamshad broke down after he received a call from his mother and sister-in-law that his father was no more. 

Working as a weaver in an exports company in Haryana, Shamshad received a call from his mother two days back, informing him his father was critical. She asked him to rush back home. 

His 65-year-old father Mohammad Salaam had been an asthma patient. Shamshad immediately left his house in Kapashera area in southwest Delhi with his wife and four-year-old son early morning in a rented car. When he reached the Anand Vihar Interstate Bus Terminal, the police stopped him and asked him to go back. 

"I pleaded before them to allow me to go, but they did not relent," he said over the phone as he was travelling in a Shramik Special train. The police have been stopping the movement of migrant workers on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border as thousands have been making efforts to go back to their villages and towns. Undeterred, he tried to cross over to the other side again, but this time with the help of an auto driver, who charged him Rs 50 per person for the ride. But he and his family were dropped under the flyover and not in Ghaziabad. 

Helpless, he ran helter-skelter, pleading before people to help so that he can at least attend his father's funeral. By then his plight had been captured by the media. 

Shamshad and his family later went to Ghaziabad bus stand from where buses were picking up migrant labourers who were to be ferried to the Ghaziabad Railway station. By evening, he managed to board a Sharmik train that could drop him to Hardoi. "I can now at least the last rites of my father," he said. -- PTI
10:25   India's UN rep takes charge
TS Tirumurti assumes office as India's Permanent Representative to the UN. "Privileged to take over yesterday as Permanent Representative of India to the UN in New York. During these COVID-19 times, I was the second Ambassador/ PR to UN to present virtual credentials! ⁦@MEAIndia
⁩ ⁦@DrSJaishankar."

Tirumurti takes over from Syed Akbaruddin. 
A sr citizen Covid patient defies odds and recovers
A sr citizen Covid patient defies odds and recovers
09:51   Covid-19 infected elderly patients on ventilators have low survival rates: Report
Most people in their advance age, especially among those who are infected by the novel coronavirus and are suffering from some underlying disease such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, have lower rates of survival, even if they are put on ventilators, a study said.

The Washington Post cited the study, published in the Lancet, on Tuesday, saying that most elderly Covid-19 patients put on ventilators at two New York hospitals did not survive.

"We had no idea how horrific this would be," Max O'Donnell, the senior author of the study and a pulmonologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, was quoted by the Post. "Definitely not just the flu," he added.

The research focused on 257 critically ill adults, representing a little under one-quarter of the confirmed coronavirus patients admitted at the two hospitals in northern Manhattan between March 2 and April 1. The median age of critically ill patients was 62 years, and two-thirds of them were male.

Of the critically ill patients studied, 39 per cent had died by April 28, and 37 per cent remained hospitalised at Milstein and Allen hospitals.

No critically ill patients under the age of 30 died at the two hospitals, O'Donnell said, and only a small number of them had to be put on ventilators. But more than 80 per cent of people over 80 who went on a ventilator did not survive, he said.

That fact, he said, should be shared with elderly patients and their family members when trying to decide whether to use the invasive procedure to treat severe illness associated with covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"It's a difficult conversation, obviously," O'Donnell said further.In the second finding, the study also said that discharge and mortality rates for the most critically ill patients have varied widely among hospital systems.

Doctors told the Post that mortality rates -- which range from 50 per cent to 97 per cent in published studies -- probably reflect different regions' demographics and the varied treatment practices in the early days of the outbreak when doctors were writing and rewriting treatment protocols on the fly almost every day.

"The mortality rate [for patients on ventilators] creeps up to 70 per cent when you're over the age of 70," Thomas McGinn, deputy physician in chief at Northwell Health, said Tuesday, told the Lancet.

"If your mom's 85 and not well, they should know what the potential is for surviving before they have a ventilator placed," he added.  -- PTI
09:46   Sydney-Delhi flight takes off
The first special Air India flight from Sydney to New Delhi, under Vande Bharat Mission took off today with 224 Indians onboard, says the High Commission of India in Australia. 

No social distancing observed. Middle seats have not been left empty. 
09:41   Amphan weakens to cyclonic storm, centred over Bangladesh: IMD
The "super cyclonic storm" Amphan has moved north-northeastwards with a speed of 27 kilometres per hour during the past six hours, further weakened into a "cyclonic storm" and lay centred on Thursday over Bangladesh.

"The super cyclonic storm 'Amphan' moved north northeastwards with a speed of 27 kmph during past 6 hours, further weakened into a cyclonic storm and lay centred today at 5.30 am over Bangladesh near Lat. 24.7N and Long. 89.5E about 270 km north-northeast of Kolkata, 150 km south of Dhubri and 110 km south-southeast of Rangpur (Bangladesh)," stated IMD Bhubaneswar in a bulletin.

"It is very likely to continue to move north-northeastwards and weaken further into a deep depression during next 3 hours and into a depression during subsequent 6 hours," IMD added.

It has also issued a heavy rainfall warning for Assam and Meghalaya stating that light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at isolated places very likely over the western districts of Assam and Meghalaya on May 21.

"Squally wind, speed reaching 30 to 40 kmph gusting to 50 kmph very likely over Meghalaya and West Assam during next 12 hours," it stated.Meanwhile, at least seven people were killed as cyclone Amphan made landfall along the coastline of India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, reported Dhaka Tribune. -- ANI
09:39   Maha: Rs 2,000 fine for violating lockdown rules in Washim
The Washim district administration in Maharashtra has decided to impose a penalty of Rs 2,000 on those not following the home quarantine norms upon their return from other places and Rs 500 for spitting and not wearing masks in public places. The decision has been taken in the wake of complaints that people who returned to Washim recently were not following the home quarantine rules,an official statement said. 

The fourth phase of lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 will be in force till May 31. 

"Complaints have been received regarding people who returned to the district recently not observing the home quarantine norms instruction. Hence, district collector and disaster management authority head Hrishikesh Modak has ordered to recover Rs 2,000 from those violating the home quarantine rules, the statement issued on Wednesday said. Violation of rules repeatedly will lead to registration of offences under the Indian Penal Code Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and the Epidemic Diseases Act, the statement said. 

"Modak has also asked to recover Rs 500 from those spitting and not wearing masks in public places," the statement said. The rights of collecting fines have been given to officials/staffers of revenue, police and health departments, besides those from municipal councils and gram panchayats. Modak has instructed the village and ward-level committees, appointed to keep a tab on those returning to the district, to be more vigilant. 

As of Wednesday, Washim, which is located in the states Vidarbha region, reported eight COVID-19 cases, according to official figures. The district has not reported any death so far due to the disease. Maharashtra till Wednesday reported 39,297 coronavirus cases and 1,390 deaths due to the disease -- highest by any state in the country. -- PTI
09:23   Spike of 5,609 Covid cases, 132 deaths in 24 hrs
Corona numbers are in and the rise continues. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reports a spike of 5,609 COVID-19 cases and 132 deaths in the last 24 hours. The total number of cases in the country now at 1,12,359, including 63,624 active cases and 3435 deaths. 
08:56   Amphan fury leaves 12 dead, power outage in WB
Update on Cyclone Amphan: Extremely severe cyclone Amphan has left 12 persons dead and ravaged Kolkata and several parts of West Bengal as it left behind a trail of destruction by uprooting trees, destroying thousands of homes and swamping low-lying areas of the state. 

While a man and a woman were killed when trees came crashing down on them in North 24 Parganas district, a 13-year-old girl died in a similar incident in adjoining Howrah, officials said. Three persons were killed in Hooghly and North 24 Paraganas districts due to electrocution, they said. A woman and her seven-year-old son were killed in the Regent park area of Kolkata after a tree fell on them, the officials said. They said a person was killed in Kolkata after being hit by a flying object during the storm. 

Senior state officials said it was too early to estimate a toll on life or damage to property as the hardest hit areas were still not accessible. 

Packing heavy rain and winds with speeds of up to 190 kmph, extremely severe cyclone Amphan slammed Digha coast of West Bengal at 2.30 pm on Wednesday, triggering heavy rainfall and gustings in various parts of the state. 

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been monitoring the situation at state secretariat Nabanna since Tuesday night, said the impact of Amphan was "worse than coronavirus". 

The cyclone barrelled through coastal districts of North and South 24 Paraganas of Bengal, unleashing copious rain and windstorm, blowing away thatched houses, uprooting trees, electric poles and swamping low lying towns and villages, officials said. Strong winds with speed up to 125 kmph per hour upturned cars in Kolkata and felled trees and electricity poles blocking important roads and intersections. 

Reports arriving in Kolkata from North and South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore said roofs of thatched houses were blown away, electric poles got twisted and hundreds of trees broken and uprooted. 

There was power outage in large parts of Kolkata, North 24 Paraganas and South Paraganas. The mobile and internet services were also down as the cyclone had damaged several communication towers. Streets and homes in low lying areas of Kolkata were swamped with rainwater. 

Portions of several dilapidated buildings came crashing down in Kolkata and other parts of the state. Embankments in Sundarban delta - a UNESCO site - were breached as the surge whipped up by the cyclone inundated several kilometers of the Island. TV footage showed gigantic tidal waves crashing into a seawall in Digha and Sunderban region. 

Thick sheets of rain blurred the state's coastline as surging waters engulfed mud-and-thatch houses, flattening them in a trice. Heavy machinery was moved in to clear the roads blocked by falling trees. More than five lakh people have been evacuated to safety by the state government. -- PTI
08:51   Buses carrying migrants leave Delhi-Ghazipur border
Buses carrying migrants left for various states from Delhi-Ghazipur border on Wednesday night. A passenger, Ramdev Sharma said, "I am going to Jharkhand and have paid Rs 4,000 as bus charge. "The driver of a bus, Santosh said, "I think more people have boarded the bus than required according to norms of social distancing. I have not yet received instructions on how many people can board the bus. When I get it, I will accordingly ask some of them to get down."

Buses bound for Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and West Bengal have been stationed at Delhi-Noida and Delhi-Ghazipur borders since Monday to ferry migrants stranded in the national capital to their homes.

All these buses have been given the approval to operate by the Delhi government and have the Delhi government passes.The fourth phase of the nationwide lockdown began on Monday. The Centre issued a notification in this regard on Sunday, extending the curbs for two more weeks, till May 31. -- ANI

Image: Many migrant workers are stranded at the Delhi-Ghazipur border. Pooja who belongs to Ghaziabad says, "I'm 7 months pregnant and have a 1.5-year-old child. I want to go home but police are not allowing us to move towards our home state."
08:39   Veggie shoppers screened at Okhla market
In news of Covid-19, police personnel were seen screening people arriving at the Okhla vegetable market in New Delhi, through infrared thermometer on Thursday. People had arrived at the market early on Thursday to make purchases. The national capital has reported total 10,554 COVID-19 positive cases so far, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. -- ANI
08:38   All through the night NDRF heroes cleared roads in Bengal
Road clearance and restoration work by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel are underway after extremely severe cyclonic storm Amphan hit West Bengal on Wednesday. "Severe cyclonic storm Amphan over Bangladesh and adjoining West Bengal coast moved north-northeastwards with a speed of 30 kmph during the past six hours. Very likely to continue to move north-northeastwards and weaken further into a deep depression during the next three hours," the India Meteorological Department stated.

NDRF Director-General SN Pradhan on Thursday shared on Twitter photographs of restoration work by NDRF personnel at various locations in West Bengal, including North 24 Parganas, Purba Medinipur, Howrah, Kolkata and South 24 Parganas.

Two persons were killed and 5,500 houses damaged in North 24 Parganas as cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal and left a trail of destruction in the state. Two persons sustained severe injuries. - ANI
08:23   Amphan loses speed, will weaken into depression
After wreacking havoc over West Bengal and Odisha, the severe cyclonic storm Amphan has moved north-northeast with a speed of 30 kmph over the past six hours. It is very likely to continue to weaken further into a deep depression during the next three hours, the IMD has said. 

Two persons were killed and 5,500 houses damaged in North 24 Parganas as Amphan hit West Bengal on Wednesday. Two persons sustained severe injuries. "5,500 houses have been damaged, two persons dead and two severely injured in North 24 Parganas," said a report by Bibek Vasme, Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) Basirhat, last evening.
07:52   Coronavirus cases breach 5 million-mark globally
Global coronavirus cases surpassed 5 million on Wednesday, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases globally.

It represents a new phase in the virus' spread, which initially peaked in China in February, before large-scale outbreaks followed in Europe and the United States.

Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week. Europe and the United States each accounted for just over 20%.

A large number of those new cases came from Brazil, which recently surpassed Germany, France and the United Kingdom to become the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind the United States and Russia.

Cases in Brazil are now rising at a daily pace second only to the United States.

The pandemic has claimed over 326,000 lives, though the true number is thought to be higher as testing is still limited and many countries do not include fatalities outside of hospitals. Over half of the total fatalities have been recorded in Europe.
01:31   Govt to start pan-India helpline for migrants
The government will soon start a pan-India helpline number for migrant workers to report their grievances, according to an official note.

The helpline, to be set up under the chief labour commissioner, will not be a toll-free number.

'Short code 14445 is allocated to office of chief labour commissioner (central) to set up a national helpline to be utilised for dealing with grievances or distress calls of migrant workers where calls of migrant workers from all-over India shall be attended at Delhi and be routed to the concerned regional control room to resolve the grievance,' DoT said in a short code allotment note on Tuesday.

It will be mandatory for all telecom operators to provide access to this number.

The helpline number will be 'metered service: called party pays' which means that charges will be incurred on calling 14445.

The Department of Telecommunications has also allocated 1930 and 1944 for emergency helpline.   -- PTI