28 January 2023
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As India continued to witness a trend of declining cases with 1.52 lakh fresh infections logged over the past 24 hours, the Supreme Court on Monday asked questions of the Centre over its COVID-19 vaccine procurement policy.

A special bench of justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindrabhat, questioning the need for mandatory registration on the CoWIN app for people to get vaccinated without keeping in mind the real ‘digital India’ situation, said policymakers must have an ear to the ground.

“You keep on saying the situation is dynamic but policy makers must have their ears on ground. You keep on saying digital India, digital India but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer, from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide,” the bench asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

Meanwhile, the Centre told states and Union territories that nearly 12 crore COVID vaccine doses will be available to them in June 2021, thus enabling them to ramp up inoculation.

In a review meeting held through video conferencing, the states and UTs were also exhorted to proactively increase engagement with private hospitals on COVID vaccinations and take up non-health facility based settings and nearer to home vaccination centres for the elderly and differently-abled. They were advised to constitute a dedicated team of 2-3 members to regularly coordinate with vaccine manufacturers and private hospitals for timely supplies of vaccine, a health ministry statement said.

In the meeting with administrators from states and UTs on the progress of vaccination, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan assured them that the Central Government will provide the states and UTs with the available buffer stock to urgently replenish their depleting supplies so that the vaccination drive continues at a steady pace, it said.

This, on the same day that reports emerged that the Centre is considering tweaking its vaccine strategy. As per Indian Express, the Centre plans to review the impact of its decision to extend the interval between doses of Covishield once it obtains data from a newly proposed vaccine tracking platform to be launched shortly.

The platform, which is to be linked to CoWin, will allow people to flag their worries after a shot, after which a district officer will follow up on the cases, NDTV reported. The data may help the Centre decide whether to approve a single-dose regimen for Covishield, sources told Indian Express. Data from the platform is slated to be analysed around August, sources further told the newspaper.

Mumbai eases restrictions

Also on Monday, the BMC eased restrictions in Mumbai as the city recorded 676 new COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths in the last 24 hours. The total recoveries in the city stand at 5,570 while there are 22,390 active cases, according to the latest update. Meanwhile, Maharashtra on Monday reported 15,077 new COVID-19 cases and 184 deaths.

Under the state’s ‘Break the Chain’ order, all shops selling essential items will be allowed to be open between 7 am and 2 pm from Monday till 15 June. Presently they are permitted to remain open between 7 am to 11 am. The order also permitted the distribution of non-essential items along with essential ones under e-commerce.

While shops selling non-essential items in the city will be allowed to stay open only on weekdays in such a manner that shops on the right side of the road will open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday while shops on the left side open on Tuesday and Thursday.

“Next week, the shops on the left side of the road will be open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the shops on the right will be open on Tuesday and Thursday,” the order stated, adding that the same arrangement will continue for the weeks ahead.

Lockdown extended in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand

Lockdown was extended in Bihar and Himachal Pradesh on Monday till May end while Uttarakhand too decided to continue with the COVID-induced curfew, as several states said that the restrictions have led to an improvement in the pandemic situation. The Nitish Kumar government extended till June 1 the lockdown that has been in force for nearly a month in Bihar.

“The lockdown has had a good impact and there has been a decline in the corona contagion. Hence, a decision has been taken to continue with the lockdown till June 01”, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar tweeted after chairing a high-level meeting convened to review the pandemic situation in the state. More than four lakh people have been infected and over 2,000 have lost their lives since April when the devastating second wave hit the state

The Uttarakhand government extended the COVID-19 related curfew period, which was to end on Tuesday morning, till 1 June. Himachal Pradesh government has extended the corona curfew in the state till May 31, an official spokesperson said. The decision to extend the curfew till six am on 31 May was taken in the state cabinet meeting chaired by the chief minister Jai Ram Thakur here on Monday, he added.

With the COVID-19 positivity rate coming down to less than five percent in five districts of Madhya Pradesh, the state government has allowed “restricted relaxations” in the corona curfew in those districts from Monday, a senior official said. On the basis of the experience in these districts, Jhabua, Alirajpur, Khandwa, Burhanpur and Bhind, a strategy for implementing a graded unlocking process will be considered from 1 June onwards, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Dr Rajesh Rajora told PTI.

The restricted relaxations have been allowed as the coronavirus positivity rate in these districts is less than five percent. The relaxations are applicable from May 24-31,” he said. All government offices in these five districts will be allowed to operate with 100 percent strength of officers and 25 percent strength of other employees. Shops of essential commodities will be opened for the entire day in these districts. The Chandigarh administration too decided to allow the opening of all shops, besides announcing to continue with night and weekend curfew in the city.

“All shops will be allowed to remain open from 9 AM to 3 PM,” said an official statement here. The decision was taken in the wake of declining COVID-19 cases and the demand by traders and shopkeepers who were suffering due to the closure of their shops. Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren said that the daily infection rate has declined by 50 percent but till a single death takes place in the state, the war against the second wave will not be over.

The government is making all efforts to save both “livelihood and life” and will soon decide on the lockdown which is scheduled to come to an end on 27 May, he said.

Also on Monday, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his counterparts in all non-BJP ruled states and requested them to make a “united effort” to demand the Centre to procure Covid-19 vaccines and distribute them at free of cost. The letter, amid shortage in supply of vaccines to fight the coronavirus pandemic, was written to the chief ministers of 11 states: Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

‘Decision on Class 12 exams in two days’

The government will take a final decision within the next two days on whether to conduct class 12 board exams amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court was informed on Monday.

Attorney General KK Venugopal told this to a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari which said if the Centre decides to depart from the last year’s policy, wherein the remaining board exams were cancelled due to the pandemic, then it must give tangible reasons for it.

“No issue. You take the decision. You are entitled to it. If you are departing from the policy of last year, then you must give tangible reasons for it,” the bench told Venugopal. Observing that the last year’s decision was taken after deliberations, the apex court said, If you are departing from that policy, please give us good reasons so that we can examine it. The bench was hearing a plea seeking directions to cancel the class 12 exams of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) amid the pandemic situation.

The apex court on 26 June, 2020 had approved the schemes of the CBSE and CISCE for cancellations of remaining board examinations scheduled from 1 to 15 July last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also approved their formula for assessment of examinees. During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing on Monday, the attorney general told the bench, “The government will take a final decision within the next two days. We are hoping that your lordships will give us time till Thursday (June 3) so that we can come back with the final decision.”

India’s economy contracts by 7.3 percent

India’s economy contracted by less-than-expected 7.3 percent in the fiscal year ended March 2021 after growth rate picked up in the fourth quarter, just before the world’s worst outbreak of coronavirus infections hit the country. The gross domestic product (GDP) in Asia’s third-largest economy grew by 1.6 percent in the January-March period, up from 0.5 percent in the previous quarter when India began pulling out of a steep pandemic-induced recession in the earlier six months.

GDP had grown by 3 percent in the January-March quarter in the previous year. The economy, which was facing a slowdown even before the pandemic broke out last year, contracted by 7.3 percent during April 2020 to March 2021 fiscal (FY21), weighed down by a nationwide lockdown that pummelled consumption and halted most economic activities.

This is the first full-year contraction in the Indian economy in the last four decades since 1979-80, when GDP had shrunk by 5.2 percent. The economy had grown by 4 percent in the previous 2019-20 fiscal. Prior to that, the GDP expanded by 8.3 percent in FY17 before slipping to 7 percent in the following fiscal and to 6.1 percent in 2018-19. According to data released by the National Statistical Office (NSO) on Monday, India’s real GDP contracted to Rs 135 lakh crore in FY21 (2020-21) from Rs 145 lakh crore at the end of March 2020.

Finally, the WHO on late Monday evening announced that it has assigned simple labels for key variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using letters of the Greek alphabet. These labels were chosen after wide consultation and a review of many potential naming systems. WHO convened an expert group of partners from around the world to do so, including experts who are part of existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts, researchers and national authorities.

WHO will assign labels for those variants that are designated as Variants of Interest or Variants of Concern by WHO. These will be posted on the WHO website. These labels do not replace existing scientific names (e.g. those assigned by GISAID, Nextstrain and Pango), which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research.

With inputs from PTI

Abdul Gh Lone