COVID-19: India Celebrates Dry Holi With Gulal; Impact on Economy & Some Opportunities
| Onkareshwar Pandey - Editor in Chief - CEO, IOP - 11 Mar 2020

The virus outbreak has not only affected the Indian economy adversely, but it provides Indian steel producers an opportunity to cater to the traditional Chinese markets where Indian steel mills are also present

Indian Observer Post

New Delhi, March 11, 2020: 

Almost a dry Holi, only with 'gulal', was celebrated in several states of India, massively subdued due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country as total cases of detected people rose to 62 so far.

The celebrations begin on Monday night; an 'effigy' of coronavirus was burnt during the festivities in Mumbai. On Tuesday, the festival of colors, Holi was celebrated in several states across the country amid the coronavirus scare as people exercised caution and avoided mass gatherings. While many chose to skip the celebrations altogether, some preferred small gatherings but without colours.

This was also because Prime Minister Modi had tweeted that “Experts across the world have advised to reduce mass gatherings to avoid the spread of COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. Hence, this year I have decided not to participate in any Holi Milan programme”.

In India, on 30 January 2020, Corona Virus was confirmed in a student who had returned from Wuhan University to Kerala. This was the first case of Covid-19 spread to India from China. There have since been a total of 62 confirmed cases in the country, with many of them having travel history either with Italy or the Middle East.

On 2 February, a second case was confirmed in Kerala; the individual traveled regularly between India and China. On 3 February, the third positive case was reported in Kasaragod, Kerala. The patient had traveled from Wuhan. All three have since recovered from the infection.

The Indian government began responding to the threat immediately. Protective measures were first applied in January and so far, screening wards have been set up in major cities in India.

For example, in Delhi, the Manesar camp is already monitoring those who have come from China. Ram Manohar Lohia, AIIMS and Safdarjung hospitals in the capital have also readied their isolation facilities. Two major private schools in Noida have been shut and many others have been issued advisory asking parents to keep their wards at home if they show symptoms of respiratory illnesses.

Despite the rising death toll, there have been no deaths in India. The health ministry said, “It is a good sign for India, which has managed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak better than many other countries around the globe. India has taken elaborate precautions along with higher security and better screening at all international airports.”

Till last month February 2020, India government focused on evacuations, review of protective measures, like screening for all passengers flying into India from abroad.

The Ministry of External Affairs Under Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Air India and the Indian Air Force have been successful in evacuating many Indian nationals and certain foreign nationals from the virus affected areas.

EVACUATIONS IN FEB 2020

The following evacuations were made by the Govt of India in Feb 2020.

•   On 1 February, India evacuated 324 people which included three minors, 211 students and 110 working professionals from the Wuhan region on its first Air India flight evacuation.

•   On 2 February, India evacuated a second Air India flight carrying 323 Indians and seven Maldivians from the Wuhan region.

•   On 27 February, Indian Air Force evacuated 112 people from Wuhan, which included 76 Indian nationals and 36 foreign nationals (23 nationals from Bangladesh, 6 from China, 2 each from Myanmar and Maldives and one each from South Africa, USA, and Madagascar).

•    India also provided 15 tonnes of medical assistance comprising masks, gloves, and other emergency medical equipment to China through the same IAF flight.

EVACUATIONS IN MARCH 2020

•          On 10 March, Indian Air Force's C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft evacuated 58 Indian pilgrims from Iran, the flight took off from Hindon Air Base, Ghaziabad on the evening of 9 March.

However, in March, due to rising cases of COVID-19 in India, the Govt of India started taking stricter measures to curb the spread the Coronavirus.

On 3 March 2020, the Indian government suspended the issuing of new visas and visas already issued for nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea, and Japan.

HIGH-LEVEL MEETING IN PMO

On 4 March, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Sh. P.K. Mishra chaired an inter-ministerial meeting to review preparedness and response on the corona virus issue. 

The meeting, attended by Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Secretaries of Ministries of Health, Civil Aviation, Information and Broadcasting, Shipping, Tourism, Chairman (Airport Authority of India), Secretary (Border Management), MHA and senior officials from Defence forces, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Niti Ayog and the Prime Minister’s Office, reviewed the pro-active measures taken so far, which have contained the spread of the virus in India, despite a big population and geographical proximity to the epicenter of the disease was appreciated by all.

In the meeting, the Union Government decided to further enhance the effectiveness of the steps taken by adopting a pan-government approach, in partnership with the states.

Two important changes to further enhance the level of preparedness, namely the introduction of universal screening at all international airports and sea-ports through use of thermal  imagery equipment as well as the mandatory filling of declaration forms of places visited by tourists and travelers returning from abroad were taken in this high-level meeting.

Ministry of Home Affairs was tasked to work closely with state governments, including relevant district administration officials, to ensure compliance with screening protocols at Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) on our land borders.

Decisions were also taken to rapidly implement opening of proper testing, isolation and quarantine facilities in various parts of the country, down to the district level, in partnership with the state governments. Ministries such as MHA, MoD, M/Railways and M/Labour would also seek to support and supplement the efforts of M/Health through use of their facilities and hospitals.

COMPULSORY SCREENING OF ALL

After this meeting, on 4 March 2020, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare formally announced compulsory screening of all international passengers arriving in India.

Earlier, only passengers coming in from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Nepal, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia were checked.

So far, 589,000 people have been screened at airports, over one million screened at borders with Nepal and around 27,000 were currently under community surveillance.

HEALTH MINISTRY’S WAR ROOM

The Union Health Ministry’s war room and policy-making team in New Delhi consists of the ministry's Emergency Medical Response Unit, the Central Surveillance Unit (IDSP), and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and experts from three government hospitals.

A cluster-containment strategy is mainly being adopted, similar to how India contained previous epidemics. 15 labs across India led by the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, are testing for the virus, with more labs being trained. NIV has shared two SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences with GISAID.

CLOSURE OF INTERNATIONAL BORDERS

•   On 9 March, Government of Mizoram sealed international borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar to prevent the spread of the virus.

•   Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has ordered the closure of Gate No. 1, Gate No. 2 at the border town of Moreh and other crossing points along the Indo-Myanmar border.

CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS

•   On 5 March, amidst a surge in fresh cases being confirmed in Delhi NCR, the Government of Delhi announced that all primary schools across Delhi would be shut until 31 March as a precaution.

•   On 7 March, primary schools in Jammu district and Samba district were closed down until 31 March after two suspected cases with "high viral load" were reported in Jammu.

•   On 9 March, district collector of Pathanamthitta district of Kerala declared three days long holidays for all educational institutions in the district.

•   On 9 March, Karnataka declared an indefinite holiday for all kindergarten and pre-primary schools in Bangalore.

•   The holiday was extended to all primary schools upto fifth grade after a confirmed case was reported in the city.

•   On 10 March, Kerala announced closure of all schools and colleges across the state until 31 March, with effect from 11 March

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON PUBLIC EVENTS

The spread of COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus has largely affected public gatherings, events, and celebrations.

On 6 March, the Border Security Force announced that the Wagah-Attari border ceremony would be conducted without any spectators as a precautionary measure, effective from 7 March.

The 21st IIFA Awards ceremony, which was scheduled to be held in Indore on 29 March, was postponed indefinitely.

The India Fashion Week, scheduled to begin on 11 March in New Delhi was put off.

The 2020 ISSF World Cup, which was to commence on 15 March in New Delhi was postponed.

India's FIFA World Cup qualification match on 26 March against Qatar in Bhubaneswar was postponed.

Apart from the above mentioned a large number of public events have also been canceled or postponed due to Covid-19 in India.

Following the public health experts’ recommendation to avoid big public gathering India Government has decided that all Government departments and ministries shall consult the Ministry of Health before organising Conferences and international meetings in the country at present.

IMPACT ON INDIA’S ECONOMY

The trade impact of the coronavirus epidemic for India is estimated to be about 348 million dollars and the country figures among the top 15 economies most affected as the slowdown of manufacturing in China disrupts world trade, according to a UN report.

OECD has slashed India’s growth forecast for 2020-21 by 110 basis points to 5.1% due to the impact of the virus. India’s growth is forecast to recover in 2021-22 and grow at 5.6%, 80 bps lower than OECD’s estimate in November.

According to Bloomberg Economics, a Market Intelligence wing of Bloomberg News, “India's limited presence in global supply chain network could help India with only a marginal impact on its economy and could benefit from fall in global crude prices and fall in US treasury bond yields.”

If China's economy slows to 1.2 per cent in the January-March quarter, the GDP shock to India from the demand side could be about 0.4- 0.5 percent, the report said.

Moody’s last month slashed its India GDP growth projection for 2020 to 5.4% from its earlier estimate of 6.6%, as it reduced its global growth projection to 2.4%, holding that the outbreak has diminished optimism about prospects of an incipient stabilization of global growth this year. India’s economy slowed to an over six-year-low of 4.7% in December quarter, as manufacturing output continued to contract.

NEW OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIA

The virus outbreak has not only affected the Indian economy adversely, but it provides Indian steel producers an opportunity to cater to the traditional Chinese markets where Indian steel mills are also present, Ranjan Dhar, chief marketing officer at ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India Ltd., said to Economic Times. It is important to note that voyage time from India to these markets is equal or better than China. Thus, Steel mills in India are gearing up for an increase in demand from overseas buyers as the coronavirus  outbreak chokes supplies from China.

The virus crisis in China, which is the world’s largest steelmaker and accounts for more than half of global output, has crippled demand and led to record-high inventories of steel in the country, as migrant workers, who typically staff construction sites or drive trucks, are unable to return to work due to quarantine measures and movement restrictions.

There are opportunities in certain markets where China is not able to supply because Chinese ports are blocked and movement to the ports is also pretty impacted,” Jayant Acharya, director for marketing at JSW Steel Ltd, said to ET. Indian steelmakers could gain business from this month onward as supply gaps emerge in Southeast Asia, which is a big market for China, and the Middle East, he said.

According to the sources in Steel Ministry, Indian mills have been shipping out more steel this year as domestic demand remains sluggish amid the slowest economic expansion in more than six years. India’s exports of finished steel jumped 40% in the 10 months to January to 7.2 million tons. 

CORONAVIRUS DISEASE IN INDIA: APPROVED TREATMENTS

The Drug Controller General of India has granted approval to the Indian Council of Medical Research to use a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir in the event of the coronavirus disease in India turns into a public health emergency, reported the Economic Times.

HOAXES AND MISINFORMATION

Despite evidence to the contrary, a viral rumour spread online alleging that only people who eat meat were affected by a coronavirus, causing "#NoMeat_NoCoronaVirus" to trend on Twitter.

To curb these rumours and combat declining sales, some poultry industry associations held a "Chicken and Egg Mela" in Hyderabad. Several Telangana state ministers were in attendance and ate some of the free eggs and fried chicken being distributed at the event to show their support for the industry.

Some politicians like Swami Chakrapani and Suman Haripriya claimed that drinking cow urine and applying cow dung on the body can cure coronavirus.

WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan rubbished such claims and criticized these politicians for spreading misinformation.

XENOPHOBIA AND RACISM

An Indian Islamic cleric Ilyas Sharafuddin has said that “Allah unleashed Coronavirus on Chinese for persecuting Uighur Muslims”. Ilyas said in an audio address, that "the Chinese have threatened the Muslims and tried to destroy the lives of 20 million Muslims. Muslims were forced to drink alcohol, their mosques were destroyed and their Holy Book was burned. They thought that no one can challenge them, but Allah the most powerful punished them." Hubei is the epicenter of the virus and has reported 67,000+ confirmed cases.

RESTRICTIONS ON THE EXPORT OF CERTAIN MEDICAL EQUIPMENT TO CHINA

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a severe shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) and has called on manufacturers to urgently increase production to meet the growing demand as the novel coronavirus rapidly spreads across the globe. It is estimated that PPE supplies must be increased by 40% to meet requirements.

In line with this development, India has imposed "some restrictions" on the export of certain medical equipment to China in view of the shortage of supply in their country and the precautions are taken are in accordance with the World Health Organisation's (WHO) advisory for the coronavirus outbreak.

India has also restricted the export of about 26 Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and formulations including antibiotics, vitamins and hormones like Paracetamol, Tinidazole, Metronidaxole, Vitamins B1, B6, B12, and hormones like progesterone with immediate effect.

DO’S AND DON’TS

To disseminate information to the general public in a timely manner, including relevant advisories and Do’s and Don’ts, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was tasked to work closely with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Human Resource Development and NDMA. For this purpose, Ministry of Health has started a system of regular daily briefings by their spokesperson, so as to ensure access to real-time data for the public in a timely manner.

Ministry of Health is also coordinating the activation of a GIS mapping of ‘disease hotspots’ and availability of medical facilities, with NDMA, relevant agencies, and government departments. Ministry of Health briefed the meeting on the positive impact of a 24-hour medical help-line, operational across the country since 23rd January 2020, with ten dedicated telephone-lines, that has so far received over 6000 phone calls.

VISA RESTRICTIONS AND CONDITIONS FOR ENTRY INTO INDIA FROM CHINA

The Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has issued an official travel advisory for Indian nationals in which Indian citizens are advised to refrain from traveling to China while those who do, will be quarantined on return.

Existing visas (including an eVisa already issued) are no longer valid for any foreign national travelling from China. Visitors must contact the Embassy in Beijing or the Consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou to apply for a new Indian visa. Indian nationals in China have been advised to contact the Indian Embassy for assistance and information.

They are further advised to refrain from non-essential travel to the following countries:

•          Singapore

•          Republic of Korea

•          Islamic Republic of Iran

•          Italy

Further people coming from Republic of Korea, Iran, and Italy or those having a history of travel to these countries may be quarantined for 14 days on arrival to India and passengers from 12 countries are being screened, including those from Kathmandu, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

 (i)    All Visas issued to Chinese passport holders from mainland China (except for those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan)including Regular (sticker) as well as e-Visa issued prior to Feb 05, 2020, coming from anywhere in the world, have been suspended and are not valid for travel to India presently.

(ii)    No Chinese national , as well as other foreigners presently in China, are allowed to travel to India on existing Regular (sticker) visa or e-Visa, which was issued on or before Feb 05, 2020.  In case of compelling reasons to travel to India, such persons may get in touch with Embassy in Beijing or Consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou for a new Visa. Thus, visas issued to Chinese nationals on or after February 06, shall be valid for travel to India.

(iii)    The arrival of any passenger (except Indian nationals) from China into India is presently suspended unless such foreigner has acquired a fresh Visa from Indian Mission/ Consulate in China on or after Feb 06, 2020.

Such Chinese or other foreign nationals need to contact the Embassy in Beijing or Consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou or the concerned Indian Mission where they presently reside for new Visa, if they have compelling reasons to travel to India.

(iv)    Foreigners who have been to China on or after Jan 15, 2020, are presently not allowed to enter India from any Air, Land or seaport including Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bhutan, Indo-Bangladesh, Indo-Myanmar and Indo-Pak land borders.

(v)    These visas restrictions will not apply to Aircrew who may be Chinese nationals or other foreign nationals coming from China. 

(vi)    The restriction on travel is not applicable to the Chinese passport holders of HongKong, Macau and Taiwan.

    An exception to the categories of travelers mentioned above; the below-mentioned categories of Chinese Nationals are allowed to enter India:-

i.    Chinese Nationals holding Diplomatic, Service Passport.

ii.   Chinese Nationals working in United Nations (UN) bodies and other international bodies.

iii.    Chinese Nationals who are OCI cardholders.

iv.    These restrictions do not apply to Transit passengers from other countries who only transit through Airports in China.

The above mentioned exempted categories of Chinese nationals will not need to apply for Fresh Visa. Their existing visas would remain valid. However, all such Chinese nationals will be subjected to medical screening and may have to undergo quarantine on arrival in India, if they display any symptoms of Coronavirus.

According to Prof Santosh Kumar, Professor & Head of Governance, Policy Planning & Inclusive DRR, National Institute of Disaster Management (Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India), “India has a large number of the poor population. Economics of prevention is not in their favour. Poorest of the poor are highly exposed and they cannot afford prevention. One that they are bound to go out every day for earning their livelihood hence voluntary confinement will not work. Secondly, the suggested preventive measure N95 mask cost is INR 500-2500 in the market.

Sanitizer now scarce in the market is costing more than INR 200. If we assume, the average family size is 5 then the preventive cost of an individual family will be more than INR 6-8 thousand per week. Hence the probability of getting affected, in the absence of quarantine, is very high.

Ministry of Health guidelines released last week also do not provide any strategy for providing a preventive financial support system to the weaker sections. So, if it breaks out it would be difficult to stop.

Better economics is needed. Hence disaster preparedness measures should focus on them who have the high probability of getting affected.

State exchequer should also be planned to be spent more on quarantining them and their surroundings as they also do not have enough money or resources.” Image courtesy - Various from Twitter

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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post, and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANIhttp://bit.ly/2mh7hih)

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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANI. http://bit.ly/2mh7hih Email - SMS- 9910150119)


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