YouTube Tests TikTok Rival In India

YouTube Shorts feature in development by Google to rival TikTok
YouTube on Monday began testing a TikTok rival in India, saying it would refine its short video format and roll it out in more countries in the coming months.

YouTube Shorts made its debut as TikTok pursues a partnership with Oracle that it hopes will spare it from being shut-down in the US by President Donald Trump.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday confirmed a bid from Oracle concerning TikTok’s American operations after the video-sharing app’s parent ByteDance rejected a proposal from Microsoft.

But it remained unclear whether the venture would pass muster with Washington regulators.

“Shorts is a new short-form video experience for creators and artists who want to shoot short, catchy videos using nothing but their mobile phones,” YouTube vice president of product management Chris Jaffe said in a blog.

“Over the next few days in India, we’re launching an early beta of Shorts with a handful of new creation tools to test this out.”

YouTube Shorts videos are limited to 15 seconds, according to the Google-owned platform used by some 2 billion people worldwide.

Jaffe noted that Shorts will be modified based on user feedback before being made more broadly available.

TikTok’s brand of brief, quirky videos made on users’ cellphones has grown hugely popular.

But Trump’s claims that TikTok could be used by China to track US federal employees, build dossiers for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage has sparked a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing.

TikTok has rejected the charges and sued over the crackdown, contending that the US order was a misuse of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”

Trump effectively ordered the sale of the Chinese company’s US operations by September 20, after which the app would shut down.
-AFP

COVID-19 Cases In India Surpass Five Million

A health worker (C) wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit collects a swab sample from another health worker for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a testing centre in Siliguri on August 29, 2020. (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP)

 

Coronavirus infections in India soared past five million on Wednesday, as a WHO envoy warned the pandemic was “still at the beginning”.

Global cases are rapidly approaching 30 million, with more than 935,000 known Covid-19 deaths, the global economy devastated and nations struggling to contain outbreaks.

India, home to 1.3 billion people, has reported some of the highest daily case jumps in the world recently, as a World Health Organization special envoy described the global pandemic situation as “horrible” and “grotesque”.

“It’s much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics,” David Nabarro told British MPs on Tuesday.

“This is really serious — we’re not even in the middle of it yet. We’re still at the beginning of it.”

The spread of the virus has accelerated in some of the most populous parts of the world such as India, where the latest million infections were detected over just 11 days.

And some experts have warned that the total number of cases could be far higher in the vast nation, which has been easing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns recently despite the surge to help its reeling economy.

“People have lost their fear or are too tired (of) being cautious. They want to be out and earn a living right now,” Jayant Surana, a New Delhi-based entrepreneur, told AFP.

“Everything has now been left to god’s will.”

– Trump vaccine claim –

The United States remains the worst-hit nation in the world in terms of both infections and deaths, and President Donald Trump is under intense pressure over his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The Republican leader said Tuesday that a vaccine may be available within a month — an acceleration of even his own optimistic predictions.

“We’re within weeks of getting it, you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” Trump said during a town hall event broadcast on ABC News.

But experts are worried that world-renowned American institutions responsible for overseeing the approval and distribution of vaccines have become increasingly compromised by political pressure, and corners may be cut to get one ready before the presidential election in November.

There was also a bullish claim earlier this week from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, with an official telling state media that a China-developed vaccine could be ready for the public as early as November.

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said Tuesday the country aims to reach herd immunity through a voluntary coronavirus vaccine expected to be widely available by mid-2021.

– ‘We cannot bear this’ –

Many European countries had started to ease their restrictions after largely bringing outbreaks under control, but are faced with worrying spikes in infections again.

Denmark on Tuesday announced new restrictions, including shorter hours for bars and restaurants, new face mask requirements, and reduced crowds at football matches.

Referring to Europe, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan warned it was time to “stop looking for unicorns” and take hard decisions to protect the most vulnerable with a potentially deadly winter approaching.

That came as airlines ramped up pressure on the European Union to coordinate virus measures, demanding an end to quarantine “chaos” and access to reliable and quick testing.

Airlines have been hit especially hard by the pandemic as travel was severely restricted to control the virus. The UN said Tuesday the pandemic cost the global tourism sector $460 billion in the first six months of 2020.

The economic pain is even more acute in poorer parts of the world, such as Algeria, where the winemaking industry illustrates the devastation suffered by businesses during a virus lockdown, with livelihoods hanging by a thread.

“We cannot bear this,” lamented winemaker Dahmane Hamamouche.

If the crisis “carries on for more than another month or two, we won’t be able to hold out… we’re already finding it difficult to pay salaries.”

AFP

Spain, India Crash Through Coronavirus Milestones

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 1, 2020 a health professional works at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward where patients infected with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are being treated, at the Santa Casa hospital in Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. (Photo by Douglas MAGNO / AFP)

 

Spain passed the landmark figure of 500,000 coronavirus infections on Monday as India reopened some metro lines despite becoming the world’s second most affected country.

Spain had largely gained control over its outbreak by imposing one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, but infections have surged since the restrictions were fully removed at the end of June.

The country became the first in western Europe to hit the 500,000 mark — albeit with a far lower death rate and many more asymptomatic cases than were recorded during its previous peak in late March and early April.

“The situation is much more favourable but we remain in an upwards phase,” said health official Fernando Simon.

But the overall caseloads in European countries are dwarfed by India’s 4.2 million confirmed infections.

Nevertheless, economic necessity pushed the South Asian nation to risk reopening transport lines on Monday — metros began running again in the capital New Delhi after a five-month shutdown and 12 other cities also restarted subway services.

“For our lives to move on, we have to get out of our homes… so this is a good move by the government,” on commuter Deepak Kumar on the Delhi subway told AFP.

Passengers are obliged to wear masks, keep their distance and undergo temperature checks.

– ‘Like guinea pigs’ –
India leapfrogged Brazil to become the world’s second-hardest hit nation after the United States, with the virus having caused almost 890,000 deaths and more than 27 million infections worldwide.

As governments around the world have moved away from the idea of blanket lockdowns, countries in all continents have been experimenting with targeted measures to deal with infection spikes.

England fiddled with its overseas quarantine rules again on Monday, imposing restrictions on travellers from seven Greek islands popular with holidaymakers.

Morocco imposed a lockdown on Casablanca and shut schools on the day they were supposed to reopen after a surge in cases in the city.

Officials said the virus risked overwhelming the country if it was not controlled, but some parents were left fuming.

“They were on cloud nine over returning to school tomorrow,” wrote one father on Twitter. “How do you explain this to a six-year-old and an eight-year-old?”

In Spain, parental anger flowed in the other direction, with fears rising that schools were opening too soon with millions of pupils returning on Monday.

“Going back to school is being treated like an experiment, we’re like guinea pigs,” said Aroa Miranda, a 37-year-old mother-of-two.

France put seven more regions on a red list on Sunday after regularly recording daily infection rates of between 7,000 and 9,000 — although the figure fell dramatically on Monday.

Israel announced a “nightly closure” of 40 cities and towns with the highest infection rates with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepting the measures were not ideal but saying there was “no way to avoid them”.

– Olympic hope –
The coronavirus fallout continues to ricochet around the sporting world, with French footballer Kylian Mbappe the latest in a long line of footballers to test positive.

Many tennis players have also been infected, galvanising organisers of the French Open later this month to impose strict guidelines.

All players will be housed in two designated hotels “without exception” to reduce the risk, said tournament director Guy Forget, who also said far fewer spectators would be allowed to watch than initially planned.

Both tennis and football have seen their calendars ripped to shreds by the virus, but the biggest single casualty has been the Tokyo Olympics, which were due to take place this summer.

International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates offered a note of hope on Monday, saying the rescheduled Games would go ahead next year regardless of the pandemic.

“These will be the Games that conquered Covid, the light at the end of the tunnel,” Coates told AFP in an exclusive interview.

 

 

AFP

India Overtakes Brazil To Become Second Worst-Hit Country By COVID-19

Residents stand in a queue to register their names as a health worker (R) wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit collects a swab sample from a woman to test for COVID-19, at a primary health centre in Hyderabad on September 4, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP

 

India overtook Brazil on Monday as the country with the second highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, even as key metro train lines re-opened as part of efforts to boost the South Asian nation’s battered economy.

India has emerged in recent weeks as the new global pandemic hotspot, although cases continue to soar across the globe with reported infections worldwide nearing 27 million and deaths surpassing 880,000.

France, Israel and Australia were among the nations forced in recent days to extend travel restrictions or impose new ones to try and contain fresh surges.

India, home to some of the world’s most densely populated cities, has been reporting the highest single-day rises in the world and on Monday it confirmed a new record of nearly 91,000 new cases.

Health workers wearing Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) check the temperature and the oxygen level of an elderly resident during a COVID-19 coronavirus screening in the Dharavi slum, in Mumbai on August 11, 2020. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP)

 

India’s cases have now risen above 4.2 million, surpassing Brazil’s total and making it the second-highest tally behind the United States’ 6.25 million.

However, with India’s economy imploding following months of travel restrictions, authorities pressed on with risky reignition plans.

The metro in the capital of New Delhi began reopening on Monday after a five-month shutdown and 12 other cities began restarting subway services.

Authorities imposed strict rules on passengers, with masks, social distancing and temperature checks mandatory.

During peak hour in New Delhi on Monday morning, carriages were sparsely filled as people followed guidelines dictating that only alternate seats could be occupied.

For total deaths worldwide, the United States has the most with more than 188,000, followed by Brazil with 126,000. India is next with about 71,000 fatalities.

New European spikes

Britain is battling another spike, with the number of daily cases hitting nearly 3,000 on Sunday, a level not seen since late May, according to health ministry figures.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the latest sufferers were predominantly young people.

“It’s important that people don’t allow this illness to infect their grandparents and to lead to the sort of problems that we saw earlier in the year,” he said.

The British government said it would tighten local restrictions in areas showing sharp rises in cases rather than impose a second national lockdown for fear of its effect on the economy.

A pedestrian walks past a display of facemasks, being sold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Glasgow on September 2, 2020 after the Scottish government imposed fresh restrictions on the city after an rise in cases of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP)

 

In neighbouring France authorities placed seven more regions covering major cities including Lille, Strasbourg and Dijon on high alert Sunday as increases in infections accelerate.

Of the country’s 101 “departments”, 28 are now considered “red zones” where authorities will be able to impose exceptional measures to slow the virus if necessary.

The curbs come after France reported a record of nearly 9,000 daily cases on Friday, In Paris masks are now mandatory in all public spaces.

Lockdowns have also been imposed or extended Israel and Australia in recent days.

Israel decided Sunday to begin “a nightly closure” of 40 cities and towns with the highest infection rates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “educational institutions” would be closed and gatherings limited from Monday.

“I know these limitations are not easy, but in the current situation, there’s no way to avoid them,” Netanyahu said.

According to data collected by AFP, Israel has risen to fifth in the world for the number of infections per capita, ahead of Brazil and the United States.

In Spain, the government is trying to restart schools even as it records the highest number of new infections on the European continent.

Some Spanish parents are refusing to send their children back to class for the new school year despite the threat of sanctions from authorities.

“You have your whole life to learn, but if you lose your health, that’s it,” said Aroa Miranda, a 37-year-old mother-of-two in the coastal town of Castellon de la Plana.

“Going back to school is being treated like an experiment, we’re like guinea pigs… for my eight-year-old, I will pretend he’s ill so I don’t have to send him to school.”

 

 

AFP

Coronavirus Cases In India Exceed Four Million

A health worker wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit tests a swab sample for COVID-19 at a primary health centre in Hyderabad on September 3, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP

 

India has become the world’s third country to pass four million coronavirus infections, setting a new record daily surge in cases on Saturday as the crisis shows no sign of peaking.

The 86,432 new cases took India to 4,023,179 infections, third behind the United States which has more than 6.3 million, and just trailing Brazil on 4.1 million.

While the government has eased restrictions in a bid to revive the economy, India now has the world’s fastest-growing number of cases at more than 80,000 a day and the highest daily death toll at more than 1,000.

The country’s caseload has gone from three to four million in just 13 days, faster than the United States and Brazil.

The pandemic is now spreading through rural areas that have poor health facilities but is also resurging in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

Maharashtra state, which includes Mumbai, has been at the centre of the crisis in India since a nationwide lockdown was imposed in March. It still accounts for nearly a quarter of the new daily cases across the country of 1.3 billion.

Residents stand in a queue to register their names as a health worker (R) wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit collects a swab sample from a woman to test for COVID-19, at a primary health centre in Hyderabad on September 4, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP

 

Shamika Ravi, an economics professor and former government advisor who has closely followed pandemic trends in India, said that India is “nowhere close” to a peak and Maharashtra must become the “focus” of the campaign against the coronavirus.

“There is no controlling Covid-19 in India without controlling the outbreak in Maharashtra,” she said on Twitter.

“Given its economic significance, Maharashtra will continue to influence the spread of infection elsewhere in the country.”

AFP

India Bans 118 Chinese Apps In New Backlash Over Border Dispute

A man looks at the “PUBG Mobile” game, owned by Chinese internet giant Tencent, in the App Store on an Apple iPhone in New Delhi on September 2, 2020. – India on September 2 banned 118 Chinese apps as it stepped up economic hostilities over an increasingly bitter border showdown between the giant neighbours.  Jewel SAMAD / AFP.

 

India on Wednesday banned 118 more Chinese apps in a stepped-up backlash over an increasingly bitter border showdown between the giant neighbours.

The Information Technology Ministry said the apps — including the mobile version of the popular video game PUBG and other services provided by China internet giant Tencent — promoted activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

India and China have been embroiled in a series of deadly clashes and showdowns on their Himalayan border in recent weeks.

In June, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand combat in the Ladakh region of the border. An Indian special forces member was killed in one of two incidents at the weekend.

China has also suffered casualties but has not given figures.

India had already banned 59 Chinese apps — including the video-sharing platform TikTok — after the June battle.

The PUBG mobile phone app has millions of young users in India.

Other apps closed down include games, online payment services, dating sites and even software to edit selfies.

PUBG was developed by a South Korean company, but the mobile version that has taken off around the world was developed by Tencent.

The IT ministry accused the apps of stealing user data.

The “mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures”, it said.

AFP

Indian Soldier Killed In Border Showdown With Chinese Troops

china-india
FILE: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir on June 17, 2020.  Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP

 

A Tibetan-origin soldier with India’s special forces was killed in the latest border showdown with Chinese troops on their contested Himalayan border, a Tibetan representative said Tuesday.

The death is the first reported from two incidents in 48 hours on the border which has heightened tensions between the giant nations just two months after a battle that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.

India and China, which fought a border war in 1962, have accused each other of seeking to cross their unofficial frontier in the Ladakh region in a bid to gain territory on Saturday night, and then again on Monday.

Neither side has announced any casualties but Namghyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile, told AFP that the Tibetan-origin soldier was “martyred during the clash” on Saturday night.

She said another member of the Special Frontier Force that reportedly includes many ethnic Tibetans who oppose China’s claim to their home region was wounded in the operation.

“Provocative military movements”

The world’s two most populous countries have sent tens of thousands of troops to the region since a brutal June 15 battle fought with wooden clubs and fists.

India has said 20 troops were killed. China acknowledged casualties but did not give figures.

The two sides blamed each other for the latest incidents.

India’s defence ministry said Chinese troops “carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo” at the border on Saturday.

China’s People’s Liberation Army said that India was “seriously violating China’s territorial sovereignty” with its operation staged Monday and demanded that Indian troops withdraw.

In this handout photograph taken on July 3, 2020 and released by the Indian Press Information Bureau (PIB), India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) walks with military commanders as he arrives in Leh, the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh. - Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to India's northern frontier region with China on July 3 in his first trip to the area since a deadly border clash last month. (Photo by Handout / PIB / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Indian Press Information Bureau"
In this handout photograph taken on July 3, 2020 and released by the Indian Press Information Bureau (PIB), India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) walks with military commanders as he arrives in Leh, the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh.  (Photo by Handout / PIB / AFP) / 

 

India’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that China had caused the latest incident “even as ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation.”

Indian media reports, quoting military sources, said PLA forces tried to take hilltops traditionally claimed by India around Pangong Tso, a lake at 4,200 metres (13,500 feet) altitude.

India’s defence ministry said its troops “undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground.”

The Business Standard newspaper said that the SFF had been used to take heights that China considers its own. The Indian government does not comment on the special force’s operations.

Amid calls for boycotts of Chinese goods, India has stepped up economic pressure on China since the June battle and repeatedly warned that relations would suffer unless its troops pull back.

India has banned at least 49 Chinese owned-apps, including the TikTok video platform, frozen Chinese firms out of contracts and held up Chinese goods at customs posts.

 

 

AFP

Ex-India President And Political Fixer Mukherjee Dies At 84

In this file photo taken on June 3, 2015, the then India’s President Pranab Mukherjee listens to his Belarus’ counterpart during a signing ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Minsk. SERGEI GAPON / AFP

 

Former India President Pranab Mukherjee, a veteran powerbroker once described in leaked US diplomatic cables as “the ultimate Congress Party fixer”, died Monday at the age of 84, his family said.

He died of multiple organ failure after being admitted to the hospital weeks ago, having also contracted coronavirus.

The Bengal-origin politician was a protege of former premier Indira Gandhi and was a member of her cabinet when she suspended democratic rights in the infamous “Emergency” of 1975-77.

Mukherjee’s star waned after Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 when he was a rival to her son and heir Rajiv Gandhi for the leadership of the Congress party.

He briefly broke away from Congress, but after Rajiv Gandhi was killed in 1991 his political fortunes revived.

He became Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s right-hand-man during his decade in power from 2004-14, serving as defence, foreign and finance minister, winning a cross-party reputation as a skilled negotiator.

However, Mukherjee’s performance as finance minister was criticised for his failure to push through economic liberalisation measures.

In 2012 he moved away from active politics and assumed the largely ceremonial role of president, serving a five-year term until 2017.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, from the arch-rival nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said Mukherjee “left an indelible mark on the development trajectory of our nation.

“A scholar par excellence, a towering statesman, he was admired across the political spectrum,” Modi said on Twitter.

Current president Ram Nath Kovind called Mukherjee “a colossus in public life” who served India “with the spirit of a sage”.

AFP

India Economic Growth Hit By Record Slump After COVID-19 Lockdown

People walk at the sea front after the government eased a lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai on June 8, 2020. – Malls and temples re-opened in several cities across India on June 8 despite the country recording a record daily number of new coronavirus infections, with the pandemic expected to ravage the country for weeks to come. (Photo by Punit PARANJPE / AFP)

 

India’s economic growth suffered a historic 23.9 percent decline between April and June, official figures showed Monday, as manufacturing and productivity were battered by a strict coronavirus lockdown.

The contraction was the biggest since New Delhi started publishing quarterly statistics in 1996, and the latest figures came as the country’s coronavirus cases surged past the 3.6 million mark.

The steep dip in Asia’s third-largest economy reflected the impact of a months-long nationwide shutdown that saw most industrial and manufacturing activity grind to a halt.

The virus restrictions dealt a severe blow to an economy that was already struggling with a protracted slowdown through 2019, hit by the twin shocks of shrinking consumer demand and rising unemployment levels.

The decline was worse than expected, with a survey of economists by Bloomberg earlier predicting a contraction of 18 percent.

On Monday the government warned that the figures could be revised further since the pandemic had also affected the ability to collect accurate data on economic activity.

“The entire quarter was spent in lockdown and it was a complete washout for the Indian economy,” Mumbai-based economist Ashutosh Datar told AFP.

He added that the clouds of gloom were unlikely to lift “for the next few quarters”.

“We started publishing quarterly growth figures only from 1996 and this is the worst quarterly performance on record ever since,” he said.

The sudden shutdown from late March prompted a huge exodus by millions of migrant workers who fled cities for their villages due to a lack of food and money.

Many have yet to return even as restrictions have eased, leaving factories struggling with labour shortages.
– Bleak outlook –

“This is a health crisis that has metamorphosed into an economic crisis,” State Bank of Baroda chief economist Sameer Narang told AFP.

“Manufacturing, trade, construction, transport and communication have all suffered.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a $266 billion package — 10 percent of the country’s GDP — to revive the battered economy, while India’s central bank has slashed interest rates and transferred billions of rupees in annual dividends to the government.

But the measures have yet to yield any positive economic impact or spur a pick-up in demand, while inflation has jumped to over six percent — far above the bank’s target range of four percent.

Rising inflation and unemployment have sharply hit demand, analysts said, underlining the need for the government to act quickly to jumpstart the economy.

“We have ample reasons to be pessimistic about demand as there is a huge… job and income loss so demand will not (return) rapidly,” said Sujan Hajra, a Mumbai-based economist with Anand Rathi securities.

“The Modi government has to come forward with some form of fiscal stimulus urgently to help economic recovery.”

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections have hit new records across the country. India on Monday reached almost 65,000 virus deaths, overtaking Mexico as the world’s third-highest fatality toll behind the United States and Brazil.

The nation of 1.3 billion also has the third-highest number of infections worldwide.

The lockdown has failed to contain the spread of the disease which has travelled from crowded cities to remote villages where access to healthcare remains a huge issue.

AFP

India Sets New World Record With 78,761 COVID-19 Cases In One Day

A health worker (C) wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit collects a swab sample from another health worker for Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a testing centre in Siliguri on August 29, 2020. (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP)

 

India on Sunday set a coronavirus record when it reported 78,761 new infections in 24 hours — the world’s highest single-day rise — even as it continued to open up the economy.

Home to 1.3 billion people, India is already the world’s third-most infected nation with more than 3.5 million cases, behind the US and Brazil.

It has also reported more than 63,000 deaths, according to the official health ministry toll.

The US set the previous record on July 17 with 77,638 daily infections, according to an AFP tally.

In his regular monthly radio address on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not comment on the milestone but called on Indians to observe health safety measures.

“It is important that every citizen is healthy and happy and we defeat coronavirus completely together,” Modi said in Hindi.

“Corona(virus) can only be defeated when you remain safe, when you fulfil the resolve of keeping a safe distance of two yards and wearing masks.”

Experts warn that while a ramp up in testing in recent months was encouraging, more needed to be done to capture the scale of the pandemic in the world’s second-most populous nation.

The virus has badly hit megacities such as financial hub Mumbai and the capital New Delhi, but is now also surging in smaller cities and rural areas.

– Low testing rates –

“Testing per million in India at 30,000 remains the second lowest in top 10 (virus-infected) countries. Mexico is lowest at about 10,000,” virologist Shahid Jameel, who heads the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, told AFP Sunday.

“We are still finding one positive in every 11 to 12 tests. This number should be one in 20 simply and means that testing is still sub-optimal and the outbreak is growing.”

Doctor Hemant Shewade, a Bangalore-based community medicine expert, added that India also needed to focus on reducing deaths — the fourth-highest in the world according to a tally by John Hopkins University.

Health workers wearing Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) check the temperature and the oxygen level of an elderly resident during a COVID-19 coronavirus screening in the Dharavi slum, in Mumbai on August 11, 2020. INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP.

 

The government collects fatality numbers from positive cases but not from suspected infections, raising concerns among scientists that the true picture of the epidemic is not being reflected in the official toll, he said.

“It is a small subset like the tip of the iceberg,” Shewade, who has been analysing India’s official toll data, told AFP of the government’s decision to focus only on positive cases recorded within the official health system.

“We should develop mechanisms to capture suspected Covid-19 deaths… Even after doing this, a continuous triangulation of data with routine death surveillance should be done at district levels and state levels.”

The daily case record came a day after the government further eased its coronavirus lockdown, in place since late March, to boost the struggling economy.

Millions have lost their jobs since the start of the lockdown, with the poor particularly hard hit.

The Home Affairs Ministry said gatherings of up to 100 people would be allowed with face masks and social distancing at cultural, entertainment, sports and political events from next month.

Metro train services would also resume “in a graded manner” in major cities.

Schools remain closed but students can meet teachers on a voluntary basis on school premises if needed, according to the new guidelines.

AFP

One Dead, Over 70 Trapped As Five-Storey Building Collapses In India

 

Rescue workers search for people in the rubble of a five-storey apartment building after it collapsed in Mahad on August 24, 2020. Pritam SAKPAL / AFP

 

One person was killed and dozens feared trapped after a five-storey apartment building collapsed late Monday in western India, officials said, with a local legislator warning that the number could be as high as 200.

The structure comprised 47 flats, police in the town of Mahad — 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Mumbai — said in a statement.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear but building collapses are common during India’s June-September monsoon, with old and rickety structures buckling under the weight of non-stop rain.

Three rescue teams, armed with specialised equipment and sniffer dogs, had been deployed to the scene of the accident, a statement from India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said, with Home Minister Amit Shah tweeting that he was “praying for everyone’s safety”.

NDRF spokesman Sachidanand Gawde told reporters that emergency workers had retrieved the body of one victim, while Mahad police said at least 70 people were believed to be trapped under rubble.

“Fifteen injured people have been rescued and taken to hospital,” the police said in a statement.

 

Rescue workers search for people in the rubble of a five-storey apartment building after it collapsed in Mahad on August 24, 2020.  Pritam SAKPAL / AFP

 

Local residents and police combed through tin sheets, metal rods and other wreckage in a desperate search for survivors as ambulances ferried victims to nearby hospitals.

Mahad legislator Bharat Gogawale told the local TV9 Marathi channel that early estimates seemed to suggest that “over 200 people are stuck inside”.

“Our primary goal is to rescue as many people as possible who are trapped under the debris”.

“We cannot yet ascertain the reason for the collapse”, he added.

– ‘Scary situation’ –

Local politician Manik Motiram Jagtap told the channel that the structure was 10 years old and built on “weak” foundations.

“It fell like a house of cards,” Jagtap said.

“It is a scary situation.”

As night fell, emergency workers used cranes to try and remove the rubble as relatives anxiously waited for news of their loved ones.

The office of Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister of Maharashtra state, where Mahad is located, said on Twitter that he had been in touch with local representatives in the area.

“He has assured them that all possible support will be extended for speedy rescue and relief works,” the tweet said.

The monsoon plays a vital role in boosting agricultural harvests across South Asia. But it also causes widespread death and destruction, unleashing floods, triggering building collapses and inundating low-lying villages.

The death toll from monsoon-related disasters this year has topped 1,200, including more than 800 lives lost in India alone.

The accident brings yet more bad news for Maharashtra, which has already been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with the state accounting for over a fifth of India’s more than three million infections.

The pandemic has also cast a shadow on the ongoing Ganesha Chaturthi festival, with Hindu devotees ordered to sharply scale down celebrations and rituals honouring the much-loved elephant god in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.

AFP

Bollywood’s Bachchan Back At Work As India Relaxes On-Set Rules

A photo of Bollywood megastar, Amitabh Bachchan.

 

Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan is back at work filming India’s version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” following a bout of COVID-19, while authorities eased coronavirus curbs on movie and TV shoots.

A blanket ban on studio activity in March dealt a huge blow to India’s cinema and TV industries, hitting not just Bollywood — the world’s most prolific film factory — but also regional movie-making hubs and productions for television and streaming platforms.

In June shooting was allowed again but with strict rules, including a ban on actors and crew aged over 65 — including Bachchan, 77 — until a court overturned that earlier this month.

Late Sunday the government eased the regulations but still insisted that common facilities be regularly sanitised, masks worn and social distancing “followed as far as possible”.

But the relaxation depends on individual Indian states, and Maharashtra, home to Mumbai and Bollywood and responsible for more than a fifth of India’s virus cases, is sticking to the old rules for now.

“We are careful and will review these decisions based on how the pandemic is evolving in the state,” a spokesman for the state government told AFP.

Shows such as “Kaun Banega Crorepati?” for instance, which Bachchan has hosted as quizmaster since 2000, will not be shot before a studio audience.

The veteran star, who spent much of July in a Mumbai hospital, shared a photo with his 22 million Instagram followers of crew members “in a sea of blue PPE”, wearing full-body overalls and face masks.

Maharashtra authorities have sought to combat the spread of infections by banning producers from filming elaborate dance numbers and fight sequences — a staple of popular Hindi cinema.

Social-distancing norms also put a stop to kissing or embracing, meaning a return of styles from the more conservative 1980s, when Bollywood songs often cut to images of flowers brushing against each other — then a shorthand for romance.

In addition to providing crew members with medical and life insurance, producers in Mumbai are required to have a doctor, nurse and an ambulance on set.

Members of the Bachchan dynasty have been among the country’s highest-profile coronavirus patients.

The superstar, his actor son Abhishek, actress daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, and granddaughter Aaradhya were all admitted to hospital last month. All four have since been released.

AFP