India’s capital included in lockdown to curb virus spread

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A view of deserted the Bandra-Worli sea link over the Arabian Sea in Mumbai, India, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AP)
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People clap and bang pans from balconies in a show of appreciation to health care workers at a Chawl in Mumbai Sunday. (AP)
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Updated 23 March 2020

India’s capital included in lockdown to curb virus spread

  • Public transport suspended until March 31; officials say worst is yet to come
  • Shops shut their doors for the 14-hour curfew

NEW DELHI: To intensify efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country, India imposed a lockdown on 75 districts on Sunday, including the national capital New Delhi, and suspended all public transport and railway services until March 31.

“I request that all citizens become part of this nationwide campaign and make the fight against Corona a success,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday.
The decision was taken at a high-level meeting that was attended by chief secretaries from all 29 states and the central government in New Delhi on Sunday.
A Home Ministry official told the media after the meeting that given the escalating cases of coronavirus across the country “there is an urgent need to extend the restrictions on the movement of nonessential passenger transport including interstate transport buses till March 31, 2020.”
The move to shut down more than 75 worst-affected districts — such as Noida, Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, Patna in Bihar and Mumbai in Maharashtra to name a few — was taken on the same day as India began observing a 14-hour lockdown, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., to contain the spread of the virus which has recorded 324 cases this far, after the addition of 41 new infections on Sunday.
Two deaths were reported in the country on Sunday, taking the toll to six.
The death of a person in the eastern state of Bihar has created a sense of panic in the poor and densely populated state with the local government declaring a total lockdown until March 31.
“The state is on edge. The person who died on Sunday had returned from Qatar. The fear is that the virus might spread in the community. It would be catastrophic for a state where most of the districts lack basic medical infrastructure, “ Anup Kumar, a Patna-based doctor told Arab News.
On Friday, when the western state of Maharashtra announced a lockdown in some of its major cities, thousands of workers boarded trains for their home states in eastern India.
“The government should not have allowed the mass movement of people from one place to another when we know what a critical time this is. While the prime minister talks about social distancing; thousands of people were allowed to crisscross many states crammed in trains. Imagine what will happen to the rural community even if just a few of the travelers are infected with the virus,” Kumar said.
Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of infected cases at 74, followed by Kerala at 52, and national capital New Delhi at 27.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal warned people on Sunday that “the situation might get out of hand,” before announcing the closure of all metro services and public transport until March 31.
All flights to and from Delhi have also been suspended, while the borders of the national capital were sealed on Sunday night.

I request that all citizens become part of this nationwide campaign and make the fight against Corona a success.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister

Meanwhile, five states in India – Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Punjab – have also sealed their borders and declared a complete lockdown.
“India is going to be the next hot spot of this epidemic,” Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, a public health research organization based in Delhi, said.
Talking to the media in Delhi on Saturday he added that “density of the population makes the transmission of the disease easier in India and the country would be dealing with roughly about 300 million cases.”
Dr Naresh Trehan, of Gurugram-based Medanta hospital, said he had asked “the government to extend the nationwide lockdown or curfew for ten more days to contain the virus effectively.”
Meanwhile, the opposition Congress party on Saturday questioned the government’s approach to handling the virus.
In a statement, party president Sonia Gandhi said that “the government should provide financial support to workers, businesses and farmers and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”
The party also asked the government to test all suspected cases. “We must begin by testing all cases under surveillance and expand to all other symptomatic cases and those coming into contact with the ones testing positive,” she said.


Afghan robotics team builds COVID-19 ventilator

Updated 10 April 2020

Afghan robotics team builds COVID-19 ventilator

  • Team drew up its own product design and sent to MIT, Harvard University for approval

KABUL: A team of Afghan female robotics experts has developed a lifesaving ventilator, made from Toyota car parts, to help with the treatment of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients.

The girls, who won a medal in a global competition for creating a robot that could distinguish between contaminated and clean water, were invited by the governor of the western Afghan city of Herat to try and build a version of the medical device due to a desperate shortage of ventilators in the province.

The impoverished region of war-torn Afghanistan has recently witnessed a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The team, aptly named the Afghan Dreamers, initially tried to source parts from abroad for an advanced digital machine, but high costs and flight suspensions caused by the pandemic made shipments to Afghanistan impossible.

Undaunted, the innovative group looked for supplies closer to home, and came up with the idea of using parts from Toyota Corolla cars sourced from local bazaars.

Based on copies of modern ventilators produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, the team drew up its own product design and sent copies to MIT and Harvard University for approval.

“We had to be prepared for the worst situation because we do not have access to Amazon and other companies for online orders. So, it was best to use local devices we have in our country,” tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, who set up the team, told Arab News.

“We discussed our design with a professor from MIT, and sent it, based on the MIT prototype, using Toyota Corolla parts. He (the professor) was so surprised and wrote back to us saying that it was a clever design but would need to see if the system worked.

“What we are hoping, is that with the help of MIT we will be able to improve our model and make it ready for actual use by the end of May or June,” added Mahboob.

The prototype ventilator would have to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Afghan Public Health Ministry before the team could start producing more machines, said Dr. Mehdi Hadid, a member of the consultative board fighting the spread of COVID-19 in Herat.

“The machine (ventilator) will be able to supply a certain volume of oxygen and adjust the rate of respiration,” he told Arab News.

With acute shortages of electricity in many parts of the country, the ventilator can operate not only on mains supply, but also by battery and solar power, he said.

Afghanistan has 300 digital ventilators and hopes to buy more for its fight against the virus which has so far infected 484 people and claimed 15 lives.

The Afghan Dreamers’ locally made ventilator will cost around $400 and would mostly be used for emergency cases in remote areas where there were few clinics, said Farzana Nekpour, the team’s head of public relations.

“The current challenge for us is the risk of contracting the coronavirus by being in the workshop under one roof working on the design. We work very close together and there is no social distancing, so there is the chance of contamination despite us wearing masks and gloves,” she told Arab News.

Mahboob said that one of the main future challenges would be finding enough Toyota parts to produce more devices, as many shops and outlets were closing due to lockdowns imposed throughout Afghanistan. “But we have to find a means to help people and make this a successful project for our poor nation. It is vital.”

Entrepreneur Mahboob became one of Afghanistan’s first female chief executives at the age of 23. She set up a nonprofit organization to help young women to build digital literacy and has since been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

In 2017, the members of her all-female robotics team made international headlines when their US visas were rejected not long before they were due to travel to an international robotics competition in Washington, DC. After individual appeals to the US Embassy in Kabul failed, the group took to social media to air their grievances. The team’s plight received international attention and led to US President Donald Trump intervening on their behalf.

The team returned from the competition with a silver medal for “courageous achievement” won by their ball-sorting robot, designed to distinguish between contaminated and clean water.

Since returning home, the team has become an inspiration for women seeking higher education in male-dominated Afghanistan, where about 40 percent of women are literate.

Its other achievements include the development of a device to help farmers pick saffron, one of the country’s main industries, and the building of drones and robots for use in the mining sector.