PM Modi tells Indians to save themselves from coronavirus as Delhi locks down

India is observing a 14-hour "people's curfew" called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to stem the rising coronavirus caseload in the country of 1.3 billion. (File/AP)
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Updated 23 March 2020

PM Modi tells Indians to save themselves from coronavirus as Delhi locks down

  • India has reported 415 cases of the coronavirus and seven deaths but health experts have warned that a big jump could be imminent
  • Modi said many Indians were not taking the lockdown seriously

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Streets were deserted in the Indian capital on Monday and office buildings shuttered as a lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus began and Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to stay at home and save themselves.
India has reported 415 cases of the coronavirus and seven deaths but health experts have warned that a big jump could be imminent, which would overwhelm the underfunded and crumbling public health infrastructure.
Modi said many Indians were not taking the lockdown seriously.
“Please save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously,” he said on Twitter.
The lockdown in the capital of more than 18 million people will last for the rest of the month.
Authorities banned gatherings of more than five people in several of India’s states including Maharashtra in the west, which has had the highest number of cases. They warned of legal action against people violating the ban.
In the financial hub of Mumbai, the state capital, suburban trains, which usually carry 8 million people a day, were suspended until the end of the month. Bus services were limited to people in essential services such as health care.
Newspapers canceled print runs in Mumbai after vendors refused to distribute them due to worry about the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year and has spread around the world.
Globally, cases exceed 325,000 with deaths topping 14,000.
Muhammed Nizam, who runs a small meat shop in an alley in Delhi’s Nizamuddin neighborhood, said supplies were falling and he had had to raise prices.
“The price of chicken had fallen earlier because people stopped buying it fearing the virus was being spread through it. But now I don’t have any chicken left, everything’s been sold,” he said.
Neighbouring Nepal ordered all land border crossings with India and China shut until March 29, saying thousands of people, most of them Nepali migrant workers, had crossed into Nepal in recent days from India, believing their homeland to be safer.
Nepal has reported only one case of the coronavirus.
“The closing of the border crossings is meant to ensure that no one infected with the virus crosses over to Nepal from India and China,” said Surya Thapa, an aide to Prime Minister K.P.Sharma Oli.
In Pakistan, the opposition-ruled southern province of Sindh began a lockdown including in the biggest city of Karachi, even though Prime Minister Imran Khan said he opposed such a sweeping measure because of the economic consequences for the poor.


Afghan robotics team builds COVID-19 ventilator

Updated 57 min 18 sec ago

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.