India considers narrowing lockdown to coronavirus hotspots

India considers narrowing lockdown to coronavirus hotspots
The sweeping lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 ends on April 14. (AP)
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Updated 08 April 2020

India considers narrowing lockdown to coronavirus hotspots

India considers narrowing lockdown to coronavirus hotspots
  • Sweeping lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 ends on April 14
  • ‘To manage coronavirus, we are working on a cluster containment strategy’

NEW DELHI: India is considering plans to seal off coronavirus hotspots in Delhi, Mumbai and parts of the south while easing curbs elsewhere as a way out of a three-week lockdown that has caused deep economic distress, officials said on Wednesday.
The sweeping lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, ends on April 14 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to take a decision this week on whether to extend it.
Scenes of poor migrant workers and their families walking long distances on empty highways to their homes in the countryside have increased the pressure on Modi to re-open parts of Asia’s third largest economy.
More than 80 percent of the positive cases of the coronavirus have been traced to 62 districts — less than 10 percent of India’s landmass — according to government data.
These are concentrated in the western state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital Mumbai, Delhi and the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Kerala.
Many parts of the country have not reported a single case.
Such a skewed geographical spread strengthens the case for a more targeted approach under which the affected area and its neighboring district will be cordoned off, health officials said.
“To manage coronavirus, we are working on a cluster containment strategy,” said Health Ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal, leading the effort to tackle the outbreak.
He said such measures were already in place in east Delhi, Agra and in the textile town of Bhilwara in western Rajasthan state which has now become a test case for a more targeted fight against the disease.
Under the “Bhilwara model,” which was adopted last month soon after about 30 people tested positive in the first big wave of infections, the town and its surrounding villages were tightly sealed with a virtual curfew in place.
People were not allowed even to step out of their homes to get essential stocks or medicines, instead they were asked to call helpline numbers for delivery of staples at their homes.
“It is a lockdown, within a lockdown,” said district information officer Gouri Kant.
So far, India has had 5,194 people infected with coronavirus of whom 149 have died, government data showed on Wednesday.
The small numbers, in comparison to large countries such as the United States, Italy and China have prompted questions from Modi’s critics about whether India has gone too far in shutting down its economy, throwing millions of those who depend on pay by the day out of work and onto the brink of poverty.
A senior government official, aware of internal discussions on the lockdown, said parts of the country that had not reported a single case of the coronavirus and where people were not in quarantine could lift the curbs.
“There are proposals that are on the table, if there is a partial lifting it will be done on the basis of safety assessment,” the official said.
But it was unlikely that schools, colleges, rail travel and religious gatherings would be allowed anywhere in the country, the official said.
“If the lockdown has to be eased, it should be done in a graded manner in areas that are not hotspots. The hotspots should remain cordoned off,” Dr. S K Sarin, who leads the Delhi government’s panel on COVID-19, said.


Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
Updated 21 min 19 sec ago

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
  • The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia
  • Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed”

MOSCOW: Russian police detained dozens of protesters on Saturday as supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
The rallies — planned for dozens of cities across Russia — are expected to be a major test of the opposition’s ability to mobilize despite the increasing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita where several thousand took to the streets, Navalny supporters said.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at opposition rallies, said around 50 people were detained in 10 cities.
Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed.”
In Moscow, which usually mobilizes the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) and then march toward the Kremlin.

On the eve of the rallies, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters.
“I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison’s walls and help will come,” he said on Friday.
Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” she said on Instagram.
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the rallies.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorized protests.
A hastily organized court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear that authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The “Putin’s palace” report alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square meter mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theater and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media — including video sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teens — to voice support and urge a large turnout on Saturday.
A hashtag demanding freedom for Navalny was trending on TikTok as Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
The watchdog said on Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
But a number of public figures — including those who usually steer clear of politics — have spoken out in Navalny’s support.
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.