India resumes train services despite coronavirus case surge

India resumes train services despite coronavirus case surge
Security personnel are seen at the platform of the central railway station in Mumbai on May 12, 2020, before the train departure to New Delhi. India's enormous railway network was grinding back to life on May 12 as a gradual lifting of the world's biggest coronavirus lockdown gathered pace even as new cases surged. (AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

India resumes train services despite coronavirus case surge

India resumes train services despite coronavirus case surge
  • Chief ministers want slower lifting of lockdown

NEW DELH: India resumed train services on Tuesday, as the country begins easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions despite a surge in cases.

India’s lockdown started on March 24 and ends on May 17.

“I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the second phase and, similarly, the measures needed in the third phase are not needed in the fourth,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement during a meeting with the chief ministers of all 29 states on Monday.

There was a high-level meeting on Tuesday to decide on whether or not to resume flights as well, with reports suggesting that domestic airlines could be allowed to operate as early as next week.

“Air services can even begin before May 18,” an Aviation Ministry official told the media. “Operating protocols are in place. But a political decision on this has to be taken after keeping the views of the chief ministers in mind.”

Several chief ministers want the central government to go slow on lifting the lockdown.

The chief minister of eastern Bihar state, Nitish Kumar, asked Modi to extend the lockdown to manage the migrants coming back.

More than 2 million migrant labourers are expected to return to Bihar from different parts of the country, after New Delhi agreed to run special trains to mitigate the suffering of daily-wage workers who were left jobless in the wake of the lockdown.

“It will help in detecting possibly infected persons and containing the spread of coronavirus,” Kumar said.

Kumar was joined by chief ministers from other major states such as Maharashtra, Telangana, Punjab, and Bengal in seeking an extension to the lockdown.

Western Maharashtra state accounts for more than 23,000 COVID-19 cases out of India’s total tally of 73,000. It also tops the death toll, with close to 900 fatalities out of the national count of 2,300.

“The COVID-19 cases might peak in June,” chief minister of Maharashtra, Udhav Thackeray, told Modi on Tuesday. “Hence, a decision on the lockdown must be taken carefully.”

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Some experts said the “unplanned” lockdown had not achieved the desired results and it was better, therefore, to ease the restrictions.

“With each phase of the lockdown, the cases have been doubling in India,” Dr. T. Jacob John, from the Vellore-based Christian Medical College, told Arab News. “When India started the lockdown on March 24 the number of the cases at that time was about 550. Now, after three phases of the lockdown, the figure is 73,000, so it suggests that the lockdown has not been effective.”

He suggested that the lockdown be lifted as it was not making any difference in containing the proliferation of cases. “Wearing masks should be made mandatory. We are going to see an avalanche as far as the spread of the cases is concerned,” the virologist warned.

Prof. Arun Kumar, from Jawaharlal University, said that focussing on the economy was not a wise decision at this stage either.

“When the cases are increasing at an alarming rate, and it is feared that at least 500 million people will get infected, I don’t think it’s wise to relax the lockdown,” the economist told Arab News. “When people are scared and living in fear, how is it possible to run the economy normally? It’s better to address the fear effectively before resuming normal activities.”

 


Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
Updated 27 min 27 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.