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In Memoriam: India Marks 4 Years Since Lockdown

The world is a much safer place to live and thrive compared with the dark era that was witnessed just four years ago, writes Quaid Najmi

It was on a warm March evening four years ago when India experienced an unprecedented, total and long-drawn, nationwide health-related restriction on public movements, called ‘lockdown’, to combat the early fears of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Sensing the possible repercussions of the deadly prowl of the Covid-19 virus which reportedly took ‘birth’ in China the previous year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11, 2020, officially declared it as a global pandemic, virtually isolating people and countries of the world from each other.

A fortnight later, among the first in the international comity of nations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared the nationwide lockdown (March 24, 2020).

People locked up in their homes, villages, towns, cities, districts, states, and even the country as a whole and shuddered indoors for months thereafter.

After four years today, the Covid-19 pandemic notched up an ominous track record for India and the world.

As per the Covid-19 tracker, Worldometer, India recorded a total of 4,50,33,332 cases. Of which, a staggering 533,535 were fatal.

The US led the planet with a stupendous 11,17,27,592 afflictions and the highest 12,18,464 deaths — more than double of India’s toll.

The world notched a grand total of 70,43,18,936 infections and 70,07,114 souls falling to the scourge of the invisible virus.

At the other extreme, of the 229 countries on earth monitored by Worldometer, the Western Sahara (West Africa) had the lowest — 10 Covid-19 infections plus one death — in a population of around 500,000, making it the second most sparsely populated country in the world.

It was preceded by the Vatican City — the abode of The Pope — with 29 afflictions, Tokelau (80), in the sub-100 category.

In the 1000-plus recorded cases were Niue (1,059 cases, near New Zealand), Montserrat (1,403 cases and 8 deaths, in the Caribbean Isles, a British Overseas Territory), and Falkland Islands (1,930 cases, another British Overseas Territory and the cause of the Falklands war of 1982 between Argentina and UK).

As the world reeled under the impact of Covid-19, certain epochal developments were witnessed — the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia’s Mecca and Medina was cancelled that year for the two million-plus Muslims who converge there from around the world every year.

A grim Pope Francis delivered a special blessing to the world at a rain-soaked but starkly empty St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, but it was watched live by over 11 million people in Italy and in Europe.

Closer home in Mumbai, the iconic Mohammed Ali Road’s Ramadan street food bazaar remained shut for the entire month for the first time in its nearly 250-year-old history.

As the lockdown — starting with the first 21-day instalment — proceeded in batches for around two years, restrictions were gradually eased as many suffered mental and psychological agony owing to the curbs on free physical movements or limited interactions with fellow beings.

The pandemic and the accompanying paranoia saw a new world order emerging on various fronts, local and global air travel, health-care schemes, classroom to online teaching, offices shifting to work-from-home mode, holidays reduced to ‘at-homes’, physical buying activity largely replaced by online shopping, doorstep delivery of everything in the markets, temple visits replaced by virtual ‘darshan’, online Sunday masses or Friday ‘namaz’, etc.

Though the economies of many countries were in tatters at that time, India under Prime Minister Modi shone like a pole star on the world horizon, its in-built resilience helped overcome the crippling health crisis — it not only ‘exploited the opportunity’ but successfully overcame the pandemic challenges and was regarded as a saviour of sorts by supplying vaccines to over a 100 countries.

At the micro-level, people and families were ‘separated’ for months or in many cases even more than a year, domestically or internationally, taking solace in video calls on mobiles or laptops, weddings became truncated as most near and dear ones couldn’t attend, Covid-19 deaths shattered many families as they weren’t allowed to even take a last glimpse of their beloved or attend the funeral or burial.

However, amid the tragedy and deaths, humanity also bloomed in different ways – a Muslim man stranded in the lockdown was housed for months by a Hindu family in Maharashtra; three Hindu sisters, including one in 9th month of pregnancy, were sheltered for many months by a Muslim Mumbaikar, and one sister delivered and nurtured an infant girl at his home; and many more such heart-warming tales were seen and heard, bringing people closer to each other in a crisis.

Millions of desperate migrants moving around the country from state to state were saved from starvation by hundreds of Corona Angels like Baba Karnail Singh Khaira, 85, of Yavatmal who threw open his ‘Gurudwara Langar’ (NH-7) to feed over two million hungry migrants (March 24-May 31), and lakhs took advantage of the ‘Shiv Bhojan Thali’ of Maharashtra government’s Rs 5/plate meal scheme, and free distribution of rations by governments, corporates, NGOs and individuals to the poor and needy.

Fortunately, by December 2020, the world had developed its first Covid-19 vaccine, and in January 2021, even India got its own vaccines, both considered ‘life-savers’, but for emergency uses.

Till now, nearly 14 billion Covid-19 doses have been administered to nearly 70 per cent of the world’s eligible population, despite known and unknown, short-term or long-term side-effects, but few are complaining.

Nevertheless, the world is a much safer place to live and thrive compared with the dark era that was witnessed just four years ago.

In May 2023, the WHO declared the end of the pandemic and by the end of 2023, the coronavirus seemed to have exhausted its killer appetite and the world rests easy now — the latest figures of daily Covid-19 infections are below 100, restricted to barely a handful of countries.

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Johnson grilled over lockdown-era parties

The ex-PM accepted that he misled the Commons but denies he did so on purpose, arguing that he relied on the advice of senior staff…reports Asian Lite News

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was grilled by a cross-party parliamentary panel for several hours on Wednesday to establish whether he knowingly misled the House of Commons over the party gate scandal of COVID law-breaking parties at Downing Street, reported China Daily.

Johnson was asked repeatedly whether he attended parties, broke lockdown rules, misled Parliament, and should resign. Johnson denied deliberately lying, but if found to have done so, he could face suspension or even lose his seat in Parliament.

He told the committee that the rule-breaking events were wrong and “I bitterly regret it,” but added, “hand on heart, that I did not lie to the House.”

Johnson swears to “tell the truth and nothing but the truth” on a bible at the start of the session.

Committee Chair Harriet Harman kicked off by emphasising the panel leave party affiliations at the door – Johnson has accused them of being biased.

Harman continued to define the scope of the committee’s work.

She said that the panel is looking at whether Johnson’s statements were accurate, and how “quickly and comprehensively” any misleading statements he made were corrected.

The question is whether any errors were rectified in “good time”, she said.

The ex-PM accepted that he misled the Commons but denies he did so on purpose, arguing that he relied on the advice of senior staff.

Harman said that Johnson spoke about the question of Covid compliance in No 10 in the House of Commons more than 30 times.

She said that most particularly on the dates 1 December 2021, 8 December 2021 and 25 May 2022.

The former prime minister, whose exit from 10 Downing Street last year had been hastened by the party gate scandal, repeatedly denied COVID lockdown rules were broken within government quarters when asked in the Commons. (ANI)

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Boris pictured drinking at party during lockdown

The photos, published by ITV News, show Johnson proposing a toast with a group of at least nine people next to a table with several bottles of alcohol and party food…reports Asian Lite News

Four photographs of Prime Minister Boris Johnson drinking at a Downing Street gathering when the UK was under lockdown have emerged just as his government braces for the release of a report into the so-called Partygate scandal.

The photos, published by ITV News, show Johnson proposing a toast with a group of at least nine people next to a table with several bottles of alcohol and party food. The pictures were taken at an event for Johnson’s former communications chief Lee Cain on Nov. 13, 2020, ITV said.  

While Johnson wasn’t fined for this particular event, it adds to a long-running scandal that’s overshadowed his administration for months and almost ended his political career. Civil servant Sue Gray, who led an internal probe into the events, is due to hand her full findings to Johnson for publication this week.

London’s Metropolitan Police closed its criminal investigation into the saga last week, fining Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak for just one out of at least eight illegal events. The police issued 126 fines to 83 people in total.

“The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs,” 10 Downing Street said in a statement. “The Met have concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.”

The photos appear to undermine some of Johnson’s previous statements about the partygate saga. In December, Johnson said in the House of Commons that “all guidance was followed completely in No 10.” When asked specifically about the November leaving do, he said “whatever happened the guidance… and the rules were followed at all times.”

Making deliberately misleading statements to Parliament is a breach of the ministerial code and considered a cause for resignation. Johnson faces a separate parliamentary investigation into whether he has lied about the law-breaking scandal and that inquiry will begin once the Gray findings are published.

The major political question is whether the emergence of the photos will spark a fresh wave of Tory MPs calling for Johnson to step down. Four Conservative MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted Johnson would be okay. Two others said the photos will create problems for the prime minister.

Steve Baker, who called on Johnson to resign in April, tweeted an emotive advert run by the National Health Service during the pandemic, which showed a patient receiving ventilation with the words: “Look her in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”

“Boris Johnson said repeatedly that he knew nothing about law-breaking – there’s no doubt now, he lied,” said Angela Rayner, deputy leader for the opposition Labour party.

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Boris knew about lockdown party, says former adviser

Cummings said that after Reynolds was told to cancel the invite by at least two people Reynolds checked with PM Johnson if it should go ahead…reports Asian Lite News

A former senior adviser to Britain’s Boris Johnson said on Monday he was willing to “swear under oath” that the prime minister knew a party was being held at his residence during a COVID-19 lockdown, accusing him of lying to parliament.

British media have reported that at least 11 gatherings took place at 10 Downing Street – the prime minister’s official residence and office – or in other government departments between May 2020 and April 2021, when COVID-19 rules limited how many people could meet socially. An internal inquiry is being carried out to establish the facts.

PM Johnson last week apologised to parliament for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering in the garden of Downing Street on May 20, 2020, but said he had thought it was a work event.

Dominic Cummings, an architect of Britain’s departure from the European Union and a former senior adviser to PM Johnson who left government under acrimonious terms in November 2020, said on Twitter that the prime minister had agreed that the drinks party should go ahead.

“Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened,” he said on his blog.

Last week ITV News published an email invitation from Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to a May 20, 2020 event, asking attendees to “bring your own booze”.

Cummings said that after Reynolds was told to cancel the invite by at least two people Reynolds checked with PM Johnson if it should go ahead.

“The PM agreed it should,” Cummings said in his blog.

PM Johnson’s spokesman denied earlier on Monday that the prime minister had been made aware of the May 20 event.

“It’s untrue to say that the prime minister was told or warned ahead of that,” the spokesman said.

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PM’s lockdown ‘party’ was held on eve of Philip funeral

Johnson is facing calls to resign over a slew of alleged parties held at his Downing Street office while the country was locked down as part of restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus…reports Asian Lite News

Staff at the office of under-fire British Prime Minister Boris Johnson drank alcohol at two leaving events during lockdown on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially-distanced funeral, The Telegraph reported Thursday.

Advisers and civil servants gathered after work on April 16 last year to mark the departure of James Slack, PM Johnson’s director of communications, and one of the prime minister’s personal photographers, the paper reported.

Johnson is facing calls to resign over a slew of alleged parties held at his Downing Street office while the country was locked down as part of restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Eye-witnesses told The Telegraph that alcohol was served and guests danced as the gatherings stretched late into the night.

The events came the day before Queen Elizabeth’s late husband, Prince Philip, was laid to rest, and while the country was in a period of public mourning.

The queen sitting alone in church due to the Covid regulations provided one of the starkest images of the lockdown in Britain.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister offered “heartfelt apologies” for attending a lockdown-breaching party held in his Downing Street garden, but deflected calls to resign as the opposition leader called him a “man without shame”.

Breaking his silence over the latest of a slew of allegations regarding top-level misbehaviour, Johnson said he regarded the boozy get-together in May 2020 as a work event for Downing Street staff.

He added that he did not appreciate how it would look to millions of Britons who were respecting Covid rules, even missing out on farewells to dying relatives.

“And to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies,” Johnson told a stormy session of questions in the House of Commons.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour party, dismissed the apology as “worthless” and mocked Johnson for belatedly speaking out after “months of deceit and deception”.

“Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?” Starmer said, demanding the Conservative leader’s head for the first time and arguing: “The prime minister’s a man without shame.”

Even some on his own side want Johnson to go, but in response to Starmer, he urged all sides to await the findings of an internal inquiry he has commissioned by a senior civil servant.

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Britain businesses report weakest growth since last lockdown

Growth was expected to slow again in the coming three months as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus weighs on the economy…reports Asian Lite News.

British businesses have reported their weakest growth since the country was under lockdown earlier this year and they expect a further slowdown in early 2022, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said on Thursday.

The CBI’s monthly growth indicator – which combines surveys of output from manufacturers, retailers and other services companies – fell 11 points to +21 in the three months to December, the lowest since the three months to April.

Growth was expected to slow again in the coming three months as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus weighs on the economy.

“Substantial challenges remain for businesses heading into Christmas: labour and materials shortages, rising costs and new COVID measures are restricting businesses’ ability to trade during this crucial period,” CBI Lead Economist Alpesh Paleja said in a statement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out new COVID restrictions in England before Christmas but said he might have to act afterwards. Scotland and Wales have tightened controls.

Alpesh said finance minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement on Tuesday of 1 billion pounds ($1.33 billion) in support for hospitality and leisure firms would provide a breathing space.

“But with the potential of further measures still weighing on firms, the government must monitor the situation closely and ensure that any new restrictions go in lock-step with further targeted cashflow support,” he said.

Despite the slowdown, the CBI’s growth gauge remained a long way above its long-run average of +4.

Only manufacturers saw an acceleration in growth in the three months to December. Business and professional services, consumer services and distribution firms all reported slower growth, the CBI said.

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Austria first European country to reimpose full lockdown

Austria has also made vaccination mandatory from February 1, reports Asian Lite News

Barely a week after imposing a lockdown on the unvaccinated, Austria on Friday announced a full national Covid-19 lockdown starting next week.

Austria became the first country in the European Union to take such a measure in the face of the Covid-19 resurgence. Besides, it has also made vaccination mandatory from February 1, Euronews reported.

The new measures announced by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Friday morning will come into effect initially for 10 days starting Monday. Most stores will close, and cultural events will be cancelled.

“We have to look reality in the face,” Schallenberg was quoted as saying at a news conference.

“We do not want a fifth wave. Nor do we want a sixth or seventh wave,” the Chancellor said, as reported by public broadcaster ORF.

After 10 days, the effects will be assessed and if Covid cases don’t drop sufficiently, the lockdown can be extended to a maximum of 20 days.

People wearing face masks walk on a street in Vienna, Austria

However, according to Austria’s Health Minister, schools would remain open for those who need to go there, but all parents have been asked to keep their children at home if possible.

The lockdown comes as Covid infections soared in Austria in recent weeks. Daily case numbers have trebled in November, touching over 15,000 on Thursday.

According to the latest figures, the incidence rate was 990.7 cases per 100,000 people in the past week, and Health Minister Wolfgang Mackstein said imposing a lockdown was the “last resort”.

The country’s per capita infection rate is also the highest so far this year. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new Covid patients, and deaths have been rising again, the report said.

Last Monday, Vienna had announced a nationwide lockdown for about two million unvaccinated people. Under this, people aged 12 years and older were banned from going outside except for essential activities such as work, attending classes, essential shopping, or going for a walk.

A medical staff member collects a swab sample at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in Ljubljana, Slovenia. (Photo by Zeljko Stevanic/Xinhua/IANS)

The country has 65 per cent people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 — one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) had warned that as Covid cases continue to mount in Europe and Central Asia, the regions are likely to see about 500,000 additional deaths before February 1.

Hans Kluge, WHO’s European Regional Director, attributed the increased risk to low mask use, vaccine hesitancy and spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.

Many other European countries are also planning to reimpose restrictions in the wake of a steep rise in the number of cases, the BBC reported.

Slovakia Prime Minister Eduard Heger has announced what he called a lockdown for the unvaccinated starting Monday. The country had reported a record 8,342 cases on Wednesday.

The Czech government is also limiting access to a variety of services.

The Netherlands introduced a partial lockdown last weekend. German leaders have also agreed to introduce restrictions for unvaccinated people in areas with high Covid hospital admissions that would affect 12 of Germany’s 16 states, the report said.

Daily infections had hit a new German record of 52,826 on Wednesday.

COVID-19 Kerala

Kerala lifts night curfew, Sunday lockdown in state

Vijayan, however, ruled out opening of schools and said that that will be taken up later…report Asian Lite News.

With Kerala’s daily Covid tally remaining high, but the numbers coming down, a committee, chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, on Tuesday decided to end the night curfew and the state-wide lockdown on Sundays.

Vijayan, after chairing the meeting, told the media that steps are being put in place to see that all final year students at the graduation and post-graduation levels will have to return to classes from October 4.

“To see that it happens, all have to ensure that those who come to classes on October 4 have at least one dose of vaccination, and this applies to teachers also. Teachers will now get priority and in the next 10 days, all should see that they avail it,” he said.

Vijayan, however, ruled out opening of schools and said that that will be taken up later.

Reacting to the Kerala High Court ruling on Monday that Covishield vaccine second dose can be given after 28 days by private companies, he said the state government also feels it is good, but the decision has to be made by the Centre.

He said on Tuesday, 25,772 people turned Covid positive after 1,62,428 samples were tested in the past 24 hours and the test positivity rate was 15.87 per cent.

As many as 27,320 people turned negative and the total active cases in the state were 2,37,045.

There were 189 Covid deaths, taking the death toll to 21,820.

Vijayan also pointed out that of the total state population, 76.15 per cent have had one dose of the vaccine or 2.18 crore people, while 82 lakh having taken both the doses.

“Kerala leads the country as far as vaccination is concerned,” he said.

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July 19 is not return to life before Covid: Johnson

The government has also instructed nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass – which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry, reports Asian Lite Newsdesk

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday (local time) confirmed that all virus restrictions in England will end on July 19.

Johnson told reporters that the move will eliminate mandates to wear masks in public places, social distancing rules, and work-from-home recommendations, reported NHK World.

Johnson noted that vaccines help to prevent people with the coronavirus from developing serious symptoms.

He insisted that, while hospitalisations and deaths will continue to rise, they will likely be much lower than during the peak of the outbreak last autumn, reported NHK World.

Johnson urged people to act with caution and personal responsibility, saying, “this pandemic is not over.”

He said, “we cannot simply revert instantly from Monday, July 19 to life as it was before COVID.”

“We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport,” he said.

“We’re removing the Government instruction to work from home where you can but we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their as one desks from Monday. And we’re setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer,” Johnson added.

The government has also instructed nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass – which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry.

Some experts warned that eliminating restrictions when the virus is spreading will be risky, reported NHK World.

Britain has seen its daily case count top 30,000 in recent days, amid the spread of the Delta variant.

The country has reported another 34,471 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 5,155,243, according to official figures released on Monday.

It is the sixth day in a row where the daily cases have been more than 30,000, Xinhua reported.

The country also recorded another six coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 128,431. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

Earlier Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid also confirmed that most COVID-19 restrictions in England will end on July 19 as part of the final step or Step Four of England’s roadmap out of the lockdown.

The detailed arrangement of Step Four includes: no more limits on social contact to allow people to gather in groups of any size; removing the “one meter-plus” rule in almost all settings, except for specific places such as airports; no capacity caps on large scale events; people are no longer required to work from home, etc.

Despite the easing which will see legal requirement to wear face masks in shops and on public transport being scrapped, the government will still recommend the use of face masks in crowded areas, according to Sky News.

More than 87 percent of adults in Britain have received the first jab of COVID-19 vaccine and over 66 percent have received two doses, the latest official figures showed.

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India is opening up too fast, too soon: Survey

Compared to other states, the Covid-19 cases in Kerala are not decreasing rapidly. To a question if Kerala could become the epicentre of the third Covid wave in India, 45.97 per cent said ‘yes’ and 35.91 per cent said ‘no’…reports Asian Lite News.

India is opening up too fast and too soon is the majority view as the government expresses concern over crowds at hill stations, as per the IANS CVoter Live Tracker.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that crowds at tourist spots are worrying.

To a question on if India is opening too soon and too fast, 53.31 per cent of the respondents of the IANS CVoter Live Tracker said ‘yes’, while 34.34 per cent said that India is not opening up too fast but people are becoming careless.

Compared to other states, the Covid-19 cases in Kerala are not decreasing rapidly. To a question if Kerala could become the epicentre of the third Covid wave in India, 45.97 per cent said ‘yes’ and 35.91 per cent said ‘no’.

The tacker had a sample size of 1,314.

The CVoter NewsTracker Surveys in India are based on a national representative random probability sample as used in the globally standardized RDD CATI methodology, covering all geographic and demographic segments across all states.

This daily live tracker survey is based on interviews of adult (18+) respondents across all socio-economic segments. The data is weighted to the known Census profile. The standard margin of error is +/- 3 per cent at national trends and +/- 5 per cent at regional/zonal trends with 95 per cent confidence level.

As many as 50.56 per cent respondents in the tracker said that younger leaders from smaller states like Anurag Thakur and Kiren Rijiju can hope to become national leaders, or even the Prime Minister a few years later.

A total of 35.67 per cent respondents said that it is very difficult for younger leaders like Thakur and Rijiju to emerge as national leaders and even more difficult for them to become the Prime Minister in a few years’ time.

As many as 45.61 per cent of the respondents said that young India needs young politicians and a young Cabinet, while 41.56 per cent said India doesn’t need just young politicians and young Cabinet, but a combination of young and experienced leaders.

To a question in the survey on if India needs younger and dynamic leaders as Governors instead of retired politicians, 51.05 per cent said ‘yes’, while 37.65 per cent said India needs a combination of young and experienced politicians to hold the Governor’s post.

To a question on if India should crack down on Twitter for not complying with Indian laws, a huge majority of more than 70 per cent said ‘yes’.

An overwhelming majority is still wearing masks as 75.06 per cent said they wear masks when they go out while 18.31 per cent said they don’t wear a mask.

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