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-Top News World News

G20 to collect $1.5 bn to prevent, prepare for future pandemics

The fund will be housed by the World Bank, while the WHO will advise the implementation and allocation of the money….reports Asian Lite News

The Group of 20 (G20) expects to collect no less than $1.5 billion by the end of this year to build infrastructure to prevent and prepare for potential pandemics in the future, said Budi Gunadi Sadikin, Indonesian Health Minister and the current G20 host.

The commitment to establishing the fund, called the Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF), was agreed upon by the Health Ministers of G20 members, along with the World Bank and the World Health Organisation (WHO), at the first Health Ministerial Meeting (HWG) held on June 20-21 in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta.

Sadikin told a press briefing on Thursday that as of now, several countries and a few charity foundations had pledged to donate a total of $1.1 billion, Xinhua news agency reported.

The fund will be housed by the World Bank, while the WHO will advise the implementation and allocation of the money.

The Indonesian Health Minister elaborated several allocation plans for the fund, including building and improving access to emergency medical countermeasures, establishing a global network of genomic surveillance labs, and building global research and manufacturing hubs.



Sadikin added that the money will be used to produce emergency tools needed for timely and equitable responses to future pandemics, including vaccines, therapeutics, medicines, personal protective equipment, and testing kits, that will be equally distributed to all countries once another pandemic strikes.

The Minister said the G20 members agreed that they needed some connected sequence laboratories to identify and share genome sequence data from pathogens that can cause outbreaks.

“By having such connected labs we can anticipate or overcome an outbreak better. We will be able to get information faster with stronger data sharing mechanisms, then diagnose faster, then we can produce vaccines faster.”

He added that the G20 forum agreed to build several additional global research and manufacturing hubs in Southern countries for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Most of the countries in the Global South are underdeveloped and developing countries, which faced more difficulties in facing the pandemic and obtaining access to vaccines.

Sadikin said that the ideal countries to build the hubs were those with large population.

“So, the Global South countries can develop and supply vaccines to their population in a more timely and equitable way.”

Local media reported that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus directly attended the HWG, and he estimated that the financial need for strengthening global health security reached $31 billion per year.

“WHO and the World Bank have estimated that we need $31 billion every year to strengthen global health security. Two-thirds of that amount could come from existing resources, but that leaves a gap of $10 billion per year,” he said.

Ghebreyesus suggested that the FIF be supervised by a Council and an Advisory panel that would be supported by the Joint Secretariat of the World Bank and WHO, which is based in Washington.

ALSO READ: Australian PM to visit France to mend ties

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Lite Blogs Sports

Be sportive to get rid of Pandemic blues

This is India’s most extreme Giant Swing. You are fitted with a seat and chest harness which is connected to the fixed wire ropes…reports Asian Lite News

Adventure sports have always been an escape from mundane life.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a worldwide lockdown as restrictions forced people to stay indoors. The global health crisis had a huge impact on the adventure sports market, as the aviation and hospitality sectors also bore the brunt. However, with the adventure sports activities gradually opening now, it is time to set yourself free!

India is home to some stunning destinations, which in the last few years have been developed to house some thrilling adventures. Niharika Nigam, Director, Business Development at Jumpin Heights shares adventure sports activities that will help you beat the pandemic blues and get your adrenaline pumping while exploring some gorgeous landscapes in the most novel ways possible!

Bungy jumping: Quite popular among adrenaline junkies, this extreme adventure sport will make you forget all your worries as you see the world ‘upside down’ (literally!).

Rishikesh in Uttarakhand touted as the adventure capital of India is home to India’s highest Bungy platform standing mighty tall at a height of 83 meters. After operating over 1 lakh jumps there – a global record for adventure tourism in India, they have recently opened their second location in Goa with a whole different vibe of bungy jumping over Mayem Lake in North Goa.

Run by ex-Army officers, and with jump masters trained extensively under experts from New Zealand, they follow Australia and NZ safety standards for Bungy operations. Besides, Rishikesh and Goa offer safe and professionally conducted bungy jumping amidst breathtaking views. So explore the valleys of Rishikesh or the azure lake of Goa while jumping into their infinity! Take that ‘leap of faith’ and earn some serious bragging rights!

Giant Swing: This is another extreme adventure, and it can be done solo as well as with two people in tandem. You can try this exhilarating activity with your friend, spouse, sibling, or family members and have once in a lifetime memory to be cherished for a long time! Jump is done from the same Bungy platform in Rishikesh. This is India’s most extreme Giant Swing. You are fitted with a seat and chest harness which is connected to the fixed wire ropes.

On jump, after an initial free fall, the ropes will smoothly swing you like a pendulum as you are left suspended in the mid-air. This adventure sport allows you to enjoy double the freefall of the Bungy, with considerably more speed, and almost as much fear.

Flying Fox: Imagine yourself taking in the bird’s eye view of the scenery around you, while being harnessed to the wire on a zip line. Asia’s longest flying fox is in Rishikesh where you can fly at 140kph. Accelerate up to speeds of 160 kmph and feel the air gushing past, while you are lowered down to just 7 meters above the river level.

River rafting: Summer is here, with scorching heat increasing day by day, and what would be better than river rafting in white waters at Rishikesh or Manali! The excitement and adrenaline rush you get while riding and tumbling down the white waters is simply unmatched! Since it is a team sport, it is great for mental health as well as overall well-being. And basically having a splendid day out in the river!

In addition to this, there is paragliding, skiing, and trekking – all available in the country – which can help rejuvenate your senses.

These adventure sports can be enthralling but physically demanding as well. It is advised you do not go for these activities under peer pressure or in questionable settings. Ensure your safety by researching the organisation handling these sports. Make sure they have solid rescue operations and safety procedures in place. Be certain of the expertise of their experts and know your own limits. It is also important to do your own research and see what criteria each of these sports demands.

The pandemic took a toll on overall physical and mental health as lockdown meant a sedentary and restricted life for most of us. Adventure sports can make you feel alive again and help you challenge yourself as these activities are a true test of mental strength. After all, “A life lived without adventure is a life wasted.”

ALSO READ-First impression matters…

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-Top News Dubai UAE News

Dubai’s fight against pandemic documentary launched

The Government of Dubai Media Office (GDMO), in partnership with Discovery, today announced the launch of a two-part documentary COVID-19: Dubai, chronicling Dubai’s journey in combating the COVID-19 pandemic…reports Asian Lite News

The documentary, featuring two 45-minute episodes, highlights the emirate’s robust response to the pandemic and its effective health measures, which ultimately enabled the city to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact on the community.

The documentary features conversations with the emirate’s pioneering leadership and heroes from the frontline who went above and beyond their call of duty to protect the health and safety of the community. It also follows home-schooled children and their parents and shares the highs and lows of the business community, as Dubai navigates its way through an unprecedented crisis demonstrating how, against the odds, adversity became a catalyst for its ever-progressive society.

The documentary takes an intimate look at the human stories from a diverse selection of Dubai residents, as they adjust to the ‘new normal’ and face their challenges charged with innovation and inspiration.

Mona Al Marri, Director-General of the Government of Dubai Media Office: “We are pleased to collaborate with Discovery to share Dubai’s remarkable journey and proactive approach in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. From the very onset of the pandemic, Dubai set an example for the world in responding swiftly and effectively to protect lives and livelihoods, and limiting COVID-19’s impact on the society and economy. Through each episode, the documentary depicts the resilience of the emirate and its community, and showcases how each and every member of society has been part of the story of Dubai’s success in overcoming the crisis.”

ALSO READ: UAE Fuels Billion Meals Programme

Lee Hobbs, Senior Vice President of Pay TV, Global Brands and discovery+ for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Warner Bros. Discovery, said, “The world’s battle against COVID-19 has been relentless, with efforts continuously evolving as time goes on. Dubai has been unique in its approach, facing the pandemic head-on and being amongst the first in the world to undergo an extensive vaccination programme. The documentary celebrates the heroes of the pandemic, from those on the frontline, to the family heroes who took on homeschooling and caring for others.”

Filmed and produced in Dubai, the new documentary will air exclusively on Discovery, on 7th May and 14th May 2022 at 22:00 UAE time and from mid-May on discovery+, in a branded environment on Jawwy TV and STARZPLAY.

Viewers can also follow the action on Discovery’s Facebook @DiscoveryChannelArabia.

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COVID-19 India News News

Shanghai almost out of food amid tight lockdown

The pandemic situation in Shanghai is still deteriorating according to reports, and the number of infected people is still high under the “zero lockdown” policy

As Shanghai’s COVID-19 lockdown leaves residents struggling to access essentials, residents of the mega Chinese city are almost out of food and they are reeling under an acute food crisis.

They say that they “only eat one meal a day” and “don’t know how to live until May”, The HK Post reported. According to the report, the epidemic situation in Shanghai is still deteriorating, and the number of infected people is still high under the “zero lockdown” policy.

On April 3, the Chinese government announced the deployment of thousands of military personnel to Shanghai to assist in the mandatory testing of all 25 million residents for the virus that causes COVID-19. Later, Shanghai authorities said the city would indefinitely remain under lockdown – meaning that residents are not allowed to leave their homes – as it reviews results of the mass Covid testing.

Analysts have said China would not risk relaxing its zero-Covid stance before then, over fears of a destabilizing outbreak. Meanwhile, health experts have warned the virus could overwhelm health care systems, and put the elderly, who lag in vaccinations, at risk, CNN reported.

But even as Beijing sticks to its zero-tolerance approach, it is facing the possibility of multiple major outbreaks as Omicron spreads, the report added.

According to the authorities, Shanghai has had more than 130,000 COVID cases since 1 March, yet nobody has died and there is only one seriously ill person. Such statistics fly in the face of the rest of the world’s experience with COVID.

Wu Zunyou of China’s Center for Disease Control said death rates were minimal because of efforts to curb outbreaks early and China’s high vaccination rate. “Compared with overseas, our country’s COVID-19 death rate is low because of the various measures to prevent or reduce deaths.”

ALSO READ: Is another Covid wave on the horizon for India?

When reporting deaths, there are strong incentives in China not to attribute them directly to COVID if alternative underlying conditions are available. Because of official obfuscation, it is simply impossible to know how many have died from COVID there. China also spends lots of time blaming imported frozen food and mail for spreading COVID.

Beijing claims a Zero-COVID policy must be followed because “Omicron can generate a higher mortality rate than Delta during the epidemic”. This assertion is verifiably false. Perhaps other reasons are more pertinent to the CCP’s choice of a Zero-COVID policy.

Classified management of city areas

Shanghai on Monday divided the whole city into areas belonging to three categories as part of targeted efforts to overcome a local Covid-19 resurgence.

It has designated 7,624 closed-off management areas, 2,460 restrictive control areas and 7,565 prevention areas, reports Xinhua news agency citing local authorities as saying.


The closed-off management areas refer to residential communities, villages, work units, or venues with Covid-19 infections reported in the past seven days.

People in these areas will undergo seven days of closed-off management plus seven days of health monitoring at home. Door-to-door services will be provided where needed.

The restrictive control areas are those without reported infections in the past seven days, within which people will observe seven days of health monitoring at home.

People who have an urgent need to go to the hospital, among other emergencies, in the aforementioned two areas can exit their respective areas for these purposes, with their movements under closed-loop management.

Those areas without reported infections over the past 14 days are labelled as prevention areas, where people are allowed in principle to move inside their respective sub-district or town with strict restrictions on the scale of gathering, but are banned from entering the other two types of areas.

The classification of each area can be adjusted in response to any changes in the situation within, according to the press conference.

Between Sunday and Monday, Shanghai registered 914 confirmed local Covid-19 cases and 25,173 asymptomatic infections, according to the National Health Commission.

Categories
Education India News

Pandemic severely affected education system, says Minister

This information was shared by the Minister of State for Education, Subhas Sarkar in the Lok Sabha on Monday…reports Asian Lite News

Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday said in Lok Sabha that the education system in the country got severely affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, the ministry of education is trying to bring many new changes on the bases of New Education Policy (NEP).

The NEP-2020 also envisions setting up of a Higher Education Commission of India as an umbrella body with four independent verticals to perform distinct functions of regulation, accreditation, funding, and academic standard setting. Accordingly, the Ministry is in the process of drafting a Higher Education Commission of India Bill.

The NEP-2020, inter-alia, envisions setting up of Model public Universities for holistic and multidisciplinary education, at par with IITs, IIMs, etc., called MERUs (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities) which will aim to attain the highest global standards in quality education.

This information was shared by the Minister of State for Education, Subhas Sarkar in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

The NEP further states that all programmes, courses, curricula, and pedagogy across subjects, including those in-class, online, and in ODL modes as well as student support will aim to achieve global standards of quality, the minister added.

The Ministry of Education has announced NEP 2020 on July 29, 2020 after obtaining approval of the Union Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has said it has notified the UGC (Open and Distance Learning Programmes and Online Programmes) Regulations, 2020 on September 4, 2020, and further an amendment on July 1, 2021.

Education

These regulations lay down the minimum standards of instruction for the grant of degrees through Open and Distance Learning mode and online mode.

The UGC has further informed that in view of the recommendation of National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3 per cent (2018) to 50 per cent by 2035 and to further promote Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and online education, the UGC has constituted an Expert Committee to review existing ODL and Online regulatory framework while ensuring quality, driven by simplified recognition system and processes.

ALSO READ-Global Covid caseload tops 472 mn

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-Top News Africa News

PIDA WEEK:Focus on Infrastructure

The increase in African countries’ COVID-19-related expenditure could impact the annual gap in infrastructure investment in the short to medium term. And the pandemic has also had a negative impact on cross-border trade

The African Development Agency “Oda NEPAD” continued its sessions for the seventh edition of the African Program for Infrastructure Development at “PIDA” week at Kenyan capital, Nairobi, under the slogan “Africa on the road to recovery, growth and resilience through infrastructure.

African policymakers and experts are discussing the role of the infrastructure sector in injecting post-COVID-19 recovery, growth and resilience into Africa.

Dr.-Amani-Abou-Zeid_-African-Union-Commissioner-for-Infrastructure-and-Energy

The 7th PIDA Week is focussing on how Africa can lead the way in the delivery of infrastructure in a post-COVID era as well as supporting the economic and social imperatives of the continent in the digital age.

The African Union stated in a statement that sessions focused on issues of digitization and the continental technological infrastructure to accelerate the recovery and the hoped for growth in Africa.

On her part, Dr. Amani Abou Zeid, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, called for promoting innovation and stimulating digitalization across all sectors for inclusive growth and development on the continent.

Ibrahim-Assane-Mayaki_-CEO_-NEPAD

In the same context, participants addressed the challenges facing “digitization”, stating that nearly 300 million Africans live more than 50 kilometers from the fiber-optic link, which represents a significant obstacle to driving productivity, innovation and growth.

They noted that the digital skills gap is still large and prevents the uptake of new technologies and innovative business models, noting that regulations and policies are adapting very slowly to the digital economy

“The prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating multifaceted economic and social consequences that have disproportionately affected Africa on human development indicators, economic interdependence, growth and resilience patterns,” the AU said.

In a bid to contain the spread and the multifaceted impacts of the pandemic, African governments have prioritized their spending commitment mainly focusing on vaccinating their population and building resilience, eventually increasing their recurrent expenditure.

According to the AU, the increase in African countries’ COVID-19-related expenditure could impact the annual gap in infrastructure investment in the short to medium term. And the pandemic has also had a negative impact on cross-border trade.

African countries were forced to shut down borders and, in some cases, apply trade restrictions that have affected supply chains inbound and outbound within the regions and as a result recording trade deficit in volumes, exposing Africa’s overdependence on external supply chains.

“It is expected that once the pandemic is successfully contained, the focus will need to shift from crisis management to assisting to adequately invest in infrastructure for development, as well as preventing and mitigating the impact of future outbreaks,” the AU said.

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The PIDA Week, among other things, envisages bringing together international and regional experts from multiple stakeholders to deliberate on the issues around infrastructure delivery in Africa. The continental week will focus on how Africa can lead the way in the delivery of infrastructure in a post-COVID era, supporting the economic and social imperatives of the continent in the digital age.

The PIDA Week agenda includes post-COVID 19 infrastructure financing, delivery, and resilience; the critical role of infrastructure in the implementation of the agreement for establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and in the post-COVID-19 recovery; and the transformation in demand for and consumption of transport, energy, ICT and social infrastructure. 

Categories
Arab News COVID-19 News

Israel launches 25 million plan to support tour guides amid pandemic

Israel’s Tourism Ministry has launched a 25 million shekel ($7 million) plan to support the country’s tour guides amid the Covid-19 pandemic…reports Asian Lite News

The plan is part of a government decision to assist the Israeli tourism industry, which has sustained significant losses inflicted by the pandemic, reports Xinhua news agency.

According to the plan, tens of thousands of free guided tours will be provided to the public, helping jobless guides go back to work.

The free tours will be offered daily through the websites of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority and in various cities.

To date, more than 1,800 tour guides have joined in the project, the Ministry said.

ALSO READ: UAE, Israel sign MoU to strengthen tourism, economic cooperation

In addition to the Hebrew-guided tours which are already available, tours will soon be offered in English, Russian, French and Arabic languages, it added.

“After two challenging years for the tourism industry, we have here a great opportunity to help tour guides and, finally, to get out from Zoom,” said Minister of Tourism Yoel Razvozov.

“The tours are not only an experience but also a good deed towards the tour guides so that they have employment,” added Ganit Peleg, chair of the Israel Tour Guides Association.

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-Top News

Economy rebounds by record 7.5% from pandemic in 2021

The UK economy increased by 1% in the fourth quarter despite the emergence of the omicron Covid-19 variant, matching its expansion in the third quarter, the Office for National Statistics revealed in a statement, reports Asian Lite News

United Kingdom’s economy rebounded by a record 7.5% last year on easing COVID-19 curbs, staging a partial recovery from a pandemic-driven historic collapse, official data showed.

Gross domestic product (GDP) had tumbled by 9.4% in 2020 due to the initial impact of the pandemic and public health restrictions, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) added in a statement.

The UK economy increased by 1% in the fourth quarter despite the emergence of the omicron COVID-19 variant, matching its expansion in the third quarter, the ONS also revealed in a statement.

GDP, however, dipped 0.2% in December on fallout from the rapid spread of omicron.

“GDP fell back slightly in December as the Omicron wave hit, with retail and hospitality seeing the biggest impacts,” ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said.

“However, these were partially offset by increases in the Test and Trace service and vaccination programs.”

Activity held at its pre-pandemic level in February due to increased health sector activity.

“Despite December’s setback, GDP grew robustly across the fourth quarter as a whole with the NHS (National Health Service), couriers and employment agencies all helping to support the economy,” Morgan added.

“Overall, GDP in December was in line with its level in February 2020, before C-19 struck, while in the fourth quarter as a whole, it was slightly below that of quarter four in 2019.”

British finance minister Rishi Sunak welcomed news of the country’s partial recovery from the emergency health crisis.

“The economy has been remarkably resilient,” he said in a statement, noting it was boosted by the government’s vast stimulus measures.

However, assessing the extent to which the UK economy has recovered from the hit of the pandemic is complicated by differences in which the ONS calculates monthly and quarterly data. On the monthly figure, GDP in December was in line with its pre-pandemic level in February 2020.

The ONS also published its trade data and showed that imports from non-EU countries had surpassed those from EU economies in 2021 for the first time since records began in 1997.

Cornelius Clarke, economist at the financial services Ebury, said that “evidently the end of the Brexit transition period has impacted trading relationships that many UK businesses have with their EU counterparts.”

Annual imports and exports in 2021 increased by 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively compared with 2020, but both remained lower than 2018 levels.

Samuel Tombs, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics said that while the coronavirus “can’t be blamed” for the UK’s continued underperformance, “exports continue to stand out as an area of significant weakness.”

Growth in December was dragged down by services, where output fell 0.5 per cent compared with the previous month as consumers spent less in cinemas, bars, and restaurants because of the spread of Omicron.

Retail sales and output in the hospitality sector fell 3.7 per and 9.2 per cent respectively. Output in arts and recreation fell 4.4 per cent.

The fall in those sectors was offset by a 2.4 per cent expansion in the health sector, which the ONS said was largely driven by the NHS test and trace and vaccination programme.

Manufacturing output rose 0.2 per cent, boosted by growth in the pharmaceutical and car sectors. Construction also increased by a solid 2 per cent supported by strong expansion in infrastructure and new housing.

In its latest assessment of the economy, the Bank of England said that it expected the impact of Omicron to “be limited and of short duration,” with GDP recovering in February and March. However, it also warned that growth in 2022 will be dragged down by the largest contraction in household real income in 30 years because of rising inflation, higher taxes, and surging energy costs.

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Books Lite Blogs

Pandemic reflection on Literature

Works of literature, spanning from the author of the first modern best-seller to a Nobel Literature laureate and more, offer an insightful record of previous manifestations of life-changing epidemics…reports Vikas Datta

An insidious, and unseeable, force is out there, able to strike anyone to cause sickness, and in some cases, death. The only way to stay safe is to keep away from almost everyone else — but that is easier said than done in our urban, inter-connected, and interdependent lives.

There is widespread panic as rumours abound and the crisis brings out the best and worst in people. A description of our Covid-hit world? No, pandemics have hit us earlier too — and are reflected in our literature.

Pandemics/plagues have been regular occurrences across human existence — at the rate of two or three per century, but their dispersal in time and space, their varying impacts, and limitations of memory lead them to be forgotten by future generations. The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 may be beyond the frame of current human experience, but how many can recall the Asian influenza of 1957 or the swine flu of 2009?

Works of literature, spanning from the author of the first modern best-seller to a Nobel Literature laureate and more, offer an insightful record of previous manifestations of life-changing epidemics.

Let us see some half-a-dozen odd of these, avoiding speculative thrillers about man-made virulent organisms being set loose or the genre where everyone becomes a mutant/zombie, before answering the obvious question: Why should we want to read about something we are now experiencing first-hand with all its attendant sufferings and disruptions?

Among the oldest is 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron’ (c. 1350-53), written as the lethal ‘Black Death”, which devastated Eurasia, was at its peak.

The narrative framework of this collection of 100-odd stories is that ten wealthy young nobles of Florence — seven women and three men — leave the city for a secluded villa in the countryside for two weeks, where they spend all their time telling each other these tales.

While the stories are usually of love — romantic, tragic, and erotic, they also deal with the power of fortune, will, lust, ambition, and of clever repartees, and the characters include generous nobles, lecherous clergy, and travelling merchants.

However, one effort to steal away from the disease that doesn’t go too well can be found in Edgar Allan Poe’s story ‘The Masque of Red Death’ (1845).

First published as “‘The Mask of Red Death’ (1842), it tells how Prince Prospero, ruling over a plague-stricken realm, tries to avoid it by hiding in an abbey, with many other wealthy nobles, Not only that, they also hold a masquerade ball, but amid the revelry, there comes an unbidden guest, and eventually, “… Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all”.

But, the first account of living amid widespread disease is ‘A Journal of the Plague Year: Being Observations or Memorials, Of the most Remarkable Occurrences, As well Publick as Private, which happened in London During the last Great Visitation In 1665’ (that was how book titles ran in those days), by Daniel Defoe, known better for ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

Presented as an eyewitness account of an anonymous resident, who chooses to stay back in the city, the book published in 1722 gives a vivid description of the sufferings of the residents of London (“A casement violently opened just above my head, and a Woman gave three frightful screeches, then cried ‘Oh! Death, death, death!'”), as the fatalities rise from week to week.

It also analyses how certain groups or individuals fared, the effects on the Church and the government, enlivened with plenty of black humour, verging on the satiric.

Organised chronologically, though without chapters and containing plenty of digressions, it is still systematic and well-researched, leading to literary scholars arguing down the ages whether to treat it as an authentic history or fiction.

Mary Shelley, better known for ‘Frankenstein’, also ushered in the dystopian apocalyptic genre of science fiction with ‘The Last Man’ (1826).

Set in the 21st century, it tells how a plague infects and decimates mankind, and how survivors try to will on to live, while fighting other hostile human settlements.

But with its characters based on her late husband, the poet Shelley, whose biography she was forbidden to write by his family, and friends such as Lord Byron, it also bemoans the failure of their political ideals, as well as the tragedy of human isolation.

While the first modern work on the issue is Jack ‘Call of the Wild’ London’s ‘The Scarlet Plague’ (1912), set in 2073 — some six decades after the eponymous plague has denuded the planet of most of its people and reduced the survivors to a rough existence, which shows how the clock of human progress can be turned back — the definitive work is Albert Camus’ ‘La Peste/The Plague’ (1947).

Set in the then French Algerian town of Oran, it depicts an outbreak of plague, the resulting quarantine, and the response of the varied characters — a doctor, a visiting journalist, a priest, a mysterious visitor, a civic official, and many others — while giving insights into the nature of suffering and powerlessness of individuals to change their destiny in an absurd existence.

At a deeper level, it can be seen as an allegory of the real-life political plague (Nazism) that affected Europe till two years before the publication of the book, but also on Camus’ views about the human condition.

There are many more, across genres. ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (1969), the first book by Michael Crichton under his own name, shows a group of American scientists dealing with a lethal extra-terrestrial micro-organism. Connie Willis in ‘The Doomsday Book’ (1992) brings together time travel and plague and epidemics in the past and the present. And Catherine Ryan Howard’s ’56 Days’ (2021) shows how rather impetuous romantic choices, in the shadow of a pandemic, can have lethal consequences.

But now, to answer why we should read books of this ilk. For one, fiction, for those not totally fixated on TV or web-streaming, offers a way of understanding the scope of the crisis, with stories helping to comprehend something that may seem too huge and frightening to process. Two, it shows that our ancestors also faced such crises, and how they tackled them. And finally,

they provide reassurance that life continues, and it’s up to us to do what we make of it with our choices.

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India News

Women in Jammu realise true potential of SHGs during pandemic

Initially, money was hard to come by. Sharma said that a woman earned about Rs 25 per day by making and selling papads to shopkeepers. That made for a monthly income of Rs 750…reports Bivek Mathur

In Bhaga village in Jammu and Kashmirs Reasi district, 17-year-old Shilpa Singh has taken it upon herself to earn for her family after the coronavirus pandemic washed out her father Mangal Singhs job.

“When the pandemic hit the country, several labourer families like ours were left in the lurch as our fathers, who until then were the lone breadwinners of our families, lost their jobs,” she said.

To avoid a financial crisis at home, she decided to become a member of the local self-help group (SHG). “And I’m happy that the income from the products sold by the self-help groups sustained my family in the pandemic,” Singh said.

These SHGs that have given hope to several women today, did not have many takers before 2019. Women from Bhaga village did not work outside their homes and instead depended on their husbands for almost all their requirements.

The scenario changed in January 2019 when Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS) officer, Indu Kanwal Chib, who was posted as the then deputy commissioner Reasi, intervened. She gently coaxed the women to join Jammu and Kashmir State Rural Livelihood Mission (JKSRLM) — a programme aimed at alleviating poverty in the Union Territory — to earn a guaranteed monthly income and afford a better life.

When the Bhaga women joined the self-help groups under JKSRLM in 2019, they had no inkling of the mission. “Following a brief about the initiative and a recollection of success stories by then deputy commissioner, we dared to start by making lentil papads. And this continued for several months,” Jyoti Sharma, a self-help group member said.

Initially, money was hard to come by. Sharma said that a woman earned about Rs 25 per day by making and selling papads to shopkeepers. That made for a monthly income of Rs 750.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, changed their fortunes.

‘Pandemic brought in more work opportunities’

Two months after the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, the women from Bhaga self-help group were approached by Chib with an offer — making face masks for the district administration.

“Since most of our village women were already adept in tailoring, we accepted the offer,” Sharma said, adding, “To meet our targets, hundreds of women self-help groups worked day in and day out to prepare and provide one lakh masks to the district administration.”

The women in Bhaga sold a mask for Rs 20 and ended up earning Rs 2 crores within 2-3 months. “With this, the average monthly income of an SHG member rose to Rs 4,500-5,000 during those months,” claimed Sharma.

Current Deputy Commissioner of Reasi, Charandeep Singh, said that the average income of some individuals from the SHG amounts to Rs 7,000-8,000 per month.

Singh said that the traditional craft materials made by Reasi women SHGs have been listed as “success stories” under the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. “And this is a major achievement for our women self-help groups,” the officer said.

A better life

According to the director of the JKSRLM, Dr Syed Sehrish Asgar, there are 48,423 women self-help groups that provide livelihood opportunities for 4,16,037 women in the Union Territory currently. In Reasi town alone, 15,402 women are associated with 1,854 self-help groups.

Arif Mohammad, the professional resource person of JKSRLM in Bhaga, said there are 125 women self-help groups only in his cluster — the Prerna Mahila Cluster Level Federation. Around 1,200 women work in these groups.

The SHGs in Bhaga village also make various products like jute bags, traditional ornaments, paper plates, disposable leaf plates and bowls, teddy bears, spices, pickles, embroidery items, masks, cheese, kaladi (traditional cheese) and sandals among others.

The JKSRLM in collaboration with other government departments conduct exhibitions throughout the Union Territory and sell the products made by these SHGs.

As far as other marketing avenues are concerned, the deputy commissioner of Reasi, Charandeep Singh, said that his administration has opened sales outlets for some units while commercial websites are also being designed to help the women sell their products online.

For instance, to benefit pickle manufacturing SHGs from Reasi, an outlet has been opened in Pouni area of the district. Around 500 hoteliers in Katra and other areas near the Katra-Shiv Khori shrine have been requested to purchase pickles exclusively from these outlets by women SHGs.

For other traditional items like Chabhari, Bina (made using wild grass), he said, “At our request, the Katra hoteliers have agreed to present these traditional crafts as souvenirs to the visiting tourists and guests.” The hoteliers, according to him, have been carrying a retail display of these products made by the women SHGs.

“Meetings with e-commerce giants like Amazon are also underway to help the women SHGs market their products online,” Singh added. “My administration is also planning to sell the products made by women self-help groups through some websites that would be named after them.”

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