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Complete contact tracing of Nizamuddin Markaz attendees on ‘war footing’: Centre to states, UTs

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In a frantic search of thousands of people who were participants of Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, the Government on Wednesday directed the police chiefs of states and Union Territories (UTs) to complete the contact tracing exercise on a “war footing” to check the COVID-19 spread.

Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba gave the direction to all the Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states and UTs.

The aim is not only to stop those who attended the congregation but also those they came into contact with inadvertently creating new clusters of novel coronavirus or COVID-19 infections across India.

Thousands of people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and then dispersed, may carry the COVID-19 disease to states across the length and breadth of India.

Through the video-conferencing meeting, the states were sensitized about the intensive contact tracing of Tablighi Jamaat participants as this has “increased the risk of containment efforts” of COVID-19.

“The states were asked to complete the contact tracing process on a war footing,” Home Ministry statement said.

Noting that foreigners who had participated in the Tablighi Jamaat had “violated” visa conditions, the Cabinet Secretary asked the states to initiate “action for violation of visa condition against the foreigners and the organizers of the event”.

The Cabinet Secretary’s instruction followed the information received by the Home Ministry on Tuesday that as many as 261 foreign nationals among 1,746 people were lodged at the Tablighi Jamaat’s Nizamuddin Markaz facility as on March 21, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ‘Janata curfew’ across India.

Additionally, about 824 foreigners had been, as on March 21, doing Tabligh (Chilla) activities in various parts of the country.

As the Tabligh-e-Jamaat’s Markaz in Nizamuddin West has emerged as a major COVID-19 hotspot with over 130 linked positive cases across the country, the Centre has advised all states and union territories to “immediately trace, screen and quarantine” the estimated 2000 foreigners who attended the religious gathering last month.

The Home Ministry in a letter addressed to state chief secretaries and police chiefs also said that if any foreigner tests negative for the deadly Coronavirus, then he should be “immediately deported by the first available flight”.

Defying lockdown orders and social distancing rules, the Markaz building, which is the international headquarters of ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ from around last 100 years, continued to house about 2,000 people from different parts of the country and world.

The gathering, which featured sermons, was attended by over 2000 Tablighi members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia. Members had also come from Afghanistan, Algeria, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, Fiji, France and Kuwait.

The Markaz Nizamuddin, meanwhile, has been cleared after the evacuation of 2,361 people in a 36-hour operation.

The Delhi Police has also registered an FIR against Maulana Saad Kandalwi of Nizamuddin Markaz and six others for violating government orders on management of the Markaz in relation to social, political or religious gathering amidst the Coronavirus outbreak. However, Maulana Saad is missing and the police is trying to trace his whereabouts.

They have been charged under the Epidemic Disease Act, said Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava.

Further, the Cabinet Secretary also directed the states to implement the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana within the next week and for which he stressed on organised arrangements. “This (the scheme) will involve large cash transfer to beneficiaries. It should be organized in a staggered manner to ensure social distance,” the statement said.

In the meeting, it was noted that the 21-day lockdown is being implemented effectively all over the country. It was also directed that the states ensure intra-state movement of goods and these should be allowed without any hindrance while maintaining social distance. “The manufacturing of essential goods should be ensured. It should also be ensured that the supply chains of such goods are maintained.”

Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Punya Salila Srivastava said that the Cabinet Secretary directed the states to meet the needs of migrant workers shifted in thousands of camps and maintain their welfare, medical and sanitation facilities.

She also informed that the Cabinet Secretary instructed the states for a hassle free cargo and that it should be implemented on ground level.

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Unlock 1: Hair salons, all shops can open, no spas; Delhi borders sealed for a week, says Kejriwal

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With the Centre’s three-phase unlock plan — that will restrict curbs to containment zones — kicking in from today, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that barber shops and salons will be allowed to reopen apart from whatever was permitted till now. However, spas will remain closed.

The chief minister also announced that all shops will be allowed to open from now on. So far, Delhi had been following odd-even rule for shops in markets.

Also, the state government has decided to lift restrictions on the number of passengers travelling in autos, e-rickshaws and other vehicles.

In autos, e-rickshaws and other vehicles, as per earlier orders, the number of passengers was fixed. Autos and e-rickshaws were allowed to carry only one passenger at a time while two passengers apart from the driver were allowed in cars.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, announced sealing of Delhi borders for one week, barring essential services.

Kejriwal said that a decision will be taken on the same after one week as per suggestions from the citizens.

“With borders opening up but Corona cases rising, can Delhi open its hospitals for treatment of people from across the country? Will it put pressure on capacity to handle Corona? Should Delhi’s hospitals be reserved for Delhi residents?” the chief minister asked seeking suggestions from the people by Friday 5 pm.

According to the Chief Minister, Delhi had 9,500 beds for COVID-19 patients. “I can guarantee, as your Chief Minister, there will be a bed if you or someone in your family is infected,” he said.

“Delhi hospitals should be reserved for people of Delhi. At the same time, Delhi belongs to the country, how can it refuse to treat anyone?” he asked.

Last Monday, Kejriwal had informed that 117 private hospitals have been asked to reserve 20 per cent beds for COVID-19 patients.

CM Kejriwal had on Saturday said that the national capital “cannot have a permanent lockdown”, even as he admitted that the city has been witnessing a surge in Coronavirus cases.

“We agree that the city has seen a huge spike in the number of Coronavirus cases. But we should not panic. The situation in Delhi would be worrying for me in two scenarios – if the number of deaths increase and if there’s a shortage of hospital beds,” the Chief Minister had said.

“A permanent lockdown is no solution. We have to move on with all the precautions,” Kejriwal added.

Although he termed the rising number of infections as a matter of concern, Kejriwal assured that the government is “fully prepared” and “four steps ahead” of the Coronavirus.

Delhi has so far recorded 19,844 cases and 473 deaths.

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Airlines must allot seats, try to keep middle space vacant: DGCA after SC’s ‘common sense’ rap

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The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Monday directed airlines to allot seats so that middle seats are kept vacant to the extent possible.

In a notification, the aviation regulator said that airlines should allot seats in a manner that the middle seat is kept vacant if passenger load and seat capacity permits.

However, if passenger load does not permit this kind of an arrangement, then the middle seat passenger has to be provided with protective equipment like a wrap around gown in addition to the three-layer mask and face shield.

The DGCA directions will come into effect from June 3.

As per the order, all passengers are to be provided with safety kits, which include three-layered surgical mask, face shield and sanitiser.

No meal or drinking water will be served on board except for health-related reasons.

The embarkation and disembarkation will be sequential and no passenger will be allowed to rush to the entry/exit gates. The DGCA has directed the airlines to ensure orderly entry and exit of passengers.

Flights have been asked to set the air-conditioning system in such a way that the air gets replaced at the shortest possible intervals.

The flights have to be regularly sanitised, but when there is no passenger on board.

Airlines have been directed to carry out health check-up of all crew regularly and all flying as well as cabin crew will have to be in full protective suits.

The directions come nearly a week after the Supreme Court pulled up Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air India while hearing urgent petition filed by Centre and the national carrier against the Bombay High Court order to keep middle seats vacant in international flights carrying back stranded Indians.

“You should be worried about health of citizens more than health of airlines,” the court said and asked “Why social distancing norms wasn’t necessary in flights? Why centre seats should be booked for air travels?”

Meanwhile, the top court has allowed Air India to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle seats booking till June 6 after which those seats can’t be sold.

The Bombay High Court, as directed by the apex court, will hear the matter tomorrow.

The court, in its hearing on the matter, commented that it was “common sense” that social distancing is important.

“It is common sense that maintaining social distancing is important. Outside, there should be a social distancing of at least six feet, what about inside aircraft,” the CJI rapped Air India, which has been operating special flights under the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the Coronavirus lockdown.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the national carrier and the Centre, said that the “best practice is testing and quarantine and not seat difference”.

He further told the court that the decision not to have vacant middle seats was taken following a meeting held with experts.

CJI SA Bobde, however, quipped: “How can you say it will not affect passengers? Will the virus know it’s in the aircraft and it’s not supposed to infect?”

“The transmission will be there if you are sitting next to each other,” he added.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had in May, while announcing the recommencement of domestic flights, made it clear that it would not be possible to keep the middle seat vacant.

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Ahead of lockdown 5.0, India reports highest spike in COVID-19 cases, tally at 1.82 lakh

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India’s coronavirus cases reached 1,82,143 on Sunday after 8,380 fresh cases were reported in the last 24 hours. The death toll due to the deadly virus reached  5,164. The highest rise in the cases comes as nation prepares for the  fifth lockdown which will come in effect from June 1.

The Ministry of Home Affairs released a set of guidelines for the fifth phase of a nationwide lockdown on Saturday, allowing hotels, restaurants and shopping malls to open, besides permitting all inter and intra-state movement of public and goods.

States, however, will have the freedom to enforce suitable restrictions if they deem necessary. International flights, Metro trains, cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars and auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places shall remain out of bounds for now.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation in his monthly ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme. He is likely to discuss the new lockdown guidelines, and the one year anniversary of the BJP-led NDA government’s second term in power.

Globally, about 6 million people have been infected with coronavirus, and 3,66,875 people have lost their lives. The United States, at 1,03,353 deaths, is the worst-affected country.

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