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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Daily Briefing: Four states battle severe shortage of oxygen; Sitharaman says second wave will not affect reform push

From the Centre being warned about a possible shortage of oxygen in April and November last year to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden launching the India-US Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership at the Leaders Summit on Climate; here are today's top stories.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
April 23, 2021 8:04:52 am
A look at the top news today, May 9, 2021.

Good morning,

Big Story 

Amid the country recording a global high of 3.15 lakh cases and four of the states worst hit by Covid — Delhi, UP, Gujarat and Haryana — battling a critical shortfall between demand and supply of oxygen in their hospitals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told officials during a high-level meeting to ramp up production and the Union Home Ministry ordered all states to strictly abide by its distribution plan amid reports of some seizing supplies meant for others.

Last year, when millions of migrant workers were walking back home to escape the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, the Supreme Court had intervened and taken up the issue suo motu, weeks after several High Courts raised questions of officials and governments. This year again, nearly a week after at least six High Courts began hearing cases related to inadequacies in the officialdom’s response to the surging pandemic and censured the Centre and state governments, the Supreme Court, on its own, suggested it would transfer these cases to itself to avoid “confusion and diversion of resources.”

Almost drowned by the alarm bells ringing across the nation over the critical shortage of oxygen in the second Covid wave is the fact that the warning signs came clear and early: in April one full year ago and then again in November. In a meeting on April 1 last year that was attended by top officials of the country, a panel constituted to coordinate with private entities regarding Covid response had stated that “in the coming days India could face a shortage of oxygen supplies”.

Only in the Express 

Speaking at the first of a series of online debates organised by The Indian Express and Financial Times, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the second wave of the pandemic will not affect the institutional reforms, including the disinvestment plans outlined in the Budget, although the focus right now was to take steps towards meeting the “immediate requirement of saving lives”. 

Despite witnessing a significantly high caseload during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it appears the state of Chhattisgarh did not adequately prepare for the debilitating second wave it is facing today. Since last year, the state has added just two Covid hospitals, amounting to 722 extra beds. While government portals claim that there are 937 ventilators at hospitals statewide, in reality there are only 497. Meanwhile, like in other states, here too, authorities are struggling to keep up with the demand for oxygen.  

From the Front Page 

The Jammu and Kashmir administration has set up a Special Task Force to initiate action against government employees suspected of activities against “security of the State”. The order, passed under provisions of Article 311(2) (C) of the Constitution, gives the administration power to terminate an employee without constituting an inquiry against him or her on grounds of security of the State.

Crowd at an election rally in Darjeeling, West Bengal. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

As the country fights an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases, The Election Commission has banned roadshows, vehicle rallies, and public meetings of more than 500 people in West Bengal, noting that political parties and candidates were “still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms” during campaigning.

The list of countries restricting travel to and from India amidst an aggressive second wave of coronavirus cases is growing longer. So far, at least nine jurisdictions — the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, France, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Oman — have imposed fresh restrictions on Indian flights.

Must Read 

Faced with an acute shortage of coronavirus vaccines, Maharashtra will have to take matters in its own hands. The state government has begun internal discussions about vaccine procurement from domestic manufacturers to immunise the 18-45 years age group. Officials said the Centre informed the state that it would continue to provide vaccine stock for the 45-plus age group, but the state would have to do its own procurement to immunise people under 45 years. 

Pfizer plans to provide its Covid-19 vaccine to India at a “not-for-profit” price, according to the company. The company’s statement comes amid speculations that the US drug giant may sell its vaccines in open market now that the government has allowed vaccine-makers the option of setting their own prices for states and private hospitals.

ICYMI 

Music composer Shravan Rathod died of Covid-related complications Thursday night at Mumbai’s SL Raheja hospital. He was 66.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden launched the India-US Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership at the Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by the US on Thursday.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das has said the rapidly rising cases of Covid-19 is the single biggest challenge to ongoing recovery in the Indian economy. 

The Army has decided to expand its exclusive Covid facility in Delhi Cantonment to 1,000 beds from its present 350-bed capacity now. The facility is likely to be activated within a week, the Army said.

And Finally

Fencing, a sport that was the preserve of the aristocracy in Europe and posh clubs across the first world, is unearthing talent from India’s remote rural areas. Three of the five fencers who will travel to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, for the last Olympic qualifying tournament this week, are children of farmers. 

Delhi Confidential: A meeting to pick a new CBI Director is likely to get delayed further with Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury testing positive for Covid-19. Earlier this week, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the meeting would take place on May 2, once Chowdhury recovers. 

In today’s episode of ‘3 Things’, we look at how Delhi hospitals are grappling with an acute oxygen shortage, how UP is dealing with the second wave of coronavirus infections, and how BJP leaders are being inundated with requests about beds and oxygen but can’t seem to help anyone.

Until tomorrow, 

Rahel Philipose and Rounak Bagchi

Express Cartoon by EP Unny.

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