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Gen Bipin Rawat, Vaccine Makers Named For Padma Awards

NEW DELHI, Jan 25: General Bipin Rawat, India's first Chief of Defence Staff who was killed last year in a helicopter crash, vaccine makers Krishna Ella, Suchitra Ella, Cyrus Poonawalla, opposition politicians Ghulam Nabi Azad, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and Indian-origin Silicon Valley titans Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai were named for the country's top civilian awards on Tuesday, on the eve of the 73rd Republic Day.

General Rawat has been honoured with India's second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, along with former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress and former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have been named for the third-highest honours - Padma Bhushan.

Krishna Ella and Suchitra Ella of Bharat Biotech and Cyrus Poonawala of the Serum Institute of India will also get the Padma Bhushan for their role in India's response to COVID-19 with the Covaxin and Covishield vaccines.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Google's Sundar Pichai were also named for the Padma Bhushan.

Singer Sonu Nigam and Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra have been awarded the Padma Shri - the fourth highest honour - along with Jamia Millia Islamia University Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhtar.

There are 128 names on the list of Padma Awardees this year.

RPN Singh Of Congress Joins BJP Ahead Of UP Election

LUCKNOW, Jan 25: RPN Singh, one of the Congress's most prominent leaders in Uttar Pradesh, quit the party today and crossed over to the BJP ahead of next month's election in the state. He is likely to contest the UP polls from his stronghold Padrauna, from where he has been elected MLA thrice.

"I have been in one party for the last 32 years, but today I must say that party is no longer what it used to be. Today, everyone knows that if there is one party that is working for the benefit of the people and is working on building the nation, it is the BJP," RPN Singh told reporters this afternoon. On stage with him was Jyotiraditya Scindia, who took the Congress-to-BJP route in 2020.

Singh, a key OBC (Other Backward Class) leader from eastern UP, is the second big exit for the Congress in the state after Jitin Prasada, who is now a minister in the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in UP.

Singh was on the list of the Congress's star campaigners for UP announced just yesterday. But he had reportedly been upset with the party for a while and had felt sidelined in the campaign led by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in UP.

As news of his switch emerged, the Congress quoted Priyanka Gandhi as saying that the "battle which Congress party is fighting can be fought only with bravery" and "cowards can't fight it".

The former Union Minister is likely to contest the UP polls against Swami Prasad Maurya, who recently quit the BJP and joined the Samajwadi Party. The BJP expects Singh to step into the void left by Maurya, who led a mini-exodus of backward caste leaders in Uttar Pradesh

Singh was elected as an MP from Kushinagar in 2009 but lost in 2014. Swami Prasad Maurya won the last two state polls from the Padrauna seat, first as a candidate of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and later as a candidate of the BJP. But in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Maurya finished second after Singh.

After changing his Twitter bio and dropping his Congress credentials this morning, Singh tweeted his resignation letter to Sonia Gandhi before announcing a "new beginning" under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president JP Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah.

Covid is still widespread, we must not let our guard down: Prez Kovind

NEW DELHI, Jan 25: Addressing the nation on the eve of 73rd Republic Day, President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday urged the countrymen to follow the precautions suggested by the scientists and experts in the fight against the Covid spread.

“In the fight against the Covid pandemic, it has now become a sacred national duty of every citizen to follow the precautions suggested by our scientists and experts. We have to discharge this duty till the crisis is behind us,” he said.

“As the pandemic is still widespread, we must remain alert and not let our guard down. The precautions we have taken till now have to be continued. Wearing masks and maintaining social distancing have been essential parts of Covid appropriate behaviour,” the President said.

Modi unveils hologram of Netaji at India Gate

NEW DELHI, Jan 23: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday unveiled a hologram of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at India Gate, where he said a grand statue of the freedom fighter would be placed soon.

Marking Netaji’s 125th birth anniversary, the hologram was installed under the canopy where a statue of King George V had stood till its removal in 1968. The Amar Jawan Jyoti, or eternal flame in the memory of those killed in the line of duty in the 1971 war, had flickered in front of the empty canopy till last week.

While government officials claimed the flame had been merged with the one at the National War Memorial nearby and not extinguished, the Amar Jawan Jyoti was removed from the site on January 21.

The statue, in black granite, would be made by a team of artists headed by National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi director-general Adwaita Gadnayak, a Culture Ministry official said. Till the statue is completed, the hologram would be switched on at sunset every day, the official said.

After switching on the hologram by pressing a button, Modi said the freedom struggle had involved the sacrifice of lakhs of people, but after Independence there was an attempt to erase their contribution.

Today, he said, the country was taking steps to correct those mistakes. He cited his government’s decisions, including observing Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas in honour of tribal freedom fighter Bhagwan Birsa Munda, constructing the Statue of Unity in honour of Sardar Patel and naming an island in the Andamans after Netaji, as steps in that direction.

Modi said Netaji had stated that there was no power in the world that could shake India. “Today we have a goal to fulfil the dreams of Independent India. We have the goal of building a new India before the 100th year of Independence,” he said. He called on people to take inspiration from Netaji’s “can-do, will-do spirit” going forward.

Modi also conferred the Subhas Chandra Bose Aapda Prabhandhan Puraskar, or awards for disaster management, for 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 on individuals and institutes for their work in the field of disaster management. The winners for 2022 were the Gujarat Institute of Disaster Management and Prof. Vinod Sharma, a senior professor at the Indian Institute of Public Administration and the vice-chairperson of the Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority.

Speaking about the evolution of disaster management in the country, Modi said there was a holistic approach now, as opposed to earlier when it was akin to “digging a well when thirsty”. He said upcoming infrastructure projects, like the Char Dham highway project in Uttarakhand and expressways in Uttar Pradesh, were being constructed to be disaster resilient.

India Clocks Highest 3.17 Lakh Covid Cases Since May 15

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: India's daily Covid graph saw a worrying upward curve today as the country added 3.17 lakh Covid cases, an eight-month high, taking the tally to 3.82 crore. At the global level, India is the second worst-hit country after the US.

The overall count of the highly infectious Omicron variant reached 9,287 today with 29 states reporting cases of the new strain. The active cases have risen to 19,24,051 - the highest in 234 days - and now comprise 5.03 per cent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has dipped to 93.69 per cent.

Five labs across the country - part of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium INSACOG, a network of 38 tasked with genome sequencing - have been shut down because of lack of funds for chemical reagents, top health ministry sources said today.

Sources also said the lack of reagents - a substance added to Covid samples to cause a chemical reaction - is becoming a problem as the government tries to identify cases of the more infectious Omicron strain so it can isolate and contain the virus.

The Union Health Ministry will decide on rolling out vaccination for children below 15 only after scientific evidence is gathered, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said today.

"Covid vaccination for 12-year-olds is our next goal. These decisions will only be taken after scientific information and scientific decision. We are working on it also," Dr VK Paul, Member (Health) of Niti Aayog said.

Maharashtra, one of the worst-hit states by the pandemic, today defended its decision to not allow the unvaccinated on local trains before the Bombay High Court, citing the prohibitions to have been imposed in the "larger public interest, for their own benefit".

Schools in Maharashtra will reopen for all classes from Monday, the state's Education Minister said. All schools will have to ensure that Covid protocols are followed.

Delhi reported 13,785 new Covid cases and 35 deaths in the last 24 hours. According to the health bulletin of the Delhi government, the active number of COVID patients in the city reached 75,282. Out of these, 58,501 patients are in home isolation and 2,624 are admitted to hospitals.

The daily positivity rate now stands at 16.41 per cent while the weekly positivity rate at 16.06 per cent. The cumulative doses administered in the country so far under the nationwide vaccination drive has exceeded 159.67 crore, the ministry said. 491 people have died of Covid in the past 24 hour. Over 70 per cent of the deaths occurred due to comorbidities, the Health Ministry stressed.

About 70% of the eligible population has received two primary vaccine doses and a booster campaign for health workers and at-risk population is underway. But reports from some states suggest that those unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated make up more than 90% of intensive care patients.

The virus has killed at least 5,480,481 people globally since the outbreak in China in December 2019, news agency AFP reported.

Delhi Hits 43 Deaths, Highest Since June; Cases 10% Lower Than Yesterday

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: Delhi today reported 43 Covid deaths, which is the highest number of deaths due to the viral infection since June 10 last year when 44 people had died. The national capital logged 12,306 new Covid cases, which is 10.72 per cent lower than yesterday's number (13,785). The number of total Covid cases in the city is 17,60,272.

The Delhi government today slashed the rates of RT-PCR tests in the capital. Private labs and hospitals have been ordered to charge ₹ 300 for the test, which was ₹ 500 earlier. The home collection rate has been reduced to ₹ 500 from ₹ 700. Rapid antigen test will now cost ₹ 100, down from ₹ 300.

The positivity rate (the number of cases detected per 100 tests) dropped to 21.48 per cent from 23.8 per cent a day before. Total deaths stand at 25,503. The case fatality rate is now 1.45 per cent.

18,815 Covid patients were discharged in the last 24 hours, the total number of discharged patients is 16,66,039.

The number of infections in the national capital has seen a marked decline over the last few days, except for yesterday when the capital saw a spike.

On Tuesday, the city registered 11,684 cases, on Monday, it was 12,587 cases, on Sunday it was 18,286, on Saturday the figure was 20,718 while on Friday it was 24,383.

According to government data, the number of active cases in the city stands at 68,730. Of these, 53,593 patients are in home isolation and 2,539 are admitted to hospitals.

Among the patients admitted to hospitals, 844 are admitted in ICU. 903 patients are on oxygen support including 152 on ventilators. 12,891 dedicated Covid beds in hospitals are still vacant out of a total of 15,589 beds.

The recovery rate stands at 94.64 per cent.

There were 57,290 Covid tests conducted in the last 24 hours, marginally lower than the day before. Out of these, 43,447 were RT-PCR tests while 13,843 were antigen tests.

More than 3 crores (3,42,71,893) tests have been conducted in Delhi so far. The cumulative positivity rate stands at 5.14 per cent.

There are 40,756 containment zones in the city.

Atmosphere Of Violence In Country, Ashok Gehlot Says In PM's Presence

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: Rajasthan's Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot spoke of an "atmosphere of violence and tension" in the country at a function today in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In words that can be seen as criticism, Gehlot said, "It has been seen a little now that there is an atmosphere of tension in the country, there is an atmosphere of violence. Get rid of it... it is our wish".

"We want peace and harmony to arise and strengthen in the country... We want us to move towards peace and development," he added, speaking at the national launch ceremony of "Azadi Ke Amrit Mahotsav se Swarnim Bharat Ke Ore" programme.

Modi, however, skirted the issue, speaking instead on the role of women in various fields.

Rajasthan has been one of the states that witnessed communal violence last year.

Dozens of vehicles and shops were torched and vandalised as communal violence broke out in Chhabra town of Baran district in April last year after two men were stabbed. Large gatherings were banned and cellphone internet was suspended as precautionary measures after the incident.

The Congress has repeatedly blamed the BJP-led government for the incidents of communal tension -- an accusation the BJP has denied.

The accusations have sharpened following the religious events in Haridwar and Delhi, where hate speeches given by some of the organisers and participants drew condemnation from the civil society and former military chiefs, retired judges, activists and even tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

More than 10 people were named in the FIRs lodged over speeches that called for genocide and the use of arms against Muslims. Over the last weeks, two persons were arrested.

The second arrest – of organizer Yati Narsinghanand -- took place last week after the Supreme Court asked the Uttarakhand government for an affidavit on the action taken in the case.

Army in touch with PLA over missing Arunachal youth; Rahul calls PM’s silence cowardly

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: The Indian Army is in touch with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China regarding a youth from Arunachal Pradesh who has been missing since January 18. BJP Parliamentarian from East Arunachal, Tapir Gao, had claimed a 17-year-old boy named Miram Taron was abducted by the PLA on Tuesday.

Sources in the defence establishment said the Army is in touch with the PLA through hotlines regarding the issue. However, sources said a response from the PLA is still awaited.

Sources mentioned that once the Army received information regarding the missing youth, it “immediately contacted the PLA through established mechanism of hotline” informing them that an individual “who was collecting herbs and hunting, has lost his way and cannot be found”.

The Army has sought assistance from the PLA to locate Taron on their side, and return him as per protocol.

While defence establishment sources have mentioned that the boy is missing, Gao has called it an instance of abduction from Indian territory. He claimed two people had been abducted, but one of them managed to escape and reported to the authorities.

Gao Wednesday tweeted, “Chinese #PLA has abducted Sh Miram Taron, 17 years of Zido vill. yesterday 18th Jan 2022 from inside Indian territory, Lungta Jor area (China built 3-4 kms road inside India in 2018) under Siyungla area (Bishing village) of Upper Siang dist, Arunachal Pradesh.”

He said in another tweet, “His friend escaped from PLA and reported to the authorities. All the agencies of Govt of India is requested to step up for his early release.” Gao tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and the Amy, among others.

The incident comes at a time when India and China are yet to resolve the over 21-month long standoff in eastern Ladakh, raising further security concerns.

In the last week of December, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs had announced standardised Chinese characters and the Tibetan and Roman alphabet for the names of 15 places in Zangnan, the Chinese name for Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims is South Tibet.

The incident of the missing youth has kicked off a political row. Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet on Thursday morning that Modi’s silence is a sign that he doesn’t care. “Just a few days before Republic Day, a bhagya vidhaata (youth) of India is kidnapped by China – We are with the family of Miram Taron and will not lose hope, will not give up. PM’s cowardly silence is his statement – he doesn’t care!”

Congress General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, retweeting Gao, asked Modi in a tweet, “How dare Chinese Army transgress into our territory again? How can GOI permit abduction of our citizens? How can GOI remain mum? Why is Govt not listening to the earnest appeal of its own M.P? Pl don’t say again – ‘koi nahi aaya hai, koi nahi uthhaya’ (nobody has come, nobody has been abducted).”

This Is Best Time To Invest In India, Says Modi At World Economic Forum

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: This is the best time to invest in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a special address to world leaders, while detailing various steps the country has taken to make it the "most attractive" investment destination in the world.

The PM said Indian youth have an entrepreneurial spirit and an eagerness to innovate and adopt new technology.

"Indian youth are ready to take your businesses & ideas to new heights. With our global skills, India has registered more than 60,000 startups in 2021," he said while speaking at the World Economic Forum's (WEF) five-day online 'Davos Agenda' summit.

"India offers a 'bouquet of hope' to the world. It includes our trust in democracy; it includes our technology, our temperament, and talent," he said. "In 2014, there were maybe a hundred registered startups in India. Now, the number has crossed 60 thousand. We also have more than 80 unicorns now, more than 40 of them achieved that status just last year," he said.

The Prime Minister highlighted India's innovations in technology and digital infrastructure, rapid adaptation of technologies like the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), technological solutions like Arogya Setu and CoWIN, and tax reforms to strengthen 'ease of doing business in the country. He also pointed out that India sends a record number of software developers to the world and has the third-highest number of Unicorns. On advancement in digital solutions, he mentioned that just last month India saw 4.4 billion transactions on UPI.

"We also focused on reforms in the right direction. Global economic experts have praised India's decisions and I'm certain that we will fulfill the world's aspirations from India," he said.

Modi spoke of a long-term, sustainable vision of the future of economic growth. "Today India is making policies, taking decisions regarding the present as well as the goals of the next 25 years. In this period, India has set the goals of high growth, a saturation of welfare, and wellness," he said.

This growth would be green, clean, sustainable, and reliable, he stressed, while pointing out India's commitment to climate change and various initiatives the government is taking for a green and sustainable future. Modi spoke at length about a change in lifestyle to be more climate-conscious and said that "throw away culture" and consumerism has deepened the climate crisis.

"In COP26, I gave 'Mission L.I.F.E. - Lifestyle for Environment'. We have to now work & innovate towards 'P3 Movement - 'Pro-Planet People'. This will help us reach our sustainable environment goals," he said.

Modi said India is now becoming the "new, attractive" investment destination because of several initiatives taken by the government that appeals to the business community. "More than 6 lakh villages have been connected with optical fiber. To bring every stakeholder of development on one platform, India has started the Gatishakti national masterplan," he said.

"We have launched PM Gatishakti Master plan that will integrate infrastructure, development & implementation. It will seamlessly connect goods, people, and services," he added.

Along with Chinese President Xi Jinping who spoke earlier today, a special address by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the highlight of the first day.

The WEF's face-to-face gathering of political and corporate power players, which has been taking place in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos for 50 years now, has been forced online for two years in a row now because of the Covid pandemic that continues unabated.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Japan's Prime Minister Kishida Fumio are scheduled to deliver their respective special addresses on Tuesday (January 18), when special sessions would also be held on global social contract and challenges of vaccine equity, which would be attended by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Serum Institute of India chief Adar Poonawalla, among others.

The WEF has said 'Davos Agenda 2022' will be the first global platform for key world leaders to share their visions for 2022 and it is being convened on the theme of 'The State of the World'.

India completes one year of its Covid vaccination drive

NEW DELHI, Jan 16: India on Sunday completed one year of its Covid vaccination drive, with a total of 156.76 crore vaccine doses administered to date. Last year on January 16, India kicked off the world's largest vaccination drive by initially inoculating vaccines to healthcare workers. Vaccination of frontline workers started on February 2.

The next phase of the Covid-19 vaccination commenced from March 1 for people over 60 years of age and those aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions.

Vaccination of all people aged over 45 from April 1. The government then decided to expand the ambit of the inoculation drive by allowing everyone above 18 to be vaccinated from May 1.

The next phase of Covid vaccination commenced from January 3 this year for adolescents in the age group of 15-18 years.

India started administering the precaution dose of the Covid vaccine to healthcare and frontline workers, which include polling personnel deployed in the five poll-bound states, and comorbid people aged 60 and above from January 10 in a bid to stymie the coronavirus spread driven by its Omicron variant.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya called it "the most successful in the world" and extended greetings to health workers, scientists, and the people of the country.

Taking to Twitter, he wrote, "Today the world's largest vaccination campaign completes one year. Started under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, with everyone's efforts, today, it is the most successful vaccination campaign in the world. I congratulate all the health workers, scientists, and countrymen."

So far 90.68 crore people have been administered the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 65.51 crore people have been fully vaccinated. According to health ministry officials, over 92% of the adult population have received at least one dose while over 68% have been fully vaccinated.

Coup At Kashmir Press Club, Editors Guild 'Alarmed' Over Police Role

NEW DELHI, Jan 16: The Kashmir Press Club, the biggest organisation of journalists in the valley, witnessed a coup on Saturday with a group of members removing its ad-hoc body and taking over the control with alleged help from armed policemen.

The controversial takeover took place a day after the Jammu and Kashmir government suspended the registration of the Club citing adverse reports by Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of J&K police.

Reports say that the illegal interim body has closed the club - which remained open and functional at the peak even during the deadly waves of the Covid pandemic - to journalists.

Omar Abdulllah, former Chief Minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, has called it a "state sponsored coup".

The Editors Guild Of India has expressed strong reservation at the goings-on at the Club.

"The Editors Guild of India is aghast at the manner in which the office and the management of Kashmir Press Club, the largest journalists' association in the Valley, was forcibly taken over by a group of journalists with the help of armed policemen on January 15, 2022," it said in a statement.

The Club had been issued a fresh re-registration as recently as December 29, 2021, but the administration decided to withdraw it a day after the journalist body announced to hold elections of the Press Club.

The Guild said it is equally "alarmed by an arbitrary order of putting the registration of the Kashmir Press Club in abeyance, a day before this armed take over of the Club on January 14, 2022, by the Registrar of Societies".

"Even more disturbingly, the state police entered the premises without any due warrant or paperwork, and have therefore been brazenly complicit in this coup, in which a group of people have become self-declared management of the Club," the Guild said.

The violation of the sanctity of the Club by the police and the local administration, the Guild said, is a manifestation of the continuing trend to smother press freedom in the state.

"Editors Guild demands immediate restoration of the status quo before this hostile takeover, announcement of elections to appoint a new management body and executive council, and strict prohibitions on any armed forces from interfering with the functioning of the Club, without due legal sanction," it further said.

It also demanded an independent inquiry as to how armed forces entered the Club premises.

Ban On Political Rallies Amid Pandemic Extended Till January 22

NEW DELHI, Jan 15: The ban on rallies and roadshows ahead of elections in five states - imposed last week as Covid cases spike alarmingly - has been extended till January 22, the Election Commission said Saturday.

Indoor political meetings will be allowed subject to a cap of 300 people, 50 per cent of the hall's capacity, or the limit set by the state's disaster management authority. Political parties must bear responsibility for the enforcement of rules, which include social distancing and use of face masks.

On January 8 the top poll body had said rallies, roadshows, and other kinds of political events, indoors and outdoors, would be banned till January 15 (today), and that the order would then be reviewed.

Today the Election Commission held a series of meetings - with the Union Health Secretary at 11 am, Chief and Health Secretaries of all poll-bound states at noon, and Chief Election Officers at 1 pm.

The order banning rallies and roadshows was passed as part of a 16-point list aimed at holding polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur as safely as possible.

Included in that list of 'no-no' activities were the holding of nukkad sabhas, or roadside meets, and limiting the number of people for door-to-door campaigning.

Yesterday, however, Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party came under the poll body's scanner after massive crowds gathered for the induction of two ex-BJP ministers - Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini, as well as six other MLAs.

Videos showed hundreds gathered - a majority wore no masks and did not maintain social distance.

UP Police have filed a FIR against 2,500 individuals; a senior Lucknow district officer said "prima facie, there was violation... investigations are underway". A notice was pasted at the party office.

Today Yadav said: "I appeal to (all) to abide by Covid protocols when they come to (our) office."

Elections in UP, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand are being held amid a frightening surge in Covid cases across the country, including in some of the poll-bound states.

UP reported a massive 1,300 per cent increase in Covid infections in the first week of this month, while 16 of Punjab's 22 districts have positivity rates over five per cent, which is the danger level.

UP has seen its active caseload spike to nearly 90,000, while Punjab, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand have seen their active cases increase to over 60,000 between them.

Medical experts and civil society groups, as well as the Allahabad High Court had called for polls to be deferred, but the poll body said it was constitutionally bound hold elections in a "timely" manner.

Elections were held in Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry this time last year, where many were without face masks as they attended rallies led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other political leaders, where social distancing was absent.

That was just before the devastating second wave hit India.

With memories of that in mind, concerns had been raised that campaign events could once again become super-spreaders, particularly with the Omicron variant now driving infections.

The first phase of Assembly elections this year will begin on February 10 and continue till March 7, with all five results due on March 10.

This morning India reported over 2.68 lakh new Covid cases in 24 hours, taking the active caseload to over 14 lakh - a level not breached since June 1.

Religious Leader Yati Narsinghanand Arrested For Haridwar Hate Speeches

LUCKNOW, Jan 15: Yati Narsinghanand - one of the religious leaders who organised an event in Haridwar last month that called for the genocide of Muslims - was arrested on Saturday, becoming the second person to be taken into custody following an intervention by the Supreme Court.

Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi, who was Waseem Rizvi before he converted, was the first accused to be arrested in the hate speech case involving the Haridwar "Dharma Sansad" or religious assembly.

Over the last two weeks, the saffron-robed Narsinghanand has gone from cackling with cops about how a police officer "will be on our side" to cursing them - "all of you will die," he said on Thursday after the first arrest.

Narsinghanand is among more than 10 people named in the FIRs lodged over speeches that called for genocide and the use of arms against Muslims. Besides him and Tyagi, the police have also taken an interest in another religious leader Sadhvi Annapurna under immense pressure.

The first arrest in the case came nearly a month after the event, only after the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Uttarakhand government to submit an affidavit within 10 days on action taken in the case.

Clips from the Haridwar event -- held from December 17 to 20 -- were circulated on social media and drew sharp criticism from former military chiefs, retired judges, activists and even international tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

Those who organised the event and gave the hate speeches maintain that they have done no wrong.

"I am not ashamed of what I have said. I am not afraid of police. I stand by my statement," Prabodhanand Giri -- photographed often with BJP leaders including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Uttarakhand counterpart Pushkar Dhami -- said on December 23.

Punjab Chief Minister Asks For Election To Be Moved Back 6 Days

CHANDIGARH, Jan 15: Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has urged the Election Commission of India to postpone the February 14 assembly polls by six days in view of Guru Ravidas Jayanti.
Voting for Punjab's 117 assembly seats is set to be held on February 14 and the counting of votes will take place on March 10.

In a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, Channi wrote that it was brought to his notice by some representatives of the Scheduled Castes community, which contributes around 32 per cent of the state's population, that the birth anniversary of Guru Ravidas falls on February 16.

"On this occasion, a large number of SC (Scheduled Caste) devotees (about 20 lakh) from the state are likely to visit Banaras in Uttar Pradesh from February 10 to 16," Channi wrote.

"In such a situation, many people from this community would not be able to cast their votes for the state assembly, which is otherwise their constitutional right," he said in the letter dated January 13.

"They have requested that the voting date may be extended in such a way that they are able to visit Banaras from February 10 to February 16 as also participate in the assembly elections," he said.

Channi said, "It is considered fair and appropriate that the voting for Punjab assembly elections 2022, may be postponed for at least six days, enabling about 20 lakh people to utilise their right to vote for the state legislative assembly."

Earlier, Bahujan Samaj Party's Punjab chief Jasvir Singh Garhi had also asked the Election Commission to reschedule polls from February 14 to February 20.

2.68 Lakh New Covid Cases In India, Positivity Up From 14.7% To 16.66%

NEW DELHI, Jan 15: India added 2.68 lakh new Covid cases, raising the tally to 3.67 crore, which included 6,041 cases of Omicron variant reported across 28 states and union territories. The active cases now comprise 3.85 per cent of the total infections.

The national COVID-19 recovery rate has decreased to 94.83 per cent. An increase of 1,45,747 cases has been recorded in the active COVID-19 caseload in a span of 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry data updated this morning.

The daily positivity rate was recorded at 16.66 per cent while the weekly positivity rate was recorded at 12.84 per cent. The cumulative doses administered in the country so far under the nationwide vaccination drive has exceeded 156.02 crore, the ministry said.

As many as 402 people have died of Covid during the past 24-hour period, according to the Health Ministry.

Maharashtra, one of the worst-hit states by the Covid pandemic, reported 43,211 new COVID-19 cases and 19 deaths linked to the virus on Friday. The state tally of COVID-19 positive patients stands at 71,24,278. There are 2,65,387 active cases in the state.

The positivity rate in Delhi jumped to 30.64 per cent on Friday as the national capital reported 24,383 new Covid cases. More than 75 per cent of those who died due to Covid in the current wave in Delhi were unvaccinated, Health Minister Satyendra Jain said on Friday.

In neighboring Uttar Pradesh - where assembly elections will be held next month - the police have registered a complaint against 2,500 unknown people for violating Covid norms after a massive crowd had gathered in front of the Samajwadi Party office for the joining-in function of two rebel ministers and several MLAs. The tally of active cases in the state stands at 84,440 cases.

In the south, fresh COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Tamil Nadu on Friday as it recorded 23,459 cases thereby pushing the caseload to 28,91,959 while the death toll rose to 36,956 with 26 more fatalities, the Health Department said. Kerala registered 16,338 fresh COVID-19 cases, raising the state's caseload to 53,33,828.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday appealed to people to follow all COVID-19 related protocols, wear masks and get vaccinated if eligible. Hailing an initiative of elite athletes taking people step by step through the 'Surya Namaskar' for fitness and positivity, Modi said the ongoing global pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of keeping fit and boosting immunity.

Polish scientists have discovered a gene that they say more than doubles the risk of falling severely ill with, or even dying from Covid-19. The Health Ministry in Warsaw expects the discovery to help identify people who are most at risk from the disease, which has already killed more than 100,000 people in Poland alone. It also plans to include genetic tests when it screens patients for potential Covid-19 infections as soon as the end of June.

Covid cases have been on the rise since late last year due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, first identified in Botswana and South Africa. ​The total number of Covid-19 registered worldwide since the start of the pandemic topped 300 million, according to an AFP count based on official figures.


5 Killed, 45 Injured As Express Train Derails In West Bengal

JALPAIGURI (West Bengal), Jan 13: Distressing visuals have surfaced of multiple passengers trapped in the debris after a train accident in North Bengal. 12 coaches of the Guwahati-Bikaner Express train derailed near the Maynaguri town of Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal today. At least five people have been killed and 45 injured.

At least 50 injured were rescued, as per West Bengal government sources. 10 have been critically injured, sources added. 24 of the injured were sent to Jalpaiguri district hospital and 16 were sent to Moynaguri government hospital. The critical passengers will be shifted to the North Bengal Medical College in Siliguri, New Frontier Railway sources said.

Many passengers are feared trapped inside the derailed coaches and gas cutters are being used to cut open the mangled coaches, according to Railway sources.

Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said he is "personally monitoring" the situation and that he has spoken to PM Narendra Modi and apprised him of the rescue operations. "We will fulfill all of our duties," he has said.

A High-level Commissioner Railway Safety inquiry has been ordered in the accident. Chairperson of the Railway Board and DG (Safety), Railway Board are leaving from Delhi to the site of the accident.

Compensation has been announced as ₹ 5 lakh for death, ₹ 1 lakh for grievous injury, and ₹ 25,000 for "simple injuries".

Narendra Modi, who was in the middle of a meeting with chief ministers to review the COVID-19 situation, inquired with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee about the accident. Ms Banerjee, who had spoken to the Jalpaiguri district magistrate, briefed the prime minister about the relief and rescue operations.

Rescue trains from New Jalpaiguri and New Alipurduar have been rushed to the spot.

The train derailed between the New Domohani and New Maynaguri railway stations at around 5 pm. Railway and district administration officials are doing rescue and relief work.

Uttar Pradesh MLA Quits BJP-Alliance, 11th Resignation In 3 Days

LUCKNOW, Jan 13: Uttar Pradesh MLA Chaudhary Amar Singh of the Apna Dal today quit the BJP-led alliance just weeks ahead of polls - this is the eleventh resignation for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in three days. Akhilesh Yadav, who has emerged as the key challenger in UP, has yet again benefitted.

"This government is a liar... no development has been done. I met Akhilesh Yadav today, will join him. Soon more people will join us," Mr Singh was quoted as saying by a news agency. The statement was both a warning and an attack on the ruling BJP that wants to retain the state for a second consecutive term in the crucial seven-phased February-March elections.

Ten BJP MLAs - including three ministers - have quit the BJP since Tuesday. It started with the exit of top minister SP Maurya, followed by three MLAs close to him on the same day - Bhagwati Sagar, Raushan Lal Verma, and Brijesh Prajapati.

Yesterday, another state minister Dara Singh Chauhan and MLA Awtar Singh Bhadana quit. Mr Bhadana is headed to the RLD, an ally of Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.

Today, UP Minister Dharam Singh Saini, and three other BJP MLAs - Vinay Shakya, Mukesh Verma and Bala Avasthi - also left the party.

All three UP ministers who have quit are key OBC (Other Backward Class) leaders, claiming that the interests of the community are being neglected.

Saini said that a mass exodus had been in the works for nearly 1.5 years.

"It was decided 1.5 years ago that we all will resign. When almost 140 MLAs had launched a dharna against the government because of how the downtrodden were being treated. But their voice was suppressed. That was when everyone decided, we will give an answer to this. We were waiting for the right moment. And that is why one minister is resigning every day. This will go on till the 20th," he said.

Swami Prasad Maurya, who has also joined forces with Akhilesh Yadav, has claimed the party he sides with always wins - first Mayawati's party, then the BJP, and now Samajwadi Party (may follow the trend).

Last year, another influential OBC face and BJP ally, Om Prakash Rajbhar, had crossed over to the Samajwadi Party.

Sharad Pawar Ridicules BJP As Leaders Quit

MUMBAI, Jan 13: NCP president Sharad Pawar on Thursday said BJP leaders confidently predicted till 15 days back that their party will come back to power in Uttar Pradesh, but now not a single day passes without the news of some or the other leader quitting the saffron outfit.

His remarks come amid BJP ministers and legislators quitting the party in UP ahead of the crucial Assembly polls in the state.

"If you look at the picture in Uttar Pradesh, BJP leaders were saying 15 days ago, there is no reason to look at anyone in Uttar Pradesh (that the party will come back to power)," Pawar said at an NCP event.

"Those in the cabinet are also leaving the BJP. This is happening in Uttar Pradesh and (at the level of) districts in the state," Pawar said.

The NCP supremo, who has extended support to the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party in UP, said be it Goa or wherever the polls are to be held, one can see the same picture.

"The process has begun," he said, alluding to a possible setback that the BJP might face in the Assembly polls.

Pawar also claimed that the BJP has a different ideology with not having in its mind the interest of the common man.

There are ups and downs in politics. These fluctuations sometimes take a person to a higher ground, he said.

“But, once the common man decides, then no matter how powerful a person is at the top, he cannot stand up in front of the united force of the common people,” the former Union minister said.

Earlier this week, Goa minister Michael Lobo and state BJP MLA Pravin Zantye also quit the party. Last month, Alina Saldanha, the sitting BJP MLA from Cortalim in Goa, joined the Aam Aadmi Party.

The UP Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in seven phases over the next two months, and the polls in Goa will be held on February 14.

Need to maintain economic momentum, focus on local containment: PM

NEW DELHI, Jan 13: As Covid-19 cases surge across the country and several states are resorting to mobility curbs, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday told Chief Ministers to ensure that livelihood of common people and economic activities are least impacted and the momentum of India's economic growth is maintained.

In his meeting with the Chief Ministers of states and Governors and administrators of Union Territories, the Prime Minister said that the focus should be on local containment and impose more restrictions on areas which have higher number of cases coming up and people are most affected. The Prime Minister chaired the meeting to review public health preparedness to Covid-19 and the National Covid-19 vaccination progress.

"Now that we have experience of fighting covid for two years, and there is nationwide preparedness, while taking Covid-related restriction measures states should ensure that the common man's livelihood and the economic activities are least impacted and the momentum of economic growth is maintained," Modi said in his address to chief ministers.

Prime Minister's caution over the economic impact of restrictions come at a time when several financial institutions and brokerage firms have revised India's growth outlook downwards for the current financial year amid the rising Covid cases and probability of more restriction measures in states.

The Prime Minister also emphasised on the need for continuous improvement in health infrastructure and increase in manpower in the healthcare sector.

Stressing on the need for preparedness ahead of all variants, Modi said that the Centre and states should continue their proactive and collective approach to fight Covid-19.

“In order to defeat Corona, we need to keep our readiness ahead of every variant. Along with tackling Omicron, we need to start preparing for any future variant from now itself", he said.

Noting that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is much more infectious, he said: "We need to be cautious, but also need to ensure that there is no situation of panic. We will have to make sure that during this festival season, the alertness of both people and the administration does not lag."

Talking of the vaccination drive, he said that nearly 92% of adult population in the country have received the first dose of vaccine and the coverage of the second dose has reached around 70%.

The Prime Minister said irrespective of the variant, proven way to tackle the pandemic remains vaccination only. He said that made-in India vaccines are proving their "superiority all over the world".

The sooner the precaution dose is given to the frontline workers and senior citizens, the more the capacity of our healthcare system will increase, he said. He also stressed on the need to counter any misinformation about vaccines or the practice of wearing masks.

The Chief Ministers spoke about the preparedness to tackle increasing cases including by increasing hospital beds and oxygen supplies.

With 28,867 fresh cases, Delhi sees highest ever single-day spike in Covid tally

NEW DELHI, Jan 13: Delhi on Thursday reported the highest single-day spike in Covid-19 cases after as many 28,867 people tested positive for the disease, according to health bulletin data. This was the biggest surge since April 20 last year.

Today's numbers are a surge of 1,306 cases from Wednesday when 27,561 fresh Covid-19 infections were logged in the national capital. The cumulative tally of Delhi now stands at 16,46,583, the health bulletin data revealed.

Fresh deaths due to Covid-19, however, saw a drop from Wednesday's 40 to 31 on Thursday, taking the overall death toll to 25,271. New recoveries also maintained its upward swing with 22,121 people recuperating from the disease as opposed to 14,957 on the preceding day. With this, the total number of recovered patients in the national capital has risen to 15,27,152.

The case positivity rate of Delhi, however, continues to raise concerns with the increasing number of single-day Covid-19 infections. On Thursday, the case positivity rose to 29.21 per cent from Wednesday's 26.22 per cent, according to health bulletin data.

The number of patients in hospitals in the national capital has further climbed to 2,369 and so did the containment zones, which is inching closer to 24,000 (23,997 to be exact).

Delhi is currently under night as well as weekend curfew, while educational institutions, gyms and restaurants have been shut.

Amidst the continuing surge in Delhi's daily Covid-19 tally, health minister Satyendar Jain said that the situation in the city has “seems [to] have stabilised.” He added that soon there will be a dip in the infection rates.

“The hospitalisation rate has stabilised and cases have plateaued,” Jain said, adding that if Covid-19 cases decline in the next few days, current restrictions across the national capital will be lifted.

The rise in Covid-19 cases is primarily being driven by its Omicron variant. Delhi has so far confirmed 549 cases of the new strain, of which, 57 patients have recovered.

India Records 1.79 Lakh Daily Covid Cases, Highest Since Late May

NEW DELHI, Jan 10: India saw a single-day rise of 1,79,723 new coronavirus cases, raising the tally to 3.57 crore, which included 4,033 cases of Omicron variant reported across 27 states and union territories. The country reported 146 deaths linked to the virus.

The active cases comprise 2.03 per cent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has decreased to 96.62 per cent. An increase of 1,33,008 cases has been recorded in the active COVID-19 caseload in a span of 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry data updated this morning.

The daily positivity rate was recorded at 13.29 per cent while the weekly positivity rate was recorded at 7.92 per cent. The cumulative doses administered in the country so far under the nationwide vaccination drive has exceeded 151.94 crore, the ministry said.

Maharashtra, one of the worst-hit states by the Covid pandemic, reported 44,388 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths linked to the virus on Sunday. The state tally of COVID-19 positive patients stands at 69,20,044. There are 2,02,259 active cases in the state.

Covid cases in Uttar Pradesh - where elections will be held next month - has seen a jump of 1,300 per cent. The 7,695 fresh cases reported over the last 24 hours are 13 times what was recorded last week. Last Sunday, the state had recorded 552 fresh cases. The biggest figures came from state capital Lucknow (1,115 ) and Noida near Delhi (1,149).

Seventeen Covid-related deaths were reported in Delhi on Sunday, the most fatalities in a day since June 16 last year, as the city added 22,751 cases in 24 hours. The positivity rate stood at 23.53 per cent.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has underscored the need to focus on testing, genome sequencing and vaccination at a review meeting for Covid. Vaccination for adolescents must be conducted in "mission mode" and focus on Covid-appropriate behaviour will be critical in the coming days, he said. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, and senior government officials attended the meeting.

Precautionary third doses of vaccines began today for health and frontline workers and immuno-compromised seniors from today as Covid numbers spike in the country, driven by Omicron. Those eligible can directly take an appointment or walk into any vaccination centre. There is no decision yet on booster doses for all adults.

The third dose of Covaxin holds promise, the Indian Council of Medical Research said on Sunday. "Reassuring information on safety and immunogenicity of a booster dose of Covaxin administered six months after completion of a two dose primary vaccination series with Covaxin," it said in a Tweet.

Covid cases have been on the rise since late last year due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, first identified in Botswana and South Africa. ​The total number of Covid-19 registered worldwide since the start of the pandemic topped 300 million on Friday, according to a count based on official figures.

India Reports 1,59,632 New Covid Cases, 327 Deaths

NEW DELHI, Jan 9: India saw a single-day rise of 1,59,632 new coronavirus cases, raising the tally to 3,55,28,004, which included 3,623 cases of Omicron variant reported across 27 states and union territories so far, the Union Health Ministry said on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra announced a series of fresh restrictions as it logged 41,434 new Covid cases Saturday -- marginally higher than Friday -- as the highly infectious Omicron variant continued its rampage through the country. Thirteen people died in the last 24 hours – five of them in Mumbai.

Delhi today reported 20,181 fresh Covid cases, the highest single-day rise since May last year. The capital city also reported 7 deaths over the last 24 hours.

Lab Faces Probe After Hundreds Positive On Italy-Amritsar Flights: Report

A probe has been ordered against a private laboratory after a number of flyers who reached Amritsar in Punjab from Italy recently tested positive for COVID-19 amid allegations by several of them that their test reports were incorrect, health officials said today.

The Airports Authority of India has also replaced the services of the Delhi-based laboratory with a local lab, officials said.

Over 400 Parliament staff test COVID-19 positive ahead of Budget Session

NEW DELHI, Jan 9: As many as 402 Parliament staff have tested positive for COVID-19, news agency ANI reported on January 9, quoting officials.

The report said that out of 1,409 members, 402 staff tested positive for COVID between January 4 and 8, and their samples have been sent for genome sequencing to confirm the variant.

This comes ahead of the Budget Session that usually begins in the last week of January.

The report said an internal message to Parliament staff has advised them to follow precautions as per government guidelines.

"There is a consolidated list of 200 Lok Sabha (staff), 69 from Rajya Sabha and 133 allied staff who have tested positive (for COVID-19), but we all need to take proper precautions,” the memo read. The numbers listed in the internal message did not include those who tested positive outside the Parliament premises.

Meanwhile, several Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha employees were put in isolation after they came in contact with infected colleagues during work. Officials from both Houses are also in isolation, it added.

Earlier, a Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) order directed all government offices to run under 50 percent capacity with the remaining staff working from home. The Centre had also exempted staff from biometric attendance due to the Omicron variant.

UP Sees 1,300% Jump In Daily Covid Cases In A Week Ahead Of Polls

LUCKNOW, Jan 9: Uttar Pradesh has reported a massive surge in Covid cases ahead of state elections that are less than a month away. The 7,695 fresh cases reported over the last 24 hours are 13 times what was recorded last week. Last Sunday, the state had recorded 552 fresh cases.

The biggest figures came from state capital Lucknow (1,115 ) and Noida near Delhi (1,149). The state also logged four deaths. The government attributed it to the rising number of tests, saying 2.22 lakh samples have been tested in the last 24 hours.

The state government today announced the closure of all educational institutions till January 16, asking for online classes where possible.

A night curfew imposed in the state between 10 pm to 6 am will also continue. Gyms have been shut in districts with 1000-plus active cases

Uttar Pradesh bore the brunt of the second wave of Covid last year.

The images of thousands of bodies buried on the banks of Ganga or flowing down the river, had evoked shock across the country.

However the state government has called the visuals propaganda by the opposition and claimed their Covid management was quite good during the second wave.

The government said it is focussing on vaccination and has decided to innoculate all teens between the ages of 15 and 18 years by January 15.

While reviewing the Covid-19 situation across the state at a high-level meeting with senior officials today, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said special camps should be organised in secondary schools and it should be ensured that "100 per cent of adolescents receive their first dose by the end of this week".

The big challenge for the state will be to keep the Covid numbers down in the run-up to the elections, with only 53 per cent adults having received their second vaccine dose,

The Election Commission has barred all political rallies and roadshows in the five states where polls are due till January 16.

Polls in UP, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand commence from Feb 10; Results on March 10

NEW DELHI, Jan 8: Five states will vote in the February-March elections as India witnesses an alarming surge in coronavirus cases. The counting of votes will take place on March 10.

Uttar Pradesh votes in seven phases, starting February 10. The second phase will be held on February 14, third phase on February 20, fourth phase on February 23, fifth phase on February 27. The sixth and the seventh phase will be held on March 3 and March 7.

Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa will vote in a single phase on February 14.
Polling in Manipur will be held in two phases on February 27 and March 3.

Amid concern over the spike in Covid cases, the Election Commission said "it is not correct to link elections with the rise in coronavirus cases," adding that booster doses will keep the polling staff safe.
The vaccination rates in the states going for polls is high, the Election Commission has said.

Delhi Records 20,181 Covid Cases, Positivity Rate At 19%

NEW DELHI, Jan 8: Delhi today reported 20,181 fresh Covid cases, the highest single-day rise since May last year. The capital city also reported 7 deaths over the last 24 hours.

Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain had predicted that the city will cross the 20,000-mark in Covid cases today. The positivity rate has climbed to 19.60 per cent.

On Friday, Delhi reported 17,335 fresh Covid cases, the highest single-day rise since May 8 while on Thursday the city registered 15,097 infections.

Over the last 24 hours, 1,02,965 tests have been conducted, taking the total number of tests to 3,33,87,074. Of the one lakh-odd tests conducted, 79,946 were RT-PCR and 23,019 were rapid antigen tests.

The number of active cases stands at 48,178 of which 25,909 patients are in home isolation; the recovery rate stands at 95.19 per cent.
According to the state health bulletin, there are 1586 patients in dedicated Covid hospitals. Out of these, 106 are Covid suspect while 1,480 are confirmed Covid patients.

Out of the patients admitted to these hospitals, 1308 are from Delhi while 172 are from various states. 375 of them are on oxygen support and 27 out of them are on ventilator. and another 279 Covid patients are in the ICU.

Some 88.76 per cent beds in Covid dedicated hospitals are vacant, said the bulletin. In Covid care centres, it said, 84.85 per cent beds are empty.

The Covid cases across the country too have risen exponentially, with the nation reporting 1,41,986 new cases of COVID-19 today, a week after the country crossed the 10,000 mark, as the virus continued to spread at an unprecedented pace, largely driven by the Omicron variant now present in 27 states.

The country's R naught value that indicates the spread of the infection is 2.69, higher than the 1.69 recorded during the peak of the pandemic's second wave. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India's top medical body, has said that "the Omicron variant is the predominant circulating strain". "It's a wildfire right now", health experts have cautioned as far as the surge in coronavirus cases in the national capital is concerned.

Delhi to have weekend curfew to fight Covid surge

NEW DELHI, Jan 4: Delhi will impose a weekend curfew and work from home for government offices in new restrictions to tackle a surge in Covid cases driven by Omicron. Buses and the Delhi metro will, however, operate at full capacity.

Announcing the new curbs, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said most offices would have to make half their employees work from home.

The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) met to decide on new curbs with the positivity rate in Delhi staying above five per cent for two straight days - a level that triggers a red alert under the colour-coded Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).

"DDMA has decided to impose a curfew in Delhi on Saturdays and Sundays to curb COVID surge. All government officials except for those engaged in essential services will work from home. 50% workforce of private offices will work from home," Sisodia told reporters.

"Buses and metro will function at 100 per cent but not without a mask. There is nothing to worry about. Make masks your shield." Earlier, both services were ordered to operate at half their capacity but that led to chaotic long queues and crowds.

Delhi has reported a rising positivity rate or the number of people testing positive for every 100 tests. On Monday, 4,099 new cases and one death were reported in 24 hours. Today, cases went up to 5,481, the highest in more than seven months; three deaths were also reported.

The positivity rate in Delhi has risen to 8.3 per cent from 6.46 per cent.

Earlier today, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 but had mild symptoms.

A 10 pm to 5 am night curfew is already in place in Delhi as part of "yellow alert" restrictions announced on December 29. Cinemas, gyms are shut and shops have been allowed on an odd-even basis.

Top health ministry sources say Delhi may see 20-25,000 cases a day by mid-January and hospitalisations may increase.

At the current rate of infection, Delhi may report 8-9,000 daily cases by January 8, according to sources in the Union Health Ministry.


Third Wave In India On, 75% Cases In Metros Are Omicron: Covid Task Force Boss

NEW DELHI, Jan 3: A large chunk of Omicron cases in India as the country faces a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been reported from big cities, the head of the country's vaccine task force said today, adding the third wave of the pandemic is very much here.

Large cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata have a combined 75 per cent share of infections of the highly transmissible coronavirus variant Omicron that was first detected in South Africa in November, said Dr NK Arora, who has been very closely involved with the rollout of vaccines from the very onset.

"Look at whatever the variants have been genome sequenced... We got our first virus right in the first week of December. So, last week, nationally overall, 12 per cent of the variants identified were Omicron and the week gone by in the previous week, it has increased to 28 per cent. So, it is rapidly increasing as a proportion of all the Covid infections in the country. Now, having said that, I must also say something more important and that is that around the major metro cities, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and particularly Delhi, it is over 75 per cent of all the isolates now," said Dr Arora, who is Chairman of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, or NTAGI.

India has so far reported 1,700 Omicron cases, with Maharashtra reporting the most number of infections at 510. The country also saw a 22 per cent jump in new COVID-19 cases, government data this morning showed.

Dr Arora said the third wave of the pandemic is very much here.

"India is clearly in the third wave of COVID-19. And the whole wave seems to be driven by a new variant and today it is Omicron," said Dr NK Arora, adding this is supported by evidence from the last four-five days that saw "galloping increase in the number of cases".

On another significant point, Dr Arora dismissed concerns that vaccines being given to 15-18 age group, who started getting the anti-Covid jabs today, could be unsafe as the doses had their shelf-life extended.

"It is absolutely safe. See, initially when the vaccines were being produced, the overall shelf-life issues were available only for that period when the studies were being done. Now, today, with the experience and the time, since when the vaccine was produced, the shelf-life has been evaluated through various animal studies. And it clearly shows that the vaccine is effective and active potency is maintained up to 12 months," Dr Arora said.

Pharma firm Bharat Biotech was allowed to extend the shelf-life of Covaxin by India's drugs regulator on December 20.

Day 1 Of Vaccination For Age 15-18 Amid 3rd Wave, Over 40 Lakh Jabbed

NEW DELHI, Jan 3: Vaccination opened for teens in the 15 to 18 age group today amid the third Covid wave in India as cases surge in multiple cities. Over 40 lakh teens got their first dose on Day 1, Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya said.

"Well done Young India! Over 40 lakhs between 15-18 age group received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on the 1st day of vaccination drive for children, till 8 PM. This is another feather in the cap of India's vaccination drive," the Health Minister tweeted.

The vaccination drive was carried out in consultation with schools at hospitals and health centres. A large number of schools and other educational institutions were used as vaccination centres as well.

Those born in 2007 and before are eligible for the vaccine. Chief Ministers of several states launched the teen vaccine drives.

The Union Health Ministry has said only Covaxin will be administered to teens and additional doses of the vaccine will be sent to all states and Union Territories.

On December 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that vaccination for the 15-18-year age group will begin from January 3.

The administration of the third dose of vaccine for health workers, frontline workers and vulnerable senior citizens will begin from January 10.

The clearance from the government came amid a threat of growing cases of Omicron, the highly infectious variant that is sweeping Europe and the US, replacing Delta as the dominant strain.

Since schools and colleges have opened earlier this year, a substantial section of children and teens have contracted the virus. Several outbreaks have been reported from residential schools and college hostels.

The government is yet to take a decision on the booster dose for all.
Two new vaccines -- Corbevax and Covovax - have received clearance and may be used as booster doses. Sources said the new vaccines might be considered for the use of children as well.

For Minister's Son, 5,000-Page Chargesheet Holds Damning Evidence

LUCKNOW, Jan 3: The Uttar Pradesh Police's special investigation team probing the Lakhimpur Kheri incident where four farmers and a journalist were murdered during an anti-farm law protest last October has submitted a 5,000-page chargesheet to a local court, saying Ashish Mishra, the son of Junior Home Minister Ajay Mishra Teni was at the spot during the incident, inside one of the SUV's involved in the attack on protesting farmers and the journalist.

Both Minister Teni and his son have claimed multiple times in the last three months that Ashish was not in the SUV or on the spot during the incident.

"Witnesses have said that he (Ashish Mishra) was at the spot during the incident and this is a part of the CD (case diary)," senior prosecution officer SP Yadav told reporters in Lakhimpur.

Thousands of pages of the chargesheet were brought to the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Lakhimpur town in a big trunk secured by two locks earlier this morning by the police.

Union Minister Ajay Mishra's jailed son Ashish Mishra is the main accused in the murder of four farmers and a journalist in Lakhimpur Kheri in October last year. Eight people were killed in all.

If the court accepts the chargesheet, a trial in the case will start at a date given by the court.

After four farmers and a journalist were run over, allegedly by an SUV driven by Ashish Mishra, violence broke out in which three more, including two BJP workers, were killed.

Videos on social media that shocked the nation and sparked anger showed an SUV running over farmers at full speed.

The UP Police filed a first information report, or FIR, naming Ashish Mishra and 12 others as murder accused the next day, but it took them a week and the Supreme Court's intervention to arrest the Union Minister's son.

"The chargesheet has been submitted but when we filed the FIR, we had named Ajay Mishra Teni in the complaint too. But his name was not included in the FIR. We have given a representation to the SIT to include his name but it has not happened. We do not feel proper investigation has happened. The Thar SUV was in the name of the minister but he has not been named. We may have to go court asking for proper investigation. We are not satisfied with the investigation," said Mohd Amaan, the lawyer for farmers.

Last month, the SIT told the designated local court that the killing of the farmers and the journalist was a "planned conspiracy" with intent to commit murder and not a case of death by negligence.

The charges of rash driving against Ashish Mishra and the others should be modified, the police team investigating the case wrote to the judge, adding that an attempt to murder charge and the charge of voluntarily causing hurt should be added.

Two FIRs were filed by the Lakhimpur Police - one was by the dead farmers' families, who named Ashish Mishra as the main accused; the other was by Sumit Jaiswal, a BJP worker in Lakhimpur, against unnamed farmers.

Mr Jaiswal alleged the farmers instigated violence. In viral videos, Jaiswal was seen running from one of the SUVs that hit the farmers. He was later arrested as a co-accused in the case linked to Ashish Mishra.

The UP government faced many tough questions as the Supreme Court heard a petition on the case last month. The Supreme Court directed the SIT to complete its probe soon. It also added three Indian Police Service officers to the team - those who are not from Uttar Pradesh, though they are allocated to the UP cadre. This was done over concerns that local policemen would manipulate the probe.

Girl, 3, Raped, Killed By Man In Relationship With Her Grandmother: Cops

NOIDA, Jan 3: The Noida Police on Monday arrested a 55-year-old man for allegedly raping and killing his 50-year-old partner's three-year-old granddaughter as the couple believed she was a "hindrance to their marriage", officials said.

The grandmother has also been detained for her role in the matter which was reported on December 25 after the child had gone "missing", the police said, as it busted the blind murder case.

The girl's body was recovered from an under-construction building near Ilahabas village on December 28, with the police launching a probe after it suspected that the child was sexually assaulted as well, officials said.

They said the girl had been living with her grandmother as her father had been in jail for the last two years while her mother had been living in her home district of Budaun due to a dispute between the couple.

"The woman had on December 25 informed the local Phase 2 police station that her granddaughter had gone missing on December 24. An FIR was lodged under Indian Penal Code section 363 (missing) and search launched for the child," a police spokesperson said.

"After investigation and post-mortem report, sexual assault against the child was confirmed. It was also confirmed that there had been an attempt to hide the evidence as the body was hidden under a log of plywood in the under-construction building," the official said.

With thorough investigation, the grandmother, who had reported the incident to the police, broke down during the questioning and confessed to her relationship with the man, the police claimed.

"The man hails from Bulandshahr district but had been staying near Sector 88 in Noida for a long time. He has a criminal mentality. He along with his girlfriend had conspired the murder of the child, believing she was hindrance to their marriage," the spokesperson said.

The accused was arrested on Monday from Sector 88, while the woman has been detained and further legal proceedings are being carried out, the police said.

Charges under IPC section 302 (murder), 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural offences), among others, as well as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act have been added in the case, the police added.

12 Dead, 14 Injured In Stampede At Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine In J&K

JAMMU, Jan 1: Twelve pilgrims have died and over a dozen injured in a stampede at Jammu and Kashmir's Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. The stampede was triggered by a "minor altercation among some young boys" amid a massive rush of devotees on New Year, officials said today.

Mukesh Singh, the Additional Director General of Police or ADGP, confirmed that 12 pilgrims have died and at least 14 are injured in the stampede. "All the injured have been taken to a hospital," he added.

The incident occurred outside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine on Trikuta hills. Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha said that a high-level inquiry has been ordered into the stampede.

"Preliminary information from the scene suggests that a minor altercation among some young boys led to the stampede at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in which 12 people unfortunately died," Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbag Singh said.

"Police and officials from the civil administration were quick to respond, and the order within the crowd was immediately restored, but by that time, the damage had been done," he said.

He further said that all those injured have been taken to hospitals, where the condition of some is stated to be "serious".

The Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir shared the helpline numbers of the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.

"Extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to a stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sending his "condolences to the bereaved families."

The Prime Minister's Office also announced an amount of ₹ 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund. The PMO said that the amount would be given to the families of those who lost their lives due to the stampede at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan. The injured would be given ₹ 50,000, the PM's Office added.

"Deeply pained at the loss of lives due to stampede at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine. My condolences to the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured," the Lieutenant Governor of J&K, Manoj Sinha said in a tweet from his official account.

He said that he spoke with the Prime Minister and "briefed him about the incident." He further announced that an amount of Rs10 lakh each would be given to the families of those who lost their lives in the stampede and ₹ 2 lakh to those injured.

He also stated that the shrine board will bear the cost of treatment.

Omicron spike: Start makeshift hospitals, form special teams, Govt to States

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Amid a significant rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has written to the chief secretaries of all states and UTs to take measures to deal with a possible surge in COVID cases.

In a letter issued to the states and UTs, Bhushan said in the context of the spread of variant of concern, Omicron, the world is currently reporting the highest ever surge in Covid-19 cases.

"In India, the case trajectory is also showcasing an upward trend with 16,764 cases reported on December 31, highest ever single day rise in past 70 days. Many developed nations in Europe and Americas are reporting a significant rise in new cases in the past weeks, which indicates high transmissibility of the virus," Bhushan wrote.

Bhushan has advises states and UTs to start the process of setting up makeshift hospitals and constitute special teams to monitor patients in home isolation.

He said to address a potential surge in cases, with a view to ensure preparedness, “states are advised to initiate creation of field or makeshift hospitals". This, he said, can be done with “coordination with DRDO and CSIR as well as the private sector, corporations, NGOs, etc," he said.

“It is imperative to re-emphasise the significance of timely and swift upgradation of health infrastructure in all states and UTs," he said. Bhushan said this becomes all the more important since with the sudden increase in cases, the country may start seeing a stressed health infrastructure.

As per Bhushan, states and UTs have already been advised to ensure health system preparedness by utilising the existing ECRP-II budget under different components (for creation of additional isolation beds and field hospitals, ICU beds, paediatric excellence centres, availability of oxygen, ambulances, drugs and diagnostics, human resources and tele-consolation platforms) at the earliest.

He also said a large number of cases may be eligible for home isolation. “ These cases would require effective follow-up and a clearly defined mechanism for prompt shifting to a health facility in case of deterioration in their health situation," wrote Bhushan.

He said it is particularly important that all states should monitor their home isolation protocol and its actual implementation at the field level.

“Special teams be consulted to monitor all home isolation cases, call centres or control rooms must aid outbound calling for monitoring such patients and ensuring that all such cases can be shifted to an appropriate health facility though dedicated ambulances," Bhushan wrote.

4 Killed In Landslide At Mining Site In Haryana

CHANDIGARH, Jan 1: At least four people have died and several others are feared trapped following a landslide in a mining zone in Haryana's Bhiwani district on Saturday. The district administration has launched a rescue operation at the Dadam mining zone in Tosham block.

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar tweeted to say that he is in constant touch with the local administration to ensure swift rescue operations and immediate assistance to the injured.

The workers were reportedly travelling to another site when the landslide took place and they got trapped in their vehicles.

"I am deeply saddened by the accident at the mining site in Bhiwani district of Haryana. The administration is conducting a rescue operation. A SDRF team has been called from Madhuban and a NDRF team from Ghaziabad. An army unit has been called from Hisar. So far four people have died," said Haryana minister Anil Vij.

Case Against Religious Leader Who Led Haridwar Event, Made Hate Speech

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Uttarakhand police have filed a hate speech case against Yati Narasimhanand - the organiser of a 'dharam sansad', or 'parliament of religions', in Haridwar last month that triggered outrage after some Hindu religious leaders urged people to take up arms against Muslims and called for genocide.

Narasimhanand - who has previously also been accused of inciting violence with incendiary speeches - was one of those who spoke at the event. He is the fifth person to be named in a FIR (first information report) that was filed four days later and only after public calls for action.

The others named in the FIR are Sagar Sindhu Maharaj, a woman identified as 'Sadhvi Annapurna' and a man named Dharam Das, as well as a Wasim Rizvi aka Jitendra Tyagi. All five have been charged with promoting enmity between religious groups and defiling a place of worship.

Clips from the event - held from December 17 to 20 - were circulated on social media and drew sharp criticism from former military chiefs, activists and even tennis legend Martina Navratilova.

According to a police complaint filed by Trinamool Congress leader and RTI activist Saket Gokhale, others at the gathering were the Hindu Raksha Sena's Prabodhanand Giri, BJP women's wing leader Udita Tyagi, and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, who is out on bail in a hate speech case.

However, the organisers and speakers at the event have insisted they did nothing wrong.

Prabodhanand nonchalantly said: "I am not ashamed... I am not afraid of police. I stand by my statement.... If anyone tries to kill me, I will fight back. I am not afraid of the law."

Vile speeches at the 'religious' conclave in Haridwar - similar to another in Delhi - and the atmosphere of hatred spewed were red-flagged by 76 of the country's top lawyers, who wrote to Chief Justice NV Ramana and asked the Supreme Court to take suo moto cognisance of the events.

"... the events and the speeches delivered during the same are not mere hate speeches but amount to an open call for murder of an entire community ... (pose a) grave threat not just to the unity and integrity of our country but also endanger the lives of millions of Muslim citizens," they said.

Their letter was followed by one from five former Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces, who wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn them that such calls for violence could lead to internal disharmony and also embolden external aggressors.

Apart from the events at Delhi and Haridwar, other Hindu religious leaders made similarly disturbing speeches at another 'dharam sansad' in Chhattisgarh's Raipur last month, at which a Kalicharan Maharaj declared that the aim of Islam is to capture the nation through politics.

A police case has been filed against him.

Delhi's Daily Covid Cases Jump 50%, Highest Since May

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Delhi recorded a massive 50 per cent jump in coronavirus cases on Saturday, at 2,716, with around 3.64 percent of COVID-19 tests returning positive - a high positivity rate considered one of the first signs of an impending wave of infections.
The city also recorded one death.

Saturday's rise is the highest since May 21 when 3,009 cases were recorded with a positivity rate of 4.76 per cent, while 252 deaths were also reported on that day.

On Friday, New Year's Eve, it had recorded 1,796 cases and a positivity rate of 1.73 per cent. On Thursday, 1,313 cases were recorded with a 2.44 per cent positivity rate, according to official figures.

The huge spike in fresh cases in the span of the last few days in Delhi is being recorded amid a significant jump in cases of new Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the city.

The death count due to coronavirus in the city has risen to 25,108.

On Wednesday, Tuesday and Monday the daily cases tally had stood at 923, 496 and 331, respectively, as per official data.

Given the high number of cases, the city has imposed a 'Yellow Alert' - the first of a four-level system of restrictions that have closed down schools, gyms, set 50 per cent occupancy rules for private offices and transit, and a night curfew.

Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain on Saturday said whether more curbs need to be imposed in the national capital will be reviewed although hospital admissions are not worrying so far.

He also said that in view of the current situation, more than 3,000 beds have been prepared for children.

"Prevention is better than cure and people need to keep themselves safe at all times. It should be our responsibility to wear masks at all times whenever we are heading outside our homes, this will help us to stop the further spread of coronavirus," Jain told reporters.

Amid Omicron Scare, Haryana's New Covid Curbs In Gurgaon, 4 Other Cities

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Cinema halls and sports complexes will be closed in Gurgaon and four other cities in Haryana as part of restrictions imposed on Saturday by the state government in view of a surge in coronavirus cases and the emergence of Omicron variant. Schools are also closed till January 12.

Besides, both government and private offices, except those providing emergency and essential services, have been advised to function with 50 per cent staff in attendance.

These restrictions will come into force in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ambala, Panchkula and Sonipat districts, which have the highest daily infection rates, from January 2 and remain in force till January 12, according to a government order.

Malls and markets have been allowed to stay open till 5 PM, while bars and restaurants have been permitted to function with only 50 per cent of their seating capacity.

The restrictions were imposed in view of a persistent rise in coronavirus cases in the state and the emergence of the new Omicron variant, the order said.

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar will hold a meeting with top officials on Sunday to review the situation.

Besides, the order by the State Disaster Management Authority said only fully vaccinated persons shall be allowed at vegetable markets, public transport, parks, religious places, restaurants, and other places across the state.

Haryana reported 26 cases of the Omicron variant on Friday, with the total number of such cases rising to 63 in the state. Of the total cases, 23 are active while others have been discharged, said a health bulletin yesterday. The state had brought back night curfews a week ago.



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