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KOLKATA: Eleven more Covid-19 fatalities have been recorded in West Bengal, raising the death toll in the state to 99, Home Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said on Saturday. At least 108 more people have tested positive for the virus in the state, taking the number of confirmed cases to 1,786, he said.
The number of active cases stands at 1,243, the official said.
Forty-nine patients have been discharged in the state since Friday following complete recovery from the disease, Bandyopadhyay said.



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File photo of Mumbai’s Sion Hospital (Picture Courtesy: Facebook @ltmmc)

The city of Mumbai has emerged as the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Mumbai. In recent days, multiple reports have pointed out poor management on the part of hospitals in the city treating Covid-19 patients. However, there seems to be no change in the situation on the ground.

In his address to the people of the state on Friday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said, “We have seen some incidents at hospitals. Such incidents will not be tolerated. Do not force us to take action.”

Less than 24 hours after he urged the concerned officials to ensure that the incident from Sion hospital is not repeated, two more videos have come to light from Mumbai’s Sion and KEM hospitals. It is important to note that these videos were shot in the Emergency and Casualty wards where patients are first brought in and not the coronavirus wards where patients are treated.

Sion Hospital

The first video shows two novel suspected coronavirus patients sharing the same bed. Kin of the patients can also be seen inside the same ward which is a clear violation of the safety guidelines essential to contain further spread of the infection. In the same video, the bodies of patients who succumbed to Covid-19 can be seen lying inside the same ward. While one body rests on a stretcher, the other is seen lying on the floor.

Stills from videos of Sion, KEM hospital shot by Sudhakar Nadar; first picture shows the dead body of a Covid-19 patient lying unattended on a stretcher in a corridor; second picture shows the dead body of a Covid-19 patient lying unattended on the floor of a ward; third picture shows the dead body of a Covid-19 patient lying unattended on a bed inside a ward next to patients waiting for their test results (Photo Credits: Sudhakar Nadar)

The videos are shot by Sudhakar Nadar, a journalist with a newspaper in Mumbai. Nadar reportedly shot the videos on Friday inside the emergency casualty wards of the Sion hospital. It is important to note that this is the same ward where any suspected Covid-19 patient is kept upon arrival at the Sion hospital. Doctors examine the patients for symptoms in this same ward and a patient is shifted for treatment to another ward only after his/her samples test positive for the infection.

WATCH THE VIDEOS HERE

Equally shocking is the fact that many patients have no choice but to sleep on the floor of the ward owing to the shortage of hospital beds. Some even sleep on cardboard boxes while others have to make do with a wheelchair.

“The conditions of Sion Hospital are unchanged. Social distancing is not followed. Patients are being neglected. The patients coming to Sion Hospital are mostly from Sion-Koliwada and Dharavi. Proper care is needed. On one bed, I saw two patients sleeping. On top of it, relatives are present with patients. Staff is very very less. There is such a high risk of relatives and other patients contracting coronavirus,” Sudhakar Nadar said.

Officials at Sion hospital did not respond to questions in this regard by India Today.

A crowded ward inside the BMC-run hospital (Photo Credits: Sudhakar Nadar)

KEM Hospital

A different video has also come to light from KEM Hospital in Mumbai’s Parel area. Shot inside one of the wards where suspected Covid-19 patients are kept, the video shows a packed room where patients and their guardians are mingling with almost no concern for transmission. Many patients and their kin can be seen lying on the floor owing to the shortage of beds.

Stills from videos of Sion, KEM hospital shot by Sudhakar Nadar showing patients sharing beds inside the Emergency and Casualty wards (Photo Credits: Sudhakar Nadar)

In the midst of a room bustling with people is the dead body of a novel coronvirus patient, wrapped in black plastic. A woman who was inside the ward told Sudhakar Nadar that the body had been lying there for quite some time.
Nadar said, “Once again, the condition of most important KEM hospital is very serious. Patients are just lying. Doctors and medical staff are trying hard but no proper care. No social distancing. Single ward is packed beyond capacity. I did not find a place to walk. I urgently appeal to the government to help them soon.”

Dean, KEM Hospital Dr Hemant Deshmukh told India Today, “We have a huge patient load coming with Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) in casualty. This area is the isolation ward. Patients coming here are stabilised, treatments are done and throat swabs are taken for the report. They are shifted to either Covid-positive or Covid-negative wards depending on their reports.”

Sion and KEM hospital, both run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), have a capacity of 20 beds per ward in the Emergency and Casualty wards, however, the number of patients coming in far outweighs the capacity.

BMC working to accommodate more patients

At present, most of the beds in Mumbai’s hospitals are being occupied by asymptomatic patients, contrary to guidelines issued by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). As per the guidelines, beds should only be provided to either symptomatic patients or patients with comorbid conditions or critical patients.

Stills from videos of Sion, KEM hospital shot by Sudhakar Nadar showing relatives of patients sleeping on the floor (Photo Credits: Sudhakar Nadar)

Mumbai’s civic body, the BMC is now preparing several facilities with an overall capacity of 75,000 beds at the city’s exhibition centres, grounds, parking lots and sports complexes. The parking space inside Mahalaxmi Race Course will have 325 beds and the Worli NSCI Dome stadium will have over 600 beds along with an ICU ward facility. The Nehru Science Centre will have over 100 beds while both NESCO Exhibition Centre and the MMRDA ground will be fitted with a thousand beds each.

The BMC is now asking asymptomatic patients who have tested positive and live in spacious homes to quarantine themselves at home. Meanwhile, patients living in densely populated areas will be accommodated at one of the aforementioned facilities. There are, in total, 84 CC centres being developed with four doctors for each centre along with paramedics and other healthcare workers. The centres will also provide dialysis facilities. These facilities are divided into two categories.

  • CC 1: Not for Covid-19 patients but high-risk contacts of those who have tested positive (45,000 beds)
  • CC 2: For asymptomatic Covid-19 patients (18,000 beds); BMC claims its occupancy of CC2 facilities is not even 30 per cent at the moment
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The Union government is all set to announce a “financial relief package” to remedy the deepening economic crisis owing to the novel coronavirus outbreak and the triple-phased lockdown that followed.

A source in the government told India Today, “The discussions and deliberations on the package at the top level of the government were over almost a week ago. If there is no serious and staggering spike in the number of cases of infection, an announcement in this regard could be made as soon as next week.”

The final round of discussion regarding the package was held between top officials of the Finance Ministry on May 2. Also in attendance were Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Senior officials within the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) have been working to tighten the nuts and bolts in the relief package which further suggests that the announcement is not too far.

In recent weeks, experts and opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, have been suggesting that the government aid should target the bottom 30-40 per cent of the economic strata which includes daily wagers and migrant workers.

On the condition of anonymity, the source added, “Not all measures which are part of the package need a Cabinet clearance but there are some proposals which will need a nod from the cabinet. There has been no cabinet meeting for the last two weeks and the next one could take place on Wednesday.”

To prepare the financial system for the big move, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will meet the CMDs and CEOs of national banks on Monday. The agenda of this meeting is likely to include credit flow, credit sanctions and disbursements since March 1 along with four other crucial points.

Centre to borrow more to fund relief package

On Friday, the central government had indicated that the financial relief package will be funded through additional funding from the market. An announcement was made on the same day that the Centre would raise its borrowing by over 50 per cent of the budgetary estimate during FY2020-21. A statement from the Economic Affairs Department of the Finance Ministry had said, “The estimated gross market borrowing in the financial year 2020-21 will be Rs 12 lakh crore in place of Rs 7.80 lakh crore as per BE 2020-21.”

The government of India leans on such borrowings to bridge the gap between its income and expenditure. This provides ample evidence that the Centre has shed its reluctance to breach the fiscal deficit targets. Following this level of borrowing, the fiscal deficit during 2020-21 could go up by 200 basis points while 100 basis points translate to 1 percentage point.

Substance of the package

Sources in the government had told media outlets last week that “a package with proposals and implications” was sent some time ago from the North Block office of the Finance Ministry to PMO in South Block.

Concerned departments such as the Department of Financial Services which deal with banking-related issues are said to have already submitted their report vis-à-vis the measures, implications and procedures. Ministries like MSME, Labour and others have also sent in their proposals and responses.

Multiple sources in the government and its advisory entities claim that the package focuses on relief, rehabilitation and revival of the Indian economy. The PMO has also held a series of meetings with different ministries, departments and statutory bodies like the RBI to discuss the package.

A “big bang” package has not been the government’s first choice and it has been opting for “targeted packages” for different sectors and segments in a phased manner with the active involvement of the RBI.

Aid for MSMEs

The PMO is said to have drawn a comprehensive proposal for the MSME sector that may address the concerns of both the employer and the employee. The Ministry of MSME had sent multiple proposals for the sector and the PMO is said to have taken the final call.

To help the MSMEs, the Centre is believed to be working on provision of guarantees for additional funding of 20 per cent of the credit limit of medium and small entities. This may involve a backstop guaranteeing over Rs 3 lakh crore in loans.

Once the government steps in as a guarantor, banks will be incentivised to lend to MSMEs. A senior government official said, “Using the loans once MSMEs kick start operations, defaults will not be instant. They may occur only after the deep distress forced by coronavirus spread has abated. The Department of Financial Services is said to have submitted its report to the PMO on this proposal.”

The MSME ministry had submitted proposals that included setting up a special fund to pay the banks in case of defaults and using the credit guarantee trust to operate the assistance. Now, the Centre is actively considering ways to address both the supply and demand side of the crisis.

Wage support for workers

Sources say the fiscal relief measures may have strong elements to address the problems being faced by the workforce and especially migrant workers who are fleeing back to the safety of their native homes in large numbers. The other key proposal for MSMEs is direct assistance in the form of wage support to reduce the burden on entities.

Top sources in the Union government confirmed to India Today the existence of a proposal drafted by the NITI Aayog for MSMEs getting “payroll support” for employees. This has the potential to immediately address the large scale retrenchment and job losses which are being reported across the country. More money in the hands of labourers can trigger demand for goods produced by industries and businesses which have been given the go-ahead to resume work while abiding by social distancing protocols.

Nearly 10 crore workers employed by the MSME sector could benefit from this proposal if implemented. The Manufacturing sector accounts for 42 per cent of employment and its contribution to GDP exceeds 70 per cent. The labour ministry has already cleared deferred payment of employers’ contribution in the EPF to reduce the burden on MSMEs.

The Centre is also said to have on its table a proposal to put money directly in the hands of people worst-hit by the crisis. Former finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg in an article estimated that the Centre needs to spend nearly Rs 60,000 crore to provide at least Rs 2,000 direct cash transfer to nearly 10 crore workers for three months.

Apart from this, the Union government is also considering tax rebates and other incentives to help large industries and corporates. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das had announced a slew of measures to improve credit flow and liquidity on April 17.

A balanced financial relief package could set the tone for the Indian economy. The Centre’s fiscal moves will also pave the way for the RBI to make the next move. Sources in the central bank told India Today, “RBI will now wait for the government’s fiscal measures to address the economic distress before deciding its next monetary intervention.”

China’s loss could be India’s gain

Over the last few days, the Prime Minister has held several rounds of meetings with ministers, officials and stakeholders. His focus has been on a post-coronavirus scenario in which India could position itself as a competitive manufacturing destination in comparison to China.

The Centre is working on proposals to bring in greater FDI, improve on counts of ease of doing business and bring in systematic reforms to make India more lucrative for companies exiting China in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak. Announcements along these lines are also in the works.

In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held discussions for interventions in the financial sector and structural reforms along with a strategy to support MSMEs and farmers, the liquidity situation and ways to strengthen credit flows.

A business’ recovery plan is said to have become the mantra in the government and the PM has been flagging the need for generating gainful employment opportunities by helping businesses overcome difficulties.

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It projects itself as a homegrown outfit, but a seven-month-old Kashmiri terror group, The Resistance Front (TRF), carries all the telltale signs of Pakistan’s state sponsorship, findings of India Today’s Open-Source Intelligence Team suggest.

The OSINT probed terror propaganda by various organisations, statements by the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office and by Major General Asif Ghafoor, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).

TRF LAUNCHES ONLINE DURING INTERNET BAN

On October 12, 2019, the TRF announced its arrival online via encrypted chat platform Telegram.

That was the time when the Internet was still banned in Jammu and Kashmir as part of restrictions that followed the abrogation of Article 370 in August last year.

Still, in clear signs that its real authors were operating across the border with unrestricted access to the Internet, this self-proclaimed Kashmiri group expanded its digital footprints through several Twitter accounts which were created in October.

The TRF’s Telegram and Twitter handles were later blocked after they caught the eyes of security agencies.

Sample the first message the TRF posted on Telegram on October 12, 2019, claiming responsibility for a grenade attack.

The group then consistently owned up terror assaults in the valley through its online propaganda. And when there were no attacks, it would issue threats to the Indian government and to pro-India civil-society members in Kashmir.

The TRF even sought to give political spins to violent militant activities.

THE SECOND ACTOR

India Today’s OSINT also zeroed in on another online group called the Al-Hind Brigade, which debuted around the same time with a similar propaganda outlook.

This group also claimed to be an indigenous Jihadi organisation from the Indian heartland, which even issued statements in poor Hindi.

In order to gain eyeballs, the Al-Hind Brigade claimed responsibility for acts it wasn’t responsible for.

After falsely claiming responsibility for the murder of a Hindu Samaj Party leader, Kamlesh Tiwari, it tried to foment communal violence after the Ayodhya verdict and issued brazen threats.

Both online groups popped up around the same time, had similar propaganda layout, often used same fonts and cross-posted each others’ content, the OSINT probe showed, indicating that the two outfits were operated by the same actors.

COMPELLING EVIDENCE

A compelling proof of a common hand behind them came soon.

Facing regular blocking on Telegram, both the TRF and Al-Hind turned to other platforms simultaneously to create a backup, with TamTam, an encrypted Russian messaging platform, being one of them.

ACTORS AND DIRECTORS

India Today’s digital forensic team then analysed a January 3 tweet of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in which he circulated a fake video he claimed showed “Indian police’s pogrom against Muslims in UP”.

The Prime Minister’s office had to delete the tweet but not before he was called out for circulating an old video from Bangladesh he labelled as Indian.

Many people questioned the source of information that Khan circulated, which caused him international embarrassment.

When India Today’s OSINT scanned Al-Hind’s propaganda material from the same time, it found that the group had used the same fake content with the same wrong attribution hours before Khan tweeted from his official handle.

All this points to the TRF and the Al-Hind Brigade being operated by one common entity and that the Pakistan Prime Minister used their disinformation content.

Al-HIND’S HINDI ISSUES

The Al-Hind Brigade described itself as a Jihadi organisation from the Indian heartland. But the Hindi language it used in its material is offensively poor, suggesting a foreign origin.

Remember, the TRF used Urdu and English propaganda. So if the same people from across the border had to use Hindi, the results were obviously terrible.

Some years ago, another Pakistan-based terrorist organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, also used Hindi propaganda on social media but their application of the language was flawless.

This in some sense rules out the possibility of usual suspects running the TRF and Al-Hind in Pakistan.

But a careful analysis of Al-Hind content throws some more insights.

An Al-Hind poster, for instance, used a blurred picture in the background.

When analysed, it turns out that the photo, barely visible in the terror pamphlet, is not from Kashmir.

India Today’s OSINT traced its origins to Turkey, where signboards read “Brothers Real Estate”, “Heating Cooling Industrial” in Turkish.

Turkey has a strong government-backed propaganda machinery which regularly amplifies Pakistan’s anti-India propaganda on a regular basis.

Last year, Turkish hackers targeted social-media accounts of Indian celebrities and posted pro-Pakistani messages on them. A Turkish state broadcaster has also been running anti-India propaganda for quite some time.

The Al-Hind poster was released in the second week of November 2019, barely weeks after the visit of Pakistan’s Asif Ghafoor to Turkey’s state-media outlets.

Then chief of the Pakistan army’s propaganda department, Ghafoor himself announced that he was in Turkey and meeting the leaders of the country’s state media around the same time.

Ghafoor’s visit was unusual because, as the head of PR wing, he goes on official foreign visits with his army chief but this time it was not an official trip with General Bajwa accompanying.

Social-media propaganda channels associated with the ISPR termed his visit a “special task”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently slammed Pakistan for spreading the virus of terrorism through disinformation campaign.

“Even as the world fights Covid-19, some people are busy spreading some other deadly viruses such as terrorism, fake news and doctored videos to divide communities and countries,” Prime Minister Modi said at the summit of Non-Aligned Movement countries.

Indian intelligence have also maintained that the TRF is a shadow identity, invented to cover the old actors of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the valley and to provide an indigenous identity to outsourced terrorism.

Evidence suggests that the TRF is most likely a rebranding attempt linked to the top of the Pakistani establishment.

Pakistan is under scrutiny of the Financial Action Task Force for its support to UN-designated terror outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. These Pakistan-based terror organizations have mostly avoided taking responsibility for attacks since the invention of the TRF.



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