As the coronavirus spreads its tentacles far and wide, the pandemic continued to dominate headlines Wednesday.
However, other news does make it to the front pages: the Supreme Court’s decision on a floor test for the Madhya Pradesh government, the ongoing SC hearings on the Citizenship Amendment Act and the controversy surrounding former chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s nomination to Rajya Sabha as a member of eminence.
The Times of India highlights the third coronavirus casualty in India — a 63-year-old man in Mumbai, the first death in Maharashtra.
The lead story ‘Centre asks pvt hospitals to reserve beds for isolation’, says, “Seeking to boost preparedness to combat Covid-19, the government asked private hospitals to reserve beds for isolation of patients and also issued separate guidelines for testing and notifying of positive patients by private institutions, including hospitals and laboratories.”
On the flap, TOI leads with ‘Govt: CAA not an answer to all religious persecution…’ in which it says that the government argued this was a “a narrowly tailored law addressing problems in grant of citizenship to some communities persecuted on the basis of religion in neighbouring Islamic countries…”.
The Indian Express in its lead on the third coronavirus death writes that the casualty was “…a 63-year-old man in Mumbai with a travel history to Dubai, and had underlying conditions of high blood pressure and heart disease”.
The same report says the Health Minister has also recommended the use of antiviral drugs “usually a second line HIV medication’’ on a ‘case-to-case basis’ for ‘high-risk patients’ aged above 60 years with underlying conditions”.
Meanwhile, the travel ban on all flights to India “led to a mad scramble” as Indian students, who “make up the third-largest group of international students” tried to find a way back home.
Also, in what seems to be a flicker of hope in these dark times, the report, `ICMR random tests…’, says the Indian Council of Medical Research found that the first batch of results for tests done to check community transmission are negative. “The ICMR had picked 1,020 random samples of people with severe acute respiratory illness pneumonia and influenza-like symptoms for testing for Covid-19,” the report states.
Away from the coronavirus, more to worry about: an exclusive report, `Cellphone operators red-flag `surveillance’ after Govt wants call records of all users’ reveals that the government is “seeking call data records of all mobile subscribers across several days” over the past few months. The request was routed to telecom operators following which the “Cellular Operators Association of India…flagged these requests in a complaint to Anshu Prakash, Secretary , Department of Telecommunications”. Interestingly, mass requests were seen during January and February.
The anchor story will surely raise eyebrows — `Member of panel that picked Jamia VC changes mind…’ says a member of the search committee Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, which had picked Dr Nazma Akhtar to be the Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University “has written to President Ram Nath Kovind to recall the appointment“. The piece adds that the member claimed that the “Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had denied vigilance clearance to Akhtar in an office memo (OM) dates January 10,2019” but “his letter does not spell out what was the CVC objection…’’ writes Express.
Moving away from the coronavirus, the HT flap story is, ‘SC to hear pleas on MP floor test today’. The paper notes, “Court on Tuesday sought responses from Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath and speaker NP Prajapati on a petition by 10 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs seeking an immediate floor test while the Congress filed a separate plea saying the test could not be conducted as 16 lawmakers had been held “captive” in Bengaluru.”
The second story on the flap is on the judicial review of the Citizenship Amendment Act before the apex, where the Modi government has told SC that, “Citizenship outside the scope of judicial review.”
On coronavirus, ‘Govt scales up kits, labs, but not tests’ says that while private medical facilities will be allowed to test for coronavirus, “These tests, however, will be open only to those who fit into rigid guidelines…” set by ICMR. “No voluntary walk-in tests will be allowed.’’
The Hindu’s lead story ‘Covid-19 claims third victim…’ finds some discrepancy in the number of cases. The Health Ministry put the “number of positive cases at 137,’’ says Hindu in its opening paragraph, but later finds that “reports from the States put the number of positive cases at 143’’.
Also sharing space with the lead story is ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava stating that “51 private labs will soon be allowed to conduct (coronavirus) tests.”
The paper quotes Bhargava saying, “While we cannot say that we have contained and avoided community transmission, we did close our borders very early.”
The Telegraph, being a Kolkata daily, leads with the first coronavirus case in West Bengal — notice how it goes with a straight headline. The patient was an 18-year-old who had returned from the UK. The student was asymptomatic and showed no symptoms of the virus, before being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Also in national news, former Supreme Court judge Justice Kurien Joseph, who served alongside Gogoi stated that his confidence was shaken. The paper reports, “Former Supreme Court judge Justice Kurien Joseph on Tuesday said former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s decision to accept the nomination to the Rajya Sabha ‘has certainly shaken the confidence of the common man on the independence of the judiciary’.”
The Mumbai tabloid registers the first death in the state: “First coronavirus death spooks city.” The paper reports that questions are being raised about “why he was moved out of Hinduja Intensive Care Unit to Kasturba, which does not have an ICU.”
Fronted by the photograph of an old lady in a mask, holding her head, the paper gloomily states ‘CORONA: NO SECTOR SPARED’. It lists the industries hit by the epidemic. “NRAI asks restaurants to shut down, railways cancels 39 long-distance trains, GoAir offers leave without pay to staff, plans salary cuts, no trains if people don’t stop non-essential travel: Uddhav Thackeray, Mulund chemists to ensure price cap on masks.”
The Tribune has an interesting report about the “surge in demand for hand sanitisers amid Covid pandemic”. According to the report, “pharmaceutical companies in the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh industrial belt are lining up before the drug licensing authority for approval to manufacture the product.”
Also, the Supreme Court has said that “officers of both genders had to be treated equally in granting permanent commission in Navy”. “The order came a month after the top court ordered the government to consider granting permanent commission (PC) to all women officers in the Army,” the report highlights.
‘India Needs An All-hands Effort‘ declares Mint with an alarming photograph of hands stamped to identify the person as one under `Home Quarantine’.
The lead indicates that the number of infected Indians is likely to be higher than 138 as “scientists argued that it is very difficult to say conclusively if those who have tested positive for Covid-19 are the only ones infected”. The piece also cites reports of “Indians leaving quarantine centres to evade treatment, with some even taking public transport”.
On the financial front, another crisis might be looming, this time over RBL Bank as the anchor piece highlights that institutional depositors and state government entities “withdrew a total of 3%” of its deposits. “RBL Bank said there was, however, no material impact on retail deposits,” the report notes.
Business Standard leads with Yes Bank recovery plan saying that the lender “is hoping to recover about Rs 8,500 crore from its loan defaulters, mostly corporate entities, in the coming financial year”.
The report quotes the bank’s administrator Prashant Kumar who said that “only a third of customers have withdrawn the entire amount of Rs 50,000 allowed during the moratorium”.
And, in more warnings for the economy, `Moody’s cuts India’s growth forecast…’ for 2020, says the newspaper, to 5.3 per cent down from its February projection of 5.4 per cent.
On a lighter note, read the anchor piece about how “those in quarantine in government facilities will soon get some reading material to keep them company”. According to the report, “one of these will be a collection of speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi“.