As day two of the nationwide lockdown comes to an end, newspapers across the country dwell on the hurdles faced.
Also, in some happier news, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s relief package for the next three months to provide for the poor and daily wage labourers made big headlines.
The Times of India’s lead story is: ‘Cash transfers, free foodgrains for poor in ₹1.7L crore corona package’. The paper reports, “Announcing the relief measures, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, however, did not touch on loan concessions or support for the corporate sector and middle class, saying other concerns would be ‘considered separately’. It is expected that more measures aimed at helping business could be on the anvil. Two days ago, an extension in compliance deadlines relating to GST and income tax filings had been announced.”
The good news done with, on to the bad news, ‘7 more deaths take corona toll to 20; cases cross 700’. According to TOI, “The ministry reported 88 new cases, the highest official single-day count so far, taking its total to 694. Two deaths were reported from Mumbai, both 65-year-old women with no travel history.”
And, with doctors in great demand, there’s a story on ‘Govt mulls roping in 5th-year med students, retd docs to fight virus’. “In urgent measures to ramp up medical capacity to tackle any sharp rise in Covid-19 cases, the government is considering facilitating fifth-year MBBS students and retired but practising doctors to help in managing patients, if necessary”, reports TOI.
The Indian Express on ‘Day 2: Govt rolls out safety nets’ leads with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s “Rs 1.7 lakh cr package…”. The report notes, however, “A scrutiny of the measures shows that around Rs 70,000 crore could already be accounted for in existing schemes and funds.” The report also notes the measures include “free food to the poorest of the poor, some income support to farmers and unorganised sector workers, a Rs 50-lakh medical insurance cover for health care staff and a Rs 500-transfer to women Jan Dhan account holders.”
Another report (`As States in East send SOS, Centre too says: Help stranded migrants’) notes, “The Centre Thursday asked all states to ensure food and shelter for thousands of migrant workers who have been left stranded without jobs amid a national lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak.” The Centre stepped in after chief ministers of Odisha and West Bengal appealed to the rest of the country to assist workers from the two states.
As the coronavirus cases are on a rise, the Indian Army steps up to help. The report, ‘Army all set, contingency plans for Covid-19 in place at 6-hour notice: Chief’, notes Army Chief M.M. Naravne’s statement, “It is the earnest responsibility of the Indian Army to keep the borders safe while the country is preparing and fighting COVID-19.”
The anchor story is a heart-wrenching one — ‘Child, wife killed, gurudwara sewadar says, Time to leave Kabul’ details the plight of a man who lost his family in the terror attack on gurudwara by the Islamic State Wednesday. “Tanya, and her mother, Surpal Kaur (40), were among those killed. Harinder also lost his father, Nirmal Singh Soni (60), who was the head granthi of the gurdwara, father-in-law Bhagat Singh (75) and cousin Kulwinder Singh Khalsa (35). His mother, Rawail Kaur, was injured in the attack.”
Hindustan Times’ cover page minces no words on the financial crisis in the country: ‘India Fights Economic Epidemic’. The paper reports, “India on Thursday announced a ~170,000 crore package under a new scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKBY), to address the immediate economic distress.”
The paper uses a graph to compare what other nations like the US, UK, Germany, France, have announced as relief packages. US announced a $2 trillion dollar disaster aid bill, UK announced a rescue package of 330 billion euros while Germany will lend $610 billion to firms.
Still on the global front, ‘G20 readies $5tn war chest to combat virus’. According to HT, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who joined an extraordinary virtual G20 leaders’ summit, said the pandemic offered an opportunity to forge a new concept of globalisation that wasn’t focused solely on an economic agenda. He also called for the reform of the WHO, which was based on ‘last century’s models’, according to people familiar with developments.”
More heartbreaking news, this time from Lucknow, Delhi and Ranchi in this story from the heart of India: ‘A long walk home on empty stomachs for masked migrants’. “Manna Lal has walked 100 km over the last 24 hours with almost no food or water. He has to cover 150 km more to get home. Lal, 48, is one in a group of eight labourers walking across the length of eastern Uttar Pradesh to get to their ancestral village of Gatla Beli in Bahraich district – roughly 250km from Kanpur city, where they worked as masons”, reports the daily.
Aside from the lockdown package announced by Nirmala Sitharaman Thursday, Hindu provides a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day: ‘Rate of spread has slowed relatively’. The daily reports, “With 16 deaths and 694 COVID-19 positive cases, India is now showing a relatively slower spread of COVID-19 infection rate, Joint Secretary, Union Health Ministry, Luv Agarwal said on Thursday. But he added, ‘We cannot be relaxed about restrictions put in place to contain the virus’.” This is different from the TOI story on numbers so could be confusing.
The Hindu also notes an unusual political development: ‘Will fully back Centre: Sonia’. According to the paper, “Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing solidarity with his lockdown call. “We will support and collaborate fully with every step taken by the Union government to ensure the containment of the pandemic,” she said. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi called the package the “first” step in the right direction but criticised the government for offering insufficient cash transfer.
Coronavirus has hit plans for a new central vista in New Delhi too —`New Parliament design will take more time’ reports that “The design for the new Parliament building that the Centre is hoping to complete by August 2022 could be delayed by a few weeks as the country remains in lock-down, according to sources.’’
The New Indian Express leads with a feedback for the government’s financial plan for the poor that was rolled out yesterday “Good first shot, now aim for a six”. The copy details, “The package combined old schemes such as direct cash transfers to farmers with fresh relief measures including a wage increase for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme.”
To battle the spread of the virus, another report (‘54k from abroad to be home quarantined’) tells of how Tamil Nadu is reacting — “An order released later in the day by the Revenue and Disaster Management said persons who have arrived after 15 February will have to remain under home quarantine.”
In a spin-off from the movie Dr. Dolittle, the Mumbai daily’s lead story is ‘Dr. Do Gooders’. The paper says, “BMC asked for 50, but 250 private doctors have signed up to join its battle against coronavirus.115 of them will undergo training today and will be deputed on Saturday at five civic hospitals where Covid-19 patients will be treated.” To reiterate the point, the paper notes, “Some of the city’s top private doctors – who take home seven-figure salary cheques — are giving it all up for a month to help the BMC in its grinding battle against coronavirus.”
In more shocking news, `MAN KILLS SIBLING FOR VIOLATING LOCKDOWN. The paper reports, “… A 28-year-old man, who had stepped out of his house with his wife for grocery shopping, ended up killing his younger brother after the latter chided him for not complying with the lockdown order. The accused, Rajesh Thakur, slammed a frying pan on the head of his sibling Durgesh, 21, after the latter allegedly assaulted his wife, the Samata Nagar police said.”
On e-commerce services and their functioning, The Economic Times says, “Supply Woes Ease, But Still a Long Road Ahead.” The report details “The disruption in supplies of essentials eased on Thursday, although consumers and the trade still complained about goods not getting through. This prompted the government to issue guidelines late on Thursday to ensure that hold ups could be overcome.”
On Sitharaman’s relief plan (Govt Unveils a ₹1.7-lakh-cr Relief Package for Poor), ET says “About 800 million people will get free cereals and cooking gas apart from cash through direct transfers for three months.”
Another report (‘Farmers Left Stranded with Fruit and Veggies Lying in the Fields’) details, “Farmgate prices are plunging. Many private dairies have halved the price they pay farmers, while tomato growers in Maharashtra are not finding buyers for ₹2/kg or less.”
Calling Sitharaman’s relief package “The Social Safety Spread”, Mint notes, “India rolled out a ₹1.7 trillion relief package, amounting to about 1% of its gross domestic product, marking an aggressive attempt to limit the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak and tackle the loss of livelihood of millions of poor hit by an unprecedented 21-day nationwide lockdown.”