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Papers hail arrival of 5 lakh kits from China, Mint wants big, broad economic stimulus

A round-up of the most important reports in major newspapers around the country – from TOI and HT, Express and The Hindu to The Telegraph, Mumbai Mirror and The Tribune, as well as top financial dailies.

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On this Friday morning, the newspapers offer different stories as their lead report — from the ramping up of tests after five lakh testing kits arrived from China to a significant decrease in the number of positive cases.  

There’s also the heartening news that Kerala and Tamil Nadu have seem to put a lid on the spread of infection, while Maharashtra, continues to be a concern with its single-day record in positive cases.

The financial papers eagerly await a stimulus package amid reports that Prime Minister Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have held meetings. Mint suggests subsidised wages could be one measure, Business Standard says small and targeted announcements are more likely than one “big-bang” package.

On the 23rd day of the lockdown, the ‘Govt readying stimulus for corporates, relief for poor’ says The Times Of India. It  reports that final touches were being given to the relief package for the poor as well as the stimulus package for corporates. “On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent several hours with finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her team of officials to discuss the contours of the proposed package…” states TOI.

After Delhi and Maharashtra, the latest surge of  Covid-19 cases is in Madhya Pradesh: in “MP sets record for most cases in a single day: 361″, the paper reports that 361 new cases is “the highest single-day figure for any state so far. With the coronavirus crisis worsening in Gujarat as well and Maharashtra continuing to report big numbers, new virus cases from across the country rose by 1,260 — the second highest for a single day so far.”

But TOI offers some good news for consumers across the country: ‘E-comm players can deliver non-essentials’ from 20 April, according to a senior government official. “The move will help consumers order the laptop or tablet needed for work or kids’ online classes. For most top ecommerce players, smartphones and electronics contribute a large chunk of sales, followed by fashion”, reports TOI.

 The lead story in The Indian Express is ‘Testing ramped up, 5 lakh kits arrive from China, another 6.5 lakh on way’. The paper reports, “With four days to go for conditional easing of restrictions in specific areas, testing has been stepped up… the number of samples tested in the last 24 hours crossed 30,000 for the first time on Thursday…”

India’s Ambassador to China Vikram Misri. tweeted: “A total of 650,000 kits, including Rapid Antibody Tests and RNA Extraction Kits have been despatched early today from Guangzhou Airport to India.”

There’s more good news in ‘Coronavirus lockdown: Five-day average growth in cases falls to record low’. The daily says the decline in cases could be due to the lockdown, adding “the compounded daily growth rate (CDGR) — a metric that factors in daily fluctuations and is, therefore, more representative of the trend — for the last five days has dropped to single digits, below 10 per cent, for the first time…”

In other news, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said, “Plasma therapy a small ray of hope, trials to start in Delhi hospitals”. Express quotes Kejriwal saying “this treatment has shown some positive results in some countries that are experimenting with it. The only way to eliminate coronavirus disease is to develop a vaccine”. In the absence of a vaccine, “We have to look at prevention and treatment, which are our two biggest challenges right now,” Kejriwal said.”

In some daunting news, RBI data explained in ‘170 hotspots account for 80% of outstanding bank credit’. The paper reports, “Data available with the RBI and compiled by The Indian Express shows that the 170 districts that have witnessed large outbreaks (as on April 15) had a total credit outstanding of Rs 79.84 lakh crore, which accounted for 79.3 per cent of the total credit outstanding of Rs 100.68 lakh crore reported by the scheduled commercial banks as of December 2019.”

The paper notes that even as restrictions are lifted in phases post 20 April, business is likely to remain crippled in these 70 hotspots.

Following the Express, Hindustan Times’ lead story is, “Rapid kits finally arrive to test Covid immunity”. The paper reports that the Rapid Testing Kits, which use antibody-based blood tests “will likely be used to test for coronavirus disease in areas with no or few cases — the health ministry’s green zones — according to an official at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).”

In another report, HT also explains, ‘Why India should do random testing’. “It is crucial to also look at the total number of tests performed for every confirmed case. This can show how India’s strict testing protocols may have influenced the numbers so they don’t give a clear indication of the spread of the disease and may have left swathes of people out of the testing umbrella,” it writes.

After a pizza delivery executive tested positive for Covid-19 in South Delhi, “Stricter norms likely after food rider tests Covid-19+”. The paper says that, “The civic administration is scrambling to put in place rules and standard operating procedures…for local delivery firms and stand-alone restaurants..’’. 

And apparently, ‘Your voice may be able to tell if you have Covid’. According to HT, “The rush to understand, predict and head off the Covid-19 outbreak has prompted technology researchers to deploy artificial intelligence to create tools that can determine whether people are infected by analysing the sound of their cough, the way they speak or even breathe.’’ 

While other newspapers go with relatively positive stories, The Hindu’s lead is ‘Fresh cases rise by over 800; govt. pegs fatality rate at 3.3%’.

 It states that as of Thursday, the overall tally touches 12,759 cases and 420 deaths, including over 10,824 active cases. “A total of 1,541 people have been cured and discharged and one had migrated… The Health Ministry noted that India’s case fatality rate is 3.3% and percentage of people recovered is 12.02.”

After a surge of cases in Maharashtra, the paper notes at least one city will be thoroughly tested: ‘All residents of Indore set to be screened for COVID-19’. 

The paper reports, “As Indore grapples with a high fatality rate from COVID-19, the city administration is surveying all residents for Influenza-Like Illness and Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARIs) to check the spread of the novel coronavirus. The rate had shot up to 12% recently, the highest in the country.” 28 lakh residents have already been screened claims The Hindu

Like the other dailies, Hindu carries the Home Ministry’s advisory on Zoom: “Zoom not a safe platform, says MHA”. It says, “U.S. based Zoom video communication has seen an exponential rise in usage in India as office-goers remain at home owing to the present lockdown. The software used in the online platform is said to be made in China and some calls were being routed through servers in China.” The MHA expressed concerns about privacy and security and pointed out that certain weaknesses in the app make people susceptible to cyber attacks.

The Kolkata daily always likes to go its own way. So its lead today is, ‘Used-ventilator import ban lifted’. The paper says, “The Centre has revoked a ban on the import of used ventilators, stirring concerns among sections of doctors and industry executives whether this might expose patients to aged, retired and uncalibrated devices.’’ Telegraph says that the environment ministry, “…in an office memorandum on April 1 (said) that it would allow the import of used ventilators by hospitals up to September 30, 2020….”

The Telegraph’s second lead headline is rather misleading– “Label & response don’t match” suggests it is talking of a product. 

However, it is about the spread of coronavirus: “Despite the Union health ministry’s persistent denials of community transmission of the coronavirus, India’s current containment and planned surveillance efforts are exactly the responses required to address community-level spread of the virus, public health experts said,’’ claims the newspaper.

Health officials also signalled plans to launch “continuous nationwide surveillance… using rapid antibody test kits that they cautioned were not intended for diagnosis of the disease in individual patients.’’ Rapid antibody tests are prick-based tests that can detect the presence of coronaviru antibodies.

The New Indian Express leads with some troubling news from the IMF for the continent Asia is likely to go through an “economic famine” in 2020. In “Zero Asia growth for first time in 60 yrs?”, the paper notes that the projections are worse than those during the 2008 global financial crisis and the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It reports, “That’s because, unlike past crises, Covid-19 pandemic has gridlocked economic activity for months, forcing households to stay home and shops to shut.” However, the report also adds that if containment policies succeed, there could be a “7.6% expansion” in Asian economic growth next year.

And here’s the good news: After consistent spikes in coronavirus cases, Tamil Nadu has finally some respite, notes the Chennai paper. In “Infection in TN is under control: EPS”, the daily notes Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s statement that on Thursday, only 25 cases were reported and 1 death.

In a brief but critical piece (‘Link missing to start economic activities’), the newspaper notes the lack of clarity on the MHA guidelines for the partial resumption of economic activity from 20 April onwards. The “free movement” of electricians, plumbers and carpenters is a “grey area” and it’s unclear whether they will need e-passes too, it reports. It also points out confusion within the construction sector given that “there was no word on cement outlets and construction material shops”.

Leading with some hopeful news (‘Slowly, India Inc Begins to Fire Up Its Engines’), The Economic Times says eight publicly listed companies — Pidilite Industries, Eveready Industries, Navin Fluorine, Hikal, Prataap Snacks, Man Industries and Yasho Industries — are gearing up to “restart operations with a limited workforce after obtaining permission from the authorities”.

The second lead, ‘Labour ministry to compile data on layoffs…’ says that amid the “stressed economic situation”, the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) and Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) have been tasked with collecting data on job losses, salary cuts and delayed payments, says the report. This, despite PM Modi’s “repeated appeals to employers to be considerate to employees”, it notes. 

When it comes to the prevalence of Covid-19 infection, we can take heart from news that so far India is better off than Italy or Japan. In ‘India Gets 1 Covid-Positive Case in 24 Tests’, it notes ICMR’s finding that one out of 24 people in India will test positive. In Japan, “11 people need to be tested to find one positive case, while the numbers are 3.4 in Italy and 5.3 in the UK”, adds the report. Let’s hope, we’re not talking too soon. 

Mint’s lead story ‘Wanted: A Big, Broad Stimulus’ anticipates a massive economic package to be announced by FM Sitharaman. One of the measures expected is subsidised wages, “based on a German model that gave people short-time work… helping Europe’s largest economy emerge from the 2009 recession faster than others”, it reports. 

If there’s one group of people who have been working “heroically” amid the coronavirus crisis, it’s kirana stores. So the paper says there’s a “A joint effort to get the ‘kirana’ store digital”. The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) plans to digitise small businesses and logistics firms to “help ease supply-chain bottlenecks for neighbourhood kirana stores”, it notes. A pilot programme has been launched in four cities in Uttar Pradesh, it adds.

In more good news for the public, universities and business schools have provided relief to students by offering them the option of paying fees through monthly or quarterly instalments and deferment of payments. The report (‘Colleges and varsities defer fee payments as covid hurts incomes’) names IIM Rohtak, Mudra Institute of Communication Ahmedabad (MICA) and a chain of professional colleges in Kerala.

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