All mainstream papers follow-up on Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area as a new Covid-19 cluster Wednesday. They note new developments such as the FIR filed against the maulana for flouting orders and how states are scrambling to trace all those who were at the Jamaat.
Financial newspapers note another blow to consumers: RBI’s slashing of interest rates for small savings schemes.
Newspapers also report on the Supreme Court’s directive to the Centre to ensure essential supplies to migrants following the mass exodus Sunday — and for the media, strictures to disseminate official information on the coronavirus.
The Times Of India’s four-column lead story is ‘Govts race to curb spread as hundreds from Tablighi meet show symptoms’. It reports, “The aim is to stop those who attended the congregation, and the people they came into contact with, from inadvertently creating new clusters of infection across India… three southern states — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka — were trying to track at least 2,500 people, many of who had tested positive for Covid-19. Authorities believe several clerics from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, who transited through the Tablighi Jamaat markaz (centre) in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin West, may have been the original source of the infections in the cluster.”
The other lead is on the financial front: ‘Govt slashes small savings rates by up to 140 basis pts’. TOI says, “The government on Tuesday announced one of the steepest-ever cuts in small savings rates, which will see returns on the popular public provident fund deposits fall by 80 basis points to 7.1%, starting Wednesday, while the Senior Citizens Savings Scheme will see the annual interest rate drop by more than a percentage point. Similarly, rates on post office term deposits have also been slashed by as much as 140 basis points, with one- to three-year deposits now fetching 5.5% instead of 6.9% earlier. The rate on five-year term deposits has been pared by a percentage point to 6.7%.”
Read the interesting anchor story ‘Woman under quarantine in Kargil moved to hospital, delivers baby boy’: “A 30-year-old woman who was quarantined near the LoC in Kargil… has given birth to a bonny baby at a government district hospital, reports Rohan Dua. But the family reunion and celebrations will have to wait as her relatives, including her husband, continue to remain in quarantine.”
Calling it a race to trace contacts of Tabligh meeting, The Indian Express reports, “As many as 20 states and Union Territories are scrambling to identify, quarantine and test all those who attended a gathering of almost 4,000 people at Markaz Nizamuddin… in the middle of March.” It also provides details of the state-wise hunt.
“Cases are showing up in different states, with Tamil Nadu announcing that 50 of the 57 COVID-19 positive cases Tuesday were of those who participated in the congregation… Telangana said five who died and tested positive for COVID-19 were present at the event.”
In what sounds like a guessing game, the paper reports, ‘As US deaths cross 3,400, ICMR compares: coronavirus infection probability is low in India’. “With 146 positive cases, including two deaths, being reported in the last 24 hours, the total count has gone up to 1,397 (124 recovered, 35 dead)…. While at 1,64,620 cases and 3,170 deaths, the US is now the worst-hit country, overtaking both China (82,241 cases) and Italy (1,01,739 cases).”
More importantly, it says the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) believes the “probability of infection is still `very low’’’ and there were “many differences’’ between the outbreaks in the US and India.
The lead in Hindustan Times is the same in all newspapers — the Tablighi Jamaat congregation. However HT also reports, ‘Now a disease hub, Jamaat defied series of anti-Covid curbs ‘. According to the paper, “Delhi Police on Tuesday registered a case against Maulana Saad, the head of the Tablighi Jamaat, and other officials of the group for defying a series of government orders that restricted gatherings in the city in a scaled manner between March 13 and March 21, before a full-fledged national lockdown was put in place on March 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).”
It adds, “In the first information report (FIR), parts of which were reviewed by HT, the police have claimed that they have recovered an audio recording in which Maulana Saad was expressly heard asking people to “defy” the government’s lockdown and prohibitory orders.”
HT’s ICMR report’s focus is different from the Express and it is far more worrying. In ‘ICMR plays down signs of community transmission’, the paper reports, ICMR “has come under scrutiny over the past few days for its continued insistence that there is no community transmission of Covid-19 in India, and delays in approving testing kits… according to many experts. The National Institute of Virology (NIV) was also taking far too long to evaluate the kits…”
HT also goes global with the story: ‘Global body count exceeds 40,000’. HT add, “…the number of infections crossed the 800,000-mark as a grim reminder of the World Health Organization’s warning that a ‘long-term battle’ awaited the world.”
If you want a quick take on the coronavirus globally, look at the detailed chart in which The Hindu explains the exponential increase in the number of Covid-19 cases across the world.
In another chart the paper highlights that it took India 50 days to reach 200 Covid-19 cases, 3 days to 400, 2 days to 600, another 2 days to 800, yet another 2 days to 1000 and only 1 day to reach 1,200 cases.
Also making news is the Supreme Court’s rulings on migrants, in ‘Treat migrants humanely, SC tells officials’. The paper reports, “The Supreme Court on Tuesday (said), “We expect those concerned to appreciate the trepidation of the poor men, women and children and treat them with kindness… The anxiety and fear of the migrants should be understood by the police and other authorities…” The paper also reports that the SC bench called for “authentic information’’ from the government to be faithfully reported by the media.
In heartbreaking news, a youth was beaten to death in his Bihar village. According to the daily, “A youth in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district was beaten to death on March 29 for allegedly alerting the local authorities that two villagers who had returned from Mumbai recently could be infected with COVID-19. Two accused in the case have been arrested and sent to jail.”
The Telegraph ignores the latest developments on the coronavirus front to concentrate on the latest news on the financial front. The lead headline is ‘Unkindest cuts’ on the slashing of savings rates.
In another article headlined ‘Smells like passing buck’, the paper says, “A health ministry official briefing the media linked the increase in numbers — a spike of 227 fresh patients on Monday — to the lack of people’s support. “The reason for this increase is that in some locations, people’s support was not available, and the numbers rose abruptly,” said joint secretary Lav Agarwal “I have said this earlier — in this battle against Covid-19, we will only be as much successful as we get support from the community,” Agarwal said. “If a single individual does not give us support, the entire society can suffer. I appeal again this is a joint war. We have to work together.”
And in ‘Babel of advisories on masks’, it brings us unusual news: “The Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the government released a 16-page do-it-yourself kit for making reusable masks at home”. This, when the ICMR says we don’t need to wear masks.
Alongside a comprehensive chart on the total number of foreigners, The New Indian Express’ lead calls Tablighi Jamaat headquarters “the biggest hotspot for coronavirus in India”. In ‘Delhi address for mother of all infections’, it notes that at least 10 people who were part of a religious gathering in the area contracted the virus and died.
The newspaper delivers some positive news about the Indian economy’s fate in ‘Global recession may not affect India, says UNCTAD’. It reports: “While UNCTAD chose not to elucidate why China and India would escape the recession, analysts said it was partly because of the large internal markets that these countries have and the benefit of lower energy prices.”
The Economic Times leads with news on RBI’s call to banks to allow borrowers to defer loan repayments for three months. In, ‘Banks Start Giving Options to Avail Loan Moratorium’, it briefly notes what options ICICI, HDFC, IDFC, Bank of Maharashtra and other banks plan to offer borrowers. The report vaguely says, “Many banks are still formulating policies on how the moratorium will be extended to retail loans, given their variety and complexity.”
ET also makes a public announcement on behalf of itself ‘FEARS UNFOUNDED YOUR PAPER IS SAFE’. It cautions: Public health specialists have said fears about newspapers being unsafe to touch are ‘unscientific and irrational’. Our presses follow stringent hygiene protocols, and no time is the paper handled manually. At the distribution centres, we have provided gloves, sanitizers, masks and other hygiene aids to ensure the last-mile delivery is also safeguarded. Our newsroom is working overtime to give you up-to-date and accurate information about the pandemic, and you may rest assured that it is perfectly safe to read about it in your favourite newspaper”.
Mint’s lead story ‘India Readies for Cluster Impact’ picks on the government’s alarming finding that “almost a third of the migrants returning to their home towns and villages could be infected with the novel coronavirus”. The statement was made by the government as it “sought to buttress the need to halt the exodus”.
Unlike New Indian Express’ hopeful story that the global recession might leave India unscathed, Mint marks the new financial year with some grim news. In “Small savings schemes see big cuts in rates”, the newspaper notes: “Millions of Indians will earn less from their small savings schemes in the April-June quarter, with the government on Tuesday slashing interest rates on these popular schemes in a falling rate cycle.”
Echoing Mint’s sentiment, Business Standard’s lead expresses concern over the government and RBI’s decision to borrow 62.56 per cent of its 2020-21 gross borrowing target of Rs 7.8 trillion in the April-September period. In “Centre frontloads borrowing for FY21”, the newspaper notes: “When asked if there were plans to increase borrowing to help fund further Covid-19 stimulus packages, Economic Affairs Secretary Atanu Chakraborty said the borrowing programme had factored in all the possibilities of a further stimulus boost.”