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Coronavirus: UK announces 12 additional flights to rescue stranded citizens in India

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The UK government, on Friday, announced an additional 12 charter flights to repatriate 3,000 Britishers, stranded in India amid lockdown. UK High Commission said that 12 charter flights will rescue Britons from South India, including Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, and Thiruvananthapuram.

The 12 additional flights planned next week for London will cover Amritsar on April 13, 17 and 19; Ahmedabad on April 13 and 15; Goa on April 14 and 16 with an additional one via Mumbai on April 18; Thiruvananthapuram via Kochi on April 15; Hyderabad via Ahmedabad on April 17; Kolkata via Delhi on April 19; and Chennai via Bengaluru on April 20.

The announcement comes days after the UK High Commission said seven charter flights will bring back its nationals from Mumbai, Delhi, and Goa. With this, a total of 5,000 Britishers will be taken back to their homes in 19 charter flights.

Yesterday, the first charter flight from India reached London, carrying 317 British nationals.

"Over 300 people arrived from Goa on Thursday morning, 1,400 more will arrive over the Easter weekend and these 12 flights next week will bring back thousands more," said Tariq Ahmad, UK Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

To book flights and register their details, British nationals are asked to use the city-specific webpages listed on the FCO's India Travel Advice page. The FCO added that those who are eligible to fly will be sent information on how to get to airports and flight itineraries directly when their seat is confirmed. Details regarding luggage allowance, flight costs and carriers will be available on the booking portal.

Besides India, British travellers have been repatriated from the Philippines, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nepal, Ghana, Tunisia, Algeria and Peru.

Coronavirus outbreak: PMO reviews preparedness, relief measures for days ahead

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office on Friday reviewed preparedness of empowered groups of officers in tackling challenges emerging as a result of spread of coronavirus. Issues related to supply chain and logistics management for availability of necessary items were discussed in the meeting, according to a statement issued by the PMO.

Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, who chaired the meeting, stressed on confidence building measures necessary to ensure seamless supply chain management. Measures to assist farmers harvest their produce while maintaining social distancing were discussed.

Last month, the Centre had set up 11 empowered groups, under Disaster Management Act, for ensuring a comprehensive and integrated response to check the spread of coronavirus.

"The gathering reviewed and expressed satisfaction on the detailed testing protocol and procedure, under which (as on date) 1,45,916 samples have been tested," the PMO said.

The meeting was the latest in a series of periodic reviews at various levels by the Prime Minister's Office to monitor the ongoing efforts to counter the impact of the pandemic.

According to the PMO statement, the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), key for preventing transmission of the coronavirus, is being ramped up and capacity building for healthcare personnel is being ensured. NGOs and Civil Society groups are also being mobilised, it said.

"Principal Secretary suggested that coordination with NGOs at district level be done to avoid overlaps and ensure efficacious utilisation of resources," it said.

"It was informed that all Chief Secretaries of States were issued instructions to arrange for shelter for the vulnerable groups like migrants and homeless," the statement noted.

In the meeting, the progress of roll out of welfare measures through the economic relief package under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana was also reviewed. Principal Secretary underlined that data sanctity was important to ensure that the benefits reach out to all the intended beneficiaries.>

"Steps taken to ensure timely information dissemination throughout the country were discussed and ensuring last mile outreach through communication in regional languages was emphasised," PMO said.

On the technology and data management front, the PMO expressed satisfaction on the roll out of Aarogya Setu app, while pitching for more user engagement.

The meeting was attended by senior officials of PMO and other ministries under the government of India.

Coronavirus India: Lockdown Likely To Be Extended, PM Modi Suggests At All-Party Meeting

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested today that the lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus will be extended and restrictions will not be lifted in one go after April 14, amid a spurt in COVID-19 infections in the country.

In a video meeting with leaders of all parties, PM Modi reportedly said he would consult with Chief Ministers but by all accounts the lifting of the lockdown "is not possible".

"The priority of the government is to save each and every life. The situation in the country is akin to a 'social emergency', it has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant," said the PM.

Life will not be the same again after COVID-19, the Prime Minister said, adding that there would be "pre-corona and post-corona" for times to come.

"Massive behavioral, social and personal changes will have to take place," he reportedly told political leaders in the video conference.

The sweeping lockdown of 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 ends on April 14 and PM Modi is due to take a decision this week on whether to extend it. Before a decision, he will hold a second meeting with Chief Ministers via video conference on Saturday.

Many states and experts have requested an extension, given the rapid spread of virus cases and warnings that the infection could peak in the coming weeks.

The crisis for thousands of migrant workers, rising unemployment and the strain on businesses has increased the pressure on the government to re-open parts of Asia's third largest economy. Among the plans in discussion is to seal off coronavirus hotspots while easing restrictions in other parts of the country.

A Group of Ministers suggested yesterday that schools, colleges and religious centres remain shut for more weeks. 

It is unlikely that rail travel, buses, metros and religious gatherings will be allowed anywhere in the country.

The number of coronavirus cases in the country has climbed to 5,194, including 149 deaths.

PM Modi met with floor leaders of parties whose combined strength in the two houses of parliament adds up to five MPs or more.

Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut were among those who joined the video-con.

Last week, the Prime Minister had reached out to opposition leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and had asked for suggestions. He also spoke with former presidents Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee and former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and HD Deve Gowda.

In Delhi's Virus Hotspot Nizamuddin, Door-To-Door Verification Of 2000 Houses Conducted

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Delhi Police along with the Delhi government and Municipal Corporation (MCD) have conducted door-to-door verification of approximately 2,000 houses in and around Nizamuddin area, which became an epicentre of coronavirus spread in the country.

According to sources, the purpose of this door-to-door verification is to identify and establish the movement of people in the area and also find out if they have developed any coronavirus-related symptoms.

It is expected to determine whether the people came in contact with anyone with COVID-19.

The police and crime branch are also scrutinizing thousands of dumped data of mobile phones which were active around Nizamuddin Markaz, sources said.

This comes after several people, who attended the congregation at Markaz Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin area last month, tested positive for coronavirus across the country.

Many who attended the congregation have also infected several others.

An FIR was earlier filed against Tablighi Jamaat head Maulana Saad and others under the Epidemic Disease Act in connection with the congregation. The area has also been sanitized and evacuated.

Earlier, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that of the 2,300 brought out from the Markaz, 500 of whom showed symptoms of COVID-19 and were admitted to hospitals, whereas the remaining 1,800 were sent under quarantine.

This comes as the country is under lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which according to the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs has claimed the lives of 114 people and infected 4,307 others as on Tuesday morning.

Centre Considering States' Request To Extend Lockdown

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Top government sources today said "a lot of state governments as well as experts" had requested that the 21-day lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus be extended beyond April 14. The central government is considering it, the sources said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who announced the lockdown on March 24, had said yesterday that in the fight against the highly contagious virus, people must be prepared for the long haul. At a cabinet meeting, he had urged ministers to come up with a "graded plan", which was seen by many to indicate a gradual rollback.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said after the meeting that a decision would be taken "in the national interest" at the right time. "We are monitoring the world situation every minute. A decision will be taken in the national interest. A decision in this regard will be declared at the right time," Mr Javadekar said, adding that an empowered group of officials was assessing the situation.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao is among those who have pitched for extending the lockdown.

"My personal opinion is that lockdown has to continue longer. We need to save lives, later we can save the economy," Mr Rao, whose state has the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases, said on Monday.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot favoured a phased withdrawal of restrictions. "We cannot withdraw lockdown immediately, it has to be done in a phased manner," Mr Gehlot was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

The BJP-led Assam government said it would support any proposal by the central government of a "systematic and scientific" withdrawal of the nationwide lockdown.

"We have consulted within the state on what should be the mode of withdrawal of lockdown. We don't want that everything should be opened on 15th April morning. We want it to be a systematic and scientific withdrawal of lockdown so that the benefits during the lockdown aren't wasted in a single day," said Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Similar voices of concern have emerged from BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

"Where there are red alerts and zones, those zones, in my opinion, should continue to be in a lockdown situation at least for two weeks...till this month-end, I will request them (the Centre) to do this," said Karnataka minister Sudhakar K.

Awanish Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary, Uttar Pradesh, said: "When we open the lockdown it will be after we have ensured that the state is corona free. If even one corona positive person is left, it will be very difficult to open the lockdown and that is why it may take time."

In yesterday's cabinet meet - the first via video link -- PM Modi said the government must work on war-footing to mitigate the fallout of coronavirus and ministries should prepare a graded plan "to slowly open departments where there are no hotspots".

Last week, during a video-conference with chief ministers, the PM had asked for a plan for staggered movement of people after the lockdown ends.

India has 4,400 coronavirus cases now, including 114 deaths.

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