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Australia Bans Arrivals from India, Says Offenders Face 5 Years in Jail, Fines

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Australian residents and citizens who have been in India within 14 days of the date they plan to return home will be banned from entering Australia as of Monday and those who disobey will face fines and jail, government officials said.

The emergency determination, made late on Friday, is part of strict measures to stop travellers to Australia from the world’s second-most populous nation as it contends with a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

The restrictions come into effect from May 3 and breaching the ban risks civil penalties and up to five years imprisonment, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.

“Our hearts go out to the people of India – and our Indian-Australian community. The friends and family of those in Australia are in extreme risk. Tragically, many are contracting Covid-19 and many, sadly, are dying every day,” Hunt said.

The Australian government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15, he said.

India’s coronavirus death toll passed 200,000 this week, and cases are nearing 19 million – nearly 8 million since February – as virulent new strains have combined with “super-spreader” events such as political rallies and religious festivals.

Australia, which has no community transmissions, on Tuesday introduced a temporary suspension of direct flights from India to prevent more virulent Covid-19 variants entering the country.

However, some Australians, including cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, returned via Doha.

“The Government does not make these decisions lightly. However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of Covid-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level,” Hunt said.

Australia has all but stamped out the coronavirus from its shores after closing its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents in March 2020 to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Travellers now have to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense, a system that has largely helped Australia to keep its Covid-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 29,800 cases and 910 deaths.

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Assam Launches Vaccination Drive for Transgender People, 40 Get Jabs on First Day

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While the massive Covid-19 vaccination exercise in the country has run into some speed bumps with demand far outpacing delivery, the transgender community in Assam seems to have had more luck than many others. More than 40 members in Guwahati got inoculated on Friday at a special drive carried out by the state directorate of health services. Residents of Tritiya Nivas (shelter home for the third gender) queued up, adhering to the pandemic protocol, and waited their turn to get the shots.

“Most of our members work on the streets, begging. The probability of contracting the virus is maximum among the transgender populace. There are no segregated Covid centres and that is a huge concern. The only way out is to get vaccinated. I approached the directorate of health services and they were more than happy to help us. It was only on the 13th of May that we approached the directorate and today the vaccination drive took place,” says Swati Bidan Baruah, associate vice chairman of the Transgender Welfare Board of Assam.

The shelter home houses 125 transgender people, and 40 of them were vaccinated on the first day. Documents and identity proofs were an issue for many, which they said would be sorted out soon. The second drive will be carried out next week where the representation is expected to be much more. According to Census 2011, Assam has a transgender population of 11,374 and Guwahati alone has over 2,000 people from the community.

“Rome was not built in a day and I am confident that soon all our members will be vaccinated. I am happy that Assam has shown the way to the country when it comes to the vaccination of the transgender community, which society and at times the respective governments have neglected,” says Baruah.

The Transgender Welfare Board has initiated campaigns to ensure that members of the community are masked, wear gloves and adhere to Covid protocols while out on the streets. Till now, no transgender person has been reported Covid positive during the ongoing second wave of the pandemic in the country. One member tested positive last year in Bongaigaon, and later got cured and even donated plasma.

Assam was the first state in the country to add a ‘transgender’ option in the gender category in the civil services examination form. A total of 42 transgender people had applied then for the Combined Competitive (Preliminary) Examination (CCE), 2020, conducted by the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC).

The state high court in an order recently directed the Assam government to create a separate wing for transgender people at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH). Swati Bidhan Baruah who had filed the PIL in this matter termed it a “landmark order” for the community.

Earlier a southern representative of the National Council for Transgender Persons, Gopi Shankar of Madurai, had written to the health secretaries of the states in south India and Union Territories, underscoring that the transgender community faced discrimination while seeking treatment for Covid-19. As of Friday morning, the had over 43,000 active cases

A legal battle for the community to earn themselves an exclusive segment in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is still on, said Baruah.

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NCPCR writes to Assam DMs over West Bengal children living in camps

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The National Commission for Protection of Children Rights (NCPCR) on Friday wrote to the District Magistrate of Dhubri and Kakrajhar districts in Assam, over “rehabilitation of displaced children from West Bengal to Dhubri due to alleged post-poll violence & atrocities meted to them by certain persons who are reportedly politically motivated”.

Taking cognisance of the plight of children who may have sought refuge in the two districts of Assam that borders Bengal, the NCPCR asked the DMs to immediately visit the camps where refugees from WB are staying and any other such place where these children are residing, to find out their exact numbers and other related facts connected to the brutalities endured by these children in West Bengal.

“The Commission is of the view that statements of all these children be recorded by child welfare police officer of the district (CWPO), and the same be submitted to the Commission for perusal and further necessary action,” the letter read.

The Commission also suggested that the police file zero FIRs in all cases where atrocities against these children have been reported. The Commission asked the DMs to complete the investigation within 3 days of receiving the letter and share the action taken report with them accordingly.

Post-poll violence in West Bengal

Post-poll violence had become a recurrent theme of news emerging out of Bengal following the declaration of assembly election results. Umpteen number of violence against political opponents were reported from the state. In an overwhelming number of such incidents, the victims were BJP supporters and workers, while the accused were said to be the supporters of the TMC party. Over a dozen of BJP workers have lost their lives in the post-poll violence that ensued following the victory of the TMC party in the assembly elections.

The violence unleashed against them forced hundreds of BJP party workers and supporters to flee their villages along with their families. They crossed over to neighbouring Assam, where they are provided temporary shelter on the orders of chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. It is not just the BJP but even CPI(M) which has accused the TMC of killing its workers. Reports of attacks on BSF jawans have also emerged in the media.

BJP leader and the now CM of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma took to Twitter on May 5 to share pictures of several people who were forced to leave the state following purported post-poll violence and come to Assam. In a thread of Tweets, Sarma highlighted the plight of the refugees. Himanta Biswa Sarma confirmed that hundreds of people from Bengal, along with their family members have fled and reached Assam where they are being put up in shelters by the state government.

In fact, on the same day, Nandigram MLA and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari had also asserted that over a lakh people have already fled Bengal since the post-poll violence erupted in West Bengal from May 2, 2021.

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Health Ministry debunks Cong leader’s ‘ventilator scam’ claim

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The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has debunked claims that ventilators procured through the PM CARES Fund and supplied to Aurangabad were not functioning properly. The clarification came after Congress leader Sachin Sawant from Maharashtra has alleged a scam citing the alleged malfunctioning.

The Ministry has said that the ventilators in question were not procured through the PM CARES Fund.

GMC Aurangabad
The tweet by Congress leader alleging a ventilator scam

The MoHFW said in a statement, “Ventilators manufactured by Jyoti CNC were supplied to Aurangabad Medical College. Jyoti CNC is one of the manufacturers of “Make in India” Ventilators. They have supplied ventilators centrally for COVID-19 management, as per the directions of Empowered Group-3. These ventilators were then made available to States as per the requests made by States. This supplier is not funded under PM CARES fund.”

Due to the shortage of ventilators during the initial days of the pandemic, local manufacturers encouraged to produce ventilators in adequate numbers. Many among them had no prior experience in ventilator manufacturing. However, it was only after proper screening, testing and clinical validation that the ventilators were put into supplies. Jyoti CNC was one such manufacturer.

The Ministry stated, “On 23rd April (i.e. 04 days after successful installation of ventilators the Hospital authorities at GMC Aurangabad, a complaint was received telephonically informing that 08 ventilators were not functioning. The engineers went to the site and found that flow sensor (proximal) had not been installed in 03 ventilators by the Hospital. All 08 were recalibrated by the service engineers of the vendor. 01 ventilator had oxygen cell which was not functioning. A fresh oxygen cell was reinstalled and this ventilator also made functional and commissioned subsequently.”

“Jyoti CNC received a call on 10th May, 2021 informing that two ventilators have been used in ICU. Out of these, one on NIV (Non-Invasive (BiPAP) mode), is not being able to ensure saturation of the patient. The authorities said that this may be checked outside the ICU. The same was examined by the team of service engineers & was found to be in functional condition and the team returned after satisfying the Hospital authorities. This was put back in operation on a patient on night of 12th May 2021 on NIV mode,” it stated further.

The Ministry added, “On 13th May afternoon Jyoti CNC was informed telephonically that they are not being able to get optimum PEEP. The technical team visited the hospital in the afternoon. However, by then the same ventilator had been put on the patient in invasive mode. The Ventilator was working on the patient on invasive (IV) mode and it was working perfectly fine on the patient.”

In at least one instance, it was observed that the problem was caused by improper mask fitting, which is corrected by proper mask size and fitting on the patient. The statement further said that the ventilator was functioning in the Invasive Mode.

GMC Aurangabad has requested that the 22 ventilators installed be demonstrated and re-commissioned before the hospital team and the team of engineers with Jyoti CNC will ensure the same over today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday).

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