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Punjab’s alarmingly high case fatality rate and the farmer protests

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India is currently facing the worst health crisis in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic. As per the stats provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the country has reported 3,82,847 new cases of Covid-19 infection on May 4. 3786 people have lost their lives due to Covid-19 related complications in the last 24 hours across the country. India has a case fatality rate (CFR) or death rate of close to 1.1%, which is lower than the other worst-hit countries, but there are some alarming numbers that are raising serious concerns in some parts of the nation. One of the biggest concerns right now is the higher CFR in Punjab, especially in rural areas.

As per the government data, Punjab has reported 7,514 cases on May 4. 173 people have lost their lives in just 24 hours, making it a CFR of 2.3%, which is the highest in the country. It is not about just one day on which Punjab had the highest CFR. The state is consistently reporting more deaths from the past several weeks since cases started to explode.

If we compare the data of Punjab with the worst-hit states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and others, the numbers coming from Punjab raises even more serious alarms. For example, the average CFR in Maharashtra, the worst-hit state, is 1.7%. In the case of the most populous state, i.e. Uttar Pradesh, the average CFR is even lesser at 1.3%. While Gujarat has an average CFR of 1%, Tamil Nadu stands at 0.70%, and Karnataka stands at 0.6% on average. The only state that has a higher than 2% CFR other than Punjab is Jharkhand.

CFR in Punjab is higher than worst hit states including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Source: Covid19india.org

The higher death rate in the rural areas

As per reports, the death rate is comparatively higher in rural areas of Punjab compared to urban areas. The situation is baffling the experts as in most places, the caseload in urban areas is much higher due to the dense population. The case is, however, different in Punjab. Reports suggest that 58% of the deaths reported in Punjab are from Rural areas.

Self-treatment at home deemed as a major reason

According to government officials, a large number of deaths in rural area are because of the fact that the people are not going to the hospital and getting self-treated at homes. In an official communication sent to the medical officers, the Punjab government has asked them to prepare a list of the elderly and comorbid patients in their area and call them to take feedback on their health. The order said, “Report any breach of home isolation or refusal to get referred to higher facilities as soon as possible to the SMOs and keep contacts of SHOs of the police stations concerned to involve them for the hospitalization.”

As per a report in Hindustan Times, Dr KK Talwar, Former director of Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and head of an expert group of Punjab government on Covid management, said that they are adopting a new strategy for the patients in home isolation that is more focused on the surveillance. “Reluctance in getting tested and late reporting has been the reasons behind high CFR in rural areas, but with the new system, we are hopeful of bringing down,” he added.

The second wave found deadlier for the rural areas

According to the HT report, CFR in rural areas is around 2.8% compared to 0.7% in urban areas. The health department data revealed that people are visiting hospitals only after their conditions have deteriorated. While 83.92% of patients visited the hospitals in the worst condition, only 0.11% came with moderate symptoms and 7% with mild symptoms.

Alarming CFR of Patiala Rural area

The villages in Patiala have reported 35% of the total deaths due to Covid-19 in the district. Between March and May 3, 268 deaths were reported in total, 94 were from rural areas. In the last two months, the positive rate in the rural region remained high at 21%, with 3,453 cases reported in villages of the district.

Dr Satinder Singh, Civil Surgeon, said that in the first wave of Covid-19, the death rate in villages was negligible. He said, “Such trends were not witnessed during the first wave of the Covid-19 last year, as the deaths reported in villages then were negligible,” he said. A doctor serving at a rural dispensary said that the patients are coming to the health centres at an advanced stage at which they can only refer them to Rajindra Hospital.

Patiala reported 16 deaths on May 4. Reports suggest that Rajindra hospital reported 38 deaths on the same day, out of which 12 were from Patiala district. Out of those 12, seven were from rural areas.

Patiala district reported 604 new cases on Covid-19 and 15 deaths of May 4. Source: Covid19india.org

Sangrur reported close to 100 deaths in rural areas

Sangrur district has reported 372 deaths in total. Out of these, 152 were from the villages, and 97 were reported this year itself. The district health department said that three patients lost their lives while being in home isolation in Sangrur’s rural areas.

Cases and deaths have dramatically increased in the last 90 days in Sangrur district. Source: Covid19india.org

UK strain causing major trouble in Punjab

During the first week of April, the health department in Punjab had reported that the 80% of the cases sent for genome sequence in March were found to have UK strain. The particular virus strain spread at a 70% higher rate in the state, causing a major health crisis in Congress-ruled state. Earlier in March, reports suggested 81% of 401 samples from Punjab had UK strain.

Doaba, which is often called the NRI belt, has reported around 60% of the total Covid deaths from rural areas since February. Health officials said that the UK strain that was found in Nurmahal and Phillaur is one of the major reasons for the higher death rate.

Doctors have warned against self-medication and taking medicines from local practitioners, which is increasing the chances of death by Covid. Dr Ranjit Singh, Civil Surgeon, Hoshiarpur and Dr Gurdeep Singh Kapoor, Civil Surgeon, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar have attributed the habit of self-medication and a late visit to hospitals to the higher death rate. Dr Kapoor said, “We have increased contact tracing of Covid patients. People in rural go for self-medication resulting in more fatalities.”

The curious case of the harvest season and increased caseload in Punjab

If we see the graph of cases in the last 90 days in Punjab, it is easily noticeable that the cases started to rise in March. This was the time when farmers were preparing for the harvest season. It has to be noted that farmers of Punjab are protesting at Delhi borders since November 2020. According to reports, while they were protesting at the borders, the villagers were taking care of the crops. However, most of the farmers returned to Punjab to attend to their crops close to harvesting season and started preparations for the harvest.

Harvesting season begins close Baisakhi festival that falls on April 13. Data shows that the number of cases exploded during and after that period. For example, the state reported 1,510 cases on March 13, a month before Baisakhi. The cases doubled just 13 days before the festival, and the state reported 3,161 cases of Covid-19.

In the next few days, the farmers who allegedly came back from the protesting sites to attend their crops and went back to the protesting sites on Delhi borders. During that period, the cases kept on rising, and the state reported over 6,000 cases for the first time on April 23.

Since then, the trend continues for the state of Punjab, and it is consistently reporting over 6,500 cases on average. In the first four days of May, the state has reported over 7.000 cases on average.

Farmers marching back to the border adding to the problem?

On April 14, Kisan Union leaders announce that farmers will march towards Delhi on April 21. Thousands of farmers did so, and even Delhi saw a spike in the cases during that period adding to the fact that there is a possibility that ongoing farmer protests are adding to the problem. Sukhdev Singh, general secretary of the BKU (U), said, “On April 21, a contingent of around 18,000 farmers had left for Delhi. Now again, we are preparing to send a large number of people to Delhi ‘morchas’.”

Amidst all the worrisome data coming from Punjab, another lot of 15,000+ farmers is heading towards Delhi borders from Punjab starting May 5 from Amritsar district, which has reported over 600 cases in the last 24 hours. Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) is planning to send large batches of farmers to Delhi borders after May 10.

Sarvan Singh Pandher, general secretary, Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), claimed that they would not let the number of protesting farmers fall at the Delhi borders. While talking to The Hindu, he said, “On May 5, at least one thousand tractor-trolleys and other vehicles will start their march from Amritsar district alone to Delhi. We are expecting 10,000-15,000 people to part of our latest batch, which will go to the Singhu-Kundli border. Since the agitation started on Delhi borders, this is our twelfth big batch that would be going. Small batches of farmers keep continuously going and come back from Delhi borders on a routine basis from many villages as well.”

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Israeli actress Gal Gadot wishes for safety for Israel, gets hate from Islamists and ‘liberals’ in return

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Amid the conflict between Israel and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihadis, Israeli actress Gal Gadot put up a tweet praying for peace.

She tweeted that her country (Israel) is at war and she worries for her family and friends and the people of Israel. “This is a vicious cycle that has been going on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation. Our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families. I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we can live side by side in peace,” she tweeted.

However, soon the ‘liberals’ and Islamists descended upon her timeline with angry, hateful tweets, accusing her of being a genocide enabler.

Despite the fact that the Palestinian terrorists were attacking Israel with rockets and missiles, the Islamists accused Israel of ‘perpetrating a televised and documented ethnic cleansing’.

They also gave a call to boycott her movies and called her a ‘murderer’.

Some Islamists even claimed that Israel as a country does not exist and hence there is no ‘my country’ that she mentions in the tweet.

One Twitter user, whose heart apparently pains for ‘Palestine’, wished death upon Gal Gadot for wishing for peace upon her country.

Some also used this opportunity to hate on Jews.

Some ‘liberals’ also felt that her pray for peace for her country was ‘meaningless’.

All this while choosing to overlook the terrorism inflicted by Hamas on Israeli people. Gadot served as a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces for two years before taking a plunge into modelling and acting.

In December 2020, Gadot had hailed the ‘Shaheen Bagh Dadi’ Bilkis Bano, who was one of the prominent faces in the anti-CAA protests which culminated into anti-Hindu riots in February 2020. Bilkis was a prominent part of the protests that were organized as India decided to give citizenship to religiously prosecuted people from neighbouring Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

However, she soon deleted her Instagram story hailing Bilkis while the post continued to be up on her profile.

Israel-Palestine conflict

Conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated when Palestinian terror unit Hamas fired multiple rockets at Jerusalem, and the Israeli Defense Forces responding back in kind. The main reason behind the current conflict is the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute, a dispute which can lead to the evictions of around 300 Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood.

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More Than 24 Covid-19 Patients May Have Died in Chamarajanagar Due to Oxygen Crisis: HC Panel

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The number of deaths of Covid-19 patients for want of oxygen at Chamarajanagar district hospital in Karnataka could be higher than 24, according to a high court-appointed panel.

The three-member panel confirmed that 24 Covid-19 patients died in the hospital on the intervening night of May 2-3 as oxygen was not available for four hours from 10.30 pm, The Times of India reported.

Headed by retired HC judge Justice AN Venugopala Gowda, the panel noted that 62 died in the hospital between May 4 and May 10, and at least 36 were in-patients on May 2.

The panel, which submitted its report before the court on Tuesday, said the death of these 36 in-patients could be attributed to non-availability of oxygen supply during the night of May 2 and early hours of May 3.

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday said it would consider the report on Thursday.

Chamarajanagar DC failed ‘miserably’

The HC panel also flagged the absence of guidelines that day, and noted that recording case-sheets maintained by doctors and nurses at the hospital on the two dates looks sketchy.

The panel, however, absolved the Mysuru deputy commissioner of any anomalies, and pinned the blame on the deputy commissioner, Chamarajanagar, saying he “has not exhibited the dynamism and leadership qualities expected of a district head in a dire crisis situation…”

It said as the chairman of the District Disaster Management Committee, “he has miserably failed to guide and supervise the crisis situation arising out of the extreme demand for oxygen”.

“On the contrary, he has indulged in an unsavoury blame game accusing the DC of Mysore of causing hindrance for oxygen supply without any basis,” it added.

Although refilling plants on which the district hospital was dependent for its oxygen replenishment are located in Mysuru, which comes under the jurisdiction of Mysuru DC, the panel said that only on that basis it cannot be said that the Mysuru DC had any control over supply of oxygen to other districts.

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Israel-Palestinian Conflict Escalates as Rockets Fly, Street Violence Flares

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Israel faced an escalating conflict on two fronts Thursday, scrambling to quell riots between Arabs and Jews on its own streets after days of exchanging deadly fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Despite diplomatic efforts to ease the crisis, which US President Joe Biden said he hoped would end “sooner than later”, hundreds of rockets flew across the Gaza Strip overnight. 

Air raid warnings went off across Israel, including for the first time in the country’s north.

Israel’s air force said it had launched multiple strikes, targeting what it described as locations linked to the “counterintelligence infrastructure” of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, as well as the house of Iyad Tayeb, one of the movement’s commanders. 

In Gaza, 67 people have been killed so far — including 17 children — and nearly 400 injured after days of near relentless Israeli air strikes.

On Wednesday, Hamas announced the death of its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa, with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) saying they had killed three other senior figures as well. 

IDF strikes also destroyed a multi-storey tower housing Palestinian television channel Al-Aqsa, set up by Hamas.

Israel said around 1,500 rockets had been launched into its territory since the beginning of the week by Palestinian militants.

Seven people have been killed, including one six-year-old after a rocket struck his home in southern Israel, the United Hatzalah volunteer rescue agency said.

The past few days have seen the most intense hostilities in seven years between Israel and Gaza’s armed groups, triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

‘Pogrom’

Coinciding with the aerial bombardments is surging violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

On Wednesday night, Israeli far-right groups took to the streets across the country, clashing with security forces and Arab Israelis. 

Police said they had responded to violent incidents in multiple towns, including Lod, Acre and Haifa.

Israeli television aired footage of a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab until he lay unconscious on his back in a street of Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv.

“The victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable,” Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said, without identifying him.

A state of emergency has been declared in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where a synagogue and other Jewish property has been torched and an Arab resident was shot dead.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob” had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.

In the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian man was killed during a confrontation with Israeli soldiers near the northern city of Nablus, the Palestinian health ministry said Thursday. 

The death brings the number killed in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the West Bank to three on Wednesday alone.

“What has been happening these last few days in Israeli towns is unacceptable… Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts”.

Stalled diplomacy

An emergency UN Security Council meeting on the tensions has been requested for Friday, diplomatic sources told AFP.

The Council has already held two closed-door videoconferences since Monday, with the United States — a close Israel ally — opposing adoption of a joint declaration, which it said would not “help de-escalate” the situation.

Netanyahu spoke later Wednesday to Biden, who said “Israel has a right to defend itself”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, urging an end to the rocket attacks.

Blinken had said earlier that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East to seek to calm tensions.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking alongside United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet — Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to “step back from the brink”.

But the Israeli government has warned that “this is only the beginning”, and army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said strikes on Gaza would continue as Israel prepares for “multiple scenarios”.

Sending ground troops into Gaza was “one scenario” that was not the focus of the current operation, Conricus said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has also threatened to step up attacks, warning that “if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it”.

The crisis flared last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.

Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

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