News Flash – 17 February 2020

National News



Drones, App & Fire Spotters Part of Vigilance Drive

SAFETY PATHS: Personnel from forest department form fire lines, a method to check advance of blazes, in Bandipur Tiger Reserve.



Bangalore: Foresters in Bandipur and Nagarahole say men and machinery are ready to tackle the problem of wildfires this summer. At Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which is spread over 1,024sqkm, firebreaks or fire lines have been created in all 13 ranges; they span 2,550km. “Based on the green cover, fire lines which are 5 metres, 10 metres or 20 metres wide have been formed. Foresters have deployed 55 fire watchers 40 daily-wage workers and 15 permanent ones in each zone to prevent accidental fires,” an official said. In Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, fire lines run 2,677km, 688km more than last year. Apart from senior forest officials, 300 fire watchers, 108 guards and 135 permanent forest staff are monitoring the massive area. The staff has been equipped with water-sprayers and other equipment. Eight fire engines have been stationed at different points and they can reach any spot inside the woodlands within 30 minutes. For better vigilance, the foresters are using drones, camera traps and watch towers. On the forest department’s preparedness, Punati Sridhar, the head of forest force and principal chief conservator, said teams were strictly adhering to the standard operating procedure. “Now, we get fire alerts within half an hour of an incident as against a four-hour lag in alerts by the Forest Survey of India. This helps us reach the affected spot quickly and douse the flames before they can spread,” he said.



The new alerts also provide details such as temperature, wind speed and direction, and humidity level. The information helps firefighting teams form a better strategy. “Fire-prone areas are flagged in advance, so we can deploy more staff there. This is a new initiative and we have developed an app which will show the forest guard on his mobile the distance and direction of the fire. The app also highlights fires which have not been extinguished,” Sridhar said. At Bandipur, tankers, pressure pumps, backpack sprayers and backpack blowers have been loaded onto jeeps. “We are aiming for zero forest fires this time,” he added. TIMES VIEW: Forest fires may be as old as forests but for ages they never threatened the very existence of the woodlands or seriously upended the ecological balance. Thanks to increasing incidence of humans not only triggering the blazes but also doing everything to ensure that they rage for prolonged periods, every forest fire is now assuming infernal proportions. Proper fire lines and efficient supervision by foresters is only one part of the solution. What is more urgently needed is to lay a fertile ground for restoring the harmonious co-existence between forests and communities living on their margins.



Temperature Swing Puts Kids at Risk from Infections


Kolkata: Though winter has left the city, the mercury continued to fluctuate in Kolkata on Sunday, unleashing another spate of attacks by season-change viruses that have been triggering cough-and-cold infections. Contrary to the Met office’s prediction, the minimum temperature plunged a degree to 16.1°C from Saturday’s 17.1°C. It could continue at 16°C on Monday as well, according to weathermen at the Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC), Kolkata. The northwesterly wind that had weakened over the past few days, gained momentum on Sunday, leading to the marginal drop in temperature, explained weathermen. It will make the temperature fluctuation continue for a few more days, they said. “But the minimum temperature will not drop below 15°C and the maximum will touch the 30°C-mark by the next weekend. It will get gradually warm, but there will be relatively cooler days in between,” said RMC director G K Das. On Sunday, Kolkata recorded a maximum temperature of 29.6°C. While rhino virus, human meta-pneumo virus and influenza virus are most commonly triggered by temperature fluctuation, it is difficult to identify them without tests, said experts. Even amid a Covid-19 scare, there has been a recurrence of the viral fever with severe cough that had struck in Late-January. It has been affecting children more frequently.



“Like last month, a persistent cough has struck scores of children over the week. In some cases, it is accompanied by fever. Those with a history of respiratory illnesses, like asthma, have been suffering more than the rest. Children are more vulnerable due to their low immunity and also due to the fact that they are more likely to catch an infection from their school or on public transport,” said Paediatrician Shantanu Ray. According to consultant P K Nemani, the common viruses trigger similar symptoms which recede in three five days. “But a bacterial infection can lead to complications and delay recovery. The elderly and the children are most vulnerable,” Nemani said. Consultant Arindam Biswas agreed. “Viral infections are often followed by bacterial ones, which could be dangerous, especially for the elderly. So, if the colour of the sputum changes or if fever refuses to subside in four-five days, consult a doctor to check if you need antibiotics,” he said. Seasonal viruses are highly contagious so an outbreak is difficult to prevent in the pre-winter period, felt Belle Vue Clinic critical care consultant Samarjit Naskar. “These viruses are transmitted through sneezes and cough droplets, which can travel six feet. So, public places and transport usually help spread them. The only option is to use masks and handkerchiefs and not touch objects with bare hands,” said Naskar.



100 Firemen Battle Rajabazar Blaze for 4 Hours


Kolkata: Over 100 fire fighters battled for four hours to control a blaze at Rajabazar’s Chaulpatty on Sunday. The fire has completely razed several shops in the area. None, however, was injured. The Shyambazar-Sealdah stretch had to be closed to allow 12 fire tenders reach the busy Rajabazar crossing. Traffic was affected from 2pm to 6pm. State fire minister Sujit Bose said: “Prima facie, it appears the fire started at a lamination factory in the market. The fire was arrested quickly. Our major worry was that the area was crowded and has residential buildings and slums. Investigations have begun”. A senior fire department official said: “The lamination unit, where the fire started, was set up barely a week back. It needs to be probed whether they had the mandatory clearances”. Md. Imroz, a local, was among the first to spot the fire and inform the Fire Brigade at 2:09pm. “By the time the first fire tenders reached, locals had gathered and started pouring buckets of water at the fire. Several people in the vicinity were also removed to safety. But due to the rising smoke, locals could not continue for long,” he said. Locals said the fire brigade initially had some difficultly in maneuvering the huge water hose pipes in the cramped space. The possible origin of fire the lamination unit was in a two-storied building in the middle of Chaulpatty. Adjacent to this unit, sources said, was another unit which had stacked up sanitary napkins and apparel. Below that, on the first floor, were many wholesale grocery units, which had edible oils stacked in. This caught fire fast and started to spread. Worrying for the fire fighters was the proximity of the fire to a six-storey sprawling residential building in the immediate vicinity. “It was a battle to control the flames from reaching the building,” an officer said. Though people did not have to be evacuated, the building AC units and all plants in the balcony were burnt and damaged.



International News



Rate of New Virus Cases in China Appears to Slow, Even as Toll Rises



Shanghai/Beijing: The number of new coronavirus cases in China fell on Sunday and a health official said intense efforts to stop its spread were beginning to work, as another 70 people tested positive on a virus-stricken cruise ship quarantined in Japan. The coronavirus, thought to have emerged at a wildlife market in the Chinese province of Hubei, has presented the ruling Communist Party with the huge challenge of stamping it out while at the same time minimizing damage to the world’s second-largest economy. China reported 2,009 new cases of coronavirus and 142 associated deaths in the previous 24 hours on Sunday. In all, more than 68,500 people have been infected and at least 1,669 have died worldwide, officials have said. The vast majority of cases, and all but a few of the deaths, have been in mainland China, with the heaviest concentration in Hubei. Even as the death toll mounted, the fatality rate remained stable, and the rate of new cases has slowed in the past three days. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the percentage of severe cases had dropped to 7.2% of the total from a peak of 15.9% on January 27. The proportion is higher in Wuhan, the Hubei city where the outbreak started, but has fallen to 21.6%. “The national efforts against the epidemic have shown results,” Mi said. The province and its capital, Wuhan, have been virtually sealed off and locked down since January 23, with schools, offices and factories shut and most travel suspended. The virus is believed to have an incubation period of 14 days which would appear to indicate it has been spreading since the lockdown was imposed. But Mi said the campaign was beginning to show results. “The effect of the coronavirus controls is appearing”.



Increased medical support and preventive measures in Hubei had headed off more critical cases and the proportion of critical cases among confirmed cases had fallen to 21.6% on Saturday, from 32.4% on January 27, Mi said. Mild cases were also being treated more quickly, preventing them from becoming critical, Mi said. Nevertheless, restrictions were tightened in Hubei on Sunday with a ban on vehicles, apart from essential services, and companies told to stay shut until further notice. Outside mainland China, there have been about 500 cases in some two dozen countries and territories. The biggest cluster outside China has been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s Yokohama, with 70 more cases reported on Sunday, taking the total to 355 of the roughly 3,700 passengers and crew on board. Those testing positive are sent to hospital. No one from the ship has died of the virus. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan. On board the ship, American passenger Matthew Smith posted a photo on Twitter showing a fleet of coaches parked on the shore to transport US nationals. US officials in hazmat suits and face masks had visited his room to check if he would disembark. He said he wanted to stay. A US department of defence spokesman said the department was preparing to receive two chartered flights with passengers from the ship. The evacuees would be subject to a 14-day quarantine managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another cruise ship, Holland America’s MS Westerdam, docked in Cambodia on Thursday after being rejected by ports in several other countries and territories. The ship was believed to be free of the virus but an 83-year-old American woman from it tested positive upon arriving in Malaysia, authorities there said, adding that a second test, at the request of the cruise operator, confirmed the finding.

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