News Flash – 27 February 2018

National News



23 swine flu cases already this year, 1 dead



NEW DELHI: One person has died and 22 others have been found positive for swine flu in Delhi this year, as on February 18. Countrywide, there have been 117 deaths due to the viral illness in the past two months and 1,154 people have been affected, shows the latest data. Rajasthan, data shows, is the worst affected with maximum 86 deaths and 969 cases in the corresponding period. Swine flu, caused by H1N1 influenza virus, was reported in the country in 2009 when it assumed epidemic proportions, killing as many as 981 people and infecting 27,236. In 2010, the deaths went up to 1,763 while the number of cases remained around 20,000. In 2011 and 2012, 603 and 5,044 people, respectively, were diagnosed positive for the disease and total 480 deaths were reported. Data released by the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) shows mortality caused due to swine flu remains high and it is actually going up, despite, better understanding of the disease, preparedness to deal with the arising complications and availability of medicines. Preventive vaccines are also available for swine flu.


“Change in strain of the virus could be behind increasing incidence and death due to the illness. Till about two years ago, California strain was predominant, but last year, tests confirmed prevalence of Michigan strain of the virus,” said an expert. He added that timely diagnosis and treatment could help save many lives. “I have seen five cases of swine flu in the last four days. One of the patients, who had history of diabetes and asthma, had to be admitted,” said Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant, internal medicine, Apollo Hospital. He added that the virus can affect anyone but those with pre-existing co-morbidities are more susceptible to complications. Swine flu is a contagious disease caused by type A strains of the virus. The virus enters the body through inhalation of contaminated droplets or is transferred from a contaminated surface to the eyes, nose or mouth of a person. Its symptoms, doctors said, are similar to common viral illnesses, but the intensity is higher. In some cases, patients suffer from nausea or diarrhoea. Severe cases can progress to pneumonia and organ failure, doctors said. A senior official in the health ministry said Rajasthan, Jaipur in particular, has witnessed many swine flu cases over the past two months. “We are in touch with the state health authorities and guiding them to prevent further spread of the disease. There is no dearth of medicines for treatment,” he said.



Schools mull fee hike to meet Security expenses



KOLKATA: Several city schools are contemplating a steep hike in students’ fees to meet the increased expenses on enhanced safety and security measures that are to be implemented from the next academic session under instructions from the West Bengal Association of Christian Schools. Implementing the suggestions, which include appointment of additional female security guards, more female attendants and medical examinations for staff, will require a substantial extra fund allocation, schools have pointed out. “The amount will obviously have to be recovered from students’ fees. As a result, the school fee and admission charges are bound to rise,” said the principal of a city school. Some principals, though, have opposed the suggestion of giving “preference” to women candidates seeking jobs in physical training, music and dance classes saying this could mean compromising on quality. Rammohan Mission School principal Sujoy Biswas feels the measures recommended are in tune with the changing circumstances. “We may have to compromise on the quality of teachers by giving preference to female applicants. But I have always been careful about students’ security and preferred hiring female teachers, though my school is a co-education one,” he said.


The boys’ and girls’ sections of St Thomas School Khiddepore are waiting for a decision on the recommendations to be taken by the Churches of North India (CNI) at a meeting to be held soon. “Though we are all members of the association, we will implement the recommendations that will be approved by CNI,” said John Ghosh, principal of St Thomas Boys’ School. He added that some of the proposals have already been implemented in his school. CCTVs have been installed. Also, we do not allow students to remain on the campus for more than 30 minutes after the school is over. Parents felt that though the security measures were necessary, they shouldn’t be burdened with a steep hike. “The fee in our school is not in excess and I wouldn’t mind a reasonable hike if it helps to strengthen security. But it shouldn’t be a steep one and should be done in consultation with parents,” said Tumpa Konar, mother of a Class VI student at St Xavier’s Collegiate School. Papri Saha, mother of an ISC candidate from St James School, said, “These steps should have been implemented long back. The institutions should choose the proposals in moderation and then decide to put them in place. The financial burden of improving security should not fall on parents”.


Some schools argued that the additional cost of implementing the measures would be substantial. The average salary of a female attendant in the school is Rs 7,000 a month while the salary of a female guard could be around Rs 9,000. Female teachers for PT, music and dance draw a salary close to Rs 15,000-Rs 20,000 every month, it was pointed out. While the West Bengal Association of Christian Schools has drawn up a list of suggestions, they have asked the schools to follow the recommendations from the West Bengal school education department and their respective affiliating boards. Basanti Biswas, principal of Calcutta Girls’ School, said the school has 95% of the recommendations in place. “We outsource our security staff to agencies. If female guards are to be hired, I shall request them to do so. Otherwise, for the remaining proposals we need to look at the feasibility of implementing them. Some suggestions will have to be put in place without hurting sentiments.



Educated drivers cause most road accidents, school dropouts safest



CHENNAI: While the Union government is planning to raise the minimum educational qualification for commercial vehicle drivers to Class X, government records show that graduates and those who completed Class X caused more road accidents than school dropouts. Nearly 40% of road accidents across the country in 2016 were caused by drivers who have studied till Class X or above. Those who dropped out of schools caused less than 18% of the accidents, according to Union road transport ministry data. In Tamil Nadu, the corresponding ratios were 46% and 10%. K Anbalagan, a cab driver in Chennai, said the educated, particularly college students, cause road accidents after driving under the influence of alcohol. “Many other road rule violations are done by this lot,” he said.


“The school dropouts must have come up the hard way and have the experience to avoid accidents. Youngsters coming out of driving schools lack this practical experience. Most of them don’t understand even basic traffic signs,” he said. An academic expert advising government on policy decisions said that most young commercial drivers who take up driving as a full-time profession are educated and over confident. “So, they seldom follow signs on accident-prone stretches. This behaviour changes once they are in their mid-40s. There have been cases where drivers miss warning signs on roads due to fatigue, poor vision or age. But this is minimal,” he said. Aswathy Dilip from Institute for Road Transportation and Development, Chennai said that besides education and enforcement, road design and engineering play a crucial role when it comes to road safety. A senior official from the state transport department pointed out that our textbooks now do not discuss road safety; from next year, there will be a separate chapter on these lines. “Only after this change is made, we may realise the impact education has on safety,” he said.



International News



Powerful 7.5-magnitude quake cuts communications, halts oil and gas operations in Papua New Guinea



WELLINGTON/MELBOURNE: At least one company began evacuating non-essential personnel after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Papua New Guinea‘s energy-rich interior on Monday, causing landslides, damaging buildings and closing oil and gas operations. The tremor hit in the rugged, heavily forested Southern Highlands about 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, at around 3.45 a.m. local time (1545 GMT Sunday), according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). A spokesman at Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Centre said by telephone the affected area was very remote and the agency could not properly assess damage until communication was re-established. He said there were no confirmed casualties, although the International Red Cross (IRC) in Papua New Guinea said some reports indicated there were “fears of human casualties”. “It’s very serious all across the Southern Highlands and also all over the western highlands. People are definitely very frightened,” Udaya Regmi, the head of the IRC in Papua New Guinea, said by telephone from Port Moresby. The PNG government also said it had sent disaster assessment teams. At least 13 aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.0 or more rattled the area throughout the day, according to USGS data, but no tsunami warnings were issued. Early on Tuesday, USGS reported that another quake with a magnitude of 6.4 had hit 142 km (88 miles) from the city of Mount Hagen at a depth of about 10 km.


“The Papua New Guinea Defence Force has also been mobilised to assist with the assessment and the delivery of assistance to affected people as well as the restoration of services and infrastructure,” Isaac Lupari, the chief secretary to the government, said in a statement after Monday’s tremor. ExxonMobil said it had shut its Hides gas conditioning plant and that it believed administration buildings, living quarters and a mess hall had been damaged. It also said it had suspended flights into the nearby Komo airfield until the runway could be surveyed. “Due to the damage to the Hides camp quarters and continuing aftershocks, ExxonMobil PNG is putting plans in place to evacuate non-essential staff,” the company said in an emailed statement. Gas is processed at Hides and transported along a 700 km (435 miles) line that feeds a liquefied natural gas plant near Port Moresby for shipping. PNG oil and gas explorer Oil Search said in a statement it had also shut production in the quake-affected area. The giant Grasberg copper mine operated by the Indonesian unit of Freeport McMoRan in neighbouring Papua province was not affected, a Jakarta-based spokesman said. However, the quake and several aftershocks caused panic in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian Papua, Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said in a statement, but there were no reports of casualties or damage there.


The IRC’s Regmi said communications were “completely down” in Tari, one of the larger settlements near the quake’s epicentre, and that landslides had cut roads. Several other aid and missionary agencies said poor communications in the area made damage and injury assessment difficult. “The bush structures that they build tend to handle earthquakes extremely well,” Christian missionary Brandon Buser told Reuters after contacting several remote villages by shortwave radio. Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates. “This is the Papuan fold-and-thrust belt, so it’s a typical movement of faults in that region, but it’s big,” said Chris McKee, acting director of the Geohazards Management Division in Port Moresby. Part of PNG’s northern coast was devastated in 1998 by a tsunami, generated by a 7.0 quake, which killed about 2,200 people.



Ceasefire? Air strikes in Syria kill 21, including 7 children


BEIRUT/MOSCOW: Russia will establish a humanitarian corridor and implement a five-hour daily truce in Syria’s eastern Ghouta, it said on Monday, after a UN Security Council resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire across the entire country. Over the past week Syria’s army and its allies have subjected the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta near Damascus to one of the heaviest bombardments of the seven year war, killing hundreds. On Sunday, health authorities there said several people had suffered symptoms consistent with chlorine gas exposure and on Monday rescue workers and a war monitor said seven small children were killed by air and artillery strikes in one town. “Eastern Ghouta cannot wait, it is high time to stop this hell on earth,” UN secretary general Antonio Guterres told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, calling for implementation of the ceasefire. Fighting has raged across Syria since Saturday’s resolution, as Turkey presses its offensive against a Kurdish militia in Afrin, rival rebel groups fight each other in Idlib and a US-led coalition targets Islamic State in the east. The bombardment of eastern Ghouta over the past week has been one of the heaviest of the war, killing at least 556 people in eight days, according to a toll compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor.


The intensity of the bombardment has diminished since the UN resolution, the Observatory said, but it added that 21 people had been killed in eastern Ghouta on Monday, including the seven small children. A picture issued by civil defence rescue workers showed seven small bodies lying next to each other, wrapped in white and blue sheets, after air and artillery strikes on the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta. Russia’s defence minister was cited by the RIA news agency as saying President Vladimir Putin had ordered a daily ceasefire in eastern Ghouta from 9am to 2pm each day and for the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to leave. Russia, along with Iran and Shi’ite militias, is a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and it joined the war on his side in 2015, helping him claw back important areas. The Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, did not say whether the Syrian government or other allied forces had agreed to abide by the five-hour daily truce.


Mohamad Alloush, the political chief of one of eastern Ghouta’s biggest rebel factions, said the Syrian army and its allies had launched “a sweeping ground assault” after the UN resolution, adding it was vital that the truce be implemented. “We hope for real, serious, practical action.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain based war monitor, said four of them were among a single family of nine killed by an air strike. The other three were among seven killed by shelling in the same town, it said. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said allegations the Syrian government was responsible for any chemical attack, after reports of people suffering symptoms of chlorine gas poisoning, were aimed at sabotaging the truce. The Syrian government has consistently denied using chemical weapons in the war, which will soon enter its eighth year.



Blast destroys shop and home in English city, 5 taken to hospital


LEICESTER (ENGLAND): An explosion destroyed a convenience store and a home in the central English city of Leicester on Sunday, injuring at least five people, officials said. British police said there was no immediate indication that the explosion was linked to terrorism. Pictures and videos posted on Twitter showed flames leaping into the sky from the site which was reduced to rubble. “All emergency services are currently dealing with this,” the police force said in a statement. “Please avoid the area”. Later it said the blast was being investigated with the fire service. “At this stage there is no indication this is terrorist related,” Leicestershire police said. A local hospital said four patients were in a critical condition and fifth person had also been brought in for treatment by police. A photograph published by the Leicester Mercury newspaper showed a blaze and the rubble of a destroyed building which the newspaper said housed a convenience store and a flat above it. “We heard an absolutely massive explosion. It was pretty frightening,” the Mercury quoted an unidentified resident, who lives a few streets away, as saying. “We went to look out of the upstairs windows and saw loads of smoke, and then a few seconds later massive orange flames”. The city’s fire department said it sent six fire engines after the reports of a large explosion and a building collapse. The Leicester Mercury said debris had been blown across the road in front of the site. Police said a number of other buildings were damaged and homes and businesses in the area had been evacuated.

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