News Flash – 3 March 2020

National News



Screening Extended to Flyers from Italy and Iran, but what about Hubs like Dubai?


Mumbai: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Monday extended medical screening for coronavirus (Covid-19) to passengers on flights arriving from Italy and Iran besides those on flights from airports in East Asia. But for India, the proverbial elephant in the room are airports in West Asia, which are the most popular transit hubs for passengers flying into India. It’s there that India-bound passengers from airports in Europe, the US, and Africa would possibly mingle with those who have flown in from Iran and Italy before they board their onward connection. “For India, it’s critical to look into the possibility of India-bound passengers getting infected in transit hubs. A passenger typically spends at least 2-3 hours milling around with hundreds of other passengers, including those who have flown in from Iran and Italy,” said a senior airline official. For instance, eight direct flights from Tehran fly into Dubai daily, apart from six flights in total from Rome, Milan and Venice, bringing in over 3,000 passengers daily from these destinations into Dubai. Again, 17 flights link Dubai to Mumbai daily, which is the busiest international route into India. Apart from these, 12 flights from Dubai fly to Delhi, seven to Kochi, and six to Hyderabad daily.



“Dubai airport gets the largest number of passengers from India. In 2019, 11.9 million passengers from India landed at Dubai and so, an equally large number would be flying out of Dubai to India,” said an aviation consultant. There are other West Asian airports like Doha, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Riyadh where similar intermingling of India bound passengers with those from Iran and Italy occur. The big problem with extending screening to passengers coming in from West Asian airports pertains to sheer volume. “It would greatly increase the workload of airport health organizations as the number of passengers to be screened would jump manifold. It would decrease the efficiency of detection as human factors like fatigue would set in. From Dubai alone, about 8,000-9,000 passengers would be flying into Mumbai,” said a medical practitioner with an airline. Dr Om Srivastava, an infectious diseases expert held a similar view. “It’s not possible for medical staff to screen thousands of passenger’s day after day, without fatigue setting in. What is more realistic is to have a separate holding area for those travellers who may be of high risk, where they can be screened. Risk has to be identified. The rest of the passengers coming into the airport (should be) free to move on to their destinations. That way you are moving passengers fast”.



Covid-19: City ‘Running Out’ of Sanitizers, but Soap & Water Offer Better Prevention


Mumbai: Hand sanitizers, which are popular because they can reportedly kill the 2019 novel coronavirus (Covid-19), have become difficult to find in shops in the city and its extended suburbs. Nevertheless, WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise people to frequently wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol based sanitizer as a measure against Covid-19. “The sanitizer shortage has been there for 10-15 days,” said Tushar Kurne of the Maharashtra State Chemists & Druggists Association (MSCDA). “Well-known brands are no longer available at most retail outlets in the city. There is an element of panic buying among people due to coronavirus fear. There is growing awareness about the usefulness of a sanitizer even among schoolchildren”. A call to National Chemists, opposite KEM Hospital, Parel, revealed that only bottles of 75ml and a few of 100ml were available. “We don’t have stocks of Dettol, Lifebuoy or Himalaya brands anymore,” said a dispensing chemist at the outlet. The Wellness Chain of pharmacies too didn’t have sanitizers of the market leaders. “The brands we have in stock too are good,” said an official from one of the chain’s outlets in Thane.



But a chemist from Dahisar “begged to differ” on the “shortage theory”. “Sanitizers are not products that we stock in bulk. A shopkeeper mostly keeps three of each brand but in recent weeks, given the coronavirus fear, people have bought a shop’s complete stock. There is no shortage, just that people are stocking it up,” he said. A senior doctor from a public hospital felt that the “shortage” was the results of “hoarding” at various levels. Kurne said that in the initial days of the coronavirus infection sweeping through China, many companies exported huge sanitizer supplies from India. Despite attempts, officials of Reckitt Benckiser, which manufactures Dettol Instant Hand Sanitizer, declined to comment. An HUL spokesperson told TOI, “We have adequate stocks of hand sanitizers and hand-wash soaps in India. We are encouraging consumers to wash hands with soap and use sanitizers at key times during the day,” he said. Doctors, meanwhile, pointed out that a sanitizer can never replace soap and water completely (see box). “A sanitizer is a handy and effective way to break the coronavirus transmission chain,” said infectious diseases specialist Dr Om Srivastava from Jaslok Hospital, Pedder Road.



6 More Nations on Airport nCoV Alert


Kolkata: Mandatory thermal screening on arrival at Kolkata airport has been extended to flyers with recent travel history to Italy, Iran and South Korea — the latest novel coronavirus transmission hotspots — along with Germany, Japan and Malaysia. This increases the number of countries on the Covid-19 watch list at the airport to 12. Immigration officers have been instructed to check the passports of all arriving international flyers and send passengers with Schengen visa or travel history to any of the 12 countries on the nCoV watch list back for thermal screening before being allowed to formally enter the country. Schengen visa allows visitors entry to 26 European states, including Italy. In addition, all passengers arriving by Singapore Airlines from Singapore, IndiGo Airlines flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in Vietnam and Malindo Air and AirAsia flights from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia will undergo thermal screening checks before they proceed to immigration. “We have been screening passengers in flights arriving from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The travel documents of other international passengers were being checked by immigration authorities. Now, the list has been expanded to include Italy, Iran, South Korea, Germany, Japan and Malaysia,” a senior airport official said. While flyers with symptoms of flu will be sent directly to the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Beliaghata for quarantine, those having such travel history but no symptoms will be advised home quarantine for two weeks.



IndiGo — that has cancelled its flights to China’s Guangzhou from Kolkata indefinitely — has started rationalizing its daily direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. From Monday, they reduced the frequency to these cities in Vietnam. “Instead of daily flights, we shall operate flights to these cities on alternate days. In the next 10 days, there will be six flights to Hanoi and four to Hochi Minh City,” an official said. Singapore Airlines, though, has no plans to immediately cut down flights. Flights to China were the first to be grounded after India cancelled visas to Chinese citizens and evacuated Indians stranded in the country. But the spread of nCoV to more than 50 countries has increased uncertainty. The health ministry has also issued an advisory to flyers, urging Indians to refrain from non-essential travel to Iran, Italy, South Korea and Singapore. Currently 21 airports are constantly screening passengers arriving from Kathmandu, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan for possible exposure to the novel coronavirus.



Madhavaram Fire: Wrecker could have Cleared Path for Rescuers


Chennai: A wrecker, if available, could have eased the entry for rescuers to the Madhavaram firm gutted by a fire on Saturday, say experts. Neither the fire and rescue services nor police had such a vehicle that could have cleared the mass of trucks and containers from near the wall dividing GRR Logistics from its neighbour on Erukkanchery High Road. As a result, smaller vehicles were used to tow away the containers and trucks to clear the path to the wall they had to break to get close to the inferno. “Until this was done, fire personnel pumped in foam from atop the wall,” said an officer. This wasn’t as effective and it was 9pm before the blaze was finally put down. A call was received at the fire control room around 2.45pm and a team led by Madhavaram station fire officer Pargunan rushed there in a short while, but it took another two hours before the containers could be cleared and the wall broken. C Sylendra Babu (DGP), additional in charge of fire and rescue services, said, “Fire personnel worked from all four sides to stop the fire from spreading”. A fire officer said, “GRR Logistics comprised a covered portion of 10,000 sq. ft., while another 10,000 sq. ft. of open space was used as a storehouse”. No police station or fire station in north Chennai, where there is a lot of container movement, has a wrecker vehicle, another officer said. GRR Logistics also didn’t have any of the safety gadgets – emergency fire extinguisher, water sump or hose reels — crucial for fighting a fire.



International News



Global Virus Infections near 90,000. Cases Outside China 9 Times More

Tourists take pictures while standing next to locals wearing masks as they wait for a canal boat in Bangkok.



China: The coronavirus appeared for the first time in New York, Moscow and Berlin and clusters of the disease surged around the world, even as new cases in China dropped to their lowest level in six weeks on Monday and hundreds of patients were released from hospitals at the epicentre of the outbreak. Almost nine times more cases were reported outside China than inside it over the past 24 hours, according to the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The global death toll pushed past 3,000, and the number of people infected were nearly 90,000, with fast expanding outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran. In the Middle East, a worsening situation in Iran was accompanied by concern for its top leaders after a member of the council that advises the Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei died of Covid-19. The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi came as Iran announced the virus had killed at least 66 people among 1,501 confirmed cases. Its caseload surged more than 250% in just 24 hours. The WHO said a team of experts flew into Tehran on Monday to help local health workers respond to the outbreak. Around the world, the virus reshaped people’s routines, both at home and at work, from the millions of Japanese schoolchildren facing four weeks without class to special voting booths for Israelis under quarantine.



Mobile hospitals were planned in Iran, and the “Mona Lisa” hung in a vacant room of the shuttered Louvre in Paris. Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Portugal were among the newest places to detect the virus. More than 60 countries, including nine of the 10 most populous, have reported infections. Even as alarms grew louder in much of the world, Monday brought positive signs from China, where the outbreak started two months ago. China reported 202 new cases of the virus, its lowest daily count since January 21, and the city at the heart of the crisis, Wuhan, said 2,570 patients were released. South Korea, with the worst outbreak outside of China, said it recorded 599 new cases on Monday, bringing the total to 4,335. The toll rose to 26. In Europe, leaders braced for worsening caseloads after the count surged in France, Italy and to a lesser degree Spain over the weekend. Italy’s infections ballooned 50% in 24 hours to 1,694. The Louvre, the world’s most popular museum, remained closed as its 2,300 workers expressed fears of contracting the virus from visitors arriving from all over the world. Japan closed schools for most of the country’s 12.7 million children until the end of the month, creating difficulties for some families. Mika Nakajima, a museum employee and single mother, said she has already used up her paid vacation days to take care of her aging parents and her son and fears losing her job.

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