News Flash – 31 January 2020

National News



India’s 1st Coronavirus Case Reported in Kerala



Thrissur/ Thiruvananthapuram: The first case of the new strain of coronavirus (nCoV) in the country was reported from Thrissur, Kerala, on Thursday. A young woman studying medicine at a university in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the nCoV outbreak, has tested positive for the virus that has killed 170 people in China and spread to other countries, including the US. State health minister K K Shailaja said the student was hospitalised after she developed symptoms of fever and a sore throat. She was quarantined, along with four others, in the isolation ward of the general hospital in Thrissur. “The student who has been tested positive for the virus is stable; there is nothing to worry,” she said. The five students who had returned from Wuhan had come to the hospital of their own volition. Three of them were shifted to Thrissur Medical College Hospital by Thursday afternoon. Swabs and blood taken from them have been sent for tests.



ATM’s likely to Stay Shut till Sat as Guards Join 2-Day Bank Strike


Kolkata: The nationwide strike called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) on January 31 and February 1 will not only affect banking operations but also ATM services. With month-end salary credits expected in next two days, ATM shutdown is likely to inconvenience citizens who might fail to withdraw money on Friday and, especially on Saturday, the first day of next month. Rajen Nagar, president of All India Bank Employees’ Association and general secretary of Bengal Provincial Bank Employees’ Association—both under UFBU banner—confirmed they would go ahead with the strike as their meeting with the Indian Bank Association chairman was not fruitful. “He accepted our demand of 15% hike in pay but remained non-committal about other issues, including five-working days-a-week,” he said. According to Nagar, ATMs will be shut as guards at the kiosks will stay off work. “As the guards are members of Bengal Provincial Bank Employees’ Association, they will not work. So, ATMs will be closed,” he said, adding that since ATMs were part of the banking network, its services could not be availed of during a bank stir. Going by the unions’ estimate, almost 90% of the 13,000-odd ATMs in the state will remain shut over the next two days.



“ATMs will open only on Sunday,” Nagar said, adding SBI unions would also join the strike this time, and so, the number of ATMs shut would be high. Though the strike is for two days, banking services are closed for four days at a stretch as Thursday was shut for Saraswati Puja and February 2 is a Sunday. Bank officials, however, said they had factored in all the angles and filled ATMs with adequate cash. But still, they said, they were apprehensive that the ATMs might run dry due to the heavy month-end withdrawals. “Online bank operations will stay functional. But if bank branches and ATMs are forcibly shut, cash transactions could be impacted,” a regional manager of a private-sector bank said. A PSU bank official pointed out that the ATMs could be replenished with the help of outsourced agencies, wherever such arrangements existed, or through available officers. “The currency chest branches may be manned by senior functionaries. We will try to ensure the ATMs do not get empty,” he said. In earlier strikes, although banks with large ATM networks—such as, SBI, Axis Bank, ICICI and HDFC—had refilled most of their machines, union members did not allow the guards to open ATMs.



Fire at Paikpara Building Sparks Panic

Thick smoke billows out of the four-storey building on Birpara Lane; locals evacuate an elderly woman from her flat.



Kolkata: A fire broke out at a four-storey building on Birpara Lane near Paikpara on Thursday afternoon following a blast in the garage, which had been converted into a fireworks warehouse. About 20 fire tenders took nearly two and a half hours to douse the flames. No casualty was reported. Panic gripped around 24 people living in the building. While the blast occurred at 1.40pm, all of them vacated their flats and came down to the street in 20 minutes. Swarup Karmakar, one of the residents, found it an uphill task to help his 72-year-old ailing mother-in-law Chandana Barua climb down the stairs. Chinmoy Ghosh, a businessman, who owns a second-floor flat, vacated the flat with his wife and pregnant daughter. However, neither the fire officials nor the residents had an inkling about the source of the fire. They were all surprised when some fire fighters cut the shutter of the garage and found the fireworks warehouse. After the fire was extinguished, locals gathered at the spot and demanded a strong action against the promoter who had constructed the building and allowed the garage to be turned into a fireworks warehouse. Bappa Sil, another resident of the building, said, “It is a matter of relief that the explosives have been deactivated”. Anupam Biswas a marketing manager and a resident demanded a probe into the conversion of a garage space into a fireworks warehouse in a residential area. An officer of Chitpore PS said they have started a probe and would book the culprit in consultation with the officials of KMC and fire services department.



TN Steps Up Screening Protocol, Orders Blood Tests for All Travellers from China

PREVENTION BETTER THAN CURE: Passengers at Chennai airport’s arrival bay on Thursday.



Chennai: Passengers arriving from Wuhan at Chennai and other airports in Tamil Nadu are now required to provide blood samples for coronavirus screening with immediate effect. Additionally, they will be put on compulsory home quarantine for at least 28 days. Director of public health K Kolandaswamy on Thursday said the screening protocol, recommended by the Union health ministry, will begin by Friday morning. The samples will be dispatched for further tests to King Institute of Preventive Medicine in Guindy. Patients arriving from other regions of China would continue to be kept on domiciliary quarantine for at least 28 days after routine screening at the airport. All patients arriving from south-east Asian countries will be screened as per the new protocol, he said. In the past one week, nearly 78 patients, including 10 Chinese citizens, arriving from China have been moved to home quarantines. A health inspector and a village health nurse visit them every day. “They will be asked to shift to a hospital if they show influenza-like symptoms. Till date, we haven’t seen anyone with such symptoms,” he said. Patients on quarantine include students, businessmen and employees of manufacturing and corporate firms in China, Kolandaswamy said.



The novel coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, is now spreading to other parts of the globe. Kerala confirmed India’s first case of coronavirus on Thursday. A woman who studies in Wuhan tested positive for the virus that has till now killed 170 people and is spreading fast. As the number of cases is going up across the globe, the World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Control, US, are monitoring the situation closely. In Tamil Nadu, the health department has set aside a special unit with ten beds at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. “Additionally, we have beds in Tambaram GH as it is closer to the airport,” said health secretary Beela Rajesh. The department, she said, received reagents used in diagnosis from the Centre on Thursday. “We don’t have to send samples to Pune anymore,” she said. “As of now, there is no vaccine for coronavirus but personal hygiene goes a long way in prevention,” said former city health officer Dr P Kuganandam. In the wake of India’s first positive case, the state has stepped up healthcare vigilance in border districts such as Coimbatore and Nagercoil.



Woman Held for Stealing Rs.1.1 Lakh Worth Jewellery



Chennai: A 43-year-old woman was on Thursday arrested for stealing 25g of gold worth Rs.1.1lakh from a jewellery store at Kondithope posing as a customer. The stolen jewels – four rings and a chain – were recovered from the accused identified as Rehana Farnisha of Royapuram before she was remanded in judicial custody. Police said the incident happened on Tuesday evening at Thana Nila jewellery on Krishnappakula Street. Clad in burqa, Rehana reached the shop on a two-wheeler to buy a 2g gold ring. She paid Rs. 8,000. But when store owner B Madhavan, 38, was busy counting the money Rehana stole the valuables. Madhavan who found the jewels were missing after Rehana left combed the CCTV camera footage and confirmed that it was the customer who stole the jewels. Based on his complaint, police traced the suspect with her two-wheeler registration number and arrested her. She was remanded in judicial custody by a magistrate court.



International News



China ‘Isolated’ as Virus Toll Hits 170, Numbers of Infected Rises to 7,711



China on Thursday raised the death toll to 170 and more countries reported infections from a worrisome new virus, including some spread locally, as foreign evacuees from China’s worst-hit region returned home to medical tests and even isolation. Russia announced it was closing its 2,600-mile (4,184 km) border with China, joining Mongolia and North Korea in barring crossings to guard against a new viral outbreak. It had been de facto closed because of the Lunar New Year holiday, but Russian authorities said the closure would be extended until March 1. Train traffic between the countries was halted except for one train connecting Moscow and Beijing, but air traffic between the two countries continued, at least for now. The Russian foreign ministry said it would stop issuing Chinese citizens with electronic visas as well. Russia has not confirmed any cases of the virus. Meanwhile, South Korea confirmed a case that was locally spread, a 56-year-old who had contact with a patient who was diagnosed with the new virus earlier. Human-to-human spread of the virus outside China has also occurred in Germany, Japan, Canada and Vietnam, and was a major reason the World Health Organisation has convened its panel of experts on Thursday to assess whether the outbreak warrants being declared a global emergency.



The latest figures for China show an increase of 38 deaths and 1,737 cases for a total of 7,711 confirmed cases worldwide. Of the new deaths, 37 were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. A 38-year-old Chinese woman who arrived in Philippines from Wuhan on January 21 has been confirmed as the first case in the country. A second Japanese flight carrying 210 evacuees landed in Tokyo. Reports said nine of those aboard the flight showed signs of cough and fever. Three of Japan’s confirmed cases were among a group of evacuees who had returned on a flight the previous day. A flight was also en route to China to bring back 350 Europeans. The US said additional flights were planned for early next week after it evacuated 195 Americans on Wednesday. They are being tested and monitored at a California military base. South Korea, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and other countries were also trying to get their citizens out. Israel’s El Al, Spain’s Iberia, Scandinavian Airlines, Egypt Air and Korean Air joined the growing list of airlines suspending or reducing service to China. Amid reports of shortages in food and daily necessities in hot-spot areas, authorities are “stepping up efforts to ensure continuous supply and stable prices”, the Xinhua News Agency reported. It cited ministry of commerce data showing current reserves in Wuhan can ensure a secure supply of rice and oil for more than 15 days, pork and eggs for more than 10 days and vegetables for five days.



Possible Virus Case Traps 7,000 on Cruise Ship


Italy: A cruise ship owned by Carnival Corp. was blocked from leaving an Italian port with some 7,000 people on board, after a passenger came down with symptoms that raised concerns about a possible case of coronavirus. The ship was bound for La Spezia in the Liguria region, with 1,000 crew and 6,000 passengers, 750 of whom came from China, a port spokesman said Carnival’s Italian unit Costa Crociere SpA said that a 54-year-old woman from Macau is currently in isolation on board its Costa Smeralda cruise ship in the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome. A medical team from a Rome hospital has examined the patient, who demonstrated fever and respiratory symptoms, according to the Italian Coast Guard. The Costa Smeralda case could mark the first case of a cruise ship being affected by the coronavirus. It would also be the first confirmed case of the disease in Italy. Italian media reported that passengers were protesting the lockdown. “We don’t have information, no internet, because on the ship it doesn’t work,” Ansa news agency cited a passenger as saying. “But above all we’re having our meals together in the common areas and we don’t know if someone is infected.” BLOOMBERG.



Longest Smuggling Tunnel Found on US-Mexico Border

Stretching for 4,309ft, the tunnel had a lift, rail tracks, drainage and air ventilation systems. It linked an industrial site in Mexico’s Tijuana to San Diego in California.



San Diego: US authorities on Wednesday announced the discovery of the longest smuggling tunnel ever found on the southwest border, stretching more than three quarters of a mile from an industrial site in Tijuana, Mexico, to the San Diego area. The tunnel featured an extensive rail cart system, forced air ventilation, high voltage electrical cables and panels, an elevator at the tunnel entrance and a drainage system. While there were no arrests, no drugs found at the site and no confirmed exit point in the US, the length — more than 14 football fields — stunned authorities. “This one blows past (the second-longest),” said Lance Le-Noir, a border patrol operations supervisor. “They continue to surprise me”. The tunnel exposes limitations of President Donald Trump’s border wall, which stretches several feet underground in the area and is considered effective against small, crudely built tunnels often called “gopher holes”. The one announced on Wednesday was found about 70 feet underground, well below the wall.



Following the discovery in August, Mexican law enforcement identified the entrance and US investigators mapped the tunnel that extends a total of 4,309 feet. (1,313 meters). The next longest tunnel in the US was discovered in San Diego in 2014. It was 2,966 feet (904 meters) long. The newly discovered tunnel is about 5.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide and runs at an average depth of 70 feet below the surface, officials said. Agents discovered hundreds of sandbags blocking a suspected former exit of the tunnel in San Diego’s Otay Mesa warehouse area. It went under several warehouses in Otay Mesa, where sophisticated tunnels have typically ended, and extended into open fields. By law, US authorities must fill the US side of tunnels with concrete after they are discovered. Authorities have found 15 sophisticated tunnels on California’s border with Mexico since 2006, with hallmarks including lighting, ventilation, rail tracks and hydraulic lifts.

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