News Flash – 5 March 2020

National News



Covid-19 Screening Extended Even to Transit Flyers from Hotspots Italy, Iran


Mumbai: Flyers arriving even indirectly from Italy and Iran will now be screened for Covid-19 at Indian airports. Those coming directly from the two countries and from East Asian airports are already being screened for the new coronavirus. The DGCA in its latest circular has thus extended the medical screening ambit to passengers arriving from Italy and Iran via transit hubs, mainly Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi. In a report on Tuesday, TOI had raised concerns that exempting passengers from Iran and Italy who fly into India after transit halts, mainly in West Asia, could pose problems as transit airports are points where hundreds of passengers, including those from some of the worst-affected Covid-19 countries, mingle for hours before boarding their onward connections. Also, a large number of India bound passengers from the US, Europe and Africa land in West Asian airports first. For instance, India has been the number one international tourist source market for Dubai for a few years now. Nine days ago, Dubai banned flights from Iranian airports save Tehran. On Tuesday, Dubai airport tweeted that all flights from Iran were being banned and thermal scanners would screen passengers for symptoms.



But an airline medical officer said, “Even though airports in West Asia are screening passengers flying in from Italy and Iran with thermal scanners, this is not a foolproof method of detection. An asymptomatic patient or one who has taken symptomatic treatment could escape the scanner and board an onward flight to, say, Mumbai.” With the latest DGCA circular (issued late on Tuesday) though, not only will such passengers boarding onward flights to India be put through medical screening on arrival, but also will be subject to follow-up checks via phone calls for about two weeks. The BMC’s health officers call such passengers and if they develop a fever or symptoms, they are quarantined. The DGCA said in its latest circular, “Passengers (foreign and Indian) arriving directly or indirectly from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and Singapore must undergo medical screening at the port of entry.” It also said that any flyer upon landing in India must submit personal details and travel history to health officials and immigration officials at all ports.



23 More People Test Positive for Virus in Agra, Delhi & Jaipur


New Delhi: The novel coronavirus scares in India took a serious turn on Wednesday, with the health ministry confirming as many as 23 new cases all in Delhi-NCR, Agra and Jaipur taking the total number of people who have so far been infected to 29. A 26-year-old Paytm employee, a resident of Pankha Road in Janakpuri, became the second Delhi resident to contract Covid-19. He had recently returned from a vacation in Italy, a coronavirus hotspot. A majority of the new cases were among a party of Italian tourists, with 15 more testing positive, including the wife of the 69-year-old man, currently being treated in Jaipur, who had possibly carried the infection from Italy. Others included six Agra relatives of a Delhi resident who earlier tested positive for the infection. The Paytm staffer worked at the company’s Gurgaon office, which has been shut for 15 days. Paytm has advised employees in offices across India to work from home for two days. Paytm has also advised all team members who were in contact with the patient to get tested. The firm has nearly 3,000 employees, and the majority work out of its offices in Noida and Gurgaon. Health officials in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan where the Covid-19 patients have been travelling face a massive task of tracing and testing everyone who may have come in contact with the infected people. The number of such persons is estimated to be over 100.



“The Italian nationals who tested positive for Covid-19 had been travelling across Rajasthan, Agra in Uttar Pradesh and parts of Delhi, before being put under isolation. The Delhi resident, too, came in contact with more than 60 individuals including his family members from the time he returned from Italy – where he is suspected to have caught the infection to the time when he was finally tested positive for the novel coronavirus infection,” said a source. Meanwhile, Paytm announced a slew of precautions after one of its employees tested positive. A company spokesperson said, “One of our colleagues who recently returned from Italy has sadly been tested positive for coronavirus. He is receiving treatment (at Safdarjung hospital) and we are extending complete support to his family. As a precautionary measure, we have suggested his team members to get health tests done immediately. We have also advised all our colleagues to work from home for a couple of days while we get our offices sanitised. However, there will not be any impact on our daily operations and Paytm services will continue as usual”. Government sources said all persons found positive for Covid-19, except the 69-year-old Italian who was first in his group to be detected and who is under treatment at Sawai Manshingh hospital in Jaipur, are stable.



Office Parks, Tech Companies on Alert Over Coronavirus Concerns

MASK ON: From exam halls, traffic intersections and railway stations to private events, masks featured prominently as residents tried to keep themselves safe.



Bengaluru: Business parks across Bengaluru are adopting urgent measures to ensure their premises are clean amid growing concerns over coronavirus, stepping up efforts to maintain hygiene in common areas such as washrooms and food courts. Companies, too, are taking precautions such as drastically reducing business travel to the worst-affected countries, China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy. They have advised employees to work from home if they have flu-like symptoms. Embassy Office Parks, which operates complexes such Manyata Tech Park and Embassy Tech Village on the Outer Ring Road, Bengaluru, has been disinfecting and sanitising the compounds while also seeking expert advice on prevention, detection, recording, isolation and treatment. “As of March 4, we are not aware of a single case of positive test for the virus in the more than 200,000 people who work on our business parks. We do understand that one employee of a company at one of our parks, who had travelled from a Level 3 country, was screened in the last 36 hours and determined to be asymptomatic (sic),” a company spokesperson said in a statement. Developer Brigade, whose clients include Amazon and ABB, said it was running awareness campaigns on LCD screens across its parks to make employees aware of the steps to follow in case of fever and general caution such as washing hands and avoiding touching the face.



The company has been sanitising washrooms more frequently, cleaning them every two hours instead of about five hours earlier. It is treating common areas and floors once every four hours. “Not only that, we have instructed the cleaners to wear masks, gloves and safety shoes and clean the door handles, faucets, taps, walls and washbasins very carefully to ensure that objects that come regularly in contact with the body are clean,” said Subrata Sharma, chief operating officer of Brigade’s commercial business. Wipro has suspended travel to and transit through mainland China, including Hong Kong and Macau, until further notice, and advised its employees to avoid non-critical travel to Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy. Any employee who travelled to an affected area within China in the past few days has been asked to work from home for 14 days before returning to office,” it said. Cognizant said it had suspended travel to affected countries and cut back on non-essential trips. Employees have been requested to work from home if they experience flu-like symptoms. Accenture has undertaken a business continuity plan, basically taking stock of its critical resources and backup arrangements in case employees are asked to work from home. TCS is also taking precautions. “We are working closely with all the local, regional and global health institutions and are implementing the latest recommendations given to us. We are ensuring that our staff have all the information and support they require,” a spokesperson said.



Don’t Panic, come back to Work: Telangana Tells IT Companies


Hyderabad: The Telangana government on Wednesday told IT companies in Hyderabad not to suspend operations over Covid19 fears. Officials also told companies to take prior permission before taking any such decision. The directive comes on a day when some IT companies housed in Raheja Mindspace IT Park in Hi-Tec City suspended operations. The city’s IT sector employs over 4.5 lakh people. So far, only one techie has been confirmed Covid-19 positive. Another techie who works in Raheja Mindspace is suspected to be positive. Asking the managers to stay calm, state IT & industries principal secretary Jayesh Ranjan announced that Cyberabad police commissioner V C Sajjanar would be the nodal officer for industry players to contact before taking any step. The announcement was made at a press meet attended by Ranjan, Sajjanar, director of public health G Srinivas Rao and representatives of IT companies and Raheja Mindspace IT Park. On Wednesday morning, some companies working out of Building 20 at Raheja Mindspace suspended operations and directed employees to work from home after a female employee of one of the companies was suspected to have contracted the virus. The employee, had returned from Italy. “Since some of those at the workplace were exposed to her, sanitation work was taken up by Raheja Mindspace authorities on Wednesday. From Thursday, companies can work without issues,’’ Ranjan said. Raheja Mindspace CEO G Shravan said nine companies work out of Building 20. “Except four companies, the rest conducted operations on Wednesday without any hassle. The building houses 7,500 employees working in different companies,” he said. Sajjanar said authorities are keeping an eye on the rumours floating on social media and would crackdown on rumour mongers. While some companies with offices in the vicinity of Building No. 20 asked employees to work from home and also cautioned them to avoid use of elevators, for many other companies it was business as usual.



In fact, many IT employees trooping into work complained about shortage of masks, some others said they have been provided masks and hand sanitisers at their offices. The day also saw companies circulating mails to keep employees informed about the Do’s and Don’ts and to prevent any panic. In a communication to employees, US-based Pegasystems, which also has a facility in Mindspace, said that due to the changing nature of the situation and differing levels of maturity of the virus in each region, it’s very difficult to issue blanket statements on policy on particular issues and encouraged its offices to act locally and/or regionally based on specific circumstances. IT industry representatives said they have suggested to companies to temporarily discontinue the use of biometric attendance systems and instead encourage use of ID cards. Many IT companies, especially MNCs, said they have already been following global advisories on Covid-19 and have been encouraging people to work from home in case they are unwell. “We are providing real-time guidance to employees in all affected regions. We will continue to monitor the situation and take action as necessary to help protect employees,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. A TCS spokesperson said the company is working closely with all relevant local, regional and global, health institutions and are implementing the latest recommendations. Even IT body Hysea said it is working with Telangana government and has issued an advisory to member companies on how to handle cases of employees returning from abroad. “This is a broad advisory… It is up to individual companies to further take specific steps… in line with their policy and specific situation on the ground,” said a Hysea spokesperson.



International News



Virus Scare: Saudi Halts Pilgrimages to Mecca, Iran Cancels Friday Prayers

LOUVRE BANS CASH OVER VIRUS FEARS: The Louvre Museum in Paris reopened on Wednesday after staff ended coronavirus walkout. The museum has shifted to card-only payments as part of new measures that helped persuade employees worried about getting sick to return to work. WHO has urged people to avoid using banknotes, fearing they could be vectors of disease.



Bangkok: Saudi Arabia banned citizens from performing the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca, Italy ordered schools to close nationwide and Iran cancelled Friday prayers for a second week as nations scrambled on Wednesday to control the coronavirus outbreak. From religion to sports, countries were taking drastic and increasingly visible measures to curb the new coronavirus that first emerged in China and was spreading quickly through Europe, the Mideast and the Americas. In the US, frustration mounted over US officials’ delays and missteps in testing people for the virus. Deaths spiked in Iran and Italy, which along with South Korea account for 80% of the new virus cases outside China, according to the World Health Organization. In all, more than 94,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, with more than 3,200 deaths. “People are afraid and uncertain. Fear is a natural human response to any threat,” said WHO leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But as we get more data, we are understanding this virus and the disease it causes more and more.” WHO said about 3.4% of people infected with the Covid-19 virus globally have died, making it deadlier than the common flu.



In Daegu, the South Korean city at the center of that country’s outbreak, a shortage of hospital space meant about 2,300 patients were being cared for in other facilities while they awaited a hospital bed. South Korea reported 435 new infections on Wednesday, far smaller than its high of 851 a day earlier. A total of 5,621 people in S Korea have contracted the virus and 32 have died. Italy’s virus deaths rose to 107, the most of any country outside of China. Its outbreak has been concentrated in the northern region of Lombardy, but fears over how the virus is spreading inside and outside the country prompted the government to order all schools to close nationwide till March 15. Iran reported 92 deaths among its 2,922 confirmed cases. The country on Wednesday cancelled Friday prayers for the second week in a row. The UN health chief has warned sharply against hoarding medical supplies, saying they are needed to protect health care workers. Accordingly, the Czech Republic, Russia and Germany announced bans on exporting protective gear like masks. That followed a similar move by France, where major hospitals have seen their masks stolen by the boxful. In the US, more than 120 cases have been reported. Nine people have died, all in and around Seattle, Washington. China reported 119 new cases on Wednesday, all but five in the outbreak’s epicenter of Wuhan. Beijing’s health commissioner said two new cases in the Chinese capital were apparently infected abroad, in Iran and Italy.

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