India’s First 2 Omicron Cases Detected – Latest news headlines


Bengaluru:

Two COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in India, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, in the first confirmation of the coronavirus strain within the country’s borders that has triggered global alarm.

Both the cases have been reported in Karnataka with the patients being two foreigners aged 66 and 46, the Health Ministry’s Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal told a news briefing, adding that their identities will not be disclosed for now to protect their privacy.

All people who came in contact with the two men have been traced and are being tested, he said, adding that both the cases are mild and there are no severe symptoms so far.

“There is no need to panic about the Omicron detection but awareness is absolutely essential. Follow Coivd-appropriate behaviour, avoid gatherings,” Mr Agarwal said.

Early indications have suggested the heavily-mutated Omicron may be markedly more contagious than previous variants, however, there has been no evidence of the strain any deadlier.

“There will be no drastic curbs any time soon. The situation is well under control,” Dr VK Paul, chief of the centre’s COVID-19 task force, said.

India was set to restart scheduled commercial international flights on Dec 15, but on Wednesday scrapped that plan and said a resumption date would be announced in due course.

The government has advised states to ramp up testing, a week after the health ministry said a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic.

After battling a record jump in infections and deaths in April and May, coronavirus cases have come down substantially in India, where the Delta variant is the dominant strain.

The country reported 9,765 new cases on Thursday, taking its total to 34.61 million. Only the United States has reported more.



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Latest News Today – India Coronavirus Cases: India’s ‘R-Value’ Inching Up,


India has logged over 3.16 crore cases since the start of the pandemic.

New Delhi:

India’s ‘R-Value’ is inching up, and it’s a cause of concern, AIIMS Chief Dr Randeep Guleria told NDTV on Saturday, stressing on the need of aggressive containment strategies in the parts of the country that are witnessing a surge in fresh Covid infections. His remarks come amid concern over a third wave. 

“Starting from .96, and going all the way up to 1, the rise in R-Value is a cause of concern. Simply put, this means that the chances of infection spreading from a person, who has Covid, to others have gone up. The areas which are witnessing this surge should bring in restrictions and employ “test, track, and treat” strategy to break the chain of transmission,” Dr Guleria explained. The R-Factor or number shows the effective reproductive number of a virus.

India on Friday recorded 44,230 fresh infections, the highest single-day surge in three weeks. The fresh spike in cases has been worrying in Kerala and some northeastern states. Forty-six districts in the country have a positivity rate of more than 10 per cent, the government said on Saturday. 

This week, reports quoting the US health authority –  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – said that Delta variant of the coronavirus may cause more severe illness than all other known versions of the virus and spread as easily as chickenpox.

Explaining this in Indian context, Dr Guleria said: “Measles or chicken pox used to have R factor of 8 or more, which means one person could infect eight others. That sort of suggests that this virus is highly infectious. We saw that in our second wave, because whole families were getting infected. This happens with chicken pox also. In a similar manner, when one person has Delta variant, the whole family is vulnerable.”

With nearly 50 per cent of fresh Covid cases coming from Kerala, there’s a need to evaluate the surge in infections, Dr Guleria further stressed. “In the beginning, Kerala had set a precedent for others by managing the pandemic well. They also had an aggressive vaccination drive. Yet despite that, are witnessing a spike in a way that’s different from other parts of the country. This needs to be evaluated. Also, is there a variant behind the surge? Are containment strategies being aggressively followed – all this needs to be evaluated,” the AIIMS chief explained.

Neighbouring states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also need to adopt aggressive testing strategy to break the chain of transmission, he added.

In Tamil Nadu, 66 per cent of people have developed anti-bodies, a recent sero survey showed. Yet the state has been witnessing a spike. The sero surveys, however, are not an indicator of herd immunity, Dr Guleria explained. “In Brazil, similar survey from a city showed 70 per cent of population had herd immunity. Yet we had a huge outbreak. We really don’t what’s the cut off in such cases, and also the antibodies gradually decrease over a period of time. It, however, shows that the chances of serious infections are lesser. For instance in Kerala, and UK, people are getting the infection, they may be spreading but they are not getting serious infection,” he said. 

India has logged over 3.16 crore cases so far, and 4.23 lakh people have died due to Covid. 



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Latest News Today – Flipkart Asks Supreme Court to Stall India’s Antitrust


Walmart-owned Flipkart has asked India’s Supreme Court to restrain the country’s antitrust body after it asked sensitive questions in what the firm called an “invasive” investigation of its e-commerce operations.

The request, in a court filing more than 700 pages long that has not been made public, illustrates the e-commerce giant’s level of concern over the investigation, which has prompted public spats between US firms and the Indian government.

In its investigation, which includes Amazon, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) sought a list of Flipkart’s top sellers, online discounts and pacts with smartphone makers, among 32 questions it asked on July 15.

Flipkart told the Supreme Court the details sought reinforced its fear of the “invasive nature” of the investigation, and asked it to put on hold both the information request and the overall investigation.

“The information sought…is sensitive in nature,” Flipkart said in the court document, adding that such investigations could have serious consequences on its reputation and goodwill.

“It is evident that the director-general is determined to take precipitative action,” it added, referring to the watchdog’s investigation chief.

The antitrust body also sent a request for information to Amazon in the investigation, said a source who sought anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Flipkart, Amazon and the CCI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although India’s trade minister and a court in south India have said the companies should not shy away from inquiries, Amazon and Flipkart say the CCI lacked evidence and should not have launched the investigation last year.

The request to the Supreme Court comes after the state court dismissed the companies’ pleas in June and July, saying the investigation must continue.

The antitrust body, which has set Flipkart a July 30 deadline to answer its queries, had plans to speed the investigation into Amazon and Flipkart after the clearance from the court, Reuters reported in June.

The CCI questions also sought details of policies on showcasing products on Flipkart’s website and internal communication with sellers over sale events, the court document showed.

The watchdog also asked for a list of Flipkart’s top 100 sellers between 2015 to 2020 and top-selling products.

“The investigation…involves an intrusive and free-ranging inquiry,” Flipkart said in the document, adding that it would have a “tremendous” impact.

Indian retailers have said Flipkart favours select sellers on its platforms to the disadvantage of smaller players.

In February, a Reuters investigation based on Amazon documents showed it had given preferential treatment for years to a small group of sellers and used them to bypass Indian law.

The companies deny any wrongdoing.

© Thomson Reuters 2021




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Latest News Today – International Monetary Fund (IMF) Downgrades India’s


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) lowered India’s growth projection from 12.5 per cent to 9.5 per cent for fiscal 2021-22 – down by three percentage points, following the severe second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. For the current fiscal year, India witnessed the largest drop in growth projections made by IMF, even as the global economic growth rate remains the same at six per cent.

However, for the next fiscal 2022-23, IMF revised the economic growth for India up from 6.9 per cent to 8.5 per cent it had projected in April 2021 – higher by 1.6 percentage points.

“Growth prospects in India have been downgraded following the severe second COVID wave during March-May and expected slow recovery in confidence from that setback,” IMF said in its latest World Economic Outlook (WEO).

In its second bi-monthly monetary policy committee meeting for fiscal 2021-22 held on June 4, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also lowered the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) projection to 9.5 per cent, from 10.5 per cent.

Among the developing nations, IMF has downgraded the economic growth projections for India at three per cent, for China at 0.3 per cent, and for Saudi Arabia at 0.5 per cent. While the change in economic growth projections made by IMF for the rest of the developing countries including Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, among others, is in positive terms.

Recording its worst-ever performance in more than four decades, India registered a de-growth of 7.3 per cent for fiscal year 2020-21, while the preceding January-March quarter of the fiscal showed a slight rise of 1.6 per cent.



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Latest News Today – In India’s Biggest Arms Licence Scam, J&K District


The CBI raided several places in Jammu and Kashmir to collect evidence in the arms licence racket.

Highlights

  • Over 2.78 lakh illegal gun licences were issued for money, the CBI said
  • The agency said they searched 40 locations, including 20 gun houses
  • IAS officers Shahid Iqbal Choudhary and Neeraj Kumaj were raided too

Srinagar:

Several district magistrates in Jammu and Kashmir in collusion with arms dealers had issued illegal gun licences going back as far as 2012, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said on Saturday as part of their probe into an arms licence racket.

Over 2.78 lakh illegal gun licences have been issued by district magistrates for money, the agency said, in what is believed to be India’s biggest arms licence scam.

In a statement, the CBI said they conducted searches at 40 locations including 20 gun houses in a case related to arms licence racket in Jammu and Kashmir.

Among those raided are two IAS officers Shahid Iqbal Choudhary and Neeraj Kumar. Mr Choudhary, who is Secretary of Tribal Affairs, has served as district magistrate in six districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

He claimed that no incriminating material was found during searches by CBI at his residence but admitted there were irregularities in some cases.

The arms licence racket was first unearthed by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of Rajasthan Police in 2017 after they found criminals with licensed weapons issued by bureaucrats in Jammu and Kashmir.

The ATS had also found over 3,000 licences were given in the name of Army personnel based on fake documents.

While the then Peoples’ Democratic Party-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir has been accused of trying to shield the accused under the garb of a vigilance probe, after the imposition of Governor’s Rule in 2018, the then Governor NN Vohra handed over the case to CBI.

The BJP welcomed CBI raids and thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for acting against corrupt who were proliferating illegal arms across the country.

“These licences were issued during previous regimes. CBI should get to the bottom of it who all were given gun licences; who are these people in different parts of the country and Jammu and Kashmir. It should be exposed,” said BJP spokesperson Altaf Thakur.

In March last year, the CBI arrested IAS officers Kumar Rajiv Ranjan and Itrat Rafiqui who had issued thousands of licences during their tenure as the District Magistrates of Kupwara.





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Latest News Today – India’s Homegrown Guided Anti-Tank Missile Test-Fired


The missile hit the target, a dummy tank, and destroyed it with precision, said the DRDO.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has successfully conducted the flight test of an indigenously developed man-portable anti-tank guided missile, providing a major boost to the Indian Army, the defence body said Wednesday.

The low weight, fire and forget, anti-tank guided missile was launched from a man-portable launcher integrated with a thermal sight, news agency ANI quoted the DRDO as saying.

The missile hit the target, a dummy tank, in direct attack mode and destroyed it with precision, the DRDO said. “The test has validated the minimum range successfully,” it said.  

“All the mission objectives were met. The missile has already been successfully flight-tested for the maximum range. The missile is incorporated with state-of-the-art miniaturised infrared imaging seeker along with advanced avionics,” the DRDO said.





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Latest News Today – India’s Petrol Sales In 1st Fortnight Of July Jump Above


India hopes its fuel demand would recover topre-pandemiclevelsby the end of this year.

Indian state fuel retailers’ petrol sales exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the first fortnight of July, as motorists took back to the roads after states eased COVID-19-related lockdowns.

Sales of petrol rose to 1.03 million tonnes in the first fortnight of July, a jump of about 3.44 per cent over the corresponding 2019 period, preliminary industry data showed on Friday.

India’s petrol sales recovered to pre-pandemic levels in October 2020 before a second deadly wave of infections began hitting the fuel’s demand in April.

Rising fuel sales in India, the world’s third-biggest oil importer and consumer, is a positive development for global oil markets.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said on Thursday it expects world oil demand to increase next year to around levels seen before the pandemic, led by demand growth in the U.S., China and India.

With easing of restrictions by the states after a decline in infections, motorists flocked to tourist destinations and markets, leading Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn against overcrowding.

This week home ministry asked officials nationwide to enforce social distancing and clamp down on overcrowding at tourist sites.

Diesel sales, which accounts for about two-fifths of India’s overall refined fuel consumption and is directly linked to industrial activity in Asia’s third-largest economy, was about 10.7 per cent less than the same period of 2019, the data showed.

India hopes its fuel demand would recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year. State-run Indian Oil Corp, Hindustan Petroleum Corp and Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd own about 90 per cent of the country’s retail fuel outlets.



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Latest News Today – India’s Microfinance Sector Hit As Defaults Surge In


Some microfinance firms had to scale back capital raising plans due to tepid interest from investors

Small loan specialists in India that typically cater to people without bank accounts are facing a jump in pandemic-related defaults that could force some of them out of business, industry experts warn.

Loans overdue by 30 days are expected to reach 14-16 per cent of all so-called microfinance loans in the immediate aftermath of the second COVID-19 wave sweeping India, said Krishnan Sitaraman, senior director at credit rating agency CRISIL.

That’s higher than 6-7 per cent in March, before the second wave took hold, and also above the 11.7 per cent reached in March 2017 after India’s demonetisation drive – an attempt to boost digital transactions and crack down on undeclared money that also hit microfinance lenders hard.

“Older loans that were taken in 2019 or early 2020 are at a higher risk of defaults and they form about 60-65 per cent of the loan book for lenders,” said Harsh Shrivastava, former head of the Microfinance Institutions Network, an association representing the sector in India.

Rahul Johri, chair of Vector Finance, a microfinance firm that provides loans to small enterprises, said many support measures brought in by the government had only helped larger institutions, while smaller players had struggled.

“It has become an existence issue for several small and mid-sized microfinance institutions as business has been severely impacted and collections are down,” said Johri.

Loan collection efficiency across the total loan pool has fallen to about 70 per cent from a peak of nearly 95 per cent in March, analysts say, indicating a potential build up in stress.

The gross loan portfolio of India’s microfinance lenders stood at $35 billion as of March 31, according to CRISIL.

Bumpy Road Ahead

Despite the short-term challenges, some remain bullish on the sector and expect it to bounce back if an anticipated third wave of COVID-19 infections in India is not so severe.

“About 55 per cent of the market is still untapped which means there is huge market opportunity … so things will look up soon,” said Johri. But for now, many smaller microfinance firms are struggling.

Such companies, typically with loan books of less than 5 billion rupees ($67 million), have also seen their cost of funds rise by 100-150 basis points as banks and companies have become less willing to lend to them, said one industry executive, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some microfinance firms have had to scale back capital raising plans due to tepid interest from investors, said the heads of two firms that have been looking to raise funds.

As smaller players falter, some have stopped paying salaries, or incentives to employees in recent months, they added, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“We are now only getting basic salaries, incentives have completely stopped in the last few months as collections are down,” said a collection agent at one microfinance lender in eastern India.



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Latest News Today – S&P Reaffirms India’s Sovereign Rating At “BBB-“


S&P has kept India’s sovereign rating at lowest investment grade level

Standard and Poor’s affirmed its rating on India’s long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit at the lowest investment-grade level and retained its stable outlook on the economy, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

India’s long-term rating was affirmed at ‘BBB-‘ with a stable outlook while the short-term rating was held at ‘A-3’.

“The stable outlook reflects our expectation that India’s economy will recover following the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic,” analysts at the rating agency wrote.

“And that the country’s strong external settings will act as a buffer against financial strains despite elevated government funding needs over the next 24 months”.

S&P said, however, it may lower the country’s ratings if the economy recovers significantly slower than expected from fiscal year 2021-22, or if the general government deficits and associated indebtedness materially exceeds its forecasts.

The rating agency said India continued to outperform its peers and it expected economic activity to begin to normalise throughout the rest of the year and the economy to grow 9.5 per cent for the full year after a contraction of 7.3 per cent in 2020-21.

“The pace of India’s ambitious Covid-19 vaccination campaign will be crucial to the mitigation of adverse outcomes from future pandemic waves,” analysts wrote.

The agency, however, expects the country’s fiscal position to remain weak and only sees a gradual deficit consolidation over the next three years.

S&P said there was a risk that some damage to the real economy from India’s deep economic downturn last year, and the more recent coronavirus outbreak, could be enduring but implementation and acceleration of key reforms could help to address this risk over the next few years.

“The Government’s ability to deliver and execute additional economic reforms, especially those that spur investment and job creation, will be important for India’s ability to recover from the economic slowdown,” it said.

“Existing vulnerabilities, including a relatively weak financial sector, rigid labour markets, and sluggish private investment, could hamper the economic recovery if not meaningfully addressed”.



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Latest News Today – India’s 1st FASTag/UPI Based Cashless Parking Facility


Dedicated intermediate public transport lanes for taxi, auto, e-rickshaws at Kashmere Gate station

Delhi Metro authorities launched the country’s first FASTag-based cashless parking facility at the Kashmere Gate station – the only triple interchange station on the network, as part of its multimodal integration of transport services for commuters. Dedicated intermediate public transport or IPT lanes for taxi, auto, as well as e-rickshaws were also inaugurated at the station on Tuesday, July 6, by senior officials of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). (Also Read: Delhi Metro’s Kashmere Gate Station Has Record 47 Escalators: All You Need To Know )

For the multimodal integration (MMI) project and the cashless facility, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) partnered with the Delhi Metro regulating body to introduce the country’s first 100 per cent digital parking plaza at one of the busiest stations on the Delhi Metro network. 

How does FASTag/UPI-based cashless facility work at Delhi Metro’s Kashmere Gate station?

  • The cashless parking facility is located at gate number six of the Kashmere Gate station and can accommodate as many as 55 four-wheelers and 174 two-wheelers. The station also has a record 47 escalators within its premises.
  • According to Delhi Metro, the entry, exit, and payment of four-wheelers can be done through the FASTag. The parking fee will be deducted through FASTag, which will reduce the overall time for entry and payment. Only those vehicles which have a FASTag installed will be allowed to park in this facility at the station.
  • The entry for the two-wheelers can be done only by swiping the DMRC smart card. The smart card swipe is used only for registering the time of the entry and exit and the fare calculation. In this process, no money will be deducted from the card.
  • The parking fee can be paid by the UPI apps, upon scanning the QR Code. At a later stage, the payment can also be made through the DMRC or the national common mobility card (NCMC) 
  • This is a pilot project of DMRC and the metro authority is planning to set up similar systems at more of its parking facilities across the national capital region.

Also Read: Here’s How To Use National Common Mobility Card On Delhi Metro Airport Express Line

At gate numbers six and eight of the Kashmere Gate station, the dedicated intermediate public transport (IPT) lanes for taxi, auto, and e-rickshaws were also inaugurated for commuters. The dedicated lanes will allow seamless movement of vehicles and boost the last mile connectivity at the station.

In the second phase of the multimodal integration – which is currently under construction, a food court will be constructed and a bus terminal with three lanes having a capacity of five buses each will also be established, according to Delhi Metro authorities. 

 After completion of the second phase, Kashmere Gate station will become a transportation hub, integrating metro connectivity on Delhi Metro Red line, Yellow line, Violet line, ISBT Kashmere Gate, City Bus service, with a cashless parking facility, as well as taxi/auto/e-rickshaw services for the last-mile connectivity.

”…The parking plaza would accept NETC FASTag for four wheelers and UPI payments for all two-wheelers. With NETC FASTag, it’s our constant endeavour to provide seamless, cashless, and automated toll and parking payment solutions,” said Ms Praveena Rai, COO, NPCI.

The radio frequency identification (RFID)-based prepaid tag facility FASTag – made mandatory by the government for driving vehicles on highways, allows automatic, cashless deduction of toll charges when a registered vehicle passes through the toll plaza without stopping for a cash transaction. 



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