COVID-19: Govt says recovery rate up, few patients need hospital support; Domestic flights to resume next week

New Delhi, May 20 (PTI) Amid mounting worries about a deep recession due to the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing lockdown, authorities on Wednesday announced plans to resume domestic flights from next week and also asked the entertainment industry to get ready for limited resumption of film shooting and post-production activities. The nationwide tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the meantime rose by over 5,000 with new cases getting detected across states.

The Union Health Ministry said the recovery rate among those having tested positive has risen to nearly 40 per cent, from about 7 per cent before the lockdown began on March 25. It also said that hospital support was needed by less than 7 per cent patients.

In its morning 8 AM update, the ministry said the COVID-19 death toll has risen to 3,303 after 140 more deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, while the number of cases across the country rose by more than 5,600 to reach 1,06,750.

During a press briefing on the COVID-19 situation, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said the total active COVID-19 cases now stands at 61,149 in the country and 42,298 people have recovered.

The current recovery rate stands at 39.62 per cent while it was 7.1 per cent at the beginning of lockdown, he added.

The nationwide lockdown was initially imposed for a 21-day period till April 14, but later got extended till May 3 in the second phase and then for another 14-day third phase till May 17. A two-week-long fourth phase is now underway till May 31, but with several restrictions having been relaxed to boost economic activities.

Announcing further relaxations, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Wednesday that domestic flights will resume in a calibrated manner from May 25, two months after the services were shut due to the coronavirus.

The minister, however, did not mention any update for international flights, which have also remained shut during the lockdown, barring for special flights being operated to bring back stranded Indians and expatriates from abroad.

The aviation sector has been among the worst hit by the pandemic as various countries, including India, decided to suspend commercial flights completely to curb the spread of the virus. Several Indian carriers have resorted to pay cuts, layoffs and leave without pay for their staff members.

Similar is the situation for many other sectors, while a huge manpower shortage is looming large due to the return of lakhs of migrant workers to their native places after being rendered jobless, and even homeless in most cases, from most of the industrial clusters across the country where they were working before the lockdown.

Cab aggregator Ola is laying off 1,400 staff as its revenue declined by 95 per cent in the last two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Bhavish Aggarwal said in an email to employees.

Rating agency Icra warned of a deep recession and drastically lowered its FY21 GDP forecast for Indian economy to a contraction of 5 per cent, citing the very modest fiscal support, extension of the nationwide lockdown and the looming labour shortage.

The agency also sharply revised downwards its estimates for the first two quarters of the fiscal, forecasting 25 per cent GDP contraction in the current April-June quarter and a contraction of 2.1 per cent for the July-September period. Earlier, it had forecast 16-20 per cent contraction for Q1 and a growth of 2.1 per cent for Q2.

With the lockdown being extended to end-May and expectation of substantial delays in getting the supply chains operational following the return of millions of migrant workers to their home states, Q1 de-growth will be deeper and recovery will be shallower and more delayed than our earlier assessment, Icra said.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, however, said the industry needs to reset its relations with workers in view of the COVID-19 fallouts and also consider a professional way to engage unskilled workers.

During an interaction with industry body CII, she said, 'Mindsets in industry need to set examples in handling workers in a way that is acceptable to all.' The Congress party accused the government of implementing the lockdown in an unplanned manner and also alleged it does not have any exit strategy.

In Mumbai, Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhhav Thackeray interacted with representatives of the entertainment industry and asked them to prepare an action plan on limited resumption of film shooting and post-production activities by adhering to social distancing norms amidst the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

He, however, ruled out reopening of cinema halls or theatres anytime soon.

Thackeray said the central government feels that the spike in coronavirus cases will be higher by May-end and in June, but the spread has been controlled to a large extent in Maharashtra, which has been the worst-hit by the deadly virus with more than 37,000 confirmed cases and over 1,300 deaths.

Tamil Nadu, another badly affected state by the infection, reported 743 new cases to take its tally to 13,191, but also announced nearly 1,000 recoveries. Of the new cases, the state government said, 83 were returnees from Maharashtra.

In the national capital, a record number of 534 new cases were detected to take Delhi's tally to over 11,000, while its death toll reached 176.

The Delhi government, in the meantime, launched an exercise to define its own 'Red, Orange and Green zones' -- marking of areas based on COVID-19 case load, sources said. Currently, all 11 districts are marked as 'red' under the central government labelling.

New cases were reported across various other states as well, including in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

Union Minister Jitendra Singh said the north-eastern states have done better than the rest of India in handling the COVID-19 situation. While Sikkim and Nagaland do not have a single COVID-19 positive case till date, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram had one patient each, who have since recovered.

Meghalaya had 13 cases in a hospital in Shillong due to a foreign traveller. The state recorded one death, but all the others have since recovered, Singh said. Meghalaya is also COVID-19 free now, while Assam has also handled the pandemic very well, he added.

In Gujarat, another badly hit state with more than 12,000 cases and over 700 deaths, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani sought people's participation in a week-long online campaign on COVID-19 fight. He said, 'Now, it's a direct battle against coronavirus. We have to live with coronavirus and also fight against it.' Notices were issued to at least 16 private hospitals in the state for allegedly refusing to admit COVID-19 patients referred to them by Ahmedabad's civic body. The state reported 398 new cases on Wednesday.

Globally, over 49 lakh people have tested positive for the deadly virus infection since its emergence in China last December and more than 3 lakh have died.

While experts have said that a vaccine is still many months or even a year away, all eyes are on US-based company Moderna's encouraging early results on a small group of healthy volunteers.

Eight candidate vaccines for COVID-19 are in the clinical evaluation, while 110 are in the preclinical stage, according to the WHO’s latest draft landscape. PTI PLB BEN SR MBI UZM GJS DP DSP SAR MR VGN KND BUN ACB PJT PD BJ BJ