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Pandemic and panic

The Tamil Nadu government’s order intensifying the lockdown in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruppur and Salem from April 26 briefly convulsed these cities with panic, threatening to undo the gains achieved from avoiding crowding, maintaining physical distancing and preparing the public for a calibrated exit from restrictions. If the idea was to halt the rising rate of infections, which cumulatively touched 1,821 on April 25, the government’s announcement of a ‘complete lockdown’ was counterproductive. Thousands crowded grocery stores, vegetable shops and petrol pumps to stock up, many ignoring safety norms. Anxiety over access to essential goods, particularly among people who do not store articles for long periods, triggered panic buying. Confusion also marked the issue of new passes for delivery agents in places such as Madurai, attracting massive crowds. Such chaotic events are an invitation to disaster, since the highly contagious, and by many accounts dangerous virus infects
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No 100% quota: On overzealous reservation

The Supreme Court is right in considering cent per cent reservation as anathema to the constitutional scheme of equality even if it is for the laudable objective of providing representation to historically deprived sections. The verdict quashing the reservation of 100% of all teaching posts in ‘Scheduled Areas’ of Andhra Pradesh for local Scheduled Tribes is not against affirmative programmes as such, but a caution against implementing them in a manner detrimental to the rest of society. A five-judge Constitution Bench found that earmarking teacher posts in areas notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution adversely affected the interests of other candidates not only from Scheduled Castes and other backward communities but also other ST communities not native to those areas. Of course, what the State government did, in its original orders of 1986, and thereafter, in a subsequent order in 2000, was not without its own rationale. It found that there was chronic absenteeism
Editorial

Joining of giants: On Facebook-Jio deal

Facebook’s decision to invest ₹43,574 crore for a 9.9% stake in Reliance Industries Ltd.’s Jio Platforms marks a rare coming together of two giants who have a reputation for market domination. The focus of their combined might is the India retail sector, a difficult terrain as large parts of it are still unorganised. But then for the same reason, it holds potential for huge disruption. In recent years, the retail space has been an ongoing battlefield for behemoths such as Amazon and Walmart, themselves globally dominant players. The other interested parties in this are payment services companies such as the Softbank- and Alibaba-backed Paytm, and Google, which runs Google Pay. But the combination of Facebook and Reliance will be difficult to beat — they seem to have both the marketplace and the payment solution sides covered. For Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service, India is the biggest market with over 400 million users. It currently awaits regulatory approval for its payment

Editorial

Protection for protectors: On safety of healthcare workers

Since the first case of novel coronavirus infection in India was reported in end-January, many healthcare workers have been subjected to abuse and violence in the line of duty. Most of the attacks have been on healthcare personnel sent to localities to collect samples from people who are suspected to have been infected or have come in contact with those who have tested positive for the virus. Some doctors returning home from duty have been prevented from entering their homes and in some cases, even asked to vacate their premises. While such acts have been widely condemned, nothing much changed on the ground. The dastardly act of a few people in Chennai who not only attacked healthcare workers but also prevented a decent burial of a neurosurgeon who died of COVID-19 complications on April 19 shook the nation’s conscience. Though belated, the Union Cabinet’s decision to promulgate an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to make acts of violence against medical personnel a

Editorial

Rapid failures: On antibody testing kits

Rapid testing kits that State governments have been using to detect antibodies to the novel coronavirus have proved unreliable, making the shift to normal life after the lockdown ends on May 3 more difficult. Governments around the world have been looking for an accurate blood test that can tell people if they have immunity through past COVID-19 infection, and can therefore return to their duties to kickstart the economy. While the diagnostic RT-PCR test to confirm the presence of the virus using a nasal swab in a laboratory setting is considered reliable, attempts to design a rapid test that uses a blood sample to find antibodies after past infection have thrown up errors in as much as a third of cases: a study in the U.K. showed that they were high on specificity — accurate in cases that they found to be antibody positive. But they still missed about 30% of positive cases, showing low sensitivity. This is the phenomenon worrying India, which has imported several hundred thousand

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