India recorded more than 400,000 Covid-19 cases and nearly 12,000 deaths from the virus in June alone — by far the worst month of the outbreak in the country. While the number of cases was 2.7 times higher than those reported during May, the number of deaths was 2.8 times higher. India had reported just over 150,000 cases and 4,267 deaths then. India’s Covid-19 caseload of 400,000 in June was the third highest in the world after the US and Brazil, while the number of deaths during the month was the fourth highest after the US, Brazil and Mexico.
While fresh cases on Tuesday — the last day of June — dipped slightly to 18,333, deaths crossed the 500 mark to 510, per data collated from state governments. India had recorded 585,474 cases of Covid-19 in all while the death toll crossed the 17,000 mark to 17,392 on the day. The daily fatality count was the biggest since 2,003 deaths were reported on June 16, with most of those numbers comprising earlier deaths confirmed during data reconciliation processes in Maharashtra and Delhi.
Warning of increasing negligence in social and personal behaviour with unlocking proceeding, PM Narendra Modi on Tuesday called for strict compliance of norms to control the spread of Covid-19, emphasising the need to take precautions as the unlock phase unfolds. During the national broadcast, he also extended the free ration scheme to provide 5 kg foodgrain and 1 kg of pulses to 800 million beneficiaries for another five months till November-end.
The PM said the five-month extension will cost around Rs 90,000 crore, taking the overall cost to Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Poor families are entitled to 5 kg grain every month under the National Food Security Programme and the government is topping up the entitlement with a matching quantity, with pulses thrown in, at no charge. The other elements of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, however, ended on Tuesday.
Tuesday also marked six months since China reported the world’s first cases of Covid-19. And WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned: “This is not even close to being over. Although many countries have made some progress globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up.” He also confirmed that WHO would send a team to China next week to investigate the origins of the virus.
5 THINGS FIRST
Unlock 2 comes into force; New rules for financial transactions, including PF, to kick-in; Murli Manohar Joshi likely to depose in Babri mosque demolition case; Israel likely to begin annexing parts of West Bank; National Doctor’s Day
2. India, China are talking but nothing’s moving
The talks: Indian and Chinese militaries on Tuesday held another round of Lt General-level talks for disengagement of troops from several friction points in eastern Ladakh. The talks took place at a meeting point in Chushul sector on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
Little else: The ground position of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) does not match what was agreed to during the last two rounds of talks held at Moldo on the Chinese side on June 6 and 22. In Galwan, Chinese troops remain dug in and the troop build-up has not been dismantled. At Finger area (a series of spurs that rise along the bank of the Pangong lake) too, there have not been signs that the Chinese troops are pulling back. PLA first reneged on dismantling one of its observation posts in Galwan, as was agreed in the June 6 meeting, leading to the skirmish in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed on June 15.
No change: Indian perception of the LAC lies at Finger 8. The disputed area between Finger 4 and 8 used to be patrolled by both sides. However, China moved in soldiers and equipment to Finger 4 since late April, cutting off Indian access and unilaterally changing the ground situation. Over the past month it has built several dozen defences and hundreds of structures in gross violation of all border protocols and agreements. Chinese troops have also taken control of the nearby heights and ridgeline to dominate the area.
The defiance: The PLA wants Indian soldiers to retreat to the Finger-2 area, as a precondition to Chinese troops withdrawing to Finger 6, reports The Economic Times. At present, both sides are in a standoff at Finger 4. After physically occupying an almost 8-km stretch in what India considers to be its territory, the PLA have now created a massive signage in the area to claim it as Chinese territory. The around 80-metre long signage is designed to be visible from the air and capable of even being picked up by satellites.
Meanwhile, reacting to India’s ban of Chinese apps, China on Tuesday voiced “strong concern” over the move and said the Indian government has the responsibility to uphold the “legitimate and legal rights” of international investors.
3. Another fatal industrial accident in Vizag…
Two workers died and four others were hospitalised after a benzimidazole gas leak at a plant operated by the Sainor Life Sciences, a pharmaceutical company, at Parawada in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. The incident reportedly occurred a little before midnight Monday, said Vizag city commissioner, RK Meena. As many as 30 were working at the facility at the time. Benzimidazole is used to make antifungal and antiviral drugs.
This is the second such industrial accident in Visakhapatnam and the third in Andhra Pradesh since the lockdown restrictions were eased to allow for industrial and commercial activities. A styrene leak at the LG Polymers plant in Visakhapatnam on May 7 had killed 12 and hospitalised over 300. Last Saturday (June 28), an ammonia leak from a fertiliser plant operated by Spy Agro Industries in Kurnool killed one. Investigations into LG Polymers incident in on; the probe report of a High-Powered Committee was to be submitted on Tuesday.
The Hindu reports this is the second accident at the Sainor facility. In September 2015, two workers were charred to death and five others were injured in a reactor blast, it said.
4. The wait for a ‘good and simple’ tax
The changes: The Goods and Services Tax (GST) that came into effect exactly three years ago at the stroke of midnight with a special sitting of Parliament was supposed to be a “good and simple tax” but the far-from-perfect implementation made it anything but simple. The criticism from the opposition and a series of state elections forced the government to change many things from tax rates to exemptions and compliance requirements and GST remains a work in progress. The national auditor CAG, in its report on GST for fiscal 2018-19, had said: “one significant area where the full potential of GST has not been achieved is the roll out of the simplified tax compliance regime.”
The shortfall: The GST subsumed over a dozen indirect taxes, like excise and service tax. However, revenues under the new indirect tax regime has not picked up as per expectations. The economic slowdown and then the lockdown have not just impacted tax collections but also the GST compensation cess fund that is used to compensate states for revenue shortfall due to the rollout of the indirect tax. The Centre is supposed to compensate states that do not see at least 14% annual GST growth till 2022 but it has held back payment in the past citing concerns over tax collections.
The impact: States account for about 58% of the overall government expenditure in the country and at the time of one of the worst economic slowdowns they need money to spend more and boost demand. However, while the monthly compensation requirement for states this year is expected to be about Rs 20,000 crore, the monthly cess collections are likely to be in the range of Rs 7,000-8,000 crore. In 2019-20, the Centre had released Rs 120,498 crore GST compensation to states while it had collected only about Rs 95,000 crore in the form of compensation cess.
The economy: The output of eight core infrastructure industries shrank by 23.4% in May due to the lockdown, government data released on Tuesday showed. The eight sectors had expanded by 3.8% in May 2019. The pandemic could set back the recovery of India’s banking sector by years, which could hit credit flows and, ultimately, the economy, S&P Global Ratings said on Tuesday.
NEWS IN CLUES
5. Which animal occupies the last position in the Chinese Zodiac?
Clue 1: An omnivore, it is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the even-toed ungulate family Suidae.
Clue 2: In George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, the central characters, representing Soviet leaders, are all depicted as the animal.
Clue 3: It is used as a slang term for a male chauvinist, adopted originally by the women’s liberation movement in the ’60s.
Scroll below for answer
6. A July disaster awaits Palestine
What: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex nearly 30% of occupied West Bank is to roll out on Wednesday (July 1). The controversial plan has already been denounced by the United Nations, major European powers and the Arab League. India, which had in the past backed Palestinian cause, has not commented on the matter, a sign of its growing ties with Israel.
Tell me more: West Bank, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, is considered occupied territory by international law. Israel has since established settlements for nearly 500,000 Jewish Israelis in the territory. These settlements are considered illegal. But Israel wants to formalise it by redrawing the map and annexing these lands.
Peace at stake… Palestinians see the West Bank part of a future independent state. The annexation thus raises serious doubts over the two-state solution. The Palestinian Authority has criticised the annexation but has ruled out any violent protest.
And rights: Formal annexation of the territories raises another question: What of the Palestinians who reside there? Netanyahu has said he opposes Israeli citizenship to these Palestinians, as it would undermine the Jewish identity of Israel. But international observers say doing so even after annexing the territory would mean the establishment of an apartheid system.
But… On Monday, Netanyahu’s rival-turned-political ally Benny Gantz signalled opposition to the annexation. A source in Gantz’s party quoted him as telling the US Ambassador David Friedman and White House adviser Avi Berkowitz that the July 1 target date was “not sacred”, reports Reuters. Another minister in Netanyahu’s government suggested not “everything” will happen on July 1. “From tomorrow, the clock will start ticking,” he added.
That brings us to the US, which may very well decide how the coming weeks will pan out. President Donald Trump has cultivated a close relationship with Netanyahu — a relationship that benefits both politically. The redrawing of the map is in line with Trump’s Mideast “peace plan”. Trump had also moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the holy city claimed by Israel and Palestine.
7. China passes law on Hong Kong, democracy group disbands
China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), on Tuesday passed the controversial security law for Hong Kong that criminalising secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in the semi-autonomous city. Hours later, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed the decree. Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative on the Standing Committee of the NPC said: “We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble,” Tam said. “Don’t let Hong Kong be used as a tool to split the country.”
Hours after the law was passed, a pro-democracy group led by Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law disbanded. In a statement issued on Facebook, Wong said “worrying about life and safety” has become a real issue and nobody will be able to predict the repercussions of the law, whether it is being extradited to China or facing long jail terms.”
The law’s passage “represents the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history,” said the head of Amnesty International’s China Team, Joshua Rosenzweig. The European Union council president, Charles Michel, said: “We deplore the decision”. The US had already said it will remove Hong Kong’s favoured trading status.
Note: The law was adopted a day before the anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Traditionally democracy activists in Hong Kong observe July 1 with mass demonstrations. Last year’s demonstrations turned violent when a small group of activists broke into Hong Kong’s legislature.
8. Where’s India in the world’s most valuable brands?
Partly cloudy: India’s largest private sector bank, HDFC Bank and the largest insurance company, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), continued their hold in the world’s top 100 brands by value, albeit with changed rankings, even as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) dropped out of the world’s 100 biggest brands after making its debut just last year. While the bank was ranked 59th, up one spot from 2019, with a brand value of nearly $20.8 billion, LIC’s brand value was pegged at $17.5 billion in the Top 100 World’s Most Valuable Global Brands 2020 report. However, both HDFC Bank and LIC, which was down seven spots from last year to 75th, saw a significant erosion in their brand’s valuation — by 8% and 14% respectively.
Pandemic brands: The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns across countries have had a significant bearing on this year’s brand valuations. For example, Amazon in part retained its numero uno position due to the closure of brick & mortar retail stores, making people more dependent on the e-commerce giant. However, brand values have also been boosted by how companies have made themselves useful during the lockdown. For instance, Microsoft displaced Google to perch itself at the third spot as work from home became the norm, greatly boosting its cloud computing business while the search engine company’s revenues saw a decline due to Covid-19 impacting ad spends.
Speed breaker: The pandemic, however, did apply the brakes on the total value increase of the top 100 brands — prior to the spread of novel coronavirus, the combined brand value of the top 100 brands was expected to cross $5 trillion, at a growth rate of 9% over last year’s $4.7 trillion. Thanks to the pandemic, the growth in value fell to a shade better than 6%, with the combined brand value reaching almost $4.99 trillion.
9. The South Pole may become a watery hole
Thrice not nice: A new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, has revealed that the South Pole is warming thrice as fast the global average in the last three decades and seven times as fast as the rest of Antractica, raising serious concerns about the longevity of the icy continent. As against a decadal global temperature increase of 0.15-0.20 degrees Celsius, temperatures at the South Pole have risen at the rate of 0.61 degrees Celsius — to the extent that a place where the annual mean surface air temperature (SAT) was 0.67 degrees Celsius in 1957, when records started to be kept, saw its annual mean SAT rise to 2.82 degrees Celsius in 2018, which is the highest ever in its recorded history.
Deep inroads: The findings of the study are all the more startling as scientists previously thought that since the South Pole was located deep in the interior of Antarctica, it was relatively immune from the effects of global warming, which was thought to be limited to the continent’s fringes that were in contact with the oceans. Antarctica has enough ice, which if fully melted, can raise global sea levels by 60 metres. That would drown not only cities like Mumbai and New York, which are along the coastline of their respective countries — India and the US — but also cities like Kolkata which lie deeper inside the coastline.
Long shot: The joint New Zealand-US-British research team also found that till the 1980s, the South Pole was actually cooling by more 1 degree Celsius every decade, thanks to its natural climate patterns that followed a 20 or 30 year cycle — that gave way to a 1.8 degrees Celsius warming at the turn of the century, a rise of almost 3 degrees Celsius. And the culprit? Warming in the western tropical Pacific Ocean near the equator, a region lying between Australia and Papua New Guinea, ‘merely’ 10,000 km away!
BEFORE YOU GO
10. Cinema chains gain ammo
Just a day after Star & Disney India announced the digital release of seven Bollywood films on its online streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar, cinema chains including PVR, INOX, Wave Cinemas and Carnival Cinemas announced the theatrical release of Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi and Ranveer Singh’s sports drama 83.
The government’s new guidelines for Unlock 2.0 have provided no relief to cinema hall owners — theatres across the nation will continue to remain shut. However, the chains are hopeful that things will return to track by the festive season, read October. The social media handles of the multiplex chains announced that Sooryavanshi will hit the screens on Diwali, while Christmas has been booked by 83.
Confirming the development, Reliance Entertainment Group CEO Shibashish Sarkar told Bollywood Hungama: “Yes, both Sooryavanshi and 83 are confirmed for Diwali and Christmas, respectively. We are committed to bring both in theatres whenever the exhibitors are open and whenever the audiences feel safe and comfortable to come back to cinemas. We feel and we hope that by Diwali and Christmas, the situation will be normal.”
Helmed by Kabir Khan, 83 chronicles India’s first World Cup win under the captaincy of Kapil Dev (played by Ranveer) in 1983. Scheduled to release on April 10, the makers had, on March 20, announced that the release of the sports drama has been indefinitely postponed. Sooryavanshi, yet another installment in director Rohit Shetty’s cop universe, was scheduled to release on March 27, but similarly, got postponed due to the pandemic.
Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
Pig. A new strain of flu that has the potential to become a pandemic has been identified in China by scientists. It emerged recently and is carried by pigs, but can infect humans, they said. And the researchers were concerned that it could mutate further, spreading easily from person to person, and triggering a global outbreak. While it was not an immediate problem, they say, it has “all the hallmarks” of being highly adapted to infect humans and needs close monitoring. The scientists wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that measures to control the virus in pigs, and the close monitoring of swine industry workers, should be swiftly implemented.
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