India Coronavirus Dispatch: Data-sharing concerns abound in Covid war room

Govt norms: One of the dilemmas facing the Union Health ministry during the initial days of the pandemic was whether the government’s response to the health crisis should go through the loops of bureaucracy or should it cast aside established procedures and norms in favour of working with select private players and giving them access to data. Documents obtained through the RTI act show that the Health Ministry made the choice to take the latter route. The ministry got 7 private players onboard without following the standard procedure of inviting expressions of interest. These companies were picked from among several organisations that contacted the ministry and volunteered to help. A note from an under-secretary reads that the seven companies were required to help with “latest tools and technologies for analytics, visualisation, forecasting methodology and documentation”. A major concern here is that the Covid war room has access to data that would be useful for companies looking to expand business into the healthcare sector. Read more here.

Worsening Judicial backlog: Indian judiciary is notorious for its backlog of cases. The pandemic has made it worse. According to data from the National Judicial Data Grid, the number of cases disposed by courts has plummeted this year. The number of cases disposed per month by High Courts has dipped by 50 per cent. This figure for subordinate courts is even more startling as they saw an average fall of 70 per cent. No similar data is available for the Supreme Court. However a look at archives suggests even the apex court saw a huge drop — only 355 orders in April 2020, compared to 12,084 in the year-ago period. Since the pandemic hit, Indian courts moved to video conferencing mode to hear cases. The Supreme Court has now released SOP for shifting to physical hearings beginning this month. Read more here.

Parents want children out of private schooling: Online schooling has become the norm for now thanks to the pandemic but this has left many parents unhappy who are now making their children opt out of schooling for the current academic year. Some parents want their children to have a ‘gap year’ while others are looking for alternatives to online schooling. Financial constraints amid a slowing economy is also playing a role in the decision. Others are simply unhappy with the digital mode of learning as they feel teachers do not cater to their child’s individual needs. This is especially true for parents of children with special needs. While families with higher incomes may be able to weather this storm, the choice is much harder to make for those with lower incomes. Read more here.

Understanding Covid-19

Vitamin D link: Observational studies now suggest that vitamin D deficiency actually makes people more susceptible to the virus. Countries that have high levels of deficiency in the vitamin — Spain and Italy, for example — have reported higher morbidity and mortality. During the lockdown, it’s likely that Vitamin D levels in the general population declined as people were exposed less to sun rays and consumption of animal products also went down. India has high levels of Vitamin D deficiency and attempts are on to increase the levels of the vitamin through fortification. Several companies have now made vitamin D fortification their marketing USP. However, Indians could benefit in another way: cotton wear might be the key to make up for low Vitamin D levels as the fabric does not hamper Sun’s radiations and can thus aid in production of the Vitamin. Read more here.

Pregnancy and Corona: Pregnant women with Covid-19 are less likely to showcase symptoms, a new study has shown. In addition to this, they’re more likely to give birth early. Compared to non-pregnant female Covid patients of the same age, pregnant women are less likely to display fever and muscle pain. Pregnant women are thought to be a vulnerable group when it comes to the outbreak. Expecting mothers with pre-existing conditions are particularly at high-risk as are those who’re obese or belong to older age groups. The odds of giving birth pre-maturely was also found to be higher among pregnant with Covid-19. Read more here.

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Delhi Metro set to reopen: The Delhi Metro is set to reopen in a phased manner five months after it was shut due to the pandemic. On September 7, the Yellow Line which runs from Samaypur Badli to Huda City Centre will start and all lines will be running by 12 September. The new normal for DMRC will include hand sanitiser dispensers and thermal scanners at entry and exit points along with red floor markings for facilitating social distancing. Tokens have been done away with passengers will have to use smart cards for travel. Passengers will be required to maintain social distancing at frisking points. Further, DMRC will be deploying a team of officials and staff members at every station to ensure cleanliness. To ensure smooth entry and exit of passengers at every station, the metro doors will remain open for longer durations. A metro employee will also be deployed near every door. Read more here.