Oil prices continue to decline globally, with crude hitting multi-decade lows, as global demand evaporates.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) sweet crude oil dropped to -$37.63 a bbl.
A negative price has never before been registered for a major global crude oil benchmark.
While WTI does not feature in India’s basket, Brent Crude Oil, which does, is trading around $25 a barrel, the lowest in 18 years.
A sharp reduction in oil prices is a bonanza for India.
India should look at this as an opportunity to strengthen its energy security by buying oil and filling up our Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR).
The dramatic reduction in oil prices offers a oncein-a-generation opportunity for us to fill up our reserves in an extremely cost-effective way.
Currently, we do maintain an emergency stock pile of oil reserves: Under the existing Strategic Petroleum Reserves programme, India claims to have 87 days of reserves.
Out of this, refiners maintain 65 days of oil storage and the rest of the reserves are held in underground salt caverns maintained by Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL).
The existing and planned capacity for the underground reserves is 10 and 12 days of import cover for crude oil respectively.
There are a couple of issues to be highlighted here.
Capacity does not directly translate into utilisation, which is partly because oil is an expensive commodity most days of the year.
In India, the SPR arrangement between the oil refineries and the Union or state governments is not specified well, though most of the refineries that hold stock are publicly-owned companies.
The first step, therefore, should be to introduce transparency and accountability in relation to the SPR.
The procedures, protocols and facts about Indian SPR storage require greater public and parliamentary scrutiny, just like India’s other strategic reserves (for instance, foreign exchange).
There should be role and process clarity regarding SPR mobilisation.
Diversification can be based on geographical location (storing oil either domestically or abroad), storage location (underground or overground) and product type (oil can be held in either crude or refined form).
Energy is and will remain vital to India’s aspirations for growth.
The sharp fall in the price of oil presents an opportunity for the Union government to increase its SPR stockpile and achieve a degree of energy security.
What is the capital of Libya and name the countries sharing land boundaries with Libya?
A task for South Asia
Both Karachi and Mumbai, among the world’s most densely populated cities.
While the death rate in these places may not be as alarming as in Europe and the U.S., the collateral damage of the lockdown is taking its own toll.
The collective experience of dealing with COVID-19 may provide important lessons, which transcend national boundaries.
South Asian countries have invested very little in health.
Having become an industry, the focus of healthcare in the private sector is on profit rather than on people’s needs.
Whilst privatisation has brought in advanced technology and expertise, the high costs of treatment in the private sector have resulted in impoverishment as most of the population has no insurance or third-party coverage, and pays out of pocket.
Hunger, malnutrition, poor sanitation and largescale migration are features of this region.
Existing infectious diseases like TB, HIV and malaria have been worsened by emerging ones like dengue, chikungunya, healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance.
Constant internal and external conflicts in South Asia not only consume a large portion of national budgets, but also divert the attention of the public and policymakers from healthcare needs.
Defence budgets take the largest share of national budgets, and obviously adversely impact social sector spending.
Religion continues to occupy a central space in the society and politics of the region.
The refusal of devotees across Pakistan to avoid religious congregations during Ramadan despite the government’s orders has significantly fed the community spread of the virus.
On the other hand, the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi was used to whip up sentiments against the entire Muslim population in India.
This will only put a further strain on the social fabric.
Healthcare professionals and bodies must seize this opportunity to push our respective governments to address it seriously and not just as a pre-election strategy.
A regional strategy has a better chance of controlling the pandemic than isolated nationallevel efforts.
The outline of another pandemic combat strategy
India faces the great challenge of containing its spread just days before the May 3 deadline for lifting the lockout.
WHO had pointed out on March 25, the unprecedented measures of the shutdown can only buy time and reduce the pressure on the health-care system. But by itself, it cannot “extinguish epidemics”.
Dr. Giridhar R. Babu, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India, Bengaluru and a member of the COVID19 task force of Karnataka and Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil formerly with the Christian Medical College, Vellore, say that without doubt there will be an increase in the number of cases once the lockdown is lifted
Dr. Babu estimates the total number of infections to be around 2,50,000 while Prof. Muliyil says that for every recorded case, there are 60 people who have not been counted.
The decision on whether to continue the restrictions or not should be taken at the local level; a centralised approach to decision making will be hugely counterproductive.
Dr. Babu strongly advocates, it is important to segregate essential and non-essential activities and encourage more people to work from home till such time as an effective vaccine or anti-viral becomes available.
Universal mask wearing, physical distancing and observing hand hygiene will help in curtailing the spread; but these will not be practical in slums and other crowded neighbourhoods.
Herd immunity arises when a sizeable population gets naturally infected over a period of time so that the virus does not easily find a susceptible host to infect, thus bringing the epidemic to a halt — this is what Dr. Muliyil and virologist Dr. T. Jacob John advocate.
The young, who mostly exhibit only mild symptoms, can go out by following containment measures together with universal mask wearing, physical distancing and hand hygiene.
In the case of H1N1, in 2009, the swine flu pandemic died out in two years when 40% of the population where the virus was spreading had been naturally infected.
The same was true for all the previous influenza pandemics — the 1918 Spanish flu, 1957 Asian flu, and 1968 Hong Kong influenza.
Even during the pre-vaccination days, measles used to strike once in three years and German measles every seven years.
Dr. Jacob John expects at least one year for herd immunity to develop naturally for the novel coronavirus, provided shutdowns are eased.
WHO cautions that “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection”.
In South Korea, at least 222 people who have recovered from the disease have again tested positive.
RBI’s decision to open a special facility to ensure the availability of adequate liquidity for the mutual fund industry.
It is a timely move in signalling to investors that the central bank is alert to the need to preserve financial stability in these challenging times.
RBI made clear on Monday that it wants to tamp down on any build-up of liquidity strains at mutual fund houses.
The Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) had, separately, last week, sought to assure investors that a majority of debt fund schemes had “invested in superior credit quality securities” and had appropriate liquidity to back their normal operations.
How willing banks would be to use this facility to lend to debt mutual funds remains to be seen.
No end in sight
If it took 94 days to reach one million novel coronavirus cases on April 3 after China reported the first cluster of 41 cases to WHO on December 31, the number of days needed to double to two million sharply reduced to 12. It again took just 12 more days to cross three million cases globally on April 27 night.
The virus has now spread to 188 countries/regions.
The true number of infections will be several-fold higher as most countries have not been testing people who have mild or no symptoms.
While new cases have declined in Europe, there is an uptick in Africa and South America.
India has reported over 30,300 cases and 973 deaths, based on data collated from States.
Singapore: Fresh cases have been reported from dormitories that house over 0.2 million migrant workers from other countries.
As India nears the end of its extended lockdown, it needs to learn from the successes and failures of other countries.
Ministry does U-turn on plasma therapy
Plasma therapy is not an approved treatment for COVID-19 and is only one of the several therapies being explored currently, the Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday. The therapy is still at an experimental stage and the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) is currently studying its efficacy, it added.
$1.5 billion ADB loan to fund COVID response
The Government of India has taken a $1.5 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to fund its immediate response to COVID-19, both in terms of the health and socio-economic impacts.
Explain MHA order on full wages, SC tells govt.
The Supreme Court has given the Centre two weeks to explain a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) order, issued on March 29, directing employers to pay full wages to their workers during the lockdown.
The petitions said a blanket direction to private establishments to pay full salaries against no work was arbitrary and violative of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.
NITI Aayog slams India’s terror ranking
A report compiled by the NITI Aayog has questioned the methodology adopted by an Australian-based institute to rank India as the seventh worst terrorism affected country ahead of conflict-ridden countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Palestine and Lebanon.
The report also questions the opaque funding of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).
India has moved to the seventh position from the previous year’s eighth in the annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2019. The countries ahead of it are Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.
USCIRF downgrades India in 2020 list
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has downgraded India to the lowest ranking, “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its 2020 report. The report, released in Washington by the federal government commission that functions as an advisory body, placed India alongside countries, including China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Massive evacuation planned from Gulf
The Union government is drawing up a major evacuation plan involving the Navy, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Air India to bring back Indians stranded in West Asia following the nationwide lockdown and travel restrictions due to COVID-19, multiple defence sources said.
Unfair to call test kits faulty, says China
Deccan farmers may see dry spells in June & July: Ministry
BRICS should help entrepreneurs: India
Member countries of the BRICS group should assist private entrepreneurs to help them deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Monday. He also spoke of the need for reform in the multilateral global platforms during the videoconference of Foreign Ministers of the BRICS group which was convened by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.