What It’s Like to Live Next to America’s Largest Port Amid a Global Supply Chain Crisis


LOS ANGELES — The stucco cottage looks every bit the California dream: a grassy yard and big patio, encircled by a white picket fence. Next to the front door, a Santa figurine greets visitors and a dog’s snout peeks through a window, as if an advertisement for domestic bliss.

Except.

This home is in Wilmington, a mostly Latino working-class enclave north of the Port of Los Angeles, where the effects of the supply chain crisis have spilled over in a big way. For the past several months, the street that the house is on has served as a 24-hour thoroughfare for semi trucks headed to and from the port.

“It’s like a highway,” said Imelda Ulloa, who has lived in this home for more than 20 years.

Ulloa, 57, can’t open her windows anymore because of how much noise and dust flood in. She doesn’t invite guests over to barbecue because the din of engines drowns out their conversations. Her grandson isn’t allowed to play out front because it’s too dangerous.

One afternoon last week, I stood on Ulloa’s stoop and counted: In 10 minutes, 44 trucks drove by, inches from her front gate.

Police and city officials ramped up ticketing of trucks in Wilmington after an increase in complaints from residents, but the sheer volume of vehicles makes it difficult to eliminate the problem.

“Obviously clearing out the ship backlog is going to be No. 1,” said Jacob Haik, deputy chief of staff for Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the Harbor neighborhood.

As with many consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the disruption in the supply chain has revealed something that has always been true, said Manuel Pastor, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California: A small group of people pay a high price for what we view as quick and easy access to goods.

So much of the discussion around the port backlog “has focused on ‘How do we maximize the throughput?’” Pastor told me. “But the throughput is through someone’s neighborhood.”

Wilmington residents are accustomed to dealing with the effects of living just a few miles from North America’s largest port, which handles a big percentage of the shipping containers entering the United States by sea.

But the few trucks that drove in front of Ulloa’s home on Drumm Avenue when her children were growing up didn’t stop them from playing tag with neighbors or skateboarding in the street.

Such activities would be impossible now. Trucks are regularly stalled outside her house, forming a colorful chain that extends tens deep.

As we sat last week in her living room, decorated with family pictures and bouquets of flowers, Ulloa and I were interrupted by a near-constant roaring of engines and honking even though the windows and doors had been shut.

It isn’t just Drumm. Elsewhere in Wilmington, residents have put up homemade barricades to protect their children from trucks. Roads have been damaged because they weren’t built to withstand throngs of heavy vehicles. In October, a container fell off a truck and crushed a parked car.

Wilmington, which is home to about 50,000 people, already has high levels of pollution from nearby oil fields and suffers some of the state’s highest rates of cancer and asthma. This latest development is unlikely to help.

Ulloa used to clean her patio and car once every two weeks, but so much grime accumulates now that she rinses them twice a week.

“You wash your car in the morning and it’s dirty in the afternoon,” she told me.

Other residents say their commutes have grown because it takes so long to merge in and out of the traffic outside their homes. Drivers delivering takeout meals or packages have to park down the street because there’s no way to pull into the driveways.

“We’re living in a port — that’s what it feels like,” said Cesar Vigil, who lives next door to Ulloa. He acknowledged that the port plays a vital function: “But at what cost?”

In general, semi trucks aren’t supposed to drive on residential roads unless it’s the only way to reach their destinations, officials say. But with a record-breaking amount of goods coming into the port, drivers may be taking shortcuts to try to pick up an extra load or could be searching for places to drop off empty containers amid a shortage of storage facilities.

Haik said that trucks in Wilmington must sometimes travel near homes because they are close to businesses. But the police can check whether drivers’ manifests match the routes they take, he said.

“The enforcement is over there,” he told me. “Eventually we’re going to catch them.”

Since September, port police officers have issued 700 moving violations to truck drivers, including for going down roads they weren’t supposed to, said Sgt. Glenn Twardy of the Los Angeles Port Police. They have also handed out 1,000 citations to trucks parked illegally and impounded 400 chassis that had been left in the streets.

Twardy, who has worked in the area for more than 15 years, said that while some port activity encroaching into Wilmington has always been unavoidable, “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

According to Ulloa, the traffic in front of her home slows on Sundays but doesn’t completely stop. Holidays are the only time when the number of trucks passing by drops to maybe one or two, she said.

Thinking about the upcoming reprieve made her almost giddy.

“I love those days,” she told me, grinning. “You can sit on your patio. You can hear your conversations.”

For more:


Lemony orzo with asparagus and garlic bread crumbs.


Today’s travel tip comes from Tom Stallard, who recommends Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego:

“We call it ‘down-market desert’ as there are few restaurants and no stoplights in the town of Borrego Springs. But there are hundreds of interesting trails to hike in the park, which is the largest state park in the lower 48 states. It is often the warmest place in California in winter. Accommodations are reasonable.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


The year’s best podcasts.


If you’re still looking for some low-key holiday plans, consider walking across San Francisco in a day.

The Crosstown Trail starts at the city’s southeastern corner and ends at its northwestern tip. Over 16.5 miles, it traverses dirt paths and city streets and covers an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet and temperatures that can vary as much as 30 degrees. (That’s microclimates for you.)

The trail was introduced in summer 2019, but parts were closed last year because of the pandemic.

Now that the course is fully open again, a National Geographic writer and photographer made the trek and documented this spectacular urban hike.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Suffix that changes an adjective to a noun (4 letters).

Jack Kramer and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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Interview: On brink of humanitarian crisis, there’s ‘no childhood’ in Afghanistan |


UN News spoke with Samantha Mort, Chief of Communication, Advocacy and Civic Engagement at UNICEF Afghanistan, who assured that all offices remain open and warehouses full. 

Some 22.8 million people across the country are facing food insecurity, she explained, adding that they cannot access affordable or nutritious food.  

Of the 38 million people living in Afghanistan, some 14 million children are food insecure. 

For Ms. Mort, “there’s no childhood” these days in Afghanistan. “It’s all about survival and getting through the next day.” 

‘The perfect storm’  

She painted a grim picture of impoverished families in which parents are not eating three meals a day, meal portions are decreasing and people wake up not knowing where the next meal is coming from.   

“It’s that level of food insecurity”, said the UNICEF official.  

Exacerbated by drought, a poor harvest and rising food prices, she referred to the looming crisis as “the perfect storm in Afghanistan”.   

And at the start of a typically freezing cold winter, Ms. Mort said that snow would cut off rural areas in the mountains.   

“UNICEF is very, very concerned because what we are seeing is around 3.2 million children who are acutely malnourished and 1.1 million children who are at risk of dying because of severe, acute malnutrition unless we intervene with treatment”, she warned.  


UNICEF Afghanistan's chief of communication, Sam Mort, interacts with a child at a malnutrition treatment ward at the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul..

© UNICEF/Omid Fazel

UNICEF Afghanistan’s chief of communication, Sam Mort, interacts with a child at a malnutrition treatment ward at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul..

Hospital records  

Last week, the UNICEF official visited health clinics in the western part of the country.  

At the one, the doctor shared records showing a 50 per cent increase in cases of severe malnutrition while another revealed a 30 per cent rise.  

Despite the increase, Ms. Mort explained that the crisis did not start on 15 August but that the country had been experiencing some form of insecurity or conflict for the last 40 years.  

“But because of the drought…poor harvest…rising food prices, because many women have been asked to stay at home since August 15, a lot of families have lost their main source of income”, she said.   

A family story 

Ms. Mort recalled that she had asked the mother of a severely malnourished baby if she was breastfeeding and was told that despite trying, she had no milk. A doctor in the room asked the woman if she was eating. The woman replied that most days, she only drank a glass of black tea with a piece of bread in it. 

“It’s no wonder that she can’t breastfeed because she is undernourished herself. And I think that is a story that is amplified all over the country”, the UNICEF official said.  

The same mother then brought in her 4-year-old, wearing an oversized coat.   

“You’d expect the 4-year-old to be looking around and be curious about the strangers in the room. This little girl sat supported by her jacket in the same position as her mother had put her down. And she just stared at the floor. Her head was bowed. She had no energy”, Mrs. Mort recalled.  

UNICEF is predicting that food stocks will run out halfway through winter Samantha Mort

Removing the young girl’s coat, her little arm was “no thicker than a broom handle” and she was so malnourished that her hair was falling out and her cheeks were hollow. At 4 years old, she weighed about 20 pounds.  

“Severe, acute malnutrition means that you can potentially die if you are not treated. And that means that if we do not treat them, they will die”, Mrs. Mort said. 

Doubling efforts 

Because of the drought and resulting poor harvest, UNICEF is predicting that food stocks will run out halfway through winter.  

The agency is doubling its number of nutrition counselors and mobile health and nutrition teams that can go into rural communities to help the children hardest to reach. 

Ms. Mort highlighted that the nutrition counselors are often recruited locally so that communities trust them.  

“They’re very passionate…energetic and…uplifting”, she explained pointing to positive interactions between them and the mothers who come for help. 

 “They come up with creative solutions. They use what is in the community. They share resources”, she explained.  

These professionals are typically also young, educated women. Ms. Mort remembered meeting a female doctor in her early 30s who was running a medical clinic with 20 staff, 18 of whom were women. 

The doctor found it “tremendously uplifting to see young professional women working in Afghanistan…amidst all the challenges”, recalling that they “wouldn’t stop talking about their their work, about their patients”. 


Parwana suffers from Sever Acute Malnutrition where children’s nutrition needs have also escalated following recent events, as economic shocks tip more people in Afghanistan into crisis.

© UNICEF

Parwana suffers from Sever Acute Malnutrition where children’s nutrition needs have also escalated following recent events, as economic shocks tip more people in Afghanistan into crisis.

Uncertain future 

Throughout her visits, Ms. Mort mostly observed feelings of uncertainty.  

“I think people are uncertain, they don’t know what the winter holds, what the de facto authorities are going to do next. They don’t know if the international community will deliver on these funds so that the health system and the education system recover. It feels as if everybody is in a bit of a holding pattern”, she said.  

For the UNICEF official, it is “absolutely critical” that the international community understands that Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.  

“This is not time for political brinksmanship. People in Afghanistan are dying, and they need our support. Humanitarian aid is the last expression of human solidarity”, she said.  

“When you have nothing…are struggling…feel forgotten…[and] don’t know where your next meal is coming from, humanitarian aid arrives at your door and you are part of a much larger family”.   

Health sector in crisis 

Ms. Mort recalled a conversation she had last week with the director of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul who told her that sometimes he has three babies in a single bed, because so many of the district and regional clinics can no longer operate. 

Moreover, people living rural areas have to take their babies to the capital. But because poverty restricts their ability to travel, they wait so long that their children have gotten very sick.  

“It’s too late. And they die because the families didn’t have money to bring them earlier. We’re seeing as families get more and more desperate”, she recalled.  

If children are not in school, they’re much more likely to be recruited by an armed group, or to fall into early marriage or to be exploited in some way Samantha Mort

UNICEF has noted a rise in “negative coping mechanisms”, where people become so desperate that they begin doing things they would not normally consider, like taking a child out of school or selling them for early marriage – sometimes babies as young as six months old.  

An education for girls 

Currently, Ms. Mort said that adolescent girls have not been invited back to school. 

“We’ve got around one million high school-age girls sitting at home, denied their right to an education”, she said. “We want to see every child in school. If children are not in school, they’re much more likely to be recruited by an armed group, or to fall into early marriage or to be exploited in some way”. 

Even before the current Taliban rule, 70 per cent of Afghanistan’s economy was shored up by international aid.  

“With that help frozen, health workers and teachers are not being paid. If you imagine a country that doesn’t have a functioning education system and doesn’t have a functioning health system, you’ll understand how quickly it all collapses”, she explained.  

Last week in a new school, the UN official spoke to a class of girls who had never had an education.  

When she asked if they had a message to share with the world, a seven-year-old put her hand up and wondered if the world could keep peace in Afghanistan so that she can continue going to school. 

“I just thought, God loves you. It was so spontaneous, just keep peace in my country, so I can keep learning”, Mrs. Mort recalled. 


Two-year-old Fatima has her nutritional status screened at Bab-e-Bargh health centre which is supported by UNICEF in Herat city's largest health clinic.

© UNICEF/Sayed Bidel

Two-year-old Fatima has her nutritional status screened at Bab-e-Bargh health centre which is supported by UNICEF in Herat city’s largest health clinic.



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Brexit LIVE: Lord Sugar erupts – claims petrol crisis ‘tip of iceberg’ after leaving EU | Politics | News


Ministers are considering plans to ease visa restrictions for up to 1,000 foreign butchers, according to The Times.

The National Pig Association (NPA) has warned of a crisis in the pig industry due to a lack of labourers which could impact food supplies over Christmas.

Farmers could be forced to cull hundreds of pigs to ease the pressure on the workers. 

NPA chairman Rob Mutimer told Radio 4: “This is happening on pig farms all over the country, farms of all different sizes being backed up and running out of space for their animals, which is a real worry coming into winter.

“It involves either shooting pigs on the farm or taking them to an abattoir, killing the animal, and actually disposing of them in the skip at the end of the chain.

“These animals won’t go into the food chain, they will either be rendered or, if not, sent for incineration. It’s an absolute travesty.

“On our farm, our pigs are usually around 115kg when they go to slaughter and they’re now around the 140kg mark so the pens and the sheds weren’t designed for animals of this size and we’re really heading into an acute welfare disaster very quickly.”

The Government says it is “continuing to work closely” with the pig industry.





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Key workers struggling to travel amid fuel crisis


Colin McDonald, an orthopaedic registrar at a district general hospital in the East Midlands, told the BBC that if fuel supply issues continued, and he couldn’t to travel to work, there could be delays to patient surgeries at the start of his shifts, which could then delay his fracture clinics in the afternoon.



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Tip of the iceberg of aviation crisis


Domestic aviation has not been able to fly in the past decade. Air India has been running in losses for many years, Jet Airways has gone bankrupt, Spice Jet nearly went under and the profits of Indigo Airlines have taken a hit. All this has taken place before the Covid pandemic which has only made things much worse. The reason is that the government has been focussing on improving regional aviation while the opportunity lies in long distance flights.

The cost of AC 2-Tier train travel from Delhi to Bengaluru in an express train is Rs 2,925. In comparison, a one-month ahead air ticket is available at Rs 3,170, which is nearly equal to the AC 2-tier fare. The difference is that AC 2-tier travel takes 2 nights and one day and involves expenditures of food during this period. The cost becomes more when the food expenditure is added. In comparison, air travel from home-to-home takes only about 7 hours. Therefore, air travel is successful both in terms of time and cost. However, short notice air travel becomes less competitive. In that case, air travel may cost Rs 7,000-plus while train travel would cost the same Rs 2,925 if tickets are available. This shows that basically air travel is successful for long distances.

Compare this with medium distance travel, say, between Delhi and Lucknow. AC 2-tier ticket fare is Rs 1,100 while one-month ahead air ticket fare is Rs 1,827. The time taken in home-to-tome rail travel is 10 hours against only 5 hours for air travel. However, train travel can be undertaken during the night while air travel has to be undertaken during the daytime and cuts into working hours. The productive day time is lost in air travel. Thus, medium distance travel is successful by train. Only those reluctant to undertake night travel say for health reasons; or train tickets not being available; or having some urgency to reach the destination may undertake air travel for medium distances.

Another policy being pursued by the government is to improve air connectivity with tourist places like Assam and Andaman Islands. Here the problem is systemic to the tourism sector that is beset with problems of law and order, lack of social cohesion and lack of investment in marketing. Tourism-oriented civil aviation will succeed only if tourism succeeds which shows no signs of happening in the near future.

It appears that these factors have been ignored by various agencies repeatedly. The government had constituted a working group to suggest policies for the expansion of domestic aviation in 2012. The group recommended that subsidies be given to regional aviation. Then the government made a National Civil Aviation Policy after which it started providing subsidies for three years to regional flights. Recently in 2018, Deloitte Consultants suggested expansion of aviation to smaller towns. All these reports have not delivered because an equally efficacious if not better alternative of train travel is available. The improvement of roads in the recent time has made available yet another alternative to air travel for medium and short distances. Travel from Delhi to Dehradun by road or air, for example, would take about the same 4 hours. However, road travel would not require standing in queues at check-in counters, security check, boarding the aircraft and collecting baggage. Thus, the policy of promoting regional civil aviation is a failure and will continue to be so. The government must instead focus on making long distance air travel more convenient. The recent proposal to expand the Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi is thus in the right direction. Further, road connectivity to the airports must be improved. The time taken for security check and baggage check-in must be cut. I know of travellers that arrive at airports in London merely 15 minutes before take-off and board the flight seamlessly.

The sinking of Air India into loss is partly due to these structural problems of the domestic aviation sector in the country. However, the loss cannot be explained only by these missteps of the government. Air India has a large portfolio of international flights that continue to be profitable and face no competition from rail or road transport. These international flights have not delivered either. Social media is awash with the state of Air India. The Finology Blog says, “Employee expenses, insurance, and retirement also contributed to the already increasing costs.” The Simply Flying blog says, “Massive corruption within the airline and poor management was the prime reason behind the hindrance to Air India’s development.” An Op-ed on the Runwaygirl Network says it is common to find extremely poor reviews of the airline and that many reviews “highlight customer service issues.”

Recently Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said with satisfaction that Air India “has not laid off a single employee even as international and domestic carriers have resorted to cost cutting through layoffs.” I daresay, this should be a cause for concern rather than for satisfaction. Not laying off surplus staff means that Air India has to bear unnecessary losses that then have to be passed to the hapless citizens of the country. These problems are endemic to the bureaucratic stranglehold on the public sector and Air India is no exception.

The 2018 effort to privatise Air India failed precisely due to the attempt of bureaucracy to hold on to its powers. The government had then offered to sell only 75 per cent controlling shares to the buyer and the bureaucracy wanted to hold on to 25 per cent of the shares. This meant that the bureaucrats would get a seat on the Board of Directors of the privatised company and get a veto that would interfere with the commercial decisions of the private management. It is good that the bureaucracy – though after incurring further losses for another three years – has learnt the lesson and now offered to sell 100 per cent shares. Let us hope that Air India will now be privatised successfully.

There is more to do to promote domestic aviation. The government must improve the road and the metro connectivity to the airports and sort out the kinks in the security checks and other harassments faced by the passengers. These steps could possibly help in jumpstarting regional aviation as well by reducing the time of air travel between Delhi and Lucknow, for example, from present 5 hours to, say, 3 hours.

(The author is former Professor of Economics at IIM, Bengaluru)

(The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)



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The Ongoing COVID-19 Crisis In India: Updates


http://nymag.com/

A deserted view of Railway Link road during the weekend lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus disease, on May 2 in Amritsar, in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab.
Photo: Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India continues to face the world’s most devastating wave of the coronavirus pandemic, an onslaught of infections and deaths that has overwhelmed the nation’s health-care system and prompted lockdowns across the country. Each day now brings a world record in new cases per day, with the nation reporting more than 400,000 on Saturday, and more than 390,000 on Sunday — the 11th straight day more than 300,000 cases have been confirmed. Though international aid continues to arrive, including from the U.S., well over 3,000 people continue to die every day. 3,700 new deaths were reported on Sunday. Both the number of deaths and infections are via the government’s official count — which is definitely much lower than the actual numbers of sick and dying, according to experts. Below is an ongoing look at the unprecedented crisis, including new developments and the likely consequences.

A team of scientists which advises India’s government said Friday that according to their model, the wave of COVID cases may peak sometime in the coming days. A group of researchers at CLSA in Hong Kong, however, have predicted that the current wave won’t peak until June, while the State Bank of India suggested it would be around the third week of May in a report which came out a week ago.

Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla told the Financial Times on Sunday that the country’s severe vaccine shortage will persist through July, and deflected blame over the shortage to India’s government. Poonawalla, who left India for the U.K. with his family two weeks ago, previously said he had left the country in part due to threats he received from government officials, but downplayed the safety concerns to the FT.

Writing for STAT News, longtime Times of India health journalist Kalpana Jain explains that while the current breakdown of India’s health system is the most tragic she has ever seen — the neglect that helped cause it has been an ongoing tragedy for decades:

India’s health care system was envisaged soon after its independence in 1947 as a three-tier system that could cover the entire country. It was to have a primary care system at the village level, a secondary care system to cover smaller urban centers, and tertiary care for specialized treatment. Over the years, though, the emphasis moved to for-profit tertiary care hospitals, mainly in big cities, with state-of-the-art that provided care mainly to the urban rich. Profits from these hospitals, which go into paying the high salaries of doctors and top executives, took precedence over attempts to regulate them or stop malpractice, such as overcharging patients or unnecessary surgeries.

Successive governments before Modi’s supported this unplanned growth, paying little heed to the health infrastructure that was underfunded, poorly staffed, and falling apart. Sushma Swaraj, a senior politician in the Bharatiya Janata party — today’s ruling party — who I interviewed in 1999 on the party’s absence of focus on health care in its parliamentary election manifesto, told me, “Health is a thing for the rich. We in India have to focus on getting bread to the poor.” …

The fact is that the poor in India have struggled to get health care for decades. Most health expenditures in India are paid for out of pocket and paying for health care is among the leading things that push people below the poverty line. A 2017 study by the Public Health Foundation of India found that health expenses were responsible for driving 55 million Indians into poverty between 2011 and 2012. As many as 90% of the poor have no health insurance.

The Hindu’s former health editor, Vidya Krishnan, described India’s health system inequality as a symptom of “moral malnutrition” in an Atlantic piece last week:

Our doctors are among the best trained on the planet, and as is well known by now, our country is a pharmacy for the world, thanks to an industry built around making cost-effective medicines and vaccines. What is evident, however, is that we suffer from moral malnutrition—none of us more so than the rich, the upper class, the upper caste of India. And nowhere is this more evident than in the health-care sector.

India’s economic liberalization in the ’90s brought with it a rapid expansion of the private health-care industry, a shift that ultimately created a system of medical apartheid: World-class private hospitals catered to wealthy Indians and medical tourists from abroad; state-run facilities were for the poor. Those with money were able to purchase the best available care (or, in the case of the absolute richest, flee to safety in private jets), while elsewhere the country’s health-care infrastructure was held together with duct tape. The Indians who bought their way to a healthier life did not, or chose not to, see the widening gulf. Today, they are clutching their pearls as their loved ones fail to get ambulances, doctors, medicine, and oxygen. …

[T]here is no shortcut to public health, no opting out from it. Now the rich sit alongside the poor, facing a reckoning that had only ever plagued the vulnerable in India.

According to the Indian Express, some of the country’s top pandemic officials have been “pushing hard” for another lockdown over the last few weeks. Those who spoke with the Express cited the rampant community spread across the country, growing anger within the overwhelmed medical community, and the unfolding disaster in rural areas as reasons the lockdown was needed.

India’s Supreme Court called for more lockdowns on Sunday, as well, as did the president of the Confederation of Indian Industry.

In an interview with the Indian Express on Friday, top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci also said that India should strongly consider instituting a temporary national lockdown:

There is the immediate, the intermediate, and the long range. I think the most important thing in the immediate is to get oxygen, get supplies, get medication, get PPE, those kinds of things but also, one of the immediate things to do is to essentially call a shutdown of the country. … Literally, lock down so that you wind up having less spread. No one likes to lock down the country. Well, that’s a problem when you do it for six months. But if you do it just for a few weeks, you could have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak.

It’s not clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is even considering another national lockdown, however, particularly after the poorly planned first one, starting in March of last year, caused so much chaos. In the meantime, the central government has left lockdown decisions up to state and municipal governments, and at least 11 states and union territories have instituted lockdowns across much of the country amid the current wave.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020 as the first wave of the pandemic swept the globe. Though there were only several hundred confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India at the time, he shut down public transportation and told the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people that they needed to remain in their homes for the next three weeks — and only gave them four hours notice before one of the world’s strictest lockdowns began.

Tens of millions of migrant workers were left stranded in urban areas, suddenly without work, income, or food. Many workers tried to walk or bike hundreds of miles home to their villages, and at least hundreds died in the attempt, either from accidents or exhaustion. (The full death toll remains unknown.)

As the humanitarian crisis worsened, the government set up more than 4,600 emergency trains to transport workers back to their villages — but most passengers were not screened for the coronavirus before they boarded and other precautions like social distancing went unfollowed and unenforced. As a result, COVID spread on the trains — and wherever passengers got off. It led to some of the the nation’s worst initial outbreaks of infection and death, often in rural communities where health systems were already inadequate. As the New York Times explained late last year, “the special trains operated by the government to ease suffering — and to counteract a disastrous lack of lockdown planning — instead played a significant role in spreading the coronavirus into almost every corner of the country.”

By all appearances, India’s central government, including its COVID task force, simply didn’t consider what the lockdown would mean for the country’s massive migrant workforce. And then they mismanaged the consequences so poorly that the lockdown both stopped and facilitated the spread of COVID-19 across India.

Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum of Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, including the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine in India, moved to the U.K. with his family just before the country restricted travel from India a week ago. In an interview with the Times of London, Poonawalla said the decision was in part due to the harassment he was receiving:

The calls come from some of the most powerful men in India. They come from the chief ministers of Indian states, heads of business conglomerates and others demanding instant supplies of Covishield, as the AstraZeneca vaccine is known in India. “ ‘Threats’ is an understatement,” Poonawalla says. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them.”

The calls begin cordially, but when Poonawalla explains that he cannot possibly meet the callers’ demands “the conversations go in a very different direction”, he says. “They are saying if you don’t give us the vaccine it’s not going to be good … It’s not foul language. It’s the tone. It’s the implication of what they might do if I don’t comply. It’s taking control. It’s coming over and basically surrounding the place and not letting us do anything unless we give in to their demands.”

“Everything falls on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone,” he continued. “I don’t want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can’t supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don’t want to guess what they are going to do.”

The World Health Organization recently citied a “perfect storm” combination of three factors for the horrifying surge of new COVID cases in India: low vaccination rates, mass gatherings, and more contagious COVID variants. Put even more simply, India — and in particular Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country’s central government, which is controlled by Modi’s BJP party — tried to get back to normal prematurely, and the country is now paying an enormous price for turning its back on the coronavirus.

It all started, according to Indian health care journalist Vikas Dandekar, when India’s impressive-looking quick turnaround from the first wave “raised false hopes that the virus had run out of steam in India and the country would be spared a second wave”:

Virologists, modeling experts, and prominent epidemiologists appeared on TV shows to suggest that herd immunity may have kicked in, with testing in some cities showing the existence of anti-Covid antibodies in up to half of communities. Some professed that Indians have stronger-than-average immune systems, or they may be spared from COVID-19 by cross protection from other infectious diseases. A few invoked evolutionary biology and said the virus will not kill all its hosts and endanger its own existence.

Then India’s hyper-nationalism took over. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior leaders from his Bharatiya Janata Party, who thrive on overwhelming popularity, took no time to claim victory in the fight against the virus. Election rallies attracted soaring crowds. As Modi and Amit Shah, the two top leaders, brazenly took off their masks during their incessant campaigns, those in the crowds followed and dropped theirs.

Further fueling new cases was Kumbh Mela, a gargantuan confluence of Hindu pilgrims who gathered for a holy dip in the Ganges River. As many as 2.5 million people took part, with scant attention to COVID-19 safety protocols. By the time an avalanche of criticism cut short the festival, the virus had infected thousands of pilgrims, who took it home to their neighborhoods and villages.

Efforts to crank up a badly hobbled economy also added to the spread. Business and manufacturing activities began reopening in May 2020 as ministers projected a V-shaped economic recovery while scientific messaging to keep wearing masks and follow social distancing took a beating. Masks, which had become part of public life in India for most part of 2020, gradually disappeared from faces.

Meanwhile, the country has had a sluggish vaccine rollout — with only 2 percent of the population now fully vaccinated — leaving India extremely vulnerable to community transmission, particularly with more transmissible coronavirus variants like B.1.1.7 spreading.

Photo: Our World in Data

In mid-February, the country was reporting less than 10,000 COVID cases and 100 deaths a day. An exponential explosion has followed. India reported more than 400,000 new COVID-19 infections in a 24-hour period on Saturday, setting another new world record in daily cases.

Photo: Our World in Data

The number of people who have been killed by COVID-19 in India is now over 211,000. At least 30 percent of those deaths have come in the last two months, and the country is now recording over 3,300 new deaths every day. India now accounts for more than a third of the world’s current cases, and nearly 40 percent of new cases reportedly globally of the last few months.

And all of those numbers and calculations are based on the government’s official data, which experts agree is a severe undercount.

Thus far, India’s mass-vaccination efforts have not gone well — which is one of the primary reasons it was left vulnerable for the current wave of cases. Two vaccines are currently available in the country, AstraZeneca’s and one developed by India’s own Bharat Biotech. Both are two-dose vaccines, and manufactured in India. Nearly 11 percent of the country’s almost 1.4 billion residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine — which offers some protection against infection — but just over 2 percent of the population has received a second dose. The country opened up eligibility for the vaccine to all adults on May 1, but that may simply worsen another problem:

There isn’t enough vaccine supply
That’s despite India being the world’s largest supplier of vaccines, as the Atlantic’s Yasmeen Serhan recently explained:

India’s role as a major pharmaceutical producer has been spotlighted during the pandemic; it has provided 20 percent of the world’s generic drugs as well as more than 60 percent of the world’s vaccines, despite having inoculated just 1 percent of its own population against COVID-19.* The country has the capacity to manufacture 70 million doses a month, but even with all of those doses directed toward its domestic needs, they’re not enough to meet the overwhelming demand. At present, India is administering some 3 million doses a day. To protect its population of 1.4 billion, [University of Michigan biostatician and epidemiologist Bhramar] Mukherjee said that rate would need to increase threefold.

Multiple states in India reportedly ran out of vaccine ahead of the weekend, forcing the temporary closure of many vaccination sites.

The U.S. and other foreign governments have begun — too late, according to may critics — trying to help bolster India’s vaccine supply and vaccine-production efforts, but it’s not clear how quickly that will result in actual vaccinations.

The shortage isn’t the only problem
On top of everything else, the Indian Express reported earlier this week that India’s efforts to actually get shots in arms has been plagued with issues at the state and local level:

As India tries to accelerate its massive vaccination programme in the middle of a devastating second Covid-19 wave, ground reports from states indicate a complex set of problems ranging from shortage of doses to glitches on the registration portal to panic and fear of the vaccines running out. If the initial weeks of vaccination saw a general reluctance among the public, the severity of the pandemic’s second wave has forced them to flock to vaccination centres, flouting the very rules meant to keep them safe. And to top it off, the [government] will open vaccination to everyone above the age of 18 from May 1, even as [hundreds of thousands] of people in the 45-60 and above 60 high-priority age groups still await the jab.

As one example, a combination of limited vaccine supply and mass-scheduling error prompted chaos at one of the main vaccination centers in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram last Monday, per the Express:

[A]t the Jimmy George Indoor Stadium[,] COVID-19 protocols were blatantly violated as hundreds of people, many of them above 60 years of age with comorbidities, flocked to the centre from 7 am to get a shot. The bizarre reason for the crowd was that a majority of them had been provided the same time-slot online. With no access to drinking water or seating, at least three persons fainted in the queue and had to be admitted to hospitals.

On Wednesday, after registration for people aged 18-44 to schedule vaccinations was opened up, the central government web portal and a major app used for booking appointments both briefly crashed under the demand.

Another issue: almost half of the population of India doesn’t have internet access.

India’s government played politics with its vaccines — and lost
At the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman recently argued that vaccine nationalism appears to have blown up in India and Modi’s face: the government failed to place timely orders with Indian vaccine manufacturers; it dragged its feet on authorizing foreign vaccines while promoting one designed in India; and vaccine diplomacy concerns, both as a point of national pride and competition with rival power China, led the government to export vaccines it clearly should have been keeping more of that supply and distributing it to its own citizens instead.

There has also been backlash over the central government allowing India’s pharmaceutical companies to charge state governments and private hospitals for vaccines administered to people under the age of 45, and set their own prices, which led to a partial walk-back from one of the companies on Monday.

A COVID-19 patient rests inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a coronavirus ward in New Delhi on Friday, April 30.
Photo: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP via Getty Images

As is the case in every major new COVID outbreak around the world, there has been a lot of attention on how coronavirus variants might be fueling the skyrocketing number of cases in India — and in particular, the B.1.617 variant which originated in the country. The other variant being detected in genetic surveillance of India cases is the better known B.1.1.7 variant which originated in the U.K., is believed to be more transmissible, and has been taking hold in the U.S. and many other countries. Both are spreading in India, albeit not universally, according to available data — and the variants are likely making it easier for the coronavirus to spread there. How much, and why, is not yet fully clear.

B.1.617 has been referred to as a “double mutant,” since the variant (or rather, one of the three versions of the variant which have been detected) has two worrying mutations which could be making it more dangerous. One mutation likely makes B.1.617 more transmissible, similar to B.1.1.7. The other is the same mutation found in the B.1.351 South Africa variant which scientists believe has a minor impact on vaccine efficacy.

First of all, every variant could be called a multiple mutant, since numerous mutations are normal. So the “double mutant” description for B.1.617, which sounds sort of scary, is a bit of a misnomer. Second, and more importantly, there just isn’t enough evidence to support the conclusion that B.1.617 is fueling the outbreak in India, or, as some have been worrying, better able to break through the protection provided the COVID vaccines which have been administered in the country, or better able to reinfect people who have antibodies from a previous coronavirus infection. Thus far, the available data on so-called “breakthrough infections” in India — real-world COVID cases among fully vaccinated people — indicates that only a fraction of a percent (.02 to .04 percent) of fully vaccinated people there have caught COVID.

Unfortunately, for a variety of not-great reasons, there isn’t enough genomic sequencing currently being done of cases in India to get a more complete picture of how prevalent the variants have become, as the New York Times emphasized on Tuesday:

So far the evidence is inconclusive, and researchers caution that other factors could explain the viciousness of the outbreak[.] … Still, the presence of the variant could complicate the taming of India’s Covid-19 disaster. “The current wave of Covid has a different clinical behavior,” said Dr. Sujay Shad, a senior cardiac surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, where two of the doctors needed supplemental oxygen to recover. “It’s affecting young adults. It’s affecting families. It’s a new thing altogether. Two-month-old babies are getting infected.” …

“While it’s almost certainly true B.1.617 is playing a role, it’s unclear how much it’s contributing directly to the surge and how that compares to other circulating variants, especially B.1.1.7,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

The U.S. will begin restricting travel from India next week in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the White House announced Friday. The restrictions, which will go into place Tuesday, May 4, will ban entry to the U.S. for people who have been in India over the previous 14 days, CNN reports — though not everyone:

The policy will not apply to American citizens, lawful permanent residents or other people with exemptions. As with all international travelers, individuals who fit that criteria traveling from India must still test negative prior to leaving the country, quarantine if they have not been vaccinated and test negative again upon reentering the US from India. The restrictions also do not apply to humanitarian workers.

That policy is similar to the restrictions currently in place for travelers who have been in the E.U. and Brazil. Numerous other countries have already restricted travel from India, including the U.K. and Canada.

The city’s municipal government announced the closure of 94 vaccination centers on Friday, citing the lack of vaccine supply, and said the closures would only last through Sunday. Only 26.7 million people — about 2 percent of India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion — have been fully vaccinated as of the end of the week — though 152 million doses have been administered nationwide. Residents of New Delhi have also been asked not to show up for vaccinations on Saturday due to the lack of supply there. Reuters reports that several states in India have run out of vaccine doses.

This post has been updated.





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US issues India travel advisory as COVID-19 crisis deepens


The U.S. told American citizens in India to leave the country immediately, as the COVID-19 crisis in the country deepens.

The State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory Wednesday after the department approved the voluntary departure of family members of government employees. A Level 4 advisory warns U.S. citizens “do not travel” to the country in question, usually due to “life-threatening risks.”

The advisory indicates a “very high level” of COVID-19 in the country, and the government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in “rural areas,” the department said. 

“U.S. citizens are reportedly being denied admittance to hospitals due to the lack of space and resources,” an alert on the State Department website read.

People wait in queues outside the office of the Chemists Association to demand the necessary supply of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir, in Pune, India. As India faces a devastating surge of new coronavirus infections overwhelming the health care system, people are turning to desperate measures to keep loved ones alive. (AP Photo, File)

People wait in queues outside the office of the Chemists Association to demand the necessary supply of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir, in Pune, India. As India faces a devastating surge of new coronavirus infections overwhelming the health care system, people are turning to desperate measures to keep loved ones alive. (AP Photo, File)

The advisory also specifically warns against travel to the states of Jammu and Kashmir due to “terrorism and civil unrest.”

Citizens looking to leave should take advantage of one of 14 direct daily flights between India and the U.S., according to Bloomberg.

SKIPPING SECOND COVID-19 VACCINE DOSE COULD ‘PROLONG PANDEMIC,’ RESEARCHERS WARN

India has recently seen a steep rise in COVD-19 cases, recording more than 300,000 new daily cases for almost a week straight, with reports that the death count has been underreported.

New data from the Indian government reported 3,293 deaths on Wednesday, marking the first time the nation surpassed 3,000 deaths in one day, according to Forbes — this more than one year into the pandemic and as some other countries, including the U.S., have successfully gotten their vaccination programs off the ground.

SOME CALIFORNIANS CAN’T GET COVID-19 VACCINE DESPITE SURGE IN SUPPLY

However, the number of deaths in India may be far higher, with locals telling Sky News: “The Delhi government says that 380 peoples are dying every day from coronavirus but it’s actually around 1,000… more than 1,000.”

MARYLAND GOV. HOGAN: OUTDOOR MASK MANDATE HAS BEEN LIFTED

The U.S. announced Wednesday that it would send $100 million in coronavirus supplies to India to provide urgent relief.

The emergency supplies will include oxygen materials, personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccine manufacturing supplies, rapid testing kits and therapeutics.

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The U.S. also pledged public health assistance and said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts will “work hand-in-hand with India’s experts in the following areas: laboratory, surveillance and epidemiology, bioinformatics for genomic sequencing and modeling, infection prevention and control, vaccine rollout, and risk communication.”

Fox News’ Alexandria Hein contributed to this report. 



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Harris to travel to Guatemala, Mexico amid criticism over border crisis


Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday that she will travel to Guatemala and Mexico as part of her role in tackling the “root causes” of the swirling migration crisis at the southern border — as she faces intense criticism for her alleged lack of action on the crisis.

“The president has asked Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas to address what is going on the border and he has been working very hard on that and is showing some progress because of his hard work,” she said at a Northern Triangle security roundtable.

“I have been asked to lead the issue of dealing with root causes in the Northern Triangle, similar to what the then-Vice President did many years ago,” she said. “But I will tell you these are issues that aren’t going to be addressed overnight.” 

EX-TRUMP DHS OFFICIALS SAY HARRIS NEEDS TO VISIT BORDER, ACCUSE HER OF DODGING ‘POLITICAL HOT POTATO’ 

On plans for travel, Harris said “we have plans in the works to go to Guatemala as soon as possible,” later saying she would also be stopping in Mexico.

The Biden administration has been struggling to handle a historic surge in migrants to the border, one that critics have said is fueled by the administration’s liberal immigration policies. The administration refused to describe it as a crisis, calling it a “challenge” instead, and has blamed the prior administration.

Images of child migrants packed in facilities in South Texas, combined with numbers showing record numbers of migrant apprehensions this year is increasing pressure on the administration to act. So far it has built a number of extra facilities, and has also come to an agreement with countries south of the border for them to increase troop presences at their borders.

Harris was tapped as Biden’s pick to deal with what the White House describes as “root causes” of the crisis, with Biden saying Harris had “agreed to lead our diplomatic effort and work with those nations to accept the returnees, and enhance migration enforcement at their borders – at their borders.”

VP HARRIS VISITS CHICAGO BAKERY EVEN AS BORDER CRISIS ESCALATES

She has faced criticism for not visiting the border — something this latest trip does not seem to resolve. At a House GOP press conference on Wednesday, Republicans displayed a milk carton with Harris’ picture on it with a slogan on “Missing at the Border.”

The White House has countered that criticism by saying that she will be involved in “high-level diplomatic” work, and not the border itself.

“This is diplomatic work that ultimately, over the long term, will address the migration issues we’re seeing. It’s not an assignment to ‘handle the border,’” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said on MSNBC. “What she’s doing is high-level diplomatic work that is incredibly important to our economic stability in the hemisphere.”

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However, former DHS officials have brushed off that defense, saying that those talks require Harris to also know about what is going on at the border.

“You can’t talk to Northern Triangle countries, or to Mexican officials, without understanding the pressures and the situation and atmosphere on the border,” former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said at a Heritage Foundation press conference on Tuesday. “The two are so linked, you can’t do one without the other.”



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69 News At 6:00 – Bipartisan group of congressmen travel to southern border to address crisis | News


A bipartisan group of congressmen have traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border for a two-day visit.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, made up of Democrats and Republicans, is on a fact-finding mission to find solutions to the immigration and border security challenges the country is facing.

Also, at 6:00, we remember the town that slate built. Chapman, in Northampton County, was named for the founder of Chapman Slate Company. Almost everyone who lived in Chapman at the time was employed by the slate quarry in some way. That’s in tonight’s History’s Headlines.



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