People of Indian origin and the Indian diaspora having Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards are now not required to carry their old, expired passports for travel to India, as required earlier, according to a government notification that has been welcomed by members of the community.
The Overseas Citizens of India or OCI card is issued to people of Indian origin globally which gives them almost all the privileges of an Indian national except for the right to vote, government service and buying agricultural land. The OCI card gives them a visa free travel to India.
In a March 26 press release, the Indian missions in the US said that in order to ease the travel of OCI card holders, it has been decided that the “time line for re-issuance of OCI cards in r/o OCI card holders, who may be required to get their OCI card reissued has been extended until 31 December, 2021.”
Further “requirement of carrying old and new passports along with the OCI card has been done away. Henceforth, the OCI card holders travelling on the strength of their existing OCI card bearing old passport number are not required to carry their old passport. However, carrying a new passport is mandatory.”
New York-based social activist Prem Bhandari, who has been taking up the cause of OCI card holders for the past several years, welcomed the announcement. He expressed gratitude to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs and the Government of India for not only extending the renewal up to December 31 this year but also for relaxing the guidelines and not requiring OCI card holders to carry their old, expired foreign passports.
“The OCI card holders can heave a sigh of relief worldwide,” with these new guidelines, he said. He expressed thanks to Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla for the new guidelines.
Mr Bhandari said that he had seen first-hand the inconvenience caused to members of the Indian diaspora due to certain OCI card rules as they undertook travel to India during the pandemic.
He said some of the passengers were not allowed to board flights to India and were sent back from airports as they were not carrying their old foreign passports, which was required as per government rules.
The OCI card, among other benefits, allows multiple entry, multi-purpose life long visa to an Indian-origin foreign national to visit India. Under the provisions of the OCI card, which gives the cardholder lifelong visa to India, those below 20 years and above 50 years need to renew their OCI card every time they have their passport renewed.
The Indian government has relaxed the provisions since last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The timeline has been extended multiple times so far. However, this is for the first time that the guidelines have been relaxed for carrying old passports and the new passports along with the OCI cards for overseas Indians.
In May last year, the central government had allowed certain categories of OCI card holders, who were stranded abroad, to come to the country. Earlier, according to the regulations issued by the Indian government, visas of foreign nationals and OCI cards were suspended as part of the new international travel restrictions following the COVID-19 pandemic.
OCI cardholders were asked to carry their old passport with them to fly to India. Now, under the new provisions, OCI cardholders are not required to carry their old passports but will still need to carry their new passport.
Mr Bhandari said that Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines for OCI card holders to carry old expired foreign passports had been in place since 2005 but till 2019, it was not being thoroughly checked or applied.
Mr Bhandari had previously also requested Indian authorities to initiate measures such as granting emergency visas on departure to help Indian-origin families travel to their homeland for health or other emergencies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bhandari, Jaipur Foot USA Chairman, had said that late last year he had written to the Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, as well as the Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola and Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla outlining some of the hardships faced by Indian-origin families in travelling to India for emergency reasons and suggesting measures that can be taken to ensure smoother travel for these families.
Mr Bhandari had suggested that holders of Indian passport/PIO/OCI card be allowed to travel with their US-born minor children under the age of 14 with any unexpired visa obtained anytime without applying for an emergency visa at consulates.
He added that in case it is difficult to carry out these measures, authorities may consider either granting Emergency Visa on Departure (E-VoD) or restoring immediate e-Visa process for approval online.
Last year, Mr Bhandari had also requested extension of the date of renewal of OCI cards till December 31, 2020 such that the Non-Resident Indian/Person of Indian Origin community had enough time to understand the new requirement and renew their OCI cards.
Mr Bhandari also expressed hope that the issue of tourist visas will also be resolved soon. In October last year, the Indian government had decided to restore with immediate effect the validity of all existing visas, except electronic, tourist and medical category visas.
Covid-19 ‘shakes’ Brazil; Most children and young people die
Brazil has been one of the worst-hit nations by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic but the unusual high deaths among babies have caused immense concerns. Despite overwhelming evidence based on data that Covid-19 rarely turns fatal for children, around 1,300 babies have died from coronavirus.
BBC did a feature on a Brazilian woman’s one-year-old son who died two months after he first displayed symptoms of Covid-19 in May last year. Jessika Ricarte took her son, Lucas, to a hospital after he developed a fever, then fatigue and slightly laboured breathing. The oxygen level was at a low 86 per cent but the doctor assured Jessika that Covid-19 was rare in children and sent her home with some antibiotics, reported BBC.
Jessika, a resident of Tamboril in Ceará, northeast Brazil, said that although some of the symptoms disappeared at the end of his 10-day antibiotics course, the tiredness remained, as per the report. On June 3, Lucas vomited repeatedly after having lunch, prompting Jessika to take him to a local hospital. He tested positive for Covid-19 and was transferred to a paediatric intensive care unit in Sobral, a municipality that was over two hours away.
Lucas was diagnosed there with a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS). A recent study, published in The Lancet, suggests that multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a newly identified and serious health condition associated with Covid-19. It is a rare but severe hyperinflammatory condition in children and adolescents that typically occurs 2–6 weeks after they are infected with the coronavirus.
MIS-C is an extreme immune response to the virus and can affect multiple organ systems, including cardiac, gastrointestinal, haematological, dermatological, neurological, respiratory, and renal systems. For the study, the researchers analysed 1,080 patients who met the MIS-C case definition and had sufficient clinical data for analysis of pre-existing factors.
Out of 1,080 patients, 431 were admitted to ICU on the same day as hospitalisation and 217 were admitted to ICU at least after a day of hospitalisation. The clinical signs and symptoms of MIS-C include cough, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, and abdominal pain, among others. Around 28 per cent of patients had decreased cardiac function, 36 per cent suffered shock, and around 2 per cent cases resulted in deaths.
Lucas was intubated after being diagnosed with MIS-C and suffered cardiac arrest while he was in the ICU, reported BBC. The doctor who was treating the kid said she was surprised at the seriousness of his condition since he did not have any risk factors in terms of comorbidities or overweight. A CT scan discovered that Lucas had had a stroke and later died after a sudden drop in heart rate and oxygen level, as per the report.
According to experts quoted by BBC, Brazil’s sheer number of Covid-19 cases have led to an increase in infection among babies and young children. While Brazil’s official data suggest that Covid-19 killed at least 852 children up to the age of nine, Dr Fatima Marinho, a leading epidemiologist from the University of São Paolo, did research that estimated the virus killed 2,060 children under nine years old, including 1,302 babies. Marinho told BBC that she is seeing more cases of MIS-C than ever before, highlighting that there is a misconception that children are at a zero risk for Covid-19.
Russia prepares for devastating war; 30,000 more troops cross border; Ukraine shocked
Thirty thousands of Russian troops massing near the Ukrainian border, convoys of tanks, and a deadly escalation in the grinding trench war in eastern Ukraine.
These storm clouds on Europe’s eastern flank are causing grave alarm in Washington and across the continent.
“We’re now seeing the largest concentration of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders since 2014,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday after flying to NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. “That is a deep concern not only to Ukraine, but to the United States.”
In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin later in the day, President Joe Biden declared Washington’s “unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and “called on Russia to de-escalate tensions,” a White House readout said.
Western officials and experts are now trying to decipher what Moscow might be planning: Is Putin testing Biden’s mettle — or is he actually trying to spark a fresh military conflict on the fringes of Europe?
“The optimistic assessment is that this is meant to intimidate Ukraine,” said Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA, a research group based in Virginia. “The pessimistic assessment, which I think is a lower probability but nonetheless very worth considering, is that Russia is actually spoiling for a fight and that they’re looking to bait Ukraine into a miscalculation.”
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in conflict since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and began supporting separatists in the country’s east. That war has rumbled on ever since, costing some 14,000 lives despite a series of shaky ceasefires.
But since March experts say they are witnessing something new.
Russia has started sending thousands of troops, tanks, artillery and other units to Crimea and regions along its 1,200-mile land border with Ukraine, according to Western governments and independent experts who monitor these maneuvers.
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The Russian troops number 40,000 in Crimea and another 40,000 in other regions along the border, Iuliia Mendel, spokeswoman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Monday.
Given that the Russian military has an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 troops, “that would be approximately 10 percent of the Russian military’s total manpower,” according to Rob Lee, a former U.S. Marine who now tracks military deployments at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.
Russia says these movements are “training missions,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday. But experts say they don’t fit the usual pattern for these wargames. Russian military officials haven’t provided the usual level of detail or forewarning.
“They are deliberately leaving their intentions ambiguous here,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, the fragile ceasefire that’s kept the Donbas conflict at a simmer has deteriorated, with more than 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed already this year, compared with 49 in 2020, Ukraine says.
In response, U.S. European Command has raised its threat level to the highest available, the New York Times reported. And it is planning to send two warships to the Black Sea, according to Turkey, which controls passage into it. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on both of these actions at recent briefings.
“If Russia acts recklessly,” Blinken told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday, “there will be consequences.”
After meeting Blinken on Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the “Russian buildup is taking place, not only along the border of Ukraine, but along the border of democratic world.”
The problem for these allies is that it is still unclear what Russia is trying to do — much less how the West might be able to respond.
“The force assembled is large and heavy and could go deep and do some ugly stuff to Ukraine,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat. Is that what Russia intends to do? “I think an honest answer to your question would be: ‘I have no idea,'” he said.
Russia says it’s free to move troops internally however it likes.
“Russia has never been a threat to anyone and does not pose a threat,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Monday.
The Kremlin has tried to turn the narrative on its head, accusing the U.S. and NATO of being the ones responsible for raising the temperature.
“There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news wires. “We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good.”
Ryabkov referred to the U.S. as an “adversary” — a word the U.S. uses to describe Russia, but a clear shift from Russia’s preferred term “partner” when referring to the U.S.
Many experts believe a Russian military offensive is not impossible but unlikely; it would be costly for Putin and it’s unclear what he would gain. The buildup has been slow and ostentatious, whereas a genuine invasion would be rapid and more covert.
More likely, according to these observers, is that Russia is attempting to intimidate Ukraine, perhaps to gain leverage in the stalled peace talks over the Donbas conflict.
Putin is also sending a message to Biden and Ukraine’s European allies, according to Fabrice Pothier, a consulting senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank.
Biden has deployed harsher rhetoric toward Putin compared with President Donald Trump, and last month the U.S. announced $125 million in military aid to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine is renewing calls to join NATO, something the alliance promised in 2008 but is vehemently opposed by Russia.
“Putin is testing what President Biden’s Russia-Ukraine policy is really made of,” said Pothier, NATO’s former head of policy planning. “Is the U.S. willing to go as far as providing either indirect or direct military support to Ukraine forces? Basically, is the U.S. willing to go into some kind of escalation with Russia?”
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