Mumbai’s famed local trains returned to the tracks on Monday, after two and a half months. Only essential service providers are allowed to ride, and services are limited to the main line. The Maharashtra government has also said that schools will restart in July in areas without infections. In Kerala, the government announced a new set of guidelines for visitors, and they can’t stay longer than a week. To bring you up to speed on the rest of the news in five minutes, here’s Mint Lite.
Second wave fears hit markets
Fears of the possibility of a second wave of covid-19 infections sent jitters across global markets on Monday. Indian benchmark equity indices closed nearly 2% lower led by heavy selling in banking and financial stocks. The rising covid-19 numbers, a second wave of infections in China, and weak Asian markets weighed down investor sentiment. Globally, stocks and oil were under pressure while investors bought into safe havens such as German government debt. Futures on the S&P 500, the Stoxx Europe 600 index as well as Japan’s Nikkei dropped. Crude futures were also down, but India raised fuel prices for the ninth day in a row. They’re now at their highest in more than a year. Petrol prices were hiked ₹0.46 a litre, and diesel ₹0.59 a litre. Since 7 June, when oil firms resumed revision of fuel prices following an 82-day break during the lockdown, petrol prices have gone up ₹4.98 a litre and diesel by ₹5.23 a litre.
Stranded crew return home
More than 600 stranded Indian seafarers who have spent the past few months working on board merchant ships arrived on Monday on chartered flights from Singapore. Many crew members have worked several months beyond their contracts due to travel restrictions because of the covid-19 outbreak. Globally, over 150,000 seafarers are stranded at sea in need of crew changes, according to International Chamber of Shipping. The routes home are circuitous as many countries have barred crew from disembarking at ports. Bringing in replacement crew is an issue for the same reasons. This will affect international shipping as commercial vessels shoulder about 80% of world trade. Shipping companies and trade unions are urging countries to recognize merchant crews as essential workers and allow them to travel. For the cruise industry, at least 40,000 crew are stranded at sea three months after they stopped sailing due to covid-19.
Recovery rate rises
For the past five days India has recorded more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases a day, though the health ministry has said the recovery rate has risen to 50.59%. This is higher than many of the worst-affected countries in the world (see chart). The recovery rate has been improving steadily from mid-May, though the case numbers are rising rapidly, and India now has the fourth highest number of cases in the world. The average doubling time of cases in India is 19.1 days, but in about 19 states, the cases are doubling faster than the national average. Though doubling time is slowing in Maharashtra, the state continues to have the highest number of cases. The recovery rate in Delhi (38.4%) and Mumbai (45.7%) is high, compared to global cities like New York (21.2%), the worst-affected city in US.
Auto dealers in trouble
The Supreme Court has asked Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations for details of BS-IV vehicles sold from 27 March. The court said it allowed sale of only 105,000 BS-IV vehicles, or 10% of inventory, but dealers had flouted norms and sold 255,000. After 31 March, carmakers were to transition to the less polluting BS-VI standard, but the court granted an extension in view of the lockdown. The automobile industry is facing a liquidity crunch due to the pandemic, and recorded near zero sales in April. Industry bodies estimate that auto sales could drop 35% in some segments as people put off expensive purchases. Auto dealers employ about 4 million people directly and indirectly countrywide. The lockdown is likely to push many dealerships, most of them family-run, out of business. Buyers are likely to adopt digital routes and virtual tours as physical distancing is observed.
India to benefit from China’s ban
China has taken scales of the pangolin, the world’s most trafficked animal, off its 2020 list of approved traditional medicines. Pangolin scales, made of keratin, were integral to traditional Chinese medicine, fuelling poaching of the nocturnal mammal found in Asia and Africa. The meat is considered a luxury in China and Vietnam. India is home to two pangolin species, and about 6,000 were poached from 2009 to 2017, despite being listed in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, and as endangered on IUCN Red List. China has now listed pangolins as Class 1, on par with pandas, which prohibits most domestic trade and use of the animals. China’s decisions follow speculation that pangolins sold in Wuhan were the source of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. Most evidence suggests the virus came from bats, but it’s not yet confirmed if an intermediary species like pangolin transmitted it to humans. The ban on pangolin use may help India protect its population.