Will double headcount; lot of headroom for growing user base: Koo


Homegrown microblogging platform Koo is planning to double its headcount in the next one year as it significantly scales up its user base on the platform, especially vernacular subscribers, its co-founder said.

Koo co-founder Aprameya Radhakrishna said the platform with its current user base of 6 million has a lot of headroom for growth.

“When folks join Koo, they bring their followers as well, we don’t have too many Bollywood folks yet, we don’t have too many cricketers yet. There are lots of politicians, writers…who will find their unique reasons to be on Koo because we are enabling local languages,” he said.

Radhakrishna said Koo is growing exponentially as people are looking for ways to converse online in local languages with community members, and that the platform is helping people express themselves in their local language.

“We want to hit 100 million downloads in the next year or so. It is plausible, a 20X growth is very much possible, it depends on what all events lead to it. There are a lot of people who are yet to join Koo,” he said.

Koo, which was launched last year, has seen a massive surge in its user base over the past few months after Union ministers and government departments endorsed the homegrown microblogging platform following a spat with Twitter.

Koo has about 60 lakh users on its platform. Twitter, on the other hand, has 1.75 crore users in India.

India remains a critical market for Internet companies like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter with its large population base and burgeoning Internet adoption. The country is the world’s second-largest telecom market and the biggest consumer of data.

To keep pace with rapid growth in both users and usage, Koo is looking to at least double its headcount from about 75 professionals currently over the next 12 months, he added.

“We are aggressively hiring, especially for the engineering team because every idea, everything we want to do on product, boils down to engineering efforts. We want the best of engineers in India to work with us,” Radhakrishna added.

He said the company is recruiting talent across different capabilities including Android, iOS, machine learning, and quality assurance and testing among others.

The Twitter rival is also undertaking a slew of initiatives amid the deadly second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, to make it easier for people to find leads for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and other resources.

It will soon allow potential plasma donors to sport “badges” on their profile pictures for increased visibility, and a new feature is also in the offing that would notify users about vaccine availability.

Asked how Koo is cracking down on misinformation around Covid-19, Radhakrishna said the platform has a robust reporting system in place to deal with such content.

He added that users can flag content that they think is incorrect or inappropriate, and Koo deploys automated tools as well as manual intervention to handle such content.

“Our job is to make sure that people talking about Covid and those looking for information around Covid can find each other. It is not our job to push down content to anyone, but giving options helpful around the Covid period. Our goal is to get people who use Koo to access the right information,” he said.

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Chinese rocket debris lands in Indian Ocean



The Long March was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May 2020. Last year, pieces from the first Long March 5B fell on Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings. No injuries were reported.

“Spacefaring nations must minimise the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a former senator and astronaut who was picked for the role in March, said in a statement after the re-entry.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

With most of the Earth’s surface covered by water, the odds of populated area on land being hit had been low, and the likelihood of injuries even lower, according to experts.

But uncertainty over the rocket’s orbital decay and China’s failure to issue stronger reassurances in the run-up to the re-entry fuelled anxiety.

“It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities,” Nelson said.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the potential debris zone could have been as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing, and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand.

Since large chunks of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit in July 1979 and landed in Australia, most countries have sought to avoid such uncontrolled re-entries through their spacecraft design, McDowell said.

“It makes the Chinese rocket designers look lazy that they didn’t address this,” said McDowell.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid, dismissed as “Western hype” concerns the rocket was “out of control” and could cause damage.

“It is common practice across the world for upper stages of rockets to burn up while reentering the atmosphere,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at China’s foreign ministry, said at a regular media briefing on May 7.

“To my knowledge, the upper stage of this rocket has been deactivated, which means most of its parts will burn up upon re-entry, making the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low,” Wang said at the time.

The rocket, which put into orbit an unmanned Tianhe module containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent Chinese space station, will be followed by 10 more missions to complete the station by 2022. 

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DCB Bank Q4 Results: DCB Bank Q4 results: Profit rises 13% to Rs 78 crore


NEW DELHI: Private lender on Saturday reported a 13 per cent increase in net profit to Rs 78 crore for the January-March quarter compared to that of Rs 69 crore in the year-ago quarter. Total income of the bank during the January-March quarter of 2020-21 fell to Rs 971 crore from Rs 1,012 crore in the same quarter of 2019-20, DCB Bank said in a regulatory filing. The income from interest as well as from investment fell during the reported quarter from a year ago.

For the FY2020-21, the bank’s net profit remained nearly flat at Rs 336 crore against Rs 338 crore in FY20. Income also was a tad down at Rs 3,917 crore in FY21 against Rs 3,928 crore in FY20.

The bank’s asset quality worsened with the gross non-performing assets (NPAs) spiking to 4.09 per cent of the gross advances as of March 31, 2021, as against 2.46 per cent by the end of March last year.

In value terms, the gross NPAs stood at Rs 1,083.44 crore, significantly higher than Rs 631.51 crore in the year-ago period.

Provisions for bad loans and contingencies in Q4FY21 came down to Rs 101.18 crore from Rs 118.24 crore a year earlier. Net NPAs stood at 2.29 per cent (Rs 594.15 crore) as against 1.16 per cent (Rs 293.51 crore).

On returning the compound interest to eligible borrowers post the Supreme Court final order in March and subsequent the RBI notification, the lender said it is in the process of account by account calculation of interest relief due to the eligible customers.

In the meantime, as of March 31, 2021, the bank has created liability towards estimated interest relief of Rs 10 crore and reduced the same from the interest income.

The bank said it held contingency provision of Rs 229.11 crore against the likely impact of Covid 19 regulatory package, impact of the conclusion of the interim order (of Supreme Court on not declaring accounts as NPAs till August 31, 2020 and after) and other contingencies.

On the impact of second wave of the pandemic, it said under the current circumstances the bank during March quarter, on a prudent basis, has made a contingency provision of Rs 124 crore towards further likely impact of Covid-19 on restructured and stressed assets.

“In addition to this contingency provision of Rs 124 crore, the bank also holds floating provision amounting to Rs 108.80 crore, besides, provisions for standard assets and specific non-performing assets,” it said.

Besides, the amount in overdue categories where the moratorium or deferment was extended as of March 31, 2020 was Rs 1,908.08 crore at end of March this year, it said. The provisions held on these by the end of September 2020 was Rs 68 crore and similar amount was kept as provisions adjusted against slippages (NPA and restructuring), DCB Bank said.

The lender also said that its board has not recommended any dividend for fiscal ended March 2021 in view of the situation developing around Covid-19 in the country and the related uncertainty that it creates.

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Indian community in Ballarat hoping to raise $90,000 to save lives for COVID-ravaged country


When Dr Sanjay Sharma’s mother passed away earlier in the year, the Ballarat-based anaesthetist could not be by her side.

COVID-19 travel restrictions meant he was unable to return to Delhi, the city of his childhood, for her funeral. 

“In Indian culture the son performs the last rites and it was pretty difficult time to deal with,” he said.

Like many people the world over, Dr Sharma experienced the fear and sadness caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

So when India’s COVID crisis deepened, he wanted to do what he could to help from afar.

Dr Sharma is president of Ballarat’s Friends of India network, an association which for many years has raised money for health services in Ballarat.

Now, for the first time, the association is raising money for medical services in India.

“The situation demands that we as a city [of] 100,000 people rally around and collect some money that can save some lives in India,” Dr Sharma told ABC Victoria Statewide Drive.

The group is aiming to raise $90,000 to purchase oxygen concentrators.

Friends of India is collaborating with SEWA, an international charity that was this week endorsed by the Western Australian government as a suitable place to send funds to help India’s plight.

Dr Shama said the group’s aim was to support poorer people in regional and remote parts of the country by resourcing local hospitals and specially-created COVID field hospitals.

A “herculean effort” is required for India to create the amount of ICU beds needed to treat COVID patients, he said, and he hoped the fundraising effort would save many lives. 

As daily infections in India rose by a record 382,315 on Wednesday, Dr Sharma said the ban on Australian residents returning home from India was “not right”.

“I think it’s a bit heavy handed without any reason being stated,” he said. 

“A similar situation arose when we had big numbers surging through the US and UK and I don’t think that kind of heavy handedness was dealt out at that time.”

He said there was feeling among many groups that the ban was not a justified approach.

However, labelling it as racist did not help the conversation. 

But Dr Sharma, who has called Ballarat home for more than 20 years, was buoyed by seeing the Indian diaspora spring into action to help the country through this crisis.

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Maharashtra government to set up committee to study SC order on Maratha quota


The Maharashtra government will set up a committee under a retired judge to study the Supreme Court order striking down reservations for the Maratha community, state minister Ashok Chavan said on Saturday. The apex court on May 4 struck down the Maharashtra law granting quota to Marathas in admissions and government jobs, terming the statute as “unconstitutional”, and also refused to refer the 1992 Mandal judgement, setting a 50 per cent cap on reservation, to a larger bench for reconsideration.

Speaking to reporters, Chavan, who heads the state government’s sub committee on Maratha reservation, said the panel will study the SC judgement, which runs into over 500 pages, in detail and then submit a report in 15 days, after which a decision on filing a review petition will be taken by the state government.

He also said Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte will take stock of the pending Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) recruitment process in every department, adding that the SC had upheld recruitments till September 9, 2020.

“The entire process comprises selection comprises selection and recruitment. The CS will review this process. The state is positively considering giving justice to SEBC candidates affected by the court decision, and the future course of action will be based on the CS report,” he added.

Chavan said Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind on this issue, and ask the Centre to provide quota to the community if the state does not have the right to do so.

Meanwhile, state home minister Dilip Walse Patil urged the Maratha community to exercise restraint, asking it to not do anything that would put the police in further stress amid the coronavirus outbreak.

State minister and senior Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde said the MVA government was committed to reservations for the Maratha community.

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Third wave of the pandemic can be handled if stringent steps taken on time: Govt


New Delhi: Rising number of infections continues to grip the population in fear which is still struggling hard to find hospital beds and oxygen to survive this second wave of pandemic. As per reports, the current wave is expected to peak by June end and thereafter there may be some respite. Dr K. Vijay Raghavan, chief scientific advisor, said on Friday that the third wave of the pandemic can be handled if stringent, necessary steps are taken on time.

Two days ago Dr Raghavan had said the third wave was “inevitable given the high levels at which this virus is circulating”. He, however, did not give a timeline of the third wave. But on Friday he clarified that the third wave may not take place everywhere in the country if sufficient precautions are taken. “The pandemic has different peaks and falls across the country. The only condition for third wave waves is the presence of a susceptible population. If we take strong measures, the third wave of Covid-19 may not happen at all places or even anywhere. It depends much on how effectively Covid guidelines are implemented at the local level, in the states, districts and in the cities everywhere,” Dr Raghavan said.

 

Several states and UTs have imposed strict lockdowns to break the chain of transmission. Goa on Friday announced a 15-day curfew from Sunday during which only essential services, including medical supplies, will be allowed while grocery shops will be allowed to remain open only from 7am-1pm.

The Centre has said it has so far provided more than 17.35 crore vaccine doses to states/UTs and more than 90 lakh doses are still available with states/UTs to be administered. It added over 10 lakh doses in addition will be received by the states/UTs in the next three days. 

 

The Centre has decided to deploy AYUSH professionals to boost availability of medical personnel to fight Covid-19. The Union health ministry said AYUSH doctors are institutionally qualified professionals, well-trained in various aspects of medical care and have proven their competence in various Covid-19 management roles in different institutions across the country. States/UTs have trained nearly 1.06 lakh AYUSH professionals in different aspects of Covid-19 management, and 28,473 professionals have been deployed for Covid-19 activities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with the chief ministers of Manipur, Sikkim and Tripura on the Covid-19 situation in their states. Mr Modi had on Thursday spoken with the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Telangana besides the lieutenant governors of Jammu & Kashmir and Puducherry in this regard.

 

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VUI-21APR-02 reclassified as ‘variant of concern’, says U.K. govt.


Move aimed at alerting health authorities all over the world to the threat the mutations on the variant pose

Public Health England (PHE) has declared a coronavirus variant, closely related to the Indian Variant (B.1.617) as a Variant of Concern. While such a labelling is specific to the United Kingdom as scientists there are seeing the variant making up a growing proportion of cases in the United Kingdom, it is more aimed at alerting health authorities all over the world to the threat the mutations on the variant pose to the future evolution of the pandemic.

Dr. Anurag Agrawal, Director , Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, told The Hindu that an advisory group in India, INSACOG (India SarsCOV Genome Consortium), concerned with the genome details of Indian coronavirus variants, too had classified B.1.617 and all its sub lineages as VOC.

“Following a rise in cases in the U.K. and evidence of community transmission, PHE has reclassified VUI-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2), classified as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on April 28 as a Variant of Concern (VOC), now known as VOC-21APR-02. This is based on evidence which suggests this variant, first detected in India, is at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7 (the Kent variant). The other characteristics of this variant are still being investigated,” the government authority said in a statement as part of its weekly updates on the coronavirus variants.

Insufficient evidence

“There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective. PHE is carrying out laboratory testing, in collaboration with academic and international partners to better,” their statement further noted.

While there are several coronavirus variants identified as ‘variants of interest’, only a few such as the U.K. strain (B.1.1.7) or the South Africa variant (B.1.351) the Brazil variant (P.1) are globally considered VoCs because of their ability to rapidly spread globally, infect easily and pose a threat to the efficacy of existing vaccines as well as treatments.

The Indian variant, (B.1.617) also known as the ‘double mutant’ was characterised by two mutations L245R and E484Q in the spike protein of the coronavirus, the region that plays the most significant role in gaining entry into lung cells. However there are now at least 3 affiliated lineages: B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3 and Health Ministry officials and experts warned this week that these lineages were becoming the dominant variants in India. India doesn’t yet officially classify B.1.617 as a VOC, though a scientist connected with India’s genome sequencing efforts told The Hindu that India’s Health Ministry may now classify it so. “B.1.617 should be a VOC but 617.2 doesn’t have E484Q whereas there are a whole set of other mutations in the spike protein in 617.2 that are helping it proliferate,” the person cited earlier added.

Shahid Jameel, virologist and head of an advisory committee to India’s genome consortium, said the U.K. naming a variant as a VOC could be seen as “request” by a country to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to classify a new variant as a VOC. “India too could have done so. This variant is rapidly rising in India and would likely promote efforts by other bodies to test the efficacy of our vaccines against the mutations in this lineage.”

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Prime Minister criticised on Q+A over abandoning Australians of Indian heritage during COVID-19 crisis


Australia may be set to resume flights from India next week to get stranded citizens home, but the Morrison government received a lashing on Q+A from guest Mannie Kaur Varma, who said Australians of Indian heritage are not being seen as equals by the Prime Minister.

Ms Varma said those in the Indian community felt abandoned by Mr Morrison, as she took aim in a show opening that mocked the PM’s love of curries, suggesting he thinks they are India’s major contribution to Australian society.

“First you grant us exemption to go to India to look after our loved ones who are fighting for their lives, then you abandon us and leave us in a country that is gasping for air,” Ms Varma said.

“In 2019 the Prime Minister said Australia is like a fragrant garam masala…for the Prime Minister, is the value of Indians reduced to just our food or does he see us as equals?”

Asked by host Hamish Macdonald how the flight ban and the threat of jail time for those returning from India made her feel, Ms Varma said the government ruling, under the Biosecurity Act, made it feel like Indian-Australians were not equal.

“What is going on in India is horrible and to know we are not treated the same as everyone else is just appalling,” she said.

Coalition Member for Reid in NSW, Fiona Martin, said the ruling was simply a case of following the health advice available to the government due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in returned travellers from India.

“Last month we saw over 40 per cent of people travelling home from India testing positive to COVID-19,” Ms Martin said, before adding other countries such as the United States (6 per cent) had a much lower rate.

Asked if those of Indian descent in her electorate had expressed similar feelings to Ms Varma, Ms Martin said that was not the case, but they did feel the threat of jail was overly aggressive.

“The penalty is what has been of concern by constituents, not the ban itself,” she said.

“As I mentioned, earlier in the week, I thought the penalty was a little heavy-handed and that part of it was problematic.”

Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney, who herself has a sizeable Indian population in her Barton electorate in NSW, said she had heard similar gripes to Ms Varma’s.

She said constituents felt “abandoned” and pointed out that to become Australian citizens, those who hail from India had to renounce their India citizenship, making the government’s flight ban an even more egregious move.

“We’re not talking about people who are not Australian citizens,” Ms Burney said of the Australians stranded in India.

“They are Australian citizens and Australian governments are responsible for keeping their citizens safe and providing them with as much support as possible in difficult circumstances.

Ms Martin was quick to refute the notion of it being a political response.

“This is not a political response. This is a health response. This decision has been based on health advice,” she said.

While India and coronavirus opened the show, a large part was devoted to the discussion of coercive control and how Australia can tackle the issue moving forward, including making it illegal.

In a powerful opening to the topic, audience member Suzette Sutton said she endured abuse for 25 years during which she tried to take her own life twice. She asked how the issue could be solved in relationships that involve domestic violence.

SBS journalist Jess Hill said that criminalising coercive control would make the entire gamut of domestic violence visible — not just physical or sexual assaults — and that it would ultimately help victims.

“What we’re proposing with criminalising coercive control is to make the entire arc of what you were subjected to visible,” Hill said.

“Not just the physical incidents, not just the things that our criminal justice system recognises now, but everything from the start to the finish so that we understand what the risks are, what the damage has been and how dangerous the offender is.”

Ms Burney, herself a survivor of domestic violence, said she wanted Australians to understand just how crippling coercive control could be, adding that it should be criminalised.

“Something that I want people to understand is this often the basis to destroying a person,” Ms Burney said.

“It takes away who you are.

“I agree that coercive control should be criminalised. 

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Ahead of re-opening, London’s V&A museum unveils new Raphael gallery


London’s Victoria & Albert museum unveiled a revamped look for its gallery holding the Raphael Cartoons on Thursday, following a refurbishment carried out to mark 500 years since the Italian Renaissance master’s death.

The renovated Raphael Court features acoustic panelling, LED lighting and bespoke furniture, all aimed at showcasing the works’ colours and intricate details, the museum said.

Raphael, who died in 1520 aged 37, painted the seven large designs for tapestries, which depict scenes from the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, after they were commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel.

“Cartoon in this context is a work which is a design for something … It’s a work which is a kind of design tool,” Philippa Simpson, director of design, estate and public programme at the V&A, told Reuters.

“The works … are probably some of the most significant Renaissance masterpieces in the U.K.”

Visitors will also be able to use a QR code for a detailed digital explanation of the Cartoons, on loan to the museum from the Royal Collection.

The newly refurbished Rafael Court is seen at the V&A in London, Britain. (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

The V&A, named after Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, will re-open its doors to the public on May 19 in the next phase of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Though entry is free, visitors will need to book timed tickets and wear face coverings.

“It has been a really tough year,” Simpson said.

“Galleries … really do feel like a ghost ship without the visitors in them. It’s a building which is brought to life by the public.”

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Covid: US backs waiver on vaccine patents to boost supply



Supporters say the move would increase vaccine production but the pharmaceutical industry disagrees.

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