Indian Express Editorial Analysis
08 May 2020

1) A turning point:


After a nearly three-year-long manhunt(organized search for a criminal, suspect, or escaped prisoner), the Army and Jammu & Kashmir Police have succeeded in eliminating(removing) arguably the Valley’s most important militant, Hizbul Mujahideen’s Kashmir operations chief, Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo.

After the 2016 killing of Burhan Wani, and the subsequent(following) killings of most of the others in that group of a new generation of militants, the much older and more experienced militant from Awantipora kept the PoK-based group in business in the Valley. It carried out attacks on uniformed personnel and civilians alike, and by manipulating(handle or control) the anger and alienation(isolation) in a section of Kashmiri youth to recruit(admit) new candidates into the group.

Naikoo became the face of the indigenous(native) militancy, though he kept a lower profile than Wani.



After the August 5 changes in Kashmir, Naikoo was responsible for civilian killings including that of migrant labour, a fruit trader and a truck driver. Earlier, he had kidnapped several J&K policemen after his father was taken away by the police, releasing them only after the police let his father go.

For Naikoo, who chose to give up the blackboard for the gun, a violent end was foretold(predicted). For the security forces, his killing is an important turning point in the continuing battle against militancy in the Valley.

It shows that despite the turbulence(disturbance), the police network of informants in every village is alive and kicking — it was on a tip-off that Naikoo was traced to his village Beighpora in Awantipora, where he had gone to meet his family.


It would be misplaced, however, to think that militancy in the Valley has ended with his removal, or that the elimination(removal) of dreaded(fierce) militants alone is the solution to Kashmir’s problems.

Only days ago, a new militant group that calls itself The Resistance Front was able to inflict(cause) a heavy toll(damage) when an operation in a Handwara village went wrong for the security forces. There were more casualties(deaths) the next day, this time in the CRPF.

Despite their hard-won successes, even the Army and police are only too aware of the vital importance of the political process in finding the way out of this tunnel.


What Kashmir needs is an open and participatory process that can provide answers to the political vacuum(gap) which militancy feeds(attacks) on, and the new challenges in the wake of the August 5 decision to change the status of J&K.

By all accounts, there is less trust in the intentions of the Centre in Kashmir than there was even in the five tumultuous(disturbing) years leading up to August 2019.


The Centre needs to acknowledge and address the task ahead with honesty and sincerity. Killing of Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo is an important milestone(event) in the battle against militancy in Kashmir, and a moment to build on.


2) Workers’ choice-

Karnataka’s rollback on trains for migrants carries important lesson for plans to resume economic activity.


The Karnataka government has done well to roll back its order of May 5, cancelling trains that would have ferried(transported) migrants back to their home states. Thousands of migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura, Manipur, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal were reportedly left in the lurch(without support) by the decision.


In a series of tweets, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa had cited economic reasons for withdrawing the trains: “Barring(leaving) the red zones, business, construction work and industrial activities have to be resumed. In this context, unnecessary travel of the migrant workers has to be controlled”.

The decision had rightly provoked(aroused) widespread outrage(anger) and the state government was called out for denying the migrants, the right to choose.


Pandemics are cruel(harsh) not just because of the toll they take on the health of people but also because of the social and economic disruptions they cause, the anxieties they breed(give birth to).

The urgency of the cash-strapped states — and industry — to get workers back to factory floors and construction sites cannot be overstated(exaggerate). Yet it is also evident(obvious) that the relaxation of the lockdown hasn’t assuaged(satisfied) the fears of workers at most places, including in Karnataka.

Migrant workers, who live precariously(in a way that is not securely in position and is likely to fall or collapse) even in the best of the times, have concerns about getting work on a sustained basis even after economic activities resume and, with no safety nets in place, many prefer to return home.

An empathetic(showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another) attitude towards such anxieties and respect for workers’ dignity and safety should inform all plans to resume industrial activities after the lockdown.


States — and industry — might well take a leaf(lesson) out of the Punjab book, where many seats on the trains carrying back migrants are reportedly empty, apparently(clearly) because efforts to reach out to migrants and persuade(convince) them by government and factory owners have been successful.

That several industrial units have put in place safeguards for the employees who have reported back to work after the relaxation of the lockdown may also have contributed to this development.


To its credit, Karnataka has put in place a post-lockdown revival roadmap. An economic package, announced on Wednesday, recognises the importance of the MSME sector, agriculturists and horticulturists( expert in garden cultivation and management), and informal sector workers.

It provides financial assistance to the self-employed such as weavers, autorickshaw and taxi drivers, and barbers. The Karnataka government has also set up a board to deal with issues related to wages and retrenchment(reduction of costs or spending in response to economic difficulty) of workers, many of whom are migrants.


Yet if, despite all incentives(stimulus), the migrants still want to go back home, the state, and industry, must respect their choice.


3) Acing the tests:


Multiple countries have started conducting at scale(large numbers) randomised antibody seroprevalence(the level of a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood serum) studies to understand the prevalence(existance) and trends of COVID-19 infection in specific hotspots, including in Munich, Santa Clara in the US and Italy.



Based on current guidelines and available research, rapid antibody tests alone are not reliable(trustworthy) as a diagnostic tool or for contact tracing. Further, these tests have lower specificity and sensitivity as compared to molecular assay tests — like RT-PCR — leading to a higher incidence of false negatives and positives.

A positive on the antibody test merely means that the person has been exposed to COVID-19 and developed antibodies. The negative test means that the person has not been exposed to COVID-19 and may be susceptible in the future. Hence, as per the recently announced ICMR guidelines on the use of rapid antibody kits, they can be potentially used for epidemiological (relating to the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases) and surveillance(examination) studies at a community level.


(In medical diagnosis, test sensitivity is the ability of a test to correctly identify those with the disease (true positive rate), whereas test specificity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those without the disease (true negative rate).

An antibody test is a way of seeing if a person’s immune system has responded to something. In the case of COVID-19, it’s a way of seeing who’s had the new coronavirus, which is different from the tests used to diagnose the illness. Though antibody tests can be used to diagnose diseases, in the case of COVID-19, they’re not very helpful for diagnoses.

A real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay was developed to rapidly detect the severe acute respiratory syndrome–associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV)


These studies can help understand the spread of the infection in hotspots(place of significant activity, danger, or violence), probable nature of spread in terms of asymptomatic vs symptomatic carriers, facilitate policy-making and help in evaluating the impact of different protocols and policies.

However, these studies must be designed carefully along with experienced medical and epidemiology professionals to be able to draw meaningful conclusions.

Based on learnings from the research team at the Stanford School of Medicine, the following critical factors must be ensured while designing and conducting the study: Selection, testing methodology and robust statistical analysis.

Well-thought-through study participant selection methodology should be developed to ensure representativeness of actual population demographic(particular sector of a population) and to minimise selection bias(partiality).



Appropriate testing methodology and kits should be selected to ensure high specificity and sensitivity, and implementation challenges must be factored in — for example, pooled RT-PCR testing vs rapid anti-body kits, or both.

The sample size for such tests should be determined by appropriate statistical analysis driven by demographics and the accuracy of the tests being used.

The Santa Clara and Munich-based studies have used a sample size of approximately 3,000 participants.


Robust statistical analysis is needed to determine the appropriate sample size, accounting for multiple factors such as the specificity and sensitivity of the tests used, as well as to draw conclusions from the study to understand prevalence.

(In medical diagnosis, test sensitivity is the ability of a test to correctly identify those with the disease (true positive rate), whereas test specificity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those without the disease (true negative rate)

While Mumbai and other cities have significantly ramped up diagnostic RT-PCR based testing, this is still insufficient to understand the potential spread of the infection especially in the asymptomatic(showing no symptoms) population in hotspots such as the slums in Dharavi.

Targeted studies to understand the prevalence(extent) of the infection could be carried out for selected hotspots, such as Red Zones, which can help the authorities to plan and prepare better. This will also help in the progress of epidemiological research on the disease.


Many countries (including India) and states have reported deficiencies in the output of antibody tests. A variety of antibody tests were validated(verified) in a study done by the University of California, San Francisco and the Harvard Medical School. The New York Times reported on the study’s results on April 26.


Makers of the antibody tests defend their research and point out how antibody tests have been wrongly used. US-based Sure Biotech has helped develop more than 200 rapid tests for viruses such as HIV, herpes and hepatitis.

The company’s antibody tests have had a specificity of 100 per cent in one study. On countries reporting a high number of false positives, Sheryl Dunn of Biosure writes “some users don’t understand how to use the serology tests. They are less for diagnostic and more for testing for past infections.

If you use serology(scientific study or diagnostic examination of blood serum, especially with regard to the response of the immune system to pathogens or introduced substances) tests between Day 1-14, during a current infection period, they catch only a proportion of the true positive cases. They are a supplement to PCR tests, which test for current infections but so far are not as portable(transportable).”


The science of testing is evolving. Scientists are cooperating with each other faster than the speed of sound. Our questions to researchers in the Stanford study elicited(got) a quick response (it helped that many of the researchers are of Indian origin).

Bill Gates said in a recent interview that we “need to get to the bottom of this” — referring to understanding how much the virus has spread in communities. Researchers are racing to give the answer.

It may soon be possible to self-test, just by wiping your nose and providing a swab of saliva via mail to a lab. Academics at IIT Delhi are sequencing bits of the COVID genome(the haploid set of chromosomes in a gamete or microorganism, or in each cell of a multicellular organism) and making tests that are affordable.

Testing is critical in the fight against COVID and in finding an answer to when it is safe to go back to work.