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India court bans firecrackers in cities facing pollution crisis | India

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The National Green Tribunal said the role of pollution in the COVID-19 crisis meant the ban was needed ahead of Diwali celebrations.

India’s environmental court has ordered a ban on firecrackers during the country’s biggest annual festival in cities battling hazardously poor air quality, citing a link between pollution and a coronavirus surge.

The National Green Tribunal said on Monday the role of pollution in the COVID-19 crisis meant that the ban was needed ahead of Diwali celebrations on Saturday.

Traditionally, millions of firecrackers are set off during Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, but the practice has been blamed for worsening air pollution – especially in northern India which suffers serious smog every winter.

The tribunal, whose powers are similar to a regular court, said pollution caused by fireworks was an “aggravating risk to lives and health”. It said a general ban in all cities with rising air pollution should last until November 30.

India has the second-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world, at 8.5 million cases, and experts have raised concerns about air pollution worsening the symptoms of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.

The capital New Delhi and the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra and West Bengal have already halted or restricted the sale and use of firecrackers.

Air quality in New Delhi remained “severe” for the fifth consecutive day [Altaf Qadri/AP Photo]

The tribunal said the ban in Delhi, where air quality remained classified in the “severe” category for the fifth day – must be “absolute” because of the pollution crisis and rising COVID-19 cases.

State authorities in the rest of the country are considering allowing one-hour windows on Saturday for setting off firecrackers.

Pollution in New Delhi had almost disappeared earlier this year when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown to stop the coronavirus. But the curbs have been lifted and the pollution, as well as the virus, are back with a vengeance.

Delhi on Sunday reported 7,750 coronavirus cases in a day, a record since the start of the pandemic, with hospitals reporting that intensive care beds are running out.

Pollution levels have been at “severe” on the government index for almost a week.

Delhi’s overall air quality index (AQI), which includes the concentration of PM2.5 particles as well as bigger pollutants, has stayed above 400, on a scale of zero to 500, for five consecutive days, government data showed.

The tiny PM2.5 particles can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer, and pose a particular risk for people with COVID-19.

RV Asokan, honorary secretary-general of the Indian Medical Association, which represents 350,000 doctors, told Reuters the air pollution made people more susceptible to coronavirus infection.

“The PM2.5 particles break the nasal passage barrier, weaken the inner lining of lungs, facilitating the spread of the coronavirus infection,” Asokan said.

New Delhi is caught in a perfect pollution storm because of its position in the bowl of a plain, the burning of crop stubble in states around the city, and its industries that flout norms on pollution.

Firecracker makers immediately demanded that the government pay them compensation for the ban.

The southern district of Sivakasi, which supplies about 90 percent of India’s firecrackers and employs more than 250,000 people, has been hit particularly hard by restrictions in recent years.

Factory owners say they have already lost 30 percent of their business this year because of the coronavirus.



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Zooming ahead: Videoconferencing firm tops analysts’ expectations | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Revenue more than tripled to $882.5m in the fiscal fourth quarter, the company said, surpassing analysts’ estimates.

Zoom Video Communications Inc. projected annual revenue that would top analysts’ estimates, signaling the video meeting service expects to remain a ubiquitous presence in daily life even as the pandemic recedes. Shares jumped about 10% extended trading.

Sales will be as much as $3.78 billion in fiscal year 2022, the San Jose, California-based company said Monday in a statement. While the projected annual revenue growth of 43% is far short of Zoom’s 326% increase in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, it topped the 37% average estimate of analysts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profit, excluding some items, will be as much as $3.65 a share. Analysts projected $2.97.

Investors have feared the software maker couldn’t continue the dramatic growth in 2020 that came as people forced home in coronavirus lockdowns connected remotely on the service to work, school, friends and family.

While Zoom’s stock jumped almost fivefold last year as it became one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic, it had gained just 11% during the first two months of 2021 before surging almost 10% Monday to close at $409.66 in New York.

Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan has tried to diversify Zoom’s capabilities and add products such as a cloud phone system to appeal to more large enterprises and small- and mid-sized businesses.

“We believe we are well positioned for strong growth with our innovative video communications platform, on which our customers can build, run, and grow their businesses; our globally recognized brand; and a team ever focused on delivering happiness to our customers,” Yuan said in the statement.

Revenue more than tripled to $882.5 million in the fiscal fourth quarter, the company said. Analysts, on average, estimated $811 million. Profit, excluding some items, was $1.22 cents a share, compared with an average estimate of 79 cents.

“In our view, and whether you like it or not, video will continue to remain a core element of our daily lives and further be embedded in work, school, etc. Zoom will clearly benefit and report sustained levels of growth, in our view, and increasingly in the enterprise segment,” wrote Matt VanVliet, an analyst at BTIG, in a note before the results.

Zoom offers video gatherings free for 40 minutes and as many as 100 participants before users are charged for the service. Analysts have focused on the churn, the number of customers who drop monthly or annual subscriptions, particularly among corporate users.

The company said it had 467,100 customers with more than 10 employees, a jump of about 8% from the previous period and topping analysts’ average estimate of 442,570. The company also said 1,644 clients contributed $100,000 in trailing 12-month revenue. Analysts projected 1,474 such large customers.



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