International Latest News

Biden focused G-7 Summit disappoints

By Asad Mirza

The 3Cs: Covid, China and Climate Change dominated the 47th annual G-7 Summit in Cornwall, UK. But overall the leaders were not able to present a united stand on any major issue.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted the summit to showcase his brand of ‘Global Britain’, after Brexit. But there were terse exchanges between the French, EU and British leaders and officials on the issue. In effect, the summit turned out to be more Biden focused and expectations were raised high on some real agreement taking place on the 3C’s before the summit, though that was not the result ultimately.

Broadly, Biden sought to set a new tone after the unrestrained Trump years. Most G-7 leaders seemed relieved to have a return to a more predictable and traditional US administration. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed Biden back to the “club.” But the final Communique showed that even Biden’s expectations to ensure a consensus on many of his promises fell short.

On the issue of Covid-19, the leaders of the seven most affluent western nations seemed united, but there was a difference of opinion on the way forward. Earlier, they had shown commitment to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses over the next year to poorer countries. But in reality the bloc fell short of its own goal — 613 million new doses pledged, instead of a billion.

Even so, the vaccine effort gave Biden some help with his China push. Biden has criticised China for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy, where the shots are being doled out for geopolitical advantage. Biden called on democracies to counter China and Russia by donating vaccines equally and based on need, without seeking favours in return.

On the second day of the summit, US unveiled plans to counter China through infrastructure funding for poorer nations. Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.

G-7s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project was aimed directly at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) initiative.

However, several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed back over worries about turning the G-7 into an anti-China group, suggesting any infrastructure programme should be framed as a more positive, pro-environment effort.

French President Emmanuel Macron also pushed back publicly, saying that the “G-7 is not a group that is hostile to China.” Macron was one leader who sought the middle ground.

China hit back at these statements dismissively saying that the days when “global decisions” were dictated by a “small group of countries are long gone”.

The final version of the communique skirted B3W, instead creating a task force to study how to spur infrastructure development abroad. It made no mention of BRI, though Biden renewed his call at a press conference, and said that, “I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better.”

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that due to surging Covid cases in India, he’d not travel to the UK, he addressed the summit virtually. He conveyed India’s commitment to “collective” solution to global health challenges, and called for “one earth, one health” approach, which aims for unity and solidarity among the states of the world to deal with the pandemic. He also emphasised the need to keep raw materials for vaccines easily accessible.

The summit’s Communique, which was issued several hours after the end of the summit, promises many things but falls short of what was expected to be achieved before the summit.

(The Op-Ed appeared in IANS)

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India Latest News

Govt panel confirms first death after Covid-19 vaccination

The National Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) committee’s report has confirmed that a 68-year-old man died due to anaphylaxis after receiving his vaccine shot on March 8 this year.

The AEFI report shows that three anaphylaxis cases were found to be vaccine product related, the two other cases (21 and 22 years old) were administered vaccines on January 16 and 19 and both of them recovered after being hospitalized.

After assessing 31 serious AEFIs or adverse events following immunization, the government panel has confirmed that one person died due to anaphylaxis after taking the Covid-19 vaccine.

“After thorough investigation it was found that one death has been linked to anaphylaxis post vaccination,” a government official told CNN-News18.

Eighteen of the 31 deaths investigated by the committee were classified as having an inconsistent causal association with vaccination, coincidental but not linked to vaccination. Seven deaths were classified as indeterminate, while two cases were found as unclassifiable.

“Unclassifiable events are those investigated but not found enough evidence for concluding a diagnosis due to a missing crucial information, when the relevant information becomes available, the case may be reconsidered for causality assessment,” the report said.

The cases of Adverse Events Following Immunization after Covid19 vaccination were just 0.01 per cent of the total doses administered and fatalities were even fewer.

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India Latest News

Cases of human magnetism reported in India post vaccination

Multiple cases of human magnetism have been reported from across the country with the latest being a 66-year-old woman from Barasat, which is in Bengal’s North 24 Parganas.

While most of the affected said this sudden phenomenon has happened after they took two doses of vaccine, medical bodies throughout the country, however, debunked the theory.

 Anima Naskar (66) has developed magnetism and metallic items are getting stuck on her body. Unlike many others, she does not blame it on the vaccine but states that since it was on news, her son experimented with her. But in her case, it turned out to be positive.

“I saw on TV that someone in North Bengal has faced similar problems. The man claimed that he has developed this issue post completion of two doses of vaccine. Since I was also done with both the jabs, my son tried sticking coins on my hand and it worked,” said Anima Naskar to India Today TV.

Naskar’s son, Sandeep, stated he would be visiting the local government’s health department in the evening and get it reported. Neither the son nor Naskar blame it on the vaccine, however, they are both curious to know the reason behind it.

“I am not blaming the vaccine, but it is a fact that vaccines were developed fast. Maybe some reaction has occurred with some individuals. Application of talcum powder is dropping these metals from her body,” said Sandeep.

When Anima was asked if she was getting scared of human magnetism, she laughed and said ‘no’.

“I am not afraid at all, just curious to know what is the reason behind this phenomenon,” said a smiling Anima Naskar to India Today TV.

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coronavirus India Latest News

Hyderabad drugmaker to make Canada firm’s mRNA Covid vaccine

Hyderabad-based Biological E said on Tuesday it has entered into a licensing agreement with Providence Therapeutics Holdings to manufacture the Canadian company’s mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in India.

Biological E., which also has a separate deal to produce about 600 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 shot annually, will run a clinical trial of Providence’s vaccine in India and seek emergency use approval for it, the company said in a statement.

Providence will sell up to 30 million doses of its mRNA vaccine, PTX-Covid19-B, to Biological E, and will also provide the necessary technology transfer of the shot, with a minimum production capacity of 600 million doses in 2022 and a target capacity of 1 billion doses.

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

“The mRNA platform has emerged as the front runner in delivering the first vaccines for emergency use to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mahima Datla, Biological E.’s managing director.

Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines prompt the body to make a protein that is part of the virus, triggering an immune response. US companies Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA technology in their Covid-19 shots. The drug regulator has approved clinical trials of another mRNA vaccine developed by local firm Gennova Biopharmaceuticals, and the government has said it will fund the studies.

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Business Latest News

OYO sees rise in bookings in US, UK amid vaccine coverage

New Delhi: Hospitality major OYO is witnessing a rise in bookings in the US and the UK in the wake of more and more people getting vaccinated in the two countries.

In an email to employees, OYO founder and Group CEO Ritesh Agarwal said that the company is seeing higher bookings in the US and UK as the percentage of the vaccinated population increases.

Agarwal said that in the US, as the percentage of the population with at least one dose of vaccination grew from January 2021 to April 2021, OYO recorded a 60 per cent increase in revenue per available room (RevPAR) from January 2021 to April 2021. This is further expected to grow by June 2021 with RevPAR in the month is expected to be 1.5x of June 2020.

Similarly in the UK, the company recorded a 70 per cent increase in RevPAR from January 2021 to April 2021.

In the US, all across the country, mask mandates are easing, restrictions are lifting, and many states have gone back to business as usual. The UK has also moved into Step-3 of its roadmap, including opening pubs and restaurants with indoor seating, as well as other hospitality venues.

In a bid to replicate similar strong recovery trends in India, the company has come up with multiple initiatives, including VaccinAid, an app to show vaccine status of staff of its partner hotels.

This vaccine visibility initiative is to drive awareness and social reinforcement among small and medium hotels and homes to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The company has also organised vaccination camps for its hotel partners and employees.

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Latest News Lifestyle

Dating apps team up to make vaccinating hot

Vaxxing, not waxing, is the new must-do before a date, with dating apps joining the White House on Friday to promote Covid shots.

Tinder, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish, Bumble, and Badoo are adding vaccination status to the expected details on dating profiles as part of a rollout over the next few weeks.

Getting the shot may do more for lovers than keep them healthy, the White House said. “Research from OKCupid shows people who are vaccinated or plan to get shots get 14% more Matches than people who don’t,” it said. Among incentives being offered by Tinder is access to the “Super Like” feature to “help them stand out among potential matches,” the White House said.

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India Latest News

Delay in vaccine export by India to deal blow to poorer nations

New Delhi: Covid-19 vaccination programmes across Africa and much of the developing world will suffer big delays after India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, said that it would not be exporting the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine until the end of the year, The Guardian reported.

The decision is likely to leave the Covax global vaccine-sharing facility, which helps poor countries, facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of doses, the report said.

“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritise India … We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year,” Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII), said.

SII had paused deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, diverting for domestic use doses that were to be distributed across the developing world. It had been widely hoped that supplies of the AstraZeneca shot, which is suitable for use in countries with weak infrastructure and many poorer countries, would begin again in June or October, the report said.

However, India is battling a wave of infections that has killed more than 283,000 people, according to official figures that many experts believe are substantial underestimates, the report said.

Bangladesh said it urgently needed 1.6 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine to provide second doses.

Nepal, which started its vaccination drive in January with 2.35 million AstraZeneca doses provided by India and Covax, also said it had no stocks and more than 1.55 million people were awaiting second doses.

US President Joe Biden said that the US would export at least 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca doses he had already planned to give to other countries.

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India Latest News

Devise Covid strategy in rural, urban specific way: Modi

New Delhi: In order to ensure a Covid-free rural India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday asked a group of District Magistrates (DMs) to devise their strategies in rural and urban specific manner.

Noting that coronavirus has made their job more demanding and challenging, the Prime Minister urged everyone to ensure full commitment to fight the pandemic.

The Prime Minister expressed his views while interacting with the state and district officials on the Covid-19 situation through a video conference. In the virtual meeting, Modi interacted with the DMs of 54 districts across 10 states — the second such interaction involving the Prime Minister on the Covid situation.

The Prime Minister held a similar interaction with the DMs of 46 districts with high Covid burden on Tuesday.

Speaking on the occasion, Modi said: “In the midst of these new challenges, new strategies and solutions are needed.”

Mentioning that over the past few days, active cases have started to reduce in the country, the Prime Minister warned that the challenge remains as long as this infection is present, even on a minor scale.

Modi stressed on the need to use local experiences and work together as a country, saying that there is a need to spread messages on keeping villages corona-free and following all Covid-appropriate behaviour, even when cases are declining.

Stating that every epidemic has taught us the importance of continuous innovation, the Prime Minister emphasised that the methods and strategies to deal with the pandemic should be dynamic as the virus is expert in mutation and changing form.

Modi also said that the virus mutation is concerning the youth and children, as he stressed on the need to boost the vaccination drive.

The Prime Minister added that the vaccination strategy is also being pushed forward by incorporating suggestions from the states and various stakeholders at all levels.

On vaccine wastage, Modi said that wastage of a single vaccine means not being able to provide necessary security to an individual. Therefore, one should make a conscious effort to stop vaccine wastage, he said.

The Prime Minister also emphasised the priority of easing the lives of citizens while saving lives and said that added facilities for free ration for the poor, and other essential supplies must be provided, and black marketing should be stopped.

Modi said these steps are necessary to win this fight and move forward.

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International Latest News

India’s vaccine policy needs an urgent reset

By Chandrakant Lahariya

India has four decades of experience in running a national immunisation programme for children and pregnant women. It has successfully conducted large-scale mass vaccination drives for many years for polio elimination. Therefore, there was every reason to believe it could deliver Covid-19 vaccines efficiently; however, the ongoing drive in India is faltering (and even that is an understatement).

The initial challenge of vaccine hesitancy was soon replaced by that of short supply (from early April onwards); with the opening of Covid-19 vaccination for all adults in the 18-44 age group, everyone, including those above 45 years, is finding it difficult to get vaccinated. The daily vaccination rate has come down to around two million doses, nearly half the vaccination rate at its peak in April.

A successful vaccination drive is the outcome of assured supply, simplified policies and an adaptive delivery approach. All countries across the world first secured vaccine supply and then opened up the vaccination in a graded manner for various population groups. The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union started to secure supplies by the middle of 2020.

India seems to have erred at many steps in this process. It placed the first order with vaccine manufacturers, just a few days before the launch of the vaccination drive on January 16. Nearly 940 million people are eligible for vaccination and the current total vaccine production in India is 70-80 million doses a month. A few weeks ago, the Centre placed fresh orders for a total of 160 million doses for May, June and July, which will be used for the 45-plus age group.

Can India be assured of increase in vaccine supply by July 2021? It is unlikely to be to the extent of 150 million doses a month as is being suggested. A large manufacturer in India planned to have a monthly production capacity of 100 million doses by January, a timeline which has now been shifted to July. After all, vaccine manufacturing and scaling up are complex processes and an ambitious timeline does not always work. The situation of other manufacturers is likely to be similar. The contribution of vaccine imports will be marginal to the overall supply for India.

All policy options and delivery strategies should be re-examined and simplified. 

The increase in the gap between the two doses of Covishield, announced last week, and which was being suggested by many for months, is one such. There are others. Which population group can be safely asked to wait for their vaccine shots? Can vaccination for any age group (18-30 years) be put on hold till assured supply? Some of these are controversial questions – but they need to be addressed.

For six weeks now, India’s vaccination drive has been struggling. How long must one wait before acknowledging that what was planned is not working? It is often said that Indian policymakers have mastered the art of drafting policies, which, while being perfect on paper, are poorly implemented on the ground. India’s Covid-19 vaccination efforts have areas for improvement, both in policy and implementation. The government should do all that is needed to make it work, here and now.

(The opinion piece appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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