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India’s Covid-19 testing rate lower than other nations, says WHO Chief Scientist

The Chief Scientist of WHO, Soumya Swaminathan, in an interactive session through video conference said,as of now about 28 vaccine candidates for Covid-19 are under clinical trial, of which five are entering Phase-II and over 150 candidates are in pre-clinical trials across the globe.

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Soumya Swaminathan

Noting that lockdown was a temporary measure to contain the spread of coronavirus, a senior official of the World Health Organisation on Tuesday said India has a low testing rate when compared to some of the countries that are successfully trying to curb it.

The Chief Scientist of WHO, Soumya Swaminathan, in an interactive session through video conference said,as of now about 28 vaccine candidates for Covid-19 are under clinical trial, of which five are entering Phase-II and over 150 candidates are in pre-clinical trials across the globe.

“India as a whole, the testing rates are much lower compared to some of the countries, who have done well like Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan.

Even the United States is testing a huge number of people. So we need to have some benchmark and every public health department needs to have benchmarks on what is the rate of testing per lakh or per million, what is the test positivity rate,” she said.

Without adequate number of tests, fighting the virus is like “fighting fire blindfolded,” she pointed out.

According to Swaminathan, the number of tests being conducted is not adequate if the Covid-19 test positivity rate is above five per cent.

Governments need to constantly monitor the availability of beds, quarantine facilities, ICUs and oxygen supplies in district hospitals.

“So there is a set of 8 to 10 indicators that the government needs to keep a close watch on. And you can ramp up or ramp down based on what you are seeing on the ground,” she said.

Observing that the scientists’ community was still studying the body’s immune response to coronavirus and the next 12 months were crucial to put in place the public health and social measures, she said the virus has spread to every country in the world and “established community transmission”.

“We know that lockdowns are temporary measures or a temporary measure which reduces the spread because it prevents people from getting closer together and the idea of the lockdown is to buy time for the government to put in place the system needed to tackle the virus,” the WHO official said.

On the ongoing vaccine trials, she said the WHO has issued guidelines on it and if the efficacy rate of the vaccine is 70 percent, then it is considered to be a good one.

On the COVAX facility, a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, Swaminathan said by the end of 2021 it is aimed to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification.

All the 194 member countries of the WHO need to come together and take a decision on the way they want to proceed for the equitable and fair distribution of vaccine (once successfully comes out) and other products that are being developed for Covid-19, she opined.

Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech, which is into developing Covaxin, a vaccine candidate for Covid-19,said the Centre needs to decetralise some of the regulating authorities such as Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO for faster approvals.

Telangana Minister for IT and Industries KT Rama Rao acted as a moderator for the session titled The Vaccine Race- Balancing Science and Urgency.

Cities

Another earthquake jolts Jammu and Kashmir

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Earthquake Strong

An earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter Scale jolted Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday. According to the National Centre for Seismology (NCS), the tremors were felt at 12:02 pm today.

The epicentre of the earthquake was yet not known.

There were no immediate reports of any loss of life or damage to property due to the earthquake.

More to follow…

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WHO Board to get 1st update from Covid panel on Oct 5-6, report next year

A diplomat said it is improbable that the independent panel set up by the WHO would be severely critical of the WHO’s handling of the disease in context of China

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Xi Jinpin and UN Chief

The independent panel on Covid-19 announced by World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in July will submit its first update to the world body’s executive board at its meeting on 5-6 October.

The panel was set up at the World Health Assembly against the backdrop of sharp criticism aimed at the WHO chief and Beijing for their handling of the contagious virus that is believed to have originated in China’s Wuhan. Beijing locked down domestic travel in the early weeks of the infection but allowed flights to freely leave the country, spreading virus across the globe.

At last count, John Hopkins University tracker of Covid-19 infections across the world indicates the virus has infected more than 31 million people worldwide and almost killed a million people. China, from where the disease started late last year, has reported only a small proportion of infections, less than even Oman’s 95,000 cases. The United States and India are among those hit hardest.

The US had led the demand for an independent review of WHO’s response that was seen to have let Beijing guide its hand in the early days of the pandemic. At the UN General Assembly this week, Donald Trump – who pulled out the US from the world health body over its handling of the disease – lashed out at China again and asked the UN to hold China “accountable” for unleashing “this plague” on the world.

Diplomats in New Delhi and Geneva, however, suggest that this is unlikely to happen. One of them said it was improbable that the independent panel – co-chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – would be critical of the WHO’s handling of the disease in context of China.

Already, Tedros and the independent panel have made it clear that the exercise was not a fault-finding exercise but an effort to improve the world’s response to the next pandemic.

“While we are clear that The Independent Panel must shed light on what has happened and why, this exercise is not a blame game” said Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-Chair of the Panel at its first meeting last week, according to an official statement.

The panel’s co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she hoped their report would lead to “bold, credible, robust and implementable solutions that ensure our world is better prepared for the next pandemic”.

The panel is scheduled to submit its final report before the next World Health Assembly (WMA) in May next year but will come up with regular updates for other meetings. Like when the WHO’s top policy-making body, the WMA, resumes its meeting on 9-14 November.

The US isn’t part of the panel. Preeti Sudan, a retired civil servant who was India’s Union health secretary when the coronavirus disease broke out, is a member of the WHO panel.

China has sent Zhong Nanshan, the pulmonologist who is credited by Chinese media for having spearheaded the country’s fight against the outbreak of a new coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

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Experts say second wave of Covid-19 at peak in Delhi, says CM Kejriwal

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Arvind Kejriwal Delhi

New Delhi: The second wave of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is at its peak in Delhi right now, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Thursday. He also said that “experts feel that number of cases will decline in the coming days”.

“From July 1 to August 17, cases were in control. We noticed that cases increased and it reached 4,500 new Covid-19 cases on September 17 and are now coming down. So experts are believing that the second wave of coronavirus which had hit Delhi is now on peak and its intensity will be less in the coming days,” news agency ANI quoted the Delhi chief minister as saying.

Kejriwal also said that the daily testing of samples for Covid-19 has been increased in the national capital to 60,000 from the earlier 20,000 a day mark.

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“When new Covid-19 cases were reported in the large number, we had controlled the coronavirus cases with the help of the central government, NGO, and Delhites. I want to thank everyone for their efforts,” Kejriwal said.

Speaking about a high-level virtual meeting to review Covid-19 management with the Prime Minister, the chief minister said that it was fruitful.

As of Wednesday, Delhi’s Covid-19 caseload is at 2,56,789, including 2,20,866 recoveries and 5,087 deaths, according to the figures published by the state health department.

Since the last week of August, there has been a resurgence of Covid-19 infection in the city. However, for the last four days, the number of daily cases has been below the 4,000 mark, indicating a drop in the spread.

The daily average test positivity rate for the infection too has dropped to 6.89 per cent in the seven days ending Wednesday, from 7.18 per cent recorded over the seven days before that.

On Wednesday, Delhi recorded 3,714 new Covid-19 cases and 36 deaths in the 24 hours.

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