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Little data to predict Indian strain of coronavirus less virulent

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Hyderabad, April 5 : There is very little data available at this stage to suggest that Indian strand of coronavirus is less virulent compared to the countries suffering large numbers of fatalities, a top Indian scientist said.

“There is very little data available, and at the same time it is difficult to predict that it is less virulent and different from strains prevailing in countries which have serious problems,” Rakesh K Mishra, Director at Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), told IANS in an interview.

The head of the premier research institute believes that making any prediction now will be only imagination as there is no scientific basis for the same.

His reaction was sought on views being expressed by some members of the scientific community that Indian strand of the virus is less virulent compared to China, Europe or the US and hence the country has not seen many fatalities.

He also does not agree, at least at this stage, that India will escape the situation which other countries are going through.

“That is something we should not believe because we are several weeks behind countries which are having a bad time currently. We have to see the trend in the next 4-5 days. At present we are testing a few samples while those countries are doing a large number of tests,” he said.

As of April 4, India had over 3,000 cases and 75 deaths. Globally, the virus has killed over 62,000 people and more than a million have been infected.

Will India be able to prevent community transmission?

“We are not sure whether we are going to prevent it. There is a big chance because the number of patients is not increasing so much. The next few days will be important. If a large crowd with symptoms does not come to hospitals, it will be good but we have to wait and see for the next few days. At the moment, I will not conclude that we have managed to stop this. I don’t think we could conclude at that,” Mishra said.

Mishra is of the view that India needs to effectively implement lockdown and social distancing to make sure that large numbers of people with symptoms do not come to hospitals.

CCMB, one of the leading labs under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is engaged in research related to coronavirus by sequencing the genome of the virus from a large number of samples.

The institute, which is already conducting coronavirus tests, hopes to have some data next week with sequencing of at least 20 genomes. However, for a comprehensive picture it needs to do sequencing of 100 or odd genomes.

“Large scale genome sequencing of the virus will tell us source of these infections. We will know which route it is coming, whether lateral mode of infection has started, how fast it is changing and if circulating Indian type is very different which will help in vaccine and drug development efforts.

“After that, once we start getting samples from hospitals with patient details including information on symptom severity, prognosis, etc., we will be able to connect the viral genome information to its pathological implications. That will be useful in management of this disease,” he said.

CCMB is also growing the virus in cell culture in laboratory safety conditions to set up assay system for potential treatment options and also to use the virus for serological testing approach.

“Sequencing of large number of genomes of virus will be the key. If the virus is very very variable that means the vaccine will not work. In such a scenario, we will have to go for a drug,” he said.

ACCMB recently started lab testing as it has the capacity to handle such tests. “It is in full swing. We are going to accelerate. Right now we are able to do 150 to 200. Some logistics are required and can go up to several hundreds in the next 2-3 days,” Mishra said.

However, the main difficulty faced in the current system of testing is shortage of reagents.

“Alternate sources of reagents used for testing are available with small companies and start ups. They have approached CCMB for validation and we will be validating the same. In a couple of weeks some of these may become ready for production. Regulatory system and approving authorities, currently like ICMR, will have to give them a nod,” he said.

“Startups in this area can give us their products. We can check and validate it so that necessary permission can be taken for production for mass level testing which means testing tens of thousands of samples. We are hoping that this technology will have a tangible impact on Covid-19 testing,” Mishra said.

Mishra feels that so far India’s response to the problem has been good.

“India as a system has done very well by closing down the activities. It is a very good move. We could have done better if we had more labs testing in the beginning. In such times research institutions could have done things differently than closing down. Having said that labs which can this have been allowed to function like CCMB has been allowed,” he concluded.

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Covid-19 corollaries on the dairy sector: CRISIL

Overall, demand for milk and dairy products would be lukewarm in the near term, so prices are unlikely to boil over, according to the report.

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New Delhi, May 26 : Supply chain disruptions in the early weeks of the nationwide lockdown, and bread-and-butter issues for hotels, restaurants and cafes, have materially reduced demand for dairy products.

This is despite supply of most dairy products continuing during the lockdown, since they are categorised as essentials.

The shuttering of hotels and dine-ins has also dried up off-take of skimmed milk powder and khoya.

According to report by CRISIL Research on the state of dairy industry and supply chains, products that can’t be made at home easily – such as cheese, flavoured milk and also khoya – haven’t found their way back to the dining table in the same quantities as before the lockdown.

Demand for ice creams, which usually peaks in summer (accounting for 40 per cent of annual sales) has just melted away. Rural areas, which are feeling the income pinch more, seem to be staying off butter and ghee, the report by global analytics firm has said.

To be sure, since the third week of April, supply chains have turned smoother, so demand for staples such as milk, curd, paneer and yogurt are expected to see a quick rebound, leading to on-year expansion in sales, CRISIL said.

The pandemic, however, may sour the business for unorganised dairies because of pervasive contamination fears.

Conversely, as consumers shift, revenues of organised dairies and packaged products should fatten.

Overall, demand for milk and dairy products would be lukewarm in the near term, so prices are unlikely to boil over, according to the report.

Large brands such as Amul and Mother Dairy had already hiked retail milk prices by 4-5 per cent last fiscal. They may not serve an encore.

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445 people died from Australia bushfires smoke: Experts

Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra all had periods where they had the worst air quality in the world as a result of the smoke.

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Arogya Setu App

Canberra, May 26 : Smoke from Australia’s devastating 2019-20 bushfires killed at least 445 people, health experts revealed on Tuesday.

Fay Johnston, a public health expert from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, told the bushfire royal commission on Tuesday that her team estimated that 445 people died as a result of the smoke that blanketed much of the nation’s east coast, reports Xinhua news agency.

It takes the total death toll from the 2019-2020 bushfire season, which has been dubbed the “Black Summer”, to nearly 480 after 34 people lost their lives directly.

According to modelling produced by Johnston and her colleagues, 80 per cent of Australians were affected by the smoke at some point, including 3,340 people who were hospitalized with heart and lung problems.

“We were able to work out a yearly cost of bushfire smoke for each summer season and… our estimates for the last season were A$2 billion in health costs,” Johnston said.

“There’s fluctuation year to year, of course, but that was a major departure from anything we had seen in the previous 20 years.”

Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra all had periods where they had the worst air quality in the world as a result of the smoke.

Commissioners also heard on Tuesday that the increasing frequency of significant bushfire events in Australia meant that survivors no longer feel safe during the recovery phase.

“Disasters are no longer perceived as rare events, they are often seen as climate change, and they’re part of our new reality,” Lisa Gibbs, a child welfare expert from the University of Melbourne, said.

“We don’t know how that is going to affect recovery because the seeds of hope are a really important part of people’s ability to deal with what has happened and to get back on track.”

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Rising urbanization likely cause of heavy rainfall in South: Research

Their findings were reported in the ‘Quarterly Journal of Royal Meteorological Society’ on May 18, 2020.

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Hyderabad, May 26 : A team of researchers at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) have discovered a link between heavy rainfall in several parts of south India and a growing urbanisation in the region.

A team led by Prof. Karumuri Ashok from the Centre for Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of Hyderabad, examined whether a common factor, the changing ‘land use land cover’ (LULC) in these states, has any implications for the heavy rainfall events.

Over the past few years, many heavy rainfall events have been reported in cities of south India. Prominent among them are the extreme rainfall that created havoc in Chennai and nearby areas of Tamil Nadu in December 2015, the heavy rainfall over Hyderabad and adjoining regions in Telangana in September 2016, and the extreme rainfall event in Kerala in August 2018.

Notably, these three states differ in their geographical locations, and also the season in which they receive rainfall. Kerala, located on the southwest Indian coast off the Arabian Sea receives heavy rainfall during the summer monsoon from June-September.

Tamil Nadu, off the Bay of Bengal, receives rainfall mainly during the northeast monsoon (October-December). The land-locked state Telangana receives the bulk of its annual rainfall during the summer monsoon season.

A UoH statement stated that their study showed the precipitation during heavy rainfall events in these states has significantly increased from 2000 to 2017. Using the LULC data from ISRO, and by conducting 2 km resolution simulation experiments of twelve heavy rainfall events over the states, the researchers found distinct LULC changes in these three states, which led to higher surface temperatures and a deeper and moist boundary layer. These in turn caused a relatively higher convective available potential energy and, consequently, heavier rainfall.

The study also suggests that increasing urbanization in Telangana and Tamil Nadu is likely to enhance the rainfall during the heavy rainfall events by 20%-25%. Prof. Ashok feels that improving the density of observational rainfall and other weather parameters may help in forecasting extreme rainfalls at city level.

Their findings were reported in the ‘Quarterly Journal of Royal Meteorological Society’ on May 18, 2020.

Prof. K. Ashok and his Ph.D. student Mr. A. Boyaj who is the first author, are both from the Centre for Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of Hyderabad. The work was done in collaboration with Prof. Ibrahim Hoteit and Dr Hari Prasad Dasari of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia.

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