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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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Farmers’ demonstrations in Delhi turn violent as protester clash with the police

Violence broke out in Delhi on Republic Day as protesters in farmers’ tractor rally marched into the national capital, breaking barricades and clashing with the police. The Delhi Police resorted to tear gas shells and lathi-charge to contain the situation. Deviating from the designated route, a section of farmers entered the Red Fort and hoisted flags

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Violence marred farmers’ tractor rally on Tuesday as protesters clashed with police at multiple places in Delhi and entered the iconic Red Fort.

Protesting farmers deviated from pre-decided routes, which prompted police personnel to resort to lathicharge and tear gas. Many cops were injured in the violence that broke out amid the 72nd Republic Day celebrations in India.

Protesting farmers at Delhi border points clashed with police early Tuesday morning as they broke barricades to force their way into the city much ahead of the time the cops had told them to enter. Thousands of farmers entered Delhi from Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri border points amid heavy deployment of police.

Delhi Police had on Sunday allowed the tractor rally after the annual Republic Day parade. The protesters were told they can’t disrupt the celebrations at Rajpath even as the farmers insisted their parade will be “peaceful”.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at several Delhi border points since November 28, demanding a repeal of three farm laws and a legal guarantee on minimum support price for their crops.

Enacted in September last year, the three laws have been projected by the Centre as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove middlemen and allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country.

However, the protesting farmers have expressed their apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP (minimum support price) and do away with the “mandi” (wholesale market) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.

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West Bengal one of the most dynamic states of India: Moroccan Ambassador

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Mohamed Maliki

Kolkata, Jan 25 : Mohamed Maliki, Morocco’s Ambassador to India, shared the vision behind opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal, consolidating bilateral ties with India in the years to come.

Edited excerpts:

Q. What are the reasons behind opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal and how important is this for the bilateral relations?

A. India is a vast territory, almost a continent, with a large colourful diversity in terms of culture, traditions and languages, resulting in providing huge economic capabilities and opportunities, among other things. The State of West Bengal remains one of the most dynamic states of India with a sound economy. It is to be recalled here that the capital city of this state, Kolkata, was also the Capital of India from 1772 until 1911. It was and still is one of the oldest and important centres for trade in the Indian sub-continent. With the steady and positive development, in recent years, the relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Republic of India had been undergoing, it was quite important to find new levers capable of enlarging the scope of cooperation between the two countries. In this perspective, reinforcing the cooperation between Morocco and other important states and regions of India presented serious advantages to take the bilateral relations to higher levels by creating new opportunities. Therefore, opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal became almost a natural step to focus on in this regard.

Once this idea ripened, it was not quite difficult to find the right person to occupy this post for the first time in West Bengal, in the person of Rashmi Chowdhary, who belongs to a well-established industrial family, which has developed close ties with Morocco. Known to be a dedicated woman in whatever she undertakes, combined to many other assets, the Moroccan competent authorities found it quite easy to approve her appointment as the first ever Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Morocco in Kolkata.

This new Office will certainly contribute in developing better understanding about Morocco to the people of West Bengal by projecting its rich cultural heritage, its civilisation of not least than 12 centuries and by enhancing more economic cooperation and encouraging more bilateral investments between the West Bengal and different regions of Morocco.

Q. What are your incentives on the positive evolution of the bilateral ties between India and Morocco, especially in the Covid-19 era?

A. The relations between the Morocco and India go to centuries back and have always been excellent and based on mutual understanding and respect. The diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1957, that is one year after the independence of Morocco, from French protectorate. The relations have deepened even more in recent years, especially after the historical visit of King of Morocco to India, in October 2015, and his memorable meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during which both the leaders decided to elevate Morocco-India relationship to a new level of a genuine Strategic Partnership.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the cooperation between Rabat and New Delhi has increased. In fact, Morocco was able to purchase six million Hydroxychloroquine tablets from India, in May 2020. This helped the country not only to fight against the pandemic, but also to extend its support to many African countries by offering medicines and medical equipments as a gesture of solidarity and good will. Also, Morocco was among the very first countries to avail of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, following the directly negotiated deal concluded on a commercial basis between the two parties.

Q. The bilateral trade witnessed a steady growth between India and Morocco to reach USD 2 billion in 2019. What needs to be done to increase the bilateral exchange to encourage more investments from both sides?

A. If Morocco-India political relations are excellent and are constantly being reinforced, it has been noticed that the bilateral trade did not benefit from this considerable advantage and did not grow as it should have, given the potentials that exist in both countries. Despite the encouraging fact that the bilateral exchanges have registered an average of US $1.6 billion yearly for the last decade to hit a new record during the year 2019 by reaching US $2 billion, it doesn’t reflect the ambitions the two countries have, especially that Morocco hopes to see India among its top 15 economic partners by 2025.

This ambition has been reiterated and underlined by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries, during the bilateral consultations they held on the October 23, 2020, and during which a special focus has been given to the development of the economic relations and the facilitation of business opportunities. That is why, the opening of this Consulate in West Bengal constitutes an important step towards achieving this objective.

I would like to recall, in this regard, that India remains the largest receiver of Moroccan public investment in Asia, especially in the fertilizer and pharmaceutical sectors. Likewise, in the last four years, the number of Indian companies in Morocco has doubled. They cover many sectors, which were, till recently, a kind of privileged areas for Moroccan companies and their partners mainly from Europe, such as construction, pharmaceuticals, automotive, water and soda bottling, chemicals, IT, health, tourism, hospitality and others.

It is also important to mention that in order to give a real impetus to their economic relations, the Indian and Moroccan Governments signed and MoU in February 2019 facilitating the visa process for their respective business communities. As a result, business people of both countries have been granted a longer validity for their entry visas to both countries.

Q. Have you had dialogue with Indian policymakers to enter the trade zone near Tanger-Med Port as the area is emerging as a promising business hub in Morocco?

A. Everyone knows that business people look more for political stability, ease of doing business, economic reforms, cost of production, incentives provided by countries to foreign investors, including freedom of profit transfer and the availability of world class infrastructures such as new generation ports and airports and competitive logistic hubs.

The port of Tanger-Med has become, in few years, the first port in processing containers in the Mediterranean region. It has imposed itself as a global logistics hub, located on the Strait of Gibraltar and connected, so far, to 186 global ports in different corners of the world, including many ports in India.

Few Indian companies already have their industrial units in the free industrial zone of Tanger-Med in few sectors like the fibre-optics, textile and plastic industry. Others are considering seriously to have a presence there. The Indian users will also benefit from the strategic location of Morocco at the crossroad of Africa, Europe and the Arab world. This port could be a platform for India towards these regions and especially Africa, in which India is ambitious to have a more important presence both in terms of investments and bilateral trade. But Tanger-Med is only one among other logistic, industrial hubs and free zones in Morocco. Few others are also coming-up especially in the southern provinces of Morocco, such as the Atlantic Port of Dakhla.

Q. Are there any joint ventures in the health sector between Morocco and India, following the Covid-19 outbreak?

A. Well, one of the pillars on which the Strategic Partnership between India and Morocco is built is the health sector. The specificity is that the cooperation in the health sector between the two countries was not dictated by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was discussed, decided and implemented a few years back.

During a Ministerial visit to India, an agreement was signed by the Governments of the two countries to enhance cooperation in several areas of health sector, namely in the non-communicable diseases, including child cardiovascular diseases and cancer, drug regulation and pharmaceutical quality control, communicable diseases and maternal, child and neonatal health. This agreement also includes other areas of cooperation such as hospital twinning for exchange of good practices and training in administration and management of health services. During the same occasion, a MoU related to the cooperation in the field of telemedicine was signed between the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research in Puducherry in India and the Mohamed VI University Hospital in Marrakech in Morocco. One of the focus areas under this MoU is the technical support in controlling epidemics.

This is to say that the contact between the Indian and Moroccan health officials was persistent and uninterrupted even before the Covid-19 outbreak. This dynamic did not benefit only to the public sector but to the private sector too and looks for opportunities within these frameworks. A number of Indian leading companies in the pharmaceutical industry, like Sun Pharma and Cipla, have also chosen Morocco to expand their activities. It is worth mentioning that the Indian business community, particularly in the medicine sector, has become well-informed and conscious about the advantages of having a footprint in Morocco because of the easiness in doing business and in facilitating market access for all regions of Africa and Europe as well. I must add that big names in the global pharmaceutical industry are progressively looking at Morocco as one of the best industrial hubs in Africa and in the Arab world.

–IANS

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Why Chinese involvement in financial frauds in India is alarming

G.K. Goswami Inspector General ATS said Xu Xunfu’s business visa had expired in July 2020, while Li Teng Li’s tourist visa expired in September 2020.

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New Delhi, Jan 25 : Within a span of 15 days, two major financial fraud cases involving Chinese nationals have come to the forefront. Soon after the Delhi Police unearthed a transnational malware and fraud syndicate and arrested two Chinese women in a gang of 12 in multiple raids starting January 13, two Chinese have been caught by the UP ATS from Noida for fraudulent monetary transactions.

UP ATS arrested two Chinese citizens in money laundering case, fraudulently  carrying fake SIM card - The India Print : theindiaprint.com, The Print
Two Chinese nationals arrested by UP ATS for money laundering worth crores

This is cause for alarm as it raises apprehensions that multiple Chinese syndicates have been operating within the country to cheat and defraud Indian citizens and capture personal data of unsuspecting people for illegitimate purposes.

When it arrested Chinese nationals Chaohong Deng Daoyong, 27 and Wu Jiazhi, 54, the Delhi Police said the accused were installing malware in devices of people in the garb of a multi-level marketing application.

Police said that around 40,000 confirmed victims have been identified who have been cheated of crores in two months. Almost Rs 4.75 crores of cheated money has been blocked in various accounts and more than Rs. 25 lakhs recovered in cash from the arrested Chinese nationals.

“The malicious app was also making millions of Indian users follow thousands of social media accounts of unknown origin and ownership, with huge potential of future misuse of this by a foreign entity,” said Anyesh Roy, DCP Crime Crime.

Now the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terror Squad (UPATS) has arrested Xu Xunfu a.k.a July and Li Teng Li a.k.a Alice from Gautam Buddha Nagar, following a red corner notice against them by the Interpol.

Additional Director General (law and order) Prashant Kumar said, “The UPATS arrested the two for purchasing SIM cards by submitting forged documents and then making fraudulent monetary transactions with those SIMs via banks. It is for the first time that the ATS has arrested Chinese nationals.”

He further said, “We traced the duo after interrogating 14 persons arrested last week from Delhi and different parts of Uttar Pradesh in a similar fraud.”

G.K. Goswami Inspector General ATS said Xu Xunfu’s business visa had expired in July 2020, while Li Teng Li’s tourist visa expired in September 2020.

The Delhi Police have also hinted two Chinese nationals Yangqing Zhang and Bao Peng , are the kingpins of this criminal conspiracy to cheat and defraud Indian citizens and hack into their devices through malicious mobile applications. This is a serious concern as kingpins of Chinese origin are hatching the conspiracy from locations outside India

Not just financial frauds but alleged Chinese involvement have also been claimed by Delhi police in a spying case as on September 14 last year, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police had arrested 61-year-old freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma, for allegedly working with Chinese intelligence.

During Sharma’s police remand, a Chinese woman Qing Shi and her Nepalese partner Sher Singh alias Raj Bohra were also arrested. They were allegedly found supplying the scribe with huge amounts of money routed through hawala channels for conveying sensitive information to Chinese Intelligence, DCP Special Cell Sanjeev Yadav had said.

This is why the Indian Police force in a coordinated manner is keeping extra vigil on the working of these fraudster syndicates involving Chinese nationals.

(Zafar Abbas could be reached at [email protected])

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