Coronavirus updates | February 24, 2021

A frontline worker reacts as she receives a dose of Covishield vaccine at a medical centre in New Delhi on February 24, 2021.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

People above 60 years of age and those over 45 with comorbidities will be given COVID-19 vaccination from March 1, the Union government announced on Wednesday.

After a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, said that 10 crore people would be vaccinated in this category and the vaccine would be given free of cost across 10,000 government centres and at more than 20,000 private centres.

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Here are the latest updates:

New Delhi

Most Union ministers want to pay to get vaccinated against COVID, says Ravi Shankar Prasad

Most of the Union Ministers would want to pay to get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

His comments came after the government announced that everyone above 60 years of age and those over 45 years with comorbidities will be able to get COVID-19 vaccine from March 1 for free at government facilities and for a charge at many private hospitals.

Asked whether ministers and the Prime Minister, who would be in the category of those who can take the vaccination, will get inoculated, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, at a post-Cabinet media briefing, said those who want to take the vaccination will take it at the place of their choosing from March 1.


Ukraine holds talks with Bharat Biotech for Covaxin supplies

A three-member, high-power delegation from Ukraine led by its Health Minister Dr Maksym Stepanov held discussions with Bharat Biotech to secure supplies of COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin to that country.

The delegation visited the vaccine-makers' Bio-Safety Level 3 manufacturing facility and also discussed opportunities for Bharat Biotechs intranasal vaccine for COVID-19, a press release from the city-based firm said.

"It was an absolute privilege to host the Honble Minister of Health from Ukraine Dr Maksym Stepanov at our state-of-the-art facility and showcase our world-class capabilities in the manufacture and supply of vaccines and research and product development.

We discussed potential timelines for the supply of Covaxin to Ukraine on a priority and the prospects of a partnership for our BBV 154 intranasal vaccine," Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Biotech International Limited said.

New Delhi

Vaccination for senior citizens from March 1

People above 60 years of age and those over 45 with comorbidities will be given COVID-19 vaccination from March 1, the Union government announced on Wednesday.

After a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, said that 10 crore people would be vaccinated in this category and the vaccine would be given free of cost across 10,000 government centres and at more than 20,000 private centres.

“Those who want to get vaccinated from private hospitals will have to pay and the amount they would need to pay will be decided by the Health Ministry within 3-4 days as they are in discussion with manufacturers and hospitals,” he said.

The Centre would buy doses and send them to all the States for the government medical facilities.

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Ghana to receive world’s first doses of free Covax vaccines: UNICEF

Ghana is scheduled to receive on February 24, the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from Covax, a World Health Organization-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations for free to poor countries.

“These 600,000 Covax vaccines are part of an initial tranche of deliveries of the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine licensed to the Serum Institute of India, which represent part of the first wave of Covid vaccines headed to several low and middle-income countries,” said UNICEF, which organised the shipment from Mumbai, in a joint statement with the WHO.

Covax has said it would deliver two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of 2021.

New Delhi

Centre rushes multi-disciplinary high-level teams to 10 States as cases surge

Warning that any laxity in implementing stringent measures to curb the COVID-19 spread, especially in view of new mutant strains of the virus, the Centre has deputed high-level multi-disciplinary teams to Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir for supporting them in public health measures for targeted response and management, and effectively tackling the pandemic. These States/UT have been registering a surge on daily new cases.

In a release issued on Wednesday, the Ministry said that three-member multi-disciplinary teams headed by Joint Secretary level officers in the Health Ministry have been dispatched to these States/UT.

“These teams will work closely with the States/UT administration and ascertain reasons for the recent surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. They will also coordinate with health authorities of the States/UT for requisite COVID-19 control measures to break the chain of transmission. The States/UT have been advised for regular critical review of the emerging situation with district officials concerned to ensure that gains made so far in COVID-19 management are not lost,” the Ministry added.

The Centre has also written to Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir which have been witnessing a rise in daily cases. The Union Health Secretary has separately requested the Chief Secretaries of these 10 States and UT to provide time to these high-level teams to debrief the respective Chief Secretaries at the conclusion of their State visits. - Bindu Shajan Perappadan


People travelling to Delhi from 5 States need negative COVID-19 report

People travelling to Delhi from five States — Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab — will have to show a negative RT-PCR test report for COVID-19 from Saturday to March 15, a Delhi government official said.

“A order on this will be issued later in the day,” the official added.

Another official working with the Chief Minister’s Office said that this would be applicable only for people who were travelling via public transport such as flights, trains, and buses.

The government is yet to formally announce the decision.


Shorter and convenient quarantine period being planned for shooting World Cup: Rijiju

A shorter and convenient quarantine period will be put in place for next month's shooting World Cup, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has promised in order to not discourage international shooters from competing at the event.

The ISSF Combined World Cup will be held in New Delhi from March 18 to 29 with shooters from more than 40 countries, including UK and Brazil, taking part in the event.

"I have already assured that India will conduct international tournaments in such a way that COVID protocols will be followed but foreign players will not be staying in long quarantine and will not be discouraged to participate," Mr Rijiju said after visiting the new Motera Stadium here.

Recently, a request was placed before the ministry that shooters be exempted from hard quarantine of 14 days and foreign delegates be given vaccine shots on priority.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong to spend $15.4 billion to stabilise virus-ravaged economy

Hong Kong will introduce 120 billion Hong Kong dollars ($15.4 billion) in fiscal measures to help businesses and residents impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, as it looks towards economic growth later this year following a recession in 2020.

The measures — which include tax relief, loans for the unemployed and consumption vouchers — are aimed at stabilising the economy, Hong Kong Finance Minister Paul Chan said in a Budget speech on Feb. 24. He forecast the economy is set to grow 3.5% to 5.5% this year, compared to the economic contraction of 6.1% in 2020.

The Budget for 2021 “aims to alleviate the hardship and pressure caused by the economic downturn and the epidemic,” Mr. Chan said.

New Delhi

UPSC exams: SC dismisses writ plea seeking another chance to aspirants

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected giving another chance to Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) aspirants whose last attempt to crack the civil services exam was dampened by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in October last year.

“We have dismissed the writ petition,” Justice Ajay Rastogi, one of the judges on the Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, announced soon after the court assembled for a virtual session.

The government had objected to giving the candidates another chance, saying a relaxation in age or the number of attempts would trigger a never-ending cycle of requests for similar relief, with every candidate asking for an extra chance. The law officer argued that hardships during the pandemic was uniformly felt by all.

New Delhi

Country records 13,742 new cases, 104 fresh fatalities

India’s total tally of COVID-19 cases surged to 1,10,30,176 with 13,742 new infections, while the recoveries have surged to 1,07,26,702, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on February 24.

The death toll increased to 1,56,567 with 104 new fatalities, the data updated at 8 a.m. showed. The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 1,07,26,702 which translates to a national COVID-19 recovery rate of 97.25% and the case fatality rate stands at 1.42%.

There are 1,46,907 active cases of coronavirus infections in the country which comprises 1.33% of the total caseload, the data stated. India’s COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 30 lakh on August 23, 40 lakh on September 5 and 50 lakh on September 16.It went past 60 lakh on September 28, 70 lakh on October 11, crossed 80 lakh on October 29, 90 lakh on November 20 and surpassed the one-crore mark on December 19. According to the ICMR, 21,30,36,275 samples have been tested up to February 23 with 8,05,844 samples being tested on Tuesday.

Madhya Pradesh

₹5,000 crore annual loss to Western Railways due to COVID-19 crisis, says official

The Western Railway is facing an annual revenue loss of about ₹5,000 crore due to COVID-19 crisis which affected services and led to a drop in the number of train travellers, a senior official has said.

Many people are still reluctant to travel by train due to fear of the coronavirus, Western Railway’s General Manager Alok Kansal told reporters in Indore on Tuesday.

“We are incurring an annual revenue loss of ₹5,000 crore in coaching trains (passenger trains) segment due to the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. Among the trains being currently operated by the WR, some are running with only 10% occupancy, he said.

Mr. Kansal said before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Western Railway used to run about 300 passenger trains. But, the government stopped passenger trains across the country in March last year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He said the operation of passenger trains is now coming back on track and this is expected to improve the Western Railway’s revenue.

New Delhi

35 people found with U.K. strain in Capital

Thirty-five people who returned from the U.K., and their contacts, were detected with the U.K. strain of COVID-19 in the city, a Delhi government official has told The Hindu. Also, 988 random samples from the city have been sent for genome sequencing to find if any of them have the U.K. strain.

But the Delhi government has not started checking for other mutant strains of the virus, which was found in Maharashtra and other parts of the country, officials said.

“A total of 216 people, who returned from the U.K., and their contacts had tested positive for the virus and 247 samples from these people were sent to find if any of them had the U.K. strain. Thirty-five of them were found to have the U.K. strain. Most of them have been discharged from hospitals after they recovered,” the official said.

New Delhi

MHA directs closure of two special COVID-19 centres as cases decline

The Union Home Ministry has directed phased closure of two special COVID-19 care centres in the city in view of “continuous decline” in novel coronavirus cases, officials said on Tuesday.

While the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel COVID hospital located in the Delhi Cantonment area is managed by the DRDO, the Sardar Patel COVID Care Centre operational in south Delhi’s Chhattarpur area is managed by the ITBP.

The two facilities will be closed in phases. Those admitted will be discharged gradually and no new admissions will be done, a senior home ministry official said.

Andhra Pradesh

Policemen to take jab from today in Andhra Pradesh

Police personnel, who could not take the vaccine during the second phase of the vaccination programme because they were preoccupied with providing security gram panchayat elections, are set to take the jab from Wednesday.

“Now that the polls are over, police personnel will be given top priority in the administration of vaccine,” Nellore District Medical and Health Officer S.Rajyalakshmi said overseeing the vaccination programme held at 42 session sites.

Six session sites have been set up in Nellore and one each in the five revenue division headquarters for covering the personnel. Dr. Rajyalakshmi said 76% of the 29,000 health workers had been given the vaccine in the first phase and 55.14% of the 29,880 staff members from the departments of Revenue, Municipal Administration and Panchayatraj have been covered so far in the second phase.

Tamil Nadu

Number of people adhering to COVID-19 norms has fallen drastically, says survey

Amid a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, only 30% of the people in the country are complying with the norm of wearing masks and only 12% are observing distancing norms, a survey that covered 8,000 respondents has found.

The respondents said with a fall in cases in tier 2, 3 and 4 towns and rural areas and with social events being permitted, people believed that there was no need to fear. Also, the survey found that in metropolitan cities and tier 1 and 2 districts, the compliance was better.

LocalCircles, which conducted the survey, said it had received reports from citizens about non-compliance with the wearing of masks and the lack of physical distance in public and private events and markets.


Amid spike in cases, Punjab orders curbs on indoor, outdoor gatherings

Amid concern over the rising COVID-19 trend in the State, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday ordered restrictions on indoor gathering to 100 and outdoor to 200 persons from March 1.

Chairing a high-level virtual meeting to review the situation, the Chief Minister authorised Deputy Commissioners to impose night curfew in hot spots in their districts if needed, with micro containment strategy to be adopted. He directed the police to ensure strict enforcement of wearing of masks, along with notification of COVID-19 monitors by all restaurants, marriage palaces, with the Department of Excise and Taxation to be the nodal agency for the same.

The Chief Minister said a decision on reducing occupancy in cinema halls would be taken after March 1. Private offices and restaurants would be encouraged to display last tests done for all employees, he added.


‘No point deploying marshals in wedding halls’

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) marshals are unhappy with the Karnataka government’s decision to deploy them at wedding halls and other gatherings to ensure that guests are adhering to COVID-19 protocols. Many said it was neither feasible nor economical.

Speaking to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, a marshal said that deploying them at wedding halls and events was not practical for operational efficiency. He added that instead of deputing marshals at wedding halls, it would be better if mobile squads are created, at least one in each zone in the BBMP. This, he maintained, would cause lesser financial burden on the BBMP, as it would require deployment of fewer personnel.

Civic chief N. Manjunath Prasad said the deployment of marshals would act as a deterrent. “Marshals deployed at the entrance can verify if the wedding hall owner or event organiser is doing his/her due diligence, failing which they can levy a fine of ₹10,000, as prescribed by the State government,” he said.


There is no bar on travel from Kerala, clarifies Health Minister

Following Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to intervene in the matter of Karnataka laying restrictions on people entering from the neighbouring State, Health Minister K. Sudhakar has clarified that there is no prohibition on travel but there are protocols to be followed in the light of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

He said in a tweet, “Karnataka has not prohibited inter-State travel between Karnataka and Kerala. However, as a precautionary measure, guidelines have been issued that travellers entering Karnataka from Kerala must mandatorily possess a negative RT-PCR test report not older than 72 hours.”

Dr. Sudhakar pointed out that similar steps had been taken for people visiting Karnataka from Maharashtra. “These steps are necessary to keep a check on transmission of COVID-19 virus from Kerala and Maharashtra as they are witnessing a spike in recent weeks,” said the Minister.


10 more residents of an apartment test positive in third cluster in Bengaluru

Another 10 residents of SJR Watermark Apartment in Ambalipura, coming under Bellandur ward, have tested positive for COVID-19. With this, the total number of positive cases in the apartment complex has increased to 20.

According to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), there are 504 flats in nine towers in the apartment complex, of which around 470 were occupied. The BBMP has collected 1,055 samples from households, including from helpers, security personnel and drivers.

BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad said 511 samples were collected on Monday, of which 10 tested positive. On Tuesday, 544 were collected, the results of which are expected on Wednesday.


High incidence of ‘barotrauma events’ in critical COVID-19 cases

A study by a team of doctors from a dedicated tertiary care COVID-19 centre in Bengaluru involving 410 critically ill COVID-19 patients on respiratory support has reported a high incidence (9.3%) of barotrauma events in patients. This is both on mechanical ventilation or other forms of respiratory support.

Barotrauma is tissue injury caused by a pressure-related change in body compartment gas volume, similar to tearing of the lung tissue, which leads to collection of air around the lungs. This air can also push its way and extend outside to below the skin surfaces.

The study titled “Severe COVID-19 pneumonia and barotrauma: From the frying pan into the fire” has been authored by a team of doctors including Ravindra M Mehta, Senior Consultant and HOD (Pulmonology and Interventional Pulmonology) and Hariprasad Kalpakam, Consultant, Pulmonology at Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Jayanagar. The study has been posted on medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences.

“Although uncommon, barotrauma is a known complication in patients on mechanical ventilation for various reasons. An incidence of around 2.9% has been reported before the COVID pandemic,” Dr Mehta told The Hindu on Tuesday.

New Delhi

People travelling to Delhi from 5 States need negative COVID-19 report

People travelling to Delhi from five States — Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab — will have to show a negative RT-PCR test report for COVID-19 from Saturday to March 15, a Delhi government official said.

“A order on this will be issued later in the day,” the official added.

Another official working with the Chief Minister’s Office said that this would be applicable only for people who were travelling via public transport such as flights, trains, and buses.

The government is yet to formally announce the decision.


AstraZeneca to miss second-quarter EU vaccine supply target by half

AstraZeneca Plc has told the European Union it expects to deliver less than half the COVID-19 vaccines it was contracted to supply in the second quarter, an EU official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Contacted by Reuters, AstraZeneca did not deny what the official said, but a statement late in the day said the company was striving to increase productivity to deliver the promised 180 million doses.

The expected shortfall, which has not previously been reported, follows a big reduction in supplies in the first quarter and could hit the EU’s ability to meet its target of vaccinating 70% of adults by summer.

The EU official, who is directly involved in talks with the Anglo-Swedish drug maker, said the company had told the bloc during internal meetings that it “would deliver less than 90 million doses in the second quarter.”

New Delhi

‘Cannot establish direct relation between recent surge in cases with detection of mutant virus strains’

NITI Aayog’s member (health) V.K. Paul said there was no current scientific data available to establish a direct relation between the recent surge in cases in Maharashtra and other States with the mutant virus strains N440K and E484Q detected in the country. Dr. Paul said besides the U.K. strain (187 cases), South Africa strain (6) cases and Brazil strain (1 case), India has also found cases with N440K and E484Q. “The variants have been now detected in Maharashtra, Kerala and Telangana,” he added.

Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR, said the two strains have been detected in other countries too and are not specific to India.

“Moreover, they have been found earlier in some States in India. The E484Q strain was earlier detected in four sequences in Maharashtra as early as March and July 2020. The N440K mutation has been reported on 13 different occasions between May and September 2020 in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. The current upsurge in Maharashtra cannot be attributed to the currently discussed point mutations,” he said.

The statement comes amidst surge in COVID cases, with Maharashtra and Kerala reporting 75% of the active COVID cases.

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