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MEA tells diplomats to not get overpowered by negative international press

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While at the beginning of the pandemic, India stepped up and helped the world by exporting essential medicines like Hydroxychloroquine and vaccines under Vaccine Maitri, the world media has turned vulture as India battles its deadly second wave of the pandemic. The External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, reportedly has asked diplomats to not get bogged down by negative reports in international media about India and COVID-19 and take charge.

According to a report in Indian Express, S Jaishankar has told diplomats to counter the one-sided narrative that the international media has been peddling about India’s “failure” to handle the pandemic.

While maximum of the time during the interaction was spent talking about the logistics to mobilise resources from the rest of the world to fight the second wave of the pandemic, one of the subjects that had come up was how to counter the biased narrative in the international media. Jaishankar also reportedly told the diplomats to take charge and counter the narrative instead of getting bogged down by it.

Amidst a surging Coronavirus wave, India has become the centre of attention for media all around the world. This has led to wider coverage of India in the worldwide press, focusing on the imagery of the customary Hindu funeral pyre as a way to “shock” their non-Indian audience and spreading panic and fear. After controversial journalist Barkha Dutt was seen reporting from crematoriums, now photographs of tragic funeral pyres, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have now become valuable commodities, bought and sold in the Western press.

The British-American media company Getty Images now hosts multiple images depicting multiple Indian funeral pyres lit ablaze on their website. From here, any potential media group around the world can buy these images, in three different sizes, with the largest size priced at about Rs. 23,000. In fact, most of the large versions of the images are priced at Rs. 23,000.

We had recently reported how Reuters had posted 6 articles and 7 pictures of funeral pyres from India in a span of just 2 days, all, on their home page.

It is pertinent to note that while most international media platforms, like New York Times, New York Post (that recently spread fake news about India and COVID), Al Jazeera, Washington Post and several other media outlets indulge in vulturism, fear-mongering and spreading fake news about India in the time of need, Indian media was rather circumspect and supporting when last year, the USA went through its worse peak.

In April 2020, New York was facing its worse bout of the Wuhan Coronavirus. Body bags in the hundreds were being pulled out like trash out of the homes of people who died because of Coronavirus, without even getting a chance to get tested.

Daily Beast wrote at the time, “Emergency Medical Service data first reported by Gothamist suggests the undercount of individuals who have likely died from the virus is massive. On Tuesday alone, 256 people were pronounced dead at home across the five boroughs. Until this month, about 25 people in New York City were found dead in their homes on a typical day, suggesting that most of Tuesday’s calls were related to the outbreak that has already killed over 5,400 people across the state and infected 140,386 more”.

They further reported, “According to New York City Fire Department data obtained by The Daily Beast, first responders have reported 2,192 “dead-on-arrival” calls over the last two weeks. On average, the department handled about 453 of those calls over the same period last year”.

At the time, across New York, 45 refrigerated trucks were made to be on stand by, so dead citizens in body bags could simply be stored there and counted later. According to Daily Beast, “The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that New York will also receive 250 ambulances, about 500 EMTs and paramedics, and 85 more refrigerated trucks to help with the overload”.

It, therefore, stands to reason that a global pandemic touches every country without discrimination, even white countries that seem to believe that they have the right to deride India, despite having a much higher death rate. While India has seen 208,330 deaths, the United States of America has seen 589,207 deaths since the pandemic began. While the US has seen 33 million cases, India has seen 18 million despite its staggering size and population. While India has a 1% death rate, the USA has an over 2% death rate.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon the western media to show some amount of restraint while reporting the COVID-19 crisis in India and perhaps, the statement of S. Jaishankar to take the propaganda on instead of being bogged down by the negative reports would go a long way in setting the facts straight.

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Surge Tests, Vaccine Measures as B1.617.2 Covid-19 Variant Spreads Rapidly in Parts of UK

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The case numbers related to the B1.617.2 variant of Covid-19, first identified in India, have more than doubled within a week in the UK, resulting in further surge testing and enhanced vaccine measures to be deployed in parts of the country where the strain is beginning to spread increasingly rapidly. Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday that its latest analysis shows the number of cases of the highly transmissible variant first detected in Maharashtra has risen from 520 last week to 1,313 cases this week.

Most cases are in the northwest of England, with some in London, and additional measures are being put in place to “rapidly break chains of transmission”. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the health authorities are monitoring the situation very carefully and will not hesitate to take further action if necessary, indicating that the roadmap to lifting all lockdown measures from June 21 may have to be reassessed.

This data demonstrates why our swift and decisive measures are in place. Everyone has a part to play in controlling this variant, from participating in surge testing, to following the rules, to getting the jab, said Hancock. We are committed to working with local areas and deploying our world-leading genomic sequencing to get this variant under control. We are supporting areas where the cases of this variant are rising, he said.

The minister said it is imperative that people who live in one of the 15 areas currently covered by surge testing processes get a free PCR test and everyone who’s eligible needs to come forward and get their vaccine. PHE said that while there is no firm evidence yet to show this variant has any greater impact on the severity of disease or that it evades vaccines, the “speed of growth is concerning”.

UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the authorities are looking at how to best utilise the vaccine roll-out to protect the most vulnerable in the context of the current epidemiology, including the possibility of bringing forward the second doses for the most vulnerable in some of the most affected areas. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, one of the hotspots of the variant, has also called for a speeding up in the age eligibility criteria for vaccines in the affected areas. The National Health Service (NHS) is now offering a jab to all over the age of 38.

Cases of this variant are rising in the community and we are continuously monitoring its spread and severity to ensure we take rapid public health action, said Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE. Testing and isolating when required not only limits spread, it helps us to better understand how the variant behaves in the community which is vital to taking effective and proportionate action moving forward “The way to limit the spread of all variants is the same. Keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cover your nose and mouth when inside, keep buildings well ventilated and meet people from other households outside, she said.

The variant was confirmed as a “Variant of Concern” by PHE on May 7 after a rise in cases and evidence of spread in some areas. Since then across the northwest of England, significant work is underway with local councils and partners. In Bolton, mobile testing units have been deployed and door to door PCR testing has been offered to 22,000 residents. A vaccine bus has been established in the heart of the community to increase vaccine uptake as part of a wider drive.

PCR testing, whole genome sequencing and enhanced contact tracing are being used throughout London to target the many small dispersed clusters. All positive tests in London with a high enough viral load are also being prioritised for genomic sequencing to check for variants, and surge testing can begin immediately if it is needed. Taking this community-led approach has already proved effective in reducing transmission of variants in London to date, PHE said.

To help identify variant cases, surge testing is being deployed in 15 areas across England to suppress transmission, with more than 800,000 additional PCR test kits distributed. According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), over 4,400 cases and over 14,000 close contacts have been traced and instructed to self-isolate.

Over 200 existing test sites and 130 schools have distributed test kits, with Mobile Testing Units deployed to provide PCR testing for people without symptoms. The public is also being urged to continue to take up the offer of two free rapid tests a week, to help identify asymptomatic cases. Anyone who does test positive in this way should take a follow-up PCR test, which can be sent for genome sequencing to help catch new variant cases.

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National Platform to Determine Impact of Covid-19 Vaccines to Be Established Soon

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A national tracking platform will be established soon to determine the impact of the jabs against COVID-19 and the breakthrough infections that are likely to occur among those with complete and partial immunisation, official sources said. The recommendation of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to establish such a platform has been accepted by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 and the Union Health Ministry, they said.

“The COVID-19 Working Group which is part of NTAGI has strongly recommended to urgently establish a national vaccine tracking platform to determine the impact of the COVID vaccine(s) and the breakthrough infections that are likely to occur among those with complete and partial immunisation,” said Dr N K Arora, the INCLEN Trust chairperson who heads the COVID-19 Working Group. The vaccine tracker will be particularly important to monitor the impact of increasing the dosing schedule of Covishield, he said, as the government on Thursday accepted the working group’s recommendation to extend the gap between the two doses of the Covishield vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.

The current data harmonisation work of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other agencies can be leveraged to set up this facility for review of ground realities on real-time basis, the NTAGI has recommended. The government panel has also recommended that pregnant women may be offered the choice to take any of the COVID-19 vaccines and that lactating women can be inoculated any time after delivery.

The NTAGI has also stated that those having laboratory test proven SARS-CoV-2 illness should defer COVID-19 vaccination for six months after recovery, the sources said. According to the health ministry’s current protocol, vaccine is to be taken four to eight weeks after recovery from COVID-19 infection and pregnant and lactating women are not to be administered the shots.

The NTAGI recommended that all pregnant women visiting for antenatal care (ANC) may be informed about risks and benefits associated with Covishield and Covaxin. Based on the information provided, a pregnant woman may be offered the choice to take any of the vaccines. An educational tool comprising information on risk of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy, benefits associated with the vaccination and rare complications associated with vaccines like thrombosis and thrombocytopenia (with Covishield) may be developed.

In case of individuals who have received the first dose and before completion of the dosing schedule if they test positive for COVID-19, they should wait for 4-8 weeks after clinical recovery from the illness. Also, COVID-19 patients who have been given anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma may defer vaccination for three months from the day of discharge from hospital, the recommendations stated.

Individuals having any other serious illness requiring hospitalisation or ICU care should also wait for 4-8 weeks before getting the vaccine, it added.

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Delhi Police Quiz Youth Congress President Srinivas BV Over Covid Assistance to Public

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Indian Youth Congress (IYC) president Srinivas BV on Friday said the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch questioned him about the assistance being provided by him to people during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Police called me this morning and came to my office around 11.45 am. They questioned that how you are doing it,” he said.

However, the Delhi Police said the questioning has been done following a Delhi High Court order. The high court has directed the city police to conduct inquiry into politicians involved in distribution of COVID-19 medicines and other items, and take steps for lodging of FIR in case of offence, a senior police officer said.

In compliance with the directions of the high court, inquiry is being conducted into several people, the officer said. On May 4, the Delhi High Court had asked the police to examine the instances of politicians allegedly procuring and distributing Remdesivir, used in treatment of COVID-19 patients, in the national capital and take steps for lodging of FIR in case of offence.

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