The budget session of Parliament is expected to be held under similar COVID-19 safety measures and restrictions, including strict physical distancing norms, that were in place for the monsoon session.
The Parliament is expected to be convened in the fourth week of January. The Budget as a norm is presented on February 1. “Even if the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine begins, with two doses of vaccine spread out over 2-4 weeks, the members can not be inoculated in time for the budget session,” a senior Lok Sabha official said.
Here are live updates:
COVID-19 PRESS CONFERENCE
‘Vaccine rollout within 10 days from emergency use authorisation date’
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan briefs media about the COVID-19 situation:
“Active cases are below 2.5 lakh after six months. Number of daily deaths less than 300 for 11 consecutive days. Cumulative positivity rate is 5.87% and positivity rate during last week was 1.97%,” says Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.
“Daily positivity rate remains below 3% since December 23. Average recovered cases exceeded average daily new cases [for last five weeks].
“There has been a continuous decline in active cases, now below 2.5 lakh. Mid-Sept the number of cases were 10 lakh; Jan 2: 2.5 lakh. Present status of active cases: only 43.96% cases are in hospitals, the rest are in home isolation. This indicates that overall burden on healthcare structure in the country, on account of COVID-19, has gone down appreciably.
“Cases per million population are 7,504, among the lowest in the world. In the U.S. it is the maximum of 61,204.
“Death per million population is also among the lowest in the world, at 108, compared to the maximum of 1,245 in Italy; 1,105 in the U.K.; 1,050 in the U.S.; 990 in France; 920 in Brazil and 404 in Russia.
“Active cases per million population is among the lowest: 167, compared to 24,863 in the U.S.; 9,442 in Italy; 4,282 in Germany; 3,844 in Russia; 3,200 in Brazil; and 1,032 in Turkey.
“New cases per million reported in the past seven days are 96 compared to 5,398 in the U.K.; 4,325 in the U.S.; 1,782 in Italy; 1,460 in France; 1,248 in Russia; and 1,179 in Brazil.
““Deaths per million population reported in last seven days in India is 1, compared to 63 in the U.K.; 56 in Italy; 55 in the U.S.l 35 in France; 26 in Russia; and 23 in Brazil.
Co-WIN vaccine delivery management system:
“Existing logistics management and real-time remote temperature monitoring implemented across 29,000 cold chain points.
“Manufacturers to supply vaccines by air transport to four major depots at Karnal (Haryana), Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
“Insulated vans also to transport the vaccines to 37 State vaccine stores. After the vaccines reach the 41 centres, they will be further transported by State/UT governments at the district-level vaccine stores [temp. controlled facilities], after which they will be taken to primary health centres.
“Co-WIN to cater to a target group of 30 crores to begin with. Vaccine carriers will be employed for further transportation to sub-centre session sites.
“Beneficiary registration will be done, vaccination session will be allocated, after which the vaccination will be done. There will be beneficiary acknowledgement with a unique health ID and QR code-based certificates will be issued.
“Healthcare professionals and frontline workers need to register on Co-WIN platform as their data has already been pre-populated.
“The certificate will be issued after completing the two doses of vaccination. If there is any adverse event thereafter, it will be reported in real-time to the authorities concerned.
“Co-WIN platform was developed by India, but any country can use it. Indian government will extend assistance for the same.
“It provides automated session allocation, Aadhaar authentication to prevent malpractice, creation of unique health ID for willing beneficiaries, reporting and tracking of adverse events following immunisation, if any, SMSs in 12 languages to guide beneficiaries, QR code-based vaccination certificate generation, digi-locker integrated for data retrieval and storing QR code-based certificate, 24*7 helpline including IT professionals, a system of chat-bot has also been provided, there is a natural language processing in vaccinator module for hands-free implementation, multiple dry runs have been conducted.
“Field testing conducted on Dec 28-29 in seven districts of four States: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat and Punjab. The objective was to assess planning and preparation of vaccination as per guidelines and end-to-end testing of Co-WIN.
“Large scale dry-run conducted on Jan. 2 to determine operational feasibility on the field. 286 session sites across 125 districts in all States/UTs prepared and tested as model session sites, physical verification of all proposed sites done, vaccination teams identified and trained in all aspects, there would be five people in a team at each site.
“Within 10 days from the date of Emergency Use Authorisation, there will be vaccine roll-out.”
COVID-19 PRESS CONFERENCE
‘Restricted use is considered based on safety and immunogenicity data’
Balram Bhargava, Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research:
“Safety, immunogenicity and efficacy data are required for a vaccine approval in a non-emergency situation. The existing pandemic situation with high mortality, available science and a lack of definitive treatment are considered for accelerated approval.
“In a pandemic situation, restricted use is considered based on safety and immunogenicity data while Phase III stage is already underway.
“Covishield: U.K. studies were on animal studies: prevents SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia in monkeys and elicits good immunogenicity in mice;
“Phase 1/2 clinical trials in 1,077 participants showed an acceptable safety profile and homologous boosting increased antibody responses.
“Phase 2-3 clinical trials in prime-boost regimen in 560 participants better tolerated in older adults than in younger adults and has similar immunogenicity across all age groups after a boost dose.
“Phase 3 in 11,636 participants from the U.K. and Brazil: Two standard doses, vaccine efficacy was 62.1%, low dose followed by a standard dose, efficacy was 80.0%, overall vaccine efficacy was 70.4%.
“Covishield, India Phase-2/3 study: Number of participants are 1,600 of 18 and above age group, the randomisation ration is 3:1 (Covishield-900, Placebo-300). Immunogenicity cohort is 400, the interim analysis is that the vaccine is safe and immunogenic.
“Covaxin: Indian studies: Animal studies on rates, mice, rabbits, hamsters and monkeys showed excellent safety, immunogenicity and robust viral clearance.
“Phase 1, 2 clinical trial involved 375 ad 380 participants. There were very low adverse events, neutralising antibody responses were equivalent to human convalescent serum, strong anti-body responses to all structural proteins, there was CD4 T-cell response, CD45RO T-cell memory response [three months after vaccination], and Th1 biased cytokine response.
“Phase 3 clinical trial involves 25,800 particpants.”
COVID-19 PRESS CONFERENCE
‘U.K. variant now has 23 mutations, compared to 17 earlier’
Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Bio-Technology:
““We have the globally recognised immunoassay lab which has sets of immunoassays which runs all these vaccines through it and gives the immunogenicity and safety data.
“Cadilla vaccine has got permission to initiate Phase 3 clinical trials in about 28,000 subjects, it is plasmid DNA vaccine platform, can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees.
“Second major candidate is by Biological E. Limited, animal challenge and toxicity studies completed, in the ongoing Phase-1/2 trial.
“The third candidate is Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Limited, can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees, it has completed non-human primate studies and toxicity studies.
“The fourth candidate is the vaccine (Sputnik V) being developed by Dr. Reddy’s Lab in collaboration with Russia’s Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.
“There is no scientific data to show that the U.K. variant’s higher infectivity. To comment on the effect of the mutations on vaccine efficacy would need scientific study. Vaccines produce antibodies against many regions in the spike, so its unlikely that small changes would make the vaccine less effective.
“The U.K. variant now has 23 mutations, compared to 17 earlier.
““The INSACOG consortium in India is sequencing RNA samples from all regions of India from November 2020 to screen for variants, analysing the presence of U.K.-mutations and other variants among the SARS-CoV-2 sequences done at 10 different centres across India.
COVID-19 PRESS CONFERENCE
‘No COVID-19 vaccine has got regular authorisation anywhere’
Niti Aayog Member [Health] V.K. Paul:
“In granting permission to two vaccines, all scientific and statutory requirements have been met.
“These decisions are made in a context, no COVID-19 vaccine has got regular authorisation anywhere.
“In the face of potential mutations, the Covaxin will prove to be more sturdy.
Health Secreatary Rajesh Bhushan adds:
“Union government has not banned the export of any of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Pfizer has been given three opportunities, but they have not appeared before the subject expert committee, which is willing to listen to their presentation.
V.K. Paul: “We are hoping that there will be enough vaccine supply to cover 30 crore prioritised people by July.”
Sabarmati Ashram reopens for visitors after 9 months
With social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols in place, the Sabarmati Ashram has been opened for the public from January 4, the ashram’s director, Atul Pandya, told PTI.
“The ashram was shut for visitors since March 20 last year following the coronavirus outbreak. From Monday, we have once again opened the premises for visitors,” Mr. Pandya said.
“People can visit the ashram between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. We have deployed our staff to guide them to maintain social distancing,” he said.
Currently, the museum and ‘Hriday Kunj’, the house inside the ashram where Mahatma Gandhi and his wife had once lived, have been opened for the public, while the book shop, Khadi shop and charkha gallery in the premises will remain closed, he said. — PTI
Kerala eases restrictions for recreational activities
The State government has issued guidelines to further ease COVID-19 lock down restrictions that were imposed for cultural programmes and other recreational activities.
As part of the fifth-phase of the ‘unlock’ strategy that has come into effect on Tuesday, traditional (or artistic) performances will be permitted as part of religious festivals with restricted participation. The organising of cultural programmes and artistic performances will be permitted in both indoor and outdoor venues with public participation restricted to those with passes or tickets.
However, small-scale artistic performances such as street plays can be permitted without the issuance of passes or tickets. Nonetheless, COVID-19 protocols must be strictly adhered to during such programmes.
The maximum number of people who can be permitted for religious festivals, cultural programmes and artistic performances will be restricted to 100 persons for indoor venues and 200 persons for outdoor venues. — Sarath Babu George
China makes parts of Hebei province high danger zones
China has designated parts of Hebei province near Beijing as a coronavirus high danger zone after 14 new cases of COVID-19 were found.
Eleven of those cases were in Shijiazuang city, where some events for the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held. An additional 30 people tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms, the provincial health authority said Tuesday, January 5, 2021.
The other three COVID-19 cases were in the city of Yantai. Parts of Shijiazhuang were designated high danger areas, meaning they will undergo stricter testing and isolation measures, while parts of Yantai were registered as medium risk areas. Medical investigators were looking into whether a single event such as a family gathering had been the origin of many of the Hebei cases.
China has recorded a total of 87,183 cases of COVID-19, with 4,634 deaths. People who have tested positive but not shown symptoms have been counted separately from its official COVID-19 tally.
Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world’s largest annual human migration. Classes are also being dismissed a week earlier than usual and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays.
Timely action helped control pandemic, says Harsh Vardhan
The COVID-19 pandemic had derailed years of painstaking efforts, but timely action helped control the disease from spreading, said Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday.
Strategic thinking, aggressive campaigns, deep commitment from doctors and other frontline workers were needed in this connection, he added.
Theatres in TN to screen movies with full seating capacity
The Tamil Nadu government on Monday said that movie halls in the State will be permitted to screen movies at full seating capacity.
Though the State government allowed cinema halls to reopen with 50% seating capacity in November last year, movie fans did not return to theatres in large numbers for several reasons. While the risk of contracting COVID-19 was one of the reasons, the theatres weren’t able to screen new releases as producers were reluctant to release their movies with just 50% capacity.
Immunisation in a pandemic is a public good: public health specialist Srinath Reddy
With the government approving two candidates for COVID-19 vaccination, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) president Srinath Reddy says vaccination cannot left vulnerable to the paying capacity of a person and cautions that protocols to prevent the disease spread must continue and extend to other areas of environment protection to avoid future events of zoonotic microbes jumping species.
Many colleges record 90% attendance on reopening day
Higher education institutions in Kerala buzzed with activity after close to 300 days when they partially reopened on Monday under stringent restrictions in view of the COVID-19 spread.
The students’ joy of being able to return to their campuses was visible as it eclipsed the concerns over the possibility of a zero academic year. While offline classes commenced for final-year undergraduate and all postgraduate students, a decision on the remaining batches is likely to be taken only after two weeks.
‘Students mingling outside the premises a cause for concern’
While teachers and school managements are attempting to be strict in enforcing physical distancing in classrooms, they are finding it difficult to ensure that students follow the same norm after class hours, before they return home.
Many private school managements have sent advisories to parents to instruct them to maintain distance outside the school premises as well. D. Shashi Kumar, General Secretary, Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka (KAMS), said that schools have spotted many Class X students hanging out at eateries or cafés near the school.
(With inputs from our Correspondents and agencies)