Customers dine in social distancing bubble tents at a restaurant in New York.(Bloomberg)
Customers dine in social distancing bubble tents at a restaurant in New York.(Bloomberg)

Covid-19: What you need to know today

A long career in India’s sprawling and bureaucratic health system, or a medical degree of some vintage, don’t matter as much as an open mind, the ability to read and understand current literature on Covid, and then synthesise what that means in the Indian context.
By R Sukumar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 12, 2020 02:43 AM IST

There isn’t much information available on India’s Covid-19 vaccine game plan. We do know — HT’s Saubhadra Chatterji broke that story — that there is a vaccine committee. We also know that this committee is speaking to several vaccine developers. And we know that states have been asked to prepare a list of people who should be prioritised for a vaccine shot. There are several unanswered questions, though.

Infosys chairman and former Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) head Nandan M Nilekani wrote a two-part article detailing how he thinks India should go about it, but, again, it isn’t known whether the government is thinking along those lines, or whether the people in charge have even read Nilekani’s article. I am not sure (and this is based on my own interactions) that these people are as informed of the pandemic as they should be. A long career in India’s sprawling and bureaucratic health system, or a medical degree of some vintage, don’t matter as much as an open mind, the ability to read and understand current literature on Covid, and then synthesise what that means in the Indian context. The US has Dr Anthony Fauci; we have a man who thinks the influenza and Covid viruses are from the same family. It’s the reason I recommended — Dispatch 108, titled A Million and a Manifesto, on July 18, shortly after India crossed the million-case mark — that the country appoint a Covid Commissioner. But I digress.

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There are four aspects involved in vaccinating a population.

The first involves identifying and procuring a vaccine. Sure, if you are a country such as the US, you can launch a program like Warp Speed, funneling billions of dollars into companies developing vaccines; but even otherwise, it makes sense to secure supplies by striking deals, private bilateral business agreements, with companies developing the vaccines. The UK and the EU have such agreements. As have many other countries. India doesn’t, and is largely dependent for vaccines on a WHO initiative, Covax, but not all vaccine developers are part of this equitable access platform; Pfizer, for instance, isn’t (and its vaccine will likely be the first one available). India should aggressively pursue bilateral agreements, and use as a hedge, like many other countries plan to, the vaccine doses it will be eligible for under Covax. The next few years are going to be about vaccine stockpiles — most of the initial vaccines may be two-shot ones; people may need annual vaccination — and India should get serious about building its own.

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The second involves funding. India needs to figure out who is eligible for a free vaccine, and who pays. The easier, but more expensive option, is to underwrite the costs of vaccination for the entire population — something that could cost tens of billions of dollars. And at least for the first few years (I’m not sure anyone has thought about this), till a one-shot-lifetime-protection vaccine is developed, this staggering amount of money may have to be spent annually. The government could also consider providing the vaccine free only to people who need it (say, those covered by the Public Distribution System), and make others pay for it.

The third involves distribution. Here the government should do the smart thing and tap the expertise of those who do this best — companies in the consumer products business such as ITC, Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Parle, the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, and others. These companies are in the business of ensuring their products are available in remote corners of the country. Some even deal in perishables, and some others in products that require refrigeration.

The last involves administration. This is perhaps the most complex part of the exercise, but also the one where India has a very good template — the general elections, down to the neighborhood election booths. Just like government employees, usually school teachers, are drafted to man the polling booths, health care workers from government and private hospitals should be asked to staff the vaccination booths. The national elections, conducted in phases, in just the span of a month-and-a-half, provide the perfect template for a national vaccination drive. People know which their booths are; go there, present some ID (even a phone number will do, or a name and thumbprint in the extreme case of someone who has no ID at all), be vaccinated, get a receipt to that effect, and perhaps one of those indelible-ink marks on a finger.

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Researchers also say that the evolution of Sars-Cov-2 at present does not pose a major risk since the changes seen even till now do not make existing immunity (from older infections) or vaccines completely obsolete.(REUTERS)
Researchers also say that the evolution of Sars-Cov-2 at present does not pose a major risk since the changes seen even till now do not make existing immunity (from older infections) or vaccines completely obsolete.(REUTERS)

Covid: South African, Brazilian strains raise new fears on vaccines, immunity

UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 04:57 AM IST
The first major mutation of the Sars-Cov-2 virus was reported from the UK in the so-called B.1.1.7 variant (also called VOC202012/01) ; authorities said in December that it was more infectious, and it was later seen as a factor in leading to the country’s worst wave yet.
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Bharat Biotech developed Covaxin in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research.(REUTERS)
Bharat Biotech developed Covaxin in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research.(REUTERS)

Covaxin recipients to be monitored for three months after second dose

UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 04:38 AM IST
If a serious adverse event is linked to vaccination, then the recipient will be compensated based on the national drug controller’s recommendations after thorough investigation, said the plan.
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Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is widely preferred within the party to replace Sonia Gandhi as efforts to pick a non-Gandhi party president have not succeeded in the past two years ago.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is widely preferred within the party to replace Sonia Gandhi as efforts to pick a non-Gandhi party president have not succeeded in the past two years ago.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

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MSMEs employ about 110 million workers and contribute to about 40% of exports (MSME census, 2006-07), and have a huge role to play in creating quality jobs, improving export competitiveness, and increasing aggregate productivity.(Sunil Ghosh/HT file photo. Representative image)
MSMEs employ about 110 million workers and contribute to about 40% of exports (MSME census, 2006-07), and have a huge role to play in creating quality jobs, improving export competitiveness, and increasing aggregate productivity.(Sunil Ghosh/HT file photo. Representative image)

Need focus on removing obstacles to ‘good’ jobs

By hindustantimes.com
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As businesses struggled to stay afloat, the government announced a number of measures targeted towards the so-called Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Many of these measures, part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package, are aimed at easing financial constraints faced by businesses.
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A medical worker (R) inoculates a medical staff with a Covid-19 Coronavirus vaccine at the Manipal Hospital, in New Delhi on January 19, 2021.(AP)
A medical worker (R) inoculates a medical staff with a Covid-19 Coronavirus vaccine at the Manipal Hospital, in New Delhi on January 19, 2021.(AP)

Covid-19 vaccine doses wasted in more states over hesitancy

By HT Correspondent, New Delhi/patna/chennai/rohtak
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 04:07 AM IST
India’s start to the Covid-19 vaccination programme has been one of the strongest in the world, reaching more people on its first day than any other country.
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Gandhi’s 16-feet high bronze statue in a meditating posture, sculpted by Ram Sutar, was unveiled by then President Shanker Dayal Sharma on October 2, 1993.(ANI Photo)
Gandhi’s 16-feet high bronze statue in a meditating posture, sculpted by Ram Sutar, was unveiled by then President Shanker Dayal Sharma on October 2, 1993.(ANI Photo)

New Parliament building: Gandhi statue hurriedly shifted, move raises eyebrows

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Initial plan was to do so during the one-month gap between the first and the second part of Budget Session that begins on Jan 29
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CBI arrests two of its officials in Bribery case

By Neeraj Chauhan
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:15 AM IST
New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested its deputy superintendent of police (DSP), R K Rishi, inspector Kapil Dhankad and an advocate Manohar Malik in connection with its probe into a “bribes-for-relief” scandal in the agency, people familiar with the development said on Wednesday
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SC irked over criticism of farm committee picks

PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:15 AM IST
The Supreme Court on Wednesday strongly defended its choice of members for the committee that will weigh in on the contentious farm laws, and cautioned critics against attributing motives to the court or “maligning” members of the panel just because they had in the past come out in favour of these legislation aimed at opening up farm markets
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Electoral rolls, not NRC, to determine voters in Assam: EC

PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:14 AM IST
GUWAHATI: The Election Commission of India (ECI) made it clear on Wednesday that those living in Assam whose names are missing from the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), but are listed in the electoral rolls can vote in the assembly elections due in April-May this year
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‘Goli Maaro’ chants at BJP leader Suvendu’s rally in Bengal

UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:14 AM IST
Kolkata Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday allegedly raised the controversial “goli maaro” slogan at a roadshow in West Bengal’s Hooghly district, a day after a similar slogan was raised by supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress
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After cabinet expansion, dissent brews in Karnataka BJP

By Sharan Poovanna
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:13 AM IST
Bengaluru: Troubles are mounting for Karnataka chief minister B
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One in 3 new Covid cases recorded in Kerala

PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:11 AM IST
Thiruvananthapuram: More than one in every three new Covid-19 cases recorded in India over the last week have come from Kerala, a state that is defying the national trend of falling infections and has been the biggest outbreak centre in the country since late October
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Covaxin recipients to be monitored for three months after 2nd dose

UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:10 AM IST
New Delhi Covaxin recipients will be monitored for three months after getting the 2nd dose for any adverse reactions, according to a detailed plan released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in an attempt to dispel safety concerns about the vaccine whose efficacy data isn’t publicly known
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SA, Brazil strains raise new fears on vaccines, immunity

By Binayak Dasgupta, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:09 AM IST
Mutations of the Sars-Cov-2 virus found in South Africa and Brazil have begun worrying authorities and scientists who say that these – they are distinct from the new variant first found in the UK – could trigger more re-infections, even reduce vaccine efficacy, though more tests are underway
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Loyalists and detractors alike await the release of Sasikala, who once kept the ruling AIADMK under her thumb.(HT PHOTO)
Loyalists and detractors alike await the release of Sasikala, who once kept the ruling AIADMK under her thumb.(HT PHOTO)

Sasikala hospitalised in Bengaluru week before her release from prison

PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:08 AM IST
  • Sixty-three-year-old Sasikala who also suffers from hypertension, diabetes and hypothyroidism was admitted to hospital with cough and fever.
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