A man wearing a face mask waits for a train in the main train station in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday(AP Photo)
A man wearing a face mask waits for a train in the main train station in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday(AP Photo)

Covid-19: What you need to know today

Pfizer’s CEO termed it a “great day for science and humanity,” and history may well prove him right, although there are still a few hurdles the vaccine has to clear. If it does that, it may well be available by the end of the year.
By R Sukumar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 10, 2020 05:24 AM IST

The big news of Monday is, of course, on Page 1 of this paper -- on the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine being at least 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 according to the first interim analysis of late stage trail data. Pfizer’s CEO termed it a “great day for science and humanity,” and history may well prove him right, although there are still a few hurdles the vaccine has to clear. If it does that, it may well be available by the end of the year (See front page).

But this column isn’t about vaccines; it is about spillovers.

David Quammen’s 2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, and the chapter on AIDS from it, later published as a separate book, The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest, are among the best reads on zoonotic diseases. A spillover is an infection that originates in a non-human species but spills over into humans. In the case of AIDS, as Quammen chronicles, everything began with one “bloody encounter” between a Cameroonian hunter and an infected chimpanzee. In the case of Mers (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome), a camel figures somewhere in the chain. And in the case of Sars, the virus was traced back to civets (hunted for meat), and further back to a species of horseshoe bats. Sars-CoV2, the virus behind the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), is believed to have jumped from horseshoe bats, perhaps to an intermediary (pangolins are likely candidates), and then to humans, although this chain is still being investigated.

Spillovers are far more common than people think (to be fair, many of the zoonotic pathogens are common ones such as Salmonella), although there are times when a new virus emerges. The virus behind AIDS was new. As were those responsible for Sars, Mers, and Ebola. And, more recently, Covid-19. These are so-called black swan events that result in nightmarish scenarios – and, unfortunately, given indiscriminate commercial farming of animals for meat or fur, and rampant deforestation and hunting (the consumption of bushmeat is widely believed to be behind Ebola), they are becoming far more common than the generic term used to describe them would suggest.

There’s been a lot of interest in spillovers in recent days because of minks in Denmark. Minks are small carnivorous mammals that belong to the same family as weasels, otters, ferrets, and wolverines (Mustelidae). In Dispatch 151 on September 7, I wrote about Netherlands deciding to close its mink farms by next March ahead of a planned 2024 deadline following research by the Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, that showed workers in mink farms (the animals are farmed for fur) were infected by other workers, who passed on the infection to more workers, suggesting that the virus was anthropozoonotic (capable of jumping from humans to animals), apart from being zoonotic (capable of jumping from animals to humans) in the case of minks.

Last week, Denmark announced that it is culling the entire mink population of its farms – around 17 million – citing mutations in the virus as it jumped from humans to minks, and then back. Worryingly (and scarily), the country’s environment ministry said in a statement that state health authorities “have now found a mutation in tests from five mink farms in Northern Jutland and in tests from 12 persons, and testing shows that the potential vaccines would not work effectively on this mutated virus”.

The statement also clarified that “there is no evidence that those people infected with this mutation experience a more serious disease”. Denmark has already started sharing the results of its genomic sequencing of the mutated virus on scientific databases, and more research is needed to understand and confirm the effect the mutation has on the infectivity of the virus, the severity of the disease, and the response to vaccines under development.

This is the year that proved Murphy’s Law beyond doubt, so how worried should we be? The opinion of most experts is: not much (although they’d like to see more data); many think the link Denmark makes about the mutation and the effectiveness of vaccines may not be backed by research. It’s not uncommon for viruses to jump from humans to animals. And Sars-CoV2 is no longer a strange virus whose effect on the human body is unknown.

Still, it is 2020.

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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)

Congress Working Committee meet on Jan 22 with eye on party polls

PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 04:32 AM IST
“It will be a meeting of the full CWC,” a senior Congress leader said on condition of anonymity. The meet will include 19 members, 26 permanent invitees and nine special invitees other than the Congress president.
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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
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 04:25 AM IST
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

PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:55 AM IST
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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