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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Coronavirus highlights, Dec 30: India hopeful as Oxford vaccine gets UK nod; 20 cases of new strain detected

Here are the top Covid-19 developments that you need to know today.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 30, 2020 8:54:23 pm
A health worker wearing protective gear collects swab sample for COVD-19 test at East Delhi

In a shot in the arm for India, the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford was granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the UK. In India, the vaccine, named Covishield, which is being manufactured by Serum Institute, is likely to get regulatory approval within a few days.

The development comes even as India reported 20 cases of the new coronavirus strain. While six cases were detected on Tuesday, 14 people were found positive for the new virus strain today. Amid concerns over the new highly contagious strain of the coronavirus, the Centre extended the temporary suspension of flights to and from the United Kingdom till January 7 and asked all states to keep a strict vigil on New Year celebrations that could be potential super-spreader events.

India’s Covid-19 caseload rose to 1,02,44,852, with 20,549 new infections being reported on Wednesday, while the number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 98.34 lakh. The death toll increased to 1,48,439, with 286 new fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry.

Here are the top Covid-19 developments of the day:

Eyes on India as UK approves Oxford Covid-19 vaccine

Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) termed the approval for Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in the UK as encouraging news and said the company would now wait for regulatory nod in India.

The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), which met on Wednesday to consider the EUA request of Pfizer, Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, will convene again on January 1.

“This is great and encouraging news. We will wait for the final approval from Indian regulators,” SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said in a statement. “India will be given priority as a majority of the stockpiled 50 million doses at Serum Institute will be for the country,” he had said earlier.

Dry run for the COVID-19 vaccine at Civil Hospital in Ludhiana (Express photo by Gurmeet Singh)

Meanwhile, in the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the rollout of the Oxford vaccine would begin on January 4. The approval by Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) means the vaccine is both “safe and effective”, with the government saying it would prioritise giving the first of the two-dose vaccine to those in the most high-risk groups quickly.

Besides being easier to deliver, as it does not need extremely low temperatures for storage as in the case of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, the AZD1222 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is also cheap at $3 to $4 a dose and easy to mass produce.

Workers dismantle the beds at Covid-19 isolation center at CWG in New Delhi (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

14 more UK returnees test positive for new strain of coronavirus

The Union Health Ministry on Wednesday said 14 more people who returned to India from the United Kingdom tested positive for the new strain of SARS-CoV-2, taking the overall tally to 20.

The ministry said the mutated UK strain was detected in eight samples at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), one at the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kalyani (near Kolkata), one at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune, seven at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences Hospital (NIMHANS) Bengaluru, two at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and one at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi.

“All these persons have been kept in single-room isolation in designated health care facilities by respective state governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts, and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on,” the Health Ministry said.

A health worker wearing protective gear collects swab sample in Delhi (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

India-UK flights to remain suspended till January 7

The Centre has extended the temporary ban on flights to India from the United Kingdom until January 7, following which a “strictly regulated” resumption will take place. It is expected that everyone arriving in India from the UK will be mandatorily made to undergo RT-PCR testing. The current suspension, which took effect from December 23, is in place until December 31.

However, Indian student groups in the UK have urged the Indian government to consider emergency travel options in extremely exceptional cases during the current suspension of air travel, PTI reported.

Dry run for the COVID-19 vaccine at Civil Hospital in Ludhiana (Express photo by Gurmeet Singh)

Health Ministry asks states to keep vigil on New Year events

The Union Health Ministry has asked all states to keep a strict vigil on New Year celebrations that could be potential Covid-19 super-spreader events and also to curb crowding as a precautionary measure during the winter season.

“Keeping in view the fresh surge of coronavirus cases in Europe and the Americas, there was still a need for maintaining comprehensive precaution and strict surveillance within India,” said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

“You will appreciate that in the wake of New Year and various celebratory events associated with it as well as ongoing winter season, strict vigil is required to be maintained to curb all potential ‘super spreader’ events and places where crowds may gather,” Bhushan said in the letter.

Republic Day parade likely to be shorter, have fewer spectators

The Republic Day celebrations at Rajpath next month are likely to witness a number of changes, including smaller marching contingents, shorter distance for the parade and fewer spectators compared to the previous years in view of the coronavirus pandemic, PTI reported. India has invited British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the Chief Guest for the Republic Day parade.

Around 25,000 spectators will be allowed to witness the celebrations as against a normal crowd of around 100,000 people and that children below 15 years of age will not be allowed entry. Similarly, the size of the marching contingents is likely to be brought down from around 144 in each contingent to around 96.

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