GOVT SAYS NEW VARIANTS NOT BEHIND SURGE IN COVID CASES - The Daily Guardian
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GOVT SAYS NEW VARIANTS NOT BEHIND SURGE IN COVID CASES

Maharashtra and Kerala account for 75% of India’s current active cases, amounting to about 147,000, and both states have seen a sudden spike in new infections in recent days.

Aditya Nair

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India said on Tuesday that the mutated strains of the coronavirus are not responsible for the upsurge in cases in two states, bringing potential relief for the country. 

Maharashtra and Kerala account for 75% of India’s current active cases, amounting to about 147,000, and both states have seen a sudden rise in new infections in recent days, fuelling calls for a faster roll-out of vaccines.

A top government health official confirmed the long-time presence of two mutants—N440K and E484Q—in the two states as well as elsewhere in the country and abroad. Authorities have also found the UK variant in 187 people in India, the South African one in six and one case of the Brazilian mutation.

However, Vinod Kumar Paul, member of the NITI Aayog who heads a government committee on vaccines, told a news conference, “There is no reason today for us to believe, on the basis of scientific information, that these are responsible for the upsurge of the outbreak. We are constantly watching the behaviour of mutations in our country.”

Though cases have come down sharply since a September peak, Paul said that India is still vulnerable, given that even previously badly-affected cities like Pune in Maharashtra were getting hit again. He urged people to wear masks and avoid social events—guidelines which have been openly flouted even by federal and state ministers.

On Tuesday, India’s total tally of Covid-19 cases rose to 1,10,16,434, with 10,584 new infections being reported in a day, while recoveries surpassed 1.07 crore, according to data from the Union Health Ministry. With 78 new fatalities in a day, the overall death toll increased to 1,56,463. 

In Punjab, which has also seen a rise in cases, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, chairing a virtual review meeting of the Covid-19 situation in the state, issued orders to limit indoor gatherings to 100 people and outdoor events to 200 attendees from 1 March. District heads have also been permitted to decide on night curfews in hotspots, and testing will be increased, the CM said on Twitter.

Punjab is one of the worst performing states in vaccinating their healthcare workers, according to the federal government.

Maharashtra’s Amravati on Tuesday, a day after the week-long lockdown started, recorded the highest single-day spike in cases with 926 people being detected with the infection, taking the caseload to 31,123. The earlier daily record was 727 cases, set on February 20.

39 students and five employees of a hostel also tested positive for the coronavirus in Maharashtra’s Latur city, an official said on Tuesday. At least 360 students who live in the hostel underwent the Covid-19 test, of which 39 from Classes 9 and 10 were reported to have contracted the infection, health officer Mahesh Patil of the Latur Municipal Corporation said. 

Kerala reported 4,034 new Covid-19 cases and 14 related deaths on Tuesday, taking the tally of affected people in the state to 10,41,252 and the toll to 4,119. Health Minister K.K. Shailaja said that 69,604 samples were tested in the state in the last 24 hours and the test positivity rate was 5.80 percent.

Andhra Pradesh reported 70 fresh Covid-19 cases, 84 recoveries and one death in the 24-hour period ending on Tuesday. With the addition of the new infections, the state’s tally went up to 8,89,409.

Odisha’s Covid caseload mounted to 3,36,767 as 62 more people tested positive for the infection, a health department official said. Of the fresh cases, 37 were reported from quarantine centres and 25 were detected during contact tracing. Sambalpur district recorded the highest number of new cases at 12, followed by Khurda and Cuttack at seven each.

Meanwhile, Delhi recorded 145 fresh Covid-19 cases and two new fatalities on Tuesday, while the positivity rate stood at 0.25 percent, said authorities. With this, the toll for the national capital stood at 10,903.

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CHINA HAS 30 MILLION UNMARRIED MEN; IS IT DUE TO SHORTAGE OF BRIDES?

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A new in China shows that the country has about 30 million unmarried men, triggering speculations about shortage of brides there.

According to China’s seventh population census by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), out of the 12 million babies born last year there were 111.3 boys for every 100 girls. In 2010, the ratio was 118.1 to 100.

“Normally in China, men marry women who are much younger than they are, but as the population ages, there are even more older men, which exaggerates the situation,” ANI quoted Prof Stuart Gieten-Basten as saying.

Bjourn Alpermann, another professor, warned of a huge shortfall in potential brides by the time the babies born reached marriageable age. “Of these 12 million babies that were born last year, 600,000 boys will not be able to find a marriage partner their same age when they grow up,” he said.

China’s one-child policy, implemented in 1979 and withdrawn in 2016, had exacerbated the practice of sex-selective abortion in favour of boys, said Jiang Quanbao, a demography professor.

Meanwhile, SCMP reported citing the NBS that China’s fertility rate was 1.3 children per woman, well below the 2.1 needed to maintain a stable population.

Highlighting that men from lower classes faced the most difficulty in finding brides, Cai Yong, an associate professor of social demography warned that without marriage, they will suffer “poorer physical and psychological health”.

“As long as the preference for boys does not change, it will skew the sex ratio at birth. With such preferences, people still will find a way to select boys over girls and more female fetuses will be aborted,” he said.

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Gates quit board as Microsoft probed his affair with employee

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Resignation of Bill Gates in 2020 from Microsoft’s Board of Directors came after the board hired a law firm to investigate a romantic relationship he had with a Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate, people familiar with the matter said.

Quoting Wall Street Journal, CNN reported that some Microsoft Directors began an investigation in 2019 into the woman’s allegations of prior sexual relationship with Bill Gates. During the probe, some board members decided it was no longer suitable for Gates to sit as a Director at the software company he started and led for decades, the people said.

Gates resigned before the Board’s probe was completed and before the full board could make a formal decision on the matter, another person familiar with the matter said, reported Wall Street Journal. “Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.

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GASPING FOR OXYGEN, NEPAL ASKS MOUNTAINEERS TO BRING BACK CANISTERS FOR COVID PATIENTS

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Running short of oxygen for patients of Covid-19, Nepal has requested mountain climbers of ongoing Spring Expedition to bring back their canisters so that it can be refilled to supply medical gas (oxygen) to the patients. With Covid-19 surging in the country, patients are gasping for oxygen as there is a dearth of oxygen containers.

Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has requested climbers to bring back their empty or unused cylinders so that it can be used for oxygen refilling.

“We now are facing the second wave of infection which has created grave kind of situation and crisis, matter is going out of hand. Cylinders (oxygen) which arrived back from the expedition can be used at this hour of crisis. We are lending our hands to government, various associations and those who are working on it,” said Santa Bir Lama, president of NMA.

“In the ongoing expedition all the climbers are on base camp, they possess ample number of cylinders. We have requested owners and operators to bring back cylinders immediately after completion of expedition to use it for the benefit of people,” Lama added. ANI

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Evidence suggests Covid-19 originated from Wuhan lab: Pompeo

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The evidence suggests that coronavirus originated from the lab in Wuhan city of China, said former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday. He added that the risk of bioweapons and bioterror arising from the region is “very real”.

Pompeo told Fox News that the Chinese Communist Party “covered up” the origins of Covid-19 and that evidence continues to mount despite their efforts to deny access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “We worked to get every bit of evidence that we could, we tried to deliver this to the CDC, tried to work with the Chinese. They covered it up terribly,” Pompeo said.

He said the combination of circumstantial evidence and China’s intense effort to deny any information relating to the lab suggests to him that the virus originated in that lab. “I haven’t seen a shred of evidence to suggest anything to the contrary,” Pompeo said. “The risk that something like this happens again from that laboratory or another Chinese laboratory is very real,” he said. “They [China] are operating and conducting activities that are inconsistent with their capacity to secure those facilities. And the risk of bioweapons and bioterror emanating from this region is very real.”

Pompeo also warned that similar scenarios could happen in the future, pointing to the possibility of biological warfare.

Recently, findings in a report in an Australian daily has yet again reinforced the call that international investigators must dig deeper to rule out whether Covid-19 is a made-in-China bioweapon. The controversy about Covid-19 origins has resurfaced after the Weekend Australian newspaper revealed that Chinese scientists were thinking about bioweapons, visualising a World War-III scenario.

The daily cited a Chinese government document that discussed the weaponisation of SARS coronavirus. Titled the Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons, the 2015 paper was authored by Chinese scientists, Chinese public health officials and members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

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CHINA’S DEADLY SUICIDE DRONE ARMY IS IN THE WORKS

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The future battlefield belongs to attack drones or flying artillery shells and China is now is looking to buy Kamikaze drones. Michael Peck in an article in The National Interest said that the US ally Israel first taught China about suicide drones. Now Beijing is looking for its own. China got its first taste of suicide drones when Israel sold it the Harpy in the 1990s, to the displeasure of the US government. The Chinese military wants two types of suicide drones, according to an announcement posted on a Chinese military procurement Web site. The desired technical specifications of the drones, or the number to be purchased, are classified, reported The National Interest.

As per Peck, Chinese drone manufacturers do have products that might satisfy the demands of the People’s Liberation Army.

In 2018, China Aerospace unveiled the CH-901, which Chinese media described as being 4 feet long and weighing 20 pounds, with a speed of 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour, a range of 15 kilometers (9 miles), and an endurance of two hours. The larger WS-43 is a 500-pound weapon with a range of 60 kilometers (37 miles) and an endurance of 30 minutes.

Called “loitering munitions” by military customers who are understandably reluctant to refer to them as suicidal, these weapons seek to bridge the gap between artillery shells – which can’t stay up in the air – and strike drones like America’s Reaper and Predator, which are big and expensive unmanned aircraft.

Loitering munitions feature a propeller, wings, a warhead, and a camera. They orbit an area, scanning it with their cameras to identify targets and transmitting the images back to the operator. When the operator sees a worthwhile target, he can command the drone to perform a death-dive on the target, reported The National Interest.

The potential uses of these weapons are numerous. Aerovision’s Switchblade, which the US Marine Corps ordered in 2018, is a handheld 6-pound weapon that fits inside a soldier’s backpack.

Switchblade is designed for situations such as troops encountering a mortar on the reverse slope of a hill that can’t be hit by direct-fire weapons. Instead of waiting for artillery or airstrikes, a rifleman can pluck a Switchblade from his backpack and destroy the target.

Or, if hitting a sniper in a building risks collateral damage to civilians, a Switchblade can be flown through the window. Its warhead is no more powerful than that of a grenade, but that’s still powerful enough to take out a mortar or sniper.

Israel’s Harpy, designed to knock out enemy radar sites, is a much larger weapon. Introduced in 1990 as probably the world’s first suicide drone, the 300-pound Harpy has a range of up to 250 miles and an endurance of two hours. It is similar to a traditional anti-radiation missile that homes in on signals from a radar station.

However, unlike a missile, it can stalk an area for hours, waiting for an unwary operator to switch on radar before it autonomously flies toward the target, reported The National Interest.

For the US military and other potential Chinese adversaries, this is one more advanced weapon that they may encounter in battle. Like drones in general, loitering munitions can be hard to detect and shoot down, especially the smaller models.

Even worse, those Chinese loitering munitions may be popping up outside of China. Beijing may have become the world’s No 2 arms exporter, whose aircraft, tanks, and rifles can be found across the globe. This means that American soldiers could face Chinese-made suicide drones in hotspots such as Africa and the Middle East, said Peck.

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ISRAEL LAUNCHES HEAVY AIR STRIKES AS GAZA FIGHTING ENTERS SECOND WEEK

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Israel launched heavy air strikes in Gaza and the Hamas kept up its rocket attacks on Israeli cities in fighting that spilled into a second week on Monday, with the death toll nearing 200. Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that an end to hostilities was not imminent even as International calls mounted for a ceasefire.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza entered its eighth consecutive day after raids on Sunday killed at least 42 Palestinians, wounded dozens more, and flattened at least two residential buildings. The home of Gaza’s Hamas chief, Yehya al-Sinwar, was also targeted, as reported by Aljazeera news. At least 192 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the latest violence began last Monday. Israel has reported 10 dead.

The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of violence in years in Palestine and Israel. US President Biden conferred with Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, about efforts to broker a ceasefire. While supporting Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks by Hamas, Biden urged Netanyahu to protect civilians and journalists.

Over the past week, the 15-member UN Security Council met privately at least twice to discuss ways of reducing tensions. But efforts to reach an agreement on a statement or to hold an open meeting had faced resistance from the United States, Israel’s biggest defender on the council.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter: “All parties need to deescalate tensions—the violence must end immediately”, after he spoke with Egypt’s foreign minister about ongoing violence in Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

At a meeting on Sunday of the UN Security Council, the United States said that it has made clear to Israel, the Palestinians and others that it is ready to offer support “should the parties seek a ceasefire”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s campaign in Gaza was continuing at “full force”, and that deterrence had to be achieved to prevent future conflict with Hamas, which rules Gaza. “We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens. It will take time,” Netanyahu said in a televised address after his security Cabinet met on Sunday.

US President Biden said his administration is working with all parties towards achieving a sustained calm. “We also believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” he said in a pretaped video aired at an event marking the Muslim Eid holiday on Sunday.

Biden’s envoy, Hady Amr, arrived in Israel on Friday for talks, and an official with first-hand knowledge of his meetings said on Sunday that he reiterated “full US support” for Israel’s right to defend itself. He also made clear that Washington understood that “this is clearly not something that can be wrapped up in 24 hours,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that hostilities in Israel and Gaza were “utterly appalling” and called for an immediate end to fighting. He said the United Nations was “actively engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire” and urged them “to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed.” UN envoys have helped to mediate past truces between Israel and Hamas.

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