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HEALTH MINISTRY ASKS STATES TO PRIORITIZE SECOND DOSE OF COVID VACCINES

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The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has urged the states to ensure that all the beneficiaries who have taken the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines are prioritised for the second dose.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and Dr R.S. Sharma, Member, National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration of COVID-19 reviewed the status of vaccination with health secretaries and National Health Mission MDs of states and UTs through a video conference on Tuesday. “States to ensure all beneficiaries who have taken the first dose are prioritised for the second doses,” Bhushan said. He stressed on the urgent need to address a large number of beneficiaries waiting for the second dose.

A Health Ministry release said states can reserve at least 70% of the vaccines supplied to them from the

Government of India channel (free of cost) for second dose vaccination and remaining 30% for the first dose. “This however is indicative. States have the liberty to enhance this to as much as 100 per cent. State wise numbers on CoWIN have been shared with states for their planning purposes,” the release said.

It said that the states were asked to undertake awareness campaign for reinforcing importance of complete vaccination with two doses of the vaccine.

Presenting details of states who have ensured high coverage of priority groups (like aged 45+, frontline workers and healthcare workers) and the others, the Health Secretary urged states to ensure that priority groups are vaccinated.

The release said states have been informed in a transparent manner in advance about the COVID vaccines being provided to them from Government of India channel.

“The visibility for the forthcoming fortnight is conveyed to them in advance to enable better and more effective planning by them. The next allocation for May 15-31 will be conveyed to them on May 14. It was pointed out that states can utilize the information regarding dose allocation for next 15 days to plan their vaccination sessions,” the release said.

States were also urged to minimise vaccine wastage.

“While the overall levels have considerably reduced, Union Health Secretary pointed that there were many states which still needed to substantially reduce the wastage,” the release said.

It was suggested to states to retrain and reorient vaccinators to ensure judicious usage of the vaccines.

“All wastage more than the national average hereafter is to be adjusted from the subsequent allocations to that state/UT,” the release said.

It was also pointed out that certain states are able to report a negative wastage because the well-trained health workers can extract maximum doses per vial than what is otherwise generally earmarked.

States were also briefed about procurement from the “Other than Government of India” (OGoI) channel which has been opened in the Liberalised Phase-III Strategy of Vaccination.

In view of the payments pending from states to the private vaccine manufacturers, the states were advised to constitute a dedicated team of two or three senior officers to coordinate with vaccine manufacturers on a daily basis and secure supplies promptly. “This team is to also coordinate with private hospitals to facilitate their procurement thereby maintaining the momentum of the overall vaccination exercise in the state,” the release said.

The release said CoWIN platform is also being modified to better reflect the changing needs of the vaccination exercise.

Sharma, who is also Chairman of Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management to combat COVID-19, said that CoWIN will shortly provide the flexibility and feature for reserving slots for second dose.

CoWIN will be customised to the extent possible and will also open APIs. The need for IEC campaign for informing people that they should use only one mobile number for both doses for its reflection in their certificate was stressed, the release said.

Sharma reiterated the critical importance of verity and authenticity of data. He also urged states to avoid use of restrictive criteria to uphold the mantra of CoWIN providing vaccination to anyone, anywhere and at anytime.

13 STATES HAVE 1 LAKH ACTIVE CASES

The Ministry of Health also said on Tuesday that over 1 lakh active Covid-19 cases are in 13 states and fewer than 50,000 Covid-19 active cases are in 17 states across the country. While addressing a press meet, the Ministry of Health officials said, “More than 1 lakh active cases in 13 states, while 50,000 to 1 lakh active cases are in 6 states and less than 50,000 active cases are in 17 states.” The 13 states with more than 1 lakh active cases are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

ICMR DG, Dr Balram Bhargava said, “On April 30th, 2021, 19,45,299 tests were conducted, the highest ever in the world.” “The national positivity rate is around 21% as of now”, said Bhargava in the press meet. He further said, “Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to be allowed at all government and private health facilities, no accreditation required. Home-based testing solutions are being explored.”

Bhargava elaborated about the details regarding the rapid antigen tests. He said, “Multiple 24X7 RAT booths to be set up in cities, towns and villages. RATS to be allowed at all government and private health care facilities. No accreditation required. RAT booths to be set up with the community in schools, colleges, community centres, RWA offices etc.”

“Public-private partnership models encouraged to establish innovative and convenient testing centers. RATS must be conducted in accordance with RAT algorithm defined by ICMR. All RTPCR and RAT test results should be uploaded on ICMR portal. Social distancing norms to be ensured at all RAT and RTPCR testing centres”, the ICMR DG said.

Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Telangana, Chandigarh, Ladakh, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands are showing a continuous decrease in daily new COVID-19 cases. Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Gujarat too are showing a continuous decrease in daily new cases.

While Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Punjab, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh are showing an increasing trend in daily new cases.

WITH ANI INPUTS

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RUSSIA WILL ACCEPT CONDITIONAL HANDOVER OF CYBER CRIMINALS TO US, SAYS PRESIDENT PUTIN

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Three days before the US-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the two countries need to engage in a constructive dialogue and establish mechanisms for interaction as there are areas in which Moscow and Washington can cooperate.

“[We need] to restore our personal contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create really functioning mechanisms of interaction,” Putin said in an interview broadcast by the Smotrim.ru media outlet. The President noted that the US side is well aware that there are a number of areas that are of mutual interest, such as strategic stability, regional conflicts, environmental protection measures, and climate. “There are areas in which we can really work effectively,” Putin added.

In the process, President Putin said that Russia would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington did the same for Moscow and the two powers reached an agreement to that effect.

The Russian leader said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts, adding that important issues for the two men included strategic stability, Libya and Syria, and the environment.

Putin also praised Biden for having shown “professionalism” when the United States and Russia agreed this year to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting. That issue is in the spotlight after a cyberattack disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

A Russia-linked hacking group was behind that attack, a US source familiar with the matter said last week.

Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cyber criminals, Putin said Russia’s behaviour here would depend on formal agreements being reached by Moscow and Washington.

Both sides would have to commit to the same obligations, he said.

“If we agree to extradite criminals, then of course Russia will do that, we will do that, but only if the other side, in this case the United States, agrees to the same and will extradite the criminals in question to the Russian Federation,” he said.

“The question of cyber security is one of the most important at the moment because turning all kinds of systems off can lead to really difficult consequences,” he said.

With agency inputs

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12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in China

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HUBEI: At least 12 people were killed and 138 were injured in a huge gas explosion in central China on Sunday, state media reported.

A gas pipe exploded in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province at about 6:30 am local time. The number of casualties is still being verified as the search and rescue operation is underway. According to the local authorities, 150 people have been pulled from the debris, and the injured are being treated at local hospitals.

Apparently, the explosion destroyed a wet market there and greatly affected nearby residents. “Hearing the loud bang, I immediately scrabbled beneath the table, thinking it was an earthquake,” a resident surnamed Liu, told the Global Times via phone.

Images are circulating on social media, which appeared to be from the scene, showed rescue workers in orange jumpsuits working through the wreckage of flattened houses.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the city government, which informed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

Rescue operation is underway and more details are awaited. ANI

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SAUDI ARABIA BARS FOREIGN PILGRIMS FROM HAJJ DUE TO COVID-19

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Amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has once again barred foreigners to perform the Hajj, and set a limit of maximum of 60,000 pilgrims inside the Kingdom.

“Only 60,000 vaccinated residents and citizens living in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform this year’s Haj pilgrimage due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the Ministry of Haj and Umrah announced in a statement cited by Gulf News on Saturday. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Every able-bodied Muslim who has affordability tries to visit it at least once in a lifetime.

“Against the backdrop of what the world is witnessing and due to the continuous developments of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the emergence of new mutations, Haj registration will be limited to residents and citizens from inside the Kingdom only,” the ministry also Twitted.

“Muslims between the ages of 18-65 and are fully vaccinated, or those who received their first dose at least 14 days prior, those who are vaccinated and have recovered from a Covid-19 infection are allowed to register,” the ministry added.

This is the second year in a row that Saudi Arabia limits the Haj pilgrimage to Muslims inside the Kingdom. However, only 10,000 Muslims were allowed to perform Hajj last year.

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US AND JAPAN DEEPEN TIES WITH TAIWAN, DRAGON FINDS ITSELF IN TIGHT SPOT

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The US and Japan have been deepening their engagement with Taiwan to help guard it against a growing threat from China. The move has out Beijing in tight spot.

J. Michael Cole, writing in The National Interest said that the regime in Beijing, which continues its effort to isolate Taiwan internationally, is now in the difficult position of having to express its discontent over coronavirus response while avoiding overreaction that could create the rationale for even closer relations between Taiwan and other countries. Taiwan has had a fairly positive past month in terms of its engagement with, and support by, regional partners.

Beijing’s setbacks began back in April, with the joint statement between US President Joe Biden and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which “underscore[d] the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”

Such direct reference to Taiwan by a Japanese prime minister had not been heard for more than half a century, reported The National Interest. This was followed the next month by a similar statement, this one by President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which again “emphasise[d] the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

The unprecedented reference to Taiwan by a South Korean leader also signalled those countries within the region were becoming increasingly alarmed with China’s destabilising behaviour—particularly the high number of intrusions by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Navy into Taiwan’s southern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), wrote Cole.

Four days before the Biden-Suga joint statement, a total of twenty-five PLA aircraft–14 J-16 multi-role fighters, four J-10 multi-role fighters, four H-6K bombers, 2 Y-8 anti-submarine planes, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane–entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, a new high since the PLA began intensifying its military activity in the region in 2020, reported The National Interest.

But now, China is in a tight spot as Taiwan is receiving more attention from allies. One strategic mistake Beijing may have committed earlier this year was its refusal to reduce its military activity around the Taiwan Strait during the transition period in Washington, wrote Cole.

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WHO chief asks China to cooperate with probe into Covid-19 origins

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has called on China to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 amid renewed call to further probe the virus.

Dr Tedros made these remarks after taking part in the Group of Seven (G7) summit by video conference on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The WHO Director-General hoped there would be better cooperation and transparency when the next phase of the probe into the virus’s origin is underway. “As you know we will need cooperation from the Chinese side,” he said. “We need transparency to understand or know or find the origin of this virus…after the report was released there were difficulties in the data sharing, especially in the raw data.”

He further said that the preparations for the probe’s next steps were underway and that the issue of the origin of the virus was discussed by G7 leaders on Saturday, WSJ reported.

Earlier this week, the US and the UK had extended support to a “timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process” for the next phase of the WHO-convened study of Covid-19 origins. “We will also support a timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened COVID-19 origins study, including in China, and for investigating outbreaks of unknown origin in the future,” a joint statement said after US President Joe Biden met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.

This comes amid growing calls for a timely, transparent, and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened origin study.

Recently, the calls to investigate further the origins of the virus have intensified. President Biden has also ordered a fresh US intelligence inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

The origin of novel coronavirus that caused havoc around the world has remained a mystery even after 1.5 years the first case of infection was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Now, scientists and world leaders are calling for further investigations to figure out whether the virus originated naturally or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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G7 NATIONS CALL OUT CHINA OVER XINJIANG, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN

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In a veiled criticism of the Dragon, Group of Seven (G&) leaders called on China to respect human rights in its Xinjiang region, allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, and refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilise the East and South China Seas, Reuters reported quoted a draft version of the G7 summit communique.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said in a communique that was almost finalised.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also said they underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”

“We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China,” the communique, which is almost finalised, said.

“The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.

“We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China, and says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

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