Based on discussions with medical experts, in India, 9.2 million people have been so far diagnosed with Covid-19. Many may have been undiagnosed. Covid-related deaths are 135,000. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, this is easily the lowest death rate of any country that has been hit badly by the novel coronavirus. Only a certain proportion of the population needs to be immune to an infectious agent for large outbreaks to be prevented. What is that proportion is a key question and depends on the disease. Herd immunity is often created in epidemics through natural infection, but it may also be created by vaccines. Diseases like the deadly Spanish Flu and many influenzas have disappeared entirely through natural infections conferring immunity (albeit after a death toll). Another example is Japanese B encephalitis, which is nearly eradicated in Japan because most people were immunised and the vaccine is highly effective. Japanese encephalitis is mostly seen in non-Japan Asian countries.
According to medical experts, herd immunity is in place when one infected person in a population generates less than one secondary case on average. The effective reproduction number R is the average of persons infected by a case. Ro is the original number who got infected by one infected person on average when the epidemic started. In a recent October 2020 paper in Nature Reviews Immunology, Arnaud Fontanet and Simon Cauchemez of the Institut Pasteur’s Emerging Disease Epidemiology Unit estimated that for France, with Ro at 3 for France (worldwide, Ro is between 2.5 to 4), it will require 67% of the French population to be immune to stop outbreaks. How different might that number be for India? This would be a worthwhile study for the Health Ministry to consider, in the light of reports that the incidence of Covid-19 in some locations where mass sampling has taken place is far higher than initially estimated. Further there are localised factors.
It is postulated that because Delhi is having what appears to be a raging epidemic, the high PM 2.5 pollution level might be a factor in that respect. So too the severe density of population in some parts of Delhi. Also, the reality that for people doing manual or related work, it is very difficult to use masks and indeed social distancing. It has been observed that masks are still not in common use in several places in the capital. Fontanet and Cauchemez also stated that depending on the immunity already in place through the epidemic, if it is assumed that 1 in 3 are already immune, transmission rates only need to be lowered to 50% to ensure safety from the disease. Another factor are super-spreaders—those likely to spread to many because they have interaction with multiple contacts due to the nature of their work or location. Many might already have been infected, and hence could have low probability of spreading to further people. This might lower the rate of spread.
This is also relevant in terms of age groups: Those older than 80 have much less contact with non-family than those in the age group 20-40 years. By managing the level of contacts in most vulnerable age groups, several epidemiologists project that 50% population immunity might be sufficient. Super-spreader events such as mass meetings and festivals are also important. Unlike Joe Biden, who took care to adhere to safety protocols in holding meetings, President Donald Trump threw caution to the winds by addressing crowded groups of people, many of whom had no masks and were not tested. Such neglect of public safety may have cost him a second term in the White House.
It is not just super-spreading individuals when calculating what level of herd immunity can stop outbreaks. Children less than 10 years of age are less susceptible, and are also less contagious, and so may be partly eliminated from the calculation. Population immunity is generally assessed through properly conducted cross-sectional surveys of representative samples that record immunity (antibody tests). However, it is postulated that for SARS-CoV-2, the full spectrum of immunity is in fact greater after the first wave of infections, because of T-cell (T-lymphocytes) immunity (otherwise described as cellular immunity). Other unknowns include the extent to which prior immunity to common coronaviruses might confer some level of cross-protection. BCG immunisation against Tuberculosis has also been postulated to provide some degree of immunity. However, these may only protect against severe disease rather than prevent infection entirely. Interestingly, there was no sterilising immunity through common cold or BCG etc cross-protection during the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in April 2020 on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, where 70% of young adult sailors got infected before the epidemic stopped on the Aircraft Carrier (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_on_Charles_de_Gaulle). This number (70%) on an isolated aircraft carrier, served in some respects as a laboratory test for a natural experiment on herd immunity.
Given all the above, there is little reason to believe that SARS-CoV-2 will stop being a problem before at least 50% of the population is immune through natural or vaccine-induced herd immunity. A complicating factor is that immunity to seasonal coronaviruses generally is not life-long, and is relatively short-lived, but how short is still unclear. Will it take several rounds of infections, or vaccine shots and booster doses to achieve the desired result? Even after more than a year since the disease manifested itself, much about it remains unclear. There is significant mutation taking place in the virus, and that is a further complicating factor that would naturally impact on the efficacy of vaccines, helpful though they may be in preventing numerous cases. Different vaccines are being rushed through. There can always be a few incidents when large populations are immunized, hence it is wrong to oppose a vaccine on such grounds. Overall, vaccines have helped to either reduce or stop the spread of several illnesses that were once deadly. Sufficient evidence on efficacy and safety will be generated in populations. Making vaccination compulsory in the above scenarios may need to follow assessments on data availability, and in some cases, reliability of some of the vaccines being developed abroad.
Experts say that the vaccine due to be produced in India seems to be among the most reliable, and this has been made possible both by the local manufacturer as well as the way in which PM Modi has put the push towards safety from the novel coronavirus on a war footing. This was manifested by Modi from the start, with the record lockdown of the entire country soon after the banning of international flights. India has gone much further than almost any other country in the comprehensive nature of its lockdown, as also the length of time. Covid-19 has a fatality ratio of 0.3-1.3% but of course even such a small percentage results in vulnerable sections with co-morbidities losing life as we see daily. This highlights the importance of herd immunity, including through vaccination.
If all goes well, the next few months may witness steady improvement in cases and in a reduction of the fatality rate. India has led the way in therapeutics, and the same is possible with Covid-19. Improved patient management is essential, especially early diagnosis and therapeutics. There is sufficient evidence already that therapeutics can lower case-fatality especially in otherwise healthy individuals who do not have concurrent illnesses and risks such as diabetes, cardiac disease, chronic respiratory disease or being overweight. Highly exposed populations would naturally need to be prioritised for vaccines such as health professionals and those with customer-contact.
There is a reason in favour of good and effective vaccines. This is that post infection, patients sometimes complain of complications, so a vaccine would be a safer way to confer immunity than natural infections. But that would especially be in the case of a very good vaccine that is well-monitored for continued efficacy and safety. India’s record in this is impeccable, especially when everyone is rushing through the process at unprecedented speeds.
Therapeutics, especially antiviral drugs, that reduce viral loads and therefore decrease transmission risk, and medicines that prevent complications and death, should also be an important weapon against SARS-Cov-2 (the virus) and Covid-19 (the disease). It must be remembered that as PM Modi repeatedly warns, until there is sufficient herd immunity, there is little choice except to continue with social distancing, patient isolation, face masks and hand hygiene. This is a war that the world can and must win, a war in which India can play the lead role in both vaccines as well as therapeutics. Such is the lesson learnt from the expertise of the medical fraternity in India, which is on the front line of the battle against Covid-19.
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All India Jamiatul Quresh district chief appeals not to give or take dowry
By All India Jamiatul Quresh
Agra (Uttar Pradesh) [India], March 8 (ANI): Following the recent suicide of 23-year-old Ayesha Arif Khan, who was allegedly harassed for dowry district chief of All India Jamiatul Quresh in Agra, Sarif Qureshi has appealed to the Muslim community to neither take nor receive dowry.
“We have appealed to Muslims not to take or give dowry. Dowry is a criminal act and is also prohibited in Sharia law,” Qureshi said.
Earlier in the day, Muslims organisations urged people to stop the exchange of dowry in all Muslim wedding following the death by suicide of Ayesha in Ahmedabad.
A section of the Muslim community in Agra too vowed to stop the exchange of dowry in all the marriages of its community.
In a meeting held at a local mosque in Agra after the Friday Namaz, the community leaders led special prayers for the soul of Ayesha.
Speaking to ANI, Jamit-Ul-Quresh president Mohammad Sharif Kale said, “Ayesha had been badly tortured by her husband and in-laws because she had not given dowry to them. Such people should be given the strictest punishment in the law.”
He also said that the people from all communities have to take a unanimous decision to disallow the exchange of dowry in all the community, as it is not the problem of just Muslims.
Furthermore, Hindustani Biradari member Siraj Kureishi said that dowry has been forbidden in Islam and the Muslim community should follow the teachings of the Holy Quran by renouncing dowry completely.
The woman named Ayesha jumped into a river and later died in Gujarat’s Ahmadabad after allegedly being harassed by her husband for dowry. (ANI)
NCB conducts multiple raids in Goa, Mumbai
Panaji (Goa) [India], March 8 (ANI): Officials of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB ) of Maharashtra and Goa conducted multiple raids and caught drug peddlers including foreigners as well as seized a huge amount of drugs from their possession in Goa.
The team, led by zonal officer Sameer Wankhede conducted raids at multiple locations across Goa late on Sunday as part of an anti-narcotics drive.
Speaking to ANI over the phone, Wankhede said that his team has caught drug peddlers including foreigners. The raid had been going on since morning and the team has now moved to other areas. (ANI)
Farooq Abdullah accuses BJP of spreading falsehoods
Udhampur (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], March 8 (ANI): National Conference (NC) president and former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah on Sunday accused Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of spreading lies and attempting to pit leaders of other parties against each other.
Abdullah said, “A few days ago I got a fake call where a person impersonating as Jharkhand Chief Minister asked me to work for Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata and get rupees 50 lakh. I called up Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MP who told me tjat Devegowda ji (former PM) got the same call. They (BJP) will use any means to pit us against one another.”
The National Conference president made this statement while addressing a meeting of party workers leaders in Udhampur.
On the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution, Abdullah said it is not just a Kashmir-centric issue and much more important for the regions of Jammu and Ladakh.
Abdullah, Member of Parliament from Srinagar said, he continued to reiterate demand for the restoration of statehood and Article 370 and 35 A “to protect the rights of residents of Jammu and Kashmir, the land and government jobs.”
He also contested the claim by the BJP-led government of development in Jammu and Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370. “Unemployment is at its peak here,” he claimed. (ANI)
Punjab chief secretary holds meeting with experts to tackle second wave of COVID-19
Chandigarh [India], March 8 (ANI) Punjab Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan on Sunday held a high-level meeting with experts to tackle the second COVID-19 wave.
Mahajan chaired a virtual meeting of the State Health Response and Procurement Committee of the Departments of Health, Medical Education, and School Education, reviewed and discussed with experts the possible steps to effectively tackle the spread during the second wave, according to a press release.
Central Government’s Joint Secretary Dr Mandeep Bhandari, who had recently visited Punjab as head of the Central team along with Dr Lakshmi from PGIMER, shared their observations that the COVID spread in Punjab is not just specific to schools alone as other places are also affected and the primary reason for the surge in cases in the State is because people are not following COVID Appropriate Behaviors and not religiously abiding the COVID safety protocols.
The state Principal Secretary (Medical Education) DK Tewari informed that in Medical Colleges, students are getting tested every 15 days and no positivity has been found yet.
He also confirmed that all Government Labs are functional for RTPCR testing with a combined capacity of more than 30,000 tests per day.
The Chief Secretary directed the Health and Medical Education Departments to strengthen their treatment facilities to deal with the second wave and fill their remaining vacancies on priority.
Mahjan said that the government is keeping a close watch and depending upon the situation, the decision to reduce occupancy or closure of restaurants, malls and cinema houses will be taken in coming days.
Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare) Hussan Lal said that the number of vaccination sites would be extended to District Hospitals, Sub-Divisional Hospitals, and Community Health Centres to facilitate vaccination of eligible general population.
According to the union health ministry’s update on Saturday morning, Punjab had 6,661 active cases. As many as 5,898 people have so far lost their lives to COVID-19 in the state. (ANI)
India to become Aatmanirbhar in silk production in 2 years, says Smriti Irani
New Delhi [India], March 8 (ANI): Union minister Smriti Irani on Sunday expressed confidence that India will become self-reliant or Aatmanirbhar in silk production in the next two years.
The Minister for Textiles and Women and Child Development said the government aims to provide employment to over one crore people exclusively in the silk segment through the Krishi Vigyan Kendra programme according to a statement.
She said that India’s raw silk production increased by 35 per cent in the last six years.
The Minister said that more than 90 lakh people have got employment in raw silk production.
She made the statement while addressing a programme to announce a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Textiles Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, the minister also distributed Buniyaad Reeling Machines to women silk reelers with an aim to eradicate unhygienic and obsolete thigh reeling practice.
The Minister informed that 8000 women thigh reelers were identified for providing Buniyaad machines and 5000 women have already been supported under Silk Samagra Phase I. She said that for the remaining 3000 thigh reelers, fund provision has been made in order to eradicate Unhygienic and Obsolete Thigh Reeling Practice from the country.
The Central Silk Board (CSB) under the Ministry of Textiles and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a convergence model for the implementation of Agro-forestry in the silk sector under the ongoing Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) Scheme, in the presence of Irani and Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Parshottam Rupala.
The minister further stated that the MoU will increase the agricultural income from 20 to 30 per cent.
Referring to the PPE (Personal protective equipment) kits, in which India has become the second-largest producer in the world, she said that India has the capability of creating history in Agro-Technical Textiles also. She said farmers income has almost increased to 60 per cent by adopting Agro Technical Textile.
The Minister observed that consumption of agriculture-based technical textile will increase by involving Krishi Vigyan Kendra in creating awareness about Agro-tech and Technical textiles. She said this will lead the way for the creation of new products. (ANI)
HUSBAND STRANDED IN SAUDI ARABIA, WOMAN SEEKS MEA’S HELP TO BRING HIM BACK
HYDERABAD: A woman in Hyderabad has written to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) requesting the safe return of her husband who has been stranded in Saudi Arabia.
Speaking to ANI, Nafees Begum, the wife of Hassan Pasha, who is stuck in Saudi Arabia, said that her husband was first employed as a spray painter at a workshop at Markaz Fahad in Medina. “After working for 10 years, he was offered a partnership by his employer Fahad Al Harbi and asked for a share in his profit,” claimed Nafees Begum. “Five years into the partnership, he was able to pay for three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Later, the workshop was demolished by municipal authorities. His employer asked him to go back to India and come back again on a new visa. The owner said he would provide and has taken signatures for the same,” she added.
Days before he was scheduled to leave Saudi Arabia, Nafees Begum claimed Pasha got to know that his employer had filed a case against him.
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