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New Delta variant emerges as India sees lowest spike in 74 days

Highly transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 mutates to form the Delta Plus, but experts say no cause of concern for now

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Even as India maintained its declining trend of cases and reported the lowest single-day Covid-19 rise in 74 days, scientists have said that the highly transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has mutated further to form the “Delta Plus” or “AY.1” variant, They, however, added that there is no immediate cause for concern in India as its incidence in the country is still low.

The Delta or B.1.617.2 variant was first identified in India and is one of the drivers of the deadly second wave. The new Delta Plus variant has been formed due to a mutation in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant. “Delta Plus” is resistant to the monoclonal antibody cocktail treatment for Covid-19 recently authorised in India, though there is no indication yet of the severity of the disease due to the new variant.

According to Public Health England, 63 genomes of Delta (B.1.617.2) with the new K417N mutation have been identified so far on the global science initiative GISAID. In its latest report on coronavirus variants, updated till last Friday, the health agency said “Delta Plus” was present in six genomes from India as of 7 June.

The “AY.1” variant is characterised by the acquisition of K417N mutation, Vinod Scaria, clinician and scientist at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), tweeted on Sunday. The mutation, he said, is in the spike protein of SARS-COV-2, which helps the virus enter and infect the human cells.

The variant frequency for K417N is not much in India at this point in time. The sequences are mostly from Europe, Asia and America, Scaria wrote on Twitter. The earliest sequence of this genome was found in Europe in late March this year. Noting that the travel histories for the variant are not readily available to make assumptions, Scaria said an important point to consider regarding K417N is the evidence suggesting resistance to monoclonal antibodies Casirivimab and Imdevimab. This cocktail recently received emergency-use authorization in the country from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. Drug majors Roche India and Ciplas have priced the antibody cocktail at a steep Rs 59,750 per dose.

Scaria also indicated the mutation may be associated with the ability to escape the immune response against the virus. Similar to antibodies which are proteins that the body naturally produces to defend itself against the disease, monoclonal antibodies are artificially created in a lab and tailor-made to fight the disease they treat. Casirivimab and Imdevimab are monoclonal antibodies that are specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, and designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.

Allaying fears, immunologist Vineeta Bal said that while there may be some setback in the use of commercial antibody cocktail due to the new variant, resistance to the therapy is not an indication of higher virulence or severity of a disease. How transmissible this new variant is will be a crucial factor to determine its rapid spread or otherwise, Bal, guest faculty at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, told a news agency.

Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said on Monday that 70,421 new Covid-19 infections were reported in the last 24 hours. With this, the total cases have reached 2,95,10,410, and the daily positivity rate stands at 4.72 per cent, which is less than 10 per cent for the 21st consecutive day. Also, the weekly positivity rate dropped below 5 per cent and today stands at 4.54 per cent. The active caseload remained below 10 lakh after 66 days and today stands at 9,73,158. According to the health ministry, a total of 3,921 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 3,74,305 in the country.

WITH AGENCY INPUTS

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BILL AND MELINDA GATES ARE OFFICIALLY DIVORCED

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WASHINGTON: The divorce between Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates has been finalised. As per CNN report, filing with the King County Superior Court in Washington made the move official. Melinda French Gates filed the petition for divorce in King County, Washington.

Bill and Melinda announced in May that they would be ending their marriage after 27 years, saying, “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

However, the duo said they will continue to work together at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Meanwhile, the foundation said last month that the organisation was planning a two-year trial period to see if the pair could continue working together effectively.

“If after two years either decide they cannot continue to work together as co-chairs, French Gates will resign her position as co-chair and trustee,” CEO Mark Suzman said. In the weeks following the initial announcement of the divorce, Bill faced allegations of questionable workplace conduct in the early years at Microsoft.

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BLINKEN ANNOUNCES US REFUGEE ADMISSIONS PROGRAMME FOR AFGHAN NATIONALS

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a US refugee admissions programme Priority 2 designation for Afghan nationals on Monday. The US is weeks away from completing military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Blinken, during a press briefing, said, “The State Department is announcing a new resettlement program for Afghans who assisted the United States, but who do not qualify for special immigrant visas. We’ve created a Priority-2 or P-2 designation, granting access to the US refugee admissions program for many of these Afghans and their family members.”

He said that even as the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the US will remain deeply engaged with the country.

“We’ll continue to work toward an Afghanistan, where all Afghans can live in safety and security, and we will continue our support for Afghan institutions, and for the gains that the Afghan people have made over the past 20 years,” said Blinken.

“We will keep engaging intensely in diplomacy to advance negotiations between the Afghan government, the Taliban, with the goal of a political solution, which we believe is the only path to lasting peace. And we’ll keep working closely with countries in the region, which all have a stake in a stable, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan,” he stated.

Blinken said that Afghans who work with the United States or the International Security Assistance Force at some point since 2001 are facing acute fears of persecution or retribution that will likely grow as coalition forces leave the country.

He further added that “We have a special report the responsibility to these individuals. They stood with us. We will stand with them. Over the past 13 years, the State Department has issued more than 73,000 Special Immigrant Visas to eligible Afghans who have helped the United States, and also to their families. We’ll continue to welcome Afghan immigrants and refugees as our neighbours in gratitude for helping us, despite the danger. We won’t forget it.”

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AFGHAN PRESIDENT GHANI’S TIME HAS RUN OUT: TALIBAN

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KABUL: Taliban said that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s “time has run out” on Monday. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, while reacting to Ghani’s remark that the ongoing war is an external intrigue imposed on the people of Afghanistan, accused the President of lying and spreading false information.

A tweet by Mujahid said that his (Ghani’s) time is over and the announcement of warfare will not survive him. “Speech by @ashrafghani is nonsense, an attempt to control his fears & dire situation. Nation has decided to pursue & bring national traitors to justice. Declarations of war, accusations & lies cannot prolong Ghani’s life, his time has run out, God willing,” said Mujahid. 

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INDIA WANTS PEACEFUL RELATIONS, ONUS IS ON PAKISTAN: TIRUMURTI

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WASHINGTON: India’s Permanent Representative to United Nations, T.S. Tirumurti said that India desires to have peaceful and normal relations with Pakistan but in an atmosphere free from terror.

The Indian Ambassador to the UN informed that issues between the two countries should be resolved in an atmosphere free from terror, hostility, and violence and the onus is on Pakistan to create such an environment. “Pakistan should take credible and verifiable action not to allow any territory under their control to be used for cross border terrorism against India,” said Tirumurti. He also informed that India wants to keep a spotlight on counter-terrorism.

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US-China seek alignment of Afghan interests: Ned Price

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has said that China’s interest in Afghanistan could be ‘an alignment of interest’ when it comes to what the US and China seek in Afghanistan.

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) interest in Afghanistan could be “an alignment of interest” when it comes to what the US and China seek in Afghanistan, said US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday. “There’s an alignment of interest in at least some areas when it comes to what we seek, what China seeks and what the broader international community seeks in Afghanistan,” Price told ANI on being asked what is US’ assessment of meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Taliban delegation led by its Chief Negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Experts say thay although the US might once have fiercely resisted Chinese attempts to increase their influence inside Afghanistan, now Washington’s priority appears to keep away a civil war. Spokesperson Price also affirmed that is in no one’s interest to see Afghanistan descend into an all-out civil war. “It is in everyone’s interest to see a solution to the conflict that is just as durable as Afghan-led, and Afghan Owned,” he concluded.

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AMID COVID PANDEMIC, PMGKY REDUCES WORRIES OF THE POOR: PM MODI

Abhijit Bhatt

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Gandhinagar: Annotsav Day was celebrated on Tuesday on the occasion of the completion of five years of the Rupani government, as part of which a state-level program was organized in Dahod district in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a virtual dialogue with the beneficiaries of the grain welfare scheme. He asked whether the beneficiaries of Dahod and Rajkot have any problem in taking up the scheme or not. Modi said in a dialogue with the beneficiaries that the poor would get free foodgrains till Diwali. Modi praised the performance of the Gujarat government.

Prime Minister’s Poor Welfare Food Scheme is being praised all over the world. More than Rs 2 crore is being spent by the government under this scheme. The aim is that not a single person in India goes to bed hungry. Under this scheme, ration cardholders are being given double the amount of foodgrains than before. The plan is to run till Diwali.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday addressed the beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana and said this scheme has reduced the worries of the poor and increased their confidence. Three and a half crore beneficiaries in Gujarat are getting the benefit of free foodgrains. “I commend the Gujarat government for this. Preference is given to workers from other parts of the country. Workers have benefited from this scheme. Gujarat is the first to offer the benefit of One Nation One Ration Card,” said the Prime Minister.

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