Centre extends ban on UK flights till 7 Jan, advises caution on New Year's eve; cases of new COVID-19 strain rise to 20

An expert panel met to consider the Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) requests of Pfizer, Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates. As per reports, the SEC said it will reconvene on 1 January.

FP Staff December 31, 2020 00:00:54 IST
Centre extends ban on UK flights till 7 Jan, advises caution on New Year's eve; cases of new COVID-19 strain rise to 20

Representational image. AFP

The Centre on Wednesday extended the temporary suspension of passenger flights between the United Kingdom and India till  7 January.

This, as 14 more UK returnees tested positive for the new strain of the coronavirus, taking the tally of such cases in the country to 20.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DCGA) also announced that the suspension of scheduled international passenger flights has extended till 31 January, adding that such flights may be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on a case to case basis.

The Union health ministry has asked all states to keep a strict vigil on New Year's celebrations that could be potential COVID-19 super-spreader events and to prevent crowding, reported news agency PTI.

Maharashtra has extended lockdown restrictions in the state till 31 January. Some states announced changes in their coronavirus curbs. Punjab decided to lift night curfew from 1 January in view of the downward trend in cases, while Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh said hotels, pubs, restaurants and bars in the state can remain open till 11 pm on 31 December. The Gujarat government said that night curfew in four cities will be curtailed by one hour from 1 to 14 January.

The Gujarat government said from 1 to 14 January, night curfew in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodara and Surat will start at 10 pm instead of 9 pm and continue till 6 am.

Also on Wednesday, the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) in the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) met to consider the Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) requests of Pfizer, Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates. As per reports, the SEC said it will reconvene on 1 January.

India's coronavirus case count on Wednesday rose to 1,02,44,852 with 20,549 new infections being reported in a day, while the number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 98.34 lakh pushing the national recovery rate to 95.99 percent, as per the Union health ministry's morning update. The toll mounted to 1,48,439 with 286 new fatalities, the data updated at 8 am showed.

There are 2,62,272 active cases of coronavirus infections in the country which comprises 2.56 percent of the total caseload, the ministry said.

Health ministry asks states to step up  guard for New Year

In a letter to states and Union Territories, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan stated that the number of active COVID-19 cases has been declining steadily in the country for the last three-and-half months but stressed that there was still a need for comprehensive precaution and strict surveillance in view of the fresh surge of coronavirus cases in Europe and the Americas.

"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.

Drawing attention to the guidelines and recommendations of the Union home ministry, the Union health secretary has urged the states to "promptly assess the local situation and consider imposition of appropriate restrictions on 30 and 31 December, as well as on 1 January, 2021."

There are curbs in various states and cities on revelries for New Year. The Maharashtra government has imposed in a night curfew in municipal corporation areas till 5 January and on  Monday also issued an advisory appealing to people to "welcome the New Year in a simple way in their homes".

Maharashtra lockdown extended 

The Maharashtra government has in a circular dated 29 December extended lockdown restriction till 31 January stating that the state is threatened with the spread of COVID-19 virus. "Therefore, to take certain emergency measures to prevent and contain the spread of the virus, the lockdown in the state has been extended till January," the circular said. The activities already allowed and permitted from time to time shall be continue, it added.

However, on Wednesday, Maharashtra's home minister said hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars will remain open till 11 pm on 31 December. Gathering of five or more people at public places is prohibited, but there are no restrictions on people stepping out for the purpose of buying medicines, and visiting friends and relatives (after 11 pm in view of the night curfew), he said.

Deshmukh further stated that local authorities have been authorised to ensure that the pandemic-related restrictions are enforced in hill stations where New Year's revellers gather in large numbers.

Karnataka chief minister BS yediyurappa urged citizens to not lower their guard during New Year. "Dear citizens, the danger of corona has still not subsided. As we enter into the New Year even the slightest ignorance regarding the pandemic is not done," he said.

"Follow the government's guidelines and rules and stay safe by taking all the necessary precautionary measures, and cooperate," Yediyurappa tweeted.

The CM's appeal comes ahead of the New Year as the government has prohibited parties, special DJ dance programmes and events at clubs, pubs, restaurants and other places that attract people in large numbers, in an apparent bid to keep the virus spread under check.

Gathering of people at public places and roads for celebrations stands prohibited, but normal routine activities can be carried out at these places.

Yediyurappa also appealed to those who have come from the UK in the last two months to come forward and get their health check done. The returnees who have gone untraceable should get tested for their own benefit and also to control its spread in case of infection, he said.

Odisha bans New Year celebrations, allows reopening of cinemas and theatres

The Odisha government on Wednesday totally prohibited zero night and New Year's celebrations across the state but allowed reopening of cinema halls, theatres and other entertainment facilities  with up to 50 percent capacity from 1 January, 2021, as part of Unlock 8.

Open air theatres, jatra, entertainment parks will also be permitted to open by the local authorities,  subject to adherence to safety protocols and social, religious, sports and cultural functions and gatherings will be allowed with a ceiling of 200 people, it said in an order.

Marriage related gatherings shall be allowed with a ceiling of 200 people and funeral/last rites related gatherings with a ceiling of 100 people, it said and also allowed B2B and B2C exhibitions with participants and visitors with restrictions on the number of visitors and compliance to COVID-19 safety protocols.

The order clearly mentioned that all Anganwadi Centres will remain closed till  31 January, 2021, and allowed authorities to take a call on reopening of schools, colleges and also places of worship. Lockdown till continue in containment zones, it added.

Punjab to lift night curfew from 1 Jan

Meanwhile, the Punjab government decided to lift the night curfew from 1 January and eased restrictions on social gatherings, allowing more people to attend both indoor and outdoor gatherings. A government spokesperson said  200 and 500 people will be allowed at all indoor and outdoor social gatherings, respectively from 1 January.

Tally of new virus strain cases rises to 20

With fourteen more persons who recently returned from the UK testing positive for the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2, extended the temporary suspension of passenger flights between the UK and India for a week till 7 January and said the services would resume in a "strictly regulated" manner thereafter.

The Union Health Ministry said the mutated UK strain was detected in eight samples at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)in Delhi, 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.

Official sources said among the eight people whose samples tested positive in Delhi was the woman who left the National Capital and travelled to Andhra Pradesh last week by train. The remaining seven are in quarantine at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) in Delhi.

Separately, Karnataka health minister K Sudhakar said seven people who returned to the state from the UK, were found to be infected with the mutated strain of coronavirus. Two such cases were also reported from Uttar Pradesh and one in West Bengal, according to state authorities.

A high-level inter-ministerial steering Committee will guide Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), formed to ascertain the status of new variant of the coronavirus, said Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology. The committee will have a Scientific Advisory Group for technical guidance, she added.

The government had launched the INSACOG, comprising 10 labs, in the wake of the new strain of the coronavirus being detected in the UK.

SEC to meet again on 1 Jan

Meanwhile, the SEC on COVID-19 deliberated and analysed the additional data and information submitted by Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech.

"The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) in the CDSCO met today in the afternoon to consider the emergency use authorisation (EUA) request of Pfizer, Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech Pvt. Ltd," the health ministry said in a statement.

"Further time was requested on behalf of Pfizer. The additional data and information presented by SII and Bharat Biotech Pvt. Ltd was perused and analysed by the SEC. The analysis of the additional data and information is going on. The SEC will convene again on January 1, 2021," it said.

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, has entered into a tie-up AstraZeneca to manufacture 'Covishield'.

While considering SII's application, the SEC on 9 December had recommended that the firm should submit updated safety data of phase 2 and 3 clinical trials in the country, immunogenicity data from the clinical trial in the UK and India, along with the outcome of the assessment of the UK MHRA for grant of EUA.

As for Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, after detailed deliberation, the committee had recommended that the firm should present the safety and efficacy data from the ongoing phase 3 clinical trial in the country for further consideration.

SII had applied to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for emergency use authorisation for Covishield on 6 December while the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech had sought a similar nod for its its indigenously developed Covaxin on 7 December. Pfizer had applied for a similiar approval for its vaccine on 4 December.

International developments

The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on Wednesday approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by scientists at Oxford University and produced by AstraZeneca for human use, the second coronavirus vaccine to be cleared for rollout in Britain after the Pfizer/BioNTech jabs.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the rollout of the second approved vaccine will begin on 4 January and will "really accelerate into the first few weeks of next year".

The US meanwhile recorded what is said to be its first case of the UK virus variant in a Colorado man with no travel history.  The patient, who is in his 20s, was recovering in isolation in Elbert County, a mostly rural expanse on the edge of the Denver metropolitan area, officials said. His condition was not disclosed.

More than 3,000 cases of the variant have already been reported in the UK and dozens of countries in Europe and around the world, according to the EU health agency ECDC.

More than 300 cases of another variant have been reported in South Africa. Three cases of that strain have been confirmed in Europe, two in the UK and one in Finland, but all three have been connected to people returning from South Africa.

In China's Wuhan, where the pathogen first emerged, a study by health authorities indicated that the number of coronavirus cases may have been 10 times higher than official figures suggest, reported news agency AFP.

About 4.4 percent of the city's 11 million residents had developed antibodies against the virus by April, the report by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control (CDC) said. That comes up to around 4,80,000 infections in Wuhan by April, nearly 10 times the official tally to date of 50,000 cases in the city.

China has faced a barrage of criticism at home and abroad over its initial handling of the virus, including attempts to silence whistle-blowers and not reporting any cases for days in early January amid high-level political consultations.

With inputs from agencies


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