India says virus variants not behind upsurge in cases
By Krishna N. Das and Neha Arora NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Tuesday mutated versions of coronavirus were not responsible for an upsurge in cases in two states, a potential relief for a country where mask-wearing and social distancing have largely disappeared.
By Krishna N. Das and Neha Arora
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Tuesday mutated versions of coronavirus were not responsible for an upsurge in cases in two states, a potential relief for a country where mask-wearing and social distancing have largely disappeared.
Maharashtra in the west and Kerala in the south account for 75% of India's current active cases of 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.
India has reported more than 11 million cases - the most in the world after the United States - and about 156,000 deaths. Actual infections have inched closer to 300 million in the country of 1.35 billion, according to a random study of antibodies done by the government.
A top government health official confirmed the long-time presence of two mutants - N440K and E484Q - in those 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.
"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," Vinod Kumar Paul, who heads a government committee on vaccines, told a news conference.
Though cases have come down sharply since a September peak, Paul said India was still vulnerable, especially 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 openly flouted by both federal and state ministers.
The northern state of Punjab, which has also seen a rise in cases, said indoor gatherings would be restricted to 100 and outdoor to 200 from March 1. District heads have also been permitted to decide on night curfews in hotspots, and testing will be increased, the state's chief minister said.
Punjab is one of the worst performing states in vaccinating their healthcare workers, according to the federal government.
The government on Tuesday asked five states, including Maharashtra and Punjab, to expedite vaccination of their healthcare and frontline workers in light of the surge in cases, according to letters shared by the health ministry.
India has given nearly 12 million doses to its health and frontline workers since beginning the campaign in mid-January, a pace that will have to be increased sharply to meet the target of reaching 300 million people by August.
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said India would very soon start immunising people over 50 and those with medical conditions, with greater involvement from private hospitals. Government hospitals are now running around 80% of vaccination sites.
The government has recently come under pressure to expand coverage at home given the world's largest vaccine maker has exported COVID-19 shots to more than two dozen countries.
India is using a vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Other vaccines are in the queue, including Russia's Sputnik V and products from Cadila Healthcare and Novavax.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Neha Arora; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean, Philippa Fletcher and Giles Elgood)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.