Why most Indians may be protected from Omicron

News Network
November 30, 2021

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A “very large” number of Indians are likely to remain protected from Omicron or any other variant of Covid-19 and there is no need to panic, eminent virologist Dr Shahid Jameel has said.

Jameel, who is the former head of the advisory group to the Indian SARS-COV-2 Genomics Consortia (INASACOG), said people must be cautious and keep wearing masks.

"While we should be cautious, there is no need to panic. India's second wave due to the Delta variant was huge, infecting more people than we imagined. This is reflected in the fourth National Sero-survey that showed 67 per cent of Indians to have Covid antibodies. That is about 930-940 million people at a time when the vaccination levels were very low, and so it came mainly from infection," he said in an interview.

"More recently, Delhi showed 97 per cent with antibodies, Mumbai around 85-90 per cent and so on. All this means that a very large fraction of Indians will be protected from severe disease caused by Omicron or any other variant," Jameel said.

A new variant of Covid-19, feared to have a high amount of spike mutations, has been detected in South Africa. On November 26, the WHO had designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern and named it Omicron.

Speaking on the effectiveness of vaccines against the new variant, Jameel said more data is awaited but vaccine effectiveness against the variant may dip by a few points. However, vaccines will not become useless, he said.

"We don't have this data available yet. It may take another one to two weeks for the first laboratory results to become available. My hunch is that vaccine effectiveness against this variant may dip a few points, but vaccines will not become useless. They will continue to protect from severe disease," he said.

On how India can prepare to tackle the new variant, he said people should not panic, and continue to wear mask while the government should increase the rate of vaccination.

"We are fortunate to have sufficient vaccines and the ability to vaccinate. Along this line, it may help to reduce the duration between two doses of Covishield from 16 weeks to 12 weeks. This will get more people vaccinated quickly, especially those in vulnerable age groups (elderly), those with comorbidities and those in high risk occupations (health care)," he said.

On what role a booster dose of vaccine can play against the new variant to tackle waning immunity against Covid-19, he said booster shots help, but it is more important to first get more people vaccinated with two doses.

"Further, about 90 per cent of doses in India are Covishield, and this has limited use as a booster. For that we will need either RNA, DNA or protein vaccines. For the moment, just make sure more and more people get the two doses," he said.

Responding to reports claiming that the variant mainly affects people below 25 years of age, he said there is no data available on the subject.

"So far, the few known patients are in this age group. I doubt it will pose a bigger threat to children who naturally have no or mild disease to this virus," Jameel said.

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News Network
January 31,2023

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Koppal, Jan 31: A month after announcing a new political party "Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha", former Karnataka Minister and mining baron G Janardhana Reddy on Tuesday announced that his wife Aruna Lakshmi will contest the upcoming assembly polls from Ballari city assembly constituency.

Reddy's brother G Somasekhara Reddy currently represents the segment from BJP.

"You are aware that I'm a candidate from Gangavathi assembly segment. I'm today announcing my wife Aruna Lakshmi as candidate from Ballari city assembly constituency," Reddy said addressing a gathering during his party's yatra (tour programme) here.

Reddy's brothers, G Karunakara Reddy and G Somashekar Reddy are BJP MLAs from Harapanahalli and Ballari city assembly segments, and his close friend Sriramulu is also BJP MLA from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga district and a Minister.

They have made it clear that they are with the BJP and have nothing to do with Janardhana Reddy's new party.

If BJP again fields Somashekar Reddy from Ballari city assembly segment it will be an electoral fight between members of the family.

Responding to a question whether his wife would contest from Ballari city even if his brother Somasekhara Reddy is fielded by BJP from there, Reddy while speaking to reporters said he doesn't want to comment about any other party or individual.

"Is there any confusion on my announcement? Wherever I have an opportunity or a possibility to win, I will field candidates from there, there is no need for me to field candidates to defeat someone. In the three months I will travel in the constituencies that I can within my limitations and will try to ensure my candidate wins," he said.

Reddy on December 25 had announced a new party named "Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha", with this, the leader who is an accused in illegal mining case, had cut his two-decade-old association with the ruling BJP.

Accused in a multi-crore illegal mining case, he has been out on bail since 2015 and several conditions were imposed by the apex court in its order, including prohibiting him from visiting Ballari in Karnataka and Ananthpur and Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh.

This is said to be the reason why Reddy himself is contesting from Gangavathi in Koppal district, and is fielding his wife from his home district of Ballari.

Reddy while addressing the gathering said, it has been just over 30 days since the formation of the party, but it has disturbed the sleep of every other political party and leaders in the state.

Noting that he fears none, he said, his decision on the new party is strong, and would reach his goal with blessings of everyone. "There is no question of me going back (from new party decision)."

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News Network
February 7,2023

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Istanbul, Feb 7: Rescuers struggled to save people trapped under the rubble as the death toll from the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria reached almost 5,000, according to reports. 

Since the first 7.8 magnitude quake, the region has seen five major temblors that have toppled entire apartment blocks, wrecking hospitals, and leaving thousands more people injured or homeless.

As rescue operations continued, freezing winter weather hampered search efforts for survivors through the night. Temperatures fell close to freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless, news agency Reuters reported. 

The earthquake on Monday in Turkey and Syria was the biggest recorded worldwide by the US Geological Survey since a tremor in the remote South Atlantic in August 2021.

Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-storey apartment blocks -- trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.

"Where is my mum?" asked a distraught seven-year-old girl who was pulled -- her face, hair and pyjamas covered in dust -- from a collapsed building in Hatay, on the Turkish side of the border.

The sense of disbelief was widespread, as residents struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster.

"We thought it was the apocalypse," said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.

Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake's epicentre between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow.

As residents tried to clear a mountain of masonry, plasterboard and furniture that had been a multi-story building, another collapsed nearby -- sending crowds screaming and clamouring for safety.

With aftershocks continuously rattling the area, many terrified and exhausted survivors spent the night outdoors, too afraid to go home.

Some huddled under bus shelters, some wrapped themselves in plastic to repel the freezing rain and others burned debris to keep warm.

Mustafa Koyuncu packed his wife and their five children into their parked car.

"We can't go home," the 55-year-old told AFP. "Everyone is afraid."

Turkey's relief agency AFAD put the latest death toll at 3,381 in that country alone -- bringing the confirmed tally in both Turkey and Syria to 4,890.

There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with World Health Organization officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died.

"There is a family I know under the rubble," said 20-year-old student Omer El Cuneyd in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.

"Until 11:00 am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there."

Overwhelmed medics struggled to treat the estimated 20,000 injured.

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- All and any -

The US Geological Survey said Monday's first earthquake struck at 4:17 am (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 18 kilometres (11 miles).

The initial earthquake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Greenland and was followed by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that struck in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday.

The impact was devastating and sparked a global response, with dozens of nations from Ukraine to New Zealand vowing to send help.

But a winter blizzard has covered major roads into the area in ice and snow and officials said three major airports have been rendered inoperable, complicating deliveries of vital aid.

Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed homes, hospitals and clinics.

The conflict is already shaping the emergency response, with Syria's envoy to the United Nations Bassam Sabbagh seemingly ruling out reopening border crossings that would allow aid to reach areas controlled by rebel groups.

The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.

Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo -- Syria's pre-war commercial hub -- often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure.

Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, and also closed schools for two weeks.

The UN cultural agency UNESCO expressed fears over heavy damage in two cities on its heritage list -- Aleppo in Syria and Diyarbakir in Turkey.

At a jail holding mostly Islamic State group members in northwestern Syria, prisoners mutinied after the quakes, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility told AFP.

The United States, the European Union and Russia all immediately sent condolences and offers of help.

President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will send "any and all" aid needed to help recover from a devastating earthquake.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also offered to provide "the necessary assistance" to Turkey, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.

Chinese state media said on Tuesday that Beijing was sending rescuers, medical teams and other supplies.

Turkey is in one of the world's most active earthquake zones.

The country's last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.

The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.

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- Election test for Erdogan -

The quake struck at 04:17 am (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometres (11 miles) near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which is home to around two million people, the US Geological Survey said.

Turkey's AFAD emergencies service centre put the quake's magnitude at 7.7, updating an initial estimate of 7.4.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will be under intense pressure to oversee an effective response to the disaster heading to a tightly-contested May 14 election, conveyed his sympathies and urged national unity.

"We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage," the Turkish leader tweeted.

Washington, the European Union, and Russian all immediately sent condolences and offers of help.

Turkey also received a message of support from its historic rival Greece, whose relations with Ankara have suffered from a spate of border and cultural disputes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered to provide "the necessary assistance" to Turkey, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.

And Iran, which together with Russia is trying to help Ankara restore its relations with Damascus following its efforts to help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sent separate messages of condolence to both sides.

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- 'People under rubble' -

Images on Turkish television showed rescuers digging through rubble across city centres and residential neighbourhoods of almost all the big cities running along the border with Syria.

Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake's epicentre between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, where entire city blocks lay in ruins under the gathering snow.

Kahramanmaras Governor Omer Faruk Coskun said it was too early to estimate the death count because so many buildings were destroyed.

"It is not possible to give the number of dead and injured at the moment because so many buildings have been destroyed," Coskun said. "The damage is serious."

A famous mosque dating back to the 13th century partially collapsed in the province of Maltaya, where a 14-story building with 28 apartments housed 92 people also collapsed.

In other cities, social media posts showed a 2,200-year-old hilltop castle built by Roman armies in Gaziantep lying in ruins, its walls partially turned to rubble.

"We hear voices here -- and over there, too," one rescuer was overheard as saying on NTV television in front of a flattened building in the city of Diyarbakir.

"There may be 200 people under the rubble."

"This makes search and rescue efforts dangerous."

Turkey is in one of the world's most active earthquake zones.

The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died --including about 1,000 in Istanbul.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.

The last 7.8-magnitude tremor shook Turkey in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province

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News Network
February 7,2023

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New Delhi, Feb 7: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday linked the massive rise in the business fortunes and personal wealth of businessman Gautam Adani to the Modi government coming to power in 2014, as he launched a sharp attack on the BJP dispensation over the Adani issue.

His charges in Lok Sabha drew a sharp response from the treasury benches, with Law Minister Kiren Rijiju asking him to not level "wild allegations" and furnish proof of his claims.

Speaker Om Birla also asked him to focus on the President's address and disapproved of the Congress leader displaying a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Adani in the business tycoon's plane to highlight their alleged proximity.

Participating in the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President's Address in Lok Sabha as the first opposition speaker, Gandhi also questioned the Agniveer scheme for recruiting defence personnel claiming that youths aspiring to be in the army were not on the same page as the government on the scheme.

Senior officers have said the scheme will weaken the army, he claimed.

Gandhi said he learnt a lot during his recently concluded Bharat Jodo Yatra and got the opportunity to listen to the inner voice of India.

He said the highlights of what people told him during the Kanyakumari-to-Kashmir march were the issues of unemployment, price rise and farmers' problems. Adani's name was also frequently heard from people across states as they wondered how he is successful in every business he enters, Gandhi claimed.

The Adani Group is in the eye of a storm following the allegations of fraud and stock manipulation by a US-based short-selling firm. The company's stocks have been hammered even though the group has rejected the charges.

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