After Covid-19 wrecked 2020, will 2021 be different?

News Network
December 2, 2020

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2020 was a year turned upside-down by the novel coronavirus. But with the prospect of several vaccines coming online and less stringent restrictions, experts say it's possible 2021 will return to a semblance of normality.

With a second Covid-19 wave currently battering Europe, the United States battling its third, and Hong Kong facing a fourth, disease specialists say they can't rule out more resurgences in cases and deaths as 2021 gets underway.

France's scientific council, which guides government policy on the pandemic, envisages "several successive waves" of Covid-19 over the winter and well into next year.

Flavio Toxvaerd, lecturer at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Economics, told AFP the question of how many waves the world still faces depends on a variety of factors.

These include "seasonal changes in contact patterns as well as how well the disease is managed through a combination of social distancing and vaccines," said Toxvaerd, who specialises in the economics of infectious diseases and economic epidemiology.

Lessons learned from past interventions could allow countries to fine-tune their counter-virus measures, implementing modified restrictions while avoiding total lockdowns.

Governments will seek to administer "the minimal effective dose" of measures, such as bans on large gatherings or high-risk activities, according to Anne-Claude Cremieux, an infectious diseases expert at Paris' Saint-Louis hospital.

She referred to a strategy of "surgical strikes" against the virus.

That would require full knowledge and control over the transmission chain, with an effective "test, trace, isolate" system and particular care taken over protecting vulnerable and elderly individuals.

"We need to hold on until relief arrives, and the relief is a vaccine," said Cremieux. She, however, cautioned that "it's clear we're not going to vaccinate the entire world in six months".

Even if several vaccines are made available, they alone will not be enough to return to normal.

Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute told RMC/BFMTV television that normality could be restored "only by Autumn 2021" -- and even then only if 80-90 per cent of the population are vaccinated. Universal coverage would be "an extremely ambitious goal given the hesitancy that exists today towards vaccines," he said.

Fontanet echoed concerns expressed by fellow experts that a massive effort is needed to overcome anti-vaccine sentiment worldwide.

With some countries debating making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory, Toxvaerd sounded a note of caution. "In the current climate, making vaccines mandatory may backfire and cause even more resistance to the vaccine," he said.

"Instead, positive incentives to vaccinate should be considered."

He pointed to certain business and social practices -- such as some airlines refusing to admit non-vaccinated passengers -- that would be more likely to bring success than enforced vaccination programmes.

And the logistics of mass vaccination remain dizzying. Even as results from trials need verifying in peer-reviewed papers, little still is known about how long the immunity they render will last.

Fontanet said that even the most effective vaccines could not be treated as a magic wand guaranteeing protection. "There will be people who have been vaccinated who still get sick," he said. But he stressed that didn't mean that "the vaccine doesn't work".

With at least two candidate vaccines undergoing review by health authorities ahead of use authorisation, the safety data from trials is also being pored over.

"This can provide important additional and more precise information on longer-term safety and efficacy of a vaccine against Covid-19," the European Medicines Agency said recently.

Different vaccines will need to be distributed differently, too, with some candidates that have proven to prevent severe illness likely prioritised for at-risk individuals.

Moncef Slaoui, head scientist with the US's Operation Warp Speed vaccination programme, told CNN last month that around 70 percent of the population would need inoculating in order to achieve "true herd immunity".

This level is unlikely to be reached before May 2021, he added.

This year has seen an unprecedented change in personal behaviour prompted by Covid-19, from hand washing and social distancing to the now almost ubiquitous mask wearing.

Experts say these behaviours are unlikely to be limited to 2020 alone, as protective measures will still be needed until everyone is out of the woods.

Leading US scientist Anthony Fauci told AFP in a recent interview he foresaw "a considerable degree of normality" by the third quarter of next year.

Successful vaccination programmes could see for example the Olympic Games, delayed from last summer, take place in Tokyo in late July.

Meanwhile China, where Covid-19 emerged late last year, has largely resumed business as usual, while developing its own vaccine and reacting swiftly to any hint of new cases.

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News Network
January 10,2021

Bengaluru, Jan 10: Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa Sunday met Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi to discuss the state's political scenario and finalise the BJP's candidates for the upcoming by-polls in the state as he arrived in the national capital on a day-long visit.

Before he left for Delhi earlier in the day, Yediyurappa had hinted the much-awaited cabinet rejig in the state might also come up for discussion during his meeting.

After landing in Delhi, the CM told reporters, "I am going to discuss the political situation in Karnataka."

"Recently, we won the gram panchayat elections in a very big way. Within a month, we are going to face two parliamentary and an assembly by-polls. We have to finalise the candidates. We will discuss all these issues with Amit Shah and other important leaders," he added.

The BJP leader said while his appointment with the home minister is confirmed, he will also try to meet JP Nadda, the party's national president.

Asked about the steps taken to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the chief minister said, "In Karnataka, the COVID-19 situation is under control. We are taking all precautions."

Earlier before leaving the Bangalore Airport, he hinted that the cabinet expansion may also come up for discussion during his meeting with the party high command.

"I don't know. I will discuss all the issues," he told reporters at the airport when asked if a cabinet rejig is likely this week.

The cabinet expansion in the state has been on the cards for over a year now, but it could not take place, giving some anxious moments to ministerial aspirants and also leading to dissatisfaction.

Among those in the ministerial race are MLAs Umesh Katti, Munirathna, Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, M P Renukacharya, Aravind Limbavali and S R Vishwanath. Three MLCs -- C P Yogeshwar, MTB Nagaraj and R Shankar -- are too aspiring for a ministerial berth.

Another MLC, A H Vishwanath, too was in the race but his hopes dashed when the Karnataka High Court on November 30 barred him from becoming a minister until at least May this year.

The state can have a total of 34 ministers and it has 27 now.

By-polls are scheduled for Maski and Basavakalyan assembly segments, and Belagavi Lok Sabha constituency.

While Maski fell vacant due to the resignation of sitting Congress MLA Pratap Gouda Patil in 2019, the by-polls to Basavakalyan and Belagavi seats have been necessitated by the deaths of their representatives B Narayan Rao and Suresh Angadi, respectively, due to coronavirus.

"I will discuss all other issues with the party high command and wish to return in the night," the chief minister said before he departed. 
 

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News Network
January 11,2021

The Supreme Court on Monday said that it was "extremely disappointed with the way negotiations were going on between the government and farmers over new farm laws."

“We don't want to make any stray observations on your negotiations but we are extremely disappointed with the process,” said the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The apex court, which was hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the new farm laws as well as the ones raising issues related to the ongoing agitation at Delhi borders, said it is not talking about the repeal of these farm laws at the moment.

The CJI said, "If the Centre does not want to stay the implementation of farm laws, we will put a stay on it. "You can carry on the protest. But the question is whether the protest should be held at the same site," he added. 

Stating that there is not a single petition before the apex court that says that these farm laws are beneficial to farmers, it asked the Centre, "What is going on? States are rebelling against your laws".

"Some people have committed suicide, old people and women are a part of the agitation. What is happening?" the CJI asked.

The court reiterated the need for a committee on farm laws, saying that it will stop the implementation of these laws if the panel advises to do so. The Supreme Court suggested names of former CJIs including R M Lodha to head panel for exploring the possibility of a solution over farm laws protests. 

Stating that its intention was to see a negotiated solution, the SC said, "We are sorry to say that the Centre has not been able to solve the problem and nor has it been able to address the issues arising out of the farmers' agitation." 

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News Network
January 10,2021

Speaking on the issue of rapes in India and how to reduce such crimes against women, Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut on Saturday said that India needs to set some strong examples and follow something like Saudi Arabia-model which, she claims, is that those who commit crimes against women are hanged to death in public.  

"We still have the old legal system where cases enter files and the process goes on for years. Also the victim is often subjected to harassment as the burden of proving the allegation lies on the victim," she told ANI.

She also said that half of the complaints get registered and the rest get away with the crimes.

"India needs to set four or five examples like that of Saudi Arabia where the perpetrators are hanged to death at intersections," Kangana said.  

The actress also added that the current legal system adds further harassment for the victim as she is often asked to narrate the incident in details.

"Such crimes are committed even in case of silly disagreements because it is easy to get away with them," she said.

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