'Around 3 billion animals harmed by Australian bushfires'

Agencies
July 28, 2020

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Sydney, Jul 28: Nearly 3 billion koalas, kangaroos and other native Australian animals were killed or displaced by bushfires in 2019 and 2020, a study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Tuesday, triple the group's earlier estimates.

Some 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs were impacted by the country's worst bushfires in decades, the WWF said.

When the fires were still blazing, the WWF estimated the number of affected animals at 1.25 billion. The fires destroyed more than 11 million hectares (37 million acres) across the Australian southeast, equal to about half the area of the United Kingdom.

"This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history," said WWF-Australia Chief Executive Officer Dermot O'Gorman in a statement.

The project leader Lily Van Eeden, from the University of Sydney, said the research was the first continent-wide analysis of animals impacted by the bushfires, and "other nations can build upon this research to improve understanding of bushfire impacts everywhere".

The total number included animals which were displaced because of destroyed habitats and now faced lack of food and shelter or the prospect of moving to habitat that was already occupied.

The main reason for raising the number of animal casualties was that researchers had now assessed the total affected area, rather than focusing on the most affected states, they said.

After years of drought made the Australian bush unusually dry, the country battled one of its worst bushfire seasons ever from September 2019 to March 2020, resulting in 34 human deaths and nearly 3,000 homes lost.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Moscow, Sept 16: Russia's sovereign wealth fund has agreed to supply 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik-V, to Indian drug company Dr Reddy's Laboratories, the fund said on Wednesday, as Moscow speeds up plans to distribute its shot abroad.

The deal comes after the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) reached agreements with Indian manufacturers to produce 300 million doses of the vaccine in India, which is a major consumer of Russian oil and arms.

Dr Reddy's, one of India's top pharmaceutical companies, will carry out Phase III clinical trials of the vaccine in India, pending regulatory approval, RDIF said in a statement.

Deliveries to India could begin in late 2020, it said, adding this was subject to the completion of trials and the vaccine's registration by regulatory authorities in India.

Russia was the first country to license a novel coronavirus vaccine before large-scale Phase III trials were complete, stirring concern among scientists and doctors about the safety and efficacy of the shot.

The Phase I and II results had shown promise, G V Prasad, co-chairman of Dr Reddy's, was cited in the RDIF statement as saying.

"Sputnik V vaccine could provide a credible option in our fight against COVID-19 in India," he said.

There was no detail about the price of the vaccine but RDIF has said previously it was not aiming at making a profit, just covering costs.

The agreement comes as India's coronavirus cases surged past 5 million on Wednesday, piling pressure on hospitals grappling with unreliable supplies of oxygen that they need to treat tens of thousands of critical patients.

India is only the second country in the world to cross the grim milestone and said this week it is considering granting an emergency authorisation for a vaccine, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk workplaces.

The RDIF has already reached vaccine supply deals with Kazakhstan, Brazil and Mexico. It has also signed a memorandum with the Saudi Chemical company.

Russia has billed Sputnik-V as the first vaccine against the coronavirus to be registered in the world. Phase III trials, involving at least 40,000 people, were launched in Russia on Aug. 26 but have yet to be completed.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Tokyo, Sept 16: Japan's parliament on Wednesday elected Yoshihide Suga prime minister, with the former chief cabinet secretary expected to stick closely to policies championed by Shinzo Abe during his record-breaking tenure.

"According to the results, our house has decided to name Yoshihide Suga prime minister," lower house speaker Tadamori Oshima told parliament after the votes were counted.

Suga, 71, won an easy victory, taking 314 votes of 462 valid ballots cast in the lower house of parliament, where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds a commanding majority with its coalition partner.

He bowed deeply as lawmakers applauded following the announcement, but made no immediate comment.

He is expected to announce his cabinet later Wednesday, with local media reporting he will retain a number of ministers from Abe's government.

Suga has said he will prioritise keeping coronavirus infections under control and kickstarting Japan's economy, and has promised to continue Abe's key policy programmes.

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Agencies
September 15,2020

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Washington, Sept 15: Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has said India's willingness to play a "big role" in manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine and allow it to supply to other developing countries will be a critical part in containing the coronavirus pandemic globally.

In an exclusive interview to PTI, Gates, whose foundation is focusing on fighting the pandemic, called it the "next biggest thing" the world has been confronted with after the World War.

The Microsoft co-founder said the world is looking to India for large scale production of Covid-19 vaccine once it is rolled out.

"Obviously, all of us want to get a vaccine out in India as fast as we can, once we know that it's very effective and very safe, and so the plans are coming into focus that sometime next year, it's very likely that roll-out will take place and take place in fairly big volume," he said.

"The world is also looking to India for some of that capacity to be available to other developing countries. Exactly what that allocation formula looks like will have to be figured out," Gates added.

Scientists and pharmaceutical companies globally are racing against time to find a vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic which has killed about 9,32,000 people and infected around 24 million. Some of the vaccine candidates have entered the third and final phase of testing.

"This is not like a world war, but it's the next biggest thing after that that we've ever had," he said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world's largest charities, has been involved in global efforts to contain the pandemic. In India, the foundation has entered into a partnership with the Serum Institute to accelerate the manufacturing and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines.

"India's willingness to play a big role in the manufacturing and to allow some of those vaccines to go to other developing countries will be an absolutely critical part of that," said Gates.

"India will be helping to make sure we have equity. We have a model that shows that getting the vaccine out to those who need it the most will save half the lives that you'd lose if you only send it out to the rich countries," he said.

In the telephonic interview, the Microsoft co-founder who has donated billions of dollars to fight poverty and diseases, talked extensively about India's strength in production of vaccines and referred to companies like Serum Institute, Bio E and Bharat Biotech.

"We've been brokering the idea of taking a vaccine and manufacturing it in India, even if it comes from AstraZeneca, Oxford or Novavax or Johnson & Johnson. We've publicly talked about the arrangement where a Serum will be able to make very high volume of the AstraZeneca and the Novavax vaccine," said Gates.

"There's discussions with Bio E, their connection with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and whether they'll be able to ramp that up," he said.

Gates also said that the foundation has been having "great discussions" with India's NITI-Aayog, adding the ICMR is looking at the regulatory aspects of the Covid-19 vaccines.

"I'm actually very impressed with how our discussions with the government on these issues and the companies, including the Western companies collaborating with these new companies, that's all gone very well," Gates said.

The American business magnate said he was optimistic that by the first quarter of next year, that several of these vaccines will reach the phase three emergency licence approval.

"We still could be disappointed in that. But we have a variety of constructs and the early data from the phase one and phase two, for example the antibody levels, looks pretty promising for quite a few of these vaccines," he said.

He said the focus should be to keep the cost of the vaccines low and it should be ensured that they can be made in very high volume.

"We have to remember that even once a vaccine is approved, the bar for that vaccine in terms of the effectiveness was set as 50 per cent, and so we still may want to continue with other vaccines to get higher effectiveness," he said.

Gates also complimented India's digital cash transfer scheme.

"Getting payments out through digital cash transfers, that has been a fantastic thing, and obviously, India has done that at a scale that no other country ever has," he said.

"The whole Aadhaar digital financial system in India has proven to be once again a huge asset," he said, adding it can be extended to all the countries of the world.

The philanthropist also referred to the foundation's annual Goalkeepers report saying it normally takes stock of the ongoing progress on things like economic growth, literacy, child survival and average lifespan.

"This year's report, unfortunately, we're unable to say that there's been progress. In fact, we talk about the setback, and one way we dimensionalise that for like vaccine coverage globally, which went from 84 per cent to 70 per cent, is we say that's a 25-year setback," he said.

Asked whether India's economic downturn will impact implementation of social welfare schemes, Gates said the foundation is a huge believer that investments in health pay off very strongly.

"It's tragic that all health activities have been so disrupted, and that will lead to increased deaths from other diseases, not just COVID," he said.

"In fact, in many places, and I'm not sure if India will be included in this, but there's a chance that there would be more deaths from other diseases because of the health disruption than from COVID itself," he said.

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