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
June 11,2024

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Bengaluru/Mysuru: Well-known Kannada actor Darshan Thoogudeepa and 10 others have been arrested for the murder of 33-year-old from Chitradurga, Bengaluru police said on Tuesday.

S Girish, Deputy Commissioner of Police (West), confirmed the development.

"We have taken him (Darshan) into custody for the murder of a man named Renukaswamy. The case has been registered at the Kamakshipalya police station. Ten more people have been taken into custody and we are interrogating them," Girish said and declined to give more details.

Police sources said that the 47-year-old 'Challenging Star' was picked up from Indiranagar (Ittigegudu) in Mysuru, his hometown, around 8:30 am. He is being brought to Bengaluru.

Renukaswamy's body was recently found in western Bengaluru's Kamakshipalya. There were injury marks on the head and other body parts.

Darshan, among the A-listers of Kannada cinema, has often been in conflict with the law but this is the most serious allegation against him. 

“CCTV was examined, and the victim was identified as Renukaswamy from Chitradurga,” the Bengaluru Police said.

What is the case?

According to sources, the preliminary investigation revealed that Renukaswamy had sent obscene messages to the actor’s girlfriend Pavithra Gowda.

Police sources disclosed that Renuka Swamy had harassed Pavithra Gowda. Following Pavithra’s complaint, Darshan allegedly instructed Vinay, an associate, to bring Renuka Swamy to Bengaluru.

According to the police, the victim, Renuka Swamy, was murdered on June 8. His body was found in a drain in Kamakshipalya, located in Bengaluru, on June 9. Mr Swamy, who worked for a pharmacy company, had sent "obscene messages" on social media to an actress close to Darshan, the police said. 

Mr Swamy was from Chitradurga, over 200 km from Karnataka's capital. 

Local residents reportedly alerted the police to the murder when they saw stray dogs dragging a body from the drain. Investigations led to the arrest of some suspects who allegedly directed the police to Darshan.

"He was my only son. Last year he got married. I spoke to him on Saturday only. I want justice," Mr Swamy's father Srinivasaiah said. 

Police have provided tight security at Darshan's RR Nagar residence in Bengaluru.

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Agencies
June 15,2024

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Mount Arafat, June 15: Following the footsteps of prophets beneath a burning sun, Muslims from around the world congregated Saturday at a sacred hill in Saudi Arabia for intense, daylong worship and reflection.

The ritual at Mount Arafat, known as the hill of mercy, is considered the peak of the Hajj pilgrimage. It is often the most memorable for pilgrims, who stand shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet, asking God for mercy, blessings, prosperity and good health. The mount is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Makkah.

It’s believed that Prophet Muhammad delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon, at the sacred mount 1,435 years ago. In the sermon, the prophet called for equality and unity among Muslims.

“It’s indescribable,” Ahmed Tukeyia, an Egyptian pilgrim, said on his arrival Friday evening at a tent camp at the foot of Mount Arafat.

Hajj is one of the largest religious gatherings on earth. The rituals officially started Friday when pilgrims moved from Makkah’s Grand Mosque to Mina, a desert plain just outside the city.

Saudi authorities expect the number of pilgrims this year to exceed 2 million, approaching pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. All Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to make the demanding pilgrimage.

The rituals largely commemorate the Qur’an’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajjar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.

The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies, given that it is set for five days in the second week of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures at the holy sites could reach 48 C (118 F). It urged pilgrims to use umbrellas and drink more water to stay hydrated.

After Saturday’s worship in Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers (miles) to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles that they will use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.

Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid Al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to poor people. Afterward, they return to Makkah for a final circumambulation, known as Farewell Tawaf.

Once the Hajj is over, men are expected to shave their heads, and women to snip a lock of hair in a sign of renewal. Most of the pilgrims then leave Makkah for the city of Medina, some 340 kilometers (210 miles) away, to pray in Prophet Muhammad’s tomb, the Sacred Chamber. The tomb is part of the prophet’s mosque, which is one of the three holiest sites in Islam, along with the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

In recent years, Saudi authorities have made significant efforts to improve access and avoid deadly accidents. Tens of thousands of security personnel were deployed across the city, especially around the holy sites, to control the crowds, and the government built a high-speed rail link to ferry people between holy sites in the city, which has been jammed with traffic during the Hajj season. Pilgrims enter through special electronic gates.

Saudi authorities have also expanded and renovated the Grand Mosque where cranes are seen around some of its seven minarets as construction was underway in the holy site.

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News Network
June 5,2024

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India is unpredictable. This is an incontrovertible fact that Indians themselves seem to have forgotten over the past decade.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed into office with an unexpected and unprecedented outright legislative majority in 2014, many have assumed the country’s politics had changed forever.

The age of coalitions was over; India seemed to be heading inexorably toward one-party dominance.

To stock traders and pro-government pundits, the country’s trajectory seemed so clear: It was destined to see steady 8 per cent growth, happy voters, and a prime minister going from strength to strength at home and abroad.

Indian voters chose to disagree. With votes still being counted in the country’s massive general elections and several races still hanging in the balance, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party looks almost certain to have fallen short of a parliamentary majority. 
That means it will have to depend, for the first time, on fickle smaller parties to hold onto power.

This was what Indian politics looked like for decades prior to Modi’s emergence. Many thought we were living in a new normal. Instead, the old normal has reasserted itself.

In these surprising elections, Modi and the BJP appear to have discovered the limits of hype. An apparently unified public sphere, solidly pro-government media, and impressive growth numbers had left many assuming that Modi’s performance in power had few holes.

Observers should have paid more attention to contrary indicators. Employment growth under Modi has been marginal at best. Social inclusion has been patchy.

While much of the country looks very different from it did in 2014, even more of it looks largely unchanged.

Small-town India has not seen the sort of revolution in infrastructure that cities of equivalent size in China or Southeast Asia have enjoyed over recent decades.

Big metropolises were transformed during the boom years of the 2000s; they have mostly stagnated since then.

Whatever the GDP growth numbers are, whether they are believable or not, one thing is clear: Voters do not believe enough of that growth has reached their wallets.
It’s not surprising such facts have been overlooked. The Modi government and its allies have completely dominated messaging over the past decade.

They sought to maintain, week in and week out, the frenetic pace and outsize enthusiasm that marked the Prime Minister’s initial march to power.

The government thought that the lesson of its sweeping re-election in 2019 was that social conservatism and welfare delivery was enough to maintain control.

But Modi and the BJP have reached the limits of welfare-first politics and saturation advertising. Without real change on the ground, he or any successor may struggle to retain power over the next five years. They will have to pay more attention to governance than to marketing.

There’s a lot that needs attention. Modi came into power promising manufacturing jobs and private-sector-friendly reforms. In this campaign, he instead argued that loans to small-scale entrepreneurs had gone up, proving that jobs were being created — and that increases in share prices for public-sector companies validated his economic performance.

This is clearly a retreat from the ambitions of a decade ago. Any new government must recapture those ambitions; voters clearly expect it.

If India’s politics have indeed returned to normal, its government must, too. Repression of the opposition does not work, not in a country this large and variegated.

For 10 years, Modi has promised to wipe out his principal rivals in the Indian National Congress party. Yet, in this election, the Congress demonstrated that it is not going anywhere.

The government arguably misused investigative agencies to go after opposition leaders in two states in particular, Maharashtra and West Bengal; both have decisively voted against the BJP.

Modi’s personal popularity is such that he and his government can survive the sort of relatively mild rebuke the electorate has delivered. To retain power for a third term, even if dependent on allies, is an historic achievement.

This result is only startling because the Modi hype had completely detached itself from reality.

We do not live, it appears, in a post-truth world. Even the most adept populists must eventually reckon with reality. None of them are immune to the most fundamental rule of politics: If you don’t perform, you perish.

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