Top virologist warns of risks of Tokyo Olympics during pandemic

News Network
June 8, 2021

Tokyo, June 8: A top Japanese virologist and government adviser has warned of the risks of spreading Covid-19 infections during the Tokyo Olympics, the Times of London reported on Tuesday, the latest high-profile caveat about the global sporting showpiece.

Tohoku University professor Hiroshi Oshitani was an architect of Japan's "Three Cs” approach to the pandemic, which advises avoiding closed spaces, crowds and close contact situations.

“The government and the organising committee, including the IOC (International Olympic Committee), keep saying they’re holding a safe Olympics. But everybody knows there is a risk. It’s 100 per cent impossible to have an Olympics with zero risk...of the spread of infection in Japan and also in other countries after the Olympics," the Times quoted Oshitani as telling the newspaper.

"There are a number of countries that do not have many cases, and a number that don’t have any variants. We should not make the Olympics (an occasion) to spread the virus to these countries," he added, noting most countries lack vaccines.

Already postponed from last year because of the pandemic, a scaled-down version of the Games with no foreign spectators is set to start on July 23 despite public fears the event could spread the coronavirus and drain medical resources.

Japan has not suffered the explosive outbreak seen elsewhere but has recorded nearly 760,000 cases and more than 13,500 deaths. Tokyo and other regions are under a state of emergency after a fourth wave hit, straining hospitals.

The government's top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, said last week medical experts planned a statement on the Games by June 20, when the state of emergency is set to be lifted.

A labour union in the northern island of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, petitioned its governor on Monday calling for the Games to be cancelled, media said.

Japanese Olympic Committee board member Kaori Yamaguchi, a judo bronze medallist at the 1988 Games, said on Friday Japan had been "cornered" into pressing ahead with the Games.

Japan's public remains divided about holding the Games, although opposition appears to be easing somewhat. A poll by broadcaster TBS this week showed 55% wanted the Games either postponed or cancelled - down 10 points from last month.

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News Network
September 19,2021

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Chandigarh, Sept 19: Charanjit Singh Channi - a Dalit Sikh and the outgoing Technical Education Minister - will be the new Chief Minister of Punjab, the Congress said Sunday evening, after Amarinder Singh's resignation yesterday triggered three days of high drama in the poll-bound state.

The choice of Mr Channi as leader of the Congress' state legislature party, and the head of its government, was confirmed by state-in-charge Harish Rawat, who tweeted: "It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Charanjit Singh Channi has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab."

News of Mr Channi's appointment came as something of a surprise after sources, just a few hours earlier, appeared to confirm that another outgoing minister - Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa - would be named to the top post.

Mr Randhawa's name, however, was reportedly met with doubts by some party MLAs and the Congress high command - keen to ensure the new Chief Minister has the maximum internal support - quickly switched tack.

"I am happy with high command's decision.... I want to thank all the MLAs who have supported me. Channi is my brother..." Mr Randhawa said soon after Charanjit Channi was announced as Chief Minister.

Months of sniping and hostility between Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu came to a head late Friday after a sudden meeting of Congress MLAs. Sources said around 50 of the party's 80 MLAs wrote to Sonia Gandhi and asked for Mr Singh to be replaced.

A furious Mr Singh then spoke to Mrs Gandhi and told her he had had enough. "I was humiliated three times by Congress leadership..." he said. He wrote to Mrs Gandhi declaring himself "anguished" and to defend his administration's track record.

The Captain also said that though he had resigned, "... for the sake of my country, I'll oppose his (Navjot Sidhu) name for Chief Minister. It's a matter of national security... is an incompetent man... a total disaster..." Of further worry for the Congress, perhaps, was Mr Singh's response to staying with the party; "I can't answer right now."

This morning's meeting of the Congress Legislature Party was postponed after Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni - believed to be the party's first choice - declined the offer. Ms Soni said "no" at a late-night meeting with Rahul Gandhi; she stressed on the "ramifications" of a non-Sikh Chief Minister, particularly with an election due.

The Singh-Sidhu feud dates to the 2017 election; Mr Sidhu had hoped to be Deputy Chief Minister but was reportedly denied by Mr Singh. He was instead made a minister but quit two years later. After a sulk he re-emerged, targeting Mr Singh and becoming a hard-to-ignore problem, forcing the party into a mediation attempt that soured after Mr Singh voiced disapproval at Mr Sidhu being made Punjab Congress chief.

The rift escalated sharply in recent weeks and a tenuous truce unravelled after statements by Mr Sidhu's advisers. Last month, four ministers and around 24 MLAs raised fresh complaints against Mr Singh, setting the stage for the weekend's drama.

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News Network
September 7,2021

Guwahati, Sept 7: All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) president Badruddin Ajmal on Monday said the Congress might have snapped ties with the party but he has no grudge against it as the decision will benefit both the parties during by-elections to be held in seats lying vacant due to resignation of MLAs.

GuwahatiThe AIUDF chief said his party will contest one or two seats in the by-polls, the dates of which are yet to be announced.

"Whatever decision the big brother (Congress) takes, we agree to it. We have accepted that the alliance is not there anymore but they could have at least discussed the matter with us once before announcing their decision," Ajmal said.

At a meeting of its core committee on August 30, the state Congress decided to break alliance with the AIUDF saying "continuous and mysterious praise of the BJP and the chief minister by AIUDF leadership and senior members have affected the public perception of the Congress party".

The AIUDF was part of the Congress-led Grand Alliance that fought the BJP-headed in NDA in the assembly election held earlier this year in Assam.

To a question, Ajmal said the party did not feel betrayed by the decision of the Congress.

"Why should we feel betrayed? We had a political arrangement and then they decided to break the ties. Let them be happy and we are also happy," the MP from Dhubri said.

Of the six vacant assembly constituencies where by-elections will be held, the AIUDF will contest in only one or two, he said without naming the seats.

"The break-up of the alliance will benefit both the AIUDF and the Congress," he said without elaborating.

Ajmal, however, criticised Raijor Dal president and independent MLA Akhil Gogoi, claiming that he is "frustrated and seeking cheap publicity".

"Akhil is meeting Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to be part of an all-India alliance. His party has only one MLA and he wants to be a national leader. This is indeed a joke," the MP said.

The 10-party Grand Alliance was formed ahead of this year''s assembly elections in the state. Besides the Congress, AIUDF and Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), it comprised the Jimochayan (Deori) People''s Party (JDPP), Adivasi National Party (ANP), CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML), Anchalik Gana Morcha, and the RJD. The alliance had won 50 seats in the assembly polls with Congress securing 29, AIUDF 16, BPF four and the CPI(M) one.

On August 30, the Congress also decided to snap ties with the BPF.

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News Network
September 7,2021

After two cases of the deadly Nipah virus emerged in the neighbouring state of Kerala recently, out of which, one 12-year-old boy died, the Karnataka government on Tuesday directed districts bordering that state to strengthen the surveillance and preparedness. 

It said that all those coming from Kerala should be monitored for symptoms like fever, altered mental status, severe weakness, headache, respiratory distress, cough, vomiting, muscle pain, convulsion, diarrhea. 

Meanwhile, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Tuesday said that he had instructed the experts to study the Nipah virus and give suggestions to tackle the disease.

"I have instructed the experts to study in details about the Nipah virus. I have also told them to give suggestions regarding how it will spread, how to tackle it," Bommai said.

A 12-year-old boy died of the Nipah virus infection at Kozhikode in Kerala on September 5. The test results of eight people, including the child's parents and health care workers, who came in close contact with him, returned negative. The Kerala government had put the health departments in four districts -- Kozhikode, neighbouring Kannur, Malappuram and Wayanad -- on high alert.

 "In view of confirmed cases of Nipah virus (NiV) infection reported recently in the neighboring state of Kerala, it is imperative to strengthen the surveillance and preparedness in the larger interest of Public Health in Karnataka also, with special focus in the districts bordering Kerala -- Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Mysuru, Kodagu and Chamarajanagara," the government advisory said. 

Issued by the Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Jawaid Akhtar, it gave certain instructions to be implemented by district administrations to ensure the well being of the community, that includes monitoring those coming from Kerala for symptoms. Also, necessary public awareness should be spread among the public on Nipa, it said, adding that a systematic surveillance system is a necessary method to identify clusters of encephalitis cases, resulting in early detection of Nipah outbreaks. 

The advisory said suitable samples have to be collected with all necessary precautions from suspected, probable and contacts and sent to the National Institute of Virology, Pune, for laboratory confirmation. However, Kerala's health minister Veena George informed news agency ANI that all 24 samples of eight persons sent to the NIV Pune have tested negative for Nipah virus

"All 24 samples of eight persons sent to National Institute of Virology, Pune were found negative (for Nipah virus). We are testing more samples. We have started field surveillance and will begin house-to-house surveillance in containment zones today," she told ANI.

As there is no known treatment or vaccine available, Ribavirin, an antiviral, may have a role in reducing mortality among patients with encephalitis caused by Nipah virus disease, it further said, adding that intensive supportive care with treatment of symptoms is the main approach for managing the infection in people. 

The advisory also instructed district authorities to send the daily reports, even if Nil, in a prescribed format, to the Commissioner, Health and Family Welfare Services, Arogya Soudha, Bengaluru. District Authorities should take all the necessary measures as instructed and as per the local situation, it added. Stating that Human Nipah Virus (NiV) infection is an emerging zoonotic disease, the health department said that in India, two outbreaks in humans were reported from West Bengal and neighboring Bangladesh in 2001 and 2007. 

Further, confirmed cases and deaths were also reported from Kerala during the outbreak in 2018. Large fruit bats of the Pteropus genus are the natural reservoir of Nipah virus, whose cases tend to occur in a cluster or as an outbreak. In general, the case-fatality rate is estimated at 40-75 per cent. However, this rate can vary by outbreak and can be up to 100 per cent, it added.

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