NEW DELHI: Former Australian cricketer Michael Slater slammed his government on Monday for threatening to jail anyone who breaks its India travel ban, telling the prime minister he had “blood on your hands”.
Australia on Saturday warned that people entering from India – where a raging Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the healthcare system to breaking point – could face five years behind bars.
The threat came after travellers exposed a loophole by taking indirect flights home from India. They included cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, who left their Indian Premier League clubs ahead of the ban.
Slater, now a well-known television pundit, had been commentating on the IPL for broadcaster Star Sports in India before leaving the tournament as case numbers soared.
He travelled to the Maldives, where he is waiting to find out when he can return home, The Australian newspaper reported Monday.
“If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It’s a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this,” the 51-year-old tweeted.
Critics have accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government of abandoning the country’s citizens during a time of crisis.
Morrison has also rejected calls for charter flights to return thousands of citizens, including cricketers in India for the IPL.
The travel restrictions, introduced to try and stop India’s outbreak from spreading to Australia, will remain in place until May 15 at the earliest.
On Monday, the IPL for the first time postponed a match because of the virus crisis, after two players tested positive.
Despite the spike in infections, Indian cricket authorities have not cancelled the IPL, insisting that the lucrative competition is helping to raise spirits.
Australia closed its international borders to most non-citizens in March 2020.
Those who travel to the country are required to spend 14 days in a quarantine hotel.
Slater occupied a position at the top of the Australian Test batting order for close to a decade, hitting 5,312 runs before his 2004 retirement.
A ferocious second wave of coronavirus in India has overwhelmed hospitals and caused a shortage of oxygen, leaving many helpless as they try to treat their sick relatives at home. This desperate search for oxygen often ends in grief. The capital New Delhi has been reporting at least one Covid-19 death every four minutes in the past few days, with a total of 3,400 deaths nationwide on May 2. Our correspondents Navodita Kumari, Mathilde Cusin, Jérôme Mars and Alban Alvarez report.
A new $371 million biosecurity package is designed to bolster the nation’s ability to keep out diseases such as African swine fever, khapra beetle, and foot and mouth disease, and to better prepare for any outbreaks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said stepping up biosecurity measures is about more than just protecting borders.
“Protecting our borders is as much about protecting our livestock, crops and environment from diseases that have the potential to devastate them and the livelihoods they support, as it does the health of Australians during COVID-19 or protecting Australia’s national security,” he said.
“This investment is about building a protective ring around Australia to safeguard our industry as well as the rural and regional communities that depend on it.
“There will never be zero risk but we are committed to reducing the risk where possible.”
Agriculture is at the forefront of the nation’s economic recovery, Mr Morrison said.
The multimillion-dollar package will cover various areas of the industry including research, pre-border screening technology, cleaning and expansion of the Maritime Arrivals and Reporting System.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said it is part of increased efforts to protect public health.
“Those reforms include investment and business improvements to address recommendations made by the independent Inspector-General of Biosecurity, including efforts to manage the unique public health risk posed by passengers and crew on arriving international vessels,” he said.
“We are investing in technical solutions to keep biosecurity threats out of Australia, including through new screening technologies for people and goods at the border.
“We will fund a series of groundbreaking trials to screen for biosecurity risks offshore and continue the development of modern, innovative detection systems.”
The government will also create more biosecurity campaigns to educate those working in the sector.
“Building community and industry awareness of our biosecurity system is also essential to ensuring the effectiveness of the system,” Mr Littleproud said.
“This package demonstrates our commitment to our agricultural sector and unique environment.”
The prime minister is expected to make an official announcement from Rockhampton on Tuesday.
In an attempt to fight against prevailing Covid-19 situation, the Ayush Ministry on Monday announced that it has taken steps to streamline the distribution of AYUSH 64, the polyherbal Ayurvedic medicine, across the country to treat mild to moderate cases of coronavirus infections. Asserting that AYUSH 64 was found very useful for treatment in clinical trials, the Ministry said it is ramping up its production so that it becomes available to a large number of people in a short span of time.
ABOUT AYUSH 64
AYUSH- 64 was originally developed in 1980 for treatment of malaria, and it complies with all regulatory requirements and quality and pharmacopoeial standards. CCRAS recently concluded extensive robust clinical trials of the drug focusing on the management of asymptomatic, mild to moderate coronavirus in collaboration with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and many other research organizations and medical colleges across the country. The trials led by scientists showed AYUSH 64 has notable antiviral, immune-modulator and antipyretic properties. “It is found to be useful in the treatment of asymptomatic, mild and moderate Covid-19 infection. Consequently, the drug is now repurposed for Covid-19. This was announced by the Ministry in a press conference on April 29,” a statement from Ayush Ministry said.
HOW GOVT PLANS TO RAMP UP ITS PRODUCTION
The CCRAS and National Research and Development Centre (NDRC) have signed an MoU for the larger production and commercialisation of AYUSH 64 with mutual cooperation. The Ayush Ministry on April 27 has also issued advisory to all State Licensing Authorities of ASU medicines to repurpose AYUSH-64 as an intervention for the management of mild to moderate Covid-19 in addition to existing indications.
Emphasising the need for ensuring the availability of AYUSH 64 across the country, the Ministry has encouraged more pharmaceutical companies to come forward and obtain a manufacturing licence for this medicine. “Interested companies for the transfer of technology can approach CCRAS and the NRDC. The CCRAS will provide technical support to the ASU drugs manufacturers in the manufacturing of AYUSH-64. Further, the State Licensing Authorities are expediting the process of the licensing/approval of such applications, provided the prescribed standards and relevant provisions of the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945, are fulfilled,” the ministry explained.
The State and Union Territory administrations are also expected to contribute further to this mobilisation through the vehicle of the National Ayush Mission, under which a country-wide Ayush network is already in place. The State Health Authorities will be promoting the use of AYUSH-64 as per National Clinical Management Protocol based on Ayurveda and Yoga interventions, according to the ministry.
The country’s chief medical officer has warned of the “consequences” of Australia’s travel ban on India.
Professor Paul Kelly addressed his concerns in a letter to Health Minister Greg Hunt, highlighting the risk the ban would have on Australian citizens and permanent residents in COVID-ravaged India as a result of our pause on flights and entry into Australia.
“These include the risk of serious illness without access to healthcare, the potential for Australians to be stranded in a transit country, and in a worst-case scenario, deaths,” he wrote in a letter to Mr Hunt tabled in parliament today.
“I consider that these serious implications can be mitigated through having the restriction only temporarily in place, ie a pause, and by ensuring there are categories of exemptions.”
He said there remained a “significant risk” of spread from Australia’s hotel quarantine system, particularly from arrivals from India.
“Each new case identified in quarantine increases the risk of leakage into the Australian community through transmission to quarantine workers or other quarantined returnees and subsequently into the Australian community more broadly,” he wrote.
“Australia’s quarantine and health resources needed to prevent and control COVID-19 introduced into Australia from international arrivals are limited.
“Due to the high proportion of positive cases arising from arrivals from India, I consider a pause until 15 May 2021 on arrivals from India to be an effective and proportionate measure to maintain the integrity of Australia’s quarantine system. This measure will likely allow the system to recover capacity, which is a critical intervention in preventing and managing the spread of COVID-19 in Australia.”
Professor Kelly noted such a move would be the first time that such a determination had been used to prevent Australian citizens and permanent residents entering Australia.
He also asked for it to become an offence under the Biosecurity Act for anyone who had been in India in the last 14 days to come back to Australia.
People who have been in India within the previous fortnight before their intended arrival in Australia will face a $66,600 fine as well as five years’ imprisonment for entering the country.
But Professor Kelly today told Sky News the jail threat was not ordered by him. He said the criminal punishment was a separate part of Australia’s Biosecurity Act, but health authorities had not been asked to advise on that section of the government act.
“Let’s be very clear, we were asked for public health advice on the nature of threat, how long (a measure) was needed, that was the advice given,” he told Sky News.
“We weren’t asked about penalties. I’m an adviser, I don’t make decisions for the government.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also defended the government’s move today, slamming any suggestion it was racist and saying he was making the “hard calls” that have helped save 30,000 Australian lives.
Mr Morrison attacked Labor leader Anthony Albanese for “politicising” the flight ban this morning, arguing it was “heartbreaking” but necessary to pause the repatriation flights.
“We are deeply, deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in India. But the best way I can get them safely home is by doing what I am doing right now,’’ the Prime Minister told 2GB radio.
Critics including former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane have argued there’s “an inconsistency” in the Indian flight ban given Australia didn’t ban US flights when daily cases were even higher.
That’s prompted Labor to hint the real motivation is racism.
“I have clear advice from the chief medical officer that this is a decision that is supported,” Mr Morrison said.
Health secretary Dr Brendan Murphy told a Senate estimates committee today that the temporary ban was needed to take the pressure off quarantine systems. He said the Howard Springs quarantine centre is at capacity.
“We’ve had more than 50 cases, positive cases nearly all from India and the Territory health system is very concerned about that,” he said.
“So just for a period of time, this is an unprecedented number of positives from one country, it’s just a matter of resetting.”
The Union Health Ministry on Monday said the surge in Covid-19 cases in some states including Delhi and Madhya Pradesh have shown early signs of plateauing in daily new infection cases. Moreover, an increasing trend in coronavirus cases were reported in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
During a press briefing over Covid-19 situation in the country, the Health Ministry said that 12 states are cause of concern as they have more than 1 lakh active cases. “Nearly 22 states have more than 15 per cent of positivity rate. Some states are showing increasing trends in Covid-19 cases, these states should take required precautionary measures. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Arunachal, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are among those states. In Maharashtra, 12 districts have witnessed a decline in cases,” said Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry.
“We are seeing a positive approach in recoveries too. On May 2, the recovery rate was at 78 per cent and on May 3 it climbed up to almost 82 per cent. These are early gains on which we have to work on regularly,” he added.
Mentioning that 12 states have started Phase 3 vaccines, Agarwal said, “0.2 crore people aged between 18-44 years have been vaccinated in the country.”
He also said, “Journalists services are very important to us. We consider you as front line workers.”
Speaking on the supply of oxygen to treat critical Covid-19 patients in the country, Agarwal said oxygen plants in industries like steel plants, refineries with petrochemical units, power plants etc. which produces gaseous oxygen should be tapped for medical use.
“Industrial units which produce gaseous oxygen of requisite purity closer to cities are being identified and temporary Covid-19 Care Centres with oxygenated beds proposed to be established near that source. A pilot for five such facilities has already been initiated. Nearly 10,000 oxygenated beds can be made available through this initiative. State governments being encouraged to setup more such facilities. 1,500 PSA oxygen generation plants are in the process of being setup,” he said, adding, “We are working with state governments to fix oxygen supply. It is a huge channel.”
Meanwhile, the central government is also exploring the feasibility of converting existing nitrogen plants to produce oxygen. “14 such industries have been identified for converting their PSA nitrogen plants to produce oxygen duly replacing Carbon Molecular Sieve (CMS) with Zeolite Molecular Sieve (ZMS) and other associated changes. 37 nitrogen plants already identified for conversion with the help of Industry Association. Such modified nitrogen plants can then either be shifted to nearby hospitals or supply oxygen through tankers.”
He also noted that there is a need to focus on the foot cause in managing spread of infection to avoid stress on healthcare infrastructure.
Highlighting on the same, Additional Secretary MHA, Piyush Goyal said that the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued some instructions under Disaster Management Act. “It has requested States to identify districts of concern wherein the case positivity is 10 per cent or more in the last one week and bed occupancy is more than 60 per cent on either oxygen supported or ICU beds.”
“14 days to break the chain of transmission duly following epidemiological principles. Oxygen production has increased in the last few weeks and oxygen is being imported. Empty tankers are being airlifted,” said Goyal and appealed people not to hoard oxygen cylinders. “Black marketing of oxygen cylinders must stop,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria asked people not to get CT scan for mild Covid-19 symptoms. “Risk of cancer increases by getting CT scans. Biomarkers, CT scans are not needed for mild infection.” He further said that Remdesivir or plasma does not have a promising data.
The daily Covid-19 cases in India showed a slight dip with 3,68,147 new coronavirus infections being reported in a day, taking the total tally of cases to 1,99,25,604, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday. The death toll increased to 2,18,959 with 3,417 daily new fatalities, the data showed. While the country recorded 4,01,993 new cases on May 1, it had registered 3,92,488 fresh cases on May 2.
MUMBAI: India’s tally of COVID-19 infections rose on Monday (May 3) to just short of 20 million, propelled by a 12th straight day of more than 300,000 new cases, as scientists predicted the pandemic could peak in the next couple of days.
Total infections since the start of the pandemic have reached 19.93 million, swelled by 368,147 new cases over the past 24 hours, while the death toll rose by 3,417 to 218,959, health ministry data show. At least 3.4 million people are currently being treated.
But medical experts say actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.
Hospitals have filled to capacity, supply of medical oxygen has run short and morgues and crematoriums have been swamped as the country grapples with the surge. Patients are dying on hospital beds, in ambulances and in carparks outside.
“Every time we have to struggle to get our quota of our oxygen cylinders,” said BH Narayan Rao, a district official in the southern town of Chamarajanagar, where 24 COVID-19 patients died, some from a suspected shortage of oxygen supplies.
“It’s a day-to-day fight,” added Rao, as he described the hectic scramble for supplies.
In many cases, volunteer groups have come to the rescue.
Outside a temple in the capital, New Delhi, a group of Sikh volunteers is providing oxygen to patients lying on benches inside makeshift tents, hooked up to a giant cylinder. Every 20 minutes or so, a new patient comes in.
“No one should die because of a lack of oxygen. It’s a small thing otherwise, but nowadays, it is the one thing every one needs,” Gurpreet Singh Rummy, who runs the service, told Reuters. He called it an oxygen “langar”, the word used by Sikhs for a communal free kitchen.
Offering a glimmer of hope, the health ministry said positive cases relative to the number of tests fell on Monday for the first time since at least Apr 15.
Modelling by a team of government advisers shows coronavirus cases could peak by Wednesday this week, a few days earlier than a previous estimate, since the virus has spread faster than expected.
At least 11 states and regions have ordered curbs on movement to stem infections, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is reluctant to announce a national lockdown, concerned about the economic impact.
“In my opinion, only a national stay at home order and declaring medical emergency will help to address the current healthcare needs,” Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist with the University of Michigan, said on Twitter.
“The number of active cases is accumulating, not just the daily new cases. Even the reported numbers state there are around 3.5 million active cases.”
As medical facilities near breaking point, the government postponed an exam for doctors and nurses on Monday to allow some of those still in training to join the coronavirus battle alongside existing personnel, it said in a statement.
India is in the grip of its biggest crisis since Modi took office in 2014.
He has been criticised for not moving sooner to limit the spread and for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies in five states during March and April.
In early March, a forum of government scientific advisers warned officials of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold, five of its members told Reuters.
Despite the warning, four of the scientists said the federal government did not seek to impose major curbs.
With the next general election due in 2024, it remains to be seen Modi’s handling of the crisis might affect him or his party. His Hindu nationalist party was defeated on Sunday in a state poll in the eastern state of West Bengal, although it won in the neighbouring state of Assam.
Leaders of 13 opposition parties urged Modi in a letter on Sunday to immediately launch free national vaccination and to prioritise oxygen supply to hospitals and health centres.
Several states have postponed widening a vaccination drive for adults that was to start on Saturday due to a lack of vaccines.
Despite being the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, India does not have enough for itself. Just 9 per cent of a population of 1.35 billion has received a dose.
India has struggled to increase capacity beyond 80 million doses a month due to lack of raw materials and a fire at the Serum Institute, which makes the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Another manufacturer, Pfizer, is in talks with the government for “expedited approval” of its vaccine, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on LinkedIn, announcing a donation of medicines worth more than US$70 million.
Last month, India said its drugs regulator would hand down a decision within three days on emergency-use applications for foreign vaccines, including that of Pfizer.
International aid has poured in, in response to the crisis.
At least 24 people died at a COVID hospital in Chamrajnagar district of Karnataka on Sunday allegedly due to lack of oxygen supply. The deaths occurred at the Chamrajnagar government district hospital. The government has, however, denied that lack of oxygen supply was the reason behind the deaths. Read More
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Pfizer is in discussions with the Indian government seeking an “expedited approval pathway” for its Covid-19 vaccine, its CEO Albert Bourla said on LinkedIn on Monday, announcing a donation of medicines worth more than $70 million. “Unfortunately, our vaccine is not registered in India although our application was submitted months ago,” he said. Read More
The decimation of the Third Front in West Bengal reflects in the fact that its candidates lost deposits in 85% of the constituencies it fought and the Congress in both seats where senior party leader Rahul Gandhi held rallies. An analysis of the election results by News18 shows that Third Front candidates could retain their deposits in just 42 of the 292 seats that went to polls (voting was suspended in the two remaining seats in the state). Read More
COVID-19 cases in India continue to remain in huge numbers, and tech giants (with people from all walks of life) are joining hands to provide relief. India’s most popular messaging platform WhatsApp has also added a new update to help users find the COVID-19 vaccine around them. The information is accessible via the MyGov WhatsApp chatbot – an automated chat within the app to help citizens find more accurate coronavirus-related information. The Facebook-owned platform launched the chatbot in April 2020, just a week after the Central government announced the first nationwide lockdown. Read More
lon Musk is the Tesla CEO and SpaceX boss, but other than being one of the richest people in the world and owning two companies, he’s also a bit of an eccentric genius. Musk sent a car to space, and Musk wants humans to colonize the moon. Musk believes in the rise of cryptocurrencies (even meme ones like Dogecoin) and occasionally tweets anime-girl memes. Read More
More positive cases of coronavirus inside the various IPL 2021 bio-bubbles have emerged with three members from Chennai Super Kings camp reported to be infected. There are reports of five members of Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) ground staff also testing positive for the coronavirus which has deepened the crisis. Read More
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Indonesia has recorded two cases of a highly infectious COVID-19 variant first identified in India in the capital Jakarta, the country’s health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Monday.
”There were two new mutations that entered. One from India, with two incidents in Jakarta and one from South Africa in Bali,” Budi told a virtual conference. Another official confirmed the two cases were the B.1.617 variant, first detected in India.
Indonesia last week stopped issuing visas for foreigners who had been in India in the previous 14 days.