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5,079 new cases recorded; Maharashtra, T.N, Gujarat report most cases, deaths

India’s tally of COVID-19 cases crossed the one lakh-mark on Monday, with 5,079 new infections taking the total to 1,00,734, according to data from the State Health Departments. Of these 58,360 are active cases, while 39,217 persons have recovered from the disease.

The country recorded 136 more deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 3,157.

The average number of new cases everyday since May 11 has gone up to 4,077, while the average number of fatalities per day for the period is 115.

Maharashtra topped the nationwide tally with more than 35,000 confirmed cases and 1,249 deaths, followed by Tamil Nadu with 11,760 confirmed cases and 81 deaths. Gujarat has reported 11,746 confirmed cases, but its death toll is higher than Tamil Nadu at 694. Mumbai reported 1,185 fresh cases and 23 more deaths, taking the total cases in the city to 21,152 and fatalities to 757.

According to the Union Health Ministry, the country has now registered a jump of over 10,000 cases in the past two days — the highest so far in 48 hours.

“India currently has a recovery rate of 38.29%,” noted a release issued by the Health Ministry, which added that in terms of confirmed cases per lakh population, India has so far about 7.1 cases per lakh population which indicates that aggressive and early measures taken so far have shown encouraging results.

The Ministry added that it has now issued new guidelines to the States for categorisation of red/orange/green zones as part of its lockdown easing measures. The new directive allows States to delineate the containment and buffer zones.

But it provides protection from pneumonia; tests to continue

A high-profile potential vaccine for COVID-19 being tested by researchers at Oxford University failed to protect vaccinated monkeys from being infected by the virus. However, the test animals appeared to be protected from pneumonia.

The vaccine candidate, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, being tested is a weakened form of a common cold virus (adenovirus) that affects chimpanzees but has been neutered to prevent replication in humans.

Plans for manufacture

Reports of the candidate vaccine’s performance in monkeys (rhesus macaque) have prompted researchers to test the vaccine’s potency in humans. Its promise has also led to Indian vaccine manufacturer, the Pune-based Serum Institute announcing plans to manufacture a four to five million doses by May-end. It is one of seven global institutions that will manufacture the vaccine developed by the Oxford Vaccine Group.

However, detailed results of the trials in monkeys available on pre-print server bioRxiv suggest that, based on these results, the vaccine may not be the panacea to protecting people from being infected and passing on the infection to others. The research paper is yet to be peer-reviewed.

Rajesh Gokhle, faculty, National Institute of Immunology and former head of the CSIR-Insitute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, who has read the paper, said that in an “ideal” world, no company would not continue testing the vaccine in humans based on the available data in monkeys.

“We have presence of the virus in the upper respiratory tract (of the animals). It is possible that these can come down again to the lower respiratory tract (and cause pneumonia). Ideally, if you’ve been inoculated with the vaccine, you should be able to substantially clear out the virus,” he told The Hindu.

The researchers, in their paper acknowledge the presence of virus in the upper respiratory tract. “Despite this marked difference in virus replication in the lungs, reduction in viral shedding from the nose was not observed,” they note.

They explain it as being possibly due to the unusually high amount of the virus that the monkeys were exposed to.

Super cyclone likely to make landfall along the Bengal coast tomorrow

The sea turned rough in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, on Monday, under the influence of Amphan. C.V. Subrahmanyam

The storm system in the Bay of Bengal, Amphan, developed into a super cyclone on Monday and is expected to make landfall along the West Bengal-Bangladesh coast on Wednesday, according to the India Meteorological Department.

Currently, Amphan is located about 730 km south of Paradip in Odisha, 890 km south-southwest of Digha in West Bengal and 1,010 km south-southwest of Khepupara in Bangladesh.

Windspeeds are expected to hit 240 kmph and extensive damage along the coast is expected in Odisha and West Bengal. Cyclone Phailin in 2013 and the super cyclone of 1999 — both of which hit coastal Odisha — have been the most powerful cyclones in the Bay of Bengal in the past two decades in terms of windspeed.

By the time it makes landfall in West Bengal, Amphan is expected to tone down into a category 4 Extremely Severe Cyclonic (ESC) storm with wind speed of 165-175 kmph and gusting to 195 kmph.

Last year, Fani, which was an ESC made landfall in Odisha and ravaged the State, claiming at least 40 lives.

Amphan is expected to bring “heavy to extremely heavy rainfall” over Gangetic West Bengal and heavy to very heavy rainfall over north coastal Odisha on May 19 and 20.

Storm surge of about 4-6 meters above astronomical tide is likely to inundate low lying areas of South & North 24 Parganas and about 3-4 meters over the low lying areas of East Medinipur district of West Bengal during the time of landfall, said an evening update from the Press Information Bureau.

“Extensive damage to all types of kutcha houses, some damage to old badly-managed pucca structures. Potential threat from flying objects, extensive uprooting of communication and power poles, Disruption of rail/road link, extensive damage to standing crops, plantations, orchards,” are what the disaster management agencies warn on the impact of the storm.

The Odisha government has deployed units of the National Disaster Response Force and the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force to north-coastal districts for carrying out rescue operation. Six districts — Balasore, Bhadrak, Mayurbhanj, Kendrapara, Jajpur and Jagatsinghpur — are likely to be severely affected

Second squadron of Tejas in Sulur by the end of this month, says ACM Bhadauria

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will set up the second squadron of indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas by month-end, said Air Chief Marshal (ACM) R.K.S. Bhadauria on Monday, while the “high priority” deal for 83 LCA-MK1A jets was expected to be signed in three months.

Stressing on the effort to shift to indigenous production as much as possible, the IAF chief said the challenge was for the domestic industry to catch up.

“We will get the first LCA in Final Operations Clearance (FOC) standard likely by next week. We are targeting formation of the second LCA squadron at Sulur next week, before the end of the month. We have already done the resurrection of the squadron but induction of aircraft and inauguration got stalled due to COVID,” ACM Bhadauria said in an exclusive interaction with The Hindu.

Tender for fighters

On the tender for 114 fighters to be built under Make in India, stating that it was a “different class” of fighter than the LCA which would be built in India and not imported, he said the global responses to the tender were being analysed after which they would go to the government for the grant of Acceptance of Necessity (AoN). “We will finalise the way forward on the 114 tender.”

Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat had earlier said large imports could not be done and they had to be staggered.

On the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China which saw some face-offs recently in Ladakh and Sikkim, ACM Bhadauria said that on the air side, they monitor developments closely, and if any aircraft was getting close to the LAC it gets monitored and if there was a need to respond it was decided in real time. “Wherever there is a requirement to respond, the response is there,” he said without elaborating.

Elaborating on the 83 LCA-MK1A deal, estimated to cost around ₹39,000 crore, he said the deal had already been delayed. While the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had done the ground work on development of the MK-1A variant, they could not work on incorporating additional capabilities till the contract was signed.

The LISA procedure has yielded encouraging results

A premature baby being treated with LISA in Jaipur.Special arrangement.

A recent medical technique, known as less invasive surfactant administration (LISA), has been started at J.K. Lon Government Children’s Hospital here for treatment of lung disease or respiratory distress syndrome among premature babies. The procedure, started initially for newborn children with the birth weight of less than 1,500 grams, has yielded encouraging results.

Most of the premature babies admitted to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit had the problem of less mature lungs, resulting in difficulty in breathing at the time of birth. They needed ventilatory support with surfactant administration via endotracheal tube placed in air pipe for treatment.

Hospital’s Medical Superintendent Ashok Gupta told The Hindu on Monday that the ventilatory support was gradually weaned and babies were put on non-invasive ventilation like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) after maturation of lungs.

“We have been giving the directly administered medication in windpipe for treating breathing problems, but this has its own side effects,” Dr. Gupta said. LISA technique had been found to be very helpful in minimising the side effects, he added.

The surfactant is administered via a thin feeding tube, instead of endotracheal tube, which is immediately removed after the procedure, while the baby is on the CPAP machine. Dr. Gupta said the new technique’s main objective was to minimise damage to the fragile premature lungs.

LISA has been developed as a lung protective strategy for respiratory management and ventilation in view of the mechanical ventilation causing damage to the preterm lungs of newborns. Infants considered suitable for LISA are those being managed with primary CPAP or high flow with the evidence of increasing respiratory distress and with a rising oxygen requirement.

The procedure was applied to a preemie by resident doctor Vijay Jhajharia under the supervision of Assistant Professor Vishnu Pansari at the hospital. Dr. Gupta said the regular application of LISA would turn out to be very useful and help save the lives of premature babies.

U.S. virologist expresses concern about India’s crowded urban areas in low-income neighbourhoods where people are forced to live in proximity

As the world continues to grapple with the debilitating human toll and economic consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Peter Hotez, Dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine and a Professor at the Departments of Paediatrics and Molecular Virology and Microbiology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, speaks about the state of play in the battle against the novel coronavirus.

What is the current situation in the U.S., where President Donald Trump recently said fatalities could reach 1,00,000. Why did the numbers spin out of control this way and is there hope that the curve can be flattened?

There is quite a bit of concern here. It really took off because the virus probably entered the U.S. earlier than we suspected. A national emergency was not declared until the middle of March. It is likely that the virus entered the U.S. in early February, back-tracing it. That means that transmission went on for about six weeks before any efforts for social distancing were implemented. We know from the models that it produces tragedy and makes the difference between having thousands of patients in your intensive care units and local hospitals, versus having just a handful.

What treatment options could have a scalable impact? We are hearing hopeful accounts of Remdesivir...

Vaccines offer the greatest promise for protecting large populations at risk, like in India. The problem with vaccines is also that they are the highest bar to achieve because with a vaccine you are generally injecting healthy individuals to prevent them from getting sick. So, you have to be absolutely pristine, in not only showing that the vaccines work, but also your safety profile. That is what takes time. In the meantime, there are some new, promising treatments on the horizon.

I am very excited, for instance, about convalescent plasma. It is a relatively low-tech solution which involves identifying individuals who have recovered from their COVID-19 and have antibodies. The problem is that it is hard to scale because it requires you having a base of patients with the illness.

In India, while the number of infections continue to rise, the government moved aggressively to impose a nationwide lockdown. Could the fact that we are not seeing the sort of fatality numbers that you did in the U.S. be down to India facing a different coronavirus strain?

I do not think it is going to turn out to be a coronavirus strain issue. It is possible that this is a new virus pathogen. But I think it is most likely because India did implement some social distancing early on. So, India may have mitigated the worst aspects of this.

But I would say that we should not be complacent, because I am still worried for India. The reason for that is that you are moving into the summer months and we know that sometimes in tropical countries, the global south, or in places like South Asia, Africa, Australia and South America, sometimes for influenza the seasonality is inverted. I think you have to assume the potential for things to get much worse as you head towards July and August. I am particularly worried about India’s crowded urban areas in low-income neighbourhoods, where people are forced to live in proximity, including in Mumbai. I am holding my breath because I still do think India could get hit very hard.

Should we be worried about reports from New York about COVID-19-positive children succumbing to symptoms that resemble Kawasaki disease?

It caught us a bit off-guard because in China we did not hear much about paediatric syndromes. Our understanding was that children were mostly handling the virus pretty well, not getting very sick, with the exception of about 10% of infants. These symptoms first came out of the United Kingdom and then we saw them in New York, a syndrome that looks like vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, linked to this virus, maybe later on in the course of the illness. This Kawasaki-disease-like syndrome is still not common — there have been about 100 cases in New York.

We are also seeing, unfortunately, a lot of cases in the U.S. among adults, of clotting defects, which we are trying to understand. We are seeing lots of different types of thromboses, or clotting of the blood, leading to blockage, which in turn lead to strokes, pulmonary emboli, and may be associated with coronary artery thrombosis, giving people heart attacks.

If there is one broad lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic for developing countries such as India, is it to be better prepared for future events of this sort in terms of creating a sufficient pandemic preparedness?

This is not unique to India. Every nation on the planet has to learn some lessons from this. But things will change after this pandemic. India has an enormous amount to offer. I continue to be impressed by the quality of some of the universities in India.

I am impressed with its capacity for innovation, especially around vaccines. India is an example of what a country can do even despite its levels of poverty, in terms of over-achieving and having an impact in terms of pandemic preparedness.

African group of nations extends support for India-backed resolution at the WHA

WHO D-G Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressing members at the opening of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.AFPCHRISTOPHER BLACK

An India-backed draft resolution at the 73rd session of the World Health Assembly received a big boost on Monday when the African group of nations extended support for the motion which seeks global investigation into the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The development came soon after the Assembly convened in Geneva where the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the global body will look into the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO.

The assurance, however, is at variance from the draft resolution, which was earlier backed by WHO’s 62 countries and sought to identify scientific “events” that could have contributed to the spread of the novel coronavirus and the consequent COVID-19 pandemic. The recommendation is part of the text jointly conceived by Australia and the European Union. It aims to evaluate possible food and animal-related sources that could have led to the spread of the deadly pandemic. Informed sources said that given the growing number of co-sponsors, the likelihood of a vote on the motion was lessened. The language of the motion seeks to delve deep into the origin of the virus.

“The Seventy-third World Health Assembly requests the Director General to ... identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events,” says the draft motion that The Hindu has seen.

‘Impartial evaluation’

The draft resolution also calls for “impartial, independent and comprehensive” evaluation into the “WHO-coordinated international health response” to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The language of the resolution reflects the diplomatic tug of war that has taken place since the pandemic began in early 2019 . This tension was visible on Monday when Taiwan protested at not receiving a formal invite from the WHO Secretariat for the 73rd Assembly.

The devices will arrive in May and June, but the final delivery schedule will be notified next week

Timely aid: The ventilators were built for use in the U.S. but are now being ‘repurposed’ to India. Getty Images/iStockphoto3alexd

India will take delivery of 200 ventilators donated by the U.S. within the next month, government sources said on Monday.

The ventilators, which will be paid for by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), will arrive in May and June and the final delivery schedule notified next week, the sources said.

While the government has not commented on the value of the donation, it is likely to be funded by an additional grant of $3 million that the USAID made last month.

In a statement on April 16, the U.S. government said the funds through USAID would help “mitigate the spread of COVID-19” and focus on financing healthcare access.

The ventilators, which were built for use in the U.S., are being “repurposed” for donations to several countries, including India.

Modi thanks Trump

“India has been a great partner to us for quite some time, and I’m encouraged here about the ventilators to India. It’s one of the several countries I noted that will be getting ventilators, because, you know, this President has done so well on ventilators — 100,000 [manufactured] in 100 days — that we are able to repurpose them and then send them around the world,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Saturday.

Thanking Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “More power to the India-US friendship. In such times, it’s always important for nations to work together and do as much as possible to make our world healthier and free from COVID-19.”

According to the Health Ministry, India has 18,855 ventilators for COVID-19 patients at present, while the government’s Empower group tasked with COVID-19 response said about 60,000 more had been ordered.

(With inputs from Bindu Shajan Perappadan)

The critically endangered species started flowering at Thiruvananthapuram-based JNTBGRI

Green gift:Pinanga andamanensis at Mount Harriet National Park in the Andamans and, right, the seedling in Kerala.Special Arrangement Special Arrangement

A rare palm endemic to the South Andaman Island is finding a second home at Palode here, courtesy the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI). An earlier JNTBGRI effort in this direction had been thwarted by mischievous wild elephants that ate up all the specimens!

At first glance, Pinanga andamanensis — which at one point was written off as extinct — resembles the areca palm to which it is closely related. But its entire population of some 600 specimens naturally occurs only in a tiny, evergreen forest pocket in South Andaman’s Mount Harriet National Park.

By conserving the germplasm on the Indian mainland, JNTBGRI can ensure its continued survival in the event of its minuscule original home getting wiped out by, say, a natural calamity, JNTBGRI Director R. Prakashkumar told The Hindu. ‘Such conservation efforts assume special significance in the era of climate change,’ he said.

JNTBGRI scientists termed the Pinanga andamanensis “a critically endangered species and one of the least known among the endemic palms of the Andaman Islands”.

While its uses are yet to be understood fully, this elegant palm holds promise as an avenue tree for gardens, pavements and homesteads, said Sam Mathew, Senior Scientist, Plant Genetic Resource Division, JNTBGRI..

Colourful history

Pinanga andamanensis has a colourful history. It was originally described by the Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in 1934. His description was based on an old herbarium specimen collected by E.H. Man, a late-19th century assistant superintendent in the Andaman administration. After that first identification, it was thought to be extinct till 1992.

In 1992, Mr. Mathew, who was with the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) at the time, and his BSI colleague, the late K.C. Malick, encountered a few specimens at the Mount Harriet National Park.

Such a small gene pool means the species is vulnerable to natural calamities such as cyclones, earthquakes, Mr. Mathew said.

After he moved to the JNTBGRI, five or six specimens were introduced at the Field Gene Bank at Palode in 1994. Unfortunately, rampaging wild elephants ate them all up in 2012.

“The pith of the trunks of these palms is sweet,” he said. In 2014, a few more seedlings were introduced, which has started flowering.

“On fruit setting, JNTBGRI will resume seed germination experiments for mass multiplication as part of the conservation strategy.

So why is this palm called Pinanga? Well, it has something to do with areca nuts, after all.

The name is derived from ‘Penang’, the modern-day Malaysian state. “Penang itself has its origins in ‘Pulau Pinang’, which means ‘Island of the Areca Nut Palm,’” says Mr. Mathew.

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