Coronavirus COVID-19 Delhi The Buzz

Seropositivity for COVID-19 found to be lesser in smokers, vegetarians: CSIR

New Delhi, January 17

Smokers and vegetarians were found to have lower seropositivity indicating that they may be at a lesser risk of getting infected by coronavirus, according to a pan-India serosurvey conducted by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in its nearly 40 institutes.

The survey also found that those with blood group ‘O’ may be less susceptible to the infection, while people with ‘B’ and ‘AB’ blood groups were at a higher risk.

For its study, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) took samples of 10,427 adult individuals working in its laboratories or institutions and their family members, based on voluntary participation, to assess the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.

The study which was piloted by CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi said of the 10,427 individuals, 1,058 (10.14 per cent) had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

A follow up on 346 seropositive individuals among the samples after three months revealed ‘stable’ to ‘higher’ antibody levels against SARS-CoV-2, but declining plasma activity for neutralising the virus, Shantanu Sengupta, senior scientist at IGIB and one of the co-authors of the paper said.

A repeat sampling of 35 individuals, at six months, revealed declining antibody levels while the neutralising antibody remained stable compared to three months.

However, both the normal antibody as well as the neutralising antibody were much above the required threshold, he said.

“Our finding that smokers are less likely to be seropositive is the first report from the general population and part of growing evidence that despite COVID-19 being a respiratory disease, smoking may be protective,” the study said.

The paper also cites two studies from France and similar reports from Italy, New York and China, which reported lower infection rates among smokers.

Along with demographic information, possible risk factors were evaluated through self-filled online forms with data acquired on blood group type, occupation type, habits including smoking and alcohol, diet preferences, medical history and transport type utilised.

“The study found that higher seropositivity was found for those using public transport and with occupational responsibilities such as security, housekeeping personnel, non-smokers and non-vegetarians,” Sengupta said.

In July last year, the Union Health Ministry had said smokers were likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as smoking increases possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth, and warned that use of tobacco products could increase severity of respiratory infections and make people susceptible to coronavirus.

In its document ‘COVID-19 Pandemic and Tobacco Use in India’, the ministry had said experts have confirmed that smokers were more likely to develop severe symptoms or die from COVID-19, as it primarily attacked the lungs and warned against use of any such products.

Smokers, it warned, were likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increased the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth.

“The presence of such antibodies is a reliable marker of infection and recovery. However, some infected people may not develop antibodies,” Anurag Agrawal, IGIB director, and one of the co-authors of the paper said.

“Use of private transport, lower-exposure occupations, smoking, vegetarianism and ‘A’ or ‘O’ blood groups appeared to be protective, using seropositivity as a surrogate for infection,” the paper added.

Sengupta said this is for the first time that a study has been done in India wherein individuals have been monitored for three months (35 individuals) to six months (346 individuals) for antibodies including those with probable neutralising activity. This is the first such cohort survey, he said.

“We conducted both the normal antibody test and neutralising anti-body test to understand the prevalence and duration of antibodies,” he said.

The CSIR has some 40 institutes covering the length and the breadth of the country and each specialises in different fields. The IGIB and its sister institute Centre of Cellular and Molecular Biology have been at the forefront in conducting the genome sequencing of coronavirus. PTI

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Coronavirus COVID-19 Delhi The Buzz

Will poor and underprivileged get COVID-19 vaccine for free, asks Cong

New Delhi, January 17

A day after India rolled out the world’s largest inoculation drive against COVID-19, the Congress on Sunday asked whether the government plans to provide free vaccines to all Indians, especially the underprivileged and the poor, and when.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that though the government claims it will cover three crore people in the first round of the vaccination drive, it is yet to clarify if the remaining population of India will get a vaccine and whether they will get it for free.

“Is the government not aware that 81.35 crore people are eligible for subsidised ration under the Food Security Act? Will the SC, ST, BC, OBC, BPL, APL, the poor and the underprivileged get the vaccine for free or not? If yes, what is the roll-out plan and by when will the government ensure free vaccination,” he asked.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government need to answer…Who will get free corona vaccine? How many people will get the free corona vaccine? Where will you get free corona vaccine,” he said.

Surjewala also raised questions over the pricing of the two vaccines—Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and Covishield from the Oxford/AstraZeneca stable manufactured by the SII—approved for emergency use in India and asked why the government has not put them in the National List of Essential Medicines.

The Congress general secretary asked why the government should pay Rs 95 more to Bharat Biotech for a vaccine that has been developed with the expertise and experience of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientists.

“Should the price of such a vaccine not be cheaper than the AstraZeneca-Serum Institute? Why is the price of corona vaccine Rs 1,000 per dose in the open market,” he asked.

He said the government should demand transparency from companies on the cost of production and profits being made from the vaccine.

“Vaccine development and mass immunisations were neither events nor publicity stunts, but important milestones in the service of the people.

“While India stands united in providing immunisation against the coronavirus to our frontline corona warriors—doctors, health workers, police personnel and others—let’s remember that vaccinations are an important public service and not a political or business opportunity,” he told reporters at a press conference.

The first COVID-19 vaccine shots in India were given on Saturday to nearly two lakh frontline healthcare and sanitation workers as Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out the world’s largest inoculation drive against the pandemic that has caused 1,52,093 deaths and upended millions of lives in the country.

Modi asserted that the two vaccines being deployed will ensure a “decisive victory” for India against the coronavirus.

According to the government, the shots will be offered first to an estimated one crore healthcare workers, and around two crore frontline workers, and then to persons above 50 years of age, followed by persons younger than 50 years of age with associated comorbidities.

Cost of vaccination of healthcare and frontline workers will be borne by the central government. PTI

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Delhi The Buzz

SC-appointed panel on farm laws to hold first meeting on January 19

New Delhi, January 17

The Supreme Court-appointed committee on the three new farm laws is scheduled to hold its first meeting on January 19 at Pusa campus here, one of its members Anil Ghanwat said on Sunday.

The Supreme Court had on January 11 stayed the implementation of the three laws, against which farmers are protesting at Delhi borders for over 50 days now, till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse.

Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann, however, recused from the committee last week.

Apart from Ghanwat, agri-economists Ashok Gulati and Pramod Kumar Joshi are the two other panel members.

“We are meeting on January 19 at the Pusa campus. Only members will meet to decide the future course of action,” Ghanwat, President of Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra), told PTI.

One of the four members has backed out of the committee. If the apex court does not appoint a new member, the existing members will continue, he said.

The committee has received the terms of reference and will begin the work from January 21 onwards, he added.

Asked about the government holding parallel talks with protesting farmer unions after the setting up of the SC panel, he said, “We have no issue if a solution is found and the protests end from either (efforts of) our panel or from the government’s separate talks with the protesting farmer unions.”              

“Let (Government) them continue the discussion, we have been given a duty and we will focus on that,” he added.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Monday the pleas relating to the controversial farm laws and the ongoing farmers’ protest at Delhi borders.

It may take into account the matter of recusal of the member from the panel.

The top court would also hear the plea of the Central government, filed though the Delhi Police, seeking an injunction against a proposed tractor march or any other kind of protest by farmers that may disrupt the Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

So far, the government has held nine rounds of formal talks with 41 farmer unions but has failed to break the logjam as the latter have stuck to their main demand of a complete repeal of the three Acts.

In the last meeting, the Centre had suggested that the unions constitute their own informal group to prepare a concrete proposal on the three farm laws for further discussion at their next meeting on January 19 to end the long-running protest at various Delhi borders. — PTI

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Delhi The Buzz

ED arrests 2 Chinese nationals in money-laundering case

New Delhi, January 17

The ED has arrested two Chinese nationals in connection with its money laundering probe linked to an alleged hawala racket worth an estimated Rs 1,000 crore that involved shell or dubious firms, official sources said on Sunday.

The central probe agency arrested Charlie Peng alias Luo Sang (42) and Carter Lee under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) on January 15. They were produced before a local court here on Saturday that sent them to 14 days custody, they said.

The ED case against Peng stems from an Income Tax Department investigation of last year and an FIR filed by the Delhi Police special cell against him in 2018.

Peng’s name had cropped up last year in connection with the detention of two persons in Himachal Pradesh who were allegedly tracking Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s movement on his direction.

The Chinese national and some of his alleged associates, including bankers, were raided by the Income Tax Department in August.

Peng, sources had alleged, had a fake Indian passport. Tax officials had claimed that he created a “web of sham companies to launder hawala funds to and from China” in the past two-three years.

The sources had said his front or showcase business was import and export of medical and electronic goods and some other items.

Peng, the sources said, was arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police in September 2018 on charges of fraud and forgery and was allegedly running an illegal money changer.

Both ED and I-T department, sources had said, are also probing allegations if Peng was “bribing” some Tibetans living in Delhi.

In a statement in August last year, the CBDT had, without identifying the entities involved, stated that its searches were based on “credible inputs that a few Chinese individuals and their Indian associates were involved in money laundering and hawala transactions through a series of shell entities.”

It had said the “subsidiary of Chinese company and its related concerns have taken over Rs 100 crore bogus advances from shell entities for opening businesses of retail showrooms in India”.

“Search action revealed that at the behest of Chinese individuals, more than 40 bank accounts were created in various dummy entities, entering into credits of more than Rs 1,000 crore over the period,” the CBDT had said.

“Incriminating documents of hawala transactions and money laundering with the active involvement of bank employees and Chartered Accountants have been found as a result of the search action,” it said.

Evidence of foreign hawala transactions involving Hong Kong and US dollars have also been unearthed, the CBDT had said.

Similar charges are being probed against Lee by the ED, they said. PTI

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Coronavirus COVID-19 Delhi The Buzz

15,144 fresh COVID-19 cases push national tally to over 1.05 crore

New Delhi, January 17

India’s COVID-19 tally of cases climbed to 1,05,57,985 with 15,144 new cases in a day, while 1,01,96,885 people have recuperated so far pushing the national recovery rate to 96.58 per cent, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday.

There are 2,08,826 active cases of coronavirus infection in the country which comprises 1.98 per cent of the total caseload, the data stated.

The total coronavirus cases mounted to 1,05,57,985 and the death toll climbed to 1,52,274 with the novel coronavirus virus claiming 181 lives in a span of 24 hours in the country, the data updated at 8 am showed.

The COVID-19 case fatality rate stood at 1.44 per cent. 

According to the ICMR, a cumulative total of 18,65,44,868 samples have been tested up to January 16 with 7,79,377 samples being tested on Saturday.

India’s COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 30 lakh on August 23 and 40 lakh on September 5. It went past 50 lakh on September 16, 60 lakh on September 28, 70 lakh on October 11 and crossed 80 lakh on October 29 and 90 lakh on November 20 and one crore on December 19. 

The 181 latest fatalities include 52 from Maharashtra, 27 from Kerala, 15 from West Bengal, 12 from Uttar Pradesh, six each from Delhi, and Tamil Nadu.

The total 152274 deaths reported so far in the country include 50388 from Maharashtra followed by 12257 from Tamil Nadu, 12162 from Karnataka, 10738 from Delhi, 10041 from West Bengal, 8570 from Uttar Pradesh, 7139 from Andhra Pradesh, 5499 from Punjab and 4363 from Gujarat.

The health ministry stressed that more than 70 per cent of the deaths occurred due to comorbidities.

“Our figures are being reconciled with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),” the ministry said on its website, adding that state-wise distribution of figures is subject to further verification and reconciliation. — PTI 

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Delhi The Buzz

Traders’ body moves Supreme Court against privacy policy of WhatsApp

Satya Prakash
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 16

Amid demands for the rollback of WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court on Saturday seeking protection of citizens’ right to privacy.

The petitioner, Confederation of All-India Traders (CAIT), sought a direction to the government to restrain WhatsApp and Facebook from storing and utilising the works transmitted through the messaging service for any purpose.

Demands technical audits

  • The PIL has demanded technical audits of WhatsApp and Facebook centres, so as to retrieve users’ data and delete it
  • WhatsApp should be directed to withdraw its controversial privacy policy and frame guidelines to govern its data sharing with Facebook, says the plea

It also urged the top court to direct the two companies to allow the Centre to carry out technical audits of their centres where the data of Indian users are stored, so as to retrieve and delete it.

The petitioner demanded that WhatsApp should be directed to withdraw its controversial privacy policy and frame guidelines to govern its data sharing with Facebook. Due to this updated policy, the users will now have to compulsorily share all information that WhatsApp collects, which includes information about the user’s activity on their services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information, it pointed out.

WhatsApp has already announced delaying by three months the implementation of its new privacy policy that has caused concern among millions of users, many of whom started to move to its rivals, such as Signal and Telegram. It was originally scheduled to come into effect on February 8.

The petitioner accused the Centre of failing to discharge its constitutional duty of protecting the privacy of citizens.

“The Centre has failed to impose necessary and restrictive conditions in the case. On the proposed policy of WhatsApp, European Union’s Antitrust Authority had imposed serious restrictions and fines of 110 million euros in 2017,” read the CAIT petition.

In 2016, Germany, England and the entire European Union had prohibited similar action of Facebook, which was also asked to delete all data relating to WhatsApp users, it said.

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Delhi Politics The Buzz

Congress questions Covaxin, BJP hits back

Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 16

Congress leader Manish Tewari on Saturday alleged that Covaxin was approved without due process.

As the vaccine rollout began, Tewari said “As vaccine rollout begins, it is all a bit puzzling that India has no policy framework for authorising emergency use. Yet, two vaccines have been approved for restricted use in emergency situation. Covaxin is another story — approvals sans due process.”

The BJP hit back with party president JP Nadda saying whenever India achieves something commendable, the Congress presents “wild theories” to “ridicule” the feats.

Meanwhile, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya today tweeted, “Rahul Gandhi raised doubts on the government’s effort to roll out the vaccine. But on a day when India undertakes the largest vaccine drive, after PM Modi’s administration approved two made-in-India vaccines, not a single tweet and not a word of appreciation for Indian scientists and health workers too?”

Amitabh Bachchan’s Covid mobile caller tune voice was also replaced with a new message, of a woman, urging people to maintain post-vaccine precautions.

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Delhi The Buzz

AIIMS security guard reports allergy post COVID vaccination, in hospital care

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 16

A 22-year-old security guard at AIIMS, New Delhi reported allergic reaction and is learnt to be in intensive care, moments after the government said there was no post-vaccine hospitalisation.

The 22-year-old guard developed headache, rash, respiratory distress, tachycardia after vaccination. He is in ICU and his condition is stable, hospital sources said.

Delhi has reported 52 adverse events following events of which one is serious and could involve the guard hospitalised today.

All beneficiaries vaccinated at AIIMS got indigenous COVAXIN.

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Delhi The Buzz

Covid vaccine inoculation: Delhi reports 52 adverse events, Haryana 13

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 16

Although the Centre on Saturday confirmed there were no cases of post-vaccine hospitalisation reported across India on day one, some states reported adverse events which can be mild or serious.

Haryana reported 13 adverse events following immunisation. The state data did not clarify whether these were minor or serious.

Delhi reported 52 adverse events following Immunisation of which 51 were minor and one serious.

The Centre did not share pan India AEFI data but said there was no hospitalisation after vaccination today although mild side effects such as fever, headache, rash and allergies are normal as in other vaccines.

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Delhi The Buzz

NIA asks over 12 people linked to farm stir to appear before it as witnesses in SFJ case

Mukesh Ranjan

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, Jan 16

Anti-terror federal probe agency NIA has sent notices to over a dozen farm leaders, Sikh activists and journalists from Punjab, who are associated with the protest against Centre’s three farm laws, to appear before it as witnesses in a case pertaining to Sikhs for Justice (a banned outfit) legal adviser Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and his other associates.

The move, among the protesting farmers, is seen as an attempt by the government to derail the agitation by intimidation.

The farmer representatives, who held the ninth round of negotiations with the government on Friday, took strong exception and registered their objections to the notices being sent.

Earlier four persons were sent notices, including a Ludhiana-based bus operator, a nut bolt manufacturer and a cable operator.

Also read: Mehbooba terms NIA as ‘Government of India’s pet’

It is learnt from sources in the agency that the NIA had served summons on over a dozen individuals, including Punjabi actor Deep Siddhu’s brother Mandeep Singh Siddhu through WhatsApp. They have been asked to appear before it on different dates from January 17 to 19.

A source in the NIA said, “The notices have been sent in connection with a case registered by the agency in Delhi on December 15, 2020, under the provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), sedition, criminal conspiracy and other charges against SFJ’s legal adviser Pannun and his associates, including UK resident Paramjit Singh Pamma and Canadian resident Hardeep Singh Nijjar among others.”

“The notices are sent under Section 160 of the CrPC to call them as witnesses in the case, as those who are being summoned appeared acquainted with the circumstances of the case and asked them to appear before the investigating officer (IO) for examination,” said the source.

Confirming the list of persons, who have been sent notices, sources in the agency said they included Jasveer Singh, a resident of Muktsar, who had been working with a Sikh channel; commentator and journalist Baltej Pannu from Patiala; Karnail Singh Dasuha from Hoshiarpur; Surinder Singh Thikriwal from Barnala; Inderpal Singh Judge from Ludhiana; Nobeljit Singh from Hoshiarpur; Palwinder Singh from Amarkot; Pardeep Singh from Ludhiana; Paramjit Singh Akali from Amritsar; and Ranjit Singh Damdami Mint from Amritsar.

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