Thursday, August 27, 2020

Worried Pawar deputes Patel on Congress crisis

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Aug 26

NCP supremo Sharad Pawar is extremely worried over the internal crisis developing in the Congress Party. Since the Congress is the catalyst for the unity among the Opposition parties in the country, any weakening at this juncture will have a direct bearing on the stability of many Opposition ruled states.

It was primarily because of this very reason that he deputed his Man-Friday and NCP general secretary Praful Patel to keep a close watch on the development and get an update at the earliest. It was perhaps because of this very reason that Praful Patel rushed here from Mumbai yesterday and is camping here.

When contacted, Praful Patel told Lokmat, “We have no role in the internal affairs of the Congress. Of course, it’s a matter of concern as we are running a government in Maharashtra in alliance with Congress and any such development may have a bearing.” When asked if he had talked to Congress leaders, he smiled and said, “We talk to everybody on a daily basis. We want Congress to be strengthened and become a strong party so that the Maharashtra experiment can be taken at the national level.” However, he declined to say anything on the issue and also clarified that the main purpose of his visit here was to attend the meeting of the Standing Committee of Parliament on Finance. 

If sources are to be believed, many top Congress leaders were talking to Praful Patel on a daily basis. The NCP sees an opportunity in the Congress if there is another split in the party as it happened in 1999. “Any such development will prove the point Sharad Pawar has been making for a long time that Rahul Gandhi is not capable of leading the Congress,” said another senior NCP leader on the condition of anonymity. Patel is understood to have briefed Pawar on the internal crisis which has been pushed under the carpet for now.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sonia may offer step down on Monday, May appeal to elect a non-Gandhi

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug. 22

Congress Interim president Sonia Gandhi may offer to step down from her post at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee on Monday next.

Highly placed sources in the party told Lokmat tonight that Sonia Gandhi has made up her mind and informed a select group of leaders about her intentions to make room for a non-Gandhi to occupy the post. This in a way, is bowing to the wishes of her son Rahul Gandhi who took moral responsibility for the debacle of the party in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and quit. He also desired that a non-Gandhi be elected to run the party.

But the entire CWC rejected the decision and later elected Sonia Gandhi an interim president. However, the experiment failed and now it is emerging that an upset Sonia Gandhi may offer to quit. Though she has full one more year to go an Interim president of the Congress, she is pained and may offer to quit. 

It is reliably learnt that some of the senior Congress leaders including Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma among others have written a letter to Sonia Gandhi about the state of the party and how it should be reorganised. 

When contacted, no senior leader was willing to comment. Kapil Sibal did not respond to phone calls and neither Anand Sharma responded. Ghulam Nabi Azad has also been upset as he had not been renominated to the Rajya Sabha and may not remain Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. However, Mallikarjun Kharge, senior-most member of the CWC and Rajya Sabha MP told Lokmat over the phone that he would participate in the virtual meeting on Monday.  He declined to say anything more exceot that he is a loyal soldier of the party.

Monday, August 17, 2020

India conducts 3 crores Cvoid tests

  • Set to touch 10 lakh tests a day mark
  • Positivity rate coming down

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 16

India achieved a new milestone by conducting 3 crores coronavirus tests today. It touched 2.93 crores tests yesterday and with more than 7 lakh tests conducted till the time of going to the press, a new record has been set. India ramped up testing during the 15 days with a lightning speed that it could touch the three crore mark from two crores. Earlier, it took a month to touch the two crore mark. (see the table).

India is all set to make a record shortly when it will conduct 10 lakh coronavirus tests per day. It achieved a record 8.69 lakhs tests yesterday and if official sources are to be believed, the number will now touch 10 lakh tests a day mark anytime.

The Prime Minister had given the target to the ICMR to conduct 10 lakh tests per day on August 1. There was a time when India was testing less than 300 tests per day in March and touched the mind-boggling figure of 10 lakhs a day.

India conducts 3 crores Cvoid tests
The laboratories conducting Covid tests rose from 3 to 1500 in five months. Maharashtra alone has 144 labs including 67 in the private sector. 

The PM wanted states to undertake more tests so that the clear scenario could emerge and states ramped up testing on a large scale. The most heartening aspect is that the positivity rate of India has started coming down from 9.5% to 8.8% on August 15. Similarly, Maharashtra’s positivity rate came down from 20.2% on July 31 to 18.8% on August 15.

Official sources say that Covid cases are rising in the country rapidly. But this is largely due to very high testing and cases are coming down in percentage terms.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

India cautious in buying Russian Vaccine

PM Task Force on Covid Vaccine to meet again

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 13

The Prime Minister’s high-powered Task Force on Vaccine headed by Dr V K Paul will be formulating its strategy to obtain the Russian vaccine to fight Covid pandemic.

The multi-member committee which met for several hours yesterday has not only to submit its report to the Prime Minister about the efficacy of the Russian Sputnik-V but also in how much quantity and what should be the funding mechanism.

The Task Force has to take a crucial decision about whether to procure several other Covid Vaccine candidates being manufactured in various parts of the world.

The Indian government has not assigned any fund for the research & development for Covid vaccines. Five vaccines are in the advanced stage of producing it including three Western and two Chinese. These all are in Phase 3 efficacy trials involving thousands of people.

Oxford University, working with the Swedish-British pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, hopes to have results by September, while the US biotech company Moderna, partnering with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), is aiming for the end of the year, possibly November.

The Trump administration has spent nearly $ 10 billion to seven vaccine developers and signed manufacturing contracts with five of them to provide nearly one billion doses.

Japan is also negotiating with three suppliers and Britain is also signing deals with such manufacturers.

But India is banking on its own Convaxin being jointly produced by Bharat Biotech-ICMR and Zydus which are still in phase-I and Phase-II trials. The Task Force has to urgently take a view on Russian vaccine as it’s a friendly country. The presence of the secretary of the ministry of external affairs in the meeting indicates that India will try to obtain the Russian vaccine. The modalities are being worked out, these sources say.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

PM Task Force Scouts for Covid Vaccine as Russia set to hit the market

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug 10
India is scouting on a war footing basis to obtain Covid vaccine as many leading global companies have gone into phase 3 trials. The Russian University has signaled to register its wonder drug early next week and go into mass production.

The Prime Minister’s Task Force on Vaccine procurement & management headed by Dr V K Paul is keeping a close watch on vaccines being tested by global players like Oxford, Cansino and Pfizer which have gone into phase-3 trials. With Indian vaccine trials still at an early stage, the PM’s Task Force is exploring alternative sources to procure vaccines from global sources.

According to WHO at least 165 vaccines for Coronavirus were being developed and 23 of them are in human trials including two drugs being tested in India. These drugs are still a far cry. 

Official sources, however, concede that India will have some difficulty as it has not made advance payments or invested in research & development of vaccines in any global company like many rich nations.

These sources insist “some grants have been made available from the department of biotechnology.” But these are meager amounts.

The Task Force is banking on the Bill Gates Milinda Foundation and also on Covax (Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access) in which some Indian companies and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have partnered. It is expected that this alliance (Gavi) will supply vaccines to low- and medium-income countries. The WHO’s Somumya Swaminathan has been on record that countries could go in for bilateral deals and it is for them to take the risk.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently said in an official statement that the Covid vaccine be Made available to the health workers first. But a lot of efforts will be needed as demand for the covid vaccine will be huge as and when it hits the market.

At least one manufacturer of the vaccine in India told Lokmat on the condition of anonymity said that the government had not initiated any discussion with it on procurement of vaccines. India has the capability to produce two billion doses of vaccine.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

ICMR sets Aug 15 deadline for Covid Vaccine - AIIMS says Phase-I trials not over yet

“Covaxin initial results encouraging”, Dr Sanjay Rai AIIMS Principal Vaccine Investigator

Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

New Delhi, Aug. 9

PM Narendra Modi may have cut short bureaucratic delays to fast-track Coronavirus Vaccine trials in India. But the wonder drug will continue to elude as trials and may take longer than the August 15 deadline set by Indian Council of Medical Research.

It is authoritatively learnt that the Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine trials that began at the prestigious AIIMS and 11 other facilities across India last month, has not even completed Phase-I stage. The ICMR has partnered with the Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech to invent and manufacture vaccine.

Zydus Cadila’s ZyCov-D has was also been given permission for phase-I & II human clinical trials at its own facilities.

The ICMR raised the hopes when its director Dr Balram Bhargawa told reporters last week that phase-I and Phase-II trials for Covaxin drug would be completed before August 15.

But Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS clarified, “We are rushing trials for the vaccine and clubbed phase-I & II trials. The human clinical trials will follow all safety norms.”

When contacted, Dr Sanjay Rai, Principal Investigator, AIIMS who is coordinating the Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin trials, told Lokmat this morning, “We have completed the Phase-I trials results which are very encouraging. There was no reaction to the drug. We gave single dose to Vaccine warriors and now double dose will be given to them to test its efficacy.”

In reply to a question, Dr Rai said phase-II trials will begin only after results of double dose are out in the next 10-15 days.

When asked why reports have been surfacing that the wonder drug will be out shortly, Dr Sanjay Rai said, “The government clubbed the phase-I & II clearances only. This was to cut delays and not aimed at compromising safety norms.”

Currently, trials of three vaccines including the one produced by the Oxford University & Seerum Institute, Pune are under way. Experts say that no Covid vaccine is likely to make it before the year-end.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

India touches 2 crore Covid Test mark

  • Maharashtra doubles testing in July, UP Triples.
  • Delhi tops in per million population tests, Bihar refuses to test more

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, Aug. 1

India is set to touch two crores Covid testing mark ever since testing began in March this year. In a new record, more than one crores tests were conducted in the month of July itself according to data accessed from official sources. 

Of the two crores tests, five states alone- Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan – accounted for one crore tests. Maharashtra doubled its daily testing from 25182 tests on July 1 to 58192 tests on July 30. It also doubled its monthly testing from 9.95 lakh tests on July 1 to 20.21 lakhs on July 30. Similarly, India’s testing also doubled during July – from 2.18 lakh tests to 5.25 lakh tests yesterday. The Prime Minister has set a target of crossing 10 lakh tests per day on the back of ramping up testing capacity in the country.

However, it’s the national Capital of Delhi where the highest number of tests were conducted among per million people. It tested 50000 per million people while Maharashtra’s averaged 16,408 tests only. Maharashtra has one solace i.e. it is higher than the national average of 13181 tests per million. (see the table)

Till the end of June, testing was lacklustre across Maharashtra as different departments were involved in testing. But now all kinds of testing was brought under one department and it paid rich dividends, said a source in the state government. 

The data clearly showed that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath set a record as the state is at number two in the country and its positivity rate is lowest with 3.6% only. Surprisingly, UP had conducted 7 lakh tests on July 1. But it tripled within one month to 21.20 lakh tests which is a record.

Compared with Bihar’s 'Sushashan Babu' as Nitish Kumar is known where 5 lakh tests have been conducted so far with a positivity rate of 9.1%. Its per million population test is the lowest in the country with 4160 tests. Sources in the Union Health Ministry say that low testing is despite repeated pleas by the PM and other agencies. 

Official sources say that with fatality rate down to 2.20% in the country and the virus is not deadly either, there is a hope that India will see Coronavirus peak sometime in September-October.