ExplainSpeaking-Economy is a weekly newsletter by Udit Misra, delivered in your inbox every Monday morning. Click here to subscribeDear Readers,From the perspective of the global economy, the year 2023 started off on a mildly optimistic note. As top policymakers and CEOs met in Davos, there was a sense that the global economy might be able to dodge the chances of a recession in 2023. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook in January provided a salutary stamp to that notion. However, the recent collapses in the banking sector had yet again ratcheted up the apprehensions of a recession.In this context, a new research publication by the World Bank, titled “Falling Long-Term Growth Prospects”, argues that the current decade (2020-2030) “could be a lost decade in the making—not just for some countries or regions as has occurred in the past—but for the whole world.”Simply put, the World Bank has found that the overlapping crises of the past few years — Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resultant spike in inflation as well as monetary tightening — have ended a span of nearly three decades of sustained economic growth.“Starting in 1990, productivity surged, incomes rose, and inflation fell. Within a generation, about one out of four developing economies leaped to high-income status. Today nearly all the economic forces that drove economic progress are in retreat,” writes David Malpass, President, The World Bank Group.He further warns that without a big and broad policy push to rejuvenate it, the global average potential GDP growth rate—the theoretical growth rate an economy can sustain over the medium term based on investment and productivity rates without risking excess inflation— is expected to fall to a three-decade low of 2.2% a year between now and 2030, down from 2.6% in 2011-21 and 3.5% during the first decade of this century.The important thing to understand here is that while the report talks about global growth slowdown, the main hurt will be felt by emerging economies such as India. “A persistent and broad-based decline in long-term growth prospects imperils the ability of emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) to combat poverty, tackle climate change, and meet other key development objectives,” states the World Bank.The World Bank report recounts a 2015 research request by Kaushik Basu, the World Bank Group’s Chief Economist at the time, to assess the long-term growth prospects of emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs).While the World Bank came up with a preliminary study (titled “Slowdown in Emerging Markets: Rough Patch or Prolonged Weakness?”), the latest publication provides “a definitive answer” to the question. And the answer is: These economies are in the midst of a prolonged period of weakness.Look at the data for actual GDP growth and per capita GDP growth in the two tables (A.1 and A.3) below. It shows a broad-based decline over the past two decades whether a country belongs to EMDEs or the middle-income countries (MICs) or the low-income countries (LICs).The World Bank has looked at a whole set of fundamental drivers that determine economic growth and found that all of them have been losing power. The six charts below capture the weakness.These fundamental drivers include things like capital accumulation (through investment growth), labour force growth, and the growth of total factor productivity (which is the part of economic growth that results from more efficient use of inputs and which is often the result of technological changes) etc.Not surprisingly then, the potential growth rate is expected to decelerate further (see Table A.3).What about India?Even though India has also lost its growth momentum over the past two decades, it is and will likely remain a global leader when it comes to growth rates. India falls under the South Asia Region (SAR), which is expected to be fastest growing among emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) for the remainder of this decade. To be sure, India accounts for three-fourths of the SAR output. SAR includes countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh etc.“Economic activity in the South Asia region (SAR) rebounded strongly from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding by 7.9 percent in 2021 after a drop of 4.5 percent in 2020. Output in the region is on track to grow by about 6.0 percent a year between 2022 and 2030, faster than the 2010s annual average of 5.5 percent and only moderately slower than growth in the 2000s,” states World Bank.According to the World Bank, if all countries make a strong push, potential global GDP growth can be boosted by 0.7 percentage point—to an annual average rate of 2.9%; this would be faster than the preceding decade (when the global economy grew by 2.6%) but still slower than the first decade of 2000s (when the growth clocked 3.5% per annum).There are six priority interventions suggested by the report: incentivise investments into the economy, boost labour force participation rates (especially for women), cut trade costs, capitalise on service exports, improve global cooperation, ensure that fiscal policies and monetary policies don’t run against each other (for instance, government expenditures raising deficits at a time when central banks are trying to contain inflation).Until next week,Udit
A combative Boris Johnson fought for his political career on Wednesday, as the former British prime minister said “hand on heart” he did not lie to parliament over Covid-19 lockdown parties at a hearing with lawmakers.Parliament’s Committee of Privileges is investigating whether Johnson, who was ousted from Downing Street in September, intentionally or recklessly misled the House of Commons in a series of statements, where he said no rules were broken in the gatherings. If the committee finds Johnson deliberately misled lawmakers, then he could be suspended. Any suspension longer than 10 days could prompt an election to remove him from his parliamentary seat and end his political career.The former leader, who considered an audacious bid for a second stint as prime minister last year, launched a lengthy defence at the hearing, saying statements he made to parliament had been done in good faith.“I’m here to say to you, hand on heart, that I did not lie to the House,” said Johnson, who has accused the committee of bias. “When those statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time.”The so-called partygate scandal contributed to the ultimate downfall of Johnson, after months of reports that he, alongside other senior government figures, had been present at alcohol-fuelled gatherings in Downing Street during 2020 and 2021 when much of the rest of Britain was forced to stay at home.Johnson was fined by police for attending an event to celebrate his birthday in Downing Street in June 2020, making him the first prime minister found to have broken the law while in office. Some 126 fines were issued over the gatherings.The outcry and repeated accusations of lying over the parties and allegations that a Conservative lawmaker had drunkenly groped two men eventually prompted the resignations of most of his top team of government ministers, including the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who was among those fined.Thanking staffHarriet Harman, the chair of the committee, said it would consider the evidence Johnson had given and may take further evidence in due course. It is expected to report its findings later in the year. She stressed the importance of ministers telling the truth, saying this went to the heart of the way Britain’s parliamentary system functions.At the start of the hearing, Johnson was made to swear an oath to tell the truth on a bible before giving his evidence. He said the inquiry had not found any evidence he deliberately misled parliament and said he was banned by the committee from publishing a “large number of extracts” he relied on in his defence.Asked about events in May, November, and December 2020 when he was pictured talking to colleagues who were drinking, Johnson said some meetings were “essential” to the functioning of government. He said his presence at events was necessary to thank staff for their hard work.“People who say that we were partying in lockdown simply do not know what they are talking about,” he said, crossly. He said he was “shocked” to be fined and “amazed” by the number of other fines issued.“I think what happened basically, was that on a few evenings, events did simply go on for too long and I can’t apologise for that enough,” he said.Britain had one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world with more than 1,75,000 deaths by the time Johnson said he would step down as prime minister.The campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK said that Wednesday was “a new low” for Johnson and said it was “painful to watch him pull his usual tricks of deflection, self-pity and blaming everyone but himself”.Johnson accepted he had inadvertently misled parliament but had believed what he had said when he spoke.“I didn’t think that those events were an issue. Nobody had previously raised them with me as being things that I ought to be concerned about,” Johnson said. “Call me obtuse or oblivious, but they did not seem to me to be in conflict with the rules.”
The recent rise in Covid-19 cases reminds us that the pandemic is not yet over. It has added some more concern to the ongoing influenza outbreaks. On the global stage, countries and a range of institutions are negotiating the “pandemic treaty” — a global accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.As is reasonably well known now, the Covid XBB 1.16 variant seems to be fuelling the surge, nearly a three-fold rise in cases over the last fortnight. So far, it has not caused any mortality in India. With more than 6,000 currently active cases, 76 samples of XBB 1.16 have tested positive from eight states, the most so far from Karnataka and Maharashtra. XBB.1.5 has been reported from 38 countries and declared a variant of interest (VOI) by the WHO. It is expected to emerge as a dominant strain in the UK and Europe and is rapidly spreading in the US as well. Even individuals who had received three or four doses of an mRNA vaccine (such as Moderna or Pfizer), plus suffered a BA.5 infection, were not immune to this variant. There is no evidence of any potential change in severity though. The growth advantage of XBB 1.16 is nearly one-and-a-half times of XBB.1.5, making it a rather aggressive variant, and with immune escape properties too.Another potential worry from Israel is the identification of a combination of the BA.1 (Omicron) and infectious BA.2 variants. The virus was detected in the parents of an infant boy, in whom two viruses linked up and exchanged genetic materials. The current test positivity rate is 10 per cent, a worrying metric by all accounts.This current landscape of Covid-19 is layered with a huge surge of H3N2 Influenza A cases, with at least nine reported deaths. Influenza B has also been identified. Both these are seasonal influenzas, driving up the hospital — including intensive care — admissions. Much like Covid-19, the high-risk groups are pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions and immunosuppressive conditions. Healthcare workers are at particularly high risk of getting affected and in turn spread to vulnerable persons.The limitations of the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 were exposed during the Covid-19 pandemic — both in countries not reporting in time and the international agencies not responding adequately. Local, national and global governance is increasingly being recognised as an important determinant of the emergence and re-emergence of diseases of animal origin. To re-emphasise, both Covid-19 and the influenza viruses have animal origins — “spill over” in technical jargon — when a virus is able to overcome several barriers to “jump” and become feasible in another species.It is in this context that the World Health Assembly set off a global process in December 2021, at its second-ever special session, to draft and negotiate a convention agreement to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. An intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) that includes WHO’s 194 countries is steering this process. At the same time, more than 300 amendments to the IHR are also being discussed. The World Health Assembly in 2024 is expected to ratify these, ushering in a “comprehensive, complementary and synergistic set of global health agreements”. The WHO Director-General referred to this initiative as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and promote the well-being of all people.The G20 group of countries, with the Indian presidency, has a significant role to play. This is particularly so in light of the One Health Mission that India is working on and is expected to be rolled out in the near future. The G20 is already engaged with One Health (OH) issues and pandemic preparedness is one of the current focus areas.India, representing the Global South, is expected to play a role in integrating equity considerations in the ongoing negotiations. Scholars have enunciated three key equity considerations. First, the appropriate use, recognition, and protection of indigenous knowledge, which has traditionally recognised the interconnectedness of human, non-human and ecosystem health. Second, the substantive and equitable inclusion of women and minority groups, including racial, ethnic and sexual minorities – traditionally under-represented groups in treaty design and implementation. Third, the use of health equity impact and gender-based analysis to identify and develop mitigation plans for the potentially inequitable impact of epidemics.On the domestic front, the tasks include promoting the establishment of OH infrastructure. This will need an integrated OH surveillance system, building and nurturing partnerships to connect and share data on infectious pathogens in wildlife, companion animals, livestock, humans, the environment, and related risk factors. India will also need to build OH capacity and pandemic preparedness monitoring and assessment into the state and district governance architecture that will draw upon an inter-/ transdisciplinary OH evaluation framework and methodology, including metrics for measuring success.The writer is chairperson, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and co-investigator at the UKRI-GCRF One Health Poultry Hub
When Annie (name changed), a 28-year-old customer service representative and portrait painter, caught Covid-19 infection, she experienced symptoms such as high-grade fever, coughing fits that led to fainting due to lack of oxygen, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, and loss of smell and taste. However, three weeks after symptom onset, she felt well enough to start working from home before seeing her symptoms return four weeks later.According to a study, published in the journal Cortex, she noticed disorientation and that “something was off with faces”. “These deficits caused her primary care provider to send her to seek care in an Emergency Department (ED). At the ED, a CT scan revealed no active bleeds in her brain, and she was discharged,” it added.However, in June 2020, when spending time with her family for the first time since contracting Covid-19, Annie noticed that she was unable to recognise her father or visually distinguish him from her uncle. “My dad’s voice came out of a stranger’s face,” she told the researchers. Sharing that she is now relying heavily on people’s voices for identification purposes, Annie said that she was previously able to draw a face and only look at a reference photo every 15–30 min, she now depends on photographs while drawing.“Faces are like water in my head,” she said, sharing that she is now relying heavily on people’s voices for identification purposes. In the case study, Annie scored poorly on all four facial recognition tests used to diagnose prosopagnosia, or face blindness. She also reported to told that, since her COVID-19 infection, she has experienced “substantial” deficits in her navigation abilities, which frequently co-occur with prosopagnosia, the study authors wrote.To explore whether other people experienced similar problems, the researchers surveyed 54 individuals who had long Covid about their neuropsychological abilities. A majority of them reported a decline in visual recognition and navigation abilities, the authors added. They said that these findings indicate that Covid-19 may cause severe and selective neuropsychological impairments “similar to deficits seen following brain damage,” and that these problems are not uncommon among patients with long Covid.What is face blindness?Face blindness, also known as prosopagnosia, is a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to recognise faces. “It is a disorder of face perception where the brain has difficulty recognising and distinguishing between faces, even those of people the person knows well,” said Dr Ravindra Srivastava, Head of the Department and Senior Consultant, Neurosurgery, Primus Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi.Agreeing, Dr Pavan Pai, Consultant Interventional Neurologist, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road, said that it is a neurological disorder that requires timely medical attention.SymptomsAccording to Dr Pai, the main symptom is that one fails to recognise faces even of people they tend to know. “Other signs can be the inability to recognize emotions on one’s face, not being able to know the gender or age of people, and not being able to recognise cars, animals, one’s gender, and characters in the film,” he said, adding that these symptoms can lead to problems in day-to-day life.What is it caused by?While the exact cause of face blindness is not fully understood, it is thought to be related to abnormalities in the brain’s fusiform gyrus, which is responsible for face recognition, Dr Srivastava said. “In some cases, it can be present from birth, while in others it may be the result of a brain injury or neurological disorder. More importantly, it is recognized that when Rt. fusiform gyrus was involved, it causes facial blindness.”Dr Pai added that this condition also runs in families. “Moreover, brain damage, stroke, head injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and even encephalitis which is the inflammation of the brain can lead to this problem,” he said.Link between Covid-19 and face blindnessAcknowledging the recent study on the same, the experts noted that more research is needed to confirm the relationship between Covid-19 and face blindness. “The exact link between COVID-19 and face blindness is not yet fully understood. However, it is thought to be related to the virus’s impact on the brain and nervous system. COVID-19 has been associated with a range of neurological symptoms, and it is thought that the virus may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly affect the brain. More research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind this potential link,” Dr Srivastava elucidated.Agreeing, Dr Pai said that Covid-19 can impact one’s cognitive and perceptual abilities, causing face blindness. “One should be aware of it,” he said.How to cope?Here are some ways to cope with face blindness, as suggested by Dr Srivastava.*Do tell people about the condition before you meet them.*Ask people you are close to for help in identifying others.*Ask people to introduce themselves.*When you greet them, use people’s voices or body language to tell them apart.*Make a note of distinctive features about a person, such as hairstyles, jewellery, or accessories.*Use name tags or write down the names of colleagues and where they sit at work.📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!
The poly-herbal Ayurvedic drug Ayush 64 that was repurposed for use during the Covid-19 pandemic has been found to be well-tolerated and safe, a new study in the PLOS One journal has said.The study published on March 16 said the drug, in combination with the standard of care (SOC), hastened recovery, reduced hospitalisation, and improved health among Covid-19 cases. It is significant as only a few drug trials from Ayurveda or other alternative systems have broken into the domain of modern medicine publications in journals with high impact factors. Rajesh Kotecha, secretary of the Union Ministry of Ayush, told The Indian Express that the study was a great model reflecting a systematic approach by modern medicine doctors, epidemiologists, pulmonologists, basic science researchers, ethics experts from a host of institutions like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ayurveda scientists and doctors.The Central Council of Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS), under the Ayush ministry, funded the study. The drug was repurposed for Covid-19 based on the recommendations of the interdisciplinary Ayush R&D task force chaired by Prof Bhushan Patwardhan, former vice-chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC).Initially developed to treat malaria, Ayush 64 was found helpful in treating mild respiratory tract infections. Each 500 mg tablet contained aqueous extracts (100 mg each) of Alstonia scholaris (bark), Picrorhiza kurroa (rhizome), Swertia chirata (whole plant) and Caesalpinia crista (200 mg seed powder).According to the study, Ayush 64 was well-tolerated and found safe over 12 weeks of use in treating mild to moderate symptomatic patients of Covid-19. Kotecha said to reduce the burden on the hospital-based healthcare delivery system during the second wave of Covid-19, the Ayush ministry conducted a community-based study of Ayush 64 in asymptomatic, mild to moderate Covid-19 patients in home isolation. “More than 64,000 participants enrolled for the study and 96 per cent of them clinically recovered after administering Ayush 64 for 20 days. These research studies have been published in indexed medical journals with good impact factors such as Frontiers in Public Health, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, and PLOS One, among others,” he said.When contacted, Dr Patwardhan said this was a well-planned randomised multi-centre clinical trial conforming to good clinical practices. “In a way, this is a historical study which can serve as a role model for transdisciplinary research integrating a standard of care and ayurveda,” Dr Patwardhan said.Pune-based rheumatologist Dr Arvind Chopra, national clinical coordinator of the CCRAS-CSIR project for Covid-19 drug trials, said that the drug trial was unprecedented in several ways, especially in the domain of alternative medicinal systems. The study showed no participants progressed to severe Covid-19 or required intensive care. “Getting published in PLOS One, one of the most credible medical journals in the world, was an uphill task. Several journal referees critically reviewed the trial report and data on primary efficacy was reanalysed by journal experts before being accepted,” Dr Chopra added.Meanwhile, data from the Indian Medicines Pharmaceutical Corporation Limited (IMPCL), the public sector manufacturing unit of the Ayush ministry, showed that in 2021-22, Ayush 64 worth more than Rs 28 crore was sold. According to Ayush ministry officials, good sales were reported from 46 other industries where the technology was transferred.
My father passed away on March 7, 2023. He was almost 96. Like many in his generation, he had been involved in the freedom movement. He recalled that in his speech on 15 August 1947, as the office secretary of the Sub-Divisional Congress Committee in Alipurduar, he said, “Although we have got independence no doubt, it’s only political independence. We have a long way to go. We are still not economically free. We have to now get real freedom through our own efforts.”After 75 years, it would perhaps be good to take stock of whether the dreams of independence that my father and others like him had, have been realised. Is India shining equally on all its young citizens who constitute close to 40 per cent of the population?In these 75 years, there have been plenty of laws, policies, plans, and schemes set up to protect children and their rights. The Eleventh Five Year Plan, for the first time, even had a separate chapter with child rights. Child budgeting has been adopted nationally, and in several states. Almost every child is now enrolled in school, including more girls. Many more children are immunised, there is greater reporting of violence against children, the silence and stigma around child sexual violence is breaking down, and incidences of child marriage have decreased.But some old challenges remain, while others have intensified, and new ones have emerged. Inequities persist due to social norms, caste, religion, gender identity, disabilities, region, or ethnicity. While there continues to be a rural-urban divide, many children are growing up in unplanned and poor living conditions in under-resourced habitations, with the constant threat of eviction. There is better enrolment in schools, but retention rates are not optimal. Forced migration, human smuggling and trafficking, abuse and exploitation remain realities. There is increasing violence based on religion and ethnicity. India still has one of the worst rates of child malnutrition in the world, and is home to the highest number of child labourers. There are children who remain hungry despite an increase in food production. Infant mortality rates may have reduced but access to healthcare is unaffordable in the wake of increasing privatisation of services.Children and young people are a part of the ecosystem that we as adults provide them. Unfortunately, we find that children are aggressive, intolerant, and discriminatory — all because of what they see around them.Internet-based communications and social media offer innumerable possibilities, but have also brought hitherto unknown forms of exploitation. Young people find themselves increasingly lost in the new market economy that cuts back on job security and welfare. They are also grappling with mental health issues, addictive behaviour, and substance abuse.The numerous challenges posed by the Covid-19 lockdowns have reversed many of the gains made over the years. That is why when the Union Budget 2023-24 was announced, we were not just concerned but shocked. An analysis by HAQ: Centre for Child Rights’ shows that the budget allocation for children was the lowest in the last 12 years, down from an average 5 per cent to 2.30 per cent, despite the impact of Covid. The budget allocations for key ministries too have reduced — for the Ministry of Women and Child Development, it dropped by 2.54 per cent, for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, which deals with child labour, by 33 per cent, and for the Ministry of Minority Affairs, it fell by 37.81 per cent.Divided as they are by gender, caste, religion, ethnicity, region or (dis)ability, it is critical that no child is excluded from accessing services. This needs a sound data collection and monitoring mechanism that tracks those who are left out. The government must remember that it has committed to “Leave No One Behind” (LNOB), a basic principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This means guaranteeing inclusion and non-discrimination. More stringent laws may appease public demand for retribution, but cannot be the solution to complex social problems. That lies in investment in social change behaviour, in better access to justice and basic services. What we need is a 360 degree approach focused on creating an enabling environment that is safe and empowering.The dreams and aspirations of our children and young people are changing. We need to listen to them and encourage them to speak freely without fear. But that can only happen when we as adults value constructive criticism. We need an environment that will breed an independent-thinking, fearless generation to take forward the democracy we wish to be. These are the dreams I have for children in the 75th year of India’s independence.The writer is the Co-Founder and former director of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights. Views are personal. This article is part of an ongoing series, which began on August 15, by women who have made a mark, across sectors
1.30 pm, Basement OPD, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj: There’s a crowd of mothers, trying to calm their restless children in the crook of their arms. They all have varying degrees of fever, cough and stuffy nose, suspected to be suffering from the influenza virus that’s raging through our cities. Dr Manoj Sharma, senior consultant, Internal Medicine, is taking a small break after seeing patients non-stop through the morning. As soon as he resumes his consultation, a 30-year-old woman complains about high fever and is almost convinced it is Covid. He calms her down, saying all she needs to do is take standard medication for fever (Paracetamol), wear a mask and follow hand hygiene. He asks her to wait for three days for the fever to subside and report any breathing abnormalities or other complications that might arise even on Day 5.“The new strain of the influenza virus, H3N2, has regular flu symptoms like cough, congestion in throat, respiratory tract and lungs, sore throat, fever, headache, chills, body ache and fatigue. So we are asking patients to wear masks in order to prevent transmission and giving them symptomatic treatment,” says he. A senior patient, who has been waiting eagerly for his turn, complains of having extreme coughing bouts that make him retch. Dr Sharma advises him to take a flu vaccine shot. “The manifestation of the virus is severe in the elderly. Existing flu shots are not updated to counter this strain of the virus but if you have had a flu shot earlier, there could be some partial protection. Of course, if you take the flu shot now, it may not work in the current wave as your body would require four to six weeks to develop immunity. But we should all take the flu shots annually and those living with co-morbidities like diabetes and cardiac issues, should actually go for the pneumonia shot each year,” says he. The IMA has also stated that this virus usually preys on individuals below the age of 15 years or above 50 years of age. So vaccines are a must for both age groups.In between patients. Dr Sharma says that H3N2 is not new. “There was an outbreak in 1968-69 and caused a pandemic just like Covid did this time. It resulted in about four 4 million deaths as well. It remains in the community and whenever the community becomes more vulnerable, it resurfaces. Over a period of time, antigenic variations happen in every virus. The same happened with the influenza virus, which has been categorised into the A,B,C,D types. H3N2 is a sub-type of influenza A,” says he. “It’s not like there’s a resurgence of influenza. It’s just that Covid protocols and a collective preventive behaviour kept us away from it. Now with a less than calibrated social exposure, we have just encouraged the virus to circulate more. Besides, most of us have had Covid, which has compromised our immunity shield. That’s why we are susceptible to not just this strain but other viruses floating about. That’s why people are complaining of relapses because immunity against one kind of virus doesn’t mean you are protected against others,” he adds. Ninety per cent of people are reporting a lingering cough for three to four weeks, indicating how the body defences have weakened and are slowing down recovery.Do H3N2 patients require antiviral therapy? “Not at all. Only the elderly, the immuno-compromised, pregnant women, diabetics, those suffering from heart, lung and kidney disease need to be watched for such interventions. If the symptoms are mild, we don’t even go for testing. There’s no need to create unnecessary panic,” he adds. But what worries him more is the city’s pollution. “Pollutants scrape the respiratory lining of our lungs and alter it. The flu season will ebb but we will be perennially prone to contracting viral and bacterial infection. So we have to develop a new preventive social behaviour in a post-Covid world,” he says.
India is seeing a surge in viral infections due to H3N2, Covid-19, and swine flu or H1N1. While most of the cases are reportedly due to H3N2, data shows that swine flu and covid cases are also rising in the country. Covid cases as per the Ministry of Health’s latest data stand at 4,623 with an active caseload of 0.01% per cent. It also noted that till February 28, 2023, a total of 955 H1N1 cases have been reported, the majority from Tamil Nadu (545), Maharashtra (170), Gujarat (74), Kerala (42) and Punjab (28). Meanwhile, 451 cases of H3N2 variant cases have been reported from January 2 to March 5, 2023, according to the union ministry with 2 dead, each in Karnataka and Haryana. The latest case of H3N2 has been detected in Assam.Given that all of them are viral respiratory conditions, how do we distinguish between them and seek treatment?Notably, H1N1, previously called swine flu, is a virus similar to the influenza viruses that cause illness in pigs. On the other hand, flu, or the common cold, is quite frequent during seasonal changes and is, often, harmless. “There are more than 200-300 viruses that may cause the common cold. In each virus type, there can be subtypes and variants. The majority of the common colds are caused by rhinoviruses, respiratory syncytial viruses, influenza type A and type B viruses, etc,” Dr Anantha Padmanabha, consultant, internal medicine, Fortis Hospital, Nagarbhavi told indianexpress.com in an earlier interaction. Covid-19, on the other hand, is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is considered highly infectious.“Current spread and intensity of flue especially its variant H3N2 are very concerning. Medically, it is a double whammy as Covid-19 cases have started surfacing once again,” said Dr Manisha Arora, senior consultant, Internal Medicine at Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute.While some may experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment, others may become seriously ill and require medical attention, especially older people and people with low immunity, or have co-morbidities.Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, director and head, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospitals, Faridabad told indianexpress.com that all viral respiratory illnesses have similar symptoms. “Clinically, it is difficult to differentiate if it is Covid or flu. However, there are some features, which can help in differentiating,” said Dr Jha.*H3N2 can cause hoarseness of voice, while in Covid-19, symptoms start with fever or stuffy nose.*In flu, body ache or myalgia is too much*Flu causes severe dry cough which lasts for a longer period than usual (up to 3 weeks)DiagnosisBoth Covid-19 and swine flu are diagnosed with the help of a nasopharyngeal swab, an oropharyngeal swab and a nasopharyngeal wash. Rapid tests are also available for both Covid-19 and the flu.What to doExperts recommend medications to help relieve the symptoms of the flu, such as fever, cough, and congestion. These include painkillers, nebulizers, cough suppressants, and other decongestants.Adequate rest and recovery are advised at home with simple home-cooked, fresh food, and proper hydration.Dr Jha recommended:*Follow covid-appropriate behaviour which will also protect you from the flu.*Annual influenza vaccination again helps in reducing flu-related complications.*Drink plenty of water and avoid unnecessary antibiotics, Dr Jha said. Concurring, Dr Arora said that due to a lack of awareness, people take antibiotics that are not effective against the flu, as it is a viral illness, not a bacterial infection. “Moreover, taking antibiotics unnecessarily can lead to antibiotic resistance and other harmful side effects. Superadded secondary infections which are diagnosed by well-trained physicians only need antibiotics,” Dr Arora noted.World Health Organization, too, recommends that the most effective way to prevent infection with any virus is to get vaccinated and follow prevention measures: “Maintaining at least a 1-metre distance from others, wearing a well-fitted mask when keeping your distance is not possible, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated places and settings, opening windows and doors to keep rooms well ventilated and cleaning your hands frequently.”It also advises that people should follow the advice “of your local authorities on getting influenza and Covid-19 vaccines“.Noting that influenza viruses, including H3N2, can mutate and evolve rapidly which makes it difficult to develop a vaccine that provides complete protection against all strains, Dr Arora said that nevertheless, vaccinations are a critical tool in the fight against infectious diseases. “It can help particularly those who are at higher risk of severe illness, such as young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems,” said Dr Arora.📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!
A new Covid virus combination has been discovered in two persons in Israel who had travelled abroad. According to a report in Israeli daily Haaretz, the virus is a combination of BA.1 (Omicron) and BA.2 variants. The report quoting the Israel health ministry as saying the patients exhibited symptoms that included fever, headaches and muscle aches. However, they did not need specialised medical care.The report quoted physician Salman Zarka noting that the two viruses tend to link up when both are contracted and if both are in the same cell in the body, they are said to generate a new virus as they multiply and exchange genetic material. Zarka had also reportedly said that the patients were a couple in their thirties who contracted the infection from their infant.Do people need to be concerned?Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, director and head, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospitals, Faridabad told indianexpress.com that there is nothing to worry about at present due to the new Covid variant. “The newer variant is a combination of milder variants that were extremely contagious but mildest in India. We simply need to follow the vaccination schedule. Nothing else is needed,” said Dr Jha.Adequate rest and recovery are advised at home with simple home-cooked, fresh food, and proper hydration.Dr Jha recommended*Covid vaccination*Flu vaccination*High protein diet*Covid-appropriate behaviour as precautionary measuresDr Shrey Srivastav, MD (Internal Medicine), Sharda Hospital mentioned that while people who are vaccinated need not panic, they should be careful while travelling, especially those going abroad. “People shouldn’t panic at this time if you are vaccinated. Wear masks in public places and gatherings where you don’t know the vaccination status of people around you. Get yourself booster doses for Covid vaccine,” said Dr Srivastav.He also emphasised that people who are immunocompromised, have pre-existing lung diseases, diabetes, kidney failure, liver diseases, cancer and are on chemotherapy, should continue to take extra precautions.The World Health Organization recommends that the most effective way to prevent infection from any virus is to get vaccinated and follow prevention measures: “Maintaining at least a 1-metre distance from others, wearing a well-fitted mask when keeping your distance is not possible, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated places and settings, opening windows and doors to keep rooms well ventilated and cleaning your hands frequently.”📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!
A new virus combination was discovered in two persons who had returned from abroad and landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, reported local media on Thursday.According to the report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, the virus is a combination of BA.1 (Omicron) and BA.2 variants.The patients had symptoms that included fever, headaches and muscle aches. However, they did not need specialised medical care, said the report quoting the Israel health ministry.The report also quoted physician Salman Zarka as saying that two viruses tend to link up when both are contracted and if both are in the same cell in the body. They are said to generate a new virus as they multiply and exchange genetic material.Zarka had also reportedly said that the patients were a couple in their thirties who contracted the infection from their infant.Meanwhile, the Union Health Secretary of India has written to six states — Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat — which account for most of the increase in new Covid-19 and seasonal flu cases.
With cases of influenza on the rise, the Centre took a review meeting last week. States are on alert, readying hospitals to treat patients with the viral infection. The Union Health Ministry in March confirmed at least two deaths – one in Haryana and one in Karnataka – due to the H3N2 subtype of influenza virus.Data from the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme, however, suggests that flu killed at least nine persons in just the month of January.As many as 3,038 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza were reported across the country till March 9, according to data provided by the Union Health ministry. This is not unusually high. For reference, a total of 13,202 cases had been reported last year. The actual numbers, however, are likely to be higher because not everyone gets tested for flu and the result of everyone who does isn’t always reported to the government.Officials and experts have attributed the current increase in cases to a number of reasons.One, this is the flu season. India usually sees two peaks every year – once between January and March and again post-monsoon between August and October. Changing seasons create the perfect environment for the virus to spread. But it is not just flu that is circulating at the moment. An increase in cases of other respiratory infections like adenovirus and Covid-19 has also been reported.A senior government official said on condition of anonymity, “In Delhi alone, when the patients hospitalised with respiratory symptoms were tested, only 10% were found to have the flu (H3N2). Another 15% actually had Covid-19.” The official said there has been an increase in Covid-19 cases across the five southern states and Gujarat over the past couple of weeks.Two, fewer flu infections during the pandemic have left large sections of the population with lowered immunity. “Every year, there is a sub-clinical spread of influenza and people acquire some immunity to it. And, unlike the West, we do not see high mortality due to it. But during the pandemic, people masked up, stayed away from crowded areas, and avoided gatherings, so this spread could not occur. Hence, there is an increase this year,” said Dr Sujeet Singh, former director and advisor at National Centre for Disease Control. There were fewer flu cases reported in 2020 and 2021, 2,752 and 778 respectively.Three, the flu virus is very prone to changing its structure. “This change means that we see an increase in flu cases usually every other year,” said Singh.Four, India has a huge burden of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease even among the young, which are risk factors for severe disease. And, unlike Covid-19, the yearly flu shot is not readily available in government set-ups and not many take it.It is actually not.Just like Covid-19, it causes mild symptoms like fever, cough, and runny nose in most, but can lead to complications like pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome that can kill.Very young children, old people, people with co-morbidities such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system, like people who have undergone transplants, are at a higher risk of getting severe disease.Last year, there were 410 deaths due to the infection. While most of the cases were caused by the more common sub-type H1N1 during the surge in respiratory infections in August, the ICMR network of viral diagnostic laboratories started detecting increasing numbers of H3N2 cases by December.No, it is one of the sub-types of Influenza virus and has been known to cause seasonal infections, just like the 2009 pandemic sub-type H1N1 that has been in circulation since. In fact, the sub-type H3N2 had caused a flu pandemic in 1968.“The sub-type was first detected in India in 1996 and has since caused outbreaks too. The only difference this year is that the disease seems to be more severe than we would usually see with H3N2,” said the senior government official.It was the second most commonly found virus in respiratory samples in 2021 during the August-September surge – the most common being the Victoria sub-type. There are two main sub-types of Influenza viruses – Type A and Type B. Influenza A encompasses sub-types such as H1N1 and H3N2, while there are two lineages of Influenza B called Victoria and Yamagata. Usually, Influenza A is associated with more severe disease and deaths than type B.The sub-types to be included in the yearly flu shot are updated by the World Health Organisation twice a year depending on the types in circulation.The ICMR network of viral laboratories test respiratory samples throughout the year from sentinel sites to keep an eye on the ups and downs in the numbers of flu cases, but more importantly to track the sub-types in circulation. There is a need to continuously update the vaccine because of the constantly evolving nature of influenza viruses.It can undergo an “antigenic drift” to acquire mutations that change the part that cause the body to illicit an immune response. The Covid-19 equivalent would be the spike protein – which has changed but not enough that a vaccine using the original virus is useless.It can also undergo “antigenic shift”, where there is an abrupt, major change that leads to a new protein structure of the virus. This results in a new virus from the same family infecting humans or a virus that infects animals to jump over to humans. These shifts can lead to pandemics such as the one in 2009 or even the Spanish flu of 1918.The flu vaccine usually contains four sub-types – two influenza A (with H1N1 and H3N2 recommended for 2022-23) and two Influenza B.Influenza spreads when people inhale infected droplets released by a patient when they cough or sneeze. These droplets can also survive on surfaces and can spread if a person touches the surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.The transmission can be prevented by ensuring that the mouth and nose are covered when you sneeze or cough and washing your hands frequently. It is best to remain home when sick and drink plenty of fluids. Masks may also be used in crowded places to prevent infection.
Almost overnight, artificial intelligence (AI) has broken out of techie talk circles and registered with regular humans. Thanks to that awkwardly named, “generative AI”, ChatGPT, we now know that anyone with access to the internet can turn in a B-grade machine-generated essay, the jobs of teachers or admissions officers have become harder, other jobs may become redundant, and the age of disinformation-at-scale is upon us. Many are experiencing this sudden arrival of AI into public view with a degree of discomfort.It is one thing for regular humans to fret over new technology, but the discomfort is also being felt by tech overlords responsible for ushering in this artificial reality. When companies like Microsoft and Google, with some of the world’s smartest on their payrolls, rush out half-baked products, one thing becomes clear: Instead of enhancing it, AI may be testing — and laying bare — the fault lines of human intelligence. Let me offer some examples.Faultline one — move fast and do stupid things: As soon as ChatGPT became the tech sensation of 2022, Microsoft was chomping at the bit to capitalise on its early investment in it and add some of that ChatGPT zing to its flagging search engine, Bing. The first outing was problematic: It confessed its desire to hack computers and spread misinformation and professed love for a New York Times journalist, while comparing another reporter to Hitler. For good measure, it said the reporter was “too short, with an ugly face and bad teeth”.In parallel, Google rushed out its own response to ChatGPT, called Bard. While Bard’s answers to queries were less entertaining than those of Bing, a single mistake in responding to a question about the James Webb Space Telescope sent Google’s parent Alphabet’s shares plummeting, costing the company $100 billion in lost market value.Why would Microsoft and Google — ordinarily, hyper-cautious, and slow-moving colossi — put their reputations and stock prices at risk? Microsoft may have seen it as a chance to appear nimble, for a change, inject some competition into the search business. At the very minimum, they were trying to get the reigning king of search, Google, to — in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s words – “come out and show that they can dance”. Is coaxing Google onto the dance floor worth putting your market value on the line? Of course, even without Microsoft’s coaxing, as the world’s biggest spender on AI, Google clearly felt pressure to do something — anything — to respond to the explosive interest in ChatGPT. They came out to dance with Bard, clearly, reluctantly and, clearly, without practised dance moves.Faultline two — detract from more meaningful issues: The limits of human intelligence are evident not only in the fumbles of tech giants. The frothy coverage of ChatGPT in the media has shown its myopic understanding of the AI landscape. With their incessant chatter about chatbots, reporters and commentators (present company included) may be adding to public unease about it and it comes at the cost of insufficient coverage of more societally meaningful uses of AI. This has consequences: Media narratives in buzzy tech areas drive attention, and misallocate scarce resources.What would be an example of a more societally meaningful area of AI? How about AI that affects human health, where its contributions could be a matter of life and death?With far less fanfare than that accompanying ChatGPT, health-related AI crossed a major milestone last year: An AI system, Alphafold, showed it could predict the structure of almost every protein catalogued by science. This could open the door to breakthroughs in the discoveries of medicines and bring efficiencies to processes that cost billions, take decades and deny treatment to so many people.Why didn’t Alphfold merit the wall-to-wall media coverage that accompanied ChatGPT, Bing and Bard? For one, its implications are harder for readers to grasp. Second, it hasn’t delivered immediately usable results. Finally, since we are programmed to appreciate the end-products, it is easy to look past the many breakthroughs and technological miracles, such as AI, that go into making the end-product a reality.The end-products of AI in healthcare take time and require consistent focus and dedication of resources. Alphafold, for example, is a predictive tool. To make meaningful advances, the predictions must be paired with numerous other approaches, such as painstaking experiments and modelling of protein interactions. AI algorithms for drug design need lots of data to train on and the data must be released from disparate sources and from different formats owned by different institutions.Opening the troves of data, providing the appropriate privacy protections and regulatory oversight will be critical to unlocking other AI advances in human health — algorithms for identifying patients at risk of opioid overuse, remotely gauging mental health symptoms or catching signs of breast cancer on mammograms.Faultline three — short attention and shorter memories: Yet another limitation of human intelligence is our attention is ephemeral and we have short memories. A case in point is the Covid-19 pandemic, marking only its third anniversary.Few of us paid attention to the fact that the first alert of a mysterious new virus out of Wuhan, China, came through AI. Data scraping systems raised a red flag before the humans at the WHO got wind of the impending disaster. At the other end, the search for a vaccine was accelerated by algorithms: Researchers got help from AI in understanding the SARS-CoV-2 virus better and predicting how to elicit an immune response. AI was key to determining clinical trial sites and analysing the vast amounts of trial data. In the thick of the pandemic, there were scores of AI experiments to diagnose Covid from symptoms, but those attempts, while noble in intent, failed. Meanwhile, if you ask most people today if there was a connection between AI and the beginning and end of the acute pandemic, you’ll probably get a blank stare.AI’s salespeople are aware of the limits of human intelligence as they try to get our attention. Sundar Pichai declared that AI will be more profound than fire. Not to be outdone, his colleague, ex-Chief Business Officer for Google X, Mo Gawdat, said, “We’re creating God.” Always the contrarian, Elon Musk said, “We’re summoning the demon.”It is time we paid attention to the right uses of AI and applied more intelligence to how to direct money, talent, data access and regulatory and ethical resources so that we end up with less demon, more god and usher in a technology that can set the world on fire — and, if we aren’t careful — burn us all down.The writer is Dean of Global Business at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, founding executive director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. He is author of The Slow Pace of Fast Change
Xi Jinping assumed the post of president for a third term with the overwhelming support of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament. The NPC met this week to implement the decisions of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), held in October 2022. The Party had endorsed Xi as General Secretary of the CCP and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and also inscribed ‘Xi Jinping Thought‘ in the Constitution for its guiding role in China’s rejuvenation.For decades after Mao Zedong’s death, China was guided by the strategy crafted by Deng Xiaoping and his comrades, participants in the glories and tribulations of the Mao era. Having witnessed the remarkable economic and technological growth of the capitalist west and the collapse of socialism in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Deng felt that only the strong hand of the CCP could shape China’s destiny and avoid chaos. The economic policy of “reform and opening up” (gaige kaifang) established SEZs in coastal regions, encouraged FDI, supported export-led growth, freed up private enterprise and permitted the generation of wealth. On the political front, the Party was cautious but agreed on collective leadership and orderly transitions of power between generations (leadership positions lasted two terms or a decade and retirement by the age of 70). China experienced rapid economic growth and its integration into the global community increased its comprehensive national strength.Deng advocated the 24-character strategy for China after the turbulence of the Tiananmen Square events. The six maxims of “observe calmly; secure positions; cope with affairs calmly; hide capabilities and bide time; maintain a low profile; and never claim leadership” called for internal capacity building but cautious external expression. It guided China during the tenures of Jiang Zemin-Li Peng and Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao and its “peaceful rise” (heping jueqi). The Deng ideology receded thereafter, as political dynamics changed and some felt China had already become a great power.Xi came to power, with Premier Li Keqiang, representing the fifth generation of the Party. He was raised in the chaotic Cultural Revolution (wenhua dageming) and served briefly with the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). To strengthen and unify the Party, he supported the PLA, reformed economic activity and promoted common prosperity. His anti-corruption campaign targeted even prominent figures in the CCP and clipped the wings of high-profile entrepreneurs. His strict Zero Covid policy led to an economic slowdown, angst and deaths. Unlike the Deng era, these campaigns purged many in the system, affected economic activity and prompted public protests, but consolidated the power of the Party.Externally, China’s quest to secure resources, markets and influence for its continued growth, faced headwinds. There was competition and friction with the US over trade, human rights, security and Taiwan; and security concerns with Europe while economic engagement continued. China’s activities in the South China Sea brought it into direct competition with the core priorities of ASEAN, Japan and Taiwan. The One Belt One Road or Belt and Road Initiative expanded China’s footprint but led many countries into debt traps through poor investments and negatively affected China’s image. As China’s profile grew, it adopted proactive and unilateral postures, often unlike Deng’s pragmatic and cautious approach and often violating even its own agreements with partners.Three key issues emerged as significant in the recent NPC session — leadership changes; structural relations between Party and government; and foreign policy.Xi (69) was elected unanimously, without a single dissenting vote, to a third term as President. The consolidation of Party, military and state power at his command has not been seen since the times of Mao. Xi’s ally and Shanghai boss, Li Qiang (63) took over as Premier of the State Council to revive the flagging economy, deal with the Covid pandemic and restore trust among entrepreneurs. Han Zheng (68), former Vice Premier, was elected as Vice President while Zhao Leji (66), former head of Anti-Corruption, became Chairman of NPC. The new appointments revealed that persons close to Xi were promoted and indicated their strong support for Xi.The NPC introduced reforms to government institutions, as approved in the second meeting of the 20th CCP Plenum, held last month. There were steps to dilute the separation that existed in Party-government relations. The new State Council would improve coordination with Leading Groups of the CCP, adding to the oversight exercised by Party Secretaries. The north-south divide between the wings hosting CCP and State Council offices, in Zhongnanhai, may also diminish with the new appointments. New structures were established in security, science and technology and financial sectors to enhance the role of the Party in rule-making. It was unclear whether centralised policy-making would effectively respond to the needs of a complex economy with diverse stakeholder interests. Outgoing Premier Li Keqiang, who announced a modest growth target of 5 per cent during his Work Report at NPC, told his State Council colleagues at his farewell in Zhongnanhai to listen to citizen concerns and coordinate with economic entities; then he added mysteriously that the eyes of heaven were watching!China sought to be a global power and participated actively on global issues. Its rise coincided with interdependence and competition with the west, its primary source of technology and its principal destination for trade and capital reserves. At the NPC, Xi was critical of the US’s attempts to “contain, suppress and encircle China” as the two moved towards economic decoupling, which would be painful. China has been under pressure with the emergence of the Indo-Pacific. On Ukraine, China had to balance its support for Russia with its global aspirations, but it also could not allow long-term stress on Russia.At the same time, the sceptre of conflict over Taiwan and tensions in its neighbourhood grew, primarily due to its unilateral advances, aggressive diplomacy and unproductive investments. Interestingly, the military delegates at NPC initiated a discussion on Taiwan (in the context of the Anti-Secession Law), called for a legal framework for overseas military deployments and proposed wartime legislation. China’s heft in global affairs has grown over time. However, it no longer follows the cautious Deng approach but is more transactional and active, including the “willingness to fight”.A new red star has ascended over the Chinese sky, bringing a constellation and orbit that its citizens and the global community may engage with for some time to come.The writer was Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and an Ambassador
MUMBAI: Former Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, a few days before he was replaced, felicitated Congress leader and social activist Mudassar Patel with “Maharashtra Gaurav Award 2023” as an “Iconic Social Worker” for his multiple social works in the last 15 years.Mahim resident and president of Ya Ma Patel Foundation, Patel has been at the forefront of several social welfare initiatives. “I am thankful to the Maharashtra governor (former) Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari for this prestigious award. I feel honoured,” Patel said after receiving this award. Several eminent citizens were felicitated with this award in various categories. He said that he had maintained good relations with all the chief ministers in the state since 1998 and got people’s work done.Be it recognition of senior cleric Maulana Wastanvi’s medical college at Akalkunwan (Maharashtra), removing the deadlocks in BMC for works of the famous Swaminarayan Mandir near Mahalaxmi, helping trustees of mosques in Mumbai and other places, he is always there to help the people in need. He was part of the group of people who helped teachers get appointed to BMC-run training colleges at Mahim and Imamwada in Dongri. Also, he crusaded with other residents to beautify Mahim and Dadar beaches.When Covid-19 struck, Patel was in the field reaching out to the needy with ration kits. He helped around 10,000 families with ration kits, food packets and medicine when many were on the verge of starvation during the lockdown since work had stopped. He reached out to the needy irrespective of their caste, creed and gender. Poor migrant workers were returning home and Patel reached out to many with food packets.Patel is also known for helping poor Muslim women during the holy month of Ramzan with the Ramzan ration kits.A man with a kind heart, Patel has been appreciated by many organisations, including World Memon Organisation (WMO), for reaching out to migrant workers and other needy Mumbaikars with ration kits, food packets and medicine during the Covid period. Ekta Welfare Association also felicitated him when it welcomed the Eid-e-Milad procession. Such committed social workers deserve accolades and appreciation and the former governor justifiably awarded him the Maharashtra Gaurav Award 2023.
MUMBAI: Over 1.5 lakh students from Maharashtra and Goa will appear for their CBSE class 10 and 12 exams that begin today. Across India and abroad 39 lakh students will take their boards. Students will get 15 minutes to read their question papers. The class 10 exams will end on March 21 and class 12 exams will end on April 5. This year exams are being held as per the pre-Covid pattern. Exams begin at 10.30am and students have to make it to their exam centres in their uniforms, school identity cards and admit cards. There are 7,250 exam centres across India. Of the 22 lakh class 10 students appearing for the exams, nine lakh are girls.
Journalist Shashikant Warishe was hit by an SUV allegedly driven by Pandharinath AmberkarMumbai: A land dealer accused of mowing down a journalist in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district also faces four more criminal cases, including one in which he allegedly tried to run over an anti-refinery activist, a police official said on Friday.Local activists who are protesting against a proposed refinery near Rajapur in the coastal Ratnagiri district claimed that had the police acted sternly in the earlier cases, the latest incident could have been avoided.Journalist Shashikant Warishe (48) was seriously injured on Monday when an SUV allegedly driven by Pandharinath Amberkar hit his two-wheeler near a petrol pump at Rajapur, some 440 km from Mumbai.Warishe died in hospital the next day. An article written by Warishe against Amberkar had appeared in a local Marathi newspaper on the morning of the incident.It has been alleged that Amberkar, now arrested and booked for murder, used to threaten any person who opposed land acquisition for a proposed refinery in the area.In April 2020, Warishe's SUV had allegedly hit the two-wheeler of activist Manoj Mayekar in Nate area of the district. Mayekar spent two weeks in hospital due to the injuries, said a police official.Mayekar was among activists opposed to Barsu refinery project.An FIR was registered against Amberkar after the incident and a trial is now underway. However, there was no allegation then that it had anything to do with Mayekar's opposition to the proposed refinery, the police official said.Of the other three previous cases against Amberkar, two were of assault and rioting while a third one was about violation of COVID-related norms, he said. He was convicted in the COVID-19-related case.Activists of the Barsu-Solgaon Panchakroshi Refinery Virodhi Sanghatna on Friday claimed that Amberkar and his aides had attacked them near the Rajapur court last year because of their opposition to the refinery project.Narendra Joshi, secretary of the organisation, told PTI that the incident occurred on September 12, 2022. An FIR was registered in the case."If local police had taken the offence seriously and had initiated stern action against Amberkar, he would not have dared commit another serious offence and Warishe would have been alive," Joshi said.Warishe wrote regularly against the refinery project, he added.PromotedListen to the latest songs, only on JioSaavn.comMeanwhile, in Mumbai, journalists staged a protest over Warishe's murder near the Mantralaya, and demanded that the case be fast-tracked. They also demanded that the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act be invoked in the case.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)Featured Video Of The Day"Punished For No Fault": Congress MP On Being Suspended From Rajya Sabha
Shashikant Warishe, 48, was run over at a petrol station in Ratnagiri on Tuesday.Mumbai: The death of a journalist in Maharashtra has triggered shock, anger and demands for an investigation. Shashikant Warishe, 48, was run over at a petrol station in Ratnagiri on Tuesday, a day after he wrote an expose on a controversial refinery project in Konkan. The man allegedly driving the SUV was Pandharinath Amberkar, a land dealer who had featured in his article on Monday.Mr Warishe died in a hospital. Amberkar, 42, has been arrested and charged with murder. He was initially charged with culpable homicide.Mr Warishe's Monday article in the Mahanagari Times had described Amberkar as a "criminal" who had been photographed with top leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis.Amberkar is said to be a supporter of the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical project that Shashikant Warishe had written about in a series of articles in Marathi newspapers.Several media organisations have demanded a probe into Mr Warishe's death, alleging that he was killed because of his stories on the multi-billion-dollar project that has been strongly opposed by many locals over land acquisition.Pandharinath Amberkar, 42, has been arrested and charged with murder. He was initially charged with culpable homicide.In a statement last evening, the Mumbai Press Club said the "brutal, public murder" brought to light the "plummeting standards of civil liberties and free speech and brazen attempt by both state and non-state players to crush any media reporting that proves to be inconvenient."Mr Warishe had written several reports highlighting "the local resistance to a petroleum refinery in Barsu" and had recently pointed out banners where Amberkar featured alongside the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister, the statement said."Amberkar, a leader of the local land mafia, was known to threaten and harass those who resisted any land acquisition on behalf of the upcoming refinery," the Mumbai Press Club alleged.A group of Marathi journalists also met with Devendra Fadnavis, who is Maharashtra's Home Minister, to press for an investigation.The Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical project, earlier planned at Nanar village in Ratnagiri district in coastal Konkan, was scrapped before the 2019 national election at the instance of the Shiv Sena, which was then in an alliance with the ruling BJP.PromotedListen to the latest songs, only on JioSaavn.comThe Centre last year hinted at reviving the project at another site.Rights organisation People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) has called for a "totally independent" probe "free of any influence" and protection for the journalist's family and witnesses.
MUMBAI: Although Covid-19 cases are at an all-time low, hospitals continue to encounter cases of an uncommon but dangerous post-Covid condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). The state-run JJ Hospital has reported five cases, including one in a newborn, in two months. "It shows doctors shouldn't stop suspecting Covid even if cases have dropped in the population. MIS-C is particularly tricky and unless doctors suspect it, they could miss it," said JJ dean Dr Pallavi Saple.A baby girl who had been battling MIS-C (see box) for almost 40 days was sent home from JJ Hospital on Tuesday. Despite never testing positive for the coronavirus after her birth in December, her Covid antibody test came positive when doctors suspected MIS-C based on high levels of inflammation markers. Her mother, Poonam Bhore, 22, never had Covid but did have fever and runny nose during the eighth month of pregnancy. She was unvaccinated.The hospital got occasional cases of MIS-C throughout last year even when negligible Covid cases were reported in children. It can be life-threatening unless diagnosed and treated on time. The condition sometimes mimics the Kawasaki disease that comes with fever and rashes.Dr Bela Verma, head of paediatrics at JJ, said they have detected MIS-C with varying degrees of severity in children up to 10. "A common thread has been that almost all the affected children had underlying conditions or congenital problems," she said. Barring one child who succumbed due to surgical and multiple complications, all are on the road to recovery in JJ hospital.Discussing the tricky presentation of MIS-C, Verma said the baby girl was brought on December 31 with complaints of poor feeding, hypothyroidism and distended abdomen. Treatment for sepsis was started. "As her Covid antibody tests came positive, we started the MIS-C treatment protocol and she started responding to it," said Verma. Speaking to TOI, Badlapur resident Poonam said she is happy her baby is finally going home. "We haven't had a chance to name her. We plan to call her Ananya," she said.Another nine-year-old who was positive for MIS-C also had tuberculosis and pneumonia. In all these cases, the inflammatory markers such as D-Dimer are unusually high.Dr Pramod Jog, a former member of the state paediatric task force, concurred that rare cases of MIS-C are still being found. "We have seen at least four cases of the post-Covid complication in the last three months in Pune. They are relatively rare and mostly picked up in tertiary centres. Many come with moderate symptoms," he said, adding that doctors at peripheral centres should remain vigilant when children come with complications involving several organs that don't fit into conventional problems. "They must rule out other health problems before labelling cases of MIS-C as such," he said.MIS-C was first identified in April 2020 at the UK, where doctors documented symptoms in children similar to the Kawasaki disease. Dr Mukesh Agrawal, head of paediatrics at Somaiya College, said they haven't reported MIS-C cases in several months now as Covid-19 has declined overall.
MUMBAI: The state's public health sector appears to be facing a peculiar issue of surplus. Nearly a year since the BMC dismantled its nine jumbo Covid hospitals and made its vast inventory of pandemic equipment available to state-run medical colleges and district hospitals, only half of the items have been taken. Many public facilities have either cited their own surplus inventory or logistical challenges as reasons for not taking the items from Mumbai. At the last count, the civic body was sitting on a stockpile of 418 types of supplies totalling over 73,000 items. The leftover items (see graphic) have been collected at two central depots within SevenHills Hospital and KJ Somaiya Grounds in Sion. Surprisingly, even lifesaving medical equipment such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators, and multipara monitors are languishing for months at the storage facilities, raising concerns about their continued usability. There are almost 200 ventilators, including more than 110 received under PM Cares fund, more than 800 portable oxygen cylinders, over 600 oxygen concentrators, waiting to find takers.The BMC began dismantling its jumbo Covid hospitals in February 2022. In the first phase, four jumbo centres at Kanjurmarg, Dahisar, Richardson and Cruddas in Mulund, and Nesco in Goregaon were closed. In July, the five remaining jumbos at BKC, Malad, Richardson and Cruddas in Byculla, and NSCI in Worli were shut. Soon after, the corporation appointed Dr Rajesh Dere, former dean of BKC jumbo, as chief coordinator to oversee distribution. The first opportunity to take items from the surplus inventory was given to civic-run hospitals such as KEM, Sion, Nair, Cooper, Kasturba and Nair Dental. However, since then, the distribution slowed.Dr Sanjeev Kumar, additional municipal commissioner, said they have written to the state government and received responses from a few centres which have been given equipment in the last three months. But there's a lot more than awaits distribution, he said. Since November, the BMC has given almost 5,000 items to district hospitals. Another official said they expected a lot of demand from district hospitals, but that didn't happen.Sanjay Khandare, principal secretary (health) told TOI the public health department carried out their own internal evaluation and found that they had enough surplus. "For some, it didn't make logistical sense to carry mattresses and similar items all the way from Mumbai," he said. MMRDA, which built the BKC jumbo hospital, had also written to the state government urging them to utilize all the equipment they bought. A senior civic official said that the state should have formed a joint team to assess which districts required what equipment. The official added that these items have significant value, estimated in the multiple crores.
PUNE: Registrations of new two-wheelers in Pune soared last year to reach pre-Covid levels of 2019, despite issues such as high fuel prices, rising insurance costs and impact on incomes due to the pandemic. An analysis revealed the number of registrations in 2022 was 58% more than the previous year and 68% more than 2020's figures.In fact, Pune registered the highest number of two-wheelers in Maharashtra in 2022 and accounted for nearly 16% of all new registrations in the state, officials from the RTO said."We thought the high fuel prices last year would have an impact on sales, but the numbers tell a different story," said one official.Fuel prices rose steadily between early 2021 and the middle of 2022. Now, a litre of petrol in Pune costs as much as Rs 105.91, compared to Rs 90 in January 2021. But there has been no impact on two-wheeler sales in the city, which many said only shows how weak the public transport infrastructure has become in the city. "Unlike Mumbai, Pune still has limited public transport options. So people here need their two-wheelers and have become extremely dependent on them," said deputy regional transport officer, Pune RTO, Sanjiv Bhor. Another RTO official said for thousands of daily commuters in Pune, a two-wheeler remains the most economical way to get around the city. "Cabs and autorickshaws are now just too expensive to use every day. As for the Metro, it's yet to link many parts of the city. Most buses are not on time either. So yes, public transport options are indeed few here," the official said, adding that the Covid pandemic, despite its impact on incomes, went on to trigger a surge in two-wheeler sales."Many started to avoid crowded public transport, like buses. So they went and bought themselves a bike or a scooter," the official said.Some families said they even borrowed money to buy two-wheelers. Kothrud resident Shameet Joshi said he bought two two-wheelers between 2021 and 2022. "Our salaries were hit during Covid. But commuting in Pune has become very difficult and expensive. So I bought a second-hand two-wheeler and my wife borrowed money from relatives to buy herself a new one. More than their fares, I would say trip refusals by autorickshaws and cabs is the real problem," Joshi said. Sales staff at showrooms said they're starting to see recovery."In 2019, we were selling an average of 1,000 two-wheelers every day. Last year, we sold 800-850," one salesman at a major showroom in the city said.Transport activists said at this rate, Pune's roads are only going to get more congested.Sanjay Shitole of the PMP Pravasi Manch said authorities should immediately improve the state of public transport in the city. "If buses are on time, people will use them more. It's that simple," he said.
BMC administrator Iqbal Singh Chahal is indeed a bold bureaucrat. When the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summoned him to record his statement in a money laundering case over allotment of a contract for a Covid centre, his colleagues in the bureaucracy believed it would be the end of his career. Members of the fourth estate floated all types of reports anticipating his arrest under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act before CM Eknath Shinde left for Davos for the prestigious World Economic Forum meet and before Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the city for laying the foundation stone of projects worth Rs 50,000. It was believed that the CM would give him an insignificant assignment or send him on leave. However, neither was he shunted out nor sent on leave. In fact, all along various events, he was spotted along the CM and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Even after the ED recorded his statement, Chahal didn't escape the media. He came out of the ED office, addressed an impromptu press conference and replied to all questions raised by the media before leaving. A cabinet member said it was not a summons, and that the ED had called Chahal to secure more information on the Covid jumbo center contract awarded to a close aide of Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut. In the past too, Chahal was caught in a series of controversies over allotment of contracts for cement concrete roads and cost of his clothes and the watches he is wearing. On all occasions, Chahal was instant to take on his detractors in bureaucracy and politics. As of now, it appears that Chahal is firm in the saddle.An honour well deserved: For Pune collector Rajesh Deshmukh, it was a rare honour when President Draupadi Murmu felicitated him for his outstanding contribution to 'healthy and pure' electoral rolls in the district comprising four lakh sabhas, 21 assembly seats, and a total voter population of 80 lakh. Two years ago, the Election Commissioner of India had asked all state chief electoral officers to draft a comprehensive action plan for preparing a 'healthy and pure' electoral register by removing duplicate names and those of deceased persons. Soon after taking over the reins of Pune district, Deshmukh embarked on a one-point mission to purify the electoral register. He mobilized officials of two municipal corporations, 17 urban local bodies, 1,400 gram panchayats and 1,900 villages for the purpose. Deshmukh involved nearly 450 colleges in the district with an emphasis on registration of young voters, and measures were taken to end urban apathy, since in the past, the voting percentage was less than 35 per cent in certain Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies. It was the biggest exercise in the recent past, says Deshmukh. He expects better results, in terms of percentage of voting in the ensuing elections.
NEW DELHI: India has reported 99 new Covid cases, while the active caseload declined to 1,896, according to Union health ministry data updated on Friday.The Covid case tally rose to 4.46 crore (4,46,82,437). The death toll stands at 5,30,739 with one death reported by Maharashtra, the data stated.The daily positivity was recorded at 0.10 per cent while the weekly positivity was pegged at 0.08 per cent.A decrease of 10 cases has been recorded in the active Covid-19 caseload in a span of 24 hours. The active cases now comprise 0.01 per cent of the total infections, while the national Covid-19 recovery rate stands at 98.81 per cent, the ministry said.The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 4,41,49,802, while the case fatality rate was recorded at 1.19%.According to the ministry's website, 220.36 crore doses of Covid vaccine have been administered in the country so far under the nationwide vaccination drive.India's Covid-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 2020, 30 lakh on August 23, 40 lakh on September 5 and 50 lakh on September 16. The country crossed four crore on January 25 last year.
Fake immigration rubber stamps of many countries were found in the flat. (Representational)Mumbai: Two persons, including a 62-year-old man, were arrested by the Mumbai Crime Branch on Wednesday for allegedly making fake passports and visas and issuing bogus COVID test reports, an official said.The police are on the lookout for the third member of the gang, he said.The three operated from a flat in suburban Andheri. The Crime Branch raided the apartment and seized 28 duplicate passports, 24 bogus visas of different countries and several fake COVID-19 test certificates, said the official.Fake immigration rubber stamps of many countries were found in the flat, he said.The police have learnt that the three were charging lakhs to make fake passports and visas. They suspect the gang has already sent many people out of India with the help of the fake documents made by it.The three had made 414 fake rubber stamps carrying the names of government departments and officials, and bank staffers. There were fake rubber stamps in the name of officials from the state-run JJ hospital to issue COVID test certificates, which are required for travel to some countries, the official said.The Crime Branch also recovered stickers with images of the national emblem and the logo of the Income Tax department.Three colour printers, scanners and seven pen drives were seized from the flat, said the official.The three have been booked for cheating and forgery under the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Passport Act.PromotedListen to the latest songs, only on JioSaavn.comA court has remanded the arrested persons in police custody till February 4, the official added.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)Featured Video Of The DayNDTV Exclusive: Super 30 Founder Anand Kumar On Being Awarded The Padma Shri
BJP leaders have said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address at the concluding session of the party’s national executive meeting had a clear message — focus on creating a “soft power” and “goodwill” to expand the party and increase its tally in the 2024 general elections to take the BJP’s journey of electoral victories to the next level.In the address, which emphasised on reaching out to more of the marginalised, minorities and small communities, Modi urged the BJP cadre to embrace the fact that the BJP is the ruling party at the Centre and many key states, and “think beyond conventional politics and electoral politics”.“To me, Prime Minister Modi was saying that the BJP should adopt a new style of politics to create soft power and goodwill among all sections of the people. He wants the BJP to create a positive atmosphere. The goodwill and soft power should help increase the BJP’s tally in the next Lok Sabha elections,” said a senior BJP leader.Modi’s reference to the age group of 18-25 in his speech also indicated that the party would also focus on that age group — youths in that age group are keen on development and a corruption-free government, according to Modi — to turn it into a strong loyal BJP support base.Party sources said the prime minister’s speech had given a clear signal that both the government and the party would take several initiatives in the coming days to see that the BJP gets more seats in the Lok Sabha elections. “Every step in the coming days, including the Budget, would keep that in mind,” said a party MP.In his speech to the national executive, Modi asked party members to reach out to every section of society, including the marginalised and minority communities, “without electoral considerations”. He wants BJP workers to reach out to Pasmandas, Bohras, Muslim professionals, and educated Muslims as a confidence-building measure and without expecting votes in return.Modi, who had a notebook with points scribbled on it while speaking, reiterated his message of reaching out to marginalised groups among the minorities at the Hyderbad National Executive meeting too. He also spoke about the Sikh community that, according to him, has a positive feeling about the BJP. He pointed out that the Sikh community is present in many districts outside Punjab too and the BJP cadre “should not ignore them” thinking they are too small to make any electoral difference.Recalling what the PM spoke about, a BJP leader said, “He said don’t always think about votes only. He also mentioned the small groups of backward communities and said they always stood by the BJP since the Jana Sangh days. He said there are small communities like Bohras, among whom there are several educated Muslims. They do not vote for the BJP but cooperate with the party in many activities. The Prime Minister specifically said Muslims would not vote for the BJP, but that should not stop us from reaching out to them.”A party leader said, “The target is to increase the BJP’s tally from 303 and return to power with more glory. Because the positive atmosphere will create a favourable situation for us — to talk about development work and to expand our base.”Another significant point the Prime Minister harped on was India’s global positioning. According to Modi, the global situation post Covid has a “lot of prospects and chances” and India should let them pass by. Even the national executive statement on the G-20 presidency mentioned the changed world order in the last nine years. According to BJP vice president Baijayant Panda who briefed the media on the statement, the G-20 and, in general, the world is “full of admiration” as India not only dealt with the Covid crisis but also reached out with help to other countries.Panda said BJP workers, in their individual capacity, would work to connect society as the country hosts over 200 G20-related events in more than 50 places. He added it was an opportunity to connect the society and showcase India’s progress and its rich heritage as delegates from not only the elite bloc of 20 leading economies but also many multilateral bodies such as the International Monetary Fund would visit India.
Written by Damien CaveJacinda Ardern explained her decision to step down as New Zealand’s prime minister Thursday with a plea for understanding and rare political directness — the same attributes that helped make her a global emblem of anti-Trump liberalism, then a target of the toxic divisions amplified by the coronavirus pandemic.Ardern, 42, fought back tears as she announced at a news conference that she would resign in early February before New Zealand’s election in October.“I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice,” she said. “It is that simple.”Ardern’s sudden departure before the end of her second term came as a surprise to the country and the world. New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in 150 years, she was a leader of a small nation who reached celebrity status with the speed of a pop star.Her youth, pronounced feminism and emphasis on a “politics of kindness” made her look to many like a welcome alternative to bombastic male leaders, creating a phenomenon known as “Jacindamania.”Her time in office, however, was mostly shaped by crisis management, including the 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch, the deadly White Island volcanic eruption a few months later and COVID-19 soon after that.The pandemic in particular seemed to play to her strengths as a clear and unifying communicator — until extended lockdowns and vaccine mandates hurt the economy, fueled conspiracy theories and spurred a backlash. In a part of the world where COVID restrictions lingered, Ardern has struggled to get beyond her association with pandemic policy.“People personally invested in her; that has always been a part of her appeal,” said Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.“She became a totem,” he added. “She became the personification of a particular response to the pandemic, which people in the far-flung margins of the internet and the not so far-flung margins used against her.”The country’s initial goal was audacious: Ardern and a handful of prominent public health researchers who were advising the government held out hope for eliminating the virus and keeping it entirely out of New Zealand. In early 2020, she helped coax the country — “our team of 5 million,” she said — to go along with shuttered international borders and a lockdown so severe that even retrieving a lost cricket ball from a neighbor’s yard was banned.When new, more transmissible variants made that impossible, Ardern’s team pivoted but struggled to get vaccines quickly. Strict vaccination mandates then kept people from activities like work, eating out and getting haircuts.Dr. Simon Thornley, a public health researcher at the University of Auckland and a frequent and controversial critic of the government’s COVID response, said many New Zealanders were surprised by what they saw as her willingness to pit the vaccinated against the unvaccinated.“The disillusionment around the vaccine mandates was important,” Thornley said. “The creation of a two-class society and that predictions didn’t come out as they were meant to be, or as they were forecast to be in terms of elimination — that was a turning point.”Ardern became a target, internally and abroad, for those who saw vaccine mandates as a violation of individual rights. Online, conspiracy theories, misinformation and personal attacks bloomed. Threats against Ardern have increased greatly over the past few years, especially from anti-vaccination groups.The tension escalated in February. Inspired in part by protests in the United States and Canada, a crowd of protesters camped on the Parliament grounds in Wellington for more than three weeks, pitching tents and using parked cars to block traffic.The police eventually forced out the demonstrators, clashing violently with many of them, leading to more than 120 arrests.The scenes shocked a nation unaccustomed to such violence. Some blamed demonstrators, others the police and the government.“It certainly was a dark day in New Zealand history,” Thornley said.Dylan Reeve, a New Zealand author and journalist who wrote a book on the spread of misinformation in the country, said the prime minister’s international profile probably played a role in the conspiracist narratives about her.“The fact that she suddenly had such a large international profile and was widely hailed for her reaction really seemed to provide a boost for local conspiracy theorists,” he said. “They found support for the anti-Ardern ideas from like-minded individuals globally at a level that was probably out of scale with New Zealand’s typical prominence internationally.”The attacks did not cease even as the worst of the pandemic receded. This month, Roger Stone, the former Trump adviser, condemned Ardern for her COVID approach, which he described as “the jackboot of authoritarianism.”In her speech Thursday, Ardern did not mention any particular group of critics, nor did she name a replacement, but she did acknowledge that she could not help but be affected by the strain of her job and the difficult era when she governed.“I know there will be much discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so-called real reason was,” she said, adding: “The only interesting angle you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, that I am human. Politicians are human. We give all that we can, for as long as we can, and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”Suze Wilson, a leadership scholar at Massey University in New Zealand, said Ardern should be taken at her word. She said that the abuse could not and should not be separated from her gender.“She’s talking about not really having anything left in the tank, and I think part of what’s probably contributed to that is just the disgusting level of sexist and misogynistic abuse to what she has been subjected,” Wilson said.In the pubs and parks of Christchurch on Thursday, New Zealanders seemed divided. In a city where Ardern was widely praised for her unifying response to the mass murder of 51 people at two mosques by a white supremacist, there were complaints about unfulfilled promises around nuts-and-bolts issues such as the cost of housing.Tony McPherson, 72, who lives near one of the mosques that was attacked nearly four years ago, described the departing prime minister as someone who had “a very good talk, but not enough walk.”He said she fell short on “housing, health care” and had “made an absolute hash on immigration,” arguing that many businesses had large staff shortages because of a delayed reopening of borders after the lockdowns.Economic issues are front and center for many voters. Polls show that Ardern’s Labour Party has been trailing the center-right National Party, led by Christopher Luxon, a former aviation executive.On the deck of Wilson’s Sports Bar, a Christchurch pub, Shelley Smith, 52, a motel manager, said she was “surprised” at the news of Ardern’s resignation. She praised her for suppressing the community spread of the coronavirus in 2020, despite the effects on the New Zealand economy. Asked how she would remember Ardern, she replied: “As a person’s person.”That appeal may have faded, but many New Zealanders do not expect Ardern to disappear for long. Helen Clark, a former prime minister who was a mentor to Ardern, followed up her time in office by focusing on international issues with many global organizations.“I don’t know she’ll be lost to the world,” Shaw said of Ardern. “She may get a bigger platform.”
Search for the word “climate” on Twitter and the first automatic recommendation isn’t “climate crisis” or “climate jobs” or even “climate change” but instead “climate scam.” Clicking on the recommendation yields dozens of posts denying the reality of climate change and making misleading claims about efforts to mitigate it.Such misinformation has flourished on Twitter since it was bought by Elon Musk last year, but the site isn’t the only one promoting content that scientists and environmental advocates say undercuts public support for policies intended to respond to a changing climate.“What’s happening in the information ecosystem poses a direct threat to action,” said Jennie King, head of climate research and response at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonprofit.“It plants those seeds of doubt and makes people think maybe there isn’t scientific consensus.” The institute is part of a coalition of environmental advocacy groups that on Thursday released a report tracking climate change disinformation in the months before, during and after the U.N. climate summit in November. The report faulted social media platforms for, among other things, failing to enforce their own policies prohibiting climate change misinformation.It is only the latest to highlight the growing problem of climate misinformation on Twitter. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, allowed nearly 4,000 advertisements on its site — most bought by fossil fuel companies — that dismissed the scientific consensus behind climate change and criticized efforts to respond to it, the researchers found.In some cases, the ads and the posts cited inflation and economic fears as reasons to oppose climate policies, while ignoring the costs of inaction. Researchers also found that a significant number of the accounts posting false claims about climate change also spread misinformation about U.S. elections, COVID-19 and vaccines.Twitter did not respond to questions from The Associated Press. A spokesperson for Meta cited the company’s policy prohibiting ads that have been proven false by its fact-checking partners, a group that includes the AP. The ads identified in the report had not been fact-checked.Under Musk, Twitter laid off thousands of employees and made changes to its content moderation that its critics said undercut the effort. In November, the company announced it would no longer enforce its policy against COVID-19 misinformation. Musk also reinstated many formerly banned users, including several who had spread misleading claims about climate change. Instances of hate speech and attacks on LGBTQ people soared.Tweets containing “climate scam” or other terms linked to climate change denial rose 300% in 2022, according to a report released last week by the nonprofit Advance Democracy. While Twitter had labeled some of the content as misinformation, many of the popular posts were not labeled. Musk’s new verification system could be part of the problem, according to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, another organization that tracks online misinformation.Previously, the blue checkmarks were held by people in the public eye such as journalists, government officials or celebrities. Now, anyone willing to pay $8 a month can seek a checkmark. Posts and replies from verified accounts are given an automatic boost on the platform, making them more visible than content from users who don’t pay.When researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate analyzed accounts verified after Musk took over, they found they spread four times the amount of climate change misinformation compared with users verified before Musk’s purchase.Verification systems are typically created to assure users that the accounts they follow are legitimate. Twitter’s new system, however, makes no distinction between authoritative sources on climate change and anyone with $8 and an opinion, according to Imran Ahmed, the center’s chief executive.“We found,” Ahmed said, “it has in fact put rocket boosters on the spread of lies and disinformation.”
Serum Institute of India has written to the Union Health Ministry seeking the inclusion of its Covid vaccine Covovax in the CoWIN portal as a heterologous booster dose for adults, official sources said on Wednesday.The letter was written by Prakash Kumar Singh, Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs at Serum Institute of India (SII), they said.National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) is likely to hold a meeting soon to decide on the matter.The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) on January 16 approved market authorisation for Covovax as a heterologous booster dose for adults who have been administered two doses of either Covishield or Covaxin.Its approval was based on recommendations by the subject expert committee (SEC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation.The DCGI approved Covovax for restricted use in emergency situations in adults on December 28, 2021, in the 12-17 age group on March 9, 2022, and also in children aged seven to 11 years on June 28 last year subject to certain conditions.Covovax is manufactured through technology transfer from Novavax.It has been approved by the European Medicines Agency for conditional marketing authorization and was granted emergency-use listing by the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 17, 2021.In August 2020, US-based vaccine maker Novavax Inc. had earlier announced a licence agreement with the SII for the development and commercialization of NVX-CoV2373, its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in India and low-and-middle-income countries.
MUMBAI: After nearly a month with no reported deaths, the city has recorded a fatality due to Covid-19. The BMC announced that a 68-year-old man has passed away, marking the first reported Covid death in the city this year. The previously recorded death in Mumbai was on December 22. According to the civic body, the deceased had several comorbidities, including an acute kidney injury and hypertension. The city continued to see fewer new cases, although the state witnessed a slight increase in new detections. Maharashtra reported 33 new Covid infections on Tuesday, up from 10 cases reported on Monday and 11 on Sunday. A dozen of these cases were reported from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and the remaining were from Nashik and Pune circles. Active cases in Maharashtra have dropped to 137, while that in Mumbai to 47. Across Mumbai, only five patients are in hospitals with coronavirus. Dr Rajas Walinjkar said that Covid cases are rare, even in outpatient departments. "Hospitalisation due to Covid is rare now," he said.