Covishield dose interval increased to 12-16 weeks

The Centre has approved extending the gap between the two doses of Covishield vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks. This followed recommendations from the Covid working group chaired by Dr N K Arora. There is no change in interval of Covaxin doses.

The Covid working group chaired by Dr N K Arora has recommended extension of the gap between the first and second doses of Covishield to12-16 weeks. Niti Aayog member and head of the expert group on vaccines Dr V K Paul said the decision has been taken on basis of the experience of UK where the 12-week gap was implemented. He said the earlier 4-6 week interval was based on studies but now there is data from actual implementation of the spaced out schedule.

Health minister Harshvardhan said that the “decision has been taken based on recommendations of the Covid working group after analysing emerging evidence.” The recommendation was accepted by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19. Dr Paul said the technical group that evaluated evidence did a thorough job of its recommendations.

Suspected lightning strike kills 18 wild Assam tuskers

In what could be the first known instance of an entire pachyderm herd being wiped out in a lightning strike anywhere in the northeast, the corpses of 18 adult elephants were found scattered across a proposed sanctuary in central Assam’s Nagaon district on Thursday morning, hours after a storm blew over.

“Fourteen of the elephants were found dead atop a hill while the rest were at the foot of the elevated portion of the Kundoli reserve forest under Kathiatoli range,” principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Amit Sahay said. “The animals were probably huddled together when a bolt of lightning struck during the severe storm on Wednesday night.”

Chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma directed forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya to visit the area on Friday to oversee the investigation into how the herd died. While a preliminary probe by the forest department suggested the elephants were struck by lightning, a section of conservationists sought a detailed inquiry to rule out the possibility of the animals dying of some other cause.

Assam’s chief wildlife warden MK Yadava said he would be visiting Kundoli, around 125km from Guwahati, with a team of veterinary doctors on Friday to carry out the post-mortem.

Dr Rahul Mahanta of the physics department of Cotton University in Guwahati said the “thermodynamical character” of the atmosphere over the Brahmaputra Valley was conducive to severe thunderstorm activity at dawn that could lead to “explosive events”. “More storms occur in the afternoon as solar heating charges a higher number of particles, but these are comparatively weaker,” he said.

Rituraj Phukan, secretary general of the Green Guard Nature Organization, contested the theory that lightning killed the herd.

Phukan claimed the area had recently turned into a human-wildlife conflict zone, pointing to alleged encroachment on the reserve forest that is part of the Karbi Anglong foothills elephant corridor.

Maharashtra Extends Lockdown-like Curbs till June 1

The Maharashtra government extended the lockdown-like restrictions in the state till June 1 to break the chain of Covid-19.

Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte in an order said the curbs will remain in force till 7 am on June 1.

As per the order, additional restrictions include mandatory negative RT-PCR test report for any person entering the state by any mode of transport.

The test report will have to be issued within 48 hours before the time of entry into the state.

All restrictions enforced as per earlier orders for people arriving from places of “sensitive origin” will be applicable to anyone arriving from any part of the country into the state, the order said.

In case of cargo carriers, not more than two people will be allowed to travel in those vehicles.

If the carriers are originating from outside Maharashtra, they will be allowed with a negative RTPCR test report issued within 48 hours before the time of entry into the state and will be valid for seven days, the order said.

The lockdown-like curbs were earlier imposed in the state on April 5.

The curbs were further tightened on April 15 with Section 144 of the CrPc, banning assembly of five or more people at one place, imposed in the entire state.

As per the latest order, the local Disaster Management Authority will keep a special vigil on rural markets and APMCs (Agriculture Produce Market Committees) to ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour.

If it finds that such places are difficult to manage and ensure discipline, then the local DMA may decide to shut them or impose further restrictions, the government said.

Milk collection, transport and processing will be allowed without restrictions, though its retail trade shall be allowed subject to restrictions imposed on shops dealing with essential items or through home delivery, the order said.

Personnel engaged in airport, port services, and movement of cargo related to medicines or equipment for Covid-19 management will be allowed to travel in local, mono and Metro trains, it said.

The local DMAs have been given powers to impose further restrictions generally or to specific sectors or areas with intimation to the state DMA, and shall give at least 48- hour notice to the public, the order said.


Expect 1st batch of Covaxin from unit in Pune in 100 days

Bharat Biotech, through its associate firm Biovet, is expected to roll out its first batch of Covaxin from the Manjari Khurd manufacturing plant in Pune district in the next 100 days, Pune divisional commissioner Saurabh Rao said on Wednesday.

Rao, along with Pune collector Rajesh Deshmukh, visited the site on Wednesday and held discussions with Bharat Biotech officials.

The Bombay high court recently allowed Biovet to manufacture Covaxin vials at the fully operational and ready vaccine plant on the 12-hectare site in Manjari Khurd village.

“Pune district, with the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, is surely going to become the vaccine capital of India. We have assured full cooperation to the company top officials [of Bharat Biotech] who were here to discuss and chart out the road map ahead. They are to give us a detailed plan in a week’s time,” Rao said.

He added that once the facility is fully operational, the company would be able to manufacture 15-20 million doses per month.

The local administration would assist the company for ensuring water availability, security, approach roads and deployment of manpower. “From water to electricity supply, logistics, security and licences, we have extended all cooperation and will help the company on all fronts to speed up production,” Deshmukh said, adding that the detailed plan would be ready within the next few days. “It will give us a clear idea on how the company plans to operate in Pune,” he added.

Biovet, which is headquartered and registered in Bengaluru, is primarily focused on veterinary vaccines, including the foot and mouth disease shots.

The 12-hectare plot in Manjari Khurd in Pune district where Biovet plans to produce Covaxin vaccines already has an operational veterinary vaccine unit, which was run by a subsidiary of the global drugmaker Merck. The company agreed to sell it to Biovet as a part of its India exit strategy.

Maharashtra: 3 tiger cubs, sloth bear found dead in Bhandara

Three tiger cubs and a sloth bear were found dead in separate places in Bhandara forest division on Wednesday.

Though forest officials claimed all the deaths to be natural, the tiger cubs could have been saved had the frontline staff been alert.

On Tuesday, a leopard died of poisoning and its four paws and canines were removed by poachers in Sadak Arjuni, Gondia. In the first case, two-month-old tiger cubs, both female, were found dead in a siphon canal of Tekapar lift irrigation project, 15km from Bhandara near Garada. The cubs were first noticed by some morning runners out on their routine.

Bhandara deputy conservator SB Bhalavi said the cubs may have drowned on Tuesday night after falling into the siphon well that had water due to rains. “We have installed camera traps to trace the mother. Her pugmarks were seen near the spot,” said Bhalavi.


Business Activity Slips to June 2020 Levels: Nomura

India's business activity witnessed a sharp drop last week as restrictions imposed by states due to the second wave of Covid-19 infections impacted mobility. The Nomura India Business Resumption Index, which tracks the pace of business activity in the country on a weekly basis, dipped to 64.5 for the week ended May 9, down from 69.7 in the previous week, falling to levels last seen in June 2020 when the country was emerging from a nation-wide lockdown.

In a note released on Tuesday, Nomura cautioned that sharply declining mobility may exaggerate the hit to economic activity.

“The sharp drop in NIBRI suggests that the rolling state-wide lockdowns are hurting sequential growth,” Nomura economists Sonal Varma and Aurodeep Nandi said in the note.

The tracker monitors high frequency indicators such as mobility indices, power demand and labour participation rate.

The fall in NIBRI continued to be driven by declining mobility as Google’s workplace, and retail and recreation mobility indices fell by 10 percentage points each over the week, while the Apple driving index shrank 8 percentage points, Nomura said.

Power demand contracted 4.1% on a weekly basis even as the labour participation rate rose 41.3% over 38.9% a week before.

India recorded 329,942 fresh cases of Covid-19 and 3,876 deaths in 24 hours, as per official data released on Tuesday morning. The Centre has said it will not impose a blanket lockdown, but a number of states have imposed restrictions on movement to check the rapid spread of the virus.

Nomura recently slashed its growth projection for India for the current financial year to 10.8% from 12.6% as the recent lockdowns impacted the momentum of the country’s economic recovery after last year’s lockdowns.

However, the Japanese financial services major expects the second quarter to be better for the Indian economy. “We expect a localised hit in Q2 and believe that medium-term tailwinds (vaccine pivot, global recovery, easy financial conditions) remain intact,” the company said in its note.

PM Modi will not travel to UK for G7 summit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not travel to the UK to participate in the G7 summit next month, given the massive surge in Covid-19 cases in India. This will be the second multilateral event that Modi has had to give up in a month.

"While appreciating the invitation to the prime minister by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to attend the G7 summit as a special invitee, given the prevailing Covid-19 situation, it has been decided that the prime minister will not attend the G7 summit in person,” the MEA spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Modi will say his bit in a virtual address, but will miss out on the most important in-person international meeting. This comes after foreign minister S Jaishankar’s recent visit to London for the G7 ministers’ meeting was clouded by the suggestion that two of his team members had tested positive for Covid-19.