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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Unlock-3: Night Curfew To End, Gyms To Reopen!

The government of India has extended national lockdown in containment zones till 31st August, 2020 which was expected considering the continuous surge in new COVID-19 cases for more than a month now; the total India-lockdown days set to go beyond 128 with the new extension. Guidelines for Unlock-3 were also announced in rest of the areas. As per the new guidelines announced last evening night curfew is going to be lifted from 5th of August everywhere, and gyms/yoga institutes are going to reopen from the same date. The August 15 Independence Day celebrations shall have to be observed with curbs, from the national level to the village panchayat levels. All other relaxations announced in Unlock-1 and Unlock-2, of course, will continue to be valid. What will continue to remain shut are: schools/colleges/educational institutes closed till 31st August; Metro railway and regular passenger trains not to operate till fresh announcements; international flights that are operating under Vande Bharat are only allowed to continue; cinema halls/entertainment parks/auditoriums/bars to remain shut till at least 31st August; and no social/cultural/religious congregations and celebrations will be allowed for the same extended period.

The state government of Maharashtra has also extended strict lockdown in all districts till 31st August except for the relaxations already given, with the state crossing the 4,00,000 mark of total COVID cases. The situation is also grim in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam among others. However, the COVID peak seems to have been over in Delhi and Mumbai at least where the curve is slowly flattening. With aggressive testing being followed in almost all the states new cases are bound to go on rising. The high positivity rates in some states are a matter of concern at the moment; however, states, for example, Maharashtra, Delhi and others are showing a positivity rate below 10% which is considered to be ideal by experts.

Meanwhile, lockdowns of all kinds of duration are continuing in many states: lockdowns ranging across one-day, two-day, weekend, five-day, one-week and two-week or more. West Bengal has presented a unique example of having lockdown two days a week—on Thursdays and Saturdays. Experts have been advising since a long time that short-duration lockdowns do not really help containing the spread of the virus, and the states, under severe surge of infections, should do better by following the national lockdown in stricter forms. Since lockdowns are only temporary measures to contain the disease and to bolster the health infrastructure total focus should be on following the norms: wearing of masks, maintaining health hygiene and observing social/physical distancing, in short, adapting perfectly to the new normal as long as the ‘living with COVID-19’ period  lasts. In the last twenty-four hours India has registered the spike of new cases at over 52000 with 775 deaths. Positively speaking, the national recovery rate has almost touched 65% and the fatality rate has come down to around 2.20%, consistently on a declining trend. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

COVID-19 Vaccine: Optimism Grows As Two More Candidates Enter Final Human Trials Phase!

Optimism for a possible cure for COVID-19 has been growing since the positive results obtained for the vaccine being developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca in its initial two human trials. Now, two more vaccines, namely by Moderna Inc and by Pfizer Inc in the USA, have entered the final or phase-3 of human clinical trials. Both the vaccines are starting the trials with volunteers up to 30,000 each. The final trials will check the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccines in humans in ages between 18 to 85, and hopefully it could clear the way for regulatory approval and widespread use by the end of this year itself, as per news reports. While Moderna Therapeutics had never brought a vaccine to the market before Pfizer started its vaccine development process in 2019 in collaboration with a German biotech firm BioNTech. The last-stage clinical trials of the duo will be done in 39 states across the US, and also in countries like Argentina, Brazil and Germany; in all, 120 global sites.

These two vaccines are part of Trump Administration’s efforts to fast-track the vaccine testing, producing and manufacturing process. Moderna has been facilitated with a special US fund support of $1 billion apart from a non-traditional technology support that allows faster development and manufacturing. Pfizer Inc has also cut a deal with Trump Administration by which it would supply 50 million doses to the US at the cost of $2 billion, apart from the new technology support. Subject to approval, Moderna aims at producing 500 million to 1 billion doses a year starting the beginning of 2021 while Pfizer will have 1.3 billion doses ready by the end of 2021. Of course, bulk of the doses will be utilized within USA, and some will be distributed in a few other developed countries.

Meanwhile, the Serum Institute of India has partnered with Oxford-AstraZeneca and is already in the process of manufacturing 2-3 million doses by August end, 2020, taking calculated risks that the Oxford vaccine would repeat its positive results in the final phase too. The Institute has also obtained permission from the government of India to conduct final-phase human trials in India too from August, 2020. As per news reports Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine called AZD122 will be manufactured and distributed in India as Covishield vaccine which would cost less than 1000 INR per dose. The Institute has also announced to the media that by end of 2020 it will have at least 50 million Covishield doses ready, half of which will be supplied to the government of India while the rest is to be given to other countries, mostly less developed nations.

Various levels of optimism are thus available for the eager subjects of the planet earth. The most optimistic one is Donald Trump’s target of large-scale use within the next two months; taking the scenario of the three vaccines into consideration the probable target delivery would be by end of 2020; and scientists/doctors of the World Health Organization still hold the view that a safe and effective vaccine can be ready for mass use only in the first half of 2021, at the most optimistic count.  Many other experts across the globe say that if a vaccine gets produced within a year that would be unprecedented, because a normal vaccine takes five to ten years to be ready for mass use. However, they further say, in view of the fact that COVID-19 is a totally new virus and the way the pandemic has been raging all around for the last few months taking a toll of more than 6,50,000 lives so far, the urge for producing a vaccine in quick time is justified. But they say that evolving a safe and effective vaccine is a tricky job, the challenges are big at every stage: manufacturing to distribution, and finally, how many millions are to be vaccinated considering also the fact that many of them could be unwilling to get vaccinated.

Being optimistic is a positive sentiment, and so, there is nothing wrong in hoping for that magic cure for the Coronavirus which has displayed a range of strains, from mild to serious to fatal, making it thus an extremely dicey party to deal with. We must hope for a safe vaccine at the earliest, be it by end of this year or in the first half of 2021. Our hope is not at all groundless, because apart from the three vaccines in final stages of trials as we mentioned earlier, there are about 150 vaccine candidates across the globe in various stages of development. The probability factor, therefore, is fast turning into a possibility factor: the human victory over the enemy of humanity is all but a matter of time now. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Half-Full Half-Empty Glass Syndrome!

Some people always start with a ‘no’ to anything uttered or addressed to; of course, many of them don’t really mean ‘no’, it’s being somewhat a habit of saying so. However, for others a ‘no means no’ always to all matters under the sun, even if the most correct piece of news or development is reported to them for the first time. This is the germ of negativity that, if unchecked, eventually takes full control of the hapless human mind. Such negative vibes are often infectious, affecting all around adversely, let it be homes or offices or public places. This writer has experienced this syndrome in his various train journeys: yes, in India most people are woefully used to late running of the trains, but when a train in fact is doing great, running on time or ever before time, those souls continue to emit the negative vibes ‘no, it’s running late already or going to run late or will finally arrive three-four hours late’ and so on; and this writer has seen on many occasions how these negative vibes actually lead to the train losing on time due to a string of unforeseen goof-ups, and finally running late irrecoverably. We don’t need to submit scientific proofs on the negative-vibe-infection syndrome, because most the things in the human mind cannot in fact be proved.  

For the last few months, the waves of negative vibes are rising as worryingly as the COVID virus. Reasons for this are not far to seek. In the wake of the ‘new normal’ forced upon humanity by the killer virus people are getting deprived of things they always loved to do: they are unable to mix with friends or relatives even in the domestic environs; they are deprived of all parties, all social-cultural-religious events; they can no longer visit the movie houses or their most favorite restaurants; in some regions they cannot even take their morning or evening walks or jogs or strolls; all the women are getting tired of being in the kitchen continuously with no outings or outside food coming in, and even if the men try help them in cooking the ‘casualties’ turn out to be more than benefits; people living in congested or compressed spaces, particularly in the Indian slums and low-middle class homes, are getting suffocated and impatient; and no shopping ecstasies can be indulged in except for the tedious and repetitive online choices.

The negativity surge has been emerging as a socialistic phenomenon too sans class bias with even the celebrities of various fields in their spacious flats getting angry, frustrated and impatient. The film industry, particularly in India, seems to be affected the most, from the stars to the junior artists, technicians and small-time operators, the former being suffocated due to forced idleness and depression while the latter suffering due to lack of employment and financial difficulties. For example, the Bollywood (Hindi film industry in India) has been twisting and seething with suffocation so much so that this possibly led to one rising star, Sushant Singh Rajput, committing an alleged suicide which in turn has threatened to divide the industry into two, one side alleging mafia-rule and nepotism while the other side defending itself and facing grilling by the police.

Many have questioned the role of the media too in spreading negativity. ‘Why do they always highlight the negative stories’ has been the constant query on the minds of people. Videos of various stray incidents like keeping dead bodies for a long time along with recuperating patients in COVID treatment wards or patients dying due to alleged hospital denial to admit or total lack of dignified cremation for some dead patients are in fact being given repeated airtime in the Indian television channels at various times. The media, in the unusual crisis-laden cut-throat throes of competition, must be catering to the negativity that has mushroomed in the previous few months. Of course, good-news stories are also being shown, but in some cases even good-news stories get the negative tinge; for example, some channels tend to use somewhat negative words like ‘slump’ or ‘dip’ while dishing out a most positive story that new COVID cases are coming down in certain cities, and while showing COVID hospitals with lots of empty beds the impression that comes out from the structure of the story is that the hospitals should really be blamed for under-utilizing the beds. Such is the power of negativity.

As strong as the Corona surge, the negativity surge is finding an obvious outlet in the social media too. Instead of inspiring the users with positivity, most of the posts/videos are aimed at only terrorizing/misinforming/misleading them. The emotions expressed are always either ridicule or disdain or rumor-mongering or satire at best. With the digital existence becoming a reality now, constant exposure to such negative hammerings are bound to impact the human mind in an undesirable way, strengthening the negative surge further.

Like the COVID surge the negativity surge too must be contained with positive measures. Unfortunately, the authorities cannot do much on this front. The people must consider, reconsider and arm themselves with a strong positivity in everything they do, from even eating to watching, talking, listening or working, applying moderation and discretion everywhere. They must tune in only to genuine and confirmed sources of information; they must not blindly keep on forwarding posts/videos in the social media; and in short, they must learn to differentiate a half-full glass of water from a half-empty one. They must counter the word ‘no’ in a very practical way, unless it’s a matter of life and death. Good positive stories are indeed unfolding everywhere around the globe, you only need to behold these. As we talked of people living in congested slums, Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavi in Mumbai, has created a success story in containing the virus most effectively which got international praise and commendation. The will in people is all-powerful, if they just decide to win against a virus or negativity, they will surely win. Irrespective of being Corona negative or Corona positive, you must always be positive in life, against any challenge. No better time to accomplish positivity than the present. 

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