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National News
India records over 2 lakh new cases for second straight day; Centre to ramp up vaccine production
New Delhi: As India recorded over two lakh new COVID-19 cases for the second straight day, the Centre on Friday unveiled plans to ramp up output of indigenous vaccine Covaxin ten times to reach 10 crore doses by September and accelerate the manufacture of antiviral drug remdesivir, and also called for increasing the production of medical oxygen. In the wake of reports of shortage of the medical grade oxygen for COVID-19 patients in different parts of the country in the last few days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a comprehensive review to ensure its adequate supply, and said steps should be taken to augment the production. He also asked officials to ensure seamless and free movement of tankers carrying this commodity throughout the country.

At the same time, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan lamented that people have adopted a casual approach towards the pandemic which is very dangerous, adding COVID appropriate behaviour is the biggest social tool to break the chain of transmission. He made the remarks after visiting the AIIMS Trauma Centre in Delhi to assess the healthcare infrastructure in view of the spike in COVID-19 cases. According to an advisory prepared by an expert Dr. Neeraj Kaushik for Southeast Delhi Police, the second wave of coronavirus can last up to 100 days and such waves will keep coming till 70 percent of the population is vaccinated and herd community is achieved, Aimed at creating awareness among police personnel, the advisory said the new mutated virus has potential to skip immunity and even vaccine. “This is the reason for re-infection and cases among vaccinated people.” India added a record 2,17,353 new coronavirus infections in a day taking the total tally to 1,42,91,917, while active cases surpassed the 15-lakh mark, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Friday.

On Thursday, the ministry said 2,00,739 new cases were reported in a span of 24 hours. The death toll increased to 1,74,308 with 1,185 new fatalities, the highest since September 19 last, the data updated at 8 am showed. Registering a steady rise for the 37th day in a row, the active cases rose to 15,69,743, comprising 10.98 per cent of the total infections, while the national COVID recovery rate dropped to 87.80 per cent, the ministry said. On Friday, Maharashtra reported 63,729 new cases and was followed by Uttar Pradesh(27,426) and Delhi(19,486), according to official data. it was the highest daily spike in new infections for all the three states since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. West Bengal, where Assembly polls are underway, also recorded the highest ever daily jump of 6,910 cases. The Department of Biotechnology(DBT) said Covaxin''s production will be doubled by May-June and that it has roped in three public sector companies to increase the capacity.

“The current production capacity of indigenously developed Covaxin will be doubled by May-June 2021 and then increased nearly 6-7 fold by July-August 2021 i.e. increasing the production from 1 crore vaccine doses in April, 2021 to 6-7 crore vaccine dose/month in July-August. It is expected to reach nearly 10 crore doses per month by September 2021,” the DBT said in a statement. As part of the augmentation plan, capacities of Bharat Biotech Limited as well as other public sector manufactures are being upgraded with required infrastructure and technology, it added. Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council for Medical Research(ICMR) have developed Covaxin, one of the two vaccines being used in the ongoing nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive. Financial support of around Rs 65 crore is being provided as grant by the Centre to Bharat Biotech''s new Bangalore facility which is being repurposed to increase the capacity of vaccine production, the DBT said.

The Centre will also provide financial assistance of Rs 65 crore to Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, Mumbai – a public sector undertaking (PSU) under the Maharashtra government, the DBT said. Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, Sandeep Rathod, Managing Director, Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, said its target is to produce around 22.8 crore vaccine vials “but it will take one year for us to start production”. “However, the central government has asked them to expedite and complete the task urgently within six months. The facility will have a capacity of 20 million dozes per month, once functional,” the DBT said. Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), Hyderabad, a facility under National Dairy Development Board, and Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited, Bulandshahr, a PSU department of biotechnology will also be supported to prepare a facility to provide 10-15 million doses per month by August-September, the DBT said.

Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla said the US needs to lift its embargo on raw material exports to help ramp up vaccine production. SII is currently manufacturing Covishield, developed by Astrazeneca and Oxford University. The vaccine is not only being used in India, but exported to a number of countries. Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister D V Sadananda Gowda took to Twitter to say that the government is taking all steps to accelerate the production of antiviral drug remdesivir, used in treatment of COVID-19, and ensure its availability in the country. The minister also mentioned that a total of 6.69 lakh vials of the drug have been made available to different states and union territories during the last five days. In another tweet, Gowda said: "Remdesivir placed under Export ban wef 11.04.2021 to increase supply in domestic market. Its supplies of approx 4 lakh vials meant for Export is being diverted by manufacturers to fulfil domestic requirement.

EOU/SEZ units are also being enabled to supply for domestic market". A Maharashtra minister also flagged that the state will face a shortage of 12,000 to 15,000 remdesivir injections. Maharashtra''s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Minister Rajendra Shingane said, "Companies that produce Remdesivir injection have increased their production but it will take some time for the vials to hit the market. If we consider a 10-12 per cent shortage, Maharashtra will continue to face a shortage of 12,000 to 15,000 remdesivir vials for the next two to three days". Prime Minister Modi took a comprehensive review to ensure adequate medical grade oxygen supply in the country, the Prime Minister''s Office (PMO) said in a statement. The prime minister stressed that it is important to ensure synergy across ministries and state governments, it said.

He took a detailed review of the current situation of oxygen supply and projected use in the coming 15 days across 12 high-burden states -- Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. The Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) also directed the states to ensure uninterrupted movement of medical oxygen carrying vehicles along their borders, and said they must not impose any curb on production and supply of the essential public health commodity anywhere. The Health Ministry, meanwhile, said a total of 1,189 samples have so far tested positive for variants of concern of SARS COV-2 in India. These include 1,109 samples testing positive for the UK variants, 79 for the South Africa variant and one sample for the Brazil variant, the ministry said.

Till April 15, 13,614 samples have been processed at the 10 designated INSACOG laboratories for whole genome sequencing (WGS), it added. A global mutation tracker also suggested the ‘double mutant'' coronavirus, first identified in Maharashtra, has a cumulative prevalence of 10 percent in India, a finding that some scientists in India said is based on insufficient data and needs more research. Genome sequencing with representative samples from all states seeing a COVID-19 surge is necessary before any conclusion can be drawn, experts said after a tracker by US-based Scripps Research suggested the B.1.617 lineage, also called a double mutant, has the highest cumulative prevalence of all mutant variants analysed in India.

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