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India’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout needs to address hesitancy to truly take off

India has kicked off the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination programme, but the shadow of rushed approvals persists.

Hesitancy over the safety and efficacy of Covaxin, India’s homegrown coronavirus vaccine developed by biotechnology firm Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research, has led to fewer people turning up for their shots.

India began its vaccination drive for frontline and healthcare workers on Jan. 16, and has inoculated 631,417 people in four days. Two vaccines, Covishield, manufactured by Serum Institute of India using the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s master seed, and Covaxin currently have emergency use approval in India. India will also begin exporting the Covishield vaccine today (Jan. 20) to neighbouring nations like Maldives and Bhutan.

Of these two, Covishield was granted approval based on data from the UK drugs regulator, while India-specific bridging trial study data are still pending. Covaxin has no efficacy data because the third phase of its clinical trial is still underway.

Healthcare workers have expressed concern over being administered shots of Covaxin. For instance, in Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, resident doctors asserted their desire to take only the Covishield vaccine instead of the Covaxin that was on offer.

Such hesitancy has led to lower turnout from healthcare and frontline workers, especially in large metropolitan cities in the country. In Delhi, for instance, only eight people were vaccinated at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), India’s leading public healthcare institution, on Jan. 18, a source-based report said.

This despite AIIMS director Randeep Guleria being among the first to take the vaccine in the country.  Several senior doctors and private hospitals have advocated for the use of the vaccine on social media and elsewhere.

But as of yesterday (Jan. 19), Delhi has consistently vaccinated about half of its daily target of roughly 8,000 healthcare and frontline workers per day.

A vaccine trust deficit

In other parts of the world, including the US, doctors have been hesitant to take vaccines that have not yet been fully tested. “Whatever is happening right now, the kind of response from we’re seeing from workers listed for the vaccines, especially Covaxin, is a sign that the government has dropped the ball on this issue,” says Sulakshana Nandi, national joint convener of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the Indian chapter of the People’s Health Movement. “Such hasty approvals have resulted in a mistrust of the Covid-19 vaccine,” she says.

India’s scientific community has spoken out against rushed vaccine approvals and has questioned the government’s decision making that was based on limited facts and data. For instance, Covaxin was given clearance by India’s drugs regulator under “clinical trial mode,” with no clarity on what that meant.

Besides the lack of clarity on approvals, distrust is also stemming from the allegations against Bharat Biotech for violating consent norms during the phase 3 trial recruitments. “The Indian government has tried to elicit support from the WHO and people like Bill Gates. But this vaccine rollout, under these circumstances and conditions, will go down as an unfortunate event in the history of India’s Covid-19 response,” Nandi says.

Guleria of AIIMS believes that this vaccine hesitancy among healthcare staff is because of the “infodemic” against the coronavirus vaccines in India. “Initially, healthcare workers were very keen to get the vaccine. But then because of the infodemic, because of things doing the rounds on social media, because of side effects being highlighted more than what they were, it created a lot of anxiety not only among healthcare workers but also in public at large,” he told Hindustan Times newspaper.

What has also not helped build trust is the number of adverse events following immunisation (AEFIs) that have been reported.

The adverse events

On Jan. 18, the Indian health ministry had reported a total of 580 AEFIs. These included mild cases of pain on the site of the jab, nausea, headache, and general fatigue, as well as serious symptoms like breathlessness and chest pain. So far, nine cases of AEFIs have required hospitalisation, and none were reported after Jan. 18.

Currently, India has less than 200,000 active Covid-19 cases, and over thrice as many people have been vaccinated. This is also the reason doctors would rather wait a while before getting the jab.

“Many of us have already suffered from Covid and hence we’re not willing to take vaccines unnecessarily. We want to wait for safety and efficacy data,” an unnamed doctor from AIIMS told ThePrint.

Since March, 152,718 Indians have lost their lives to the pandemic. Nandi believes that unlike the US or the UK, where cases and fatalities are on the rise again, India could have waited a while before granting the approvals. “After the questions raised by scientists, the government should have ideally rolled back the approval, especially since it could afford to wait given that the number of cases was declining,” Nandi says. India recorded its lowest number of fresh Covid-19 cases in seven months yesterday (Jan. 19). “A few more weeks and the availability of the efficacy data could have avoided this whole situation.”

Others have argued that this vaccine rollout comes at an appropriate time, allowing large sections of the population to build immunity against the novel coronavirus, especially when the healthcare systems are not overburdened.

“Vaccination is necessary because you do not know when a second wave can potentially start and various other countries have witnessed a second and a third wave with severe cases or a more infectious strain,” Public Health Foundation of India president K Srinath Reddy told Times of India newspaper.


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Author: Manavi Kapur

Ones to watch at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2021 – Sport360 News

Some of the world’s best golfers descend on Abu Dhabi this week for one of the highlights of the UAE’s sporting calendar.

The Abu Dhabi Golf Championships kicks off on Thursday with two of the world’s top five, and five of the top-20 among a typically strong field.

Here we take a look at the names to look out for this week:

Justin Thomas

Former number one: Justin Thomas is one of this year’s favourites

Justin Thomas

A former world number one, Thomas will go into the week as one of the favourites to hold aloft the silverware come Sunday evening.

Now ranked third in the world, the 27-year-old was a major winner in 2017 when he lifted the PGA Championship, and enjoyed two victories in a truncated 2020 calendar.

He is already showing some good early-year form in 2021 having placed third in the Tournament of Champions in Maui.

Rory Mcilroy

Fan favourite: Rory McIlroy has 18 PGA Tour wins under his belt

Rory McIlroy

The Northern Irishman needs little by the way of introduction.

A huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, McIlroy has won 18 times on the PGA Tour, and 14 times on the European Tour – along with the four majors the 31-year-old has to his name.

A four-time runner up in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy will be keen to end a run of more than 14 months without a win.

One's to watch: Lee Westwood

One to watch: Lee Westwood is the defending champion

Lee Westwood

A mainstay on tour for more than 25 years, all eyes will be on the Englishman to see if he can replicate his heroics of last year when he took the title by two strokes.

Another former world number one, last year’s success in the UAE marked his 25th on the European tour in what has been an incredible career.

An illusive major still lies on the hit-list, but back-to-back success in Abu Dhabi would be the perfect platform for his 2021 season.

Tommy Fleetwood

Looking for victory: Tommy Fleetwood has a good record in Abu Dhabi

Tommy Fleetwood

Tommy Fleetwood is a fan of Abu Dhabi.

Two wins, and a second place in the last four years are testament to that.

Ever popular on tour, a Fleetwood win is something welcomed in all corners, but he has built a special following in this part of the world.

Currently sat at number 17 in the world, Fleetwood has five wins on the European Tour including those 2017 and 2018 wins in Abu Dhabi and will be keen to taste success for the first time since November 2019.

Hot prospect:

Hot prospect: Ahmad Skaik Abu Dhabi’s number one

Ahmad Skaik

The Emirates’ Number One golfer Ahmad Skaik will compete having received the UAE National Amateur invite on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

The 23-year-old Emirati has gone from strength to strength following his European Tour debut at last year’s Championship, winning the 2020 UAE Presidents Cup in impressive style last February before clinching two Men’s Open titles to finish as runner-up in the EGF Order of Merit rankings.

For more information on the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship click HERE.

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Ones to watch at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2021 – Sport360 News

Some of the world’s best golfers descend on Abu Dhabi this week for one of the highlights of the UAE’s sporting calendar.

The Abu Dhabi Golf Championships kicks off on Thursday with two of the world’s top five, and five of the top-20 among a typically strong field.

Here we take a look at the names to look out for this week:

Justin Thomas

Former number one: Justin Thomas is one of this year’s favourites

Justin Thomas

A former world number one, Thomas will go into the week as one of the favourites to hold aloft the silverware come Sunday evening.

Now ranked third in the world, the 27-year-old was a major winner in 2017 when he lifted the PGA Championship, and enjoyed two victories in a truncated 2020 calendar.

He is already showing some good early-year form in 2021 having placed third in the Tournament of Champions in Maui.

Rory Mcilroy

Fan favourite: Rory McIlroy has 18 PGA Tour wins under his belt

Rory McIlroy

The Northern Irishman needs little by the way of introduction.

A huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, McIlroy has won 18 times on the PGA Tour, and 14 times on the European Tour – along with the four majors the 31-year-old has to his name.

A four-time runner up in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy will be keen to end a run of more than 14 months without a win.

One's to watch: Lee Westwood

One to watch: Lee Westwood is the defending champion

Lee Westwood

A mainstay on tour for more than 25 years, all eyes will be on the Englishman to see if he can replicate his heroics of last year when he took the title by two strokes.

Another former world number one, last year’s success in the UAE marked his 25th on the European tour in what has been an incredible career.

An illusive major still lies on the hit-list, but back-to-back success in Abu Dhabi would be the perfect platform for his 2021 season.

Tommy Fleetwood

Looking for victory: Tommy Fleetwood has a good record in Abu Dhabi

Tommy Fleetwood

Tommy Fleetwood is a fan of Abu Dhabi.

Two wins, and a second place in the last four years are testament to that.

Ever popular on tour, a Fleetwood win is something welcomed in all corners, but he has built a special following in this part of the world.

Currently sat at number 17 in the world, Fleetwood has five wins on the European Tour including those 2017 and 2018 wins in Abu Dhabi and will be keen to taste success for the first time since November 2019.

Hot prospect:

Hot prospect: Ahmad Skaik Abu Dhabi’s number one

Ahmad Skaik

The Emirates’ Number One golfer Ahmad Skaik will compete having received the UAE National Amateur invite on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

The 23-year-old Emirati has gone from strength to strength following his European Tour debut at last year’s Championship, winning the 2020 UAE Presidents Cup in impressive style last February before clinching two Men’s Open titles to finish as runner-up in the EGF Order of Merit rankings.

For more information on the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship click HERE.

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Ones to watch at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2021 – Sport360 News

Some of the world’s best golfers descend on Abu Dhabi this week for one of the highlights of the UAE’s sporting calendar.

The Abu Dhabi Golf Championships kicks off on Thursday with two of the world’s top five, and five of the top-20 among a typically strong field.

Here we take a look at the names to look out for this week:

Justin Thomas

Former number one: Justin Thomas is one of this year’s favourites

Justin Thomas

A former world number one, Thomas will go into the week as one of the favourites to hold aloft the silverware come Sunday evening.

Now ranked third in the world, the 27-year-old was a major winner in 2017 when he lifted the PGA Championship, and enjoyed two victories in a truncated 2020 calendar.

He is already showing some good early-year form in 2021 having placed third in the Tournament of Champions in Maui.

Rory Mcilroy

Fan favourite: Rory McIlroy has 18 PGA Tour wins under his belt

Rory McIlroy

The Northern Irishman needs little by the way of introduction.

A huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, McIlroy has won 18 times on the PGA Tour, and 14 times on the European Tour – along with the four majors the 31-year-old has to his name.

A four-time runner up in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy will be keen to end a run of more than 14 months without a win.

One's to watch: Lee Westwood

One to watch: Lee Westwood is the defending champion

Lee Westwood

A mainstay on tour for more than 25 years, all eyes will be on the Englishman to see if he can replicate his heroics of last year when he took the title by two strokes.

Another former world number one, last year’s success in the UAE marked his 25th on the European tour in what has been an incredible career.

An illusive major still lies on the hit-list, but back-to-back success in Abu Dhabi would be the perfect platform for his 2021 season.

Tommy Fleetwood

Looking for victory: Tommy Fleetwood has a good record in Abu Dhabi

Tommy Fleetwood

Tommy Fleetwood is a fan of Abu Dhabi.

Two wins, and a second place in the last four years are testament to that.

Ever popular on tour, a Fleetwood win is something welcomed in all corners, but he has built a special following in this part of the world.

Currently sat at number 17 in the world, Fleetwood has five wins on the European Tour including those 2017 and 2018 wins in Abu Dhabi and will be keen to taste success for the first time since November 2019.

Hot prospect:

Hot prospect: Ahmad Skaik Abu Dhabi’s number one

Ahmad Skaik

The Emirates’ Number One golfer Ahmad Skaik will compete having received the UAE National Amateur invite on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

The 23-year-old Emirati has gone from strength to strength following his European Tour debut at last year’s Championship, winning the 2020 UAE Presidents Cup in impressive style last February before clinching two Men’s Open titles to finish as runner-up in the EGF Order of Merit rankings.

For more information on the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship click HERE.

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India is on the path to reclaim its title as the world’s fastest-growing major economy

Two years after losing the coveted title, India may soon reclaim its spot as the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

The Indian economy will grow at 9.7% in 2021, which will be faster than all of the world’s major economies, according to London-based data and analytics firm GlobalData. This would be a sharp recovery from the technical recession that the country is currently facing.

GlobalData’s optimistic estimates are based on the massive inflows of foreign direct investments into the country over the recent months, the Narendra Modi government’s over Rs20 lakh crore ($266 billion) economic stimulus package, the recent drop in Covid-19 cases in India, and the demand revival during the festive season.

The firm also believes that the recently kicked-off vaccination drive will set sectors such as transportation, hospitality, and entertainment, which were severely dented due to the pandemic, on the recovery path.

China is likely to trail India in 2021 with an 8.6% gross domestic product (GDP) growth, GlobalData said.

GlobalData

Outpacing peers.

Early signs of revival in the Indian economy are already visible, according to GlobalData.

“The easing of restrictions along with huge fiscal stimulus from the government has resulted in marginally better performance of Purchasing Managers’ Index—manufacturing and services since August 2020,” said Gargi Rao, economic research analyst at GlobalData.

The firm expects India’s industrial sector to grow in the first quarter of 2021 with capital and construction goods output set to increase as economic activity picks pace. It also pointed out that Indian “states have equally performed well in increasing domestic demand thereby increasing GST (goods and services tax) collections, which is a major catalyst for reviving economic growth numbers.” What could further aid the economic growth is the revival in global demand, which can lead to more exports from India.

This would all combine to fuel a V-shaped economic recovery for India in the current year, putting behind a difficult 2020.


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Author: Prathamesh Mulye

Dramatic drop in Saudi executions after laws changed in 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia, for years one of the world’s most prolific executioners, dramatically reduced the number of people put to death last year, following changes halting executions for non-violent drug-related crimes, according to the government’s tally and independent observers.

The Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission said Monday it documented 27 executions in 2020. That’s compared to an all-time high of 184 executions the year before as documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The change represents an 85% reduction in the number of people put to death last year, compared to 2019.

“The sharp decrease was brought about in part by a moratorium on death penalties for drug-related offenses,” the Saudi rights commission said.

When asked by The Associated Press, the commission said the new law ordering a stop to such executions came into effect sometime last year. The new directive for judges does not appear to have been published publicly and it was not immediately clear whether the law was changed by royal decree, as is typically the case.

The AP previously reported that Saudi Arabia last year also ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors and ordered judges to end the controversial practice of public flogging, replacing it with jail time, fines or community service.

The force behind these changes is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has the backing of his father, King Salman. In an effort to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and revamp the economy, the prince has spearheaded a range of reforms curtailing the power of ultraconservative Wahhabis, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam that many Saudis still practice.

For years, the kingdom’s high rate of executions was in large part due to the number of people executed for non-lethal offenses, which judges had wide discretion to rule on, particularly for drug-related crimes.

Amnesty International ranked Saudi Arabia third in the world for the highest number of executions in 2019, after China where the number of executions is believed to be in the thousands, and Iran. Among those put to death that year by Saudi Arabia were 32 minority Shiites convicted on terrorism charges related to their participation in anti-government protests and clashes with police.

While some crimes, such as premeditated murder, can carry fixed punishments under the Saudi interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, drug-related offenses are considered “ta’zir,” meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam. Discretionary judgments for “ta’zir” crimes led to arbitrary rulings with contentious outcomes.

The kingdom has long been criticized by independent rights groups for applying the death sentence for non-violent crimes related to drug trafficking. Many of those executed for such crimes were often poor Yemenis or low-level drug smugglers of South Asia descent, with the latter having little to no knowledge of Arabic and unable to understand or read the charges against them in court.

Saudi Arabia carries out executions mainly by beheading and sometimes in public. The kingdom had argued that public executions and those of drug traffickers serve as a deterrent to combat crime.

“The moratorium on drug-related offenses means the kingdom is giving more non-violent criminals a second chance,” the president of the government’s Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, said. In a statement obtained by the AP, he said the change represents a sign the Saudi justice system is focusing more on rehabilitation and prevention rather than solely on punishment.

According to Human Rights Watch, there were just five executions for drug-related crimes last year in Saudi Arabia, all in January 2020.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Middle East Director Adam Coogle said the decrease in executions is a positive sign, but that the Saudi authorities must also address “the country’s horribly unfair and biased criminal justice system that hands down these sentences.”

“As authorities announce reforms, Saudi prosecutors are still seeking the death penalty for high-profile detainees for nothing more than their peaceful ideas and political affiliations,” he said. “Saudi Arabia must immediately end all executions and death sentences for non-violent crimes.”

___

Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ayaelb


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The stock market vs. the hunger index: The painful display of India’s inequality during the pandemic

One of the world’s top 10 richest men is Indian, but nearly a fourth of the world’s poorest people live in India. And Covid-19 only made this paradox worse.

“The pandemic has reinforced some of the most latent inequalities in India, both socially and economically,” says Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. And to map this inequality, she says, one need only look at who has gained.

In 2020, the cumulative wealth of 828 Indians on the Hurun India Rich List stood at $821 billion (Rs60.15 lakh crore), up by $140 billion from a year ago. A large part of this increase was thanks to one man and one company—Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries (RIL).

Ambani’s RIL raised $26.4 billion in deals with Facebook, Google, and several other investors, during the peak of the pandemic-related lockdowns. These deals happened in a climate of economic turbulence in India, which reported a 23.9% degrowth in the quarter ending June 2020, the first GDP decline in four decades.

Mass layoffs were announced at several companies in India, and where the staff was retained, companies reduced their remuneration. Even RIL had announced pay cuts of up to 50% for its staff in April 2020, which it later rolled back. While unemployment rates recovered a little on the back of the Indian government unlocking the economy in June, it hit 10% again in December 2020, the highest in the past six months, according to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The Mumbai-based think tank’s data on unemployment are collected from surveying 174,405 households over blocks of four months. Official Indian government data have not yet been released.

The layoffs and pay cuts clipped the dreams of India’s booming middle-class, though even the middle-classes suffered unequally. “We use the term middle-class broadly, but every sector was impacted differently. Most industries reduced the number of workers, but, for instance, those in the financial services sector continued to do well,” Ghosh says. Even in the finance industry, it was the highly skilled, consultant-level executive who thrived, and not employees of financial institutions or bottom-of-the-pyramid workers.

And once the middle-classes suffer, so does India’s consumer sentiment. According to the Reserve Bank of India, consumer sentiment was at an all-time low in September 2020, just before India’s festive season.

This, despite a booming stock market, which has been breaking all records and reaching new highs.

But the stock market seems to be operating in another unequal silo, given the number of Indians on the verge of extreme poverty.

The poor become poorer

When the Indian government announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020, millions of migrant workers began an arduous journey back home—on foot. What was essentially a disease brought into the country by those who could afford to travel abroad left daily wage earners scrambling for basic survival.

“The sudden lockdowns were almost criminal. The government created a humanitarian crisis in trying to deal with the healthcare crisis,” says Reetika Khera, associate professor of economics at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. “A huge population works in the unorganised sector,” she says, and without any social security, they are bound to slip through the cracks.

The last official data for India’s poor were released in 2011-12 and estimated that 21.9% of the population (pdf) lived under the poverty line. While India has made considerable progress in bringing a sizable population out of poverty, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to undo all of that success.

A United Nations Development Programme study, published on Dec. 2, 2020 (pdf), predicts that 40 million people across the world will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030. In the “high impact” or worst-case scenario, UNDP expects this number to be as high as 250 million.

This scenario is likely going to impact India the worst, given that nearly half of the Indian population, including those recently brought out of poverty, are quite vulnerable. “As the share of households below the poverty line has fallen (sharply) to 22%, the majority of India is no longer poor,” the World Bank noted in its July 2020 India Development Update (pdf). “Instead, half of India is vulnerable—these are households that have recently escaped poverty with consumption levels that are precariously close to the poverty line and remain vulnerable to the risk of slipping back,” it observed.

Ghosh, the economist, says a large part of this increase in inequality is not an act of god but policy-driven. She also warns that this vulnerability is made particularly worse because of India’s social ecosystem. “Economic inequality in India is even more damaging because of its combination with social inequality. There’s a triple-whammy of religion-, caste-, and gender-based disenfranchisement, which is why we have some of the highest number of people on the verge of destitution,” she says. “Even a slight economic change can be devastating in such populations, and push them to starve to death.”

In 2020, for instance, India ranked 94th in the 107-country Global Hunger Index, a peer-reviewed annual report brought out by German private aid organisation Welthungerhilfe. Countries like Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Nepal, smaller economies with systemic inequalities, ranked higher than India.

In this scenario, the smallest loss of income could prove devastating for several Indian households.

The other problem lies with mapping levels of income, and thus poverty, itself. Because India lacks consistent and high-quality household survey data from official sources, calculating the Gini coefficient, an index to measure income inequality, is tricky. The last available calculation of India’s Gini coefficient is based on the government’s investment and debt data from 2012.

But one way to map this inequality besides looking at the lower end of the pyramid is to look at the wealth accumulated by corporate India.

“When we talk about inequality, we tend to look at those left behind, which is important. But inequality is equally related to the fact that some people are accumulating humongous wealth,” says Khera.

…and the rich become richer

Ghosh argues that not only are some people becoming worse off, there are several others who are raking it in irrespective of the pandemic. “People look at the stock market booming and say it has no relation to the real economy. But that’s not completely true, some of these are companies (like telecom and e-commerce) that have benefited from a part of the organised economy,” she says.

In September 2020, Khera and her research partner Meghna Yadav had analysed top executive salaries at 40 of India’s largest listed companies. They then compared it to the median wages in those companies and drew out a grim picture of wealth saturation at the top.

In the worst scenario, Pawan Munjal, chairman, managing director, and CEO of Hero MotoCorp, earned 752 times more than the median salary at his company during the financial year 2019-2020. The best pay-ratio stood at 1:39 for carmaker Maruti Suzuki.

This research did not include Ambani, nor his company, because the RIL’s annual report did not include these data, Quartz had reported.

Both Khera and Ghosh agree that a wealth tax, which the Indian government scrapped in 2016-17, should be reintroduced, even if as a one-off, solidarity measure. “Companies lobbied the government for tax sops and relief through the years. These same companies have been increasing remuneration at the top levels,” Khera argues. “A wealth tax will help the government generate resources that can help deal with, say, the stagnation that currently exists in the budgets for social welfare programmes,” she says.

For instance, during the budget announcement of 2020, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced a reduction of 13% in India’s rural employment guarantee programme, largely to curb the government’s spending to control the fiscal deficit.

“A solidarity tax is not meant to make everyone less rich, but to get the extremely rich so contribute to that the government can offer social security to vulnerable citizens,” Ghosh says.


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Author: Manavi Kapur

India Kicks Off World’s Largest COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign

NEW DELHI (AP) — India started inoculating health workers Saturday in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign, joining the ranks of wealthier nations where the effort is already well underway.

India is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and has one of the biggest immunization programs. But there is no playbook for the enormity of the current challenge.

Indian authorities hope to give shots to 300 million people, roughly the population of the U.S and several times more than its existing program, which targets 26 million infants. The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers, to be followed by 270 million people who are either over 50 or have illnesses that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.

For workers who have pulled India’s battered health care system through the pandemic, the vaccinations offered confidence that life can start returning to normal. Many burst with pride.

“I am happy to get an India-made vaccine and that we do not have to depend on others for it,” said Gita Devi, a nurse who was one of the first to get a shot. Devi has treated patients throughout the pandemic in a hospital in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state in India’s heartland.

A health worker prepares to administer COVID-19 vaccine to a doctor at a government Hospital in Jammu, India, Saturday, Jan.1



A health worker prepares to administer COVID-19 vaccine to a doctor at a government Hospital in Jammu, India, Saturday, Jan.16, 2021. India started inoculating health workers Saturday in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign, joining the ranks of wealthier nations where the effort is already well underway.(AP Photo/Channi Anand)

The first dose was administered to a sanitation worker at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in the capital, New Delhi, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi kick-started the campaign with a nationally televised speech.

“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said. He implored citizens to keep their guard up and not to believe any “rumors about the safety of the vaccines.”

It was not clear whether Modi, 70, had received the vaccine himself as other world leaders have in an effort to demonstrate the shot’s safety. His government has said politicians will not be considered a priority group in the first phase of the rollout.

Health officials haven’t specified what percentage of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people will be targeted by the campaign. But experts say it will almost certainly be the largest such drive globally.

The sheer scale has its obstacles and some early snags were identified. For instance, there were delays in uploading the details of health care workers receiving the shots to a digital platform that India is using to track vaccines, the Health Ministry said.

Shots were given to at least 165,714 people on Saturday, Dr. Manohar Agnani, a Health Ministry official, said at an evening briefing. The ministry had said that it was aiming to inoculate 100 people in each of the 3,006 vaccination centers across the country.

News cameras captured the injections in hundreds of hospitals, underscoring the hope that getting people vaccinated is the first step to recovering from the pandemic that has devastated the lives of so many Indians and bruised the country’s economy. India is second only to the U.S. in the number of confirmed cases, with more than 10.5 million. The country ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the U.S. and Brazil, with over 152,000.

India on Jan. 4 approved emergency use of two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots to different Indian cities last week.

But doubts over the effectiveness of the homegrown vaccine have created a hurdle for the ambitious plan. Health experts worry that the government’s approval of the Bharat Biotech vaccine — without concrete data showing its efficacy — could amplify vaccine hesitancy. At least one state health minister has opposed its use.

“In a hurry to be populist, the government (is) taking decisions that might not be in the best interest of the common man,” said Dr. S.P. Kalantri, the director of a rural hospital in Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state. Kalantri said the regulatory approval was hasty and not backed by science.

In New Delhi, doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, one of the largest in the city, demanded they be administered the AstraZeneca vaccine instead of the one developed by Bharat Biotech. A doctors union at the hospital said many of its members were a “bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial” for the native vaccine.

“Right now, we don’t have the option to choose between the vaccines,” said Dr. Nirmalaya Mohapatra, vice president of the hospital’s Resident Doctors Association.

The Health Ministry has bristled at the criticism. It says the vaccines are safe and that health workers will have no choice in deciding which vaccine they get.

Against the backdrop of the rising global COVID-19 death toll — it topped 2 million on Friday — the clock is ticking to vaccinate as many people as possible. But the campaign has been uneven.

In wealthy countries including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, millions of citizens have already been given some measure of protection by vaccines developed with revolutionary speed and quickly authorized for use.

But elsewhere, immunization drives have barely gotten off the ground. Many experts are predicting another year of loss and hardship in places like Iran, India, Mexico and Brazil, which together account for about a quarter of the world’s COVID-19 deaths.

More than 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford.

While the majority of the COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been snapped up by wealthy countries, COVAX, a U.N.-backed project to supply shots to developing parts of the world, has found itself short of vaccines, money and logistical help.

As a result, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, warned this week that it is highly unlikely that herd immunity — which would require at least 70% of the globe to be vaccinated — will be achieved this year.

“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” she said.

Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India, contributed to this report.


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China finally lets WHO into Wuhan to probe COVID-19 origins

Wuhan, China — More than a year after the world’s first known coronavirus cases appeared here, a World Health Organization team of experts finally landed in Wuhan on Thursday to try to trace the origin of the deadly virus. But the highly-anticipated visit is now being met with international skepticism because of how long the Chinese government waited to give access to the WHO. 

The bottom line, scientists say, is that a definitive explanation of COVID’s jump from wild animal to humans may be months, if not years, away.  

With SARS in 2003, it took scientists at least four years to conclude that coronavirus jumped into the human population from bats in China’s southwest Yunnan province. 

With the new coronavirus, there’s no guarantee the world will ever know. But that’s the mission for the WHO now in Wuhan. The team flew in via Singapore, with 13 experts from 10 countries, including the U.S., United Kingdom, Russia and Vietnam. 

APTOPIX Virus Outbreak China Investigators
A worker in a protective suit directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team upon their arrival at the airport in Wuhan, China, January 14, 2021.

Ng Han Guan/AP


CBS News was waiting at Wuhan’s Tianhe airport when they arrived, but the scientists were kept quarantined from the public the entire time — escorted by PPE-wearing Chinese officials down an elevator, through a bubble-barrier corridor then outside onto a bus that took them to their quarantine accommodation.

They will remain there for at least the next two weeks – par for the course for anyone traveling into China from abroad under current anti-virus measures.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China would “support and offer convenience for the WHO experts’ joint international investigation” in the country, adding that even during their quarantine, “Chinese scientists and medical experts will engage in deep communications” with the team via video conferencing.  

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A member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic boards a bus following their arrival at a cordoned-off section of the airport in Wuhan, China, January 14, 2021.

NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty


The WHO said Thursday that the team would start its work immediately to determine how Wuhan became the world’s first COVID-19 epicenter.

That’s expected to include interviews with people at area hospitals, and from the Southwest China Wholesale Seafood Market, which, at one point was believed to be ground-zero for the virus’ jump from animals into humans. CBS News was at the shuttered market one year ago, almost to the day, as security forces kept journalists at bay and workers in hazmat suits cleaned and disinfected the sprawling site. (See our January 20, 2020 report below.)


Spread of deadly virus in China a concern

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Last week, explaining the delay in admitting the WHO team, China’s Foreign Ministry called tracing the origin of the disease “incredibly complicated,” and said that, “to ensure the work of the international expert team in China goes smoothly,” it needed to complete unspecified “procedures and make relevant arrangements.”

China’s government has been on a mission to shift blame for the pandemic to other countries, and scientists say they cannot rule out the possibility that it emerged elsewhere. But the bar is high for the world to believe anything other than COVID-19 came out of China. 

For its own citizens, the official Chinese narrative is that the Communist Party beat the coronavirus, and the government often points to the fact that the virus is still raging in many other places around the world. 


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Poor nations need more cash to adapt to climate change – U.N.

By Nina Chestney

LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Half of the world’s climate change financing should go to helping poorer nations adapt to the effects of global warming, such as droughts, rising seas and floods, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Thursday.

Extreme weather last year such as torrential rains in Africa, record heat waves and warmer temperatures on tropical oceans is consistent with climate change, scientists say.

Last year was one of the warmest on record and as impacts intensify, governments around the world must adapt better or face serious costs, damages and losses, the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2020 said.

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to curb warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5C, this century.

Under the pact, governments also agreed to implement adaptation measures such as flood defences, greener homes and drought-resilient crops, with financial aid for poorer nations.

“As the U.N. Secretary-General has said, we need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

“This will allow a huge step up in adaptation – in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions.”

The UNEP annual report on progress towards adaptation revealed that 72% of countries have adopted at least one national-level adaptation planning instrument.

However, huge financing gaps remain to help developing countries adapt to the worst effects.

More progress is also needed bringing adaptation projects to the stage where they bring real protection.

International finance for adaptation is slowly rising from $30 billion, or 5% of tracked climate funds, annually.

But adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at $70 billion per year, the report said. This is expected to reach $140-300 billion in 2030 and $280-500 billion in 2050.

According to the report, cutting greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the impacts and costs of climate change. Achieving the 2C target could limit losses in annual growth to up to 1.6%, compared to 2.2% for a 3C trajectory.

The Global Commission on Adaptation, launched in 2018 by the United Nations, in 2019 estimated that a $1.8 trillion investment in adaptation measures from 2020 to 2030 would bring a return of $7.1 trillion in cost-saving and other benefits by 2030. (Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)


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