Karnataka is likely to face a second wave of coronavirus infection in early 2021, said a state technical advisory committee (TAC) for COVID1-9 on Wednesday. The committee also made a slew of recommendations, which include banning public celebrations ahead of the New Year and clamping night curfew during that period.
However, Karnataka health minister Sudhakar said that no decision on implementing a night curfew has been taken yet and that a meeting will be held at the government level on the TAC recommendations.
Meanwhile, the Odisha government slashed the RT-PCR test price in the state by a third to Rs 400, the lowest in the country. Also, phase-3 trials of Bharat Biotech's vaccine candidate Covaxin began in Karnataka and West Bengal on Wednesday with West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim becoming the first volunteer in the final crucial stage of trials to take a shot of the indigenously developed vaccine in Kolkata.
These developments came about on a day when UK regulatory body Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) granted emergency authorisation to Pfizer and BioNtech's anti-coronavirus candidate, becoming the first country to do so.
News agency PTI reported that world leaders, including the top leadership of the UN and vaccine developers, will address a two-day, special session of the UN General Assembly on COVID-19 this week and discuss the pandemic's impact as well as the multi-faceted, coordinated response required to address the greatest global health crisis in decades.
Active cases in India drop to 4.28 lakh
India's coronavirus caseload on Wednesday mounted to 94,99,413, with 36,604 new infections being reported in a day, while the toll climbed to 1,38,122with 501 new fatalities, said the health ministry at its morning update.
The number of people who have recuperated from the virus surged to 89,32,647, pushing the national recovery rate to 94.03 percent, while the COVID-19 case fatality rate stands at 1.45 percent, the data updated at 8 am showed.
The Union health ministry also said that India's COVID-19 active cases have significantly dropped to 4.28 lakh, the lowest after 132 days, and comprise just 4.51 percent of the total coronavirus caseload. The total active cases were 4,26,167 on 23 July.
A total of 43,062 recoveries were registered in 24 hours. The number of daily recoveries has surpassed new daily cases since the past five days, the ministry highlighted.
Of the new recovered cases, 78.35 percent are observed to be concentrated in 10 states and UTs. Maharashtra has reported the maximum number of single-day recoveries with 6,290 persons recuperating from the disease in 24 hours. A total of 6,151 people recovered in Kerala followed by 5,036 in Delhi.
The ministry further said that 77.25 percent of the new cases are from 10 states and UTs, with Kerala reported the highest daily new cases at 5,375, followed by Maharashtra with 4,930 new cases.
Further, 10 states and UTs account for 79.84 percent of the 501 fresh fatalities. Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties (95). Delhi and West Bengal follow with 86 and 52 daily deaths, respectively, it said.
Second wave in Karnataka expected in Jan-Feb, says TAC
Based on the deliberations at the 53rd meeting on 24 November, the Karnataka technical advisory committee on COVID-19 issued an advisory on Wednesday recognising the containment measures that may be required to contain a second wave in the state.
Some of the measures suggested included a ban on New Year public celebrations from 26 December to 1 January and imposing a night curfew (8 pm to 5 am) during this period.
The committee also suggested closely monitoring the seven-day average growth rate and reproduction number at the district and state level and carrying out a minimum of 1.25 lakh (1 lakh RT-PCR) tests per day till the end of February 2021.
It also recommended fortnightly RT-PCR tests for all teachers, pupils, and staff in educational institutions, Anganwadi staff keep and keeping ready by the first week of January clinical facilities at October level.
The state health minister said that a meeting on the recommendations will be held in a couple of days and a final decision will be taken after consulting the chief minister.
Other recommendations of the TAC include fines and other tough actions for mask violators, restricting mass gatherings, and putting a cap of 100 people on super-spreader events during the winter months. The cap could be 200 for political and public events, up to 50 in death ceremonies, and 20 at funerals, it said.
It also suggested the graded opening of schools from January after reviewing the situation in December.
Schools across the country were closed in March to contain the spread of COVID-19 and partially reopened in some states from 15 October. However, a few states have decided to keep them closed in view of a spike in infections.
There has been a second wave of COVID-19 in the USA, Europe, Australia, and other countries. Recently, there has been a surge in cases in Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala, and other states.
CBSE rules out online board exams, dates to be decided
In a related development, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) officials ruled out online exams and said board exams will be held in the written mode.
"No final decision has been taken regarding the dates for the conduct of board exams, and consultations with stakeholders are still in process. The exams, as and when they are conducted, will be in the written mode and not in an online mode. The exams will be conducted following all COVID-19 protocols," PTI quoted a senior CBSE official as saying.
"In case students are not able to do practicals in classes before the exams, alternatives to practical exams will have to be explored," the official added.
Union Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' is slated to hold an interaction with students, teachers, and parents on 10 December on the issue of the board and competitive examinations next year.
UNGA special session this week
On the global front, a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in Response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic is scheduled to take place on 3 and 4 December at the UN Headquarters.
According to news agency PTI, world leaders expected to address the session are Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, French president Emmanuel Macron, Nepalese prime minister KP Sharma Oli, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
US president Donald Trump is not listed as a speaker for the session and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar will address the high-level meeting.
Apart from UN leaders, the co-founders of BioNTech, the vaccine team lead at Oxford University as well as CEO of Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the Oxford vaccine in India, will address the special session virtually. Global drugmaker Pfizer and BioNTech announced their vaccine candidate is 95 percent effective.
UK gives nod to Pfizer's vaccine
Pfizer and BionTech's vaccine candidate on Wednesday also received emergency approval from the UK, with the British regulator, the MHRA claiming the jab was safe for rollout.
The UK government has formally accepted the recommendation from the MHRA and the jab will be made available across the UK, the first country to approve the vaccine, from next week.
Around 10 million doses should be available soon, with the first 8 lakh arriving in the UK in the coming days. The UK's Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) has published its advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly, and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
Elderly people in care homes and care home staff are top of the priority list, followed by over 80s and health and care staff.
The Pfizer/BioNTech formula is an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the virus causing COVID-19 to teach the body how to fight the disease and build immunity. An mRNA vaccine has never been approved for use in humans before, with people only receiving them in clinical trials so far.
With inputs from PTI