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Iran health ministry- The New Indian Express

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By AFP

TEHRAN: More than half of Iran’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the health ministry said on Saturday, as infection and death rates in the country have started to drop. More than 44.2 million of Iran’s 83 million population have received two coronavirus vaccine doses since the country began its inoculation campaign in February, according to ministry figures.

Another 12.2 million people have received a single vaccine dose. The Islamic republic uses a number of vaccines, including the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab. Iran is battling the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East. It has officially recorded over six million infections and almost 129,000 deaths.

Health authorities acknowledge the official figures underestimate the country’s real toll. But its caseload has begun to decline, after Iran registered record numbers of infections and deaths in August. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ordered Saturday the lifting of a year-long night-time driving ban on private vehicles in urban areas.

On Thursday, the country reopened football stadiums to spectators at 30 percent capacity on a trial basis, local media said.

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AIIMS Chief makes worrying statement on vaccine efficacy

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With over 30 mutations, the new COVID-19 variant called Omicron has already been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Now, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Dr Randeep Guleria has noted a worrying possibility of the new variant.

As per Dr Guleria, the Omicron variant’s exceptionally high number of mutations in the spike protein means that the strain can potentially develop an ‘immune-escape mechanism’. Therefore, the AIIMS chief opines, the efficacy of vaccines against the varant will need be be critically examined.

The spike protein if the part of the virus that enabled it to penetrate a host cell and also is being the strain’s transmissibility and infectiousness. Talking to news agency PTI, Dr Guleria said, “The new variant of coronavirus reportedly has got more than 30 mutations at the spike protein region and therefore has the potential of developing immune-escape mechanisms. As most vaccines (work by) forming antibodies against the spike protein, so many mutations at the spike protein region may lead to a decreased efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.”

He said that the efficacy of all vaccines, including those currently being administered in India, needs to be “critically” evaluated. He further added that data on the Omicron variant’s transmissibility, virulence and immune-escape will determine the future course of action.

The new variant is being closely monitored by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG). The Omicron variant has not yet been detected in India, as per officials.

The AIIMS chief stressed on the need to stay vigilant as well as ensuring aggressive surveillance for international travel. He was quoted as saying, “Also, we must ask everyone to religiously follow COVID-appropriate behavior and not let their guards down. Also, it has to be ensured that people get both the doses of vaccine and those who have not yet taken the jab are encouraged to come forward to take it.”

First reported from South Africa and Botswana, the Omicron COVID-19 variant has since been detected in Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, Germany, Italy and Netherlands. After being first reported on November 24, the variant was desinated by the WHO as a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC) on Friday, November 26.

Meanwhile, the central government urged all states and UTs in India to thorough screening and test all international travelers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.

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Assam reports one fresh death, 133 persons test positive- The New Indian Express

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By PTI

GUWAHATI: Assam reported one death due to COVID-19 on Sunday, while 133 more persons tested positive, pushing the total number of infections to 6,16,568, the National Health Mission (NHM) said. With one person in Kamrup district losing his life, the total number of deaths rose to 6,092 persons.

The NHM said 1,347 more COVID-19 patients have died till now, but the government’s Death Audit Board has not included them in the tally of deaths caused by COVID-19 as they had other ailments too.

With detection of 133 patients against testing of 20,870 samples on Sunday, Assam reported a positivity rate of 0.64 per cent, the NHM’s daily bulletin said. The state had reported 123 cases on Saturday against testing of 27,202 samples.

At present, the state has a total of 1,344 active cases and they are being treated at different hospitals and Covid Care Centres (CCCs) along with some being in home isolation.

Of the new cases, the highest 110 were detected in Kamrup Metropolitan, followed by seven in Jorhat, four in Nagaon and three in Dibrugarh. During the day, the state reported more recoveries than the number of new infections at 161, the NHM said. In Assam, 6,07,785 COVID-19 patients have so far recovered.

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High Alert For Schools, Colleges Over Possible 3rd Wave

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While Odisha is witnessing a rise in COVID cases at different residential schools and institutions, the emergence of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 has triggered scare among students below 18 years old.

The new COVID variant is dubbed as ‘a variant of concern’ by WHO. As stated by health experts, Omicron is more lethal than the Delta variant and the new mutated variant may even infect individuals who have received double dose vaccines.  

Amid the rising fear over Omicron, the Odisha government has decided to intensify its preparations to tackle the situation and prevent the threats of a possible third wave. The government has decided to monitor international travellers.

The State Health Department issued a set of guidelines stating testing, quarantine and genome sequencing mandatory for those coming from outside, particularly from foreign countries. 

Odisha Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra has directed district Collectors, Chief District Medical Officers (CDMO) and Superintendents of Police to remain alert for a possible third wave of the pandemic in the State. He further directed to take immediate actions if any person shows COVID symptoms.

The Chief Secretary has also emphasised on door-to-door vaccination drive and directed to ensure that everyone adheres to the COVID guidelines released by the government. He also ordered to take the violators to task and take stern action against them.

Such directives have been issued following the surge in cases in schools and institutions which have been opened recently.  

State Health Minister Naba Kishore Das said, “We are keeping track of the new variant and monitoring international passengers from South Africa and other places. They will be tested and quarantined. They will also undergo treatment if they develop any symptom. All concerned officials have been directed to remain on high alert.”

Health Services Director Bijay Mohapatra earlier today said that the guidelines issued by the State government are as per the instructions of the Centre. 

“Community surveillance and awareness measures need to be ramped up as they will play a crucial role in tracking down contacts of positive cases. Several measures are still continuing across the State as per protocol to check the spread of the Covid-19,” Mohapatra added.

3rd Wave Scare Looms Over Schools, Institutions

While the scare of a possible third wave is looming over schools across the State, the number of positivity has witnessed a spike recently; especially in the residential institutions and hostels. Recently, COVID positive cases were reported from Burla VIMSAR, Saint Mary Girls High School in Sundergarh and Chamakpur government residential girls school in Karanjia among students as well as the working staff.

The positive cases ‘within campus’ have increased to 150. 

Following the detections of the cases, the campuses have been designated as mini-containment zones and parents have been barred from visiting the hostels.

While parents have expressed concerns over the rising cases in hostels and residential schools/colleges, Mass Education Minister Sameer Ranjan Dash said, “Positive cases have been reported in hostels of a few institutions and immediately those were shut down and were declared as containment zones. The district administrations are keeping vigil eyes on the events and will take action as and when needed. “

Health Expert Dr. Sarat Behera said that COVID cases are on the rise after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. “The State is witnessing a spike in daily cases of positivity. Omicron is more lethal than other variants and people must strictly follow COVID appropriate behaviour,” he said.

It is expected that children below 18 years old are at high risk during the possible third wave of the pandemic as they still remain unvaccinated. Under such circumstances, COVID positivity is increasing in schools and colleges. Health experts have expressed concerns that a minor lapse could cost large.

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