On Tuesday, Britain registered a new 24-hour high record of 53,135 new infections pushing the global total case tally to 81 million and killed more than 1.78 million. As the country battles a major spike in Covid cases by the new contagious variant, the health ministry has approved the emergency use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK. The Health Ministry said, “The government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.” However, developers of Oxford-AstraZeneca and others have said that they are still studying the impact of new Coronavirus mutant but expect that their shots will be effective against it.
Meanwhile, a European Medicines Agency top official has told media that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is “unthinkable” for now and that even a conditional approval is out of the equation. According to the official, the company has not yet submitted an application. On the other hand, the company’s Indian partner Serum Institute of India has been waiting for the UK to approve emergency use authorisation of the vaccine, to follow suit in India. Earlier reports indicated that the UK’s approval for the Oxford vaccine was scheduled for early January. SII, while waiting for approval, have already produced around 50 million dosages of the Covishield vaccine and is planning to scale it up to 100 million in March.
EXTENSION OF GUIDELINES
Given the rising Covid-19 cases in India, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) extended the guidelines for surveillance till January 31, 2021. On November 25, the Centre had released a fresh set of rules for Covid containment, where several relaxations given earlier had been withdrawn. The guidelines issued by MHA in November had permitted states to impose night curfews, limiting gatherings at social events to less than 100, punishment for not wearing masks, and even orders for local lockdowns with Centre’s consent.
In the statement on Monday, the MHA said, “While there has been a continuous decline in the active and new Covid-19 cases there is need to maintain surveillance, containment, and caution, keeping in view the surge in cases globally, and the emergence of a new variant of the virus in the United Kingdom (UK).”
The new MHA order added, “Therefore, the focused approach on surveillance, containment and strict observance of the guidelines/SOPs issued by MHA and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as envisaged in the guidelines issued on November 25, need to be enforced strictly by States and UTs.” The Ministry even stressed the necessity of states to be vigilant owing to New Year celebrations.
In a letter to all states, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said, “Strict vigil is also needed to be maintained to prevent any fresh surge in cases in the wake of upcoming New Year celebrations and ongoing winter season which are favourable for the spread of the virus. In this regard, appropriate measures may be taken by the State/UT Governments.”
Meanwhile, through a tweet, Union Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that passenger flights between India and UK would remain suspended till January 7 and will resume in a ‘strictly regulated’ manner thereafter.
Last week, the Aviation Ministry had restricted all flights between the European country and India from December 23 to December 31. On the other hand, two more UK returnees test positive for Coronavirus, taking the tally to seven in Rajasthan, while over six UK returnees have tested positive here. Thus, 20 UK returnees to India have tested Covid positive for the new mutant so far on Wednesday.