Coronavirus highlights, Jan 5: Serum, Bharat Biotech call truce after vaccine row, UK PM puts off India visit; and more

Here are the top Covid-19 developments that you need to know today.

The controversy over Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla’s ‘water’ comment about some Covid-19 vaccines has seemingly been put to rest, with the SII and Bharat Biotech jointly pledging for a smooth rollout of the antidote in the country and the world.

In a joint statement posted on their respective Twitter handles, the companies said SII CEO Poonawalla and Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna Ella communicated their combined intent to develop, manufacture and supply the Covid vaccines.

Hours after the SII and Bharat Biotech received “restricted emergency use approval” for their respective vaccines–Covishield and Covaxin–from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on Sunday, Poonwalla had in a TV interview claimed that there were three vaccines Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield in India) with proven efficacy and the rest were like “water”.

The row escalated the following day as Ella, without naming Poonawalla, hit back at the Pune-based vaccine maker in a media briefing. “We do 200 per cent honest clinical trials and yet we receive backlash. If I am wrong, tell me. Some companies have branded me like water,” Ella had said.

Poonawalla subsequently tweeted that there would be a statement clearing up miscommunication with regard to Bharat Biotech.

So, what did both vaccine makers say in the joint statement?

“Both companies respect the great work being carried out by each other and put behind us the miscommunication and misunderstanding caused during the past week. We are fully aware of the importance of vaccines for people and countries alike, we hereby communicate our joint pledge to provide global access for our COVID-19 vaccines,” Poonawalla and Dr Ella said in the statement.

While queries to both firms remained unanswered, SII and Bharat Biotech, in the statement, said the more important task in front of them is saving the lives and livelihoods of populations in India and the world. “Vaccines are a global public health good and they have the power to save lives and accelerate the return to economic normalcy at the earliest,” the statement read.

“Now that two COVID-19 vaccines have been issued EUA in India, the focus is on manufacture, supply and distribution, such that populations that need it the most receive high quality, safe and efficacious vaccines. Both our companies are fully engaged in this activity and consider it our duty to the nation and the world at large to ensure a smooth rollout of vaccines. Each of our companies continue their COVID-19 vaccines development activities as planned,” Poonawalla and Dr Ella said.

Here are the other Covid-related developments that you need to know today

On a day India’s recorded 16,375 fresh Covid cases, the lowest in over six months, the Health Ministry said it is prepared to roll out the vaccine within 10 days from date of emergency use authorisation (EUA), which was issued on January 3, but noted that the final decision lies with the government.

Addressing a press briefing, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said healthcare workers and frontline workers need not register themselves as their database has been populated on to the Co-WIN vaccine delivery management system in a bulk manner.

“Based on the feedback of dry-run, the Health Ministry is ready to introduce COVID-19 vaccine within 10 days from date of emergency use authorisation,” he said.

The Ministry also said that the government has not banned the export of Covid vaccine that has been granted restricted emergency use nod by the drug regulator.

Responding to a question during a press briefing on Tuesday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bushan said, “The Union government has not banned the export of any one of the COVID-19 vaccines and this should be absolutely clear.”

“When I say Union government, it means there are three ministries — Ministry of Health, Ministry of Commerce, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade with the Ministry of Commerce and Directorate General of Foreign Trade — which can initiate, in a hypothetical scenario, such an action.”

“But none of them have taken any such action. Therefore, our request to our media friends would be that we should be on guard when such misinformation is sought to be spread,” Bhushan said.

UK PM Boris Johnson postpones India visit due to Covid crisis

Amid the growing health crisis in his country created by the new variant of coronavirus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express his regret over not being able to visit India as planned for the Republic Day on January 26.

His call with Modi came a day after he addressed Britain in a televised address to plunge the country into a new stay-at-home lockdown as his medical chiefs warned that the National Health Service (NHS) was under threat of being overwhelmed by the rising infection rates.

Johnson has indicated that his India visit would take place during the first half of this year and before the G7 summit presided over by the UK, planned for later this year.

“The Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned,” a Downing Street spokesperson said. “In light of the national lockdown announced last night, and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, the Prime Minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus.”

20 more people in India test positive for new Covid strain

Twenty more people have tested positive for the new UK variant of SARS-CoV-2, taking the total number of such cases in the country to 58.

The new cases have been identified at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune. “The total number of cases infected with the new strain of the novel coronavirus first reported in the UK now stands at 58,” the Union Health Ministry said.

All these persons have been kept in single room isolation in designated Health Care facilities by respective state governments.

Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on, the ministry said.

With PTI inputs 

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