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COVID-19: What We Do and Don’t Know About India’s ‘Missing’ COVID Deaths – The Wire Science

A woman and her son walk past a graffiti on a street in Mumbai, December 1, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Hemanshi Kamani/File Photo New Delhi: How many people have actually died due to COVID-19 in India? The discourse on this topic got a fresh fillip this month – first when a scientific paper said India’s actual death toll due to the disease was 6-7x higher than what the government has officially recorded, and second when an ongoing Supreme Court case (last heard on January 19) revealed that the number of applications cleared for compensation to the kin of the dead was much higher than the official toll in some states. Meanwhile, on January 14, the Union health ministry issued a press release saying all was well with its data. Officials calculate the excess mortalit...
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Tonga Eruption Was 500-Times as Forceful as Hiroshima Nuke: NASA – The Wire Science

An eruption occurs at the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai off Tonga, January 14, 2022. Photo: Tonga Geological Services/Reuters When Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano violently erupted, sending shockwaves and tsunami across the Pacific, the blast in the small island nation was so deafening that fleeing families could only wave at their loved ones to run. “The first explosion .. .our ears were ringing and we couldn’t even hear each other, so all we do is pointing to our families to get up, get ready to run,” local journalist Marian Kupu told Reuters in one of the first eyewitness accounts to emerge from the South Pacific nation. “We evacuated and then we, all our families, were just running away from the Kolovai area, because the Kolovai ...
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Russia’s only female cosmonaut to travel to space in September – Times of India

MOSCOW: Russia's sole active female cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, is due to travel to the International Space Station in September on a Soyuz rocket, the national space agency said Thursday. Kikina, a 37-year-old engineer, will be only the fifth professional woman cosmonaut from Russia or the Soviet Union to fly to space. Last year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said "our beauty" Kikina would fly aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon as part of a cross-flights deal between Roscosmos and NASA. On Thursday, Roscosmos said that if the two countries finalise the deal, Kikina will fly to space with the Americans in August, while NASA's Francisco Rubio will travel on a Soyuz. But if the deal does not work out, she will travel to the ISS on a Soyuz rocket in September. The last Russian woman to fly ...
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COVID Fact Check: Has India Really Sequenced the Second-Highest No. of Samples? – The Wire Science

Representative photo: mujitra/Flickr, CC BY 2.0 New Delhi: India has thus far sequenced close to 1.64 lakh samples of the novel coronavirus. At a press conference in New Delhi on January 20, National COVID Task Force chairman Vinod K. Paul shared this figure and claimed it was a big achievement because India had sequenced the world’s second-highest number of samples containing this virus. Is this true? A look at GISAID, a global repository of SARS-CoV-2 genome data, indicates that with 1.64 lakh samples sequenced, India is actually at the 10th position. The US, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Canada, France, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland have sequenced more samples than India, in that order. In addition, the fraction of positive samples that are being sequenced is...
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By Lauding Vaccines, What Is India’s COVID Team Sweeping Under the Rug? – The Wire Science

A patient in an oxygen mask sits outside Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital in New Delhi, April 22, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi Bengaluru: On January 20, at the weekly press conference about India’s COVID-19 response, senior members of this effort lauded vaccines for the big difference between the number of deaths due to the disease between the second and the ongoing third waves. These members included health ministry secretary Rajesh Bhushan, NITI Aayog member and vaccination drive chief Vinod K. Paul, and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) director-general Balram Bhargava. According to a presentation bearing the Union health ministry insignia and shown at the press conference, the number of daily COVID-19 cases being reported now is compara...
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New Draft NCR Regional Plan Dilutes Protection for Green Cover in the Aravalli – The Wire Science

A view of the Aravalli hills in Dekkan, Rajasthan. Photo: Nataraja/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5 The NCR regional plan guides government policy in ‘developing’ India’s NCR region. A new draft plan for the region will soon replace the old one – and could ease construction activities and mining in the hills. Several environmentalists and NGOs have written to the NCR Planning Board asking to retain existing protections in the draft. Kochi: A new draft of a regional plan that regulates development in the National Capital Region (NCR) could open up the Aravalli hill range to construction activities. This could be disastrous for the Aravalli, which supports a diverse array of plants and animals and is integral to the NCR ecosphere. The NCR Regional Plan provides r...
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In December 2021, Two People Died of Bird Flu in China: Reports – The Wire Science

Representative photo: Laura Gil Martinez (IAEA)/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 New Delhi: Two people died of bird flu in mainland China – where two strains of the avian influenza virus infected as many as nine people in late December 2021, according to reports. Five infections were caused by the H5N6 strain of the virus and all the patients developed severe illness. Two of them have since died while two more are in critical condition and another in serious condition, according to Forbes. The other strain, H9N2, has infected four people – also in mainland China. All the patients are minors and have mild illnesses, according to Outbreak News Today. Forbes reported that human infections of the H5N6 strain are extremely rare and that the human immune system doesn’t kno...
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Why Is Gujarat’s Official COVID Toll 9x Lower Than Number of Compensation Claims? – The Wire Science

Representative image of a cremation in progress at Ahmedabad, amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases. Photo: PTI Bengaluru: In a strange turn of events, the Gujarat state government informed the Supreme Court on January 16 that it has approved 68,370 claims for ex gratia for COVID-19 victims – while the state’s official cumulative death toll was only 10,094 until then. According to Times of India, the state wrote in its compliance report for the apex court that it had received 89,633 applications in all. The state offers a sum of Rs 50,000 to the family of every individual who succumbed to the disease. The newspaper quoted unnamed officials in the state’s health department saying the state followed the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines: that the...
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Coronavirus: India Records 3.17 Lakh New Cases, Highest in 249 Days – The Wire Science

New Delhi: India logged 3,17,532 new coronavirus infections, the highest in 249 days, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases to 3,82,18,773, which includes 9,287 cases of the omicron variant, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Thursday. The active cases rose to 19,24,051, the highest in 234 days, while the death toll climbed to 4,87,693 with 491 fresh fatalities, the data updated at 8 am stated. “There has been a 3.63% increase in omicron cases since Wednesday,” the ministry said. Experts said it is not possible to undertake genome sequencing of each and every sample but stressed that the current wave is largely being driven by omicron. “The active cases comprise 5.03% of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate h...
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In the Sundarban, Climate Change Has an Unlikely Effect – On Child Trafficking – The Wire Science

Afza walks with her two children near their home, a shared living space in Basanti block that frequently floods to knee-deep heights. Photo: Ritwika Mitra/The Fuller Project Cyclone Aila transformed a mainly self-sufficient agricultural society in the Sundarban into a market-based one, but without the tools needed to survive the change. This transformation encapsulates how India’s Sundarban region is changing, and is being forced to change, due to the overwhelming effects of climate change. One particular effect has been an uptick in child trafficking, which experts say is the result of the state’s focus on flagship projects over the needs of the people. Published in partnership with The Fuller Project, a global nonprofit newsroom reporting on issu...
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Centre’s Expert Panel Recommends Regular Market Approval for Covishield, Covaxin – The Wire Science

Covaxin and Covishield ‘equally’. Photos: bharatbiotech.com/Reuters/PTI New Delhi: An expert panel of India’s central drug authority on Wednesday recommended granting regular market approval to COVID-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin, which are currently only authorised for emergency use in the country, subject to certain conditions, official sources said. Pharma companies Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech had submitted applications to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) seeking regular market authorisation for their respective COVID-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin. Prakash Kumar Singh, director (government and regulatory affairs) at SII, had submitted an application to the DCGI on October 25 on this matter. The DCGI had sought m...
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Airlines Scramble to Rejig Schedules Amid US 5G Rollout Concerns – The Wire Science

Emirates Airline Boeing 777-300ER planes. Representative image. Photo: Reuters/Christopher Pike The US Federal Aviation Administration warned that potential 5G interference could affect height readings that play a key role in bad-weather landings on some jets. Despite an announcement by AT&T and Verizon that they would pause the 5G rollout near airports, several airlines still cancelled flights or switched aircraft models. Industry sources said Boeing had issued technical advisories noting potential interference. Major international airlines rushed to rejig or cancel flights to the US ahead of a 5G wireless rollout on Wednesday that has triggered safety concerns, despite two wireless carriers saying they will delay parts of the deployment. The Federal Avia...
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Centre Has Spent Rs 116 Crore So Far To Help Develop COVID Vaccines: RTI Reply – The Wire Science

A health worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a beneficiary in a Modi mask, September 17, 2021. Photo: PTI The Government of India has thus far spent nearly Rs 116 crore to develop COVID-19 vaccines in the country, through its ‘Mission COVID Suraksha’. In April 2021, the government had allocated Rs 900 crore to develop COVID-19 vaccines, “to be implemented” by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a public-sector undertaking under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). The department has thus far transferred Rs 680 crore to BIRAC. It sent Rs 180 crore on January 12, 2021, and Rs 500 crore on September 21, 2021. These numbers were received in reply to an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that Commodore Lok...
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Ministry’s Draft Changes To Act Undermine How India Protects Its Wildlife – The Wire Science

Elephants in Bannerghatta National Partk. Photo: Nashad Abdu/Unsplash India enacted the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972 as its principal law to protect and conserve the country’s wildlife. In December 2021, the Union environment ministry proposed amendments to the Act that experts are worried could weaken its protective provisions. Prominent changes include opening up numerous species to be labelled ‘vermin’, allowing the sale of live elephants and disempowering state wildlife boards. Kochi: India enacted its Wild Life (Protection) Act, or WLPA, 50 years ago as its principal law to protect and conserve its wildlife. In December 2021, the Union environment ministry announced a plan to amend this Act in ways “welcome” and “positive” as well as in others that e...
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India Records 2.82 Lakh COVID-19 Cases, Highest in Over Seven Months – The Wire Science

A healthcare worker collects a COVID-19 test swab sample from a woman at a railway station in New Delhi, January 5, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi New Delhi: With 2,82,970 new coronavirus infections being reported in a day, India’s total tally of COVID-19 cases rose to 3,79,01,241, which includes 8,961 cases of the omicron variant, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Wednesday. The active cases have increased to 18,31,000, the highest in 232 days. The active cases stood at 18,95,520 on May 31 last year. “The death toll has climbed to 4,87,202 with 441 fresh fatalities,” the data updated at 8 am stated. “There has been an 0.79% increase in cases of the omicron variant since Tuesday,” the ministry said. Experts said it is not possible to u...
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New Moral Issues: What Happens When Someone Dies in Space? – The Wire Science

Representative photo: NASA Commercial spaceflight companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are now offering exclusive opportunities for celebrities and civilians to travel to space. Traditionally, astronauts have been subject to rigorous training and medical scrutiny before going to space, and the risk of death from natural causes was considered remote. But in this new era of space tourism, it appears medical screening may not be carried out, and only minimal pre-flight training provided. With a wide variety of people now going to space, and the prospect in the coming years of humans establishing bases on the Moon and beyond, it raises an important question: what happens if someone dies in space? Under international space law, individual countries a...