Covid-19: Singapore migrant workers infections were three times higher


Covid-19: Singapore migrant workers infections were three times higher

Out of Singapore’s 58,341 total positive PCR tests to date, 93% have been among that migrant worker community.

New data shows that 152,000 foreign workers – 47 per cent – have been infected.

In comparison, it is estimated less than 11 per cent of London’s population have been infected since the pandemic began, the BBC reported.

Without counting the migrant workers, fewer than 4,000 people have tested positive in Singapore.

The men, the majority of whom live in large dormitories where several men share a room amid cramped facilities, have essentially been quarantined from the rest of the population since cases exploded in April.

Over the past months, infections in both the general population and the migrant dormitories have dropped to almost zero and authorities have just announced a further easing of restrictions for the general population.

But Singapore’s foreign workers – typically low-wage migrant labourers from South Asia who largely work in the construction and manufacturing sectors – still face restrictions on their freedom of movement which will only be gradually lifted next year.

“There is no justification for Singapore to treat migrant workers like prisoners,” Alex Au of the charity Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said. “Many have been locked in for eight months.”

The new figure is a combination of the normal PCR coronavirus tests – which check whether a person currently has the virus – and a separate drive of serology tests which trace whether a person has had it at in the past.

Around 54,500 workers have tested positive in the PCR test while another 98,000 were found via the serology test. The previous number had been public before, while the latter was released only on Monday.

Singapore’s Health Ministry said that by August, the entire worker population had been tested at least once, with either of the two types of tests.

The ministry said anyone who tested positive was isolated including those that were found to only have carried the virus in the past. Authorities also said they provided the workers with medical care and assistance.

The combined 152,000 cases among the foreign workers make up almost half of the 323,000 workers living in dormitories across the island state.

But with some 65,000 workers’ serology tests still pending, the percentage might still go up.

“These new figures don’t surprise us,” Mr Au said. “During the middle of the year, workers who tested positive were telling us that they were told to stay in their rooms and not taken into isolation. They remained in contact with their room-mates.”

“But this is history,” Mr Au said. “We’re more concerned that Singapore continues to treat the workers as prisoners even though the same statement by the ministry says that ‘since October, no new cases were detected in the dormitories on many days’.”

He argues that since the active infection rate is virtually zero and workers are tested regularly every two weeks, there is no reason to place such hard restrictions on them.

The country’s first coronavirus cases were were registered in January but a meticulous contact tracing programme managed to keep the infections in check initially.

But when the virus began spreading among migrant workers, authorities struggled to trace and isolate all of the infected and numbers began to skyrocket in that community.

Out of Singapore’s 58,341 total positive PCR tests to date, 93% have been among that migrant worker community.

In response to the high infection rate, many of the dorms – often holding thousands of workers – were placed under quarantine in April, essentially locking the workers inside.




France’s Covid cases up by 11,532; deaths top 59,000 as lockdown ends


France’s Covid cases up by 11,532; deaths top 59,000 as lockdown ends

As the virus circulates faster than expected, the government introduces a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., an hour earlier than planned.

France reported on Tuesday 11,532 new Covid-19 infections within 24 hours, and 790 new deaths as the government relaxed restrictive rules ahead of year-end festivities, health authorities data showed.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, France has witnessed 2,391,447 people infected with the novel coronavirus, as well as 59,072 fatalities, Xinhua news agency reported.

A total of 307 patients in hospitals had succumbed to the flu-like disease in one day, down from 371 reported on Monday, while 483 fatalities were reported in nursing homes in the same period.

Hospital admissions fell by 241 to 25,240, while 2,881 positive cases were in intensive care units, 25 fewer than Monday’s figure.

The nationwide confinement in force since late October ended on Tuesday, allowing people to move freely and travel without restriction in the daytime.

As the virus circulates faster than expected, the government introduces a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., an hour earlier than planned. The nighttime ban on people’s movement would be lifted on December 24 but not for New Year’s Eve.

Initially scheduled to reopen on December 15, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, museums, circuses, zoos and casinos have to wait three more weeks as the number of daily COVID-19 cases plateaued at a high level, fuelling fears of eventual virus resurgence, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

“There was no other alternative, otherwise I would not have taken this decision,” Castex told local broadcaster Europe1 early Tuesday.




World Bank approves Rs. 1036 crore worth ‘Chirag Project’ worth for increasing the income of farmers income


World Bank approves Rs. 1036 crore worth ‘Chirag Project’ worth for increasing the income of farmers income

On Chief Minister’s initiative, Project Chirag gets approval from World Bank

13 development blocks of seven districts in Bastar Division to get benefitted

Gauthans to be made the focal point for implementation of this project

 As a result of Chief Minister Mr. Bhupesh Baghel’s initiative and Agriculture Minister Mr. Ravindra Choubey’s efforts, the ambitious six-year project ‘Chiraag’ has been approved by World Bank, Washington DC (US). Agriculture Development, improving nutritional value of crops and to increase the income of tribal farmers in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh are the main objectives of this project worth Rs 1036 crore. 

Chiraag Project would be implemented in 13 development blocks of seven district in Bastar Division namely Bastar, Bakavand, Baderajpur, Maakdi, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Katekalyan, Sukma, Chhindgarh, Bhairamgarh, Bhopalpatnam, Charama and Narharpur, and 1000 villages of Mungeli Block in Mungeli district. Under this project, advanced agricultural practices would be promoted as per the climatic conditions of the region, nutritional value of crops would be improved, value addition to agriculture produce to be encouraged so that farmers may earn maximum profit. 

Besides integrated agriculture, land and water conservation, agriculture and horticulture development, improved fisheries and animal husbandry, and milk production, Farmers Producer Organization (FPO) would conduct various activities to improve income of farmers by increasing the value of farmers' produce under the project. Gauthan will be considered as the focal point for implementation of this project. Keeping in view the constraints and difficulties faced in the agriculture sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the objective of income growth and employment generation have been under the project.

 



New coronavirus variant emerging as possible cause for rapidly rising infection rates in UK


New coronavirus variant emerging as possible cause for rapidly rising infection rates in UK

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said London, and parts of three surrounding counties, would move into the highest of three levels of restrictions in force across England from Wednesday.

The British capital faces tougher Covid-19 measures within days, the UK government said on Monday, with a new coronavirus variant emerging as a possible cause for rapidly rising infection rates.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said London, and parts of three surrounding counties, would move into the highest of three levels of restrictions in force across England from Wednesday.

Pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues will have to close, except for takeaway food, as will theatres and other venues in the entertainment sector.

Members of different households can’t mingle indoors, although people can still meet in groups of up to six in public places outside. Shops and schools can remain open.

“This action is absolutely essential, not just to keep people safe but because we have seen early action can prevent more damage and longer-term problems later,” Hancock told parliament.

In some areas, cases are doubling every seven days, he said, warning: “It only takes a few doublings for the NHS (National Health Service) to be overwhelmed.”

London had already seen a “sharp rise” in daily cases and hospital admissions, and there is concern about the “new variant” of the coronavirus initially detected in southeast England, where cases are now rising the fastest, officials said.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty stressed there was no evidence that the variant is more dangerous, infectious or able to evade testing.

He also cautioned against blaming it for the spike in cases across the country’s southeast.

“The variant may or may not be contributing to that,” Whitty said at a press conference, adding: “We don’t know what’s cause and effect.”

‘Incredibly disappointing’

Andrew Davidson, reader in virology at Bristol University, said coronaviruses are known to mutate, have done elsewhere in Europe and North America, and were not always more virulent.

“However, if they spread more easily but cause the same disease severity, more people will end up becoming ill in a short period of time,” he said.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said it was not yet clear how the variant would affect the first vaccines and treatments.

“The surveillance and research must continue and we must take the necessary steps to stay ahead of the virus,” he added.

Britain last week became the first country to offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is now rolling out the programme to GP surgeries, and in care homes in Scotland.

The move comes two days before a national review of the tier system and just as the struggling hospitality and entertainment sector is trying to rebound from a torrid year of closures.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan described the decision as “incredibly disappointing” for businesses but added: “It’s much better to act early, rather than too late.”

‘Catastrophic year’

Theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh, though, said “the sudden volte-face by the government… is devastating for both the theatre and the economy”.

Christmas is normally a money-spinner for theatres, with shows including pantomimes, and was this year seen as vital given hardships faced by actors, backstage and front of house staff.

Jon Morgan, director of the Theatres Trust, said the new closures would create more uncertainty and losses, and compounded a “catastrophic year for theatre”.

“My entire cast and company are now crying,” added Michael Harrison, who is producing “Pantoland at the Palladium”.

Catherine McGuinness, of the City of London Corporation, urged the government to keep its decision “under close review” and urged “adequate support” for businesses most affected.

Shops and hairdressers can stay open in Tier 3, as can schools but several London districts are sending children home from Tuesday because of rising numbers of cases among older children.

Testing of 11 to 18-year-old students began in the worst-affected areas on Monday.

On Friday, the “R number” in London indicating how many other people someone with the virus will infect was between 0.9 and 1.1, according to the government’s website.

London has seen more than 201,000 of the 1.8 million positive tests countrywide, and more than 7,000 of over 63,000 deaths.




Donald Trump raises China concerns as reason to veto defence bill


Donald Trump raises China concerns as reason to veto defence bill

The president has made numerous threats over Twitter to veto the bill over a requirement that military bases honouring Confederate leaders eventually be renamed.

President Donald Trump on Sunday tweeted that he intends to veto a wide-ranging defence policy bill, raising new but unspecified concerns about China as a reason to reject a traditionally bipartisan measure with a nearly 60-year track record of being signed into law.

The biggest winner of our new defence bill is China! I will veto! Trump said.

The White House did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Trump’s specific concerns about China.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the bill would help deter Chinese aggression. Other GOP backers of the measure, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Senate leader, and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, have tweeted that the bill would deter threats from countries such as China.

The threat was Trump’s first since the defence bill cleared the Senate on Friday, following earlier passage by the House. Both chambers approved the measure by margins large enough to override a veto, which would be a first for Trump and would come not long before he leaves office Jan 20.

A two-thirds vote is needed in each chamber for the bill to become law without Trump’s signature.

Trump, however, has a history of failing to follow through on action he has threatened.

The president has made numerous threats over Twitter to veto the bill over a requirement that military bases honouring Confederate leaders eventually be renamed. He also threatened a veto to try to force lawmakers to include provisions unrelated to the military and national defence to punish social media companies he claims were biased against him during the election.

Congress has approved the bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, for nearly 60 years in a row. The current version affirms 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than 740 billion in military programs and construction.

The measure guides Pentagon policy and cements decisions about troop levels, new weapons systems and military readiness, military personnel policy and other military goals. Many programs can only go into effect if the bill is approved, including military construction.

McConnell, in a rare break with Trump, had urged passage despite Trump’s threat to veto it. McConnell said it was important for Congress to continue its nearly six-decade-long streak of passing the defence policy bill.

In addition to the budget and pay raises it would provide, McConnell said the bill will keep our forces ready to deter China and stand strong in the Indo-Pacific.




Next four to six months could be worst of coronavirus pandemic: Bill Gates


Next four to six months could be worst of coronavirus pandemic: Bill Gates

In recent weeks, the US is experiencing record high cases, deaths and hospitalisations. “I thought the US would do a better job handling it,” said Gates, who in 2015 had warned the world of such a pandemic.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose foundation has been part of the effort to develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines, warned on Sunday that the next four to six months could be the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Sadly, the next four to six months could be the worst of the pandemic. The IHME (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) forecast shows over 200,000 additional deaths. If we would follow the rules, in terms of wearing masks and not mixing, we could avoid a large percentage of those deaths,” Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told CNN.

In recent weeks, the US is experiencing record high cases, deaths and hospitalisations. “I thought the US would do a better job handling it,” said Gates, who in 2015 had warned the world of such a pandemic.

“Overall, when I did the forecasts in 2015, I talked about the deaths potentially being higher. So, this virus could be more fatal than it is. We didn’t get the worst-case. But the thing that has surprised me is that the economic impact in the US and around the world has been much greater than the forecasts that I made five years ago,” he said.

The COVID-19 has so far killed more than 290,000 people in the US.

Gates said that his Foundation has been funding a lot of the research for the vaccines. “We’re very agile. We’re a partner in a thing called CEPI, which is the second biggest funder after the US government,” he said.

“So, in diagnostics, therapy and vaccines, we know where the science is, we know how the pieces need to come together in an urgent way. And so our expertise in infectious disease, which normally only relates to developing countries, applied to the entire world for this crisis,” he added.

The US need to help all of humanity, Gates said when asked of the executive order signed by President Donald Trump which prioritizes distribution of the vaccine to Americans before it goes to people in other countries.

“We want the world economy be going. We want to minimize the deaths. And, you know, the basic technology is a German company. And so blocking international sharing and cooperation has been disruptive and a mistake during this entire pandemic,” he said.

“So, we need to ramp up the capacity of all the vaccines. There will be some additional ones approved in the months ahead that are easier to scale up the manufacturing. But the US has benefited from other countries” work care, and we shouldn’ be entirely selfish in how we go forward,” he added.

Responding to a question, Gates said that he will take the vaccine publicly as the former US president, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama, have said to increase the confidence of the people in the vaccine.

“I will do the same. When it’s my turn — I’m not going to budge, but when my turn comes up, I will visibly take the vaccine, because I think that it’s a benefit to all people to not be transmitting,” he said.

Gates said that access to the vaccine should be based on medical need, not wealth at all.

“After all, this epidemic has been awful in the way that it’s exacerbated inequities. It’s been worse for Hispanics, worse for blacks, worse for low-income service workers, multigenerational households, a number of things that mean that, in terms of picking who gets the vaccine, we better be using equity to drive all those decisions,” he said.

Despite the availability of the vaccine, Gates said that the next four to six months really call on Americans to do their best. “Because we can see that this will end, and you don’t want somebody you love to be the last to die of coronavirus,” he said.

“Certainly, mask-wearing has essentially no downside. They’re not expensive. Bars and restaurants in most of the country will be closed as we go into this wave. And I think, sadly, that’s appropriate. Depending on how severe it is, the decision about schools is much more complicated, because, there, the benefits are pretty high, the amount of transmission is not the same as in restaurants and bars,” Gates said.

In response to another question, Gates said that the “transition is complicating” the fight against coronavirus pandemic.

“But the new administration is willing to rely on actual experts, and not attack those experts. They’re laying out clear plans. So, I think we will get through this in a positive way. I’m pleased with the people and the priority that the president-elect, Biden, and his team are bringing to bear on this problem,” he said.

“Biden’s doing his best to retain Francis Collins and Tony Fauci and add them to that strong group of people. These are people who are willing to admit when things aren’t going well and deliver tough messages, particularly about the next four to six months. And so I do think the US will not be one of the worst performers as the team comes into office,” Gates said.




US gives green light to Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine; first immunization in less than 24 hours


US gives green light to Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine; first immunization in less than 24 hours

President Donald Trump immediately released a video on Twitter, where he hailed the news as a “medical miracle” and said the first immunizations would take place “in less than 24 hours.”

The US green lighted the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine late Friday, paving the way for millions of vulnerable people to receive their shots in the world’s hardest-hit country.

President Donald Trump immediately released a video on Twitter, where he hailed the news as a “medical miracle” and said the first immunizations would take place “in less than 24 hours.”

It comes as infections across America soar as never before, with the grim milestone of 300,000 confirmed deaths fast approaching.

The US is now the sixth country to approve the two-dose regimen, after Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.


The move came earlier than expected, and capped a day of drama after it was widely reported that the White House had threatened to fire Food and Drug Administration chief Stephen Hahn if he did not grant emergency approval Friday.

Trump’s intervention reinserts politics into the scientific process, which some experts have said could undermine vaccine confidence.

The US is seeking to inoculate 20 million people this month alone, with long-term care facility residents and health care workers at the front of the line.

The government also said Friday that it is buying 100 million more doses of the Moderna vaccine candidate, amid reports the government passed on the opportunity to secure more supply of the Pfizer jab.

The purchase brings its total supply of Moderna doses to 200 million, enough to immunize 100 million people with the two-shot regimen that could be approved as early as next week.

Both frontrunners are based on mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid), a major victory for a technology that had never previously been proven.

Two other vaccine candidates stumbled Friday: France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GSK said their vaccine would not be ready until the end of 2021.

And in Australia, the development of a vaccine at The University of Queensland was abandoned Friday after clinical trials produced a false positive HIV result among subjects involved in early testing.

Sputnik mix

The mixed news on the vaccine front comes as infections accelerated fast in North America and parts of Africa but started to stabilize in Europe and drop in Asia and the Middle East.

Around the world more than 1.58 million lives have been lost to Covid-19 since it emerged in China a year ago, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

Brazil on Friday crossed 180,000 deaths, despite President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence the crisis was at the “tail end.”

But across the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand, which has been praised for its handling of the virus, took its first tentative steps towards reopening its borders — with the tiny Cook Islands.

Countries which have approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab meanwhile were preparing for roll out, as the World Health Organization warned of a potentially grim Christmas season.

Following Britain’s lead, the first vaccine shipments to 14 sites across Canada are scheduled to arrive Monday with people receiving shots a day or two later.

Israel, which accepted its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday, is targeting a rollout on December 27.

And Hong Kong said Friday it had struck deals for two vaccines — one from Pfizer and the other from Beijing-based Sinovac — with plans to launch a campaign in early 2021.

A new combined approach is also being tested by AstraZeneca, whose Russian operation said it would mix its shot with the locally-made Sputnik V vaccine in clinical trials.

Russia and China have already begun inoculation efforts with domestically produced vaccines that have seen less rigorous vetting.

EU countries are eagerly awaiting clearance on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, in late December and early January respectively.

Carbon down

As Europe’s surge eases off slightly, France is planning to lift a six-week-long lockdown from Tuesday but impose a curfew from 8.00 pm, including on New Year’s Eve.

Greece also announced new plans Friday to slash quarantine time for incoming travelers and reopen churches for Christmas.

But Switzerland, which is seeing a sharp resurgence in cases, announced a 7:00 pm curfew for shops, restaurants and bars.

While lockdowns have brought economic pain, boredom and myriad other problems, the effect on the environment has been more positive.

Carbon emissions fell a record seven percent in 2020 as countries imposed lockdowns, according to the Global Carbon Project.




Joe Biden, Kamala Harris named Time magazine’s 2020 ‘Person of the Year’


Joe Biden, Kamala Harris named Time magazine’s 2020 ‘Person of the Year’

The pair was chosen ahead of three other finalists: frontline health care workers and Anthony Fauci, the racial justice movement, and President Donald Trump who Biden defeated in November’s election.

US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have been chosen as Time magazine’s 2020 “Person of the Year,” the publication announced Thursday.

The pair was chosen ahead of three other finalists: frontline health care workers and Anthony Fauci, the racial justice movement, and President Donald Trump who Biden defeated in November’s election.




Despite Covid lockdowns, world heads to temperature rise: UN report


Despite Covid lockdowns, world heads to temperature rise: UN report

However, this dip only translates to a 0.01 degree celsius reduction of global warming by 2050. Meanwhile NDCs remain inadequate.

A green pandemic recovery could cut upto 25 per cent off predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions and bring the world closer to meeting the two degree celsius goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change, said a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Wednesday.

The UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report 2020 reveals that despite a dip in the 2020 carbon dioxide emissions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of three degree celsius this century.

However, if governments invest in climate action as part of pandemic recovery and solidify emerging net-zero commitments with strengthened pledges at the next climate meeting — taking place at Glasgow in November 2021 — they could bring emissions to levels broadly consistent with the two degrees celsius goal.

By combining a green pandemic recovery with swift moves to include new net-zero commitments in the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, and following up with rapid and robust action, governments could still attain the more ambitious 1.5 degrees goal.

“The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record while wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc,” said UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen.

“However, UNEP’s Emissions Gap report shows that a green pandemic recovery could take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow down climate change. I urge governments to back a green recovery in the next stage of Covid-19 fiscal interventions and significantly raise their climate ambitions in 2021.”

Each year the Emissions Gap Report assesses the gap between anticipated emissions and levels consistent with the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming this century to well below two degrees and pursuing 1.5 degrees celsius.

The report reveals that during 2019 the overall greenhouse gas emissions, including land use change, reached a new high of 59.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e).

Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown 1.4 per cent per year since 2010 on an average, with a more rapid increase of 2.6 per cent in 2019 due to a large increase in forest fires.

As a result of reduced travel, lower industrial activity and lower electricity generation this year due to the pandemic, carbon dioxide emissions are predicted to fall up to 7 per cent in 2020.

However, this dip only translates to a 0.01 degree celsius reduction of global warming by 2050. Meanwhile NDCs remain inadequate.

A green pandemic recovery, however, could cut up to 25 per cent off the emissions the globe would expect to see in 2030 based on policies in place before Covid-19.

A green recovery would put emissions in 2030 at 44 GtCO2e, instead of the predicted 59 GtCO2e — far outstripping emission reductions foreseen in unconditional NDCs, which leave the world on track for a temperature rise of 3.2 degrees celsius.

Such a green recovery would put emissions within the range that gives a 66 per cent chance of holding temperatures to below two degrees celsius, but would still be insufficient to achieve the 1.5 degrees celsius goal.

Measures to prioritise in green fiscal recovery includes direct support for zero-emission technologies and infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, no new coal plants, and promoting nature-based solutions — including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation.

The report finds that action on a green fiscal recovery has been limited. Nearly one-quarter of G20 members have dedicated shares of their spending up to three per cent of GDP to low carbon measures.

There nonetheless remains a significant opportunity for countries to implement green policies and programmes. Governments must take this opportunity in the next stage of Covid-19 fiscal interventions, the report revealed.

The report also said the growing number of countries committing to net-zero emission goals by mid-century is a “significant and encouraging development”.

At the time of report completion, 126 countries covering 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions had adopted, announced or were considering net-zero goals.

The level of ambition in the Paris Agreement still must be tripled for the two degree celsius pathway and increased at least fivefold for the 1.5 degrees celsius pathway.

Responding to the Emissions Gap Report, Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate lead, said, “The UNEP Gap report is a sobering reminder of the need for Covid economic stimuli to get us on track to tackle climate change.”

“Despite Covid lockdowns slowing emissions for a few months they barely created a dent in the overall picture and with emissions already bouncing back aggressively, we are on course to see global heating way beyond the goals of the Paris Agreement.”




87-year-old Indian-origin man from England becomes one of first people in world to get Covid vaccine


87-year-old Indian-origin man from England becomes one of first people in world to get Covid vaccine

Hari Shukla from Tyne and Wear said he feels it is his duty to receive his first of the two-dose vaccine, a moment UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed as a “huge step forward” as Tuesday was dubbed “V-Day” or Vaccine Day in the UK.

An 87-year-old Indian-origin man from the north east of England will become one of the first people in the world to get a vaccine against COVID-19 when he receives his Pfizer/BioNTech jab at a hospital in Newcastle on Tuesday.

Hari Shukla from Tyne and Wear said he feels it is his duty to receive his first of the two-dose vaccine, a moment UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed as a “huge step forward” as Tuesday was dubbed “V-Day” or Vaccine Day in the UK.

“I’m so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help,” said Mr Shukla.

“Having been in contact with the NHS (National Health Service), I know how hard they all work and the greatest respect for them – they have a heart of gold and I am grateful for everything they have done to keep us safe during the pandemic,” he said.

Mr Shukla was notified by the NHS based on the criteria set by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation as part of a phased rollout plan based on those at the highest risk of death from the deadly virus. People aged 80 and over, care home workers as well as NHS workers who are at higher risk will be first in line to receive the “life-saving jab”.

“Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country. I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout,” said Johnson.

However, the UK PM struck a note of caution to warn that mass vaccination will take time and urged the public to remain “clear-eyed” and continue to follow the lockdown rules over the winter months ahead.

The NHS said it is undertaking the biggest and most highly anticipated immunisation campaign in history at 50 hospital hubs, with more starting vaccinations over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up after the first set of doses arrived from Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Belgium.

“We will look back on today, V-day, as a key moment in our fight back against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services across the United Kingdom are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“With over-80s and frontline health and care staff receiving their vaccinations from today, the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief as our most vulnerable loved ones start to be given protection from the virus. Now’s the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it”s time for your vaccination,” he said, adding that the light at the end of the tunnel is visible but there is still a long way to go.

Since the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine got the green light from the UK”s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week, the NHS said its workers have been working around the clock to manage the large-scale logistical challenge of deploying the vaccine.

“Coronavirus is the greatest health challenge in NHS history, taking loved ones from us and disrupting every part of our lives,” said Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive.

“The deployment of this vaccine marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic. NHS vaccination programmes which have successfully helped overcome tuberculosis, polio, and smallpox, now turn their focus to coronavirus. NHS staff are proud to be leading the way as the first health service in the world to begin vaccination with this COVID jab,” he said.

The Pfizer/BionTech formula is an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to teach the body how to fight Covid-19 and build immunity. It is delivered in two doses of 21 days apart and, according to experts, it has shown a strong immunity response kicking in after seven days of the second dose.

The MHRA has stressed it has been cleared for mass rollout only after “rigorous” safety tests despite the process being speeded up due to the urgency of finding an effective vaccine against a pandemic which has devastated the world.

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, has warned that the roll out of a vaccine will be a “marathon” not a sprint.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used. General Practitioners (GPs) and other primary care staff have also been put on standby to start delivering the jab on a phased basis.

Vaccination centres treating large numbers of patients in sporting venues and conference centres will subsequently start up when further supplies of vaccine come on stream, with a bulk of the rollout expected in the early part of the New Year.




Top