As daily coronavirus cases in India dropped below 50,000 for the first time in nearly three months, Railway minister Piyush Goyal announced that women passengers will be allowed to travel in local trains during non-peak hours in Mumbai and its suburbs from tomorrow (21 October).
Goyal made the announcement on Twitter:
I am happy to announce that Railways will allow women to travel on suburban trains from 21 Oct between 11 am to 3 pm & after 7 pm. We were always ready and with the receipt of letter from Maharashtra Govt today, we have allowed this travel.
" Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) October 20, 2020
Currently, only those engaged in frontline duties and falling in the essential staff category of the Maharashtra government are allowed to travel in the local trains run by the Central Railway and the Western Railway, through a QR code mechanism.
The announcement comes after the state government's request on 16 October to allow women to commute by local trains during non-peak hours: from 11 am to 3 pm, and from 7 pm till the end of the day's services.
Currently, the Western and the Central Railway are together operating around 700 local train services every day on their suburban network. On Tuesday morning, Maharashtra chief secretary Sanjay Kumar asked the railway authorities to consider the request "at the earliest".
Modi address nation
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech Tuesday evening urged the public to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines,
In his seventh address to the country since the outbreak of the pandemic, the prime minister warned that though the lockdown is over, the virus is still around.
Modi urged the public to show no laxity till a cure is found.
India's fight against COVID-19 has been a spirited one.
Our country has kept the mortality rates low.
Medical infrastructure has been ramped up, testing capacity has been significantly scaled up.
These are positive signs.
HOWEVER, THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY! pic.twitter.com/27Y8myjTvl
" Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 20, 2020
Modi said India's recovery rate in India is good and the fatality rate is also low. While there are 25,000 COVID cases for one million population in countries such as the US and Brazil, the corresponding figure in India is only 5,500, the prime minister pointed out.
The number of fatalities in India is 83 for a million population against more than 600 in nations like the US, Brazil, Spain and Britain, he further added.
Modi also highlighted that global efforts to develop a vaccine were on "at a war-footing" and assured that the government was making preparations to provide a vaccine to every Indian onceavailable.
In light of festivals such as Diwali, Navratri, and Eid, caution should be exercised as any lapse would impede the progress made in controlling the virus till now, Modi said.
In a similar vein, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik urged people to take a pledge on the occasion of Durga Puja to remain careful till vaccines are available against the viral infection.
In a video message, Patnaik urged people to remain alert and watchful during Durga Puja and Diwali, citing the example Kerala, which he said witnessed a rise in cases following the Onam festival.
He said that the corona situation in the UK, France, Spain and other European countries improved after reaching the peak, but the highly infectious virus has again reared its ugly head.
Centre considers discontinuing plasma therapy
ICMR director-general Dr Balram Bhargava said that convalescent plasma therapy could soon be discontinued as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.
"We are now discussing it with the joint monitoring group for the deletion of plasma therapy from the national guidelines," Dr Bhargava said. "That is the discussion ongoing and more or less we are reaching towards that."
An ICMR plasma study in 39 hospitals across 14 states and UTs showed that plasma didn't appear to have any benefits in moderately-ill COVID-19 patients.
The analysis, which was released to a preprint health sciences server in September, is also due to be published in the British Medical Journal, as per a report in the New Indian Express.
A second ICMR paper on plasma therapy, however, said that its success could hinge on the quality of antibodies used.
Nearly half the COVID-19-recovered individuals examined in the study didn't have enough neutralising antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus for the therapy to be effective.
The therapy involves taking anti-bodies from the blood of a person who has recovered from COVID-19 and transfusing those into a COVID-19 patient to help kickstart the immune system to fight the infection.
The treatment, permitted as an experimental treatment for COVID-19 patients in the moderate stage of the illness in the national clinical management of COVID-19 protocol, was being used widely across the country.
Daily fatalities below 600 for second day
India recorded 46,790 fresh infections in 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 75,97,063 on Tuesday, while the toll from the disease climbed to 1,15,197 with 587 fatalities, according to the health ministry's data updated at 8 am.
The ministry said 75 percent of the new infections are from 10 states and UTs, with Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala contributing more than 5,000 to the figure.
The number of new fatalities reported in the span of a day across the country was below 600 for the second consecutive day and nearly 81 percent of these were reported from 10 states and UTs. Maharashtra recorded the maximum single-day deaths (125 fatalities).
Total recoveries have surged to 67,33,328, taking the recovery rate to 88.63 percent while the active cases number 7,48,538, it said.
Seventy-eight percent of the new recovered cases are concentrated in 10 states and UTs and Maharashtra continues to lead with more than 15,000 single day recoveries, followed by Karnataka with more than 8,000 recoveries, the ministry added
India has the largest number of recoveries in the world while it stands second in terms of the number of tests conducted for detection of COVID-19 so far in any country.
According to the ICMR, a cumulative total of 9,61,16,771 samples have been tested till 19 October, with 10,32,795 samples being tested on Monday.
No paucity of oxygen supply, says health ministry
Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan in press conference asserted that there was no shortage of medical oxygen in India as the daily production capacity was enhanced to 6,862 metric tonnes by September and is projected to further increase to 7,191 metric tonnes by the end of October.
Even though the number of patients requiring oxygen support has reached over 57,000 on Tuesday from 43,022 on 1 September, there is no reason to worry, he assured, stating that the government has begun the process of installing oxygen generation plants in 246 hospitals across 18 states and Union Territories in the first phase of proactive interventions.
In the second phase, such plants would be installed in 150 more hospitals across 30 states and UTs, he said while stressing that India was in a "comfortable position" in terms of oxygen availability.
Meanwhile, global efforts for developing a vaccine against the novel coronavirus also continue. The human trial of Israel's COVID-19 vaccine candidate 'Brilife' is set to begin by the end of this month, reported PTI.
The prospective vaccine is being developed by the Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR) that was established in 1952 as part of the Israel Defence Forces' Science Corps, and later became a civilian organisation.
Israel had claimed in August that it already has the vaccine against the coronavirus "in hand" but it has to go through regulatory processes that would begin with human trials following the autumn holidays.
Defence minister Benny Gantz on Monday visited the IIBR where he was briefed about details related to the vaccine's production and the anticipated timetable.
However, the media release did not specify as to how long the human trials are likely to take and by when the vaccine would be ready for use.
UK to start 'human challenge' trials
The UK government on Tuesday announced 33.6 million pound investment for experts from the National Health Service (NHS), academia and the private sector to join forces to make the UK among the first countries in the world to explore and establish human challenge trials to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Around 90 volunteers will be recruited to be exposed to small amounts of the novel coronavirus in a controlled setting for the first stage of the trial and the study would get underway by January 2021, subject to approval from the ethics committee, it said. The results could be expected by May 2021.
In human challenge studies, a vaccine candidate that has proven to be safe in initial trials is given to a small number of carefully selected healthy adult volunteers, who are then exposed to the virus in a safe and controlled environment.
Medics and scientists then closely monitor the effect on volunteers 24 hours a day to see exactly how the vaccine works and to identify any side effects.
Using controlled doses of virus, the aim of the research team will initially be to discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause COVID-19 infection in small groups of healthy young people, aged between 18 and 30, who are at the lowest risk of harm.
The first stage of the Human Challenge Programme will be done by a partnership between Imperial College London, the Royal Free Hospital's specialist and secure research unit in London and clinical company hVIVO, which is considered a pioneer in viral human challenge models.
Singapore researchers develop breath test for COVID-19
As per a PTI report, researchers in Singapore have developed a breath test to detect COVID-19 within a minute. A person would simply have to blow into a disposable mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler, according to researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The exhaled breath is then collected and fed into a mass spectrometer for measurement. A machine learning software subsequently analyses the (Volatile Organic Compounds) VOC profile and generates the result in less than a minute.
The test, which detects (VOC) in a person's breath, achieved more than 90 percent accuracy in a clinical trial involving 180 patients, Channel News Asia reported, citing the NUS statement.
The technology, developed by NUS start-up Breathonix, offers a fast and convenient solution to identify COVID-19 infection, said the university.
Globally, the virus has affected 4,05,14,091 people, with the highest number reported from the US (82,24,396) followed by India, as per the John Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker. The virus has also claimed 2,20,338 lives across the world.
With inputs from PTI