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India’s coronavirus variant spread to 44 countries: WHO

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World-Health-Organisation

The Indian coronavirus variant (B1617), which has now been declared a “variant of global concern” has spread to 44 countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

The B1617 variant, first identified in India in October, has been detected in over 4500 sequences uploaded to the GISAID open-access database, till May 11, “from 44 countries in all six WHO regions,” the global health agency said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic on Tuesday.

The WHO has also “received reports of detections from five additional countries”, the update said.

The Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) is a German non-profit organisation, launched in 2016 as a database for sharing flu genomes.

The WHO’s SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group on Tuesday determined that viruses within the lineage B1617 areA a variant of concern.

The B1617 variant was, till now, deemed a ‘variant of interest’ by the WHO. It now has been added to the list of other Covid-19 “variants of concern” — UK (B117), South African (B1351) and Brazilian (P1) variants.

The B1617 variant was declared as a variant of concern based on early evidence of higher rates of transmission, including its observed rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries.

The UN health body also cited “preliminary evidence”, which suggests that B1617 variant reduces effectiveness of treatment of Covid patients with Bamlanivimab — a monoclonal antibody. It also pointed out lab studies that showed “slightly reduced susceptibility to neutralisation antibodies”.

Approximately 0.1 per cent of positive samples in India have been sequenced and uploaded to GISAID to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants, the WHO said.A

The agency said that spread of B1617, alongs with other more transmittable variants, are one of several factors fuelling India’s dramatic surge in new cases and deaths.

The number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths globally decreased slightly this week, with over 5.5 million cases and over 90, 000 deaths, the update said.A

“India continues to account for 95 per cent of cases and 93 per cent of deaths in the South-East Asia Region, as well as 50 per cent of global cases and 30 per cent of global deaths,”, the update added.

India on Wednesday recorded 4,205 deaths due to Covid, highest till date with 3,48,421 fresh cases, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.

International News

Narendra Modi wishes new Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, looks to deepen ties

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Prime-Minister-Narendra-Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday congratulated new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, saying he looks forward to meeting him and deepening the strategic partnership between the two counties.

“Excellency Naftali Bennett, congratulations on becoming the Prime Minister of Israel. As we celebrate 30 years of the upgradation of diplomatic relations next year, I look forward to meeting you and deepening the strategic partnership between our two countries,” Modi tweeted.

He also expressed his gratitude towards former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanking his leadership for his attention to the India-Israel strategic partnership.

“As you complete your successful tenure as the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, I convey my profound gratitude for your leadership and personal attention to India-Israel strategic partnership @netanyahu,” Modi further tweeted.

Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire, became Prime Minister after a vote in the Knesset legislature following weeks of intense political drama. He won with razor-thin majority of 60-59 in the 120-seat chamber.

The former ally of Netanyahu, Bennett will preside over a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight parties with deep ideological differences, promising to try to heal a divided nation.

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Crime

Dominica High Court denies bail to Mehul Choksi citing him as flight risk

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Mehul-Choksi

Indian fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi was on Friday denied bail by the High Court in Dominica, citing him to be a flight risk, local media reported.

According to Antigua News Room, a news outlet in the Caribbean island, it said, “Choksi’s application was denied on the basis that he is a flight risk, he has no ties to Dominica and the court cannot impose any conditions that will assure it that he wouldn’t abscond.”

Choksi was represented by Cara Shillingford-Marsh, Wayne Benjamin Marsh, Wayne Norde and Julien Prevost.

The 62-year-old, who is wanted in India in connection with a massive bank fraud, will appear before court again on Monday on a charge of illegal entry into Dominica.

Choksi denies the charge, and claims he was kidnapped and taken there by force.

The Indian diamantaire had gone missing from Antigua and Barbuda on May 23 sparking a massive manhunt. He was reportedly captured on May 26 in Dominica.

He is being probed in India by the CBI and the ED in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case.

He has got interim relief from immediate repatriation to India by the Dominican court.

According to investigative agency sources, the Indian government has filed two affidavits in the Dominica high court establishing Choksi as Indian citizen and the serious nature of the fraud he committed on PNB.

India has also submitted detailed evidences in the affidavits.

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Crime

Antigua Cabinet discusses Mehul Choksi’s abduction claim

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Mehul-Choksi

The Antigua and Barbuda Cabinet held a brief discussion into Indian fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi’s abduction claim, as well as on the decisions rendered by the Magistrate and the High Court of Dominica, local media reported.

“No new information has emanated from the Dominica authorities that now hold Choksi’s fate in their hands. The authorities in Antigua continue their investigation of Choksi’s claim that he was abducted in Antigua. Since abductions and kidnappings are not crimes usually reported in Antigua, no effort is being spared to uncover all the facts in this supposed abduction,” the Antigua News Room quoted a Cabinet note as saying following the discussion.

Choksi, who is currently facing charges of entering Dominica illegally, was “unlawfully renditioned” from Antigua and Barbuda to Dominica so that he would no longer have the option of appealing to the UK Privy Council, his lawyer contended on Thursday.

Michael Polak, part of the legal team representing Choksi and an expert in providing legal assistance to foreign nationals around the world, told a virtual news conference that the team has also filed a complaint with the War Crimes Unit of the UK’s Metropolitan Police on the ground that the Indian fugitive businessman was tortured.

Describing the case as one of “egregious breach of the rule of law and fundamental fairness”, Polak said: “What happened to Choksi has been terrible. He was lured into a property, kidnapped, a bag placed over his head, beaten, forced on to a boat and unlawfully renditioned into another country.

“In Antigua, he has the right to appeal to the Privy Council in London to determine whether the government is acting properly against him. In Dominica, he does not have such protection. The motive behind the kidnapping could not be clearer.”

He further said there was sufficient evidence Barbara Jarabica and the other men involved in the incident had carried out a “reconnaissance or a failed attempt to kidnap” Choksi in April this year, adding that the fugitive businessman should be returned to Antigua.

Giving details of the abduction attempt, Polak said Jabarica, who lured Choksi to her Airbnb accommodation on May 23, had specifically asked the owner if there is a place for docking a small boat in the backyard.

Revealing chats between Jabarica and owner of the properties, Polak said she had discussed taking two adjoining properties after getting confirmation about docking place for boats.

Polak alleged that one property was used by people with her, who were part of kidnapping team.

The lawyer also claimed that soon after the kidnapping of Choksi, Jabarica left Antigua and Barbuda in a private plane to Dominica.

Choksi, who is wanted in India in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case had gone missing on May 23 from Antigua sparking a massive manhunt.

He was reportedly captured on May 26 in Dominica.

Choksi is facing the charges of entering Dominica illegally.

A Dominican High Court has restrained the extradition.

He had taken the citizenship of Antigua in 2017 and left India on January 4, 2018 days before the case came to light.

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