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Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi tests COVID-19 positive

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Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi confirmed that he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but was feeling “strong and energetic”.

In a tweet on Friday, Qureshi said that he had a slight fever earlier on Friday and had immediately quarantined himself at home, reports Dawn news.

“I have now tested positive for COVID-19… I feel strong and energetic. I will continue to carry on my duties from home…”

Several politicians, including members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have been diagnosed with the virus over the past few months as it continues to spread in Pakistan.

Prominent political leaders who have contracted the virus so far include National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, PPP leader Saeed Ghani and Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, all of whom have recovered.

In June, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif had also tested positive for the virus.

Former Balochistan governor Syed Fazal Agha, PTI Punjab MPA Shaheen Raza, Sindh Minister for Human Settlements Ghulam Murtaza Baloch, MNA Munir Khan Orakzai and PTI’s Mian Jamshedud Din Kakakhel are among politicians who passed away after contracting the virus.

Pakistan, one of the worst hit South Asian countries, has so far reported 221,896 COVID-19 cases, with 4,551 deaths.

International News

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.

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India travel ban not racist: Australian Foreign Minister

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Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has denied suggestions that the government’s decision to ban travel from India amid the country’s worsening Covid-19 situation was motivated by racism.

Payne said that the “temporary” move to ban travel from India to Australia was made in response to the high number of Covid-19 infections among Australians in hotel quarantine who have returned from the country, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

“The burden that has placed on the health systems in the states and territories, including through particularly Howard Springs, is a very significant one,” she told reporters on Sunday.

“The decision which has been made under the Biosecurity Act on the basis of the advice of the Chief Medical Officer is a temporary pause on returns.”

On May 1, the government announced that anyone who enters Australia and has been in India within 14 days of the person’s time of departure may face up to five years’ imprisonment and heavy fines.

The temporary pause comes into effect on Monday and will be reconsidered on May 15 by the government following advice from the Chief Medical Officer.

Asked if the radical move was motivated by racism, Payne said “absolutely not in any way”.

Payne’s comments came as a leading citizenship expert warned that the government could face a legal challenge to the travel ban.

Kim Rubenstein from the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Business, Government and Law said that if the ban goes beyond the initial expiry date of May 15, a challenge would be more likely.

“A challenge could be made in federal court as to the lawfulness of the determination,” she said, according to Nine Entertainment newspapers on Monday.

“The longer that this goes on, the more chance there is for a legal challenge on its inconsistencies with the frameworks of the Biosecurity Act.”

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International News

First of $100M Covid aid from US arriving in India

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A man receives a COVID-19 PCR nasal swap at a COVID-19 testing site in Washington, D.C., the United States, Nov. 13, 2020. (Photo by Ting Shen/Xinhua/ians)

Two US planes carrying oxygen cylinders, rapid testing kits and N95 masks that are the first of Covid-19 assistance totally worth $100 million were to have arrived in India on Thursday night, according to US officials.

“The planes carried the first tranche of the assistance, which includes oxygen cylinders, rapid diagnostic tests, and N95 masks to protect frontline workers,” President Joe Biden’s Deputy Principal Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday.

“Additional flights carrying the remaining assistance, including oxygen generators and concentrators are scheduled to depart in the upcoming days,” she added.

The US is delivering supplies worth more than $100 million in the coming days to provide urgent relief to our partners in India,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.

“US government flights will start arriving in India tonight and they will continue into next week,” he said.

“Just as India sent assistance to the US when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the US is determined to help India in its time of need,” he said.

In addition, “private companies, non-governmental organisations, and thousands of Americans from across the country have mobilised to deliver vital oxygen, related equipment, and essential supplies for Indian hospitals,” Price said.

Price said that the effort to help India has to be broad-based with the participation of the private sector, “the advocacy community” and civil society groups.

“Our assistance, we hope, will have a catalytic effect on society more broadly here and around the world to come to the aid of the Indian people,” he said.

“To galvanise the private sector,” he said that Secretary of State Blinken spoke earlier this week with the US Chamber of Commerce and the Department’s Coordinator for Covid-19 Response, Gayle Smith, followed it up with another call to make the point that “everyone has a role to play.”

He was asked by a reporter about reports that there were differences on aid distribution with the US wanting to do it through NGOs and local governments while the Indian Central Government wanted the aid routed only through it.

Price said, “Our goal is to see to it that this aid – and this is a goal, of course, that we share with the Indian Government – is to see to it that this aid is put to immediate and effective use.”

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