Wednesday, April 29, 2020

China acts defensive, wants 'better communication' with India over faulty test kits; rejects Australia's inquiry call into COVID-19 origin

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Tuesday that India should step up communication after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) found defects in the COVID-19 antibody rapid test kits supplied to by two Chinese firms.

The ICMR had asked states and Union Territories to stop using the test kits procured from the Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics due to inconsistencies in their accuracy. When asked if an investigation will be held into the issue, Geng said that India and China are closely coordinating and cooperating with each other since the coronavirus outbreak surfaced and should “deal properly” with the matter.

File image of Chinese foreign ministry
spokesperson Geng Shuang. AP
“The two Chinese companies already issued statements. They both stressed that their COVID-19 antibody rapid test kits have the certification from the National Medical Products Administration of China (NMPA), meet the quality standards, and have also been validated and approved by ICMR through National Institute of Virology (NIV),” he added.
India procured around five lakh rapid antibody test kits from the two Chinese firms.

Geng also refuted claims of “economic coercion” made by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, after China’s ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye said that the Chinese public might avoid Australian beef, wine, tourism and universities as a response to its demand for an independent inquiry into the source and spread of coronavirus.

Geng denied the ambassador’s comments amounted to “economic coercion”. “What he said was about the concerns that the Australian side's erroneous words and deeds recently have upset the Chinese people and that they may impact bilateral relations,” he told reporters.

China accounts for 26 percent of Australia’s total trade, worth around $150 billion in 2018-19, and is the biggest single market for Australian exports such as coal, iron ore, wine, beef, tourism and education.

On being asked by a journalist about why China is opposed to an independent inquiry into the pandemic’s source, Geng said that the issue should be studied by scientific professions and not commented on by politicians. He also cast doubts on Australia’s intention behind seeking the inquiry.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson accused US politicians of speaking “barefaced lies”, adding that Washington was attacking China to divert attention from its own handling of the outbreak. "By smearing China to shirk responsibilities, the US politicians cannot erase the progress China has made in the fight against the virus or in any way help to contain COVID-19 in the US," Geng added.

US President Donald Trump suggested on Monday that he might seek damages from China over the outbreak, saying there were many options to "hold them accountable". "We are not happy with that whole situation because we believe it could have been stopped at the source," he said.
Source: FP Staff.

Why India Must Take Lead in COVID Fight and Boost R&D Expenditure

Just six years ago, we woke up to a polio-free India. India beat polio against all odds – a feat that was termed “one of the biggest achievements in global health”. But the battle against polio was not won easily. It took years of consistent government investment and mobilisation of resources to get a new oral vaccine, facilitate mass vaccination, run targeted public awareness campaigns, and develop strong public-private partnerships.

Today, as we stand at the brink of what threatens to be a prolonged battle against the novel coronavirus, let’s remember that while short-term solutions are necessary to fight the daily battle against the spread, we won’t win the war unless we seek long-term solutions.

Key among them is investing in Research and Development (R&D) to drive innovation and strengthen the public health infrastructure.

In COVID Fight, What Worked For China, Singapore, South Korea?
COVID-19 was first recorded in Wuhan, China and in a matter of months, has spread to most countries, infecting over 2.8 million and killing nearly 193,000. We’ve witnessed a diversity of responses to contain it. China was the early epicentre, but has since slowed the growth of new cases. While this is in part due to its aggressive containment measures, distinct developments have given China a slight edge. First, post- SARS and H1N1, China committed itself to accelerating Research & Development (R&D) efforts.

Second, this commitment has created a conducive environment for product-focused public health efforts.

Singapore has also reaped the benefits of investing in technology. Despite being hit earliest by COVID-19, Singapore’s existing technology infrastructure allowed it to employ innovations like AI-driven smartphone temperature checkers, contact tracing apps, nucleic acid tests, etc. All of this was made possible because of an existing recognition that investment in product-focused R&D provides long-term gains, one that is well-illustrated by its ability to conduct over 21,000 tests in just three months. Of course, this is much lower than South Korea’s statistics, which has tested 9,800 per million, but it’s miles ahead of India’s testing ratio.

Why India Should Spend Much More on R&D
In the recent past, two India-made vaccines were pre-qualified by WHO – among them the world’s first conjugate vaccine against typhoid. India-made generic drugs are saving millions of lives the world over. But compared to the rate of its development, India underspends on R&D.

Despite glaring public health challenges, the budget for its apex medical research organisation is one of the lowest among the 8 principal science government agencies. In 2018, India received approximately one-fiftieth of the patent applications filed by China.

India’s low R&D investment is further problematised by the fact that unlike other countries where research is funded in equal measure by the private sector, much of the R&D funding here is provided by the government.

Increased R&D investments can help accelerate product-focused interventions – including the development of critical new vaccines. In fact, increased spending on vaccine-related R&D is one of the most cost-effective investments that countries can make to safeguard public as well as national economic health.

Amid Corona, Important to Recognise That Innovation & Health Infrastructure Are Intertwined Recent developments have been encouraging. The Science & Engineering Research Board, an autonomous institution under the Department of Science & Technology has invited proposals from academic and research institutions to accelerate efforts to develop new vaccines and diagnostic tools for COVID-19.

However, we still need tangible commitments to ensure consistent prioritisation and sustained investment in vaccine research over several years – particularly given the not-so-recent Nipah and Zika outbreaks in India.

COVID-19 has laid bare the debilitating effects of an unknown pathogen.

Now more than ever, we must step up our commitment to invest in product-focused R&D, especially vaccine research, to offset and avert damage caused by new and existing infectious diseases.
By: Amir Ullah Khan.

Irrfan Khan, Magnificent Actor, Dies In Mumbai "Surrounded By Family." He Was 53

New Delhi: Actor Irrfan Khan died on Wednesday in Mumbai's Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, where he was being treated for an colon infection. A statement released by his family said that Mr Khan spent his final hours "surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about." Just hours ago, the actor's spokesperson said in a statement that Mr Khan was "still fighting the battle." The Piku star, one of Indian cinema's most respected thespians, battled a tumour for several months and returned to Mumbai some months ago after being treated in London.

Irrfan Khan is survived by his wife Sutapa and two sons. Yesterday, his spokesperson confirmed that he had been taken to the intensive care unit and later, dismissed rumours that Irrfan Khan had died.

Read the statement released on behalf of Irrfan Khan's family:

"I trust, I have surrendered"; These were the some of the many words that Irrfan expressed in a heart-felt note he wrote in 2018 opening up about his fight with cancer. And a man of few words and an actor of silent expressions with his deep eyes and his memorable actions on screen. It's saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace. And to resonate and part with his words he had said, "As if I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it."

Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar, who directed Irrfan Khan in Piku, tweeted: "My dear friend Irrfan. You fought and fought and fought. I will always be proud of you.. we shall meet again.. condolences to Sutapa and Babil.. you too fought, Sutapa you gave everything possible in this fight. Peace and Om shanti. Irfaan Khan salute," he tweeted.

As news of Irrfan Khan's hospitalisation spread on Tuesday evening, the actor's spokesperson released this statement: "Yes, it is true that Irrfan Khan is admitted to ICU at Kokilaben in Mumbai because of a colon infection. We would keep everyone updated. He is under doctor's observation. His strength and courage have helped him battle and fight so far and we are sure with his tremendous willpower and prayers of his well wishers, he will recover soon." Irrfan's wife Sutapa Sikdar and his sons Babil and Ayan Khan were also reportedly at the hospital.

On Wednesday, a fresh statement was released warning against premature reports of Mr Khan's death. It's really disappointing to know that there are extreme assumptions being made about Irrfan's health. While we are truly appreciative that people are concerned, it's disheartening to see some sources spread extreme rumours and creating panic. Irrfan is a strong person and is still fighting the battle. We really request you to not fall for rumours and not partake in these conversations which are fictional," the actor's spokesperson said.

Irrfan Khan was diagnosed with an neuroendocrine tumour in March 2018, soon after which he flew to London for treatment. He returned to India in February 2019 to shoot Angrezi Medium and flew back to London after a brief stay. The actor returned to India in September last year after surgery and treatment in London.

Irrfan Khan's mother Saeeda Begum died at the age of 95 on Saturday morning in Jaipur. According to news agency ANI, Irrfan, who couldn't travel from Mumbai due to the coronavirus lockdown, paid his last respects to his late mother through a video conferencing session.

Irrfan Khan was last seen in Angrezi Medium, which released a little over a week before the lockdown was imposed in India. The actor wasn't part of the film's promotions because of his health; he spoke to his fans via a video message ahead of the trailer release of the film. His movie credits include internationally acclaimed offerings such as The Lunchbox and the Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic World.

By Gitanjali Roy.

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