Indian govt offers to suspend farm reforms; farmers may call off protests

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government on Wednesday offered to suspend implementation of three new farm laws that have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years, which farm union leaders said they would now consider calling off.

The cornerstone of the reform, introduced in September, allows private buyers to deal directly with farmers.

Angry farmers, who say that will make India’s traditional wholesale markets irrelevant and leave them at the mercy of big retailers and food processors, have camped out on major highways outside New Delhi for more than two months.

Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was open to suspending the laws for up to 18 months, during which time representatives of the government and farmers should work to “provide solutions” for the industry.

Bilateral talks have so far failed to break the deadlock – landing Prime Minister Narendra Modi with one of his most significant challenges since he was re-elected in 2019.

The next round of talks is due on Friday, and farm leader Dharmendra Malik said the unions would let the government know then if they would accept the offer and call off the protests.

The government was “sympathetic to farmers’ concerns and is trying to end the stalemate,” it said in a government, thanking them for maintaining “peace and discipline” during the protests.

Farmers plan a tractor rally through New Delhi on Jan 26, India’s Republic Day, which the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined a government petition to ban.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Nigam Prusty; editing by John Stonestreet)

U.S. crosses 10 million COVID-19 cases as third wave of infections surges

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – The United States became the first nation worldwide since the pandemic began to surpass 10 million coronavirus infections, according to a Reuters tally on Sunday, as the third wave of the COVID-19 virus surges across the nation.

The grim milestone came on the same day as global coronavirus cases exceeded 50 million.

The United states has reported about a million cases in the past 10 days, the highest rate of infections since the nation reported its first novel coronavirus case in Washington state 293 days ago.

The country reported a record 131,420 COVID-19 cases on Saturday and has reported over 100,000 infections five times in the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally.

The U.S. latest reported seven-day average of 105,600 daily cases, ramped up by at least 29%, is more than the combined average for India and France, two of the worst affected countries in Asia and Europe.

More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the illness caused by the coronavirus first emerged in China late last year.

The daily average of reported new deaths in the United States account for one in every 11 deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters analysis.

The number of reported deaths nationwide climbed by more than 1,000 for a fifth consecutive day on Saturday, a trend last seen in mid-August, according to a Reuters tally.

Health experts say deaths tend to increase four to six weeks after a surge in infections.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who spent much of his election campaign criticizing President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, pledged on Saturday to make tackling the pandemic a top priority.

Biden will announce a 12-member task force on Monday to deal with the pandemic that will be led by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler. The coronavirus task force will be charged with developing a blueprint for containing the disease once Biden takes office in January.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on the most cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska the top five worst-affected U.S. states.

Illinois emerged as the new epicenter in the Midwest, with the state reporting over 60,000 COVID-19 infections in the last seven days, the highest in the country, according to Reuters data. The state reported more than 12,454 new cases on Saturday, the highest single-day number so far.

Texas, which accounts for 10% of total U.S. cases, is the hardest-hit state and became the first to surpass a million coronavirus cases in the United States on Saturday.

According to a Reuters analysis, the South region comprises nearly 43% of all the cases in the United States since the pandemic began, with nearly 4.3 million cases in the region alone, followed by the Midwest, West and Northeast.

New York, with over 33,000 fatalities, remains the state with highest number of deaths and accounts for about 14% of total U.S. deaths.

The United States performed about 10.5 million coronavirus tests in the first seven days of November, of which 6.22% came back positive, compared with 6.17% the prior seven-days, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Diane Craft and Michael Perry)

India sees early vaccine launch as AstraZeneca deliveries run late

By Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India raced ahead with work on its coronavirus vaccine while Britain’s AstraZeneca said its deliveries were running “a little bit late” as countries around the world sought to conquer the pandemic and rescue their economies.

A vaccine is seen as the world’s best bet for taming a virus that has infected more than 48 million people, led to more than 1.2 million deaths, roiled economies and disrupted billions of lives since it was first identified in China in December.

Australia is beefing up its prospective arsenal against the pandemic to 135 million doses of various vaccine candidates.

“We aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

Some 45 vaccine candidates are in human trials worldwide, with Pfizer Inc saying it could file in late November for U.S. authorization, opening up the possibility of a vaccine being available in the United States by the end of the year.

Moderna and AstraZeneca are close behind the largest U.S. drugmaker and are likely to have early data on their vaccine candidates before the end of the year.

An Indian government-backed vaccine could be launched as early as February – months earlier than expected – as last-stage trials begin this month and studies have so far showed it is safe and effective, a senior government scientist told Reuters.

Bharat Biotech, a private company that is developing COVAXIN with the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), had earlier hoped to launch it only in the second quarter of next year.

“The vaccine has shown good efficacy,” senior ICMR scientist Rajni Kant, who is also a member of its COVID-19 task force, said at the research body’s New Delhi headquarters.

“It is expected that by the beginning of next year, February or March, something would be available.”

Bharat Biotech could not immediately be contacted.

A launch in February would make COVAXIN the first India-made vaccine to be rolled out.

VACCINE KEPT FROZEN

AstraZeneca has signed multiple deals to supply more than three billion doses of its candidate to countries around the world.

But a summer dip in British coronavirus infections had pushed back test results, leading the drugmaker to delay deliveries of shots to the government.

Britain’s vaccines chief said on Wednesday it would receive just 4 million doses of the potential vaccine this year, against initial estimates for 30 million by Sept. 30.

AstraZeneca said on Thursday it was holding back deliveries while it awaits the data from late-stage clinical trials in order to maximize the shelf-life of supplies.

“We are a little bit late in deliveries, which is why the vaccine has been kept in frozen form,” CEO Pascal Soriot said on a conference call.

AstraZeneca and its partner on the project, the University of Oxford, said that data from late-stage trials should land this year.

The United States leads the world in both the number of COVID deaths and infections and the pandemic was a polarizing issue in Tuesday’s presidential election in which votes were still being counted.

Australia’s Morrison said the government would buy 40 million vaccine doses from Novavax and 10 million from Pfizer and BioNTech.

That adds to the 85 million doses Australia has already committed to buy from AstraZeneca and CSL Ltd should trials prove successful.

Among other vaccine candidates around the world, a growing number of Russians are unwilling to be inoculated once a vaccine becomes widely available, the Levada Centre, Russia’s only major independent pollster, said this week.

Russia, raising eyebrows in the West, is rolling out its “Sputnik V” vaccine for domestic use despite the fact that late-stage trials have not yet finished.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

In COVID-19 clampdown, China bars travelers from Britain, France, India

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has barred non-Chinese travelers from Britain, France, Belgium, the Philippines and India, imposing some of the most stringent entry curbs of any country as coronavirus cases surge around the world.

The restrictions, which cover those with valid visas and residence permits and take effect in conjunction with a more restrictive testing regime for arrivals from several other countries, drew a frosty response from Britain.

“We are concerned by the abruptness of the announcement and the blanket ban on entry, and await further clarification on when it will be lifted,” said the British Chamber of Commerce in China as the blanket bans were announced by the five countries’ Chinese embassies.

England started a month-long lockdown on Thursday. Britain’s virus death toll is the highest in Europe, and it is grappling with more than 20,000 new cases a day.

Belgium has Europe’s highest per capita number of new confirmed cases, while France and India are among the top five countries in the world with the most infections.

The suspensions were a partial reversal of an easing on Sept. 28, when China allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter. In March, China had banned entry of foreigners in response to the epidemic.

‘SOLD OUT IN SECONDS’

Meanwhile, many people planning November visits to China scrambled to book earlier flights to circumvent potentially disruptive restrictions due to come into force for other countries from Friday.

Linyi Li, a Chinese national, had planned to fly from Seattle to China in mid-November but switched her flight to Nov. 6 even though fares had tripled.

“The tickets were sold out in seconds, as people were all scrambling to beat the deadline,” said Li, 30. “I’ve been rushing to sell many of my family belongings in the past days in case I can’t get back to the States.”

From Friday, all passengers from the United States, France, Germany and Thailand bound for mainland China must take a nucleic acid test and a blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus no more than 48 hours before boarding.

Flights scheduled for Friday are not covered by the new rule, since passengers would have done their tests before that day under previous requirements.

China also plans to impose dual-test requirements on travelers from Australia, Singapore and Japan from Nov. 8.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said the antibody test was not widely available in many countries.

“(So) unfortunately, while technically leaving the door open, these changes imply a de facto ban on anyone trying to get back to their lives, work and families in China,” said the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.

On Tuesday, China Southern Airlines, the country’s biggest carrier by passenger load, said it would suspend transit services for passengers embarking from 21 countries, mostly African and Asian countries and including India and the Philippines.

The number of weekly international passenger flights serving mainland China from late October through March is set to slump 96.8% from a year earlier to 592, the latest schedules show.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Dominique Patton, Stella Qiu, Gabriel Crossley, Martin Pollard and Shivani Singh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and John Stonestreet)

India’s coronavirus infections rise to 6.69 million

India’s total coronavirus cases rose by 61,267 in the last 24 hours to 6.69 million on Tuesday morning, data from the health ministry showed.

Deaths from COVID-19 infections rose by 884 to 103,569, the ministry said.

India’s death toll from the novel coronavirus rose past 100,000 on Saturday, only the third country in the world to reach that bleak milestone, after the United States and Brazil, and its epidemic shows no sign of abating.

Last week, India further eased restrictions and permitted states to open schools and movie theatres.

Exclusive: New global lab network will compare COVID-19 vaccines head-to-head

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – A major non-profit health emergencies group has set up a global laboratory network to assess data from potential COVID-19 vaccines, allowing scientists and drugmakers to compare them and speed up selection of the most effective shots.

Speaking to Reuters ahead of announcing the labs involved, Melanie Saville, director of vaccine R&D at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said the idea was to “compare apples with apples” as drugmakers race to develop an effective shot to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The centralized network is the first of its kind to be set up in response to a pandemic.

In a network spanning Europe, Asia and North America, the labs will centralize analysis of samples from trials of COVID-19 candidates “as though vaccines are all being tested under one roof”, Saville said, aiming to minimize the risk of variation in results.

“When you start off (with developing potential new vaccines) especially with a new disease, everyone develops their own assays, they all use different protocols and different reagents – so while you get a readout, the ability to compare between different candidates is very difficult,” she told Reuters.

“By taking the centralized lab approach … it will give us a chance to really make sure we are comparing apples with apples.”

The CEPI network will initially involve six labs, one each in Canada, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and India, Saville said.

Hundreds of potential COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of development around the world, with shots developed in Russia and China already being deployed before full efficacy trials have been done, and front-runners from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca likely to have final-stage trial results before year-end.

Typically, the immunogenicity of potential vaccines is assessed in individual lab analyses, which aim to see whether biomarkers of immune response – such as antibodies and T-cell responses – are produced after clinical trial volunteers receive a dose, or doses, of the vaccine candidate.

But with more than 320 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the works, Saville said, the many differences in data collection and evaluation methods are an issue.

As well as potential variations in markers of immunity, there are differences in how and where samples are collected, transported and stored – all of which can impact the quality and usefulness of the data produced, and make comparisons tricky.

And with a range of different vaccine technologies being explored – from viral vector vaccines to ones based on messenger RNA – standard evaluation of their true potential “becomes very complex”, she said.

“With hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines in development … it’s essential that we have a system that can reliably evaluate and compare the immune response of candidates currently undergoing testing,” she said.

By centralizing the analysis in a lab network, much of what Saville called the “inter-laboratory variability” can be removed, allowing for head-to-head comparisons.

CEPI says all developers of potential COVID-19 vaccines can use the centralized lab network for free to assess their candidates against a common protocol. For now, the network will assess samples from early-stage vaccine candidate testing and first and second stage human trials, but CEPI said it hoped to expand its capacity to late stage (Phase III) trial data in the coming months.

Results produced by the network will be sent back to the developer, with neither CEPI nor the network owning the data.

CEPI itself is co-funding nine of the potential COVID-19 vaccines in development, including candidates from Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and CureVac.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Mark Potter)

U.S. surpasses grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

By Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) – The death toll from the spread of the coronavirus in the United States exceeded 200,000 on Tuesday, by the far the highest number of any nation.

The United States, on a weekly average, is now losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths was regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.

Over 70% of those in the United States who have lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 65, according to CDC data.

The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the United States in the past two weeks and were closely followed by California.

California, Texas and Florida – the three most populous U.S. states – have recorded the most coronavirus infections and have long surpassed the state of New York, which was the epicenter of the outbreak in early 2020. The country as a whole is reporting over 42,000 new infections on average each day and saw cases last week rise on a weekly basis after falling for eight weeks in a row.

Deaths rose 5% last week after falling for four weeks in a row, according to a Reuters analysis.

Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died of the virus, according to Reuters data, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

Brazil follows the United States in the number of overall deaths due to the virus, with over 137,000 fatalities. India has had the world’s highest daily death rate over the last week with total deaths now approaching 100,000.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. to surpass grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

By Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) – The death toll from the spread of coronavirus in the United States was approaching over 200,000 lives on Monday, more than double the number of fatalities in India, the country reporting the second-highest number of cases in the world.

The United States, on a weekly average, is now losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths was regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield recently told Congress that a face mask would provide more guaranteed protection than a vaccine, which would only be broadly available by “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

The CDC currently predicts that the U.S. death toll will reach as high as 218,000 by Oct. 10.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.

Over 70% of those in the United States who have lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 65, according to CDC data.

The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the United States in the past two weeks and was closely followed by California.

California, Texas and Florida – the three most populous U.S. states – have recorded the most coronavirus infections and have long surpassed the state of New York, which was the epicenter of the outbreak in early 2020. The country as a whole is reporting over 40,000 new infections on average each day.

As it battles a second wave of infections, the United States reported a 17% increase in the number of new cases last week compared with the previous seven days, with deaths rising 7% on average in the last, according to a Reuters analysis.

Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died of the virus, according to Reuters data, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

Brazil follows the United States in the number of overall deaths due to the virus, with over 136,000 fatalities.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Biden rejects Trump claim that vaccine is imminent

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday bluntly contradicted President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine may be only weeks away, warning Americans they cannot trust the president’s word.

“The idea that there’s going to be a vaccine and everything’s gonna be fine tomorrow – it’s just not rational,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Moosic, Pennsylvania.

Trump again said on Wednesday that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready for distribution ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Most health experts, including Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said a vaccine will likely not be widely available until mid-2021.

Israel imposes second lockdown

Israel will enter a second nationwide lockdown on Friday at the onset of the Jewish high-holiday season, forcing residents to stay mostly at home amid a resurgence in new coronavirus cases.

The country’s initial lockdown was imposed in late March and eased in May as new cases tapered off, reaching lows in the single digits.

But in the past week, new cases have reached daily highs of over 5,000, and Israeli leaders now acknowledge they lifted measures too soon.

The new lockdown will last three weeks and coincides with the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, traditionally a time for large family gatherings and group prayer.

UK COVID hospital admissions double every eight days

Britain’s health minister said that the novel coronavirus was accelerating across the country, with hospital admissions doubling every eight days, but he refused to say if another national lockdown would be imposed next month.

The United Kingdom has reported the fifth-highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain in September, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week. More than 10 million people are already in local lockdowns.

China reports highest new cases since Aug. 10

Mainland China reported 32 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, marking the highest daily increase in more than a month and up sharply from nine cases reported a day earlier.

Although the latest increase still remains well below the peaks seen at the height of the outbreak in China early this year, it is the biggest since Aug. 10 and suggests continued COVID-19 risks stemming from overseas travelers coming into the country as the pandemic rages on in other parts of the world.

The National Health Commission said that all new cases were imported infections. Mainland China has not reported any local COVID-19 infections since mid-August.

Canada’s Ontario clamps down on parties

Canada’s most populous province will clamp down on social gatherings to prevent “reckless careless people” from spreading the coronavirus at illegal parties, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

His warning came as the nation’s top medical officer said authorities could potentially lose the ability to manage the pandemic.

Indoor social events in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city – along with Ontario’s Peel and Ottawa regions – would be authorized to include no more than 10 people, down from a previous limit of 50, Ford said.

“This is a serious situation, folks. We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” he told a news conference.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Latin American nations seek more time to join WHO vaccine plan

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Several Latin American countries have informed the World Health Organization (WHO) they intend to request more time to sign up for its global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan known as COVAX, an official at the WHO’s regional branch said on Thursday.

Countries have until midnight on Friday to formalize legally binding commitments to COVAX, a mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual vaccines.

A representative for the GAVI Alliance, the COVAX secretariat, said by email that details of which nations have joined COVAX will only be made public after the deadline.

Health officials in Mexico, which has the worst outbreak in Latin America after Brazil, said their country would sign the commitment on time. Brazil, which has the world’s most severe outbreak outside the United States and India, was still studying what to do, a ministry spokesperson said.

More than 170 countries have joined the global vaccine plan to help buy and distribute immunization shots for COVID-19 fairly around the world, WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan-American Health Organization, said in a briefing on Wednesday that Latin American countries were having trouble meeting the deadline and some wanted to push back the date.

Barbosa said all countries in the Americas except the United States had expressed interest in the vaccine facility, even those that have separate agreements with vaccine makers, because it gives them an added guarantee of access to doses.

Ten Latin American countries are among 90 poor nations in the world that will not have to pay for the vaccine, while the others in the region will pay an “accessible” price through COVAX, Barbosa said.

Colombian President Ivan Duque confirmed on Wednesday that his government was joining COVAX and Paraguay’s health ministry said it has already signed, even as it plans to buy the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Diego Ore in Mexico City, Julia Cobb in Bogotá, Daniela Desantis in Asunción; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Chizu Nomiyama)