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Gold had a blockbuster Dhanteras this year

old sales have bettered pre-Covid levels this Dhanteras on Tuesday at 50 tonnes, almost 20 tonnes more than the 2019 Dhanteras on the back of widespread vaccination, fewer infections, and lower price of the yellow metal.

Dhanteras had remained muted last year when local restrictions, fear of pandemic and non-availability of vaccine made most people away from stores while gold consumption on 2019 Dhanteras was about 30 tonnes, according to trade body India Bullion & Jewellers Association (IBJA) whose gold rates are used by the Reserve Bank of India to fix the price of sovereign gold bonds.

“But this year, Covid cases have declined and most of the people have got at least one dose of vaccine,” Surendra Mehta, national secretary of IBJA, told ET. “There are no local restrictions now. Moreover, gold prices have softened, which created a positive sentiment about gold among people.”

The price of gold on Dhanteras day was around ₹47,904 per 10 grams while it was hovering around ₹51,500 last year.

Digital gold players also witnessed a strong demand with people booking gold of ticket size of ₹3,000-4,000 to celebrate Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali festival, when buying gold and other metals is considered auspicious.

Gold was on bull run after the pandemic outbreak last year.

China reports over 100 COVID-19 cases amid virus spike

China on Wednesday reported over 100 COVID-19 cases, including nine in Beijing, which has already imposed several curbs restricting the travel of the city residents to other parts of the country amid the new spike in infections.

China’s National Health Commission said on Wednesday that 93 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases and 16 new imported cases were reported on Tuesday, the highest in a single day in recent weeks.

Of the new local cases, 35 were reported in the province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia, 14 in Hebei, another 14 in Gansu, nine in Beijing, six in Inner Mongolia, four each in Chongqing and Qinghai, two each in Jiangxi, Yunnan and Ningxia, and one in Sichuan, the Commission said.

Tuesday also saw 16 new imported cases, including three previously reported asymptomatic carriers, it said.

One new suspected case arriving from outside the mainland was reported in Shanghai and no new deaths from COVID-19 were reported on Tuesday, the Commission said.

Since the coronavirus first surfaced in Wuhan in December 2019, China has so far officially reported 97,423 as of Tuesday of which 4,636 had died as a result of the virus. As of Tuesday, 1,000 patients are still receiving treatment. Among them, 37 were in severe condition, the Commission report said.

China, which has been pursuing a Zero COVID policy, continues to experience periodic outbreaks of the virus in different places despite vaccinating over 76 per cent of its population.

China’s top respiratory diseases expert Zhong Nanshan has fended off criticism against the Zero-COVOD strategy saying it was still less costly than living with the virus and reintroducing restrictions each time outbreaks occurred.

The country had no option but to aim for zero infections because the coronavirus was replicating quickly and the global death rate of about 2 per cent was unacceptable, Zhong told state-run CGTN-TV on Monday.

“Some countries have decided to open up entirely despite still having a few infections,” Zhong said.

“That led to a large number of infections in the past two months and they decided to re-impose restrictions. This flip-flopping approach is actually more costly. The psychological impact on citizens and society is greater,” he said.

Backing the COVID Zero policy, an article in Global Times said “if we change course to the European and US way of “coexistence with the virus,” China will fall victim to the virus within just a few months, with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of cases a day”.

“The daily death toll could mount to hundreds or even thousands of people. The situation is definitely not something most Chinese are willing to bear”, it said.

“Every time an outbreak occurs, the implementation of the zero-COVID policy will mean economic and social costs. But if we don’t adopt this policy, it will lead to a serious spread of the virus, and the cost will only be higher”, it said.

Novel antibody reduces severity of COVID-19 infection: Study

Scientists have identified and tested an antibody that limits the severity of infections from a variety of coronaviruses, including those that cause COVID-19 as well as the SARS illness. The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Tuesday, isolated the antibody by analysing blood from a patient who had been infected with the SARS-CoV-1 virus, which caused the SARS outbreak, and from a current COVID-19 patient.

“This antibody has the potential to be a therapeutic for the current epidemic,” said study co-senior author Barton Haynes, director of Duke University Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI), US.

“It could also be available for future outbreaks, if or when other coronaviruses jump from their natural animal hosts to humans,” Haynes said.

The researchers identified over 1,700 antibodies, which the immune system produces to bind at specific sites on specific viruses to block the pathogen from infecting cells.

When viruses mutate, many binding cites are altered or eliminated, leaving antibodies ineffectual, they said.

However, the researchers noted that there are often sites on the virus that remain unchanged despite mutations.

They focused on antibodies that target these sites because of their potential to be highly effective across different lineages of a virus.

Of the 1,700 antibodies from the two inpiduals, the researchers found 50 antibodies that had the ability to bind to both the SARS-CoV-1 virus as well as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Further analysis found that one of those cross-binding antibodies was able to bind to a multitude of animal coronaviruses in addition to the two human-infecting pathogens.

“This antibody binds to the coronavirus at a location that is conserved across numerous mutations and variations,” Haynes said.

“As a result, it can neutralise a wide range of coronaviruses,” he explained.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), US, tested the antibody in mice to determine whether it could effectively block or minimise the infections.

They found that when given before the animals were infected, the antibody protected mice against developing SARS, COVID-19 and its variants such as Delta.

The researchers also found that the antibody provide protection from many animal coronaviruses that have the potential to cause human pandemics.

“The findings provide a template for the rational design of universal vaccine strategies that are variant-proof and provide broad protection from known and emerging coronaviruses,” said study co-senior author Ralph S Baric, a professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

When given after infections, the antibody reduced severe lung symptoms compared to animals that were not treated with the antibody, according to the researchers.

“The therapeutic activity even after mice were infected suggests that this could be a treatment deployed in the current pandemic, but also stockpiled to prevent the spread of a future epidemic with a SARS-related virus,” said David Martinez, a post-doctoral researcher at UNC’s Gillings School.

“This antibody could be harnessed to prevent maybe SARS-CoV-3 or SARS-CoV-4,” Martinez added.

Delhi schools reopen from today with 50 per cent capacity

Delhi schools reopen for all classes with 50 per cent capacity from Monday after the COVID-19 pandemic became less severe.

According to the Directorate of Education circular, heads of schools should ensure that students attend the school with parental consent only. It is to ensure that no more than 50 per cent of the students to be called to schools.

“I feel good coming here. Online education was also good. We are instructed to sanitize our hands regularly and maintain social distancing by the school authorities,” said Divya Sharma, a student.

“I missed coming to school for two years. I am happy that I will get to study,” said another student.

Time table is to be made as per the capacity/occupancy limit of the classrooms/Labs following COVID appropriate behaviour, said the circular.

As the situation varies from school to school, the school schedule may be staggered to avoid crowding in the classrooms and at the school’s main entrance/exit gate. The lunch breaks may also be staggered to avoid crowding. The blended mode of the teaching-learning process (online and offline) should be continued, as per the circular.

COVID Appropriate Behaviour (CAB) should be strictly followed in all schools, according to the circular.

“District Administration should be requested to properly cordon off the area of the vaccination/ration distribution/ testing centres running in schools to prevent intermingling of students with persons visiting these centres.

In case, it is not possible to segregate such centres from the school, the District Authorities may be requested to shift such centres to any other suitable location.

Further, the District Administration may be requested not to deploy teachers in COVID duties as they will be required in teaching-learning activities,” the circular said.

Schools in the national capital re-opened for classes IX to XII on September 1 after a prolonged closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Video: Delhi schools reopen with 50% attendance, strict COVID-19 protocols

Vaccination offers more protection against Covid than prior infection, CDC study suggests

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that vaccination provides stronger and more reliable protection against the coronavirus than a past infection does, the agency said Friday.

Unvaccinated people who had previously recovered from a coronavirus infection were five times as likely to get COVID as people who had received both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, the CDC said.

The study’s authors cautioned, however, that certain gaps inpatient data and biases in their study participants could have influenced the results.

“We now have additional evidence that reaffirms the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, even if you have had prior infection,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement accompanying the release of the report.

The question of whether people who have had COVID really need a shot has gained traction among some Americans as vaccine mandates take hold across the country. Scientists have urged COVID survivors not to skip the vaccine, noting that the strength and durability of so-called natural immunity depends heavily on people’s age and health, and the severity of an initial infection.

The CDC study used a roundabout experimental design. The researchers examined roughly 7,000 people hospitalized this year with COVID-like illness across nine states. They then looked at how many of those hospitalized patients were indeed infected with the coronavirus. The odds of testing positive for the virus were considerably higher among unvaccinated, previously infected patients than they were among vaccinated people.

The study comes with several caveats, however. The researchers cautioned that the findings may not translate to nonhospitalized people with different levels of access to medical care, and that some patients in the vaccinated group may unknowingly have also had previous infections.

The researchers also noted that separate research in Israel had failed to show that vaccinated people were better protected than those who had only been infected. In general, scientists said, studies on the topic had drawn contradictory conclusions.

Still, some patterns have emerged. Two doses of an mRNA vaccine produce more antibodies, and more reliably so, than a coronavirus infection does. But the antibodies from prior infection are more perse, potentially helping people fend off variants.

Whatever the effect, doctors have warned that acquiring natural immunity is perilous and uncertain. Not everyone survives COVID in the first place, and those who do may not be able to count on a vigorous immune response.

Nearly 112 crore Covid vaccines given to states, UTs so far: Govt

Nearly 112 crore Covid vaccine doses have been provided to states and Union Territories so far, the Union Health Ministry said on Sunday.

More than 13 crore balance and unutilised vaccine doses are still available with the states and UTs for inoculation, it said.

The Union government is committed to accelerating the pace and expanding the scope of COVID-19 vaccination throughout the country. The vaccination drive has been ramped up through availability of more vaccines, advance visibility of vaccine availability to states and UTs for enabling better planning by them, and streamlining the vaccine supply chain, the ministry said.

As part of the nationwide vaccination drive, the Government of India has been supporting the states and UTs by providing them Covid vaccines free of cost.

In the new phase of the universalisation of the Covid vaccination drive, the Union government procures and supplies free of cost 75 per cent of the vaccines being produced by the vaccine manufacturers in the country to states and UTs for inoculation, the ministry said.

UK to remove all countries from its COVID travel ban red list

Beginning Monday, the UK will remove the remaining seven countries from its COVID-19 travel ban red list, which will be reviewed every three weeks and revised in case of emerging COVID variant threats, the British government has announced.

From 4am on Monday, the remaining seven destinations on the UK’s COVID-19 travel ban red list – Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela – will be removed, it said in an update on Thursday.

The red list itself has not been scrapped and will be reviewed every three weeks, with restrictions imposed in case of emerging COVID variant threats.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said that Delta is now the dominant COVID variant in most countries around the world, which means the risk of known variants entering the UK has reduced.

“This is another step in the right direction for international travel with more good news today for passengers, businesses and the travel sector,” said UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

“Whether it’s reuniting family members or making it easier for businesses to trade, the success of the vaccine rollout both at home and abroad has allowed us to reach this milestone. However, we must not be complacent and remain ready to spring into action and defend our hard-won gains if needed,” he said.

The travel regulations between India and the UK for fully vaccinated passengers had been eased earlier this month, with Covishield-vaccinated Indians not required to undergo self-isolation at a declared address on entry into Britain.

Travellers coming from red list countries continued to be subjected to a mandatory 10-day quarantine at a government-sanctioned facility. The latest update means travellers vaccinated with UK-recognised vaccines will all face similar international travel rules.

“The red list and quarantine remain vital in protecting our borders – we are keeping a small number of quarantine rooms on standby and will not hesitate to take swift action by adding countries to the red list if the risk increases again,” said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

The DfT said government scientists will continue to closely monitor variants of concern in order to ensure the UK’s approach remains “proportionate”, surveillance through regular testing continuing throughout.

Meanwhile, under rules effective since October 24, fully vaccinated travellers returning to England from countries not on the travel ban red list – including India – can use a COVID negative Lateral Flow Test (LFT) instead of the more expensive Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test.

All travellers must complete a compulsory passenger locator form prior to travel, including providing a test booking reference number supplied by a testing provider.

Passengers who are not fully vaccinated with an authorised vaccine must still take a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 test and complete 10 days self-isolation on entry to the UK.

It comes as the UK recorded 39,842 coronavirus cases on Thursday, reflecting a downward trend over the last few days having crossed 50,000 daily cases last week.

China’s Xi Jinping calls for mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccines

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday called for equal treatment and mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccines based on the World Health Organization‘s emergency use list, the official Xinhua agency reported.

In his remarks at the 16th Group of 20 Leaders’ Summit, delivered via video link, Xi said China had provided over 1.6 billion doses of COVID shots to the world, and was working with 16 nations on the cooperative manufacturing of doses.

Two Chinese vaccines, one from Sinovac Biotech and one from Sinopharm, have been included in the emergency use list of the WHO.

Karbon Card signs 15% more clients as corporate spending bounces back

Karbon Card, a Bengaluru-based fintech that specialises in corporate cards, has signed up 15% more companies this Diwali season, indicating rising corporate spending after prolonged restricted travel.

Traditionally, Karbon clocks 50% higher spends during the week culminating in Diwali, compared to the previous 30-day period on an average while spends are 40% higher in the week following Diwali. The Y Combinator-backed corporate card provider said it expects a similar momentum to continue for the rest of the year.

“Traditionally, travel has been a sector which has brought us good revenues. In the pre-March 2020 period, about 40% of all spending through our cards was done for travel – airline travel as well as hotel stays. That was brought down completely in the lockdown days,” said Sunil Kumar, Co-founder, Karbon Card. “With the lockdowns easing and people coming out of their homes, we are seeing a pick-up and about 10% of Karbon’s revenue is coming from this segment.

Corporate travel is also a major revenue grosser, which is bouncing back 15 months after being hit adversely by Covid.

Karbon’s card replaces personal credit cards for use by corporates – companies give these cards to their employees for a variety of uses as corporates find this a convenient mode of paying their employees as part of their salaries, or as rewards or reimbursements.

For start-ups, Karbon’s card offers 4 benefits ― credit with no personal guarantee or fixed deposits; payment transactions through corporate cards to its customers; rewards specific to the requirements of the start-up, and software products. “For Karbon, this Diwali will mark a new, rejuvenated start. As start-ups sprout by the day in India, and they endeavour to keep their talented staff content, Karbon will continue to play its role in making spending a convenient and pleasurable experience for our customers,” Kumar added.

Corporate gifting is yet another area which should see a spike this year. In the pre-Covid-19 days, Karbon used to get 20% of its total income from this segment. After the drastic fall during the two Covid waves, this sector is expected to begin contributing to the kitty this festival season onwards.

19 states sue Biden administration over COVID vaccine rule

Eighteen states filed three separate lawsuits Friday to stop President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors, arguing that the requirement violates federal law.

Attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming signed on to one lawsuit, which was filed in a federal district court in Missouri. Another group of states including Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Georgia.

Texas also sued inpidually on Friday.

The states asked a federal judge to block Biden’s requirement that all employees of federal contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 8, arguing that the mandate violates federal procurement law and is an overreach of federal power.

“If the federal government attempts to unconstitutionally exert its will and force federal contractors to mandate vaccinations, the workforce and businesses could be decimated, further exacerbating the supply chain and workforce crises,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, said in a statement. “The federal government should not be mandating vaccinations, and that’s why we filed suit today – to halt this illegal, unconstitutional action.”

New Hampshire’s Republican Attorney General John Formella said in a statement that COVID vaccines are safe, effective and encouraged but that the benefits “do not justify violating the law.”

Florida sued on Thursday, bringing to 19 the number of states challenging the Biden administration mandate in four federal courts.

Biden has argued that sweeping vaccine mandates will help end the deadly pandemic, but Republicans nationwide have opposed the vaccination requirements and have threatened to bring similar legal challenges.

Texas filed a similar lawsuit Friday in a federal district court in a federal court in Galveston, Texas, seeking to block enforcement of the mandate.

“The Biden Administration has repeatedly expressed its disdain for Americans who choose not to get a vaccine, and it has committed repeated and abusive federal overreach to force upon Americans something they do not want,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, in a statement. “The federal government does not have the ability to strip inpiduals of their choice to get a vaccine or not. If the President thinks his patience is wearing thin, he is clearly underestimating the lack of patience from Texans whose rights he is infringing.”

A number of states have also said they will challenge Biden’s plan to have the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue a rule that would mandate vaccines for all private businesses with 100 or more employees.

“We will not allow the Biden administration to circumvent the law or force hardworking Georgians to choose between their livelihood or this vaccine,” Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said in a statement.

The Democratic Party of Georgia called the lawsuit a “dangerous political stunt.”

Florida filed a separate lawsuit against the federal mandate on Thursday. All the suits argue that the president doesn’t have the authority to issue the rule and that it violates procurement law. The suits also argue that the rule violates the 10th Amendment reserving power to the states, illegally uses federal spending to coerce the states, and that 60 days of public comment wasn’t properly allowed.

The Georgia-led suit, for example, argues that such a rule could only stand if Congress passed it in a law.

“Biden has again demonstrated open disdain for the rule of law in seizing power Congress never gave him,” Republican Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said.

The states argue that large number of federal contract workers will quit, meaning states will have to choose between breaching the contracts because of a reduced labor force that can’t do all the work, or breaching the contracts by retaining unvaccinated employees in violation of federal rules.

All but two of the states that have sued trail the national average in vaccination rate. Only New Hampshire and Florida exceed the nationwide rate.