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NEW DELHI: With the likelihood of a vaccine against coronavirus being available within months, the government has begun a massive exercise to map out cold chain storage facilities to ensure the vaccine is delivered quickly across the country.

A national expert group is talking to public and private sector entities in the pharmaceutical sector, food processing industry and agro businesses as well as food delivery start-ups such as Swiggy and Zomato to identify cold storages or fridges at the taluka level that can stock and distribute the vaccine, sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said.

A draft scheme for the vaccine distribution is likely to be released around the middle of next week, they said.

At least one domestic and three foreign vaccines are likely to be available to India in the coming months.

Most of the vaccine candidates will require a cold supply chain, with temperatures that can go well below zero degree celsius, down to -80 degrees celsius, though most need to be kept at between 2 and 8 degrees celsius.

The sources said that majority of vaccine candidates are in liquid form except a few freeze-dried products. They are to be administered through intramuscular injection/ route and requirement will be a two-dose regimen.

The majority of vaccine candidates would be available in multi-dose vials (2.5, 10, 20, and 50 doses per vial).

An estimation of cold chain space needed for vaccines has been made considering 18 per cent of the population would need to be covered within six months, they said, adding that both the current temperature ranges (+2 to +8 degrees celsius and -15 to -20 degrees celsius) have been considered for the scenario to account for adequate storage in either condition.

The Union health ministry has already initiated a cold chain augmentation plan to address the additional cold chain space required for the vaccine.

The sources said there will be a temporary requirement (2-3 months) of surge capacity for large cold storage at the state/ regional level to store and distribute large incoming quantities of the vaccine.

While most of the vaccine products under development require traditional cold chain temperature range (+2 to +8 degrees celsius and -15 to -20 degrees celsius), some products might require -60 to -80 degrees Celsius temperature for which support of the private sector which maintains such storage can be sought.

With multiple immunisation sessions getting planned, additional support by increasing the fleet of refrigerated vans to transport vaccines will support the mega immunisation drive, they said.

The sources said cold chain capacity needs to be augmented most in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, Telangana, and Delhi in that order. Other states that need to augment cold chain capacity are Assam, Jharkhand, Punjab and Odisha.

Taluka-wise capacity augmentation has also been mapped, they said. The sources also said some discussions on the pricing of the vaccine have also been held and it was being debated if they are to be administered free or for a price.

Earlier this week, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said the government expects to receive and utilise 400-500 million vaccine doses for Covid-19, and cover approximately 20-25 crore people by July 2021. The Centre has also reportedly directed states to make a robust plan for vaccine storage and distribution by October 15.

According to experts, the safe delivery of vaccines for mass immunisation against Covid-19 is a massive challenge and that the country will need to significantly ramp up its cold chain facilities.

Pawanexh Kohli, the founding CEO of India’s National Centre for Cold-Chain Development (NCCD), agreed that protocols will require Covid-19 vaccines to be kept between 2 and 8 degrees celsius, while in transport and storage until delivery.

While a bulk of the vaccines will be distributed through the Centre’s Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) mechanism, experts also suggest that the government rope in private cold chain operators.

The vast scale of India’s UIP is supported by more than 27,000 functional cold chain points of which 750 (3 per cent) are located at the district level and above. The rest are located below the district level, according to the government’s comprehensive multi-year UIP plan for 2018-22.

This includes 76,000 cold chain ‘equipment’, 2.5 million health workers, and 55,000 cold chain staff, the plan report said.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

India calls for complete ceasing of support to terrorist forces in Middle East

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UNITED NATIONS: India has called on all concerned parties to completely stop supporting terrorist forces, like the ISIS, while urging all stakeholders in the Middle East to work constructively for peace, stability and development.

India underscored that it has invested considerably in the peace and stability of the region by deploying its personnel as part of UN peacekeeping forces, through humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, capacity building, and will continue contributing towards peace-building in the Middle East.

“India calls on concerned parties to completely stop support to terrorist forces, like ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and others. India also urges all parties in the region to work constructively and in good faith to promote peace, stability and development for the benefit of all people in the Middle East,” India said in a written statement on Monday on the Security Council’s open debate on ‘The Situation in the Middle East’.

India said the truce between Israel and the Hamas has eased the humanitarian situation in Gaza and expressed hope that the temporary truce is converted into a permanent ceasefire, which can save precious human lives on both sides and create a conducive environment for talks.

“It is an unfortunate reality that the interlinked and mutually reinforcing challenges faced by the people of the Middle East have not yet been resolved. Political instability, long-festering conflicts, sectarian divides, issue of refugees and terrorism continue to plague the region. The COVID-pandemic has only exacerbated the threats posed by these challenges,” India said.

The statement made India’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador T S Tirumurti, will go as part of the official record of the Council.

India said it appreciates the agreement between Fatah and Hamas for holding Parliamentary and Presidential elections and also elections for the Palestinian National Council, which will help fulfill the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people.

India also welcomed the agreements for normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. “India has always supported peace and stability in West Asia, which is our extended neighbourhood,” India said.

Further, India said the commencement of discussions on the disputed border between Israel and Lebanon is a significant development, expressing hope that this will provide an opportunity to resolve the longstanding issue between the two countries.

India highlighted that Palestinian aspirations for a sovereign and independent state are yet to be fulfilled and stressed that New Delhi has been unwavering in its commitment to the Palestinian cause and continues to remain supportive of a peaceful negotiated resolution of the Palestinian issue.

“India has supported the two-state solution as a just and acceptable solution to the conflict. Establishment of a Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, within mutually agreed borders should be achieved through negotiations directly by the two parties,” India said adding that any stalemate could strengthen the hands of extremists and shut the door to cooperation thereby jeopardising the security, stability and prosperity of the people on both sides and the region.

Accordingly, India urged Israel and Palestine to resume direct negotiations at the earliest and called upon the international community to take concrete steps towards resuming and facilitating these negotiations quickly.

India noted that the decade-long armed conflict in Syria has claimed over 400,000 lives, displaced 6.2 million people internally and compelled another 6.3 million people to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.

“While we are heartened to see return of normalcy to major parts of the country, we are also reminded of the enormous resources that would be required to provide urgent humanitarian aid, rebuild infrastructure, enable return of the refugees and restore a normal and dignified life of all Syrians,” the statement said.

India said in the statement that it is not only contributing to the return of normalcy and rebuilding of Syria, but has also consistently called for a comprehensive and peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict through a Syrian-led dialogue, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the people of Syria.

India voiced concern over the security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and said the recent exchange of prisoners by the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah, who had been detained in connection with the conflict, is a welcome development.

“India hopes that the parties will take more confidence building measures to provide the necessary impetus for the full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement,” the statement read.

India also hopes for peace and stability in Iraq with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

India noted that in the aftermath of the August blast that brought destruction to vast swathes of Beirut and inflicted heavy loss of lives, India stood in solidarity with Lebanon.

New Delhi sent emergency humanitarian aid of over 58 metric tons to Beirut. “We look forward to the swift formation of a new government that can offer political stability and also tackle the grave socio-economic challenges being faced by the people of Lebanon,” the statement said.

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US, India must focus on threat posed by China: Secretary of state Mike Pompeo

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NEW DELHI: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Tuesday stressed on the need for Washington and New Delhi to work together to counter the threat posed by Beijing to “security and freedom”

Pompeo’s comment came during the crucial 2+2 dialogue between India and the US, which saw the signing of a crucial defence agreement between the two countries.

“There is much more work to do for sure. We have a lot to discuss today: Our cooperation on the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, to confronting the Chinese Communist Party’s threats to security and freedom to promoting peace and stability throughout the region,” Pompeo said during talks with defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Pompeo was joined by defence secretary Mark Esper.

Esper too focussed on the apparent threat posed by China, specifically in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Our focus now must be on institutionalising and regularising our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future,” Esper said.

The comments assume significance as India is locked in a border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh.

In June this year, 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of PLA soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, hardening the mood in India against China and driving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to seek closer military ties with the United States.

In the US, President Donald Trump has made being tough on China a key part of his campaign to secure a second term in next week’s presidential election and Pompeo has been trying to bolster allies to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

This month, India invited Australia to join naval drills it holds each year with the United States and Japan, brushing off Chinese concerns that the exercises destabilise the region.

(With inputs from agencies)

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper meet NSA Doval

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NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper on Tuesday held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, covering key aspects of growing strategic ties between the two countries.

Issues of strategic importance were discussed at the meeting, sources said.

The meeting took place ahead of the third edition of 2+2 ministerial dialogue. Esper and Pompeo arrived here on Monday for the crucial talks aimed at further boosting the defence and security ties between the two countries.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held separate talks with their US counterparts on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, both the top US administration officials visited the National War Memorial and paid tributes to India’s fallen heroes.

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