Author: Uponsci

Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Go Maskless, CDC Says

U.S. health officials said Thursday that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can go maskless and stop maintaining social distancing in most social settings. Folks, if you’re fully vaccinated — you no longer need to wear a mask.If you’re not vaccinated yet — go to Taisei Kikuchi performs in the park competition during a test event set in preparation at the venue for the Olympic Games, which has been rescheduled to start in July, in Tokyo, May 14, 2021.Calls to cancel Tokyo Olympics
In Japan, a petition with more than 350,000 signatures, calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, was submitted Friday to the Olympic and Paralympic committee chiefs, as well as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.Japan is experiencing a surge in cases in various locations, including Tokyo where the Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23.  “Precious medical resources would need to be diverted to the Olympics if it’s held,” said “Stop Tokyo Olympics” campaign organizer Kenji Utsunomiya.Japanese officials seem determined to push ahead with plans to open the games which were cancelled last year because of the COVID outbreak.  “Though there is a global pandemic, it is important to hold safe and secure Tokyo 2020 Games,” Governor Koike said recently.Multiple funeral pyres of people who died of COVID-19 burn at the Ghazipur crematorium in New Delhi, India, May 13, 2021.India cases mount
“We are facing invisible enemy, fighting it on war-footing mode,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday about the COVID contagion in India.  On Friday, India reported 343,144 new cases in the last 24 –hour period.  Last week, daily cases sometimes totaled more than 400,000. Only the U.S. has more COVID-19 cases than India, but public health officials say India’s coronavirus numbers are likely undercounted.  According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, India has 24 million COVID cases while the U.S. has 32.9 million.  Brazil is in third place, according to Johns Hopkins, with 15.4 million infections. 

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Misinformation Surges Amid India’s COVID-19 Calamity

The man in the WhatsApp video says he has seen it work himself: A few drops of lemon juice in the nose will cure COVID-19.”If you practice what I am about to say with faith, you will be free of corona in five seconds,” says the man, dressed in traditional religious clothing. “This one lemon will protect you from the virus like a vaccine.”False cures. Terrifying stories of vaccine side effects. Baseless claims that Muslims spread the virus. Fueled by anguish, desperation and distrust of the government, rumors and hoaxes are spreading by word of mouth and on social media in India, compounding the country’s humanitarian crisis.”Widespread panic has led to a plethora of misinformation,” said Rahul Namboori, co-founder of Fact Crescendo, an independent fact-checking organization in India.While treatments such as lemon juice may sound innocuous, such claims can have deadly consequences if they lead people to skip vaccinations or ignore other guidelines.In January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India had “saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.” Life began to resume, and so did attendance at cricket matches, religious pilgrimages and political rallies for Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.Four months later, cases and deaths have exploded, the country’s vaccine rollout has faltered and public anger and mistrust have grown.”All of the propaganda, misinformation and conspiracy theories that I’ve seen in the past few weeks has been very, very political,” said Sumitra Badrinathan, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist who studies misinformation in India. “Some people are using it to criticize the government, while others are using it to support it.”Distrust of Western vaccines and health care is also driving misinformation about sham treatments as well as claims about traditional remedies.The caretaker of a crematorium, center, tries to console a man who lost his 5-month-old child to COVID-19 as they perform a post-burial ritual at the Seemapuri crematorium in New Delhi, India, May 13, 2021.Satyanarayan Prasad saw the video about lemon juice and believed it. The 51-year-old resident of the state of Uttar Pradesh distrusts modern medicine and has a theory as to why his country’s health experts are urging vaccines.”If the government approves lemon drops as a remedy, the … rupees that they have spent on vaccines will be wasted,” Prasad said.Vijay Sankeshwar, a prominent businessman and former politician, repeated the claim about lemon juice, saying two drops in the nostrils will increase oxygen levels in the body.While Vitamin C is essential to human health and immunity, there is no evidence that consuming lemons will fight off the coronavirus.The claim is spreading through the Indian diaspora, too.”They have this thing that if you drink lemon water every day that you’re not going to be affected by the virus,” said Emma Sachdev, a Clinton, New Jersey, resident whose extended family lives in India.Sachdev said several relatives have been infected, yet continue to flout social distancing rules, thinking a visit to the temple will keep them safe.India has also experienced the same types of misinformation about vaccines and vaccine side effects seen around the world.Last month, the popular Tamil actor Vivek died two days after receiving his COVID-19 vaccination. The hospital where he died said Vivek had advanced heart disease, but his death has been seized on by vaccine opponents as evidence that the government is hiding side effects.Much of the misinformation travels on WhatsApp, which has more than 400 million users in India. Unlike more open sites like Facebook or Twitter, WhatsApp — which is owned by Facebook — is an encrypted platform that allows users to exchange messages privately.A sign is displayed at a closed market during a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Hyderabad, India, May 13, 2021.The bad information online “may have come from an unsuspecting neighbor who is not trying to cause harm,” said Badrinathan, the University of Pennsylvania researcher. “New internet users may not even realize that the information is false. The whole concept of misinformation is new to them.”Hoaxes spread online had deadly results in 2018, when at least 20 people were killed by mobs inflamed by posts about supposed gangs of child kidnappers.WhatsApp said in a statement that it works hard to limit misleading or dangerous content by working with public health bodies like the World Health Organization and fact-checking organizations. The platform has also added safeguards restricting the spread of chain messages and directing users to accurate online information.The service is also making it easier for users in India and other nations to use its service to find information about vaccinations.”False claims can discourage people from getting vaccines, seeking the doctor’s help, or taking the virus seriously,” Fact Crescendo’s Namboori said. “The stakes have never been so high.”

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Beset by Virus, Gaza’s Hospitals Now Struggle with Wounded

Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip’s feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing.Then, the bombs began to fall.This week’s violence between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has killed 103 Palestinians, including 27 children, and wounded 530 people in the impoverished territory. Israeli airstrikes have pounded apartments, blown up cars and toppled buildings.Doctors across the crowded coastal enclave are now reallocating intensive care unit beds and scrambling to keep up with a very different health crisis: treating blast and shrapnel wounds, bandaging cuts and performing amputations.Distraught relatives didn’t wait for ambulances, rushing the wounded by car or on foot to Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest. Exhausted doctors hurried from patient to patient, frantically bandaging shrapnel wounds to stop the bleeding. Others gathered at the hospital morgue, waiting with stretchers to remove the bodies for burial.At the Indonesia Hospital in the northern town of Jabaliya, the clinic overflowed after bombs fell nearby. Blood was everywhere, with victims lying on the floors of hallways. Relatives crowded the ER, crying out for loved ones and cursing Israel.”Before the military attacks, we had major shortages and could barely manage with the second (virus) wave,” said Gaza Health Ministry official Abdelatif al-Hajj by phone as bombs thundered in the background. “Now casualties are coming from all directions, really critical casualties. I fear a total collapse.”Gutted by years of conflict, the impoverished health care system in the territory of more than 2 million people has always been vulnerable. Bitter division between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and a nearly 14-year blockade imposed by Israel with Egypt’s help also has strangled the infrastructure. There are shortages of equipment and supplies such as blood bags, surgical lamps, anesthesia and antibiotics. Personal protection gear, breathing machines and oxygen tanks remain even scarcer.Last month, Gaza’s daily coronavirus cases and deaths hit record highs, fueled by the spread of a variant that first appeared in Britain, relaxation of movement restrictions during Ramadan, and deepening public apathy and intransigence.In the bomb-scarred territory where the unemployment rate is 50%, the need for personal survival often trumps the pleas of public health experts. While virus testing remains limited, the outbreak has infected more than 105,700 people, according to health authorities, and killed 976.As cases climbed last year, stirring fears of a health care catastrophe, authorities set aside clinics just for COVID-19 patients. But that changed as airstrikes pummeled the territory.A medic treats a wounded girl in the intensive care unit of the Shifa hospital, May 13, 2021, in Gaza City. She was injured by a May 12 Israeli strike that hit her family’s home.Nurses at the European Hospital in the town of Khan Younis, frantically needing room for the wounded, moved dozens of virus patients in the middle of the night to a different building, said hospital director Yousef al-Akkad. Its surgeons and specialists, who had deployed elsewhere for the virus, rushed back to treat head injuries, fractures and abdominal wounds.If the conflict intensifies, the hospital won’t be able to care for the virus patients, al-Akkad said.”We have only 15 intensive care beds, and all I can do is pray,” he said, adding that because the hospital lacks surgical supplies and expertise, he’s already arranged to send one child to Egypt for reconstructive shoulder surgery. “I pray these airstrikes will stop soon.”At Shifa, authorities also moved the wounded into its 30 beds that had been set aside for virus patients. Thursday night was the quietest this week for the ICU, as bombs had largely fallen elsewhere in Gaza. Patients with broken bones and other wounds lay amid the din of beeping monitors, intercoms and occasional shouts by doctors. A few relatives huddled around them, recounting the chaotic barrage.”About 12 people down in one airstrike. It was 6 p.m. in the street. Some were killed, including my two cousins and young sister. It’s like this every day,” said 22-year-old Atallah al-Masri, sitting beside his wounded brother, Ghassan.Hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia lamented the latest series of blows to Gaza’s health system.”The Gaza Strip is under siege for 14 years, and the health sector is exhausted. Then comes the coronavirus pandemic,” he said, adding that most of the equipment is as old as the blockade and can’t be sent out for repairs.Now, his teams already strained by virus cases are treating bombing victims, more than half of whom are critical cases needing surgery.”They work relentlessly,” he added.Ihsan Al-Masri, 24, left, rests at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, May 13, 2021, as her son plays on a mobile phone on the bed next to her. She was injured in a May 10 Israeli strike that hit a near her home.To make matters worse, Israeli airstrikes hit two health clinics north of Gaza City on Tuesday. The strikes wreaked havoc on Hala al-Shawa Health Center, forcing employees to evacuate, and damaged the Indonesian Hospital, according to the World Health Organization. Israel, already under pressure from an International Criminal court investigation into possible war crimes during the 2014 war, reiterated this week that it warns people living in targeted areas to flee. The airstrikes nonetheless have killed civilians and inflicted damage on Gaza’s infrastructure.The violence also has closed a few dozen health centers conducting coronavirus tests, said Sacha Bootsma, director of WHO’s Gaza office. This week, authorities conducted some 300 tests a day, compared with 3,000 before the fighting began.The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, ordered staff to stay home from its 22 clinics for their safety. Those now-closed centers had also administered coronavirus vaccines, a precious resource in a place that waited months to receive a limited shipment from the U.N.-backed COVAX program. Those doses will expire in just a few weeks and get thrown away, with “huge implications for authorities’ ability to mobilize additional vaccines in the future,” Bootsma said.For the newly wounded, however, the virus remains an afterthought.The last thing that Mohammad Nassar remembers before an airstrike hit was walking home with a friend on a street. When he came to, he said, “we found ourselves lying on the ground.”Now the 31-year-old is hooked up to a tangle of tubes and monitors in the Shifa Hospital surgical ward, with a broken right arm and a shrapnel wound in his stomach.

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CDC Says Vaccinated People Can Go Back to Normal Life

Health officials are recommending lifting most COVID-19 restrictions for people who are fully vaccinated.That means no more masks or social distancing, indoors or outdoors, according to updated guidance from the U.S. FILE – Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 18, 2021.For now, masks are still required on planes, trains and buses. Walensky said the CDC would be updating travel guidance soon, as well as recommendations for schools, camps and other settings.Walensky left it up to local leaders to decide whether businesses and other gathering places should continue to require masks. The number of cases and the number of people vaccinated in an area should guide the choice, she said.Experts said the announcement was mostly good news.”The science on this is pretty clear. Vaccinated people rarely get sick and don’t do much transmitting,” Brown University School of Public Health Dean Ashish Jha wrote on Twitter.This is realAnd its correctAnd its goodThe science on this is pretty clear. Vaccinated people rarely get sick and don’t do much transmittingCDC to announce that fully vaccinated folks no longer need to mask up or physically distance in most circumstancesGet the shot Thomas Lo, 15, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus disease at Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, May 13, 2021.Walensky also noted that new research published in the past couple of weeks has shown how effective the vaccines are in the real world, not just in controlled clinical trials, and how they even prevent infection with the variants circulating in the United States. And in the rare cases in which vaccinated people still get infected, their infections are milder and are less likely to spread to others than infections in unvaccinated people.The announcement comes as vaccination rates are dropping in the United States. Just under 2 million doses a day are being administered on average, down from more than 3 million in mid-April.For those still facing barriers to access, health officials are stepping up efforts to make getting vaccinated easier, including delivering doses to more than 20,000 local pharmacies and offering free rides to vaccination sites through ride-sharing companies.For those hesitant or skeptical about getting the vaccine, the CDC is working with “trusted messengers” to spread the word and deliver shots, including local doctors and places of worship.Walensky encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.”Your health and how soon you return to normal life … are in your very capable hands,” she said.

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This Week in Space: NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Hums Above Mars’ Surface

NASA shares the sound of its Mars helicopter.  Plus, space debris triggers a verbal sparring match, and an asteroid sample is heading to Earth.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has This Week in Space.Producer: Arash Arabasadi.

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Explainer: How COVID-19 Vaccines Will Work for Kids in US

Children ages 12 and older can now roll up their sleeves for COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., offering parents and schools a chance to relax their pandemic precautions and bringing the country a step closer to controlling the virus.  
A government advisory committee recommended Pfizer’s vaccine for children 12 and older on Wednesday, after the Food and Drug Administration expanded authorization of the shots to the age group earlier in the week.Here’s what you need to know:Are The Shots The Same as Those for Adults?
Yes. The dose and the schedule are the same; the two shots are given three weeks apart.
 Where Can Kids Get The Shots?
Pharmacies, state sites and other places that are already vaccinating people 16 and older with the Pfizer vaccine should be able to give the shots to all authorized ages in most cases.  
“All those sites can simply extend down to the younger age group,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in a call with reporters after the agency expanded authorization.  
School districts are also preparing to host vaccination clinics to speed up the campaign. And since parents might feel more comfortable with their pediatricians and primary care doctors, health officials are working to make the shots more widely available at private practices.Will Kids Need a Guardian?
Parental consent will be needed, but exactly how it’s obtained could vary.
For vaccinations at school-based clinics, for example, parents might be able to give consent by signing a form, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and president of Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
Walgreens said a parent or guardian will need to be present and sign a consent form, but noted guidelines on parental consent vary by jurisdiction.
In Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, anyone under 18 needs to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Proof of guardianship and the child’s age aren’t being checked, said Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokeswoman for the county, which began vaccinating younger teens Tuesday.How Was The Vaccine Vetted for Kids?
Pfizer’s late-stage vaccine study tested the safety and efficacy of the shots in about 44,000 people 16 and older. The study then enlisted about 2,200 children ages 12 to 15 to check for any differences in how the shots performed in that age group.
“This is just extending it down from 16 and 17 year olds, and getting further information,” Woodcock said.
None of the children who got the real shots in the study developed COVID-19, compared with 16 who got the dummy shots. That confirmed previous finding among adults that the shots are highly effective.
Children were also followed for two months after the second shot as part of the study.
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said there’s no reason the shots would be less effective or have any unique safety issues in children compared with adults.  Why Only The Pfizer Vaccine?
Because only Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, has completed studies in younger teens. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects, but regulators still need to review the results before it can be offered to younger people.  What Side Effects Are Expected?
Common side effects were similar to those experienced by adults, and included fatigue, headache, muscle pain and fever. Except for pain in the arm where the needle is injected, the effects were likelier after the second shot.
Dr. Michael Smith, medical director of the Duke Children’s Health Center Infectious Diseases Clinic, noted that younger people tend to have more robust immune systems that respond better to vaccines. That explains why side effects were more common in the 12 to 15 age group than among adults, he said.
It’s also why trials for children younger than 12 are testing different doses.  
“You need to find that dose that is enough to give a good immune response, without giving too many side effects,” Smith said.
Dosages for children and adults are the same for many other vaccines, he noted.
Can Kids Get Other Routine Vaccinations at The Same Time?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s updating its guidance to say other routine vaccinations can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 shots. It previously advised against other vaccinations within a two-week window so it could monitor people for potential side effects.  
The American Academy of Pediatrics said it agrees with the position.When will Younger Kids Be Eligible?
It’s unclear how long the ongoing trials or regulatory reviews will take. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, recently suggested it could happen this year.  
“We think by the time we get to the end of this year we will have enough information to vaccinate children of any age,” he said.Why Should Kids Get Vaccinated?
Even though children are far less likely to get severely ill if infected, health officials note the risk isn’t zero.  
Vaccinating children is also key to ending the pandemic, since children can get infected and spread the virus to others, even if they don’t get sick themselves.  
About 20% of the U.S. population is younger than 16, according to Census data. That included about 16.7 million children ages 12 to 15 in 2019.

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Virus Stifles Muslims’ Eid al-Fitr Celebrations for 2nd Year

Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr in a subdued mood for a second year Thursday as the COVID-19 pandemic again forced mosque closings and family separations on the holiday marking the end of Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan.Worshippers wearing masks joined communal prayers in the streets of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. The world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation allowed mosque prayers in low-risk areas, but mosques in areas where there was more risk of the virus spreading closed their doors, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.Indonesians and Malaysians were banned for a second year from traveling to visit relatives in the traditional Eid homecoming.”I understand that we all miss our relatives at times like this, especially in the momentum of Eid,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in televised remarks. “But let’s prioritize safety together by not going back to our hometowns.”Despite the similar ban a year ago, the number of daily cases in Indonesia had picked up by 37% three weeks after the holiday. Similar patterns followed other holidays in the country that has counted 1.7 million infections and more than 47,600 fatalities from COVID-19.The Jakarta governor also ordered malls, restaurants and leisure destinations usually packed during the holiday period to shut.With no congregational prayers at mosques, no family reunions, no relatives bearing gifts and cookies for children, “Eid is not a grand event anymore,” Jakarta resident Maysa Andriana said. “The pandemic has changed everything… this is too sad!” she said.While police set up highway checkpoints and domestic flights and other modes of transportation were suspended, anxiety lingers that people will defy the prohibition. Television reports showed city dwellers hiding on disguised trucks or fishing boats and officers at roadblocks being overwhelmed by desperate motorists.Muslims pray spaced apart to help curb the spread of coronavirus outbreak during an Eid al-Fitr prayer marking the end of Ramadan at Al Akbar mosque in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, May 13, 2021.”We followed the government decision that banned us visiting my parents for Eid last year, it’s enough! Nothing can stop me now,” said factory worker Askari Anam, who used alleys and shortcuts to avoid being stopped from visiting his hometown.”Of course I’m worried,” he said when asked about possibly contracting the virus. “But I leave it to God.”Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin expressed concern of a virus spike and feared people would travel despite the ban.In the southern Philippines, coronavirus outbreaks and new fighting between government forces and Muslim insurgents in one province prevented people from holding large public prayers. Instead, most hunkered down in their homes, while in Maguindanao province, many families displaced by recent fighting marked the holiday in evacuation camps.In Malaysia, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin unexpectedly announced another nationwide lockdown from Wednesday until June 7 to curb a spike in cases. Inter-state travel and all social activities are banned, which means that like in Indonesia, Muslims cannot visit each other or family graves.Muhyiddin acknowledged that many are angry with the lockdown but defended the need for drastic measures, saying hospitals have almost reached their capacity.Malaysia reported 4,765 cases on Wednesday, pushing its tally to 453,222, nearly fourfold from the start of the year. Deaths also rose to 1,761.”Is this government tyrannical? But I am not a tyrant,” Muhyiddin said, “Imagine if you have guests over, then the virus will spread. … If the guest visits 10 homes, then 10 families will be infected with COVID-19 and in the end as soon as (Eid) ends, the number of positive cases in the country could jump to tens of thousands daily.”

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Washington Entices Locals and Visitors to Get Immunized with Free Perks

Washington plans to lift many coronavirus restrictions and aims for a full reopening by mid-June. The U.S. capital has already vaccinated more than 70% of its residents. Saqib Ul Islam reports on a unique vaccine drive in the city.
Camera: Saqib Ul Islam      Producer: Saqib Ul Islam 

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NASA’s Mars Rover Begins Search for Signs of Ancient Life 

The U.S. space agency, NASA, said in a news release this week that its Perseverance Mars rover was focusing on its primary mission of looking for signs of ancient life in the dried lakebed surrounding it.The rover has spent much of the past month serving as a communications base and documenting the historic flights of the Ingenuity helicopter. But it has also been focusing its instruments on the rocks in the Jezero Crater, an area scientists believe was once flooded with water and was home to an ancient river delta.The area was carefully chosen as the rover’s landing site because of the evidence scientists have seen that water may have at one time flowed into the crater lake from the surrounding area. Scientists say it is conceivable that water carried microbial life along with it.Perseverance has already used its many cameras to examine rocks, and a laser instrument called SuperCam zapped some of them to detect their chemistry.The rover’s robotic arm carries several other instruments that will be helpful in revealing what secrets the rocks might hold. When scientists find a particularly interesting item, they can reach out and use the arm’s abrader to grind and flatten its surface, revealing its underlying structure and composition.The Perseverance team will gather more detailed chemical and mineralogical information using other instruments, such as PIXL, the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, and SHERLOC, Scanning for Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals.Over the next two years, scientists hope to examine and collect samples of rocks and soil, which will be returned to Earth by future missions.Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
 

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Bodies Found in Indian River Raise Questions About COVID Links

Authorities in India said Tuesday they have yet to determine the cause of death of dozens of people found dead in the Ganges River.
 
Officials in Bihar state said 71 bodies were recovered Monday, while officials in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh said around 100 bodies were found, some on Tuesday.
 
Images of the bodies floating in the river sparked anger and speculation they died from COVID-19, which is surging throughout the South Asian country at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world.  
 
Some medical experts voiced concern that the coronavirus can be spread through contaminated water.
 
“Although there is no global research on how the virus may spread through dead bodies in water bodies, I strongly believe that the water is now polluted,” said Dr. Mohsin Wali. “It is not worth drinking anymore and when these bodies rot, it will be even more dangerous.”
 
Authorities performed autopsies but could not confirm the cause of death because the bodies had decomposed.
 
India had nearly 330,000 new coronavirus cases and 3,867 related deaths on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. India has the second highest number of confirmed cases worldwide with nearly 23 million and the third highest death toll with nearly 250,000, although experts say the actual figures are almost certainly much higher.
 
The surge has prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to travel to Britain for the Group of Seven summit next month, the Indian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
 
Modi has been criticized for allowing massive gatherings at a religious festival and holding huge election rallies over the past two months even as infections sharply increased.Family members wearing protective gear stand next to ambulances carrying bodies of COVID victims, at an open air cremation site set up on the outskirts of Bangalore, India, May 8, 2021.On Monday, the World Health Organization said a variant of the coronavirus circulating in India is of global concern.   
 
“We classify it as a variant of concern at a global level,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing on the B.1.617 variant. “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility.”
 
The Philippines announced Tuesday that it had detected its first two cases of the Indian B.1.617 variant.  The variant was discovered in two travelers who returned to the Philippines in April from Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
 
In other developments, U.S. regulators have authorized the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech to be used by children as young as 12 years of age, widening the pool of those eligible to get inoculated.
 
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday the shot is safe and effective for children ages 12 to 15. The vaccine is already available under an emergency use authorization to those 16 and older.  
 
The Pfizer vaccine is the first in the United States to be approved for younger people. The approval comes as U.S. officials are seeking to inoculate a larger percentage of the population and will likely prompt millions of U.S. middle and high school students to try to be vaccinated before they head back to class in the fall.
 
While most children with COVID-19 only develop mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all, they are still able to pass along the virus to others.  
 
In a related development on the vaccine front, introduction of another potential COVID-19 vaccine will be delayed until later this year.  U.S.-based pharmaceutical company Novavax announced Monday it will not seek regulatory approval of its experimental vaccine until this July, citing problems in securing the raw materials and equipment needed to manufacture the vaccine.   
 
But Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck told reporters on a conference call that the company expects to meet its goal of producing 150 million doses per month by the fourth quarter of this year.
 
Company officials said it expects to release the results of a late-stage clinical trial in North America sometime this month.  A clinical trial conducted in Britain showed the vaccine is about 95-percent effective against the coronavirus. 
 
Novavax has promised to supply more than 1 billion doses of the vaccine to the COVAX global vaccine sharing initiative for poor and middle-income nations, as well as 200 million shots to several European countries.    

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