Covid-19 latest updates: India records 53K new cases, Russia to apply for registration of first vaccine


India, the third country worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, recorded a spike of 53,601 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, pushing the total tally to 22,68,675. The country tested a record over 871 deaths in a single day.

The number of recoveries mounted to almost 16 lakh, more than twice the active cases. Out of the total cases, 6,39,929 are active cases while 15,83,489 have recovered from the disease and 45,257 people have lost their lives in the fight against the deadly virus.

Notably, India recorded the highest number of recoveries in a single day at 47,746. The recovery rate has gone up to 69.79 per cent.

On Monday, the government tested 6,98,290 samples. A total of 2,52,81,848 samples have been tested so far.

Maharashtra remained the worst-hit state with a total of 5,15,332 cases and 17,757 deaths, followed by Tamil Nadu with 2,96,901 cases and 4,927 deaths. The southern state is followed by Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh.

Globally, the overall number Covid-19 cases has surpassed the 20 million mark, while the deaths have increased to over 7.34 lakh, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

As of Tuesday morning, the total number of cases stood at 2,00,11,186 and the fatalities rose to 7,34,664, the University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed in its latest update.

The US accounted for the world’s highest number of infections and fatalities at 50,89,416 and 1,63,425, respectively, according to the CSSE.

Brazil came in the second place with 30,57,470 infections and 1,01,752 deaths.

Nepal extends suspension of domestic, int’l flights

The Nepal government has decided to extend the suspension of domestic and international flights as well as public transport until August 31 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday’s decision came amid a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases in the Himalayan nation since the nearly four-month long lockdown was lifted on July 22, reports Xinhua news agency.

On July 20, the Nepal’s cabinet had decided to resume domestic and international flights which have remained suspended since March 22, from August 17 along with the decision of lifting the lockdown.

Earlier, the Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation recommended continuing to suspend flights.

The government has also decided to enforce strict surveillance in the border areas and in Kathmandu Valley to monitor the human movement.

As of Tuesday, Nepal has reported a total of 23,310 coronavirus cases, with 79 deaths.

Russia set to apply for registration of first vaccine against COVID-19

Russia is all set to register its first vaccine against the global pandemic causing coronavirus (COVID-19) inside the first half of August, according to the Russian Health Ministry. Russia’s Deputy Health Minister Oleg Gridnev told reporters in Ufa city last week that the third, and final stage of the vaccine trials is currently underway and that medical professionals and senior citizens would be the first to get vaccinated.

Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Sputnik news agency earlier that mass vaccination in the country is expected to start in October, while all the expenses of this procedure would be covered from the state budget. The clinical trials of the coronavirus vaccine are underway at the Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital and the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University. The trials of the vaccine began on June 18 with a first group of 38 volunteers. All of the participants developed immunity. The first group was discharged on July 15, and the second on July 20.

“The documents that are needed to register the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of the Health Ministry, including clinical trial data, are under expert review. The decision on registration will be made based on the results of the review,” the ministry said in a statement.

Sputnik News cited the Russian Defence Ministry as saying that initial reports showed all trial participants developed immunity against the coronavitus. “The results of the check-up clearly demonstrate an unmistakable immune response attained through the vaccination. No side effects or issues with the body of the volunteers were found”, the ministry said.

“We are very much counting on starting mass production in September,” Russia’s Industry Minister Denis Manturov said in an interview to state-run news agency TASS.

According to Sputnik News, the vaccine has two separately-injected components that together are expected to build a long-term immunity against the virus. The technology consists of a vector vaccine based on the DNA of a SARS-CoV-2 type adenovirus, a common cold virus. The scientists have embedded genetic material from the coronavirus into the harmless carrier virus to deliver small parts of the pathogen into the human body and stimulate an immune response.

The phase-I of the trials to assess the safety of the vaccine in human beings is carried out on a small number of people and runs from a few weeks to a few months. In phase-II, which assesses the vaccine’s ability to trigger immune response against the disease, a few hundred volunteers are tested. The third and final phase is usually conducted on several thousand volunteers. One group of volunteers are injected with the vaccine while another group is given a dummy vaccine. In this final phase, which can last several months, the volunteers go about their normal lives, and assessed a few weeks later to see whether the group that had been injected showed any particular resistance to the infection.

According to the Russian Health Ministry, clinical trial data and other documents on the coronavirus vaccine are currently under expert review, and the decision on registration will be made based on its results

In early March this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of the coronavirus infection a pandemic. As per latest WHO data, more than 18 million cases of the infection have already been identified globally and over 700 thousand people have died due to the disease.

Amid COVID-19, Bangladesh completes 30% construction of first nuclear plant

Construction of  Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant at Rooppur (RNPP) continues in full swing despite the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with equal attention being paid to maintaining proper health standards and hygiene

As on date, the RNPP project has completed 30 percent of its total work, while the government has also reinforced the foreign workforce in a bid to meet the construction deadline. RNPP sources told Nuclear Asia that the project, which initially faced difficulties in transportation and imports owing to the COVID-19 lockdown, managed to resolve these issues quickly, thus, allowing the project works to maintain the necessary momentum.

The containment wall of the first reactor building has been erected. Additional workers have been hired to continue the welding work. The construction of the first reactor building is expected to be completed by the end of this year. All the instruments of the first reactor unit, which are being made in Russia, will arrive at the project site within 2020. Construction of the second building will be completed by next year.

A ‘truss’, which is a welded metal support structure, has been installed at the reactor building of the second unit of the RNPP. The ‘support truss’ is one of the most important elements of the reactor pit equipment. It has many radial beams. The main function of this support truss is to hold the reactor vessel firmly in position in the event of any accident or disaster, including earthquakes. The structure is designed to withstand thermal and radiation exposure over a period of 60 years, that is, the entire lifetime of the reactor.

The infrastructure for installing the reactor pressure vessel of the second unit has been completed. The height of the internal  containment infrastructure will be 61.6 meters. Of these, the construction of 20 meters has been completed so far. The construction of the external containment structure, which will have a height of 64.5 meters, is in progress simultaneously.

The construction of the 30-meter underground infrastructure has also been completed. A core catcher has been installed. This core catcher is an important part of the automated safety system of a nuclear power plant. All the equipment, including the reactor, is being built in Russia by its state atomic energy corporation Rosatom. Work on installing the reactor of the first unit will begin this year.

To prevent spread of the coronavirus infection in the RNPP area, the concerned authorities are working as per the guidelines of both the Bangladesh government and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Health and epidemiological safety regulations are being followed in the entire project area. The authorities are checking temperatures of all the personnel working in the project site on a daily basis, and are sending those detected with high temperature to compulsory quarantine. These personnel are only brought back to work once they are confirmed to be fully healthy. There are separate doctors for both Bangladeshi and Russian personnel. The doctors are conducting regular checkups, thus, keeping the total workforce under continuous observation.

In order to follow the rules of social distancing, the workers have been divided into several groups, or shifts, working at different time-shifts over a 24-hour period. Social distancing is also being ensured during dining times in the canteens. If anyone falls sick, all others in that shift are placed in compulsory quarantine, and that particular shift is reintroduced to work with a new group of personnel.

The Managing Director (MD) of the operator Nuclear Power Plant Company Bangladesh Ltd, Mohammed Shawkat Akbar, told Nuclear Asia that he has lately increased the pace of the work on the RNPP. The construction of the reactor building is in progress ahead of schedule, he said. He also said that the project has completed 30 percent of the work, as well as made 27 percent of progress on the financial side.  According to the MD, the project has now separate accommodation facilities for the quarantined personnel, while coronavirus tests has been made mandatory for all personnel coming from abroad.

So far, 78 Russian experts have returned home. On the other hand, 570 personnel have recently arrived from Russia aboard three chartered flights. Another 11 personnel have come from Germany, while 61 more from India have been given permission to enter the country for working at the RNPP project. About 750 more Russian experts will arrive in Bangladesh between July-August. Around 8,000 people are involved on a daily basis in the RNPP construction work, of whom 1,600 are Russians.

The first unit, with a capacity of 1,200 MW, is expected to begin operation by 2023, the project sources said. The second unit of equal capacity is expected to be commissioned in 2024. The office of the Bangladesh Prime Minister and other concerned ministries are continuously monitoring the ongoing construction of the Green City which will house the workforce that will be required for the operation of the RNPP.

During COVID-19, India achieves criticality with first indigenously built reactor

India is the only country in the world this year, to have achieved criticality with its first indigenously built nuclear reactor, even as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic rages worldwide, starting from its spread during the first quarter.

India’s own and first 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP) in Gujarat state achieved its first criticality, or controlled self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction, last week, the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) has announced.

NPCIL Chairman S.K. Sharma said in a televised interview that work at the new-build Kakrapar reactor Unit 3 – globally the first to have attained criticality in 2020 – never witnessed a stoppage in this period, testifying to India’s build up of indigenous capability in this field. “We did not resort to total stoppage of work at any stage in the Kakrapar Unit 3 construction. While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected society and the economy and construction of this kind has specific challenges of a large workforce present in a confined space, we paid minute attention to detail like creating wash basins in all construction areas to maintain hygiene, among other steps,” Sharma said.

“Besides, we conducted a pandemic specific job hazard analysis, which has become an SOP (standard operating procedure). However, just the preparation of an SOP is not enough. Everyday, we conduct a pre-job hazard analysis, and as a result of all these precautions, no one among the Kakrapar construction workforce contracted the coronavirus,” he added.

Terming the criticality attained for KAPP unit 3 as a historic moment, the NPCIL head said it is the first of its kind 700 MW PHWR designed by Indian scientists and engineers. “This unit is unique in that it is our first

700 MW reactor equipped with equipment manufactured indigenously and erected by Indian contractors,” he said. “The mainstay of our nuclear programme, which is now more than half-a-century old, started with reactors with a capacity of 220 MW, which was subsequently increased to 540 MW, and now we have manufactured this 700 MW optimal capacity reactor as our mainstay,” he added.

This became the country’s 23rd completed reactor, while another 700 MW one at KAPP (Unit 4) is under construction. Elaborating on the near-decade long construction period for unit 3, Sharma said that achieving criticality for 700 MW capacity with totally indigenous capability is not simply a question of “multiplying megawatts” “The entire reactor has been redesigned, concepts have been changed, while the manufacturing of components has faced many challenges, which the local manufacturers have met very competently,” he said. “The new reactor is a first of its kind, and a huge learning curve was involved for the designers, the manufacturers, as well as the construction companies, so it took them more time than earlier”, he added.

Besides, he pointed out the delay caused by the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima (Japan) on account of the tsunami, which necessitated a review of safety measures. “We conducted a review of safety measures, paused work in Kakrapar, changed the design in line with the global reviews of safety measures, and, thereafter, incorporated these changes in design for Kakrapar 3 and 4,” he said.

According to Sharma, “safety is our first, second and third priority”. “A safe reactor is a productive reactor, since it is also a reliable reactor. We are employing all the latest, state-of the art safety features in our reactors and have incorporated a lot of both passive and active safety features in our design”, he said.

Noting that Indian reactors have not suffered the kind of accidents comparable to Fukushima, Chernobyl (ex-USSR), or Three Mile Island (US), Sharma said the NPCIL has ensured that India continues to maintain its spotless record on nuclear safety. KAPP-3 has several safety features like a steel-lined inner containment, passive decay heat removal system and a containment spray system, among others.

The fuel was loaded into the reactor in mid-March 2020 and the systems were checked even during the Covid-19 lockdown. According to the NPCIL, the power generation will be increased gradually while experiments and tests will also be carried out. After the satisfactory functioning of the systems and obtaining the required regulatory approvals, the power unit will be connected to the western grid in about 3-4 months time, Sharma added.

Noting that sustained campaigning has resulted in removing misgivings among the public about nuclear energy, which India requires to achieve its carbon emission control targets, Sharma expressed confidence that the nuclear power capacity in the country would increase in the coming years. On India’s expansion plans, he said six reactors, including Kakrapar-4, are at advanced stages of construction and would be completed by 2024, providing additional capacity of 4,800 MW.

“Four more reactors are ready to start construction very soon, which will provide 3,400 MW. Besides, the government has approved 10 more PHWRs,” he said. The NPCIL plans to set up sixteen 700 MW PHWRs in the country, for which the government has accorded administrative and financial sanction. India’s current nuclear power capacity stands at 6,680 MW.

On foreign collaborations, Sharma said that the units 1 and 2 (1,000 MW each) of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu being built with Russian collaboration are already connected to the grid, while 40% construction has been completed for units 3 and 4 of equal capacity. Two additional 1,000 MW units at the KNPP have been agreed upon, the construction work for which is due start soon, he said. Besides, talks are at a final stage with the French state-run firm EDF for constructing two Generation-3 European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra state, he added.