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India promises more vaccines as daily COVID-19 deaths stay above 4,000

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Family members of Vijay Raju, who died due to the coronavirus disease, mourn before his cremation at a crematorium ground in Giddenahalli village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Samuel Rajkumar/File Photo
Volunteers take a break during the cremation of people who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium ground in Giddenahalli village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Samuel Rajkumar

Some Indian states said on Sunday (16 May) they would extend COVID-19 lockdowns to help contain the pandemic, which has killed more than 270,000 people in the country, as the federal government pledged to bolster vaccine supplies, write Manas Mishra and Aishwarya Nair.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 in India has risen more than 4,000 for the fourth time in a week, with Sunday's 311,170 new infections representing the lowest single-day rise in more than three weeks.

Federal health officials warned against any complacency over a "plateauing" in the rise of infections, however, and urged states to add intensive care units and strengthen their medical workforces.

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The northern states of Delhi and Haryana extended lockdowns, slated to end on Monday, by a week.

Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the rate of positive cases compared with overall tests carried out had come down to 10% from as high as 30% earlier this month.

"The gains we have made over the past week, we don't want to lose them. So we are going to extend the lockdown for another week," Kejriwal told reporters.

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The southern state of Kerala, which has previously announced a lockdown extension, also introduced stricter restrictions in some districts on Saturday. It warned that people not wearing masks where required or violating quarantine protocols faced being arrested, with drones used to help identify violators.

The government said it would send an additional 5.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to states over the next three days.

Even though India is the world's largest vaccine-producing nation, only 141.6 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, or roughly 10% of its population of 1.35 billion, according to health ministry data.

The country has fully vaccinated just over 40.4 million people, or 2.9% of its population.

India's supply of vaccine doses should rise to 516 million by July, and more than 2 billion between August to December, boosted by domestic production and imports, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said. The country received 60,000 more doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia on Sunday.

The country's average vaccination rate over seven days fell to 1.7 million on Sunday, from 1.8 million a week ago, after Maharashtra, the richest state, and Karnataka in the south put the rollout of shots on hold for adults younger than 45.

Main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted a poster questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi's move to exporting and donating vaccines abroad earlier this year instead of meeting the country's requirements.

This was in response to media reports that police in the capital New Delhi had arrested dozens of individuals for putting up similar posters in parts of Delhi.

Gandhi tweeted the poster with the caption "Arrest Me Too", which became one of the top trending items on Twitter across the country on Sunday following an outcry about the arrests.

Modi opened up vaccinations for all adults from May 1, doubling the number of those eligible to an estimated 800 million, though domestic production will stay largely flat until July, at about 80 million doses a month.

Authorities in Modi’s western home state of Gujarat said they would halt vaccinations on Monday and Tuesday to take protective measures against a cyclone expected to hit next week.

In the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, the government has moved COVID-19 patients at makeshift medical centres in Mumbai, on the western coast, to other hospitals as the cyclone advances towards Gujarat, the chief minister's office said. Read more

Vaccinations were also likely to remain suspended in India's financial hub Mumbai on Monday, Reuters partner ANI reported, citing the city's mayor.

While lockdowns have helped limit cases in parts of the country that had been hit by an initial surge of infections in February and April, such as Maharashtra and Delhi, rural areas and some states are dealing with fresh surges.

The government issued detailed guidelines on Sunday for monitoring COVID-19 cases that were spreading in India's vast countryside.

The health ministry asked villages to look out for cases of flu-like illness and get such patients tested for COVID-19.

India's total infections have risen by more than 2 million this week, and deaths by nearly 28,000. Deaths rose by 4,077 on Sunday.

Bodies of COVID-19 victims were found to have been dumped in some rivers, the government of the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh said in a letter seen by Reuters, in the first official acknowledgement of the alarming practice.

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Commission approves €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support cattle farmers affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support farmers active in the cattle-breeding sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure aims at mitigating the liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing and at addressing part of the losses they incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Latvian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The Commission found that the scheme is in line with the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €225,000 per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the scheme under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64541 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission approves €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in the Region of the Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. It follows another Portuguese scheme to support the passenger transport sector in Azores that the Commission approved on 4 June 2021 (SA.63010). Under the new scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure will be open to collective passenger transport companies of all sizes active in the Azores. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing and to address losses incurred over 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus.

The Commission found that the Portuguese scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64599 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission authorizes French aid scheme of €3 billion to support, through loans and equity investments, companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic

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The European Commission has cleared, under EU state aid rules, France's plans to set up a € 3 billion fund that will invest through debt instruments and equity and hybrid instruments in companies affected by the pandemic. The measure was authorized under the Temporary State Aid Framework. The scheme will be implemented through a fund, titled 'Transition Fund for Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic', with a budget of € 3bn.

Under this scheme, support will take the form of (i) subordinated or participating loans; and (ii) recapitalization measures, in particular hybrid capital instruments and non-voting preferred shares. The measure is open to companies established in France and present in all sectors (except the financial sector), which were viable before the coronavirus pandemic and which have demonstrated the long-term viability of their economic model. Between 50 and 100 companies are expected to benefit from this scheme. The Commission considered that the measures complied with the conditions set out in the temporary framework.

The Commission concluded that the measure was necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of France, in accordance with Article 107 (3) (b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the temporary supervision. On this basis, the Commission authorized these schemes under EU state aid rules.

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Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager (pictured), competition policy, said: “This €3bn recapitalization scheme will allow France to support companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic by facilitating their access funding in these difficult times. We continue to work closely with member states to find practical solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic while respecting EU regulations.”

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