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    COVID-19 and vaccine status check: Herd immunity hypothetical? Booster shots needed?

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    COVID-19 and vaccine status check: Herd immunity hypothetical? Booster shots needed?

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    The Delta variant is dampening sentiment with cases rising in the two largest economies - the US and China - are both seeing rising cases.. let us do a quick status check on whats happening..

    The Delta variant of coronavirus is dampening investor sentiment and upending global markets as the cases in the two largest economies -- US and China -- surge.
    The cases in the United States hit a six-month high for new cases with over 100,000 infections. The seven-day average of daily cases in the country is on a rise. Just a few months ago, the US was reporting 10,000 cases a day.
    China on Friday reported 124 confirmed cases, its highest daily count for new coronavirus cases in the current outbreak, fuelled by a surge in locally transmitted infections. Authorities have imposed travel restrictions in some cities.
    US - A Status Check 
    The United States is reporting a seven-day average of nearly 94,000 new cases, up nearly 50 percent from a week ago, according to data from the John Hopkins University.
    The Delta variant is one of the four variants of concerns (as classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO)). It has a viral load 1,000 times higher than the original Covid strain that wreaked havoc in March 2020. Meaning, the Delta variant is much more infectious than previous strains.
    Experts expect cases to rise for some weeks at least, with White House's chief medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci warning that a more severe Covid variant could emerge in the US.
    While some states may be forced to reintroduce restrictions, no one expects national lockdown measures. President Biden has called it "a pandemic amid the unvaccinated".
    China - A status check
    Cases in China have been reported in 17 of the 31 provinces and 25 cities. It reported the highest daily count for new coronavirus cases in its current outbreak on Friday.
    With rising cases, China has imposed new restrictions on travel in a bid to slow the outbreak. Public transport was curtailed in the worst-hit areas, with train, taxi, subway services curbed. However, unlike the US, the Chinese government has a very low bar for measures.
    Herd immunity status: Hypothetical 
    The common wisdom at the start of 2021 was mass vaccinations would lead to herd immunity. However, according to the real-world data, this is far from true.
    In fact, the spread of the Delta variant has pushed the threshold for herd immunity well over 80-90 percent, according to a study conducted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. This is much higher than the previous levels of 60-70 percent.
    In the US, only 60 percent of Americans have taken at least one shot. And about 50 percent are fully vaccinated.
    What about the booster shots then?
    While developed countries have planned booster shot programmes, WHO is asking them to hold it off for a while.
    Booster shots are given to people when their vaccines' effectiveness appears to wane. Such shots are especially important for people who were vaccinated in the first level of vaccination programmes as the delta spreads across the world.
    However, WHO, citing inequity around the world, said wealthy nations should give the world a chance to meet its goal of vaccinating 10 percent of the population of every country by the end of September.
    For more updates, follow our COVID-19 live blog
    Governments around the world are resorting to creative ways to encourage citizens to get inoculated - several countries are offering lottery tickets, the Netherlands gave away pickled herring and the US plans to offer USD 100 cash rewards to entice vaccine stragglers.
    France has taken an altogether tougher approach, requiring health workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, while the country's highest court on Thursday backed the introduction of the health passes from August 9.
    Trade unions and some scientists have said the move, which has sparked protests in major towns and cities, is too blunt an instrument and may deepen opposition to vaccines among people who are already reluctant.
    French President Emmanuel Macron also runs a risk that the health pass could revive the kind of Yellow Vest street protests that roiled the country in the early part of his term and knocked his agenda off course for months. But the country's vaccination rate has jumped since the policy was announced on July 12 and so far polling has shown public support for the stringent measures.
    A survey conducted by polling organisation IPSOS on July 26 and 27 found that 60 percent of French people surveyed were in favour of requiring a health pass to gain access to restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and for long-distance travel.
    Research by another pollster, Ifop, conducted on July 21 and 22, found that 35 percent of people support anti-health pass protests, 16 percent are indifferent, and 49 percent oppose the protests.
    Meanwhile, the move appears to be paying off: France overtook the United States on the pace of first-dose vaccinations on July 19 and then its neighbour Germany on July 28, according to Our World in Data. Just under 64 percent of people had received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by August 2, compared with 53.6 percent on July 12.
    It's not clear if the strong pace will be maintained and some scientists caution the health pass may give vaccinated people the confidence to socialise even though early data suggests shots do not stop transmission.
    "Clearly, there has been a Macron effect when you look at vaccination bookings," Martin Blachier, an epidemiologist with Paris-based healthcare data analysis firm Public Health Expertise. "Now we are wondering how things will play out at the end of the summer," he said.
    The data though may offer confidence to countries worried about plateauing vaccination rates as the Delta variant, the fastest and most formidable version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, raises concerns about potential fresh lockdowns.
    US President Joe Biden has said it will be compulsory for federal workers to be vaccinated while English nightclubs and other venues with large crowds will require patrons to present proof of full vaccination from the end of September. France has seen a steady rise in daily inoculations - more than 240,000 got their first injection on July 18, just over 300,000 on July 21 and more than 360,000 on August 1.
    Vaccination rates have also been rising steadily in Italy where the government on July 22 announced that proof of vaccination or immunity would shortly be mandatory for an array of activities, including indoor dining and entering places such as gyms, pools, museums and cinemas. Some 63.9 percent of adults there have received the first dose, according to Our World in Data, up from 61.33 percent, a less pronounced rise than in France.
    That may be due to people being away on summer holidays, it may be too soon to show up in the data, but it may also be a sign that a stick rather than a carrot approach won't work everywhere.
    Nino Cartabellotta, chairman of the Gimbe health institute, said vaccine hesitancy in people over 50 years old continues to hurt the roll-out in Italy and concerns remain about getting children over 12 years old inoculated ahead of the next school year.

    Are COVID vaccine passes moving the needle on getting people inoculated?

    People in France have been rushing for COVID-19 vaccines since the government introduced a mandatory health pass to access bars and restaurants, stirring the debate about how to get more shots in arms to combat the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

    Governments around the world are resorting to creative ways to encourage citizens to get inoculated - several countries are offering lottery tickets, the Netherlands gave away pickled herring and the US plans to offer USD 100 cash rewards to entice vaccine stragglers.

    France has taken an altogether tougher approach, requiring health workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, while the country's highest court on Thursday backed the introduction of the health passes from August 9.

    Trade unions and some scientists have said the move, which has sparked protests in major towns and cities, is too blunt an instrument and may deepen opposition to vaccines among people who are already reluctant.

    French President Emmanuel Macron also runs a risk that the health pass could revive the kind of Yellow Vest street protests that roiled the country in the early part of his term and knocked his agenda off course for months. But the country's vaccination rate has jumped since the policy was announced on July 12 and so far polling has shown public support for the stringent measures.

    A survey conducted by polling organisation IPSOS on July 26 and 27 found that 60 percent of French people surveyed were in favour of requiring a health pass to gain access to restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and for long-distance travel.

    Research by another pollster, Ifop, conducted on July 21 and 22, found that 35 percent of people support anti-health pass protests, 16 percent are indifferent, and 49 percent oppose the protests.

    Meanwhile, the move appears to be paying off: France overtook the United States on the pace of first-dose vaccinations on July 19 and then its neighbour Germany on July 28, according to Our World in Data. Just under 64 percent of people had received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by August 2, compared with 53.6 percent on July 12.

    It's not clear if the strong pace will be maintained and some scientists caution the health pass may give vaccinated people the confidence to socialise even though early data suggests shots do not stop transmission.

    "Clearly, there has been a Macron effect when you look at vaccination bookings," Martin Blachier, an epidemiologist with Paris-based healthcare data analysis firm Public Health Expertise. "Now we are wondering how things will play out at the end of the summer," he said.

    The data though may offer confidence to countries worried about plateauing vaccination rates as the Delta variant, the fastest and most formidable version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, raises concerns about potential fresh lockdowns.

    US President Joe Biden has said it will be compulsory for federal workers to be vaccinated while English nightclubs and other venues with large crowds will require patrons to present proof of full vaccination from the end of September. France has seen a steady rise in daily inoculations - more than 240,000 got their first injection on July 18, just over 300,000 on July 21 and more than 360,000 on August 1.

    Vaccination rates have also been rising steadily in Italy where the government on July 22 announced that proof of vaccination or immunity would shortly be mandatory for an array of activities, including indoor dining and entering places such as gyms, pools, museums and cinemas. Some 63.9 percent of adults there have received the first dose, according to Our World in Data, up from 61.33 percent, a less pronounced rise than in France.

    That may be due to people being away on summer holidays, it may be too soon to show up in the data, but it may also be a sign that a stick rather than a carrot approach won't work everywhere.

    Nino Cartabellotta, chairman of the Gimbe health institute, said vaccine hesitancy in people over 50 years old continues to hurt the roll-out in Italy and concerns remain about getting children over 12 years old inoculated ahead of the next school year.

    Why vaccinated people can't be allowed to travel by local trains? HC asks Maha govt

    The Bombay High Court asked the Maharashtra government on Monday why people who had received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine could not be permitted to travel by local trains in Mumbai. What was even the purpose of taking both doses of the vaccine if citizens were expected to stay inside their homes even after taking the anti-COVID-19 jabs, a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni asked. The bench was responding to a submission made by Maharashtra Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that the state disaster management authority was "reluctant" to permit all lawyers, judicial clerks and court staff to resume local train travel. Currently, only frontline health workers and government staff are permitted to use local trains, which are considered as the lifeline of Mumbai. The HC was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations filed by lawyers and private persons through senior counsel Milind Sathe, advocates Shyam Dewani and Alankar Kirpekar, among others, seeking that lawyers be permitted to travel by local trains and Metro rail to commute to courts and their offices. Advocate Sathe told the HC that since physical hearings have now been resumed by the high court and subordinate courts, all lawyers needed to travel by train. Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who appeared for the Railways, told the HC that the Western, Central and Harbour Railway authorities had agreed to issue monthly, quarterly or six-monthly travel passes to lawyers and court staff. Singh said lawyers and other court staff will need a letter from the bar council and the state disaster management authority, certifying that they are required to travel by trains and a pass will be issued accordingly. "The disaster management authority, however, is a bit reluctant. This time (during the second wave of COVID-19) only frontline health workers and government staff is permitted the use of train," Kumbhakoni said. "A meeting of the authority, presided over by the chief minister, will be held soon to take a decision," he added. Advocate Kirpekar, whose plea also seeks that all citizens who have received both doses of the vaccine be permitted to resume a "normal life", cited a study issued by the Christian Medical College, Vellore. He said as per the study, the frontline health workers who had received both doses of the vaccine, contracted milder symptoms of COVID-19 when compared to those who were yet to receive the vaccine. The HC then directed the state to take the above issues into consideration. "The difference between the first situation and now is that the situation has improved because of the vaccine," the high court said. "All lawyers are above 18 years of age and permitted to receive the vaccine now. So, a decision needs to be taken. Otherwise, what is the benefit of the vaccine? One is not supposed to sit at home even after taking the vaccine. Lawyers need to come to court at some point," the HC said. It asked if the state government had a comprehensive plan yet to relax restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens. "The Railways is also cooperating, so please use your good office. We must make a beginning. Spread the net wide. Not only for lawyers but also people coming from other walks of life," the HC said. "A comprehensive plan is needed, otherwise it is affecting everyone. It is affecting one's finances, work. Look at the condition of roads. One takes three hours one-way to travel to Dahisar. Why this population using roads can't be permitted to shift back to trains?" the HC asked. The court will continue hearing the plea on August 5.

    Why are term plans and ULIPs gaining popularity amidst COVID-19?

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a sense of uncertainty has spread over the planet. The pandemic has made us realize the uncertainty that life beholds and the importance of staying prepared for any kind of situation on both personal and financial fronts well in advance. One of the important steps in staying prepared on the financial front is to take stock of the life and health cover and evaluate if it is adequate to secure the financial future of your loved ones. Given the current state of uncertainty around the world and rising medical costs, it becomes even more critical to choose the right insurance cover. Today millennials make up 46 percent of India's workforce and contribute 70 percent of the country's household income. To improve their long-term financial health, millennials should rethink how they handle money and explore in the plethora of insurance options accessible. Nearly half of India's millennial population is economically optimistic and has always wanted to buy insurance policies, especially during this pandemic. But has never done so due to a variety of factors including the initial cost of purchasing them, complicated paperwork, a lack of time, and a different set of lifestyle priorities, among others. Young consumers usually prefer income in hand over long-term financial planning as they have to deal with the cost of house rent, home/car EMI, credit card repayments, etc. While this generation understands the need for insurance, they also want to be fully sure about the cover and the insurance provider before committing to a long-term product that will protect them and their loved ones from any future uncertainty. The innovative one-year-term plan has become a great solution here. It can be considered a trial for first-time insurance buyers. One can reap the benefit of a one-year-term plan with a large cover at low premiums and also avail of tax benefits. Once they have witnessed the benefits of a one-year-term plan, they can then purchase long-term insurance or can continue with the one-year plan by opting for an additional year of cover. The one-year-term plan can be considered as the most appropriate product especially during the current times, where the pandemic has made us realize the uncertainty of life. For someone who is looking for more than life cover, investing in ULIPs can be considered. ULIPs act as entry points into the world of investments. It is a one-of-a-kind insurance policy that offers a policyholder the security of a life cover and the perspective of long-term wealth creation. ULIPs offer an option to invest the premium amount in different asset classes, namely, equity, debt, and balanced funds and include a 5-year lock-in term. This promotes the habit of systematic and disciplined savings while also protecting the dependents in case of an unfortunate event with the policyholder. The ability to save money on taxes is also an appealing feature of ULIPs. Basis prevailing tax laws, tax benefits can be enjoyed on premiums paid towards the policy and also the maturity amount. ULIPs also give you the flexibility to swap between funds and maximize the value of your returns based on your needs. Basis market conditions you can switch funds and maximize your gains. There are other options like partial withdrawal, premium redirection, and top-up that provide different choices for the management and investment of your money in the ULIP investment. It can be helpful in saving for long-term goals and for achieving life milestones like a child’s education/marriage, buying a house/car, retirement and more. So, if you're like most millennials and have access to the internet, you can conduct some research on ULIPs offered online by visiting several websites. Tough times help shape tougher individuals. As a result, careful preparation and judgments will aid policyholders in navigating these difficult times and investing in their families’ future. The author, Parag Raja, is MD and CEO at Bharti AXA Life Insurance. The views expressed are personal

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