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India hospitals on alert as Covid-19 cases rise

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India’s health ministry is conducting mock drills to check preparedness of hospitals to deal with rising Covid-19 cases.

The drills are being held on Monday and Tuesday across the country.

India’s active case count is relatively low but experts are urging caution to stop further spread of the disease.

The country saw a deadly second wave in 2021 and the government came under criticism as many hospitals ran out of oxygen and critical care beds.

India recorded close to 6,000 new cases on Sunday, government data shows. The active case count was 35,000.

The surge is largely driven by XBB.1.16, which is an omicron subvariant. The WHO has said it was watching the subvariant and the spread in India.

Experts say it’s not known to be lethal.

“It’s been in circulation for a few months. We haven’t seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that’s why we have these systems in place,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, recently said.

Many cities in India have seen a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks, but the surge has not led to an increase in hospital admissions.

Both public and private hospitals are participating in the mock drills, which are being supervised by India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya, and other state health ministers.

In an online meeting held on 7 April, Mr Mandaviya had also asked health officials to identify emergency hotspots by tracking cases related to respiratory illnesses and he also advised them to increase testing and vaccination for Covid-19.

He also stressed the need for increasing awareness about Covid-appropriate behaviour like wearing masks in public places.

Meanwhile, some states have made it mandatory to wear masks in public and are urging citizens to follow Covid-19 safety protocols.

India was on alert in December as well due to a surge in Covid-19 cases in neighbouring China, and had stepped up surveillance.

(BBC News)

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UK Parliament dissolved

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The British parliament was dissolved on Thursday, as the five-week campaign period begun leading up to the general election on July 4.

The election is expected to bring the Labour party back to power after 14 years of Conservative rule. As the clock struck one minute past midnight, all 650 seats of members of parliament (MPs) became vacant, marking the official commencement of the electoral process.a

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Australian scientists discover ancient ‘echidnapus’

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Scientists have discovered a bizarre creature dubbed the “echidnapus” which they believe roamed Australia in prehistoric times.

Fossilised pieces of the animal’s jaw bone were found in opal fields in northern New South Wales, alongside evidence of several other ancient and now extinct monotreme species.

Officially named Opalios splendens, the new species has been nicknamed for its resemblance to the platypus and echidna – which are the only egg-laying mammals in the world today.

The team behind the research say it indicates that Australia once had an “age of monotremes” – in which the incredibly rare order of animals were abundant and dominant.

“It’s like discovering a whole new civilisation,” lead author Professor Tim Flannery said.

The array of fossils were found about 25 years ago by palaeontologist Elizabeth Smith and her daughter Clytie while they were going through the discards of an opal mine.

They donated the specimens – estimated to be about 100 million years old – to the Australian Museum, where they sat forgotten in a drawer until about two years ago.

Prof Flannery, a mammalogist, says he stumbled across them and immediately knew they were from ancient monotremes.

Some of the bones belonged to the already-discovered Steropodon galmani, a shorter, stumpier and toothier ancestor of the platypus.

But the other fragments were unfamiliar. From them, Dr Flannery and his team discovered evidence of three species previously unknown to science, findings which were published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology on Monday.

The critters had combinations of features never seen before – in living or fossil monotremes, said Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute Professor Kris Helgen, who also worked on the paper.

“[The Opalios splendens’s] overall anatomy is probably quite like the platypus, but with features of the jaw and snout a bit more like an echidna,” Prof Helgen said.

All opal fossils are rare – monotreme ones even more so – but these specimens are “a revelation”, says Ms Smith.

They take the total number of monotreme species known to have once lived at Lightning Ridge – which was in ancient times a cold, wet forest bordering a vast inland sea – to six.

“They show the world that long before Australia became the land of pouched mammals, marsupials, this was a land of furry egg-layers – monotremes,” Ms Smith says.

“It seems that 100 million years ago, there were more monotremes at Lightning Ridge than anywhere else on earth, past or present.”

Other experts say it is too early to say whether Australia once hosted a multitude of monotremes and that further exploration is needed.

“It may have been at least as diverse as the later Australian marsupial fauna… but I would need more evidence,” Flinders University palaeontologist Rod Wells told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The study’s authors hope their paper will encourage more funding for more targeted digs in the region, to support their findings.

(BBC News)

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China appoints new vice minister to MFA

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Hua Chunying has been appointed as vice-minister of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Ms. Hua has been serving as spokeswoman of the Chinese MFA ministry since 2012.

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