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Topline

India’s federal government has not yet placed fresh orders for Covid-19 vaccines, with the country’s two vaccine manufacturers despite several vaccination centers across the country reporting shortages, the Business Standard reported, a development that comes after one of the manufacturers warned the country will continue to face a vaccine shortage till July.

Key Facts

According to the Business Standard, the government last placed an order for 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 20 million doses of the locally-developed Covaxin shot back in March.

The two manufacturers of those shots—Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech—are expected to complete the deliveries of the last tranche of that order in the next few days, the report adds.

In an interview with the Financial Times, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla warned that India is likely to see vaccine shortages till July.

SII—the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer—is currently producing 60-70 million doses a month and it expects to ramp its capacity up to 100 million doses by July, Poonawalla said.

On being asked about why he did not expand his company’s manufacturing capacity earlier, Poonawalla noted that there were no additional orders from the Indian government, and his company did not think it needed to make more than 1 billion doses a year.

The vaccine supply crunch in India has caused a knock-on effect worldwide, as several lower and middle-income countries which were reliant on supplies from India have been affected by the country’s restrictions on vaccine exports.

Big Number

156.8 million. That’s the total number of doses of Covid-19 vaccines that have been administered across the country as of Sunday morning, according to data released by India’s health ministry. However, only 28.6 million Indians—about 2% of the country’s total population—have been fully vaccinated.

Tangent

Bharat Biotech, which manufactures the locally developed Covaxin shot, currently produces about 10 million doses per month. The company has promised to expand that capacity to 100 million doses per month by September.

Key Background

It’s unclear why the federal government has not placed fresh orders of vaccines despite establishing a new vaccine procurement policy. Under this new system, the federal government will procure 50% of the total vaccines manufactured, and then distribute them to the states for free. The remaining 50% supply will be procured by the state governments themselves, along with private hospitals. The split procurement process has led to vaccine manufacturers setting up a tiered pricing system, where states have to pay the manufacturers more than double of what the federal government pays. Sales to private hospitals come at an even larger premium. Both SII and Bharat Biotech have been criticized for adapting this tiered pricing strategy, which many say could make the vaccine unaffordable for the poor. The federal government has also been criticized for allowing this to happen, with even the country’s Supreme Court questioning the policy. 

Section Title

Covid-19 second wave: Centre yet to place fresh order for vaccines (Bussiness Standard)

India’s vaccine shortage will last months, biggest manufacturer warns (Financial Times)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

Topline

Three people are dead and more than two dozen were transported to local hospitals after a ship suspected of smuggling migrants into the U.S. capsized off the coast of San Diego Sunday morning, according to emergency services.

Key Facts

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department responded to a call of an overturned boat with people onboard near the Cabrillo Monument, a statue located close to the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula.

Of those, three victims died on the scene and 27 others were injured and taken to local hospitals, where their conditions remain unclear. 

The boat, a 40 foot cabin cruiser, had been broken apart by the time first responders arrived on the scene, authorities said during a Sunday afternoon press conference.

Officials said evidence points to the boat being part of an illegal human smuggling operation, and while authorities have not confirmed the nationality of the people involved, they have identified a man they believe is a smuggler and was operating the ship.

Units are still searching the area by boat and air, according to SDFD, and Cabrillo National Monument said it would close off access to its tide pools until further notice. 

Key Background

Local firefighters and lifeguards were assisted at the scene by other agencies like Federal Fire, the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection.

Topline

Despite international aid efforts ramping up, the second wave of Covid-19 infections in India continues to intensify, yielding a new record high for daily deaths on Sunday and prompting an outcry—from businessmen and public officials alike—for government intervention to help ease the rate of infection.

Key Facts

In a Sunday statement for the Confederation of Indian Industry, Indian billionaire Uday Kotak called on increased lockdown measures in India and urged “the strongest national steps, including curtailing economic activity, to reduce suffering.”

India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reported 3,689 new Covid-19 deaths Sunday, marking the nation’s largest daily death toll yet and bringing the total number of Covid-19 deaths in the country to more than 215,000.

The country also reported 392,488 new cases Sunday, down from a record high of 401,993 reported Saturday but still the second-highest daily tally on record for any country around the world.

Meanwhile, India’s death and infection rates continue to outpace its rate of vaccination: Roughly 157 million vaccines have been administered in the country, up just 1.2% Sunday, and despite India being the world’s leading producer of vaccines, only 2% of its population has been fully inoculated due largely to high vaccine prices and a large impoverished population.

“Enough is enough,” the High Court of Delhi said Saturday as it directed the nation’s central government—which has been criticized for its lackluster pandemic response—to supply oxygen to India’s capital territory of Delhi, warning officials that it may initiate contempt of court proceedings if the order is not implemented.

“The hospitals are full,” Germany’s Ambassador to India, Walter J Lindner, said late Saturday while delivering ventilators to New Delhi, adding that people are sometimes dying in front of hospitals and in their cars because they have no oxygen.

Crucial Quote 

“At this critical juncture when [the] toll of lives is rising… safeguarding lives is of utmost priority and nationwide maximal response measures at the highest level [must be] called for to cut the transmission links,” Kotak said Sunday. “We must heed expert advice on this subject—from India and abroad.”

Key Background

For roughly two weeks, a second wave of the pandemic has intensified in India—overwhelming hospitals, exhausting the nation’s vaccine supply and making the country the biggest Covid-19 hotspot in the world. Many are blaming India’s ruling party for the outbreak, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned aggressively for crucial state elections while failing to impose measures to help prevent a pandemic outbreak. Now starting to trickle in, election results are pointing to an overwhelming defeat for Modi’s party. “Evidently something went wrong, evidently we were hit by a tsunami,” Narendra Taneja, a spokesperson for India’s ruling party, told CNN last week. “We know we’re in power, we are responsible… our focus is now on how we can save lives.” So far, only six of India’s 29 states have imposed some form of Covid-19 lockdown during the new wave of infections.

Surprising Fact

According to an early Sunday report by Reuters, Indian officials ignored a forum of scientific advisors in early March who warned of a more contagious Covid-19 variant rapidly spreading around the country. Despite the calls for increased lockdown measures, officials instead held large political rallies attended by millions of maskless people ahead of the elections, Reuters reported.

Big Number

19.6 million. That’s how many Covid-19 cases have been reported in India through Sunday—the second-most among countries and behind only the United States’ count of 32.4 million.

Tangent

Speaking to CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday morning, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said the U.S. is “rushing aid” to India, including therapeutics, ventilators, personal protective equipment and rapid diagnostic tests. The U.S. is also looking to send over a portion of already purchased AstraZeneca vaccines.

Further Reading

India hits new grim record with 3,689 COVID-19 deaths in one day (Al Jazeera)

Photos Show The Distressing Severity Of India’s Covid-19 Crisis (Forbes)

India’s Daily Covid Cases Soar Past 400,000 As Crisis Deepens (Forbes) 

Enough is enough, ensure oxygen supply, Delhi High Court directs Centre (Tribune India)

Topline

Former Food and Drug Administration boss Scott Gottlieb praised the U.S. coronavirus vaccine rollout Sunday, calling it “a monumental achievement” that is partially why the U.S. has not fallen victim to massive coronavirus outbreaks driven by more infectious and dangerous virus mutations, like in India.

Key Facts

“The situation in the U.S. continues to improve and I think in the coming weeks we’re going to see an acceleration of the declining cases . . . [and] one of the big reasons is vaccination,” Gottlieb said on CBS’ Face The Nation Sunday.

Gottlieb used San Francisco as an example to show the benefits of widespread vaccination: In January, the city was counting more than 300 new coronavirus cases a day, and now that nearly half of adult residents have been fully vaccinated, San Francisco only counts around 20 new daily cases.

While Gottlieb expects the rate of vaccinations to slow over the next few weeks, he said health officials will continue to “chip away” at immunizing the millions of Americans who have not yet been vaccinated.

Vaccinations have also protected the U.S. from coronavirus mutations that have wreaked havoc in places like India, which is dealing with the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak experts say was largely caused by a new, more infectious coronavirus variant. 

“The same mutations that are arising in other parts of the world are arising here as well,” Gottlieb said. “They just haven’t gotten a foothold here, in part because we’ve been vaccinating our public.” 

Key Background

Nearly one in three Americans have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while more than half have received at least one dose. New daily coronavirus cases have continued to decline since reaching a peak in January. The U.S. last week sent aid in the form of medical supplies to India last week as the country grappled with a devastating coronavirus outbreak. India reported more than 400,000 new coronavirus cases on Saturday alone, a single-day record. The outbreak is believed to have been driven by a new variant that is more transmissible. 

Further Reading

100 Million Americans Now Fully Vaccinated—But Here’s Why The Pandemic Might Continue (Forbes)

India’s Daily Covid Cases Soar Past 400,000 As Crisis Deepens (Forbes)

‘Double Mutant’ Covid Variant: Here’s What We Know As Israel Reports Vaccine Efficacy Against Variant First Detected In India (Forbes)

Topline

Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger railed against bitcoin in Berkshire’s annual meeting Saturday, calling the cryptocurrency — which Munger and longtime partner Warren Buffett have excoriated for years — “disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization.” 

Key Facts

During a live question-and-answer session Saturday, an investor challenged Buffett and Munger on their well-documented skepticism of cryptocurrency, especially bitcoin, whose price has surged more than sixfold over the last year.

Buffett dodged the question, joking that he’ll anger bitcoin owners if he criticizes it.

Munger was less diplomatic: He said he hates bitcoin’s recent gains, arguing the currency was “created out of thin air” and is a go-to payment method for criminals.

Crucial Quote

“I don’t welcome a currency that’s so useful to kidnappers and extortionists,” Munger said. “I think the whole damn development is disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization.”

Contra

“I’m gonna dodge that question,” Buffett said. “We’ve probably got hundreds of thousands of people watching this that own bitcoin, and we’ve probably got two people who are short. So we have a choice of making 400,000 people mad at us and unhappy, or making two people happy, and that’s just a dumb equation.”

Key Background

Bitcoin skepticism isn’t a new position for the two leaders of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett has called bitcoin a “delusion” and “rat poison,” and he vowed last year to never own any cryptocurrencies, arguing they attract charlatans and “basically have no value.” Munger, for his part, has called bitcoin “artificial gold” and insisted its volatility makes it useless as a means of exchange, and he’s compared crypto investing to “trading turds.” 

Tangent

Buffett and Munger are unusually vivid in their disgust for bitcoin, but they’re not the only people to question it. Bitcoin enthusiasts believe the cryptocurrency is gaining traction with mainstream users as a means of payment, but critics warn its astronomical prices are the result of speculation and it remains too volatile to serve as a widely adopted currency.

Further Reading

Berkshire’s Charlie Munger: ‘Bitcoin is worthless, artificial gold’ (CNBC)

Topline

India, the current epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, has reported more than 2 million new cases and 18,000 Covid-related deaths this week alone, as a catastrophic second wave continues throughout the country, pushing hospitals and crematoriums past their breaking point. 

Key Facts

India’s Health Ministry on Saturday reported 401,993 new infections, the highest number of new cases reported yet in a single country in a 24-hour span.

Hospitals throughout the country continue to plead for medical supplies, especially oxygen.

Despite being the world’s leading producer of vaccines, only 2% of India’s population has been vaccinated. 

Key Background:

The surge in cases and hospitalizations in India has been attributed to several factors, including relaxed restrictions following a drop in infections in February, and environmental determinants such as decreased humidity in some parts of the country. Health experts believe a new variant of the coronavirus, B.1.617, often referred to as the “double mutant,” is also responsible for the rampant spread. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have received increased criticism as well. As recently as April 17, a maskless Modi campaigned at rallies with thousands of supporters who also weren’t wearing face coverings.

Chief Critic: 

“The government has failed us all,” said Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the general secretary of opposition party Indian National Congress, earlier this week. “Even those of us who oppose and fight them could not have foreseen a complete abdication of leadership and governance at a time as devastating as this.”

Tangent:

India’s neighbor Nepal also is in crisis, with more than 5,600 new cases on Friday, its highest one-day total since October. In a statement issued Friday, Nepal’s Health Ministry warned, “coronavirus cases have spiked beyond the capacity of the health system, and hospitals have run out of beds,” adding, ominously, “the situation is unmanageable.”

Further Reading:

India’s Daily Covid Cases Soar Past 400,000 As Crisis Deepens (Forbes) 

U.S. Promises To Send Crucial Oxygen Supplies To Covid-Ravaged India (Forbes)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

Topline

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett defended his decision to sell the company’s airline holdings last year even though those stocks have surged off their lows, telling investors at Berkshire’s annual meeting Saturday that the travel industry remains in a precarious position, and he thinks federal officials may not have bailed out the airlines if the deep-pocketed investor had maintained a sizable stake in any of them.

Key Facts

At last year’s annual meeting, after Covid-19 restrictions had hobbled the airline industry, Buffett disclosed that Berkshire Hathaway had sold its multibillion-dollar stakes in the four major U.S. airlines, but all four companies’ share prices have rebounded strongly — Delta is up 168% since its low last spring, American is up 163% and United is up 199%.

Despite this trend, Buffett argued Saturday the future of air travel is still uncertain because of the coronavirus, especially international and business travel, telling investors in a live-streamed address he “still wouldn’t want to buy the airline business.”

Buffett also suggested Congress would have been less likely to approve the billions in aid it’s provided for airlines if a prominent investor like Berkshire Hathaway had maintained a large position in airline shares: “I can just see the headlines now,” Buffett said.

Key Background

Berkshire Hathaway once owned 9% to 11% stakes in American, Delta, United and Southwest Airlines. But last spring, the Omaha-based conglomerate sold these holdings for far less than the $7 billion to $8 billion it had paid for them, and Buffett called his decision to invest in air travel a “mistake,” arguing it could take years for airlines to fully recover from Covid-19. Berkshire Hathaway also decreased its stake in JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs last year. Some investors challenged Buffett for these choices Saturday, suggesting Berkshire Hathaway was unnecessarily cautious.

Crucial Quote

“I don’t consider it a great moment in Berkshire’s history, but we have more net worth than any company on Earth,” Buffett told investors.

Further Reading

Buffett Sells More Stocks, Including Goldman Sachs, With No ‘Elephant-Sized’ Acquisition On The Horizon (Forbes)

Topline

Washington and Oregon are grappling with upticks in coronavirus infections, bucking a national trend of declining case counts, a surge some experts and local officials are interpreting as a signal that the risk of Covid-19 is still lingering even as vaccinations soar.

Key Facts

Case counts in Oregon have more than doubled over the last month, from a weekly average of 419 cases per day in early April to 873 as of Friday, though the state still is far off its peak of over 1,500 cases per day in late November, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile in Washington, average daily infections have spiked 35% from 1,041 in early April to 1,406 at the end of the month, though still well below its December peak of over 3,500.

Over the same time period, cases nationwide fell nearly 20%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both states are averaging more cases per day as a proportion of their population than the United States as a whole, with Oregon and Washington reporting the nation’s 13th and 17th highest per capita daily cases respectively, according to New York Times data.

The Pacific Northwest still has a low coronavirus death rate: Oregon is averaging just two deaths per day and Washington is averaging 12, whereas the United States reports more than 700 fatalities every day nationwide.

Tangent

Hospitalizations also jumped in both states last month, according to state health agencies. Oregon had 334 coronavirus patients in hospitals on Friday, a more than threefold jump from late March, and Washington’s hospitalizations increased from 286 in late March to 444 on April 11, the most recent date for which complete figures were available. 

Surprising Fact

Washington and Oregon are dealing with worse-than-average daily case counts despite having roughly average vaccination rates. Some 44.3% of Oregonians and 46.3% of Washingtonians have received at least one vaccine dose, versus 43.6% of Americans overall.

Key Background

The governors in Oregon and Washington have partially blamed more contagious new coronavirus variants for this latest surge in infections. In particular, a variant first discovered in the United Kingdom late last year is now dominant in the two states. Plus, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) says cases are spiking among younger people, most of whom still aren’t vaccinated, and experts in both states warn some residents have grown complacent and stopped following public health precautions. “We’ve let our guard down to some degree,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said Thursday.

What To Watch For

New restrictions. Brown reinstated a slate of strict social distancing measures across much of Oregon this week, shutting down indoor dining and capping other businesses’ capacity, and Inslee (D) could reinstate restrictions early next week.

Crucial Quote

“I intend to fully reopen our economy by the end of June, and the day is approaching when my emergency orders can eventually be lifted. How quickly we get there is up to each and every one of us doing our part,” Brown said in a statement Thursday.

Further Reading

Covid Surge in Oregon Shows U.S. Fight Against Pandemic Not Over (Bloomberg)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

Topline

India reported more than 400,000 new coronavirus cases Saturday, shattering the worldwide single-day record, as a devastating second wave of the pandemic continues to ravage the country, crippling an already weakened healthcare system. 

Key Facts

After 10 consecutive days of more than 300,000 new, confirmed cases, India’s Health Ministry said Saturday that number had climbed to 401,993.

Covid-related deaths also spiked, with 3,523 fatalities reported in the previous 24 hours.

Eighteen of those deaths were attributable to a fire in a Covid-19 ward on the ground floor of a hospital in western India that also injured 31 other patients. 

Despite the alarming numbers, experts say those figures represent only a fraction of total fatalities and infections.

Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan, said daily cases could climb past 500,000 by mid-May. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, in an interview with the Indian Express newspaper, advised India to implement a temporary nationwide shutdown, which the U.S. infectious disease expert argued “could have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak.”

Key Background:

The executive director of Batra Hospital hospital in New Delhi took to Twitter Saturday morning to issue an SOS, warning that he and his colleagues were in “crisis mode” due to a lack of oxygen supplies. Batra’s medical director later confirmed that eight coronavirus patients died, including one of the hospital’s own doctors, due to a lack of oxygen over the next hour before tanks were refilled. Last weekend, 26 coronavirus patients died gasping for air at Jaipur Golden Hospital in Delhi after it ran out of oxygen. Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said Thursday that 40 countries have pledged support and promised to send urgently needed oxygen-related equipment and therapeutics. The United States announced Wednesday it would offer thousands of oxygen tanks and concentrators to India as part of a $100 million aid package. The U.S. had already delivered 1,100 refillable oxygen cylinders, the White House said in a statement. India opened coronavirus vaccinations to all adults on Saturday, but the limited supply of the vaccine and access have hampered the rollout. In addition, the University of Exeter’s Dr. Bharat Pankhania told the Associated Press that “ample evidence” shows “having people wait in a long, crowded, disorderly queue could itself be a source of infection.” As of Saturday, only 2.1% of India’s population had been vaccinated. 

Tangent:

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the United States would begin restricting travel from India next week. The restrictions “will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India,” Psaki said.

Big Number:

211,853. That’s the total number of reported Covid-related deaths in India as of Saturday morning. 

Further Reading:

Haunting Images From The Covid-19 Crisis In India (Forbes) 

Dr. Anthony S Fauci on India’s Covid Crisis: ‘Shut down the country for a few weeks’ (Indian Express) 

U.S. Promises To Send Crucial Oxygen Supplies To Covid-Ravaged India (Forbes)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

Topline

Eli Broad, who amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune from his home-building and insurance businesses, and used his wealth to fund cultural improvements throughout his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, died Friday at age 87. 

Key Facts

A spokeswoman for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation confirmed his passing to the New York Times Friday evening, which she said came after a long illness. 

Broad died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Key Background:

Broad was born in New York in 1933. The only child of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, his family moved to Detroit in 1940, where his father painted houses and ran five-and-dime stores. While attending high school and college, Broad worked odd jobs, including selling ladies’ shoes operating a drill-press at the Packard Motor Company. After graduating from Michigan State University in 1954, he married Edythe Lawson and took a job as an accountant, earning less than $68 a week. A few years later, he borrowed $12,500 from Edythe’s patents to start a home construction company in Detroit that’s now known as KB Home. “If you play it safe all of the time, you don’t get very far,” Broad later said. After growing that business into a nationwide success, he began focusing on the insurance industry, purchasing Sun Life Insurance. In 1998, Broad made more than $3 billion when American International Group acquired the company for $18 billion. After retiring, Broad “turned full-time to philanthropy.” 

Big Number:

$6.9 billion. That was Broad’s net worth as of Friday, according to Forbes

Tangent:

In total, the Broads’ two foundations, the Broad Art Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which supports medical research, public education, have issued over $4 billion in grants. In 2008, Broad gave the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art a $30 million grant to bail it out of a financial crisis. He also gave $50 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and helped finance the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In 2015, he opened his own art museum, called The Broad, which holds more than 2,000 contemporary art pieces from his personal collection. 

Surprising Fact:

In 2019, Broad wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled: “I’m in the 1 Percent. Please, Raise My Taxes.” In the piece, Broad explained, “it’s time for those of us with great wealth to commit to reducing income inequality, starting with the demand to be taxed at a higher rate than everyone else.” 

Crucial Quote: 

“Let’s admit out loud what we all know to be true: A wealth tax can start to address the economic inequality eroding the soul of our country’s strength,” Broad wrote in his NYT op-ed. “I can afford to pay more, and I know others can too.”

Further Reading:

Eli Broad, Who Helped Reshape Los Angeles, Dies at 87 (NYT) 

The Art of the Billionaire (New Yorker) 

I’m in the 1 Percent. Please, Raise My Taxes. (NYT)