COVID-19

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COVID-19: 40 cases of Delta Plus variant found in India

India|: New Delhi: As many as 40 cases of Delta Plus Covid variant have been detected in India — the strain which the government has tagged as a “Variant of Concern”. A total of 21 cases of the new strain have been found in Maharashtra, six in Madhya Pradesh, three each in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, two in Karnataka and one each in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu, said sources. Delta Plus in 80 countries * According to the Indian government, the Delta Plus, much like the Delta strain that has spread to 80 countries, is highly infectious and fast spreading. * According to INSACOG, the Delta Plus shows “increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and potentially reduced monoclonal antibody response”. *It may also show resistance to existing treatment protocol for Covid, experts worry. There are concerns over whether current vaccines will be effective against the Delta Plus. * The government said while the two vaccines being used in India, Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, are effective against the Delta variant, data on how they work on the Delta Plus would be shared later. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on Tuesday also informed that the Delta Plus variant of Covid-19 was found in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri and Jalgaon; Kerala’s Palakkad and Pathanamthitta; and Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal and Shivpur. The genome sequenced samples received from Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh as well as other states confirmed the presence of Delta Plus variant, a mutation of the Delta strain or B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India. Three states alerted Soon after findings, the Ministry alerted the three states to take precautionary measures and shared that Delta Plus has characteristics like increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response. The chief secretaries of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have been advised to take immediate containment measures in different districts and clusters, including preventing crowds, widespread testing, prompt tracing and vaccine coverage. Delta Plus cases, still a low number, are emerging as large parts of India are ending severe lockdowns and restrictions with Covid cases on the decline after a fierce second wave ambushed the nation’s health infrastructure in April-May. People line up to register themselves to get a dose of Covishield during a vaccination drive at a mosque in Ahmedabad. Image Credit: AP INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia), a consortium of 28 labs tasked with genome sequencing of the virus causing Covid, says properties of the Delta Plus are still being investigated. It is characterised by a mutation in the spike protein, which helps the virus gain entry into human cells. “Currently the number of such Delta plus variants in India are only few but the distribution or detection in various states during past two months indicate that it is already present in some states and states may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing and priority vaccination,” it says. Very little is known about this strain, which is now in nine countries — the US, the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Russia and China besides India.

GulfNews Business

Emirates Global Aluminium in talks to refinance $6b loan

Banking|: Dubai:  Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), one of the world's largest aluminium producers, is in talks with banks to refinance and change the terms of a loan of about $6 billion it secured in 2019, according to sources. The UAE firm, which is owned equally by Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala and the Investment Corporation of Dubai, is seeking to extend the tenor and lower the pricing of the seven-year loan through a refinancing facility to take advantage of low rates, the sources said. "EGA is fortunate to have a large relationship bank group who support our business. We are always looking at ways to optimise our financing arrangements," the company said in response to a Reuters request for comment. EGA's fundraising exercise comes as borrowers in the Gulf seek to improve their financing arrangements to reflect better market conditions after last year's coronavirus-driven downturn. EGA, which produces 4% of the world's total aluminium, took a loan of over $6 billion in early 2019 to refinance a $4.9 billion loan secured in December 2015 as well as to fully repay a $1.8 billion loan raised by EGA's subsidiary Dubai Aluminium. The syndicated loan EGA is seeking to restructure was issued on Jan. 28, 2019 and totalled $6.545 billion, according to Refinitiv data. A group of around 25 international and regional banks participated in the loan. Banks leading the deal included BNP Paribas, Citi, Emirates NBD, ING and Natixis. The company said in March its annual adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the 12 months ended Dec. 31 rose to 4.1 billion dirhams ($1.13 billion) from 2.5 billion dirhams a year prior, boosted by product flexibility, cost control, and a ramp-up in new upstream projects.

GulfNews Business

India’s second-wave halted Air India Express’ recovery, says CEO Alok Singh

Aviation|: Dubai: Air India Express was operating at 65 per cent of its pre-pandemic operations in March, with domestic at 80 per cent. This was before the second-wave of the COVID-19 virus led to the tightening of state-wide as well as international restrictions. “We were hit by the second way and we pretty much fell back to where we had started from, but now things are looking way better,” said Alok Singh, the airline’s CEO, during an aviation event on Wednesday. “The worst seems to be behind us, and there is a dramatic decline in the number of infections,” said Singh. “The markets continue to be restricted … hopefully in the next few months, we will see a much clearer trend, and it will be upwards” Low-cost benefits Being a low-cost carrier, Air India Express has learnt to stay afloat in a highly competitive and price-sensitive aviation market. “We entered the crisis in a better shape than many other airlines - we had five consecutive years of profits,” said Singh. “We are one of the lowest seat kilometer cost producers in the world – we are nimble and flexible, which helped us tide over the crisis” “We did pretty much what most airlines did, which is cut costs, conserve cash, look at alternative revenue streams and optimize routings,” said Singh. Long term view Although the pandemic has decimated air travel demand now, it hasn’t in any way diminished India’s prospects of being a large aviation market. Singh believes a slew of upcoming projects and initiatives will ensure the growth of the industry. Mumbai and Delhi – two of the country’s largest aviation hubs – are getting a greenfield airport each in the next couple of years. “There is a regional connectivity scheme that the government has launched, (which) is opening up scores of airports across the country,” said Singh. “Air India Express and Air India are on track to privatization… put this all together and it is a game changer,” said Singh.

GulfNews Business

Saudi Aramco extends $10b loan on improved terms, sources say

Energy|Banking|: Dubai: Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco has secured a one-year extension to a $10 billion loan it raised last year, negotiating improved terms in the process, three sources told Reuters. Aramco has borrowed tens of billions of dollars in the past few years to keep up with Saudi Arabia's financing needs in an era of lower oil prices. This is in addition to a public sale of a minority stake in the company and the recent leasing of some of its pipeline assets for $12.4 billion. It has over the past few months renegotiated and extended a $10 billion one-year loan it raised in May last year, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. The loan had a one-year extension option, but instead of paying a higher interest rate to extend the deal - as agreed as part of that facility - it has asked for better terms to reflect improved market conditions, the sources said. The pricing is tighter than the original loan's due to a "COVID premium" that resulted from depressed market conditions last year, one of the sources said. Two of the sources said the extended facility pays as much as 30%-40% less than it would have paid under the original agreement. "They are very good at negotiating," another source said. Aramco did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Banks keep lending to Aramco and comply with what one banker said were "aggressive" pricing requests partly because of the new business it is expected to generate, two of the sources said. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in April that the kingdom was in discussions to sell a 1% Aramco stake to a global energy company and could sell further shares within the next year or two, including to international investors. Aramco is also looking to replicate the oil pipeline deal by selling a stake in its gas pipelines, sources have said. The $12.4 billion pipeline deal was backed by nearly $11 billion in debt underwritten by eight banks and subsequently syndicated to an additional 10 banks, two of the sources said.