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Tigress found dead in Kaziranga National Park

A tigress was found dead on Sunday in Kaziranga National Park.

The carcass was recovered in the bank of Bhalukjan Beel in the Bagori range of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve.

Sources said it is suspected that the tigress died in a fight with other tiger.

In the afternoon, the post-mortem of the tigress was conducted in presence of a high-level team of forest officials of the state and the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which was led by Kaziranga National Park director P Shivkumar to the spot.

The post-mortem of the tigress was conducted by veterinarian Dr Pranjit Basumatary of Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) at Panbari near Kaziranga National Park.

It is suspected that the tigress died around 7 days back.

There are marks of attacks by other tiger on the carcass of the tigress.

The tigress has been identified as Kazi-83 of Kairanga National Park by the national park’s research officer, Rabindra Sarma.

After conducting the post-mortem, the carcass of the tigress was cremated at the spot in the forest in presence of all.

This year, a total of three tigers have died in the Kaziranga National Park.

On April 15, 2020, forest officials recovered a carcass of a Royal Bengal Tiger at the national park.

The carcass of the tiger was recovered from the bank of Mihibali under Kohora range.

Sources informed that the tiger might have died around three days back.

Forest officials also said the back portion of the dead tiger was already eaten by some other big cats.

Forest guards on Wednesday evening discovered the carcass while taking the elephants for a stroll.


Coronavirus drugs-vaccines coming, give us time: Pulitzer-winning cancer researcher Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee

In an exclusive conversation with India Today as part of the E-Conclave Corona Series, Pulitzer-winning author and cancer surgeon Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee says that while there is hope at the end of the novel coronavirus tunnel, scientists just need some time to come up with a vaccine or drug to fight the virus.

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee has also authored The Laws of Medicine
Dr Mukherjee is the editor of Best Science Writing 2013
His latest work is THE GENE: An Intimate History
An assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician and researcher, Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee is most popularly known as the author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Dr Mukherjee was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for his book.

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee joined India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai for an exclusive discussion on the novel coronavirus outbreak and how it has changed the world. “The main thing we want is to buy time until we get a good vaccine or drugs. There are drugs coming, there is hope at the end of this tunnel, a vaccine will come. Everyone’s job is to buy us time. If you can buy us the time, we are trying our best.”

What India can learn from America?

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: India can learn from America about preparedness. The first case was reported on January 21 in Washington, the first proper kits were not available until the first week of March. We are talking about 40 days.

All viruses have an R0 number attached to it. It means the number of people one can infect. “Preparation is key,” Dr Mukherjee says.

Full coverage of E-Conclave 2020 Corona Series

What makes Covid-19 so different?

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: There are two features. Asymptomatic carriers can carry the virus and spread it, this is very unique. It’s not the case for Corona’s cousins SARS and MARS.

The second feature is if you don’t have any protection, the R0 keeps rising.

hat do we know about Covid-19?

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: There are plenty of people in their 20s and 30s who have died from the disease. Older people co-morbid conditions

We know the sequence of the virus, the genes. We also know potential places to attack the virus which is what the vaccine is about but it will take time. There are, however, many things still unknown.

Where are we on drugs for Covid-19?

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: When you develop a new drug against a virus, it goes through certain phases. The first phase is when an existing drug is re-purposed. There are two drugs in that category that stand out right now, are Hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir by Gilead

The second drugs are antibodies, these latch on specifically to coronavirus. Antibodies have to be produced in large quantities and have to be kept very clean.

Viruses have special capabilities to make copies of themselves. The third category of drugs is those meant to locate these copy-making abilities of viruses.

The fourth category is the vaccine. They take a very long time but are the most effective. Most importantly, the safety profile for a vaccine is crucial. The fastest vaccine we have developed is in 14-18 months.

What is the best strategy for this pandemic?
Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: There is no one solution, it is a combination of solutions. Countries can only stay in lockdown for so long. If you don’t do lockdown, the cases rise exponentially. If the virus is allowed to spread unchecked, the number of cases will surpass the world’s population in 40 days.

By lockdown, we try not to overwhelm the healthcare system. We lower the curve of the spread of infection.

There are conditions that can allow us to get out of the lockdown. The first is testing that reveals what the real numbers are. The second is quarantine and isolation can be done using technology. The third is, you can lock down your own respiratory system.

Lockdown has to be removed along with testing and in phases.

Will we enter a changed world post-coronavirus?

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: It will be a changed world. We will be better prepared for the next pandemic. Many countries acted late. Stigma will be attached to those infected with coronavirus.

How much credence do you give to the fact that Covid-19 was developed in a lab?

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: I personally do not believe that.

Will you write a book on the history of Covid-19?

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee: I have a book that has a dedicated section on viruses and vaccines. But I don’t see myself writing a book on the history of Covid-19, as of now.


‘Disciplined’ northeast emerges as model of Covid-19 management

NEW DELHI: The northeastern region, which has traditionally been disciplined, has emerged as the model of coronavirus management and the rest of the country should emulate it, Union minister Jitendra Singh said on Saturday.

He said people in the eight northeastern states – Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Assam – have been following the lockdown-related guidelines in letter and spirit.

“By tradition and by lifestyle, people of northeastern region are civilised and disciplined. That is why they could very easily follow the lockdown guidelines. There has been no problem in ensuring implementation of the lockdown-related guidelines there,” Singh told PTI.

He said within six years of the Modi government, the northeastern region has emerged as the model for development for the entire country.

“Similarly, during the lockdown due to Covid-19, entire northeast has become model for the whole country to emulate it,” he said, adding that the way people are adhering to these guidelines is commendable.

Singh said five out of eight northeastern states are free from this deadly virus now and Sikkim never had a single case throughout.

“The spread of the deadly virus in the northeastern region by far has been contained by the support of people and the administration. There has been day-to-day monitoring of the situation at the micro and macro level both by the state government and by the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER),” the minister said.

Singh, who holds multiple portfolios, including the minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office and in DoNER, praised the work being done by women self-help groups in the northeastern region.

“There has been a rich tradition of women self-help groups in the northeastern region. These women help groups have been making masks for people. These masks are such creative and filled with colours that they can go with almost all kinds of clothes,” he said.

Singh said there is no shortage of essential commodities and medical equipment in the entire northeastern region.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scientific approach towards managing difficult situations guided us to ensure that there is no shortage of essential goods in the northeast, which is geographically important to the nation,” he said.

He said 350 tonnes of necessary goods have been delivered so far in the northeastern region via air cargo.

Singh said the first flight carrying such goods landed there as early as March 30 to ensure that people living in the remote corner of the country do not face any shortage of daily needs.

“I can say very confidently that the whole northeastern region is guiding the entire nation in the efficient ways to contain the pandemic,” he said.

To a question on reports that the Centre was considering reduction in pension, he said these were “manufactured news”.

“Why would the central government think to take such a step that too with pensioners? It is all manufactured news. People with vested interest are using it. There has been no thinking by the government on either stoppage or reduction of pension,” he clarified.

Singh said there also has been manufactured news about the Centre’s move to reduce the age of retirement of central government employees from the existing 60 years, which is “entirely incorrect”.

“There is no move to reduce the retirement age of the central government employees,” said the minister of state for personnel.

There are 48.34 lakh central government employees and 65.26 lakh pensioners.

Public Health

5 states in North-East free from Covid-19,

Guwahati: The entire country is grappling with the rapid spread of coronavirus disease, which has infected more than 62,000 people and killed more than 2,000.

But there are five states in the North-East which do not have a single Covid-19 patient. These are Manipur, Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.

Mizoram’s Covid-19-free status can be attributed to the discipline of its people, Chief Minister Pu Zoramthanga said on Sunday.

“Mizoram is a very disciplined state. With the help of the church, NGOs and administration, we have so far survived this crisis and are determined to continue to do so in the future,” he told news agency PTI.

He, however, said acknowledged the threat from “corona carriers” looms large over the state, which shares a 510-kilometre border with Myanmar and a 318-kilometre border with Bangladesh.

“This is a great threat for us as there are high chances of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh infiltrating into Mizoram due to the open borders. We are taking all measures to stop it.” he said.

While Bangladesh has reported 13,134 cases of coronavirus with 206 deaths, Myanmar has 177 cases.

Union minister Jitendra Singh had said on Saturday that the entire northeastern region has emerged as the model of coronavirus management and the rest of the country should emulate it.

He said that people in the northeast of India – Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Assam – have been following the lockdown-related guidelines in letter and spirit.

“By tradition and by lifestyle, people of northeastern region are civilised and disciplined. That is why they could very easily follow the lockdown guidelines. There has been no problem in ensuring implementation of the lockdown-related guidelines there,” Singh said.


Amid Covid-19, African Swine Fever kills over 13,000 pigs in Assam

Guwahati: When India continues an all-out fight against the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic, Assam is battling on an additional front as the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) has killed over 13,000 pigs in the state, affecting the livelihood of thousands of already economically distressed people in the animal resource trade, Ministers and officials said on Sunday.

Terming the situation as “serious”, Animal Husbandry, Veterinary and Agriculture Minister Atul Bora said that 13,033 pigs died in nine districts of Assam during the past several weeks.

“The Kaziranga National Park authority has dug a two-km long and six-feet deep trench to protect its wild boars (also known as ”wild swine”) from the outbreak of the contagious ASF,” Bora told the media here.

The Minister visited the Kaziranga National Park and adjoining villages and reviewed the steps taken to protect the wild boars from the deadly disease.

Bora said his department has been working for several weeks to deal with the highly infectious ASF disease, whose mortality rate is very high — 90 to 100 per cent.

“We have already taken a series of steps, including creation of containment zones, within one km radius of an infected area and surveillance zone within 10 km, to prevent spread of the virus to other adjoining districts. We have formed a committee with officials, experts, specialists and pig farmers and are working according to their advice,” he said.

Despite the Central government”s advice, the Minister said as of now, the department did not have any plans to cull the pigs.

According to the officials of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department, the infection spread initially in six districts — Dhemaji, North Lakhimpur, Biswanath, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and Jorhat in February but in the last few weeks, has also been detected in three more districts — Majuli, Golaghat and Kamrup (Metro).

According to the 2019 census, Assam”s pig population was around 21 lakh, which by now according to the officials, has increased to around 30 lakh.

Due to the ASF, hundreds of pigs” deaths were also reported from the nine districts of neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh.

Because of the outbreak of ASF in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, all the state governments in the northeast have sounded a high alert and asked people, especially owners of piggeries, to refrain from bringing pigs from other states.

Animal resource experts in northeast India suspect that the highly contagious ASF came to the region from Tibet through Arunachal Pradesh.

The annual pork business of the northeast is worth around Rs 8,000-10,000 crore with Assam being the largest supplier. Pork is one of the most common and popular meats consumed by both tribals and non-tribals in the northeastern states.

According to the animal resource experts, the pigs generally are affected by the Classical Fever, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome besides the ASF. The ASF was first detected in 1921 in Kenya. No vaccines or medicines have been discovered so far. According to some experts, human beings do not get infected by the ASF, but they could be the carriers of the virus.



Two doctors infected in Assam; Coronavirus cases rose to 58, death 2

Guwahati: The total number of coronavirus cases in Assam rose to 58 with two junior doctors testing positive for the disease on Friday and the test report of a 16-year-old girl confirmed the infection after her death, Health minister Himanta Biswas Sarma said. Two infected junior doctors are from Guwahati Mediacal College and North Eastern Regional Dental College.

The girl was suffering from fever and a pain in her leg. When her condition deteriorated, she was admitted to B Barooah Cancer Hospital on Thursday where she died later, the minister said at a press conference.

Her sample, taken for COVID-19 testing, and was found to be positive. It is “very unfortunate as she did not get the necessary treatment”, he said.
“We will have to discuss with the Union Health Ministry whether we can declare that she died due to COVID-19 as we did not treat her for the disease. She was found to be positive after her death,” Sarma said.

The Kamrup (Metro) district administration has declared two hostels and areas around the Guwahati Medical College Hospital, the employers’ colony near the B Barooah Cancer Institute where the girl lived with her grandmother and certain areas in Kharghuli and Chandmari as containment zones.

Sarma said of the total cases in the state, 21 are active while 34 have been cured of the disease and one died.

The health minister said that a bus carrying 45 passengers had arrived in Silchar on Wednesday from Rajasthan’s Ajmer.

Three of them tested positive on Friday, taking the the total number of cases related to this particular group to eight. Thirty-three were negative and results of other tests are awaited, he said.

Since the passengers had gone home briefly after screening, several areas in four villages of Cachar district have been declared as containment zones, Sarma said, adding direct and indirect contact tracing was on and 185 people have been quarantined in facilities.

In the last 24 hours, Assam reported a sudden spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. Of the 11 cases reported since Thursday, nine have travel history.

After a post-graduate student of the medicine department of Guwahati Medical College Hospital tested positive for COVID-19, the facility has been closed for new patients and 386 people, including hospital superintendent, doctors, students and several workers, have been quarantined, the health minister said.

Their swab tests have been conducted and the results were expected by Friday night. The medical student was engaged in screening of COVID-19 patients from May 4, Sarma said.

A 55-year-old woman from Kharghuli Hills area of Guwahati has tested positive and admitted to GMCH. Her family members have also been quarantined.

The fourth person to test positive in Guwahati had returned from West Bengal on May 6 along with two others in a personal vehicle. The person has been admitted to Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital while the other two have tested negative, Sarma said.

“This is the second case with travel history to West Bengal and we have asked the police department not to issue passes to those originating their journey from this state, except in humanitarian cases,” the minister said.

Sarma said that three positive cases in Guwahati with no travel or contact history indicates that traces of the novel coronavirus may be prevalent in the city.

“People should, however, not panic but strictly follow the guidelines and report to doctors in case they have influenza-like illness (ILI) and diarrhoea,” he said.

So far, 1,032 people have entered the state since May 6 through check posts at Srirampur and Chagalia along the Assam-West Bengal border from where they proceeded to the five screening centres at Kokrajhar, Guwahati, Tezpur, Jorhat and Silchar.

The minister also said that harassing doctors, nurses and health workers is a non-bailable offence under the Epidemic Control Act and the Disaster Management Act.


South Korea’s COVID-19 success story

On Thursday, the Republic of Korea recorded no locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, prompting praise from UN Secretary-General António Guterres. UN News has been finding out, from two UN colleagues based in the capital, Seoul, how life is changing for the better.

Stephan Klingebiel is Director of UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Global Policy Centre in Seoul, which fosters partnerships between the Republic of Korea and the developing world. He puts the country’s success down to self-discipline, effective measures and testing.

“Just a few weeks ago, family members and friends in Germany were afraid of my duty station. In the second half of February and early March, when the number of new confirmed Covid-19 cases peaked, South Korea seemed to be a real global hot spot. This impression has changed fundamentally: now, rather than being seen as an epicentre, South Korea seems to be an outstanding example of how to manage the crisis!

What is interesting to highlight is the fact that South Korea never experienced the kind of lockdown which is being implemented in many European and Northern American countries: shops stayed open, but also restaurants and many leisure facilities, such as saunas. It’s true that a lot of people have been working from home, but many companies and institutions never changed the fundamental structure of their working arrangements in the office.

And the Korean approach is highly efficient and effective. When I returned from Germany at the end of March, there was a well-functioning protocol in place. Before I left Frankfurt Airport, I was asked to download an app from the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, and a second, from the Ministry of Interior and Safety, once I landed.

Upon arrival, we were escorted outside the building for COVID-19 testing, and boarded a chartered bus to a police facility, to wait for the test results overnight. Food and other amenities were provided, and I received my results the following morning.

After my negative test result, the chartered bus took all the foreign passengers back to the airport, where we were asked not to use any form of public transport to return home (taxis are checked to make sure there are no arrival passengers using them). When I got home, I had to report back on my health status every day. I was also given a grocery box and a basic set of masks and hand sanitizer!”

“Thursday was the first time in 72 days that the number of local COVID-19 infections in Korea reached zero: even taking into account the “imported” cases, the number of confirmed patients has remained steady at around ten per day for the past two weeks.

However, it’s rare to see people without masks on, and the elderly, as well as families with young kids like myself, are staying at home as much as possible. Schools are closed, so my son opens his computer each morning to attend his online classes.

I continue to do my groceries, shopping, dry cleaning and food delivery online via mobile apps, and I wore a mask to the recent country-wide national assembly election, where voters had their temperature taken, and their hands disinfected. They were instructed to stand one metre apart, and given plastic gloves before casting our ballots.

However, with the warmer Spring weather, social distancing is gradually waning in my neighborhood, especially among the young and healthy: South Korea was never under a major lockdown – only voluntary, intensive social distancing – and the streets, shops, restaurants and buses have begun bustling again. Masks, once so difficult to get a hold of, are now easy to buy. Online church services have gone offline as people return to services, and gyms and bars have re-opened.

We all knew very clearly, thanks to the daily government news briefings, emergency alerts, web and mobile-based apps, and GPS trackers, what symptoms to be wary of, what to do and where to go for testing, which neighbourhood pharmacy carried masks that day, and which “infection locations” to avoid visiting.

This inundation of real-time public information is what has really helped South Korea throughout this crisis.


Will India pin its hopes on anti-viral drug remdesivir?

With cases on the rise, India is closely tracking progress of anti-viral drug remdesivir’s usage to cure Covid-19 patients.

After Gilead Science’s anti-viral drug remdesivir showed signs that it could become a standard of care to fight Covid-19 pandemic, a US government disease expert welcomed the key clinical trial results. India, too, may pin its hopes on the drug in a bid to treat rising Covid-19 patients.

Gilead Science’s antiviral drug remdesivir gained traction after the US governmADVERTISEMENectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci called the early results of a key clinical trial as “good news” in the fight against novel coronavirus.

Preliminary results showed that patients given remdesivir recovered 31 per cent faster than those given a placebo.

: Gilead says remdesivir shows improvement in Covid-19 patients when used early President Donald Trump called the remdesivir drug trials “a stepping stone in moving faster in the direction of making a vaccine”.

Fauci said, “FDA is working with Gilead to figure out mechanisms to make this easily available to those who need it.”

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a wing of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US, said early results from its 1,063 patient trials show that hospitalised Covid-19 patients who were given remdesivir recovered in 11 days, compared to 15 days for those who were given a placebo.

The study also showed that 8 per cent of patients who were given the drug died, as compared to 11.6 per cent in the placebo group. However, the difference was not statistically significant so may not be due to Gilead’s drug, they added.

Will India consider remdesivir?

India is part of World Health Organisation’s (WHO) solidarity trials for vaccines.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director Dr Raman Gangakhedkar said earlier that India has kept an eye out on the results from the trials conducted with remdesivir and the data that is being collected on it.

“It is a product made by Gilead company. ICMR is participating in a solidarity trial with WHO, an arm of that solidarity trial is also working on the efficaciousness of remdesivir. Can other pharmaceutical companies make it? Once we know that then we shall move forward from there,” said Gangakhedkar on April 13.

It has been widely reported that remdesivir had previously failed as a treatment for Ebola, but it is now being tried against the novel coronavirus. Gangakhedkar explained that the drug prevents certain viruses from multiplying.

“Remdesivir a drug that was being used in Ebola outbreak. The drug acts on the mutation of the Covid-19 virus, which is why researchers believe that it could work.”

An earlier clinical trial conducted in China with remdesivir revealed details about the Ebola drug’s inefficacy on critical Covid-19 patients.

Released prematurely by WHO, results of the China trial suggested no benefit of the drug in terms of preventing death and reducing virus load. WHO retracted it soon after. Gilead had rejected the claim and said the study was released too early due to low patient enrolment.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director Dr Raman Gangakhedkar said earlier that India has kept an eye out on the results from the trials conducted with remdesivir and the data that is being collected on it.

Milan Sharma 

US grants emergency approval for remdesivir for Covid-19 patients


During a meeting in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump, Gilead Chief Executive Daniel O’Day called the move an important first step and said the company was donating 1 million vials of the drug to help patients.
In this file photo one vial of the drug Remdesivir is viewed during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany on April 8, 2020, amidst the new coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.
In this file photo one vial of the drug Remdesivir is viewed during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany on April 8, 2020, amidst the new coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. (AFP)
The experimental drug remdesivir has been authorized by US regulators for emergency use against Covid-19, President Donald Trump announced Friday.

It comes after the antiviral made by Gilead Sciences was shown in a major clinical trial to shorten the time to recovery in some coronavirus patients, the first time any medicine has had a proven benefit against the disease.

“It is really a really promising situation,” Trump said at the White House, where he was joined by Gilead’s CEO Daniel O’Day.

“We are humbled with this first step for hospitalized patients,” said O’Day, adding: “We want to make sure nothing gets in the way of these patients getting the medicine.”

The company has previously announced it was donating some 1.5 million doses for free.

This amounts to about 140,000 treatment courses based on a 10-day treatment duration.

Remdesivir, which is administered by an injection, was already available to some patients who enrolled in clinical trials, or who sought it out on a “compassionate use” basis.

The new move allows it to be distributed far more widely and used in both adults and children who are hospitalized with a severe form of Covid-19.

The Food and Drug Administration, which authorized the approval, defines severe as having low blood oxygen levels, requiring oxygen therapy, or being on a ventilator.

‘Proof of concept’

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced the results of a trial involving more than 1,000 people on Wednesday.

It found that hospitalised Covid-19 patients with respiratory distress got better quicker than those on a placebo.

Specifically, patients on the drug had a 31 percent faster time to recovery.

“Although the results were clearly positive from a statistically significant standpoint, they were modest,” Anthony Fauci, the scientist who leads the NIAID told NBC News on Thursday.

While not considered a miracle cure, remdesivir’s trial achieved a “proof of concept,” according to Fauci that could pave the way for better treatments.

Remdesivir incorporates itself into the virus’s genome, short circuiting its replication process.

It was first developed to treat Ebola, a viral hemorrhagic fever, but did not boost survival rates as other medicines.

The Food and Drug Administration FDA) has signed on the emergency use of Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir drug for treating severe cases of COVID-19.

The drug, according to studies reduced the time it took patients to recover from the coronavirus infection. US President Donald Trump, on May 1, said that the FDA has granted Emergence Use Authorisation (EUA) for the investigational antiviral remdesivir.

Follow our LIVE Updates on the coronavirus pandemic here

The announcement was made at the Oval Office by Trump alongside Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day.

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“This EUA opens the way for us to provide emergency use of remdesivir to more patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19,” said Daniel O’Day, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Gilead Sciences.

Also Read | Exclusive: Gilead says open to collaborate with govts, drug firms to make Remdesivir globally available

“We will continue to work with partners across the globe to increase our supply of remdesivir while advancing our ongoing clinical trials to supplement our understanding of the drug’s profile. We are working to meet the needs of patients, their families and healthcare workers around the world with the greatest sense of urgency and responsibility.”


What can be better for the soul than logging the first cuckoo of spring?

Rob Penn

The arrival of the first cuckoo from Africa is an important moment in the turning year. Photograph: Bebedi/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo
Iheard the first cuckoo on Wednesday evening. I was outside the back door splitting logs when the song floated down from the copse on Bryn Arw, the hill behind our house in the Black Mountains. Cuckoos have been coming to the same copse for as long as we have lived here and I have always written down the date of their arrival from Africa. It is an important moment in the turning year, as the lyrics to the traditional medieval round attest: “Sumer is icumen in/ Lhude sing cuccu.”

My recordings of cuckoos have always been haphazard, though. Some years, because the weather is dreadful or I am working hard and chained to a desk, I fail to get outside. I might first hear the male’s distinctive song, which gives the bird its onomatopoeic name, days after his actual arrival.

Other years, I have been abroad for work. This year, however, I have the correct date. There is no doubt, since every evening for the past four weeks I have been in the garden – weeding the vegetable patch, painting a bench, splitting alder logs and, on occasion, sitting in a chair looking up the hill with pricked ears, waiting for him. The cuckoo arrived on 22 April and I wrote it down in my notebook.
Observing the changing seasons is a fascination as old as the seasons themselves. There is a strange satisfaction in knowing that the arrival of the first cuckoo, with its gratifying intimations of summer round the corner, is a pleasure we partake in with people who lived hundreds and, presumably, thousands of years ago.

The first person to actually write down the times of the recurring natural phenomena that mark spring’s arrival was Robert Marsham, a Norfolk squire. In 1736, he recorded the first swallow, the dates different trees came into leaf, first flowering or blossoming dates, first time he heard frogs croaking and rooks nesting, first appearance of butterflies and the earliest singing of the cuckoo. In all, he recorded 27 seasonal occurrences in what he called his “Indications of Spring”.

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He maintained this record, without interruption, for more than 60 years. It became his life’s work. More remarkably still, successive generations of his family continued the record – until 1958. The field of study the Marshams effectively invented is called phenology.

I am no phenologist. This spring, though, I have become a keen and patient student of nature, with notebook in hand. For the first time in my adult life, I have the hours to sensitively bear witness to the delicate, daily changes. And I have taken the trouble to record them, like Marsham. In our small wood, I have observed the succession of wild flowers, all eager for their moment in the sun before the tree canopy closes over them. The sequence started in early March with lesser celandines and, a few days later, primroses; then came sweet violets, wild daffodils, wood anemones and greater stitchwort, in that order; next, yellow archangel flowered by the stream; last week, red campion, garlic-scented ransoms and bluebells, the wild flower that has the power of Prozac on the British collective consciousness, all bloomed. They have been entered in the notebook.

Sessile oaks coming into leaf.
‘Sessile oaks are leafing as I write.’ Photograph: Robert Penn
Similarly, there are entries about the progression of leafing trees. Elder and horse chestnut were first, in mid-March. Sycamore, then hawthorn, rowan, silver birch and pedunculate oak followed. Beech, field maple and sessile oak are all leafing as I write. I have logged the conspicuous unfurling of the first hart’s tongue fern and the first broad buckler fern.

The first brimstone and orange tip butterflies are logged. The arrivals of pied flycatchers and willow warblers from sub-Saharan Africa are accounted for. Damson and wild cherry blossom, dandelions, daisies, wasps, red mason bees, nest-building blue tits and song thrushes are all minuted. There are even notes on the time it takes for the alder I have been splitting to oxidise; the process turns the exposed wood a rich orange colour.

In fact, keeping a nature diary is beginning to feel like a chore and I’m still not sure why I am doing it.

Gilbert White, the best-known nature diarist of the 18th century and a correspondent of Marsham, published The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, in 1789, as a weapon in the fight against the “superstitious prejudices” held by the “lower people” of his district in Hampshire.

White, like his brother-in-law, Thomas Barker, who kept a punctilious weather diary for six decades, and Marsham, were part of a new breed of amateur naturalists that emerged towards the end of the Enlightenment era. Keeping a journal became the prevailing method of reducing weather and the natural world to a definitive system.

Today, phenology is even more important than when White and Marsham lived, because of the insight it provides into the effects of climate change. The largest phenology database, part of a project called Nature’s Calendar, is held by the Woodland Trust. Thousands of people add their own recordings to the website every year and the data is used in academic research.

I may add my observations to the database, but citizen science is not the main reason why, this year, I am observing nature with the methodology of an 18th-century country parson. Rather, I am trying to comprehend events by ordering what is around me. As William Faulkner said: “To understand the world, you must first understand a place.” His place was Mississippi, mine is the Black Mountains.

Observing the changing seasons in a diary is also an internally imposed discipline, a form of spiritual self-monitoring, while the storm rages elsewhere. How long the diary will last into summer, I can’t yet tell. For now though, pen poised, I am waiting for the first swallow.

(Rob Penn is the author of The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees)


The Guardian