Current Affairs 21st April

Use lockdown only as absolute last resort, Modi tells States #GS3 #SnT

Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the States to only resort to lockdowns as an absolute last resort and said that were everyone to observe COVID-19 appropriate behaviour, there would be no need for stringent reactions.

We have to save ourselves from a lockdown and do our best to avoid it and I request the States to pay more attention to effectively managing micro-containment zones.

In his first address to the nation this year, Mr. Modi said the government’s decision to make vaccines more widely available would translate to affordable vaccines for all adults.

The Prime Minister alluded to the prevailing oxygen supply crisis and said Indian industry as well as the transport sector was working hard to ensure that it was available as quickly as possible in the places needed.

‘Collective effort’

He said that the second wave was a major challenge but with collective enterprise the country could overcome the challenges it posed.

Referring to the ongoing month of Ramzan as well the festival of Rama Navami, Mr. Modi said just as these occasions were reminders to be compassionate, restrained and to exhibit self control, in the same way it was imperative on everyone to follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. He appealed to the children to ensure that elders do not step out without cause.

Unlike a year ago when the pandemic hit and India had inadequate testing kits, PPE suits and little understanding of how it could be managed, there was much more knowledge now, Mr. Modi said. He added that youth in residential areas should form committees to enforce appropriate COVID behaviour and discipline.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/use-lockdown-only-as-absolute-last-resort-modi-tells-states/article34371732.ece

Ban industrial use of oxygen now, HC tells Centre #GS3 #SnT

The Delhi High Court asked the Centre to immediately ban industrial use of oxygen instead of waiting till April 22, remarking that “economic interest cannot override lives, otherwise we are waiting for a much bigger disaster”.

“The shortage is now. Why wait till April 22 to decide?” the HC said, adding, “At this point of time, the highest priority has to be saving lives.” “The government imposed a lockdown last year, which faced a lot of criticism, but if we look back, it was probably the wisest decision the government made.

“The situation today is much more demanding. If there was justification for lockdown last year, it is four times more today,” it added.

The Bench also took note of news reports that there is daily wastage of “6% of vaccines, and till now 44 lakh vaccines out of 10 crore have been wasted”. The HC said wastage of even a single shot of the COVID-19 vaccine was a “criminal waste” and directed the Centre to vaccinate whomsoever it can, to ensure each vial is used fully.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/ban-industrial-use-of-oxygen-now-hc-tells-centre/article34372225.ece

‘U.S. currency watchlist an intrusion into policy’ #GS2 #IR

Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan questioned the rationale behind the U.S. government’s decision to put India on the watchlist for currency manipulators, and said the list constituted an intrusion into the policy space needed by central banks around the world to meet their mandates.

High dollar purchases

The U.S. Treasury Department had recently retained India on a watchlist for currency manipulators submitted to the U.S. Congress, citing higher dollar purchases (close to 5% of the gross domestic product) by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Another trigger for the inclusion on the currency watchlist is a trade surplus of $20 billion or more. India’s trade surplus with the U.S. grew by about $5 billion to $23 billion in 2020-21, from around $18 billion in the previous fiscal year, as imports fell more sharply than exports in the COVID-affected year.

In response to a question on the U.S .move, Mr. Wadhawan said the RBI had been taking necessary steps to maintain stability in the financial markets and not accumulating forex reserves like China did in the past.

I think the central bank’s activity in the foreign exchange market has been perfectly balanced and completely legitimate within the accepted monetary policy mandate of central banks across the world. This watchlist is a recent phenomenon [and] it is an intrusion into policy space of central banks. I personally don’t understand its rationale.

To provide stability

These are, in my view, very legitimate market-based operations of a central bank. It is a mandate of the central bank to provide stability in the currency as a result of which central banks buy and sell foreign currency. Our overall reserves have been fairly steady at $500 billion to $600 billion. We are not accumulating reserves like China, which at one point had reserves of $4 trillion.

India, the Commerce Secretary asserted, had a steady holding pattern of forex reserves “with ups and downs” based on market-based transactions that central banks may undertake.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/us-currency-watchlist-an-intrusion-official/article34371735.ece

ISRO to support projects of IIT-D #GS3 #SnT

Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi said that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced that it will support eight joint research projects mooted by the Space Technology Cell (STC), IIT-Delhi. The ISRO will support the projects under its RESPOND programme with varying duration of 1-3 years.

The institute said that the Space Technology Cell was set up at IIT, Delhi under an MoU signed between the ISRO and IIT-D in November 2019 with an aim to strengthen the research collaboration between the two organisations and to carry out focused research projects in the space technology domain with specific deliverables. Since then, eight collaborative research projects have been announced.

Some of the projects include develop a system for drought and flood forecasting and understanding land-atmosphere interactions, a project that aims to understand the plasma dynamics in electrode-less thrusters, which are used for electric propulsion and have a longer lifespan than their electrode-based counterparts, an indigenous sensor based real time flood warning smart system and other projects.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/isro-to-support-eight-joint-research-projects-of-iit-d/article34372000.ece

‘Border situation cannot be swept under carpet’ #GS2 #IR

Maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the “essential basis” to take forward India’s ties with China, Vikram Misri, India’s envoy to China.

There needed to be “respect for mutual concerns and sensitivities and for each other’s priorities”, Mr. Misri said in an interaction with Chinese scholars from think tanks and universities in the southern city of Guangzhou, according to a statement from the Indian Embassy in Beijing.

Mr. Misri said, at another dialogue last week hosted by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA), there was “a tendency in some quarters to sweep this situation under the carpet and characterise it as just a minor issue and a matter of perspective”.

“This, too, is inadvisable as it can only take us further away from a sustained solution to present difficulties and deeper into an unfulfilling stalemate,” he said. “In fact, it would be tantamount to running away from the problem and in a direction opposite to that where the promise of our closer development partnership lies.”

Remain deadlocked

Talks between military commanders appear to remain deadlocked over carrying forward disengagement in the Gogra and Hot Springs areas following the completion of the first phase at Pangong Lake. China’s state media reported on Monday that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “has deployed an advanced long-range rocket launcher to the Himalayas”.

“It is the first time that the PLA has confirmed the deployment of long-range rocket systems to the border with India,” the South China Morning Post quoted a front page report of the official PLA Daily as saying, adding that “an artillery brigade stationed 5,200 metres above sea level in Xinjiang military district has intensified its drills using a rocket system during full-wing combat-ready training”.

The Indian envoy’s comments indicated the difference in how New Delhi and Beijing view the way forward to restore normalcy in the relationship. At the same dialogue, Sun Weidong, China’s Ambassador to India, said, “What happened over the past few decades has proven once and again that highlighting differences will not help resolve problems.”

“Rather, it will erode the foundation of mutual trust. “The boundary dispute is a reality and should be given sufficient attention and taken seriously. However, the boundary question is not the whole story of China-India relations and should be put at a proper place in the overall bilateral relations.”

Mr. Misri, however, said both countries “worked out elaborate mechanisms and parallel structures for border control and for the management of issues that cropped up on the ground on a regular basis” and “though they were tested on multiple occasions, these mechanisms and structures helped maintain the all-important peace and tranquillity on the borders, thereby helping create the environment in which the India-China relationship grew spectacularly between 1988 and 2019”.

“It is tempting today to remember this period with a touch of nostalgia, and to argue that we should shelve our differences and things should immediately go back to the way they used to be,” he said.

But we must acknowledge that these enabling structures and the fundamental premise of the closer developmental partnership have been placed under considerable strain by the serious incidents and the resultant violation of peace and tranquillity at the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh in April 2020 and thereafter.”

The two envoys also offered differing takes on multilateralism. Mr. Sun said, “China and India need to practise true multilateralism, abide by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and an international order based on international law” and “reject ‘small circles’ of closeness and exclusion targeting other countries.

Mr. Misri said, “In a post-pandemic world of altered equations, multipolarity is probably more important than ever, both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond” and “in a multipolar world, no country can set the agenda by itself without prior agreement and consultation, and then expect everyone else to come on board”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/border-situation-cannot-be-swept-under-carpet/article34371636.ece

PM cancels Europe trip, amid surge #GS2 #IR

With an uncontrollable surge of COVID-19 cases in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cancelled his travel to Europe next month. The decision was taken after discussions with the European Union (EU) leadership and the Portuguese government, which was going to host the summit in Porto and had invited the leaders of all 27 countries that comprise the EU to attend the meeting with Mr. Modi.

In view of the COVID-19 situation, it has been decided, in consultation with the EU and Portuguese leadership, to hold the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting in a virtual format on 8 May 2021. The India-EU Leaders’ Meeting in the EU+27 format, the first time that such a meeting is being held, reflects the shared ambition of both sides to further deepen the strategic partnership.

The cancellation comes a day after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his visit to India in view of the pandemic. Both the U.K. and the U.S. have also announced travel restrictions and advisories to citizens against travelling to India at this time. Mr. Modi was expected to travel to France during the same visit, which has now been put off.

In the run-up to the proposed meeting, Mr. Modi had held a number of bilateral meetings with European leaders, including those of the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Italy and others, in which future EU-India cooperation was discussed.

Indo-Pacific strategy

India and the EU are also expected to discuss progress on the long-pending Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), which has made little headway in more than seven years, and are likely to forge an agreement on cooperation on the Indo-Pacific strategy during the now-virtual meeting.

To fulfil our potential, we need to be more ambitious in our cooperation on preventing climate crises, promoting human rights, building connectivity, sustainable trade and defending a multilateral international order.

On April 12, the EU and Indian officials also held the 9th ‘Human Rights dialogue’, where they discussed “strengthening the human rights mechanisms for the promotion of human rights and the role of national human rights institutions, civil society actors and journalists.

A day later, the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament, which had introduced several discussions critical of India on the issue of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and restrictions on NGOs in the past year, cleared the report on India-EU ties, which contained stringent language expressing “concern at the deteriorating human rights situation in India”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/pm-cancels-europe-trip-amid-surge/article34371648.ece

‘Remove offending online content’ #GS3 #Security

The Internet never sleeps and the Internet never forgets,” the Delhi High Court remarked while issuing a slew of directions to deal with the complications in removing offending content such as photographs and videos from pornographic websites.

Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani said a court, when approached with such a grievance, should issue a direction to the website or online platform on which the offending content is hosted to remove such content forthwith, and in any event, within 24 hours of the receipt of the court order.

A direction should also be issued to the website or online platform on which the offending content is hosted to preserve all information and associated records relating to the offending content… at least for a period of 180 days… for use in an investigation.

The case stems from a petition by a woman who claimed that her photographs and images, though not in themselves obscene or offensive, were taken from her Facebook and Instagram accounts without her consent, and were uploaded on a pornographic website with derogatory captions added to them.

The true enormity of this fact has dawned over the course of hearings conducted in the present matter, when it transpired that despite orders of this court, even the respondents [Internet service provider, search engines], who were willing to comply with directions issued to remove offending content from the World Wide Web, expressed their inability to fully and effectively remove it.”

‘Errant parties’

Errant parties merrily continued to repost and redirect such content from one website to another and from one online platform to another, thereby cocking a snook at directions issued against them in pending legal proceedings.

During the hearing, Google had stated that it had no opposition in removing access to the offending content as may be directed by the court. Facebook, which also owns the social media platform Instagram, submitted that it had a robust privacy policy.

It pointed out that though it was the woman’s allegation that her photographs and images had been taken from her Facebook/Instagram social media accounts, she did not claim any relief against Facebook/Instagram.

The woman claimed that she had already filed a complaint on the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal as well as to the jurisdictional police, but to no avail. She claimed that the photographs had received some 15,000 views within a week of being posted.

Noting that a solution to the problem needed to be crafted so that legal proceedings of the nature faced by the court did not turn futile, Justice Bhambhani said for an order directing the removal or access disablement of offending content to be effective even within India, a search engine had to block the search results throughout the world.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/remove-offending-online-content/article34371646.ece

Sri Lanka-India travel bubble delayed #GS2 #IR

Sri Lanka has decided to postpone launching the proposed “travel bubble” with India, in the wake of the recent surge in Covid-19 cases in India.

We are just postponing the bubble, this is not a cancellation. When things get better in India, we look forward to launching the travel bubble. Sri Lanka has been preparing to open up the country for tourists in phases as earnings from the sector, a crucial foreign exchange earner, fell steeply in the pandemic year.

Special flights

Less than two weeks ago, the Civil Aviation Ministry in India announced setting up a “bilateral air bubble” arrangement with Sri Lanka for operation of special international passenger flights between the two countries.

New Delhi had also conveyed to Colombo its interest in welcoming an inaugural flight from Sri Lanka to the Kushinagar airport in Uttar Pradesh that was recognised as an international airport last year.

The two governments have discussed ways to enhance connectivity with the airport to help Buddhist pilgrims in Sri Lanka visit important religious sites in India. “Once the pandemic situation eases, we will be able to finalise that.

Tourist source

India accounts for one of the highest sources of tourists in Sri Lanka. Following the virus outbreak in March last year, Sri Lanka closed its borders and reopened it only in December 2020, stipulating protocols for on-arrival testing, quarantine and travel within the country.

Witnessing a gradual increase in the last four months, Sri Lanka recorded 4,581 tourists from select countries in March 2021. Just before the pandemic hit, Sri Lanka received 2,28,434 tourists in January 2020 and the highest percentage of arrivals was from India, at 18 %.

Sri Lanka has over 3,000 active cases of Covid-19, after reporting nearly 1 lakh cases in total, and 620 fatalities. Public health experts have cautioned the public about a possible new wave of infections.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Airlines, the country’s national carrier, had planned to restart operations to several Indian cities, to create the travel bubble. With the surge in infections in India, the plans have been put on hold for now.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-international/sri-lanka-india-travel-bubble-delayed/article34371633.ece

Govt. says container shortages resolved #GS3 #Economy

The container shortages dogging exporters in recent months have been resolved for now as is reflected in the higher goods exports in March. India, they added, has begun drafting a long-term plan with steel producers to make containers domestically.

In March, the World Container Index was 233% higher than a year earlier, suggesting that overall container shortages were high worldwide. However, India had been able to address the issue for its exporters in tandem with shipping lines, the Indian Railways, the Container Corporation of India (Concor) as well as Customs and port authorities.

“The container shortages issue… has been eased out though the problem has really been a manifestation of international developments. “During March 2021, India’s goods exports were 17%-18% higher than March 2019, so that is a very heartening feature and this has been feasible because of addressing the container shortages.

“The non-availability of space in vessels calling on Indian ports, congestion at the ports and because exports were higher than imports, this imbalance was creating shortage of containers,” he said, adding that the government had cut the quarantine period for Chinese vessels from 14 days to 5-7 days in order to improve availability.

As many as 2,000 empty containers were released after clearing unclaimed cargo from ports, which were also urged to stop using containers for handling cargo.

While Concor had ordered 2,000 containers, which were expected in the next 4-6 months, the ministry was in talks with steel producers to create an ecosystem for manufacturing containers that need special steel, Mr. Agarwal said. China currently produces three out of every four containers.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-business/govt-says-container-shortages-resolved/article34371590.ece

How & why of oxygen therapy #GS3 #SnT

The ongoing second surge in Covid-19 cases has seen a huge rise in the demand for supplemental oxygen. What makes the gas so vital in Covid-19 management?

When does a Covid-19 patient need oxygen support?

A small proportion of Covid-19 patients need oxygen support, when shortness of breath progresses to a more acute condition. Most patients with Covid-19 have a respiratory tract infection, and in the most severe cases their symptoms can include shortness of breath. In a small proportion of such cases, this can progress to a more severe and systemic disease characterised by Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

How does Covid-19 trigger shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath occurs because of the way Covid-19 affects the patient’s respiratory system. The lungs enable the body to absorb oxygen from the air and expel carbon dioxide. When a person inhales, the tiny air sacs in the lungs — alveoli — expand to capture this oxygen, which is then transferred to blood vessels and transported through the rest of the body.

Respiratory epithelial cells line the respiratory tract. Their primary function is to protect the airway tract from pathogens and infections, and also facilitate gas exchange. And the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can infect these epithelial cells.

To fight such infection, the body’s immune system releases cells that trigger inflammation. When this inflammatory immune response continues, it impedes the regular transfer of oxygen in the lungs. Simultaneously, fluids too build up. Both these factors combined make it difficult to breathe. Low levels of oxygen triggered by Covid-19 are inflammatory markers, which include elevated white blood cell counts and neutrophil counts.

Is India witnessing more patients with shortness of breath?

Yes. Data with the National Clinical Registry for Covid-19 shows a new emerging trend during the second wave: shortness of breath is the most common clinical feature among symptomatic hospitalised patients at 47.5%, compared to 41.7% during the first wave. Simultaneously, other symptoms have dropped significantly compared to the first wave: dry cough (5.6% vs 1.5%); loss of smell (7.7% vs 2.2%); fatigue (24.2% vs 11.5%); sore throat (16% vs 7.5%); muscle ache (14.8% vs 6.3%).

How many symptomatic people now require oxygen?

In India, as of Tuesday, 1.75% of the patients were in ICU beds, 0.40% were on ventilator, and 4.03% were occupying oxygen beds. Since the total active cases have now risen to 20,31,977, the number of patients requiring oxygen beds is significant.

On Monday, members of the national Covid-19 task force said hospital data shows that a significant 54.5% of hospital admissions during the second wave required supplemental oxygen during treatment. This was a 13.4-percentage-point increase compared to the previous wave between September and November, the data from 40 centres across the country shows. However, requirement of mechanical ventilation dropped during the second wave: to 27.8% of admitted patients from 37.3% during the first wave.

Dr Balram Bhargava, DG, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said there is limited data on why more patients are requiring oxygen, and this needs to be further studied. “This (more patients requiring oxygen) could be explained by the fact that due to the sudden surge of cases there is a panic, people wanted to get admitted to hospitals, therefore oxygen requirement suddenly shot up.

But there is limited data from hospital settings and more will have to be looked at. However, oxygen [remains] an important tool in the management of Covid-19 disease, particularly when oxygen saturation has fallen,” Bhargava said.

In what conditions is oxygen used in Covid-19 clinical management?

According to the clinical management protocol, a person is suffering from moderate disease when he or she is diagnosed with pneumonia with no signs of severe disease; with the presence of clinical features of dyspnea (shortness of breath) and/or hypoxia (when the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level); fever, cough, including SpO2 (oxygen saturation level) less than 94% (range 90-94%) in room air.

In moderate cases, oxygen therapy is the primary form of treatment: the target is to achieve 92-96% SpO2, or 88-92% in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The devices for administering oxygen in moderate disease are nasal prongs, masks, or masks with breathing/non-rebreathing reservoir bags, depending on requirement. The protocol also recommends awake proning (having patients lie on their stomachs) as a rescue therapy to increase oxygenation.

Severe cases are defined in three categories: severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis. The clinical management protocol recommends oxygen therapy at 5 litres/min. When respiratory distress and/or hypoxemia of the patient cannot be alleviated after receiving standard oxygen therapy, the protocol recommends that high-flow nasal cannula oxygen therapy or non-invasive ventilation can be considered.

“Compared to standard oxygen therapy, High Flow Nasal Cannula Oxygenation (HFNO) reduces the need for intubation. Patients with hypercapnia (exacerbation of obstructive lung disease), hemodynamic instability, multi-organ failure, or abnormal mental status should generally not receive HFNO,” the protocol says.

Does a patient always show Covid symptoms when their oxygen levels drop?

No. According to the FAQs on Covid-19 from AIIMS e-ICUS, sudden deaths have been reported at presentation to the emergency department, as well as in hospital. AIIMS has said that the reasons that have been proposed include a sudden cardiac event, preceding “silent hypoxia” that went unnoticed, or due to a thrombotic complication such as pulmonary thromboembolism.

In silent hypoxia, patients have extremely low blood oxygen levels, yet do not show signs of breathlessness. “In patients with silent hypoxia, the amount of oxygen carried in our blood, otherwise known as blood oxygen level, is lower than expected compared to the other vital signs. Silent hypoxia is not usually an early symptom to occur in Covid-19 patients.

They frequently arrive at the emergency room for other reasons, such as muscle aches, fatigue, fever and cough. Typically, when a patient begins to demonstrate silent hypoxia, they already have other Covid-19 symptoms and may be in critical condition,” the American Lung Association says.

It recommends that instead of solely relying on a pulse oximeter, the patient should monitor for gastrointestinal symptoms, muscle soreness, fatigue, and changes in taste and smell as well as the more common initial symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/covid-19-second-wave-oxygen-shortage-7282246/

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