Current Affairs 27th January 2022

Fewer hospitalisations in third wave, data from States show #GS3 #SnT

With India continuing to be in the grip of the third wave of the coronavirus, hospitalisation trends from majors States suggest it is so far less pernicious than previous waves.

On Wednesday, India reported 2,85,000 fresh cases bringing the active caseload to 22,23,018. States that account for a major chunk of these cases say that more than 95% of their available hospital beds are unoccupied, a far cry during previous waves when a scramble for even a single one — or having multiple occupants in a bed — was routine.

Rajasthan has around 90,000 active cases with 84,000 beds available for treating COVID-19 patients. Medical and Health Minister Parsadi Lal Meena said this week that said only 2% of these beds were occupied. At the Rajasthan University for Health Sciences (RUHS) Hospital in Jaipur, which is the biggest government medical facility for COVID treatment in the State, 63 of the 895 oxygen-supported beds and 26 of the 305 ICU beds with ventilator were occupied as on January 25.

During the peak of the second wave in April-end in 2021, almost all the beds available in the government and private medical facilities were occupied by the COVID-19 patients.

Active cases in Kerala, which is reporting a massive spike in infections, have climbed to 2,60,000. However, around 3.5% have been admitted in hospitals and COVID first line/second line treatment centres. This is in stark contrast to the situation in the State during the Delta wave last April when around 22,726 — close to 8% — were hospitalised. The daily new admissions at the time was close to 4,500.

Spot-billed pelicans dying en masse in Naupada #GS3 #Environment

A nematode infestation has led to mass mortality of spot-billed pelicans (Pelicanus philippensis) at Telineelapuram Important Bird Area (IBA) in Naupada swamp of Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh.

Over 150 spot-billed pelicans have succumbed to the infestation since December, according to Forest officials, with 21 birds dying in the past 72 hours alone.

As of Wednesday, nearly 200 adult spot-billed pelicans are surviving in the habitat, where they are breeding during their annual sojourn in the swamp. If the mortality rate continues unchecked, the species is likely to disappear completely from the swamp in a matter of days.

Only adult birds have succumbed to the infestation till date. Until now, in South India, the Telineelapuram IBA is the prime winter sojourn for the spot-billed pelican for breeding. The same IBA is also a breeding habitat for the painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala).

Preliminary inquiry

Wildlife Institute of India (WII-Dehradun) expert in animal ecology, migration, and movement studies Dr. R. Suresh Kumar spoke to The Hindu regarding the mass deaths. “Preliminary inquiry suggests that nematode infestation is the cause for the death of the spot-billed pelicans that prey on nearby water bodies. The nematode parasite is suspected to be transferred through fish and snails in particular, when the birds prey in the aqua ponds. At Telineelapuram IBA, the death rate is a case of mass mortality,” he said.

Dr. Suresh Kumar had studied the mortality of spot-billed pelicans in Karnataka State between 2017-19. “In Karnataka, the nematode infestation has started taking a toll on spot-billed pelicans since 2017. Post-2019, the death toll had fallen. In all the affected habitats, only the spot-billed pelican is dying due to the infestation. No other species has been affected,” he observed.

Locals alerted

“Until now, the mortality of spot-billed pelican has been reported in groups. There is no impact on painted stork which breeds in the same habitat. The post-mortem reports have certified parasitic (nematode) infestation as the cause of death,” said Srikakulam In-Charge District Forest Officer S. Venkatesh.

“Aquaculture management practices surrounding the habitat are said to be the source for the parasite. We have alerted the locals and steps are being taken to prevent further death toll of the migrant bird species,” added Mr. Venkatesh.

The nematode infestation would not spread from one species to another species as per the studies carried out by the experts in Karnataka State. “The way the infestation transfers from the fish, snails, and invertebrates is complex. It is purely related to water and aqua ponds,” said Dr. Suresh Kumar.

The spot-billed pelican is capable of hunting huge fish from the water bodies and swamps and thus, it is vulnerable to infestation. Thousands of spot-billed pelicans and a few hundred painted storks migrate from the Siberian region to breed in the Telineelapuram IBA and a majority of them prefer to stay here instead of going back home.

PM to hold Central Asia summit today #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the first India-Central Asia summit on Thursday, in a videoconference with five Presidents from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Government officials said the major areas of focus for the conference would be trade and connectivity, building development partnerships and enhancing cultural and people-to-people contacts, but it is clear that a number of global and regional developments will also form a large part of the discussions, set to begin around 4.30 p.m IST.

During the conference, the countries are expected to propose ways to increase trade between India and the region, which is only about $2 billion at present, most of which comes from energy imports from Kazakhstan. India extended a $1 billion Line of Credit (LOC) for development projects in the areas of energy, healthcare, connectivity, IT, and agriculture in 2020 and proposes to increase the number of educational opportunities for students from Central Asian countries. In addition, India hopes to build on its trilateral working group on Chabahar with Iran and Uzbekistan to strengthen connectivity to the region.

Meanwhile, other developments like the COVID-19 are expected to be discussed, and in particular rebuilding economies affected by pandemic. This has also been a major subject for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) where India and the Central Asian countries are members along with Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan.

The five leaders including Kazakhstan’s Kassym-Jomart Tokayev,Kyrgyzstan’s Sadyr Japarov, Tajikistan’s Emomali Rahmon, Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Uzbekistan’s Shavkat Mirziyoyev were due to be chief guests at the Republic Day parade in Delhi on Wednesday, but their visits were cancelled due to the current wave of coronavirus cases in India.

The growing tensions between Russia and NATO countries over the troop build-up on the Ukraine-Russia border, which Moscow says is in response to plans for NATO expansion in East Europe, will cast a shadow over the meeting as well, given the close strategic ties between Russia and the five former Soviet States, as well as Russian ties with India. During the recent uprising in Kazakhstan, President Tokayev had received support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who dispatched Russian Army soldiers to help restore the situation.

The situation in Afghanistan, which was discussed at length at the SCO, and in November by National Security Advisers at an India-Central Asia meet hosted by NSA Ajit Doval, as well as at the meeting of India-Central Asia Foreign Ministers in December will also come up.

Despite statements from several multilateral groupings, the Taliban regime in Kabul is yet to agree to forming an inclusive government, restoring education for girls of all ages, and giving concrete guarantees on preventing terrorist groups from operating in Afghanistan. Not all Central Asian countries are on the same page as India on dealing with the Taliban, and with the exception of Tajikistan, all have exchanged high level diplomatic visits with Kabul, while at least two, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have reopened their missions in Afghanistan.

Decommissioned INS Khukri to be converted into museum #GS3 #Defence

INS Khukri , the lead ship of the Indian Navy’s Khukri class missile corvettes which was decommissioned last December, was on Wednesday handed over to the Diu administration to be converted into a museum.

The ship is planned to be developed as a full-scale museum, the Navy said in a statement.

As part of developing and revitalising the Khukri Memorial, the Diu administration had approached the Defence Ministry in 2019 for gifting to it, for public display, a decommissioned naval vessel, the Navy said. “The ship commenced her last journey under tow by Navy ships from Visakhapatnam and arrived at Diu on January 14, it stated.

Built by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders, Khukri was commissioned on August 23, 1989 in Mumbai by the then Defence Minister Krishna Chandra Pant and Ms. Sudha Mulla, wife of late Capt. Mahendra Nath Mulla, MVC.

After over 32 years of service and having participated in all forms of naval operations, the ship was decommissioned in a solemn ceremony on December 23, 2021 when the national flag, naval ensign and decommissioning pennant were lowered at sunset in the presence of Vice-Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief.

Oil rises towards $89 on Russia-Ukraine tension #GS3 #Economy

Oil rose towards $89 a barrel on Wednesday, within sight of a seven-year high, supported by tight supply and geopolitical tensions in Europe and West Asia that raise concerns about further disruptions.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine. On Monday, Yemen’s Houthi movement launched a missile attack on a United Arab Emirates base.

“Anxiety over potential supply disruptions in the Middle East and Russia is providing bullish fodder for the oil market,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.

Brent crude rose 61 cents, or 0.7%, to $88.81 at 0917 GMT. On Jan. 20 it reached $89.50, the highest since October 2014. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was up 25 cents, or 0.3%, to $85.85.

“The market downside is limited due to heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the threat to infrastructure in the UAE,” said Hiroyuki Kikukawa, general manager of research at Nissan Securities.

Underlining a tight supply and demand balance, the weekly U.S. inventory report from the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday showed crude stocks fell by 8,72,000 barrels, market sources said.

Investors across the markets are also awaiting the update from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Fed is expected to signal plans to raise interest rates in March as it focuses on fighting inflation.

OPEC+ to meet

In another key development, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, meets on Feb. 2 to consider another output increase. OPEC+ has been gradually unwinding 2020’s record output cuts, raising its monthly target by 4,00,000 barrels per day, though the actual increase in supply has fallen short of that as some countries struggle to raise production.

OPEC+ will probably stick with a planned increase in output target for March, several sources from the group said, as it sees demand recovering despite downside risks from the pandemic and looming interest rate rises.