Current Affairs 9th April

India silent on back-channel dialogue #GS2 #IR

The Indian and Pakistani High Commissions in Islamabad and Delhi, respectively, are an “effective channel of communication”, the External Affairs Ministry said on said, sidestepping a slew of media reports on a “back-channel dialogue” between the two countries on a number of initiatives.

Earlier in the day, two Pakistani news websites reported that the current round of negotiations date back to 2018, and among the issues discussed by Indian and Pakistani officials was the possibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi attending a SAARC summit in Pakistan in October 2021.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who visited Islamabad after talks in New Delhi, “welcomed the recent steps taken by India and Pakistan to normalise bilateral ties”, further fuelling reports about the existence of a rapprochement process.

The latest report carried by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper said the country’s U-turn last week on approving imports of cotton and sugar from India, and then putting off the decision after opposition within the Cabinet, was an “avoidable” mistake due to “haste” in announcing the decision too early, without preparing all stakeholders.

The report said the Pakistan government had hoped for the Modi government to announce a restoration of “Statehood” for Jammu and Kashmir, and a visit by Mr. Modi to J&K as signs that India was willing to soften some of its moves made on August 5, 2019. According to the “insiders” quoted, Indian and Pakistani officials had met at a number of “secret locations” in a dialogue that began in 2018, broke off for a period of prolonged tensions in 2019, and was restarted some months ago in 2020.

“Indian officials raised the issue of what they call ‘cross-border terrorism’. Pakistani officials assured them that Islamabad was strictly following a policy of not allowing non-state actors to engage in any armed activity,” the Dawn news report added about the talks where the issue of terrorism and Kashmir were reportedly discussed.

In a separate report published on Thursday, a Pakistani website, Global Village Space , said more confidence-building measures had been proposed through the alleged back-channel dialogue, adding this was the “first time that Pakistani government sources have confirmed the existence of back-channel engagement with the Modi government”.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry did not respond to the specific details in either report, and has maintained silence over previous reports citing the dialogue.

‘Double mutant’ strain named B.1.617 #GS3 #SnT

The “double mutant” virus that scientists had flagged last month as having a bearing on the spread of the pandemic in India, has a formal scientific classification: B.1.617.

The variant is common in India — how much in every State is unclear though — and has a couple of defining mutations, E484Q and L425R, that enable it to become more infectious and evade antibodies.

Though these mutations have individually been found in several other coronavirus variants, the presence of both mutations together were first found in some coronavirus genomes from India.

Certain variants of the coronavirus, for instance, B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 — have been termed the “United Kingdom” and “South Africa” variant, respectively, because they have mutations associated with large spikes in these countries or reduce the efficacy of vaccines and are termed “variants of concern (VOC)”.

According to a note from the INSACOG, the consortium of laboratories that is sequencing a sample of genomes from COVID-19 patients in India, B.1.617 was first detected on December 7, 2020.

Though now present in at least eight countries, nearly 70% of the genome sequences that have the mutations characterising B.1.617 and submitted to the global database GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data) are from India. This is followed by the United Kingdom (23%), Singapore (2%) and Australia (1%).

“That suggests that this variant is fairly common in India. It is worrying because the mutations E484Q and L452R are linked to increased infectivity. It’s been linked to 20% of the cases in Maharashtra but we have to also see the role of the variant (from further genome studies) in say West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh where there are massive crowds from elections and the Kumbh Mela [respectively.

An explainer note by the INSACOG on the significance of the mutations says that it has as many as 15 “lineage defining mutations”. Other than the two mutations, there is a third significant mutation, P614R. All three concerning mutations are on the spike protein, the operative part of the coronavirus that binds to receptor cells of the body.

Resistant to T cells

L452R, some studies show, could even make the coronavirus resistant to T cells, a class of cells necessary to target and destroy virus-infected cells.

India has not yet conducted studies on how vaccine efficacy is influenced by variants, except for limited laboratory trials, but international studies have shown reduced efficacy of vaccines — particularly those by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax — to certain variants. However, the vaccines continue to be significantly protective in spite of this.

So far, only three global VOCs have been identified: the U.K. variant, the South African and the Brazilian (P.1) lineage. Of the 10,787 samples from international passengers, 771 instances of these VOCs have been identified in 18 States of the country.

A scientist associated with the INSACOG said vaccine makers should now be accounting for the variations in the spike protein in designing future vaccine.

Amid surge, PM stresses on the need to ‘test, track & treat’ more #GS3 #SnT

Amid growing concerns over vaccine shortage, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Chief Ministers of the States that the surge of COVID-19 — crossing peak levels of the first wave — required a firm strategy of “Test, Track and Treat”, while seeming to rule out any kind of large scale lockdown.

Intensive testing, testing 100% in well-defined micro containment zones, tracing at least 30 contacts of every positive case and ensuring that all eligible people were vaccinated was the strategy required.

The Prime Minister was addressing Chief Ministers online as the country battles a massive second wave of COVID-19 infections. He stressed on the need to demarcate specific micro containment zones, almost ruling out large scale lockdown of towns and cities.

Many States have faced criticism due to high cases, but I tell them that you need not bother; keep testing rates high, trace as many contacts, and test 100% in micro containment zones. These zones cannot be large undefined areas. If cases arise in a block of flats that tower can be a micro containment zone, the entire complex cannot be a containment zone.

Mr Modi pointed out that during the last year when the pandemic first hit, the country was facing challenges of not having either enough testing labs, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, ventillators and oxygen.

He admitted that the long battle against COVID19 may have led to “COVID fatigue” among people and local administration, but that it needed to be gotten over and urged that governors of States and civil society members, people of influence be roped in to emphasise COVID appropriate behaviour again.\

SC turns down release of Rohingya in Jammu #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Thursday refrained from ordering the release of Rohingya detained in Jammu. It, however, said they should not be deported without proper procedure.

A Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, held that though rights to equality and due process of law enshrined in the Constitution are available to both citizens and foreigners, the right “not to be deported” is ancillary to citizenship.

“The rights guaranteed under Articles 14 (equality) and 21 (due process of law) are available to all persons who may or may not be citizens.”

But the right not to be deported is ancillary to the right to reside or settle in any part of India under Article 19(1)(e),” the court said.

Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution guarantees to every citizen of India, the right “to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India”.

In its six-page order, the court said it was “not possible” to agree with the plea of Mohammad Salimullah, a member of the Rohingya community represented by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl d’Souza, to “release the detained Rohingya refugees immediately and direct the Union Territory government and the Ministry of Home Affairs to expeditiously grant refugee identification cards through the FRRO for the Rohingya in the informal camps”.

However, the CJI, who pronounced the order, made it clear to the authorities that the “Rohingya in Jammu shall not be deported until the procedure is followed”.

The direction is in response to a request by Mr. Salimullah for an order to the Centre to refrain from implementing any orders on deporting the Rohingya refugees who have been detained in the sub-jail in Jammu.

But the Supreme Court order refrained from passing any remarks about the “present state of affairs in Mynamar”. “We cannot comment upon something happening in another country,” the Supreme Court said.

The court had earlier refused Mr. Bhushan’s plea to hear out the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the issue. The court agreed with the government’s contention that “India is not a signatory either to the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, 1951, or to the Protocol of the year 1967”.

Govt. to hold competition again for ‘iconic structure’#GS2 #Governance

The Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry will launch a “restructured” second round of its design competition for the “iconic structure” to commemorate 75 years of Independence, after the first round entries failed to make the cut.

The Ministry’s Central Public Works Department (CPWD) had launched the competition in November 2020 and the results were to be announced by the end of December. However, the deadline has been pushed several times since.

The structure, which can be a tower or sculpture, will be built at the proposed New India Garden on the banks of the Yamuna as a notional extension of the Central Vista, according to the CPWD’s plan.

Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry Secretary Durga Shankar Mishra told The Hindu that 126 entries had been received for the competition, which was open to Indian citizens and organisations. While there were some good entries, the project was “more ambitious”.

India and China to hold 11th round of talks on LAC #GS2 #IR

India and China are scheduled to hold the 11th round of Corps Commander talks on Friday to discuss the second phase of disengagement in Eastern Ladakh. There could be some movement on the issue of disengagement from Patrolling Points (PP) at Gogra and Hotsprings during the talks.

In February, the two sides reached an agreement and completed the first phase of disengagement on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso. Within 48 hours, the 10th round of talks were held to take forward the process, during which they agreed to push for a mutually acceptable solution of the remaining issues in a “steady and orderly” manner to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas. However, no agreement has so far been reached on the second phase of disengagement.

With disengagement now complete at Pangong Tso, the focus of the talks will be to work out a phased disengagement plan for the other friction areas in Eastern Ladakh. These include Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok. Partial disengagement has already been undertaken by both sides from Gogra and Hot Springs last July, before tensions flared up on the south bank of Pangong Tso.

Responding to questions on the talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing that India and China were in communication for holding the 11th round of talks and there was no delay in the meeting.

180 AEFI deaths reported in India #GS3 #SnT

According to a presentation made to the National AEFI Committee during a meeting held on March 31, there have been 617 severe and serious (including deaths) adverse events following immunisation (AEFI). As on March 29, a total of 180 deaths (29.2%) have been reported following vaccination across the country. Complete documentation is available only for 236 (38.3%) cases.

In all, 492 severe and serious AEFI have been classified by the AEFI Secretariat of the Immunisation Technical Support Unit (ITSU) at the Health Ministry. Classification has been completed for 124 deaths, 305 serious events that required hospitalisation, and 63 severe events that did not require hospitalisation.

Of the 124 deaths, more than 63 deaths (nearly 51%) have been categorised as being caused due to acute coronary syndrome (a range of conditions associated with sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart) or heart attack. Another 11 deaths (12%) of deaths are due to stroke.

As on March 17, the details of the causality assessment of only 13 AEFI including 10 deaths have already been made public by the national AEFI committee. The vaccine was not found to have caused death in any of the 10 vaccinated people.

However, in many cases post mortems have not been conducted. For example, in at least six out of 10 cases where the National AEFI Committee has completed causality assessment, no post mortem has been done.

Not evenly distributed

Virologist Dr. Jacob John, formerly of CMC Vellore, says that if deaths are not associated with vaccination, then they would be nearly evenly distributed across weeks post vaccination. However, there are 93 deaths in the first three days (31 deaths per day) and 18 deaths in four-seven days (4.5 deaths per day) after vaccination. There have been 11 deaths in 8-28 days (0.5 deaths per day) post-vaccination.

If deaths are seen on a weekly basis, there have been 111 deaths in the first week (nearly 16 deaths per day) but in the next three weeks, there have been only 11 deaths (0.5 deaths per day).

If the deaths are unrelated to vaccination, then deaths should be evenly distributed across weeks after vaccination. There are an extraordinary number of deaths in the first week but in the next two-four weeks there are only about four deaths per week.

There have been 59 deaths due to sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart (acute coronary syndrome) or heart attack in the first week but only four in the second-four weeks after vaccination.

Similarly, deaths due to stroke are 13 in the first week but only one death in two-four weeks after vaccination. There have been nine “sudden deaths” during the first week but only one death in two-four weeks after vaccination.

In the case of AEFI requiring hospitalisation, there have been 291 AEFI needing hospitalisation in the first week compared with only 13 in two-four weeks after vaccination. “The number of hospitalisations in the first week stands out strikingly different,” Dr. John says.

Weakness in one, two or all four limbs (mono/para/quadriparesis) seen in 17 people hospitalised is similar to transverse myelitis seen during the trial in the U.K., says Dr. John. About 15 cases of seizure in the first week and no such cases in the two-four weeks after vaccination is abnormal, he says.

“There is something going on in the central nervous system. Also, 17 cases of mono/para/quadriparesis in four weeks needs thorough investigation,” he says.

“Since Covishield is the same vaccine as AstraZeneca, updated warnings related to these rare conditions, information for vaccine recipients and the public about when to seek medical attention, and information for health providers about how to identify and treat such occurrences needs to be done for the vaccine..

RBI’s first purchase under G-SAP 1.0 set for April 15 #GS3 #Economy

A day after announcing the introduction of the G-sec Acquisition Programme (G-SAP 1.0), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced the Open Market Purchase of Government of India Securities under the programme.

“The Reserve Bank will conduct open market purchase of government securities of Rs. 1 lakh crore under the G-sec Acquisition Programme (G-SAP 1.0) in Q1 2021-22 with a view to enabling a stable and orderly evolution of the yield curve.

The first purchase of government securities for an aggregate amount of Rs. 25,000 crore under G-SAP 1.0 will be conducted on April 15, 2021. The central bank will purchase five types of government securities via a multi-security auction using multiple price methods. The dates of maturity vary from November 2, 2023 to March 16, 2035.

IRDAI tightens AIF investment norms #GS3 #Economy

Insurance regulator IRDAI has introduced additional guidelines on insurers’ investment in Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs), including one mandating them to report compliance on a quarterly basis.

A circular said the norms would replace a provision, in a 2017 Master Circular on Investment, that stipulates “no investment is permitted in AIFs, which are of fund of funds and leverage funds.”

Thursday’s circular said “no investment is permitted into AIFs which undertake leverage or borrowing other than to meet day-to-day operational requirements and as permitted under SEBI (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulations, 2012.”

Insurers are allowed to invest in Fund of Funds (FoFs), which in turn, invest within the country. Further, such FoFs should not invest in AIFs that invest in overseas companies/funds.

The regulator also barred insurers from investing in an AIF that has exposure to an FoF in which the insurer has invested. The insurer, on a quarterly basis, needs to obtain a certificate issued by the concurrent auditor on the compliance of the conditions and file it with quarterly periodical returns

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