Current Affairs 20th April

Vaccines for all above 18 from May 1; States can buy directly #GS3 #SnT

Amid a virulent second wave of COVID-19 infections, the Centre allowed vaccination for all persons above the age of 18 from May 1. The decision, followed a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pharmaceutical companies, doctors, Union Ministers in charge of Health and drugs and officials from multiple nodal Ministries.

However, questions remain on whether enough stocks of vaccines will be available to cater to the accelerated demand. When the year began, the government’s plan was to inoculate 30 crore, or about a third of its adult population by August. As of Monday, only 8% had got one dose and 1% were fully inoculated.

Immunisation Phase 3

The Phase 3 of the National Vaccine Strategy will enable vaccine manufacturers to sell half their vaccines to the State governments and the open market. The rest will mandatorily be sold to the Centre.

Manufacturers would make an advance declaration of the price for 50% supply that would be available to the States and in the open market, before May 1. Based on this price, the States, private hospitals, industrial establishments and so on would be able to procure vaccine doses from the manufacturers.

Private hospitals will have to procure their supplies exclusively from the 50% supplied to the States and the open market. As of Monday, India had administered 12.4 crore doses of vaccine since January 16. When it opened up vaccines for those above 45 on April 1, there was an initial surge in the number of vaccinations every day — touching 4.5 lakh on April 5. However, the numbers declined steadily thereafter.

Second wave is not more lethal, says ICMR #GS3 #SnT

There is no difference in mortality among COVID-19 patients in the first and second waves, said leading doctors in charge of the national COVID-19 management strategy. There was a relative increase in instances of those manifesting shortness of breath as a symptom of the infection but those above 60 — as in the first wave — continued to be most at risk from dying.

A “marginally higher” proportion of patients younger than 20 years were present in the second wave (5.8%) compared with the first (4.2%). In the first wave, 25.5% of the patients were between the ages of 20 and 40, compared with 23.7% in the ongoing second wave.

Shortness of breath

Citing data from a section of hospitalised patients from the first and second waves, Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava said 47% of the symptomatic patients presented “shortness of breath” in the second wave (March-April 2021), compared with 41% in the first (September-November 2020).

In the first wave, 25.5% of the patients were between the ages of 20 and 40, compared with 23.7% in the ongoing second wave. Citing data from a section of hospitalised patients from the first and second waves, Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava said 47% of the symptomatic patients presented “shortness of breath” in the second wave (March-April 2021), compared with 41% in the first (September-November 2020).

In all other symptoms associated with COVID-19 — “fast breathing”, cough, chills, joint pain, fatigue — there was a greater proportion who manifested these symptoms in the first wave than in the ongoing second wave. A key caveat to the data was that for the first wave, 6,642 patients were analysed, while in the second wave, only 1,405 were analysed.

Of 6,650 admitted patients from September to November last year, 9.6% succumbed, whereas from March to April, 9.7% of a group of 351 died from the virus. There was no difference in the proportion of patients who required mechanical ventilation in the first and second waves.

The second wave — apart from a steep rise in coronavirus cases — has been characterised by unprecedented demand for medical-grade oxygen leading to severe shortages. Dr. Bhargava said the sudden surge may have triggered panic and a demand for more oxygen.

V.K. Paul, who chairs the empowered group on vaccinations and COVID-19 management (NEGVAC), said there was no difference in mortality, in the first and second wave, in those 40 and under. “There is no overarching extra/ excess risk of younger becoming COVID-19 positive,” he said.

On drug protocol for treatment, AIIMS director Randeep Guleria stressed that none of the antiviral drugs — Remdesivir, Fapiravir — as well as convalescent plasma had any established benefit in curing the disease. Other medication — the use of the steroids such as dexamethasone, tocilizumab — too had limited.

Train with seven tankers leaves for Visakhapatnam #GS3 #SnT

For the first time, the Central Railway (CR) has started an oxygen express for getting liquid medical oxygen meant for the treatment of COVID-19 patients across Maharashtra. A roll-on-rail-off (RoRo) train carrying seven empty tanker trucks on board left Kalamboli goods yard around 8 p.m. for Visakhapatnam after Transport Minister Anil Parab flagged it off.

Mr. Parab said the tankers were expected to return in four days with 100 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen. “We have a proper plan to distribute it across the State. Wherever the need is more, it will be supplied on priority. Carrying the oxygen on road is fraught with risks. So for the first time, we are trying to transport it via rail by preparing a green corridor. Depending on its success, we will increase the number of tankers next time.

Since Monday morning, Panvel Regional Transport Officer Gajanan Thombare and CR officials had been running checks to ensure the tankers had all the required technicalities. “Around 10 tankers were meant to be sent but due to the height issue, three were rejected. The height has to be around 3.30 metre and to match this criterion, air from tyres was released. Since there is no weight limitation, we managed to procure the tankers with weight of 15 tonnes each

CR officials said a team from the Mumbai Division had built a ramp within 24 hours at Kalamboli goods yard to facilitate loading and unloading of tanker trucks from flat wagons.

Navy seizes narcotics worth Rs. 3,000 crore in Arabian Sea #GS3 #Security

The Navy seized over 300 kg of narcotics, estimated to cost Rs. 3,000 crore in the international market, from a fishing vessel in the Arabian Sea.

“ INS Suvarna , whilst on surveillance patrol in the Arabian Sea, encountered a fishing vessel with suspicious movements. To investigate the vessel, the ship’s team conducted boarding and search operation, which led to the seizure of more than 300 kg of narcotics substances.

“The boat with its crew have been escorted to the nearest Port of Kochi in Kerala for further investigation.”

The Navy said it was a major catch not only in terms of the quantity and cost but also from the perspective of disruption of the illegal narcotics smuggling routes, which emanate from the Makran coast and flow towards Indian, Maldivian and Sri Lankan destinations.

“part from the human costs from drug addiction, the spoils of narcotics trade feed syndicates involved in terrorism, radicalisation and criminal activities.

JMM first to declare name of electoral bonds donor #GS2 #Governance

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) is the first party that has declared the name of the entity which made donations to it through electoral bonds, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). A declaration of a Rs. 1 crore donation was made in the party’s 2019-20 contribution report, it added.

According to the contribution report of the ruling party in Jharkhand, the donation was made by aluminium and copper manufacturing company Hindalco.

The ADR, in a new report, said the most common source of income for national and regional political parties in 2019-20 were donations through electoral bonds. “Given the anonymity provided to donors by the scheme, electoral bonds have emerged as the most popular channel of donations to parties in the last two years

“It is to be noted that the JMM party has declared the name of the donor who donated Rs. 1 crore through electoral bonds in its contribution report for FY [financial year] 2019-20. However, this income through electoral bonds has not been declared by the party in its audit report for FY 2019-20,” it said.

This raises the question as to whether political parties are aware of the identity of the donors who have made contributions through electoral bonds, the report added. Electoral bonds have been pitched as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties as part of efforts to bring transparency in political funding.

Vande Bharat becomes one of top civilian evacuations #GS2 #IR

The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), which started repatriating Indians stranded abroad due to COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns since May 7 last, has turned out to be one of the largest evacuations of civilians by a country.

Into the middle of Phase 10, the VBM has surpassed the large-scale airlift of 1,10,000 people in 1990 at the onset of the Gulf War. Till now, the Air India (AI) Group has operated 11,523 inbound flights to carry 18,19,734 passengers and 11,528 outbound flights and 13,68, 457 passengers. National carrier Air India, which carried out the bulk of air transfers under the mission, was supported by its budget carrier Air India Express.

Patronage drops

The first phase of the VBM, which lasted 11 days from May 7 to 17, was aimed at destinations with high concentration of Indians. As many as 64 inbound and outbound flights each were operated by the AI group to carry 12,708 and 3,562 passengers respectively. The lengthiest was VBM VI and VII lasting 61 days each.

The current VBM Phase 10 has international and domestic schedules operating till October 31. Of these, 373 are international flights from the country and another 376 are flights from abroad. Patronage has come down in the VBM flights these days as there is a spurt in COVID-19 cases in the country and many countries of late.

Cargo only flights

Air India Express (AIE) used its B-737-800 fleet to lift agricultural products, mainly fruits and vegetables, to West Asian countries, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The airline also chartered some of the 24 flights in the fleet as ‘cargo only flights’ to ship fruits and vegetables, the most sought-after items among the NRI Indians. Besides, helping rural farmers and the NRIs, the aim was to keep the supply chain intact.

“Transport bubbles” or “air travel arrangements”, temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the pandemic, are in place.

Reciprocal benefits

Reciprocal in nature, airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits. Such arrangements had been established with Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Russia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Uzbekistan.

EU Council approves conclusions on Indo-Pacific strategy #GS2 #IR

The Council of the European Union approved conclusions on a European Union strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to “reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions” with the aim to contribute to “regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development,” at a time of “rising challenges and tensions in the region.”

Current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas. Human rights are also being challenged. These developments increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests.

The Council tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021,” it stated.

Long-term focus

The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific will have a long-term focus and will be based on “upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law,” it stated. The EU will aim to promote effective rules-based multilateralism, it said, reiterating its support for ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) centrality, a point also stressed by India.

The EU will work together in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery. The EU’s approach and engagement will look to foster a “rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU.

“Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial.

NASA Mars helicopter makes first flight on another planet #GS3 #SnT

NASA successfully flew its tiny helicopter Ingenuity on Mars early, the first powered flight on another planet and a feat a top engineer called “our Wright brothers’ moment.” Data and images from the autonomous flight were transmitted 278 million km back to Earth where they were received by NASA’s array of ground antennas and processed more than three hours later.

Engineers were tensely watching their screens at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where the mission had been designed and planned for the past six years.

They broke into applause as one of them read off a checklist of tasks Ingenuity had achieved and concluded: “Ingenuity has performed its first flight — the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet.”

Ingenuity quickly sent back a black-and-white image from its downward pointing navigation camera, showing its bug-like shadow cast on the surface.

Then came a choppy colour video from the Perseverance rover showing Ingenuity on the ground, in flight. The first powered flight on Earth was achieved by the Wright brothers in 1903 in North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honour of that feat.

NASA had originally planned the flight for April 11 but postponed it over a software issue that was identified during a planned high-speed test of the aircraft’s rotors. The issue was resolved with a software update and tweak in coding.

Tech demonstration

Ingenuity travelled to Mars attached to the underside of Perseverance, which touched down on the planet on February 18 on a mission to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Ingenuity’s goal, by contrast, is to demonstrate its technology works, and it won’t contribute to Perseverance’s science goals.

RBI sets up committee to review working of ARCs #GS3 #Economy

The RBI on Monday set up a committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the working of asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) in the financial sector ecosystem and recommend suitable measures for enabling them to meet the growing requirements.

The six-member committee will be headed by Sudarshan Sen, former executive director, Reserve Bank of India (RBI). As per the terms of reference of the committee, the panel will review the existing legal and regulatory framework applicable to ARCs and recommend measures to improve efficacy of ARCs.

It will also review the role of ARCs in the resolution of stressed assets, including under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), and give suggestions for improving liquidity in and trading of security receipts. Besides, it has also been asked to review the business models of ARCs.

‘About 52% adults not clear on defences against cybercrime’ #GS3 #Security

About 52% of adults admitted that they do not know how to protect themselves from cybercrime, according to a survey conducted by online security solutions provider NortonLifeLock. The report also said 59% of the adults in India had become victims of cybercrime in the past 12 months.

The ‘2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report,’ based on the research conducted online by The Harris Poll among 10,030 adults in 10 countries, including 1,000 adults in India, also found that cybercrime victims collectively spent 1.3 billion hours trying to resolve these issues.

“In a year of lockdowns and restrictions, cybercriminals have not been deterred. “More Indian adults fell victim to identity theft in the past 12 months and most are concerned about data privacy,” he added.

He said while the report suggested that many Indian consumers (90%) were taking proactive steps to safeguard their data, 2 in 5 still felt it was impossible to protect their privacy (42%) in this age or say they don’t know how to do so (42%).

As per the research 7 in 10 Indian adults (70%) believe that remote work has made it much easier for hackers and cybercriminals to take advantage of people. “Around half (52%) say they do not know how to protect themselves from cybercrime, and even more (68%) say it is difficult for them to determine if the information they see online is from a credible source.

Why the flight by Ingenuity, the first helicopter on Mars, is a big deal #GS3 #SNT

On Monday NASA announced that Ingenuity had performed its first flight. “…the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet!” NASA said in a post on Twitter. The helicopter’s main task is to carry out a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars, which it seems to have accomplished today. Since the first flight has succeeded, the Ingenuity team will attempt up to four test flights within a 31-Earth-day window.

Other technology demonstrations of the same kind include the Mars Pathfinder rover Sojourner and the Mars Cube One CubeSats that flew by Mars in 2018.

What is Ingenuity?

Ingenuity, the first helicopter to fly on Mars was carried by NASA’s rover called Perseverance that was launched in July last year and will help collect samples from the surface from locations where the rover cannot reach.

The helicopter got its name because of a high school student Vaneeza Rupani of Alabama. Rupani originally submitted the name for the Mars 2020 rover, which was ultimately called Perseverance. But the NASA officials felt that Ingenuity–which means the skill of thinking, performing, or using things in new ways, esp. to solve problems (definition as per the Cambridge dictionary)– was a suitable name for the helicopter whose team had given a lot of creative thinking to get the mission off the ground.

How and when did it get to Mars?

Perseverance landed at the Jezero Crater of Mars in February year. It will remain on the Red Planet for about two years and look for finding past signs of life. The rover is designed to study signs of ancient life, collect samples that might be sent back to Earth during future missions and test new technology that might benefit future robotic and human missions to the planet.

What will it do on Mars?

The helicopter’s mission is experimental in nature and completely independent of the rover’s science mission – which is searching for signs of ancient life and collecting samples of rock and sediment in tubes for potential return to Earth by later missions.

Ingenuity is able to fly using counter-rotating blades that spin at about 2,400 rpm. It has a wireless communication system, and is equipped with computers, navigation sensors, and two cameras. It is solar-powered, able to charge on its own.

The helicopter project’s chief engineer is J (Bob) Balaram, a graduate of IIT Madras who later went on to work at NASA. According to NASA, the helicopter was placed on the Martian surface to test — for the first time ever — powered flight in the planet’s thin air. Its performance during these experimental test flights will help inform decisions about small helicopters for future Mars missions — where they can perform a support role as robotic scouts, surveying terrain from above, or as full standalone science craft carrying instrument payloads.

Taking to the air would give scientists a new perspective on a region’s geology and even allow them to peer into areas that are too steep or slippery to send a rover, a NASA fact sheet said. In the distant future, they might even help astronauts explore Mars.

NASA will try and demonstrate rotorcraft flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars with this helicopter, which is why the mission is so crucial.

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