Current Affairs 24th May

Very severe cyclone Yaas to hit north Odisha coast #GS3 #DM #GS1 #Geography

The depression over east-central Bay of Bengal is very likely to move in a north-northwest direction and intensify into a cyclonic storm. The system Yaas is expected to cross the coast in north Odisha-West Bengal between Paradip and the Sagar islands by the evening of May 26 as a very severe cyclonic storm.

Officials at the Regional Meteorological Centre in Kolkata on Sunday issued warnings that squally winds of 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph are very likely to prevail over North Bay of Bengal and along and off Odisha–West Bengal–Bangladesh coasts from the evening of May 24.

It would gradually increase further becoming 90-100 gusting to 110 kmph from 26th morning and increase thereafter becoming 155-165 kmph gusting to 185 kmph at the time of landfall till 26th afternoon.

PM holds review meet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed senior officers to work in close coordination with the States to ensure safe evacuation of people from high-risk areas.

“The Prime Minister instructed all concerned departments to ensure timely evacuation of those involved in offshore activities. He spoke about the need to ensure that time duration of outages of power supply and communication network are minimum and are restored swiftly.

The weather office has issued an orange warning of extremely heavy rainfall at isolated places over Jhargram, Medinipur, North & south 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Kolkata in West Bengal and Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Balasore in Odisha.

Heavy to very heavy rainfall is predicted at a few places over Nadia, Bardhaman, Bankura, Purulia, Bhirbhum and heavy falls at isolated places over Murshidabad, Malda and Dakshin Dinajpur Districts on May 26.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has airlifted 950 NDRF personnel and 70 tonnes of load from Jamnagar, Varanasi, Patna and Arakonnam to Kolkata, Bhubaneswar and Port Blair in 15 transport aircraft, the Defence Ministry said. IAF has also kept 16 transport aircraft and 26 helicopters on standby.

Navy and Coast Guard have deployed ships and helicopters for relief, search and rescue operations while Engineer task force units of Army, with boats and rescue equipment, are on standby for deployment.

Navy has also pre-positioned diving and flood relief columns at Kolkata, Bhubaneswar and Chilika to aid the civil administration at short notice.

Gearing up

Chastened by the experience of cyclone Amphan which battered West Bengal almost exactly a year ago, killing more than 100 people, the Kolkata Police convened a joint co-ordination meeting with representatives of the Civil Defence, Army, Kolkata Municipal Corporation and National Disaster Response Force to gear up for cyclone Yaas.

Keeping the predicted path in mind, Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner P. K. Jena, too, rushed to Balasore to fine-tune preparedness. With the districts of Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Balasore likely to be impacted most, district administrations have been asked to make evacuation process foolproof.

India to push for WHO, EU approval for Covaxin #GS3 #SnT

Faced with concern that Indians receiving the Covaxin vaccine may not get relaxation in travel restrictions, the government has decided to help ensure that Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech receives clearances from both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and subsequently, the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA).

According to sources, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been tasked with studying the matter, given both the need for recognition for the Indian-made vaccine, as well as the desire to push for more export orders in the future, and a team led by Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and officials from the Health Ministry are expected to meet with Bharat Biotech representatives on Monday.

“There is certainly an interest in getting Covaxin on WHO’s Emergency Use List (EUL),” said an official familiar with the matter, adding that the European regulatory procedures are likely to take longer but are also being pursued.

The decision comes as 27 EU member countries on Thursday approved a proposal to allow “fully vaccinated” tourists from countries outside Europe under certain criteria. While the travellers getting AstraZeneca’s Covishield would be included on the WHO and EU’s listings, if travel from India is accepted, those who have taken Covaxin would not.

In addition, explained officials, getting Covaxin on the WHO’s EUL would be a big boost, and a first for an Indian-developed and produced vaccine.

Officials stressed that the EUL processes are “technical” in nature, and the MEA and the government were only interested in facilitating any enquiries on the Covaxin application already made with the World Health Organisation.

Sources also pointed out that the WHO’s processes don’t allow for “diplomatic” or “political” inputs, and are based entirely on the vaccine manufacturer’s ability to provide the documentation required by the international agency and to validate its claims. Bharat Biotech did not respond to The Hindu’ s query on the planned meeting.

According to the WHO’s latest status report, published on May 18, Covaxin is one of 19 vaccines for which applications have been submitted. Seven other applicants including vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Janssen’ vaccine, Chinese Sinopharm, and three versions of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, including Indian-made Covishield from the Serum Institute of India, have all received the green-light for the Emergency Use Listing

Single dose only 33% effective against B.1.617.2: U.K.#GS3 #SnT

A single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, in the United Kingdom, was only 33% effective in protecting against symptomatic COVID-19 coronavirus involving the B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India, as compared to a 59% efficacy from two doses of the vaccine, a study by scientists at Public Health England (PHE) and multiple institutions in the U.K. has found.

The finding is significant for India, which is not only heavily reliant on Covishield — the AstraZeneca vaccine — for about 90% of vaccination but also because the scientists who analyse genome variants in India report that the B.1.617.2 is increasingly becoming the dominant variant in India.

The variant has multiple mutations on the spike protein region, a portion on the coronavirus that helps it to infiltrate the human body. Laboratory studies testing the potency of Covishield and Covaxin have shown that fewer antibodies are produced against the B.1.617 variant (related to the 617.2) though the numbers are sizeable to trigger immunity. No similar studies, however have been publicly reported on the B.1.617.2.

Anurag Agrawal, Director, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, said that while the dominance of the 617.2 strain was concerning and required investigation to improve future versions of available vaccines, the study’s import for India was that all the groups at greatest risk — healthcare workers, frontline workers and those over 60 years — must be given two shots.

“The Centre’s current guidelines are to continue masking up even after getting vaccinated. These numbers from the PHE only reinforce that. The vaccines’ protection against severe disease continues to be fairly high and so after two doses to those most at risk, we should ensure a single dose for as many as possible.

India, while posting over 350,000 new cases a day, battles a vaccine shortage with demand exceeding supply across age groups and some increase in supply expected only around August.

Health authorities in the U.K. have been reporting a rise in infections involving the 617.2 strain. Two vaccines predominantly — the Pfizer (BNT162b2) mRNA vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine — are being administered in the country, and from increasing the length between doses, from the original 4 weeks to 12 weeks, the U.K. has now reduced the gap between doses — to four weeks — for those above 60 years, given the rise in cases fuelled by the India variant. Before the second wave hit India, the policy here was to administer doses 4-6 weeks apart and has now — for Covishield — been extended to a 12–16-week interval.

The latest U.K. study sought to analyse if being infected with the 617.2 variant in the vaccinated reduced the vaccine’s effectiveness at protecting against symptomatic disease compared to the B.1.1.7, or the variant first identified in the U.K. The scientists reported that effectiveness (which in vaccine terminology refers to real-world efficacy) was “notably lower” after one dose of vaccine with B.1.617.2 compared to B.1.1.7 cases at 51.1%.

One dose of the Pfizer vaccine also saw similar reduction in efficacy when the two variants were compared. However, two doses of the Pfizer vaccines saw effectiveness reduced from 93.4% with B.1.1.7 to 87.9% with B.1.617.2. In the case of AstraZeneca, it was a seven-percentage point drop from 66% to 59%

The analysis included data for all age groups from April 5 to cover the period since the B.1.617.2 variant emerged in the U.K. It included 1,054 people confirmed as having the B.1.617.2 variant through genomic sequencing.

The PHE said that the difference in effectiveness between the vaccines after two doses could be explained by the fact that the roll-out of second doses of AstraZeneca was later than for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and other data on antibody profiles showed that it took longer to reach maximum effectiveness with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

India’s deep seas are home to 4,371 species of fauna: ZSI #GS3 #Environment

India is home to 4,371 species of deep-sea fauna, including 1,032 species under kingdom Protista and 3,339 species under kingdom Animalia, a recent publication by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has revealed.

The deep-sea ecosystem is considered to be below a depth of 200 metres, where solar energy cannot support primary productivity through photosynthesis. This publication is the first detailed work on deep-sea organisms of the country.

Published by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the book ‘Deep Sea Faunal Diversity in India’ is the work of five authors and several contributors. India is surrounded by the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea and the Laccadive Sea.

Of the 4,371 species, the maximum of 2,766 species has been reported from deep sea areas of the Arabian Sea, followed by 1,964 species from the Bay of Bengal, 1,396 species from the Andaman Sea, and only 253 species from the Laccadive Sea.

RIMS ship investigator

The authors behind the book point out that India is one of the countries that made a pioneering exploration in the deep Indian Ocean region in 1874 by commissioning a RIMS (Royal Indian Marine Survey) ship investigator, which conducted enormous studies in seas around India. “This RIMS investigator continued to work till 1926.

After that, several other vessels, including vessels of the Indian Navy and scientists from the ZSI and other institutions, conducted deep sea explorations, gathering information about the fauna. This publication is a result of the work put together by several scientists across three centuries.

The marine biologist said deep sea fauna had a vast diversity, starting from unicellular eukaryotes, sponges, corals, echinoderms and fishes, and also mammals.

Kailash Chandra, former ZSI director, said that the deep sea ecosystem was the most unexplored ecosystem across the world. It included hydrothermal vents, submarine canyons, deep sea trenches, sea mounts, cold seeps, and mud volcanoes.

INS Jalashwa brings oxygen to Vizag #GS3 #SnT

In the largest consignment of liquid medical oxygen, the Indian Navy’s INS Jalashwa arrived in Visakhapatnam with 300 metric tonne of oxygen and more than 3,600 oxygen cylinders from Singapore and Brunei under the ongoing Operation Samudra Setu II.

“The consignment includes 300 metric tonne of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) and more than 3,600 oxygen cylinders from Singapore and Brunei. The COVID-19 medical equipment also includes ventilators and empty cryogenic containers.” The INS Trikand brought 40 MT LMO from Qatar. The INS Trikand with two LMO containers of 20 MT each and 100 oxygen cylinders arrived at Mumbai.

In the first week of May, the Navy had diverted nine warships deployed on the high seas to various ports in the region extending from Kuwait in the west to Singapore in the east to pick up emergency medical oxygen and other supplies.

Minor ‘face-off’ in Galwan Valley #GS2 #IR

There was a minor face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the no-patrolling zone at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in the first week of May. However, no clash occurred and the two sides disengaged quickly.

A no-patrolling zone extending to around 3 km, around 1.5 km each on either side of the clash site near the Y-junction of the Galwan Valley, was created after June 15, 2020, when 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in clashes with Chinese troops. A 30-day moratorium was also applied on foot-patrolling then. It was not known if it had been extended.

The Army, however, said no such “minor face-off” took place. “The article seems to be inspired by sources who may be trying to derail the ongoing process for early resolution of issues in eastern Ladakh.

Regular patrols

“After the no-patrolling zones were created last year, the two sides occasionally conduct reconnaissance to see if the other side has crossed the line. The patrols are sent at different times. On the particular day, the Indian and Chinese patrols reached the area at the same time, a minor face-off happened, but they returned quickly, adding that China still had camps beyond the no-patrolling zone and there had not been any reduction in troop deployment since last year.

The official said that both sides sent periodic patrols “out of suspicion”.

Prior to April-May 2020, when China massed troops at the particular location in Galwan, claiming it to be Chinese territory, Indian troops regularly patrolled the area that is said to be within India’s perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Earlier, the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) used to patrol the area and leave, but since April-May 2020, it made a permanent presence within 600-800 metres of India’s perception of the LAC.

On February 11, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh informed the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha that India and China had reached an agreement for disengagement in the Pangong Lake area to cease their forward deployments in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner”, which would “substantially” restore the pre-April 2020 status.

Since April 2020, Chinese troops blocked Indian troops from reaching at least 10 patrolling points, running from the Depsang plains in the north to Pangong Tso (lake) in the south in eastern Ladakh. In all, there are more than 65 patrolling points from the base of Karakoram to Chumar.

India and China have held 11 rounds of talks so far after the clashes last year. While the troops partially disengaged on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, phased disengagement is yet to take place at the other friction areas in eastern Ladakh — Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok.

No pullback

“There has been no reduction in the number of troops on either side. China is currently doing some exercise so they have enhanced their presence along the LAC. There was some talk to pull back Indian troops to deploy them on COVID-19 duty. However, that was later ruled out,” the official said.

On April 2, the Ministry of Defence in a communication to Konchok Stanzin, councillor, Chushul, said that “due to the present operational situation in Ladakh, grazers have been asked to restrict their cattle movements”.

‘Children at limited risk for severe COVID-19’ #GS3 #SnT

Children are at limited risk for severe COVID-19 though they will continue to be susceptible to the infection as well as be transmitters, say the latest guidelines from the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, a 32,000-member association of paediatricians in India.

In recent days, there have been concerns that a ‘third wave’ of the pandemic would hit children harder, largely on the presumption that they were proportionally more likely to be unvaccinated than adults were.

The academy statement, however, notes that the third serology survey (by the Indian Council of Medical Research) had found that the percentage of infected children in the 10-17 age group was around 25% which was similar to that of adults.

Two factors that favour children, the academy statement suggests, is that they have fewer chemical receptors that facilitate viral entry and their immune systems are more primed.

However, were a large number to be affected in future waves, that would also result in a substantial proportion of children being afflicted with severe and moderate disease, they add.

“As per data collected in waves 1 and 2, even instances of severe disease in children are less likely to require admissions in intensive care units,” the statement notes. “However, we need to be watchful about how mutant strains are likely to behave.”

Other experts too have opined that children are not more susceptible but steps must be taken to get them vaccinated. “I have no reason to think that infections in children in absolute numbers or in the form of a severe disease will rise. We need to prepare but try to avoid any unnecessary concern or alarm. One of the discourses which is largely missing is the vaccination of children.

Aspects such as which will be the most appropriate vaccine for children? What will be the purpose of vaccination in children? In my opinion, while selecting a vaccine for children, preference should be given to one which shows a role in preventing transmission.

Maybe, nasal COVID-19 vaccines could be the best option for children, as those will have an advantage in quick scale up as administration of those vaccines will be easy

U.K. to unveil plans for ‘digital border’ #GS2 #IR

Britain is to announce plans for a “fully digital border”, including the introduction of U.S.-style electronic travel authorisation to pre-check travellers to the U.K. The Minister will announce the plans in Parliament on Monday as part of a wider overhaul of the country’s immigration system, which will also include the introduction of a points-based migration system.

Keeping count

“Our new fully digital border will provide the ability to count people in and out of the country, giving us control over who comes to the U.K. Our new approach will make it easier to identify potential threats before they reach the border.

Digitising the border will mean officials “can now count who is coming in and out of the country and whether they have permission to be here. Ms. Patel unveiled elements of her “New Plan for Immigration” in March, calling it “the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades.”

Tightening immigration rules and securing borders were key promises of those like Ms. Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who argued for leaving the EU in Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum.

Under the new plans to be unveiled, Ms. Patel is set to announce that people coming to the U.K. without a visa or immigration status will have to apply for an American-style Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). The Home Office expects that around 30 million ETA applications will be processed each year.

“What I’m unveiling and proposing tomorrow is a new legal migration and border strategy…, which is based upon digitalisation of our borders, but also the simplification of our immigration laws,” Ms. Patel told Sky News on Sunday.

“I am introducing the new borders bill, which will come to Parliament next month, where we will specifically clamp down and tackle the problems around illegal migration,” she added. “We will have not just greater checks, we’ve already got very, very significant law enforcement operations taking place in France, in Belgium… and we’re really prosecuting and arresting the people smugglers.”

Last year, roughly 8,500 people arrived in Britain having made the perilous crossing across the Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, in boats.