Current Affairs 8th July

4 States alerted on virus surge #GS3 #SnT

The Union Health Ministry has sent letters to Odisha, Assam, Tripura and Sikkim, pointing to a rise in COVID-19 cases despite a decline in the national curve. It directed them to take steps such as improving containment measures and ramping up testing, vaccination and emphasising pandemic-appropriate behaviour.

The letter, signed by Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, to the State Chief Secretaries is common in format except for the details on the caseloads. In Odisha, five districts (Baleshwar, Cuttack, Jagatsinghapur, Kendrapara and Khorda) had shown an increase in cases over the previous week. The Odisha case fatality ratio was less than 0.46%, but there was an increase in deaths over the past two weeks. Three districts had reported a test positivity greater than 10%.

In Tripura, there was a 11% increase in the number of weekly new cases, with 2,814 cases reported during June 28-July 4. All eight districts reported more than 100 new cases over the previous week. Four out of eight districts had reported a test positivity rate above 10%.

25% jump in Sikkim

Sikkim had a weekly positivity rate of 18.7% and was consistently over 15% during the last four weeks. There was a 25% increase in the weekly new cases over the previous week. In Assam, four out of 33 districts were showing an increase in the weekly new cases and 29 out of 33 districts had reported over 100 new cases. Two out of 33 districts had shown a positivity rate of over 10%.

Balram Bhargava, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said at a press conference that 73 districts were clocking over 10% positivity and that this was a cause of worry. “We have to be careful, responsible and cautious — the second wave is still on in some parts of this large country.

Indemnity issues hold up U.S. vaccine donation #GS2 #IR

More than a month after the U.S. announced the donation of 80 million doses of American-made COVID-19 vaccines to dozens of countries including India, and Vice-President Kamala Harris called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to convey the decision, the vaccines are being held up by regulatory issues over indemnity, Indian and U.S. officials confirmed.

According to the officials, the demand by the U.S. companies, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, to be granted an indemnity or waiver of liability has yet to be resolved, which is also holding up the donations from the U.S. Since June 3, the U.S. has already distributed 40 million doses to about 12 countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Legal provisions

“The delay is not from the U.S. side,” an American Embassy spokesperson said to queries about the fact that the shipments are yet to be announced. “India has determined that it needs further time to review legal provisions related to accepting vaccine donations. Once India works through its legal process, our donation will proceed expeditiously.”

The MEA declined to comment on the issue, directing queries to the Ministry of Health. Health Secretary Bharat Bhushan told The Hindu that the “specific provisions of indemnification are still under discussion”, indicating that not only are the U.S. vaccine donations on hold for the moment, but casting a cloud over the delivery of Moderna vaccines, which have already received Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) in India, of which the first consignment was due to arrive this week.

During his visit to the U.S. in May, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had met pharma company executives and U.S. business chambers who had conveyed concerns about India’s request for them to provide vaccines without receiving indemnity in case of side effects. The indemnity would be used as a legal defence to protect the U.S. firms, which have pointed out that they cannot take responsibility for cold-chain lapses and transportation problems within India.

“Yes, liability issues remain unresolved,” confirmed one official involved in the negotiations, adding that the ‘dilemma’ on the Indian side is that if the U.S. companies are given indemnities, all vaccine makers, including Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and Sputnik, would also demand them.

Last month, the U.S. announced the distribution of 80 million doses as part of its “COVID-19 Global Response and Recovery Framework”. Indian officials had estimated that India’s share would total not more than a mere 2 million doses, less than half of its daily disbursal of vaccines, but said the donation was important as it made more types of vaccines available to Indians.

PTI challenges new IT rules in Delhi court #GS2 #Governance

India’s largest news agency, Press Trust of India (PTI), has approached the Delhi High Court, challenging the 2021 Information Technology (IT) Rules. It said the Central government was attempting to regulate digital news media.

A bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice J.R. Midha issued notice to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on the petition. The court tagged the plea to be heard along with similar petitions filed by several online news outlets against the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 on August 20.

Ethics code questioned

PTI has challenged the constitutional validity of the rules as it purports to regulate ‘publishers of news and current affairs content’, particularly digital news portals, by imposing “sweeping” government oversight and a vaguely worded ‘Code of Ethics’.

‘Era of fear’

The petitioner argued that the new IT Rules would “usher in an era of surveillance and fear, thereby resulting in self-censorship, which results in abridgement/ violation of Fundamental Rights as enshrined under Part III of the Constitution of India.” The rules was notified on February 25, 2021. PTI said the rules enabled the government to “virtually dictate content to digital news portals, and squarely violate media freedom”.

New platform maps Pegasus spread #GS3 #Security

An online database on spyware Pegasus’ use was recently launched by Forensic Architecture, Amnesty International and Citizen Lab to document attacks against human rights defenders.

In a statement on July 3, Amnesty said the interactive platform — Digital Violence: How the NSO Group Enables State Terror — showed the connections between ‘digital violence’ of Pegasus spyware and the real-world harms faced by lawyers, activists, and other civil society figures.

Amnesty said the NSO Group, which makes the spyware, was a “major player in the shadowy surveillance company” and Pegasus had been used in some of the “most insidious digital attacks” on human rights activists in the world. The spyware enabled an attacker to get complete access to a person’s phone, it stated.

“The investigation reveals the extent to which the digital domain we inhabit has become the new frontier of human rights violations, a site of state surveillance and intimidation that enables physical violations in real space.

Bhima Koregaon case

The platform, available at, lists out “targets” of the spyware in India that include activists Bela Bhatia and Anand Teltumbde. In 2020, Amnesty and Citizen Lab revealed that the spyware was used on nine human rights defenders who were accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.

“The spyware campaign… targeted lawyers and activists Nihalsing B. Rathod, Degree Prasad Chouhan, Yug Mohit Choudhary and Ragini Ahuja; academics Partho Sarothi Ray and P.K. Vijayan; a journalist who prefers to stay anonymous; and a human rights collective – Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JAGLAG), received malicious e-mails on the group’s official ID.

Megaship heads out of Suez after Egypt deal #GS2 #IR

Egyptian authorities announced the release of a hulking shipping vessel that had blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week in March after running aground.

The Ever Given left the canal’s Great Bitter Lake, where it had been held for more than three months amid a financial dispute. The development came after its Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., reached a settlement with canal authorities over a compensation amount following weeks of negotiations and a court stand-off.

The settlement deal was signed in a ceremony in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, after which the vessel was seen sailing to the Mediterranean Sea. The company said the vessel would undergo a dive survey in Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Port Said, before resuming her voyage to the next port where her cargo will be discharged.

Officials did not reveal details on the terms of the settlement. At first, the Suez Canal Authority had demanded $916 million in compensation, which was later lowered to $550 million. In addition to the money, local reports said the canal would also receive a tugboat. The money, according to canal authorities, would cover the salvage operation, costs of stalled canal traffic, and lost transit fees for the six days the Ever Given had blocked the crucial waterway.

Fitch cuts GDP growth estimate to 10% on slower recovery #GS3 Economy

Fitch Ratings has cut its projection for India’s real GDP growth in 2021-22 to 10%, from 12.8%, citing a slower recovery due to renewed COVID-19 restrictions and warned that medium-term growth hopes of about 6.5% could suffer if business and consumer activity were scarred from the pandemic.

The ratings agency also warned that banks’ asset quality challenges have increased and will remain under threat due to mobility restrictions, medical exigencies and rising job losses, with MSME and retail loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers most likely at risk.

“Localised lockdowns during the second wave kept economic activity from stalling to levels similar to those during 2020 (Q1 2020-21 real GDP growth: -24.4%), but disruption in several key business centres has slowed the recovery and dented our expectations of a rebound to pre-pandemic levels by 2021-22. “Our moderately worse 2021 outlook for Indian banks factors in muted prospects for new business due to our expectation of weak corporate and consumer confidence, banks’ continuing high-risk aversion and below-trend credit demand.

“Fitch expects banks’ exposure to stressed MSME and retail borrowers to rise further with the increasing relief outlay…. [and] impaired loans to peak after 2022-23 since stress is likely to manifest from this pool over a fairly protracted time frame.

IMF chief warns of U.S. inflation risk #GS3 #Economy

The International Monetary Fund said further fiscal support in the United States could fuel inflationary pressures and warned that the risk of a sustained rise in prices could require raising interest rates earlier-than-expected.

Higher U.S. interest rates could lead to a sharp tightening of global financial conditions and significant capital outflows from emerging and developing economies.

The IMF’s assessment of U.S. inflation risks comes amid sharp criticism by Republican lawmakers of President Joe Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar plans to boost spending on infrastructure, child care, community college tuition and expanded coverage of home care for the elderly and disabled.

Ms. Georgieva said an accelerated recovery from the pandemic in the U.S., where growth is seen reaching 7% in 2021, would benefit many countries through increased trade, but rising inflation could be more sustained than expected. The IMF forecasts global growth of 6%. Other countries face rising commodity and food prices, which are now at their highest level since 2014, putting millions of people at risk of food insecurity.

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