Current Affairs 17th April

Centre promises more oxygen, ventilators for U.P., Chhattisgarh #GS3 #SnT

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has informed Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that their demand for 10 litre and 45 litre jumbo oxygen cylinders and additional ventilators having high flow nasal canula will be met very soon.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla has also written to all the States to ensure that no restriction is imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between the States and Union Territories. In the letter, he asked the States not to limit supply only to hospitals run in a particular State.

There shall be free movement of vehicles carrying oxygen in cities without any time limit or inter-city restriction. Mr. Bhalla and Mr. Bhushan chaired high-level meetings on Friday to review the status of COVID-19 in Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.

Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are the only States that have more than 1 lakh active COVID-19 cases.

Both Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh are reporting a very high number of new cases and deaths. The Ministry said Chhattisgarh had reported a nearly 6.2% increase in weekly new cases based on 7-day moving average. “In last two weeks, the State has seen almost 131% increase in weekly new cases.

Girls grapple with pressures during pandemic: study #GS2 #SocialIssues

Twenty-five girls from seven cities set out to interview their peers to record the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and found that adolescent girls were grappling with an increased pressure to get married, spent longer hours on household chores, lacked tools to continue school education online, and reported an increase in gender-based violence.

The study titled ‘COVID In Her Voice: A Girl-led and Centred Participatory Research Study’ was released on April 13. It was conducted by girls aged 13-24 from Ahmedabad, Alwar, Bareily, Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Pune within their communities.

Unique method

It adopted a unique methodology where girls were trained as researchers to conduct interviews with a total of 153 girls from their respective communities. Among the biggest challenges girls faced was the inability to attend online school.

This was a result of nearly 80% respondents reporting an increase in household chores, which meant that 64% of girls and young women felt they did not have the space or get the time to study online.

Lack of access to resources and technology was also a challenge — nearly 28% of those surveyed didn’t have the tools such as mobile phones or Internet access to learn online. With households from marginalised communities facing financial stress due to the economic impact of COVID-19, girls believed that the pressure to get married had increased, with nearly 42% reporting this.

Almost 90% of girls reported experiencing mental distress and despair without any access to information about coping mechanisms. Their mental distress was exacerbated because of barriers in communicating with friends and teachers.

Up to 26% respondents believe there was an increase in gender-based violence and felt that fears and threats of violence intensified restrictions on their freedom.

On concluding the field research, seven girl leaders finalised a list of priority recommendations which include establishing girl-friendly spaces within the community such as skills training centres and violence-free spaces.

They also seek well-maintained, safe and free toilets in close proximity to communities, as well as digital hubs in the community with charging stations and WiFi access, especially in the smaller cities.

India likely to receive normal monsoon: IMD #GS1 #Geography

India is likely to receive “normal” monsoon rainfall this year, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said as part of its official April forecast. Except for parts of eastern and northeastern India, many parts of the country are expected to get “above normal” rainfall. “Normal” rainfall refers to a range — 96%-104% of the Long Period Average (LPA) of 88 cm.

Earlier this week, private weather forecasting company, Skymet Weather, too, said it expected India to get normal rainfall, but said this was likely to be 103% of the LPA, whereas the IMD, on Friday, has estimated it to be 98% of the LPA.

The April forecast, which is based on an analysis of select meteorological factors in March, is updated in May, along with estimates of how the monsoon will perform in different geographical regions. In 2019, the IMD forecast 96% LPA in April, but India ended up with record excessive rainfall of 110%. In 2020, it said 100% LPA, but India wound up with 109%. IMD officials, however, said it was unlikely there would be such excessive rain this year.

In 2019, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) — defined as a swing in temperatures in the western and eastern sections of the Indian Ocean, where a positive phase usually corresponds to good rains over India — contributed to the excess rains. Last year it was La Nina — the converse of an El Nino and associated with a cooling of the equatorial central Pacific — again a feature correlated with heavy India rains.

“This year, the models show a weak IOD and neutral conditions in the central Pacific. It’s unlikely there will be over 105% LPA this year.

Though the IMD now issues short-term and extended range forecasts — that is, an estimate of rainfall in time frames of three days to 15 days — for the first time this year, it will begin giving monthly forecasts for all months.

It has so far refrained from giving a forecast for June and September, months that are known to be erratic as those are the months when the monsoon enters and exits the country, respectively, posing a challenge to meteorologists. Dr. Pai, however, said the IMD’s work for several years in honing the skills of a class of models, called dynamical models, has improved their forecasting abilities over three weeks.

The IMD also said it was developing a separate forecast for the Monsoon Core Zone (MCZ), which represents most of the rain-fed agriculture region in the country. “A separate forecast for the MCZ will be more useful for agricultural planning and crop yield estimation, etc.

In the second stage forecast in May, IMD will issue a separate probabilistic forecast for the MCZ, based on MME [Multi Model Ensemble] system and a new statistical model.

Roxy Mathew Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, tweeted that the reduction in rainfall in eastern India has been consistently decreasing. For an adequate monsoon, it is important for a temperature gradient to be present between the ocean and the land.

In recent years, however, the India Ocean has been warming faster than the land surface, reducing this temperature differential and affecting the monsoonal flow.

Researchers propose method to treat blood clots after jabs #GS3 #SnT

The U.S. on April 13 paused the use of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine following adverse reactions in a few vaccinated persons while investigations are on to understand the mechanism of the rare reaction better. This followed the fact that six people in about 7 million vaccinated with J&J’s vaccine developed blood clots in the days following vaccination.

A similar adverse reaction to AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been observed in rare cases. In this situation, a German and Austrian group, led by Andreas Greinacher of University Medicine Greifswald, in Germany, has announced a partial understanding of this mechanism and a possible method of treatment.

Several countries have set age limits for the use of the AZ vaccine. Researchers have come closer to identifying the reason for the blood clotting events, seen in rare cases, following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In two separate papers published in The New England Journal of Medicine , a group of researchers from Norway and another from Austria and Germany have outlined how this adverse reaction resembles a reaction to heparin — a blood thinner.

Heparin can induce a condition where the platelet number dips and blood clots form. This is known as heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT).

After vaccination, the vaccinated person develops specific antibodies which can bind to the platelets or thrombocytes and activate them to form clots which could eventually block the blood vessel (thrombosis). There is an accompanying decrease in the free platelets (thrombocytopenia).

The researchers are not sure whether it is the vaccine that is causing the reaction or it is due to some factor in the person’s constitution.

The researchers differentiate the blood clots arising from vaccination from HIT and have also outlined a way to test patients exhibiting the worrying symptoms and to manage the condition. They have developed a screening assay to determine whether the person has developed these particular antibodies.

The researchers advise first ruling out heparin-induced thrombocytopenia and then testing for vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) followed by specific treatment of the condition with immunoglobin.

‘Lift ban on export of vaccine raw material’ #GS3 #SnT

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer, Serum Institute of India (SII), on Friday tweeted an appeal to U.S. President Joe Biden seeking lifting of the embargo on U.S. export of raw materials, which was affecting its production of COVID-19 vaccine.

The appeal comes when the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday urged countries in the southeast Asian region to apply all tools to prevent further infections and save lives.

‘Worrying trends’

“Cases are rising for the past several weeks. These are worrying trends as we continue to see opening of societies and emergence of variants. Basic public health measures remain the foundation of pandemic response and we need to reinforce them. We need to apply all the tools we have, and apply them together.

Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine and compassionate care — they all work to stop infections and save lives, and so do vaccines. Consistent use of masks, hand hygiene, ventilation and social distancing continue to be best guards even today, and should be strictly followed, even by people who had already been vaccinated.

On the role of virus variants in the current surge of cases, Dr. Singh said the WHO had been tracking variants globally since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the emergence of new variants of concern, these efforts had been stepped up to set up systems to quickly identify and study emerging variants.

India badly placed to tackle infections: Fitch #GS3 #Economy

Despite several healthcare reforms, India remains badly placed to tackle the current wave of COVID-19 infections sweeping the nation adding that the unprecedented crisis had highlighted the need to increase investment in healthcare.

After some success in curbing the virus, India’s economy had returned to functioning normally by the second half of 2020. However, over the recent weeks, the virus has started spreading rapidly, partly due to complacency on the social distancing measures and mask-wearing policies,

With daily COVID-19 cases crossing the grim milestone of 2 lakh, several hospitals across the country are stretched beyond their capacities in handling the rising burden of the highly infectious disease. States such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Karnataka, bearing the maximum load of the pandemic, are already falling short of health infrastructure and equipment, ranging from oxygen to ventilators.

Despite several healthcare reforms, India remains badly placed to tackle the rapid spread of the coronavirus adding the epidemic could be worse in India if it was not adequately contained. With 8.5 hospital beds per 10,000 population and 8 physicians per 10,000, the healthcare sector is not equipped for such a crisis.

‘Inadequate cover’

Besides, more than 80% of the population still does not have any significant health insurance coverage and approximately 68% has limited or no access to essential medicines. The low level of public spending on health is both a cause and an exacerbating factor accounting for the poor quality, limited reach and insufficient public provisioning of healthcare.

“Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the critical importance of the public sector in health provisioning. Fitch also said India’s vaccine roll-out had been slow.

The country of 135 crore people has administered 8.09 crore vaccine doses until April 2021, the most after the U.S. and China. Still, India lags far behind in immunisations per capita having vaccinated only about one in 25 people, compared with almost one in two in Britain and one in three in the United States.

“India’s soaring virus cases puts its position as a global supplier [of vaccines] at risk — the country has had to hold back vaccine exports in order to maintain domestic supply.

‘Economy in better shape than during 2020’s COVID-19 wave’ #GS3 #Economy

The Indian economy is in a better shape as compared to the previous COVID-19 wave witnessed last year because of vaccines.

“There is a second wave therefore people should be careful about it and follow all regulations,” he said, speaking at an event organised by Amazon. “But overall compared to previous episode, we are in a better shape because vaccine is out and vaccination drive is proceeding. So uncertainty is much lower.

Following the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, India went in for one of the strictest lockdowns, leading to a massive contraction of about 24% in GDP.

Beginning March this year, the second wave started rearing its head with a sudden jump in cases, forcing many States to go for localised restrictions. India added a record 2,17,353 new coronavirus infections in a day, This is the second consecutive day that the country has reported over two lakh cases.

The CEA said “one key thing that stood out during this pandemic is the rollout of e-commerce and digitisation, something that India has embraced.”

As many as 800 million people were provided essential supplies through the public distribution system and cash transfer through the Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile (JAM) with a click of button, while most advanced countries like the U.S. provided financial support to its citizens by issue of cheques implemented over two months

U.S. Treasury keeps India on currency watch list #GS3 #Economy

India is one of the 11 countries on the U.S. Treasury’s ‘Monitoring List’ with regard to their currency practices, according to the April 2021 edition of the semi-annual report, the first from the Biden administration. India was on the list in the December 2020 report as well.

The report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States, which is submitted to the U.S. Congress, reviews currency practices of the U.S.’s 20 biggest trading partners.

Three criteria are used to review partners: a significant (at least $20 billion) bilateral trade surplus, a material current account surplus, and ‘persistent one-sided intervention’ in forex markets.

The other 10 countries on the list with India are China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Mexico. All of these, except Ireland and Mexico, were on the December 2020 list. India met two of the three criteria — the trade surplus criterion and the “persistent, one-sided intervention” criterion.

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