Current Affairs 19th April

India records 2.57 lakh new cases, 1,384 deaths on Sunday #GS3 #SnT

India’s COVID-19 cases tally crossed the 1.5 crore mark on Sunday. The country has so far reported a total of 1,50,58,019 cases and 1,78,793 deaths. The country registered 2,75,196 new COVID-19 cases as of 11.30 p.m. on Sunday, the highest single-day rise. As many as 1,620 deaths were also recorded.

The figures do not include cases and deaths from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Ladakh. This data is sourced from, an independent aggregator of daily COVID-19 figures.

Maharashtra reported 68,631 infections, accounting for nearly 25% of the new cases, on Sunday, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 30,566 new infections and Delhi with 25,462 new cases. Maharashtra also recorded the maximum casualties, 503, on Sunday. Chhattisgarh followed with 170 new deaths, while Delhi registered 161 new casualties.

Railways to map local festivals near tracks #GS3 #DM

More than two years after a train ran over 61 persons participating in the Dasara celebrations near Amritsar, the Ministry of Railways has decided to map local festivals celebrated along the railway tracks across the country and issue an advisory to loco pilots on speed restrictions and other safety aspects.

In a note to the General Managers of Zonal Railways, the Railway Board said there were several local festivals celebrated in India during which crowds gathered near the railway premises and crossed the track in groups as part of the event. Such occasions had led to unusual incidents resulting in casualties in the past.

All Divisional Railway Managers were advised to prepare a list of local festivals having the possibility of crowds gathering in and around railway tracks in all States. “The loco pilot of all trains passing through such locations on festival day should be suitably advised.

There have been a few incidents of fatal accidents on railway tracks during the festival season. In one of the major such accidents in recent years, as many as 61 people, including women and children, were killed and dozens of others injured when a crowd that was watching a ‘Ravana’ effigy being burnt as part of the Dasara celebrations near Amritsar was run over by a train.

In a related development, Principal Executive Director (Safety) Devendra Singh expressed concern that accidents and unusual incidents were being reported “very late or not reported” at all to the Railway Board.

“It is being viewed seriously by the Board and the Apex Office of the Ministry [of Railways]. The information about the last few incidents of unusual incidents/accidents has come to Board through the media and not from the Division and Zonal Railways. He urged the authorities concerned to ensure information flow about accidents or unusual incidents be prompt before it got flashed by the media.

Amid high demand, Railways to run ‘Oxygen Express’ trains #GS3 #DM

The Railways will run ‘Oxygen Express’ trains over the next few days to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country. Amid spiralling coronavirus cases in the country, the demand for medical oxygen in the country has gone through the roof.

Empty tankers will begin their journey from the Kalamboli and Boisar railway stations in and near Mumbai to load liquid medical oxygen from Visakhapatnam, Jamshedpur, Rourkela and Bokaro.

The Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments had earlier approached the Ministry of Railways to explore whether liquid medical oxygen tankers could be moved by the rail network.

On the receipt of the request from the two States, the Railways immediately explored the technical feasibility of transportation of liquid medical oxygen. It has to be transported through roll-on-roll-off service with road tankers placed on flat wagons.

‘Green Corridor’

Since the first empty tankers will move on April 19, we hope to begin operations of Oxygen Express over the next few days. We would be able to send oxygen wherever there is such demand. Green Corridor is being created for fast movement of the trains,” an official said.

“Instructions have been issued to zonal railways to ensure readiness to receive the trailers and load them back. Ramps have to be built at Visakhapatnam, Angul and Bhilai and the existing ramp at Kalamboli is to be strengthened.

Bat with sticky discs found in Meghalaya #GS3 #Environment

Meghalaya has yielded India’s first bamboo-dwelling bat with sticky discs, taking the species count of the flying mammal in the country to 130. The disc-footed bat ( Eudiscopus denticulus ) was recorded in the northeastern State’s Lailad area near the Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary, about 1,000 km west of its nearest known habitat in Myanmar.

A team of scientists from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) and a few European natural history museums stumbled upon this “very specialised” small bat with “disc-like pads in the thumb and bright orange colouration” while sampling in a bamboo patch almost a year ago.

There are a couple of other bamboo-dwelling bats in India. But the extent of adaptation for bamboo habitat in this species is not seen in the others, declining to be quoted.

The newly recorded bat was presumed to be a bamboo-dwelling species, but its flattened skull and adhesive pads helped in identifying it as the disc-footed known from specific localities in southern China, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.

Dr. Saikia and his colleagues found that the flattened skull and sticky pads enabled the bats to roost inside cramped spaces, clinging to smooth surfaces such as bamboo internodes. The disc-footed bat was also found to be genetically very different from all other known bats bearing disc-like pads.

Scientists analysed the very high frequency echolocation calls of the disc-footed bat, which was suitable for orientation in a cluttered environment such as inside bamboo groves. The disc-footed bat has raised Meghalaya’s bat count to 66, the most for any State in India. It has also helped add a genus and species to the bat fauna of India

U.S., China agree to cooperate with urgency on climate crisis #GS2 #IR

The U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, agreed to cooperate to curb climate change with urgency, just days before President Joe Biden hosts a virtual summit of world leaders to discuss the issue.

The two countries “are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.

Biggest polluters

China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter, followed by the U.S. The two countries pump out nearly half of the fossil fuel fumes that are warming the planet’s atmosphere. Their cooperation is key to the success of global efforts to curb climate change.

Noting that China is the world’s biggest coal user, Mr. Kerry said he and Chinese officials had a lot of discussions on how to accelerate a global energy transition.

Mr. Biden has invited 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, to the April 22-23 summit. The U.S. and other countries are expected to announce more ambitious national targets for cutting carbon emissions ahead of or at the meeting, along with pledging financial help for climate efforts by less wealthy nations.

Myanmar shadow govt. wants invite for ASEAN crisis talks #GS2 #IR

Myanmar’s shadow government urged Southeast Asian leaders to give it a seat at the table during crisis talks next week, and not to recognise the military regime that seized power in a February coup.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing is expected to join a special ASEAN summit on Myanmar in Jakarta — his first official overseas trip since the putsch that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Army has moved to quell mass protests against its rule, killing at least 730 people according to a local monitoring group.

The military chief’s invitation to the meeting of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations has drawn scorn from activists and former lawmakers who have urged foreign leaders not to formally recognise the junta.

Moe Zaw Oo, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for the parallel “national unity government” — formed on Friday by ousted lawmakers mostly from Ms. Suu Kyi’s party, as well as ethnic-minority politicians — said ASEAN had not reached out to them.

“If ASEAN wants to help solve the Myanmar situation, they are not going to achieve anything without consulting and negotiating with the NUG, which is supported by the people and has full legitimacy.

“It’s important that this military council is not recognised. This needs to be handled carefully.”

Unrest continued across the country on Sunday, with protesters rallying in Mandalay, Meiktila, Magway and Myingyan, showing support for the national unity government. At Palaw in the country’s south, demonstrators brandished banners that read: “Military dictators should not be allowed to rule. The dictatorship will be uprooted. Support the national unity government.”

Young demonstrators also staged motorbike rallies while carrying flags in Hpakant and Sagaing.

Explained: How second surge is different #GS3 #SnT

On Friday, close to 1,350 coronavirus-related deaths were reported from across the country, the highest ever. A day later, that number jumped to more than 1,500. The only silver lining in the ongoing second wave — that it was causing fewer deaths compared to last year — is now fast disappearing, with the rapidly-rising infection numbers are leading to more and more deaths.

As a percentage of the caseload, the deaths are still lower than last year, but that is hardly a consolation for a population that is heading towards 2,000 deaths a day in a few days’ time. There are predictions that India’s daily death count could rise to as high as 3,000 a day, which the US used to record during its worst phase. But with no indications yet of any slowdown in the infection rate, the increase in death count is also anyone’s guess.

In fact, the disease seems to be spreading at faster rate than at any previous time. The positivity rate, which is an indication of disease prevalence in the population, is also at an all-time high, and rising.

No longer the silver lining

The significantly lower mortality rate was the biggest comfort during the second wave which began in the middle of February. Even now, when the daily death count is at record highs, the death rate is much lower than last year. During the previous peak in September, when more than 90,000 cases were being detected every day, India was reporting over 1,200 deaths. Despite the daily count of cases having crossed two lakh, the death numbers were lower than this until two days ago.

Maharashtra, which has the highest counts, offers a good example. The state has been reporting more than 60,000 cases a day, but the death count, over 400 now, is still less than during the peak of last year when it was not reporting even 25,000 cases on any day. The state’s fatality rate this past week is less than half the overall rate.

The weekly case fatality rate (CFR) is calculated by comparing the total number of deaths reported in the past one week, with the number of cases detected in the week that ended 14 days previously. The 14-day period accounts for the fact that deaths usually happen two to three weeks after the infection is detected. The weekly CFR presents a current picture of the mortality situation.

The overall CFR, on the other hand, is obtained by comparing the total number of recorded deaths with the total number of confirmed cases as it stood 14 days ago. This offers a more holistic view, and eventually, the deadliness of the epidemic, once it comes to an end, would be judged by its overall CFR.

As of now, Maharashtra has a weekly CFR of 0.89%, while its overall CFR is 2.09%. This kind of situation does not prevail in all states. For example, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat, all of which are in the midst of a big surge, have weekly CFRs that are more than twice their overall CFRs, indicating that the current phase of the epidemic in these states is much more deadly.

For the first time since July, India’s weekly CFR has overtaken the overall CFR. With more than 1.77 lakh deaths, and over 1.4 crore infections, India’s overall CFR stands at 1.42%. This is lower, and therefore better, than in many other countries. In the last one week, more than 7,800 deaths have been recorded, while in the week that ended 14 days ago, about 5.13 lakh cases were detected. That gives a weekly CFR of about 1.53%.

In the initial weeks of the second wave, a low daily death count was attributed to the circulation of a supposedly milder variant of the virus. However, a more plausible explanation is the fact that over the last one year, there has been a significant improvement in clinical management and critical care infrastructure.

However, the last couple of weeks have seen this infrastructure crumble under the weight of cases. Several deaths have happened because of lack of hospital beds or access to critical care facilities.

Faster spread

Over 26.6 crore diagnostic tests have been conducted in India so far. Of these, over 1.47 crore tests, or about 5.5%, have been positive. In the last one week, however, this has increased to over 13.5%.

The seven-day moving average of positivity rate has never been higher.

The current high positivity rate reinforces the possibility that the virus has spread at a much faster rate during the last couple of months, and infected many more people compared to last year. During the first wave, the positivity rate had peaked last July, and then steadily declined even when the positive cases continued to rise in August and September.

At that time, the higher number of cases were a direct result of increased tests. Until most of July, India was carrying out less than five lakh tests a day. It was only towards the end of the month that testing numbers began to rise rapidly and climbed to more than ten lakh a day by the third week of August.

Right now, India has been detecting almost 2.5 times as many cases as it was during the September peak. But it is not because of any increase in testing. Testing numbers are roughly at the same level as in September and October last year. But many more people are returning positive.

Maharashtra has had a very high positivity rate, over 15%, for most of the epidemic, but several other states, including Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh, that had relatively lower positivity rates last year — lower than the national average — are now closing the gap. In fact, the weekly positivity rate of Chhattisgarh is currently higher than even Maharashtra’s.

The high rate could be because of increased contact between people or due to the circulation of a faster-transmitting variant. There is evidence that both these things have played a role. A new variant, which has emerged locally and was first noticed in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, has two crucial mutations that make it transmit faster and possibly also evade the immune response. More than 60% of the virus samples from Maharashtra collected for gene sequencing show this double mutant strain. This mutant has most likely spread to other states as well.

Where are Hot Springs and Gogra Post? What are their strategic significance? #GS1 #Geography

During the 11th round of discussions between the senior military commanders of India and China on April 9, to resolve the over 11-month long standoff in eastern Ladakh, a top source who had been involved in decision-making told The Indian Express that China had refused to vacate two of the four original friction points.

China, according to the source, informed India that it should be “happy” with what has been achieved regarding the disengagement in the Pangong Tso area. At two friction points, Patrolling Point 15 (PP15) in Hot Springs, and PP17A near Gogra Post, China still has a platoon-level strength each, along with vehicles.

What had happened here last year?

In May 2020 when China had diverted its troops who had come to the Tibetan plateau region for their annual exercise, towards the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, creating a standoff with India, PP15 and PP17A were two of the four points where the soldiers were eyeball-to-eyeball.

The other points of friction at that time were PP14 in Galwan Valley and the north bank of Pangong Tso. Chinese troops had crossed the LAC at all these points and positioned themselves across.

The maximum ingress was on the north bank of Pangong Tso, where the Chinese troops were at Finger 4, which is 8 km west of Finger 8 where India says the LAC lies.

What are PP15 and 17A?

Along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India in China, Indian Army has been given certain locations that its troops have to access to patrol the area under its control. These points are known as patrolling points, or PPs, and are decided by the China Study Group (CSG).

CSG was set-up in 1976, when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister, and is the apex decision-making body on China.

Barring certain areas, like Depsang Plains, these patrolling points are on the LAC, and troops access these points to assert their control over the territory. It is an important exercise since the boundary between India and China is not yet officially demarcated.

PP15 and PP17A are two of the 65 patrolling points in Ladakh along the LAC. (Some of these 65 also have an additional Alpha PPs, which are further ahead from the original PPs. So PP17A is different from, but close to, PP17.) PP15 is located in an area known as the Hot Springs, while PP17A is near an area called the Gogra post.

Where are these two areas?

Both of these are close to the Chang Chenmo river in the Galwan sub-sector of the LAC in eastern Ladakh. While Hot Springs is just north of the Chang Chenmo river, Gogra Post is east of the point where the river takes a hairpin bend coming southeast from Galwan Valley and turning southwest.

The area is north of the Karakoram Range of mountains, which lies north of the Pangong Tso lake, and south east of Galwan Valley, which became a major flashpoint and a violent faceoff in June 2020 had left 20 Indian and at least four Chinese troops dead.

What is the importance of this region?

The area lies close to Kongka Pass, one of the main passes, which, according to China marks the boundary between India and China. India’s claim of the international boundary lies significantly east, as it includes the entire Aksai Chin area as well.

During the official negotiations on the boundary between India and China in 1960, Yang Kung-su, who was the Tibet Bureau of Foreign Affairs in the Chinese Foreign Office, had stated that the Western Sector of the boundary “is divided into two portions, with Kongka Pass as the dividing point” and the portion “north of Kongka Pass is the boundary between Sinkiang (now Xinjiang) and Ladakh, and the portion south of it is that between Tibet and Ladakh”.

Thus, Hot Springs and Gogra Post are close to the boundary between two of the most historically disturbed provinces of China.

How significant are they for the military?

Both PP15 and PP17A are in an area where India and China largely agree on the alignment of the LAC, which comes southeast from Galwan Valley, turns down at Konga La and moves towards Ann Pass before reaching the north bank of Pangong Tso.

China has a major post of the People’s Liberation Army a few km east of Kongka La, while Indian posts lie southwest of it.

However, according to the official history of the 1962 war between India and China, the region is not identified as a major “launchpad” from where an offensive can be launched by either side.

The official history notes that the Chinese had “succeeded in eliminating possible launch pads for any offensive against the Aksai Chin highway by eliminating DBO, Chushul and Demchok positions. It said that it “all the more strengthens the contention that Indians should have attempted to retain at least one jump off point: Chushul”.

But the history notes that Hot Springs was an important post even during the 1962 conflict. In October 1962 there was a company strength at the Galwan Post, while three other posts—Hot springs, Nala Junction and Patrol Base—had strengths of a platoon.

Hot Spring also served as the Company headquarter, and was shelled by the Chinese on October 21. Chinese troops had wanted to get behind Hot Spring, but were resisted at the Nala Junction.

What is the situation now?

As two of the four initial friction points during the recent standoff, disengagement of troops from PP15 and PP17A had started in June 2020, during the initial rounds of discussion.

Both sides had agreed to disengage from PP14 (Galwan Valley), PP15 and PP17A after the third round of meeting of the senior military commanders in June, following the Galwan Valley clashes. However, though China pulled back its troops from PP14, it did not complete the disengagement from PP15 and PP17A.

While earlier there had been a company-sized strength at both these locations, there is still a platoon each there, along with military vehicles.

After the disengagement in the Pangong Tso region, when both India and China had pulled back its troops and armoured columns in February, as per the agreement the senior military commanders were to meet to discuss the other friction points, including these two and Depsang Plains.

However, no fresh ground could be broken in the talks, and China has refused to pullback.

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