Current Affairs 27th April

MHA advises States to impose localised 14-day lockdowns #GS3 #Security

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked the States to impose localised restrictions and implement strict containment measures for at least 14-days to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla said that considering the “unprecedented surge,” there is an urgent need for the States and the Union Territories to consider strict COVID-19 management and control measures to bring the situation under control.

“States and U.T.s, based on their assessment of the situation, may impose local restrictions at district/sub-district and city/ward level, with a view to contain the spread of COVID 19. Over the past seven days, new COVID-19 cases averaged around 3.2 lakh daily.

The letter said that the Union Health Ministry on April 25 had advised all the States to implement an intensive, local and focused containment framework and the criteria was shared.

In the recent past, a sharp increase in COVID 19 cases has been observed along with high positivity rate. Considering this unprecedented surge, there is an urgent need for States/UTs to consider strict COVID management and control measures, in the surge areas to bring the situation under control.

The Health Ministry had suggested night curfew, closure of malls, shopping complexes and restricting office strength to 50% as some of the measures to contain the spread in areas that required intensive action.

The spread of the infection has to be controlled through restricting the intermingling amongst people, the only known host for the COVID-19 virus.

Daily cases may reach 4.4 lakh by May 8: new IIT projection #GS3 #SnT

Active cases in the ongoing second COVID-19 wave in India may peak at 38-48 lakh between May 14-18, and daily new infections could hit a high of 4.4 lakh from May 4-8.

The scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and Hyderabad applied the Susceptible, Undetected, Tested (positive), and Removed Approach (SUTRA) model to predict that active cases would go up further by over 10 lakh by mid-May.

Revised upward

The latest projection tweaks the time frame as well as the numbers. Last week, the researchers predicted the pandemic may peak between May 11-15 with 33-35 lakh total active cases and decline steeply by the end of May.

Earlier this month, their modelling approach projected that active infections in the country would peak by April 15, which didn’t come true. “This time, I have also computed minimum and maximum for predicted values and posted it.

I am reasonably confident that the actual values will be within the min and max values mentioned. Peak timing: May 14-18 for active infections and May 4-8 for new infections. Peak value: 38-48 lakhs for active infections and 3.4 to 4.4 lakhs for new infections.

Mask-up at home, warns NITI Aayog member #GS3 #SnT

Dr. V.K. Paul, Member (health) at the NITI Aayog, involved closely in India’s COVID-19 management strategy, has recommended that everyone wear masks even at home.

The time has come to recommend wearing a mask even if you are at home. We used to speak of masking up when leaving home but now, just in case someone at home catches the virus, it would be advisable to wear one. When someone at home is positive, then definitely.

Dr. Guleria said that 85% of those afflicted by the virus would recover without need of any medication and not everyone needed to rush to a hospital. “There is unnecessary panic all around and this is causing more harm than good.

This is causing hoarding of drugs and misuse of valuable medical resources. An oxygen level of 94-95 doesn’t need an oxygen concentrator and you shouldn’t try to raise it at those levels. Above 94 means your organs are getting adequate oxygen.”

“Before the pandemic, we’ve managed patients with these machines at 88-90. If it’s below 94, consult with your doctor. For hospitals, it’s important to prevent leakage. The benefits of (antiviral) remdesivir aren’t well established,” he added.

Nearly 87% of registered healthcare workers and 80% of frontline workers had been administered at least one dose of vaccine, Mr. Agrawal said. However, only 36% of those 60 and above had received at least one shot, he added.

If no one wore masks, there was a 90% risk of an infected person transmitting the disease to someone else whereas were everyone to wear one, that risk went down to 1.5. He added that other than tocilizumab and remdesivir, for managing mild COVID-19, the guidelines recommended hydroxychloroquine, paracetamol and ivermectin.

India and Japan resolve to fight the pandemic jointly #GS2 #IR

India and Japan on Monday resolved to fight the pandemic jointly. The two Prime Ministers also reviewed the status of ongoing initiatives like the Quad, involving Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., and pledged to complete bilateral developmental schemes.

‘Overcome challenges’

“They highlighted the importance of close India-Japan cooperation to overcome these challenges, such as by working together to create resilient, diversified and trustworthy supply chains; ensuring a reliable supply of critical materials and technologies; and developing new partnerships in manufacturing and skill development.

Japan is currently under strict measures aimed at containing the pandemic, which has also intensified in an unprecedented manner in India, prompting assistance from several foreign partners. Over the last year of the pandemic, both sides have assisted stranded citizens who were unable to return home. The two leaders agreed to continue with such cooperation.

A statement from the Japanese side highlighted Tokyo’s commitment to a “rules-based free and open international order”.

Bilateral cooperation

“The two leaders confirmed the importance of Japan-India bilateral cooperation and multilateral cooperation, including the Japan-Australia-India-U.S. quadrilateral cooperation, towards realising a free and open Indo-Pacific. Mr. Suga also expressed “serious concerns” about China’s movements in the East and South China Sea.

The two leaders discussed possible cooperation in areas like 5G, submarine cables, strengthening of industrial competitiveness, diversification of supply chains and development projects in the northeastern States of India. The two Prime Ministers also took note of the “steady progress” made regarding the construction of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail.

India likely to receive oxygen, drug supplies from 15 nations #GS3 #SnT

India expects to receive supplies from about 15 countries, including Australia, China, Germany, Russia, the UAE, the United Kingdom and the United States, in the next few days, to help tide over the current crisis for oxygen at hospitals and pharmaceuticals needed to treat COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-17 aircraft transported six cryogenic oxygen containers from Dubai, and is expected to airlift six more on Tuesday for the Adani group. A German company is expected to ship 24 more containers later this week.

The Australian government said it hopes to send oxygen supplies, non-invasive ventilators, pharmaceuticals and PPE kits as well, and a decision on further aid will be made at a meeting on Tuesday.

“India is literally gasping for oxygen,” Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said, speaking to presspersons in Canberra. “And while we can assist with the national medical stockpile, their particular request is for assistance with regards to the physical supply of oxygen,” he added.

Government officials denied requesting aid, and said many of the consignments coming in are commercial supplies, while some, including the European Union and Russia, have promised the assistance in the form of grants.

However, officials said the grants during the pandemic are exceptional, and India’s long-held policy of not accepting foreign aid is still in place. Most of the donation offers will be routed through the Indian Red Cross, and not the government.

As many as 800 oxygen concentrators were also flown in from Hong Kong for Spice Health, a healthcare equipment manufacturing company, amongst a number of shipments expected from China. Meanwhile, Chinese state-owned Sichuan Airlines said it would review its decision to suspend cargo flights to India due to the risk from the pandemic, which would have disrupted exports from China.

If India raises specific demands, China is ready to provide help and support to the best of capability. Indian officials said the priority at present was to fly in as much oxygen-related equipment, including containers, concentrators and generators, as well as COVID-treatment drugs remdesivir and tocilizumab, which were running in short supply.

While Russian authorities have reportedly said international patent issues with the U.S. developer of Remdesivir, Gilead Sciences Inc., may delay their plans to export about 3,00,000 injections, New Delhi is hopeful of procuring stocks of the drug from the American company directly.

India ranked 49th in CGGI #GS2 #Governance

India has been ranked 49th in the Chandler Good Government Index (CGGI), which classifies 104 countries in terms of government capabilities and outcomes. Reuben Abraham, CEO of IDFC Foundation and IDFC Institute, and CGGI Advisory Panel Member, said: “Civil service innovation and capacity building is a key focus for the Indian government. The CGGI shows the importance of investing in governance capabilities.”

Finland has topped the CGGI list. The index focuses on seven pillars: leadership and foresight; robust laws and policies; strong institutions; financial stewardship; attractive marketplace; global influence and reputation; and helping people rise.

DRDO develops crystal blades for aero engines #GS3 #SnT

In a major technological breakthrough, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said it has developed single crystal blade technology and supplied 60 of such blades to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as part of their indigenous helicopter development programme for helicopter engine application.

“It is part of a programme taken up by the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL), a laboratory of the DRDO, to develop five sets, 300 in number, of single crystal high pressure turbine (HPT) blades using a nickel-based super alloy.

Critical component

Very few countries such as the U.S., the U.K., France and Russia have the capability to design and manufacture such single crystal components. The DRDO has been working for a long time to develop this technology which is a critical component in aero engines.

Helicopters need compact and powerful aero-engines for operating at extreme conditions and to achieve this, state-of-the-art single crystal blades having complex shape and geometry, manufactured out of nickel-based super alloys capable of withstanding high temperatures of operation are used.

IMD predicts rain in several parts till month-end #GS1 #Geography

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Monday predicted a wet spell over several parts of the country, including central, south and northeast India, from April 26 to 30.

Lightning is predicted at isolated places over Gangetic West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, central Maharashtra, Marathawada, Rayalaseema, south interior Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Karaikal on Monday.

Heat wave in Gujarat

Heat wave conditions are very likely in isolated pockets over Gujarat and coastal Odisha, the IMD added.

On April 27, thunderstorms with lightning and gusty winds (speed reaching 30-40 kmph) are very likely at isolated places over Uttarakhand, Assam, Meghalaya, central Maharashtra, Marathawada, Telangana, Kerala and Mahe. Lightning is also likely at isolated places over Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Muzaffarabad, Himachal Pradesh, Gangetic West Bengal, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Konkan, Goa, coastal A.P., Yanam, Rayalaseema, south interior Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

On April 28, thunderstorms with lightning are likely over Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Vidarbha, sub-Himalayan West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, central Maharashtra, Marathawada, Telangana, Kerala and Mahe.

Heavy rainfall is likely at isolated places over south interior Karnataka and north Kerala on April 28.

According to the IMD, thunderstorms with lightning and gusty wind (speed reaching 30-40 kmph) are likely at isolated places over Uttarakhand, Vidarbha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Sikkim, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, coastal A.P., Yanam, Telangana, Kerala and Mahe and with lightning at isolated places over J&K, Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram & Tripura, Rayalaseema, coastal Karnataka, Lakshadweep and T.N. and Puducherry on April 29.

Modi, Biden discuss COVID-19, U.S. aid #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke on the phone on Monday to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak in India and U.S. assistance to the country.

The conversation comes a day after Mr. Biden and some of his Cabinet members publicly expressed solidarity with India and the U.S. government promised assistance to India in its fight against the pandemic.

Their conversation “also underscored the importance of smooth and efficient supply chains of vaccine raw materials and medicines,” the Prime Minister said.

TRIPS initiative

Significantly, a readout of the call from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also said that Mr. Modi informed Mr. Biden of “India’s initiative at the WTO for a relaxation in the norms of the Agreement on TRIPS to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries”.

A group of 10 Senators had written to Mr. Biden earlier in April asking him to support a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights at the WTO that would enable the production of COVID-19 therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines around the world.

The White House readout of the call does not mention the TRIPS initiative.

“President Biden conveyed solidarity with India and affirmed that the United States was determined to support India’s efforts by quickly deploying resources such as therapeutics, ventilators and identifying sources of raw materials to be made available for the manufacture of Covishield vaccines,” the PMO readout said.

The Prime Minister “mentioned India’s commitment to contain the COVID-19 pandemic globally through Vaccine Maitri, and its participation in COVAX and the Quad Vaccine Initiatives”, as per the PMO.

‘U.S. govt. orders for vaccine filters diverted to India’ #GS2 #IR

The Biden administration has diverted its pending orders of vaccine filters to India’s vaccine manufacturers, according to White House’s COVID-19 Supply Manager Tim Manning.

“Now here’s what we did yesterday: we diverted our pending orders of vaccine filters to India’s vaccine manufacturing effort. This will help India make more vaccine. And it’s only one effort among many to help the their COVID-19 response (e.g. therapeutics, PPE, and oxygen.

The U.S. National Security Council had outlined the country’s assistance to India’s COVID-19 battle on Sunday, which included vaccine raw materials. “The United States has identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Covishield manufacturer Serum Institute of India, had publicly appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to lift embargoes on vaccine raw material exports. The U.S. had denied that outright embargoes existed. However, the Defence Production Act (DPA), which former U.S. President Donald Trump and Mr. Biden had invoked, meant that federal government orders had to be prioritised over other orders.

Mr. Manning, in his tweets, said there had been “a lot of confusion” around the DPA and its relationship to global supply chains and that the world was working on producing 14 billion vaccines this year, rather than the usual 4 billion.

 “DPA doesn’t even mean a ‘de facto’ ban. Companies are able to export. In fact, companies that supply our vaccine manufacturing export their product all across the world. We are just one ‘client’ of the raw material companies,” Mr. Manning said.

However, Indian manufacturers, some of whose inputs come from the U.S., had experienced shortages of inputs such as filters, bio-reactor bags, microcarrier beads and cell culture media, according to reports in the Indian press.

Hasten vaccination, boost health infra’ #GS3 #SnT #Economy

Amid a massive rise in COVID-19 infections during the second wave, the only way forward is speedier vaccination, ramping up of health infrastructure and observance of pandemic protocols. In an article on the state of the economy, an RBI bulletin said India is battling a spurt in new infections and mortalities, perhaps the fastest for any country of continental dimensions.

Observing that healthcare infrastructure and vaccine supplies are strained, financial markets are reeling and earnings forecasts face downgrades.

“Pandemic protocols, speedier vaccination, ramping up hospital and ancillary capacity, and remaining resolutely focussed on a post-pandemic future of strong and sustainable growth with macroeconomic and financial stability is the way forward

The article said as India battles the ferocious rise of new infections, a strong policy response is building. Economic activity in India is holding up against COVID-19’s renewed onslaught.

Apart from contact-intensive sectors, activity indicators largely remained resilient in March and grew beyond pre-pandemic levels. The resurgence in COVID-19, if not contained in time, risks protracted restrictions and disruptions in supply chains with consequent inflationary pressures,” it said.

The central bank said views expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the RBI.

The article also said early results of corporate performance in January-March indicate strong growth in revenue and net profit. Unlike in preceding quarters, this was driven by a pick up in demand and order inflows.

“Rising digitalisation is the engine powering a stellar performance of IT companies in the quarter. Capacity utilisation is steadily rising, and the latest round of the RBI’s Industrial Outlook survey envisages further expansion through the first three quarters of 2021-22

The authors said electricity consumption, a real-time indicator of economic activity since it cannot be stored, has risen sharply in April on the top of steady growth in seven preceding months.

Also, merchandise exports have posted a robust uptick in the first week of April. “It is not out of place to hope that these positive monthly developments reinforce each other and extend into a continuum that spans the medium-term.

‘Logistics is key to easing oxygen crisis’ #GS3 #Economy

The oxygen shortages at hospitals treating COVID-19 patients leading to multiple deaths, which has turned the spotlight on the production and supply of the life-sustaining element, may start easing in the coming weeks, challenges notwithstanding, officials in the logistics and gas production industries said.

A sector with just a clutch of producers, who operate on a model of plants at their locations and at key customer sites, particularly steel plants, the demand for medical oxygen was thus far a fraction of total output. The ratio changed with the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the second, deadlier wave that has seen hospitals running out of oxygen, beds and key drugs.

With an estimated daily production capacity in excess of 7,000 tonnes of oxygen, much of the present situation could have been averted with better preparedness and planning, a senior executive with a leading oxygen producing firm said, pointing out that the road transportation of the element had inherently unique challenges.

This includes the high investment that is required on the specialised containers, of capacities ranging from 3-20 tonnes, and could cost upwards of Rs. 45 lakh, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Centre, for its part, has ordered stopping supply of oxygen for non-essential industries, advised producers to enhance output, taken measures to speed up road movement as well as explored rail and air movement. It has also sanctioned funds for setting up PSA oxygen plants at hospitals.

Transporters have been working 24/7 to reach oxygen to hospitals on time, said P. Senthil Kumar of Namakkal-based Kongunadu Road Lines, which operates a fleet of cryogenic tankers. These vehicles are being operated with two drivers so that they are always on the move, he added.

With an estimated 1,000-1,200 such oxygen tankers in operation and any addition to the fleet being slow given the limited market they cater to and the high investment required, the emphasis has been on managing with existing resources.

Abhishek Gupta, joint secretary of the All India Transporters’ Welfare Association said the government should task a central team to monitor cylinder availability as the requirement will be high over the next few months.

LNG tanker operators had also been advised to repurpose their vehicles, Mr. Kumar said, signalling that the sector was now on a war footing to help boost supply.

‘India expected to invest $1 billion in AI by 2023’ #GS3 #SnT

Global enterprises are expected to invest $98 billion in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2023 and India’s share in it will be about $1 billion, said Project Management Institute (PMI), a Philadelphia-based non-profit organisation with about 28,000 individual members in India.

However, some $54 billion — 55% of this proposed global investment — may go waste due to lack of familiarity or understanding of newer practices, technologies and tools and inability to optimise data. Consequently, the corresponding wastage in India will be $484 million, as per PMI’s estimates.

Further, poor management practices alone may lead to global losses of $11 billion, that is 11.4% of the total investments of $98 billion. India’s individual share in the losses would be $81 million, based on data shared by the professional body. The global failure rate of 55% was applied to India as well, as there was no comparable data available for the country as of now.

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