Current Affairs 17th May

The second COVID-19 wave shows signs of peaking #GS3 #SNT

Weeks after registering a sudden bump in cases and leading the world in daily case load, the number of new COVID-19 cases in India has shown a consistent dip in the past week — from a seven-day rolling average of 3.92 lakh on May 8 to 3.41 lakh on May 15. There was also a drop in the test positivity rate (TPR: number of positive cases identified per 100 tests) that fell from 22.6% to 19% in the same period.

While these figures suggest that India’s second COVID-19 wave is on the wane, a look at data using three parameters — the TPR, average daily cases and average daily tests over time — shows that the drop in cases was not accompanied by an increase in testing. In fact, the number of tests carried out remained stable around 18 lakh per day even as the TPR reduced after May 8.

Breaking the data down also shows that the COVID-19 picture is not uniform across the States. While some States managed to bend the COVID-19 daily cases curve, others achieved a peaking of cases only by decreasing the number of tests conducted.

At least 11 major States have reduced their testing levels recently. Of those 11, in four States, the positivity rate is on the rise. Lowering the number of tests would mean missing out on identifying a number of infected people even as the COVID-19 graph would show an “artificial peaking”.

In States such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka and Rajasthan, the positivity rate has been on the increase, even as the number of tests have decreased.

This is not an optimal strategy for the States as the reported infections have been kept low due to fewer tests and an “artificial” peaking of cases has been depicted.

In Maharashtra, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Goa and Delhi, on the other hand, both the testing rate as well as the positivity rate are on the decline. While these States are better off than the previous set, data indicate that they should maintain their testing rates, instead of letting them fall, to ensure the share of positive cases is not going down due to decreased testing.

‘COVID-19 response over next 6-18 months critical’ #GS3 #SnT

Predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have subsequent waves as well, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization, who has been maintaining a keen eye on the developments in India, says the efforts put in in the next 6-18 months will be most critical in battling the pandemic.

A lot depends also on the evolution of the virus itself, the ability of vaccines to keep up with variants, and it also depends on the duration of protective immunity of vaccines. A lot of this is changing.

We know that there will be definitely an end to the acute phase of the pandemic — when we have vaccinated about 30% of the world’s population, which is what we would like to see by the end of 2021. Then we can start seeing a significant reduction in the deaths.” Then 2022 can be about ramping up vaccination.

Making clarifications on treatment protocols, Dr. Soumya said it was important for the people to understand that the wrong drug given at the wrong time could actually have more bad effects than good.

Many of the drugs commonly being used now have not been shown to have any effect. Nations can customise the WHO protocols for their local contexts.

State-wise positivity is uneven #GS3 #SNT

While the number of new COVID-19 cases in India has shown a consistent dip in the past week and there was also a drop in the test positivity rate; the drop in cases was not accompanied by an increase in testing in some States.

Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are the States where positivity rate is falling even as testing levels increased, suggesting that these States are following an optimal testing strategy. However, in rural areas in the States in the north, there are anecdotal reports that testing has been minimal, which brings into question the actual spread of cases.

States such as Punjab, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh have been increasing their rate of testing, but their TPR has also increased, suggesting that they still need to augment testing to capture more infections. In Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, there is a slight drop in the tests conducted.

Across the world, keeping a high testing level has been part of the strategy to identify, trace and isolate positive cases and maintaining higher testing levels by ensuring kit availability, and manpower has helped authorities manage caseloads over time.

Death count

Even as the rolling average of the cases began to fall, the number of registered COVID-19 related deaths has been consistently above the 3,900-mark for the past week in India.

As deaths are a lag indicator of the case load, the decrease in cases, if natural, will result in a decrease in fatalities at a later time. Various reports have also suggested that the number of recorded COVID-19 deaths are being under-counted in several States.

Rural spread a reality, says govt. #GS3 #SnT

COVID-19’s ingress is now being seen in peri-urban, rural and tribal areas as well, the Health Ministry admitted on Sunday, weeks after a rising number of cases were reported from rural areas in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and other States.

The Ministry, in its document “SOP on COVID-19 containment and management in peri-urban, rural and tribal areas”, said there was a need to enable communities and strengthen primary-level healthcare infrastructure at all levels to intensify COVID-19 response in these new areas, while continuing to provide other essential health services.

The Ministry said with the larger spread of COVID-19 cases, it was important to ensure that these areas were equipped and oriented to manage COVID-19 cases.

“In every village, active surveillance should be done for influenza-like illness/severe acute respiratory infections [ILI/SARI] periodically by health workers,” the Ministry said in its latest SOP (standard operating procedure).

The Ministry said depending upon the intensity of the surge and the number of cases, as far as feasible, contact tracing should be done as per the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) guidelines for contact tracing of COVID-19 cases in community settings.

It added that symptomatic cases could be triaged at the village level by tele-consultation with the Community Health Officer (CHO), and cases with co-morbidities/low oxygen saturation should be sent to higher centres.

Also, every sub-centre (SCs) should run an ILI/SARI OPD at dedicated time slots/days.

The Ministry has also said staff should be trained in performing rapid antigen test (RAT) and provision for test kits should be made at all public health facilities, including sub-centres/health and wellness centres and primary health centres (PHCs). These patients should also be counselled to isolate themselves till the test results were available.

“Those asymptomatic but having history of high-risk exposure to COVID patients (exposure of more than 15 minutes without a mask within 6 feet distance) should be advised quarantine and tested as per ICMR protocol,” noted the Ministry.

The document further noted that on discharge, patients should be counselled on post-COVID management at home.

Can FCRA account deadline be extended, HC asks Centre #GS3 #Economy

The Delhi High Court has asked the Union Home Ministry to consider whether the April 1 deadline for opening Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) account for NGOs seeking to receive foreign funds can be extended in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice Prathiba M. Singh asked the Ministry whether it could allow NGOs that have not been able to open FCRA accounts to receive foreign contributions, as long as they maintain records of the same, in accordance with the provisions of FCRA.

The court’s query came during hearing of petitions filed by two NGOs operating out of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The NGOs claimed that they were “facing tremendous difficulty both in the opening of the FCRA account and also in the subsequent approval which is to be obtained from the Ministry”.

The petitions raised issues relating to the opening of FCRA account in State Bank of India (SBI), New Delhi, pursuant to the amendment to Section 17 of the 2010 Act, which came into effect from September 2020.

As per the new amendment, NGOs that receive foreign contributions are required to open an FCRA account in the New Delhi branch of the SBI. The NGOs have sought an extension for the April 1 deadline by a period of six months and a direction to the Ministry to grant FC-6C certificates to the NGOs in an expeditious manner.

While both the NGOs have opened their respective FCRA accounts in SBI, they are awaiting approval of the Ministry on their FC6 form. They said the Ministry had not processed the forms.

“The MHA is directed to process the documents and grant the approval, if there are no defects, by the next date of hearing,” the court said, posting the case for further hearing on May 20.

“The amendment to Section 17 (FCRA) is not under challenge in these petitions. However, owing to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and various difficulties which the organisations are stated to be facing, the MHA shall consider as to whether the deadline of 1st April, 2021 can be extended and if so, till when.

Virus situation worsens among tribals #GS1 #Society

The COVID-19 situation appears to have worsened in certain areas inhabited by Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in Odisha. As many as 23 persons belonging to the Dongria Kondh community, a PVTG in the Niyamgiri Hill range of Rayagada district in Odisha, have tested positive for COVID-19.

The district administration said the infection level was high in the community as the tribals were shying away from getting tested for COVID-19. Similarly, in Malkangiri district, Bonda Hill, home to the Bonda community, another PVTG, has been declared a containment zone after 12 from the tribe tested positive for COVID-19.

The infections detected among the PVTGs in the second wave of COVID-19 has rung alarm bells in the administration. “We are facing difficulties in convincing members of the Dongria Kondh community to come for tests. According to the information reaching us, many in the community are symptomatic. The situation is likely to worsen.

Mr. Mishra, however, said rapid response teams, community elders and social activists would be roped in to convince the members to come to camps for testing.

India calls for ‘immediate de-escalation’ of hostilities #GS2 #IR

India called for an immediate de-escalation of the situation between Israel and Palestine at the first public United Nations Security Council meeting held since the current surge in hostilities between the two parties entered its seventh day, killing at least 149 people in Gaza and 10 in Israel, including many children. The virtual public meeting was held on Sunday after diplomats reached a compromise following U.S. objections to a public meeting, Reuters reported.

“Immediate de-escalation is the need of the hour, so as to arrest any further slide towards the brink. We urge both sides to show extreme restraint, desist from actions that exacerbate tensions, and refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status-quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood,” India’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti, told the Security Council on Sunday.

“The indiscriminate rocket firings from Gaza targeting the civilian population in Israel, which we condemn, and the retaliatory strikes into Gaza, have caused immense suffering and resulted in deaths,” Mr. Tirumurti said, adding that India had lost one of its citizens, a caregiver in Ashkelon (Soumya Santosh, 30, from Kerala).

The trust deficit between Israel and Palestinian authorities was increasing, as there were no direct negotiations between the two, he said. “We believe that every effort should be made to create conducive conditions for resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine,” Mr. Tirumurti said.

The UN, Qatar and Egypt are trying to broker a ceasefire. Mr. Tirumurti said India had already voiced its concern over the violence in Jerusalem at closed-door meetings of the 15-member council held earlier this week (neither of which resulted in a joint statement).

“In both these meetings, we had expressed our deep concern over the violence in Jerusalem, especially on Haram Al Sharif/ Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramadan [Ramzan] , and about the possible eviction process in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, an area which is part of an arrangement facilitated by the UN,” he said.

He said India supported the efforts of the Quartet (UN, U.S., EU and Russia) and others, and expressed India’s support to the “just Palestinian cause” and its “unwavering” support for the two-state solution.