Current Affairs 26th April

18-44 age group may get jabs only through private facilities #GS3 #SnT

The Centre has said citizens in the age group of 18-44 years will have to register on the CoWIN portal for vaccination. They will be eligible to receive vaccines only at private facilities on payment, except in cases where the States decide to lower the minimum cut off age for eligibility for free vaccination to less than 45 years.

Citizens in the age group of 18 years to 44 years shall be eligible to receive vaccination, on payment, from any of the private CVCs (COVID-19 Vaccination Centres).

He said those below the age of 45 would “also be eligible to receive vaccination from a government CVC in a State/UT where that State/UT decides to lower the minimum cut off age for eligibility of beneficiaries to less than 45 years, for covering such additional eligible beneficiaries from the vaccine stocks directly procured by the respective State/UT government from vaccine manufacturers”.

“Since, the cohort of eligible beneficiaries has been significantly enhanced, suitable arrangements must be made to avoid overcrowding and consequent law and order situations, at the vaccination centres.

Vaccine wastage

With registration on the CoWIN portal opening for all above 18 from April 28, he added: “All vaccination slots at private CVCs will continue to be offered only for online appointment from CoWlN or Arogya Setu. On-site registration/appointments will be allowed only, if any doses are left in the last opened vial(s) so as to minimise vaccine wastages.

Vaccinations would remain available for frontline workers and citizens above the age of 45 at government centres free of cost from the Centre’s quota of 50% of vaccines.

‘No volunteer list under cyber scheme’ #GS3 #Security

The Ministry of Home Affairs has said it does not maintain a centralised list of volunteers enrolled under the cybercrime volunteer programme since the police is a “State subject” under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

The Ministry, through its cybercrime grievance portal,, aims to raise a group of “cybercrime volunteers” to flag “unlawful content” on the Internet. Digital rights group, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), has said the programme enables a culture of surveillance and could create potential social distrust by encouraging civilians to report the online activities of other citizens.

‘Sought directly’

In response to a Right to Information Act (RTI) application by The Hindu on the total number of volunteers who have applied under the Cyber Crime Volunteers Program of the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal, the Ministry stated that the information could be sought directly from the respective States and Union Territories.

State subjects

The Ministry said in the RTI reply that “police” and “public order” were State subjects as per the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, and States were primarily responsible for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of crimes through their law enforcement agencies (LEAs).

“The Cyber Crime Volunteer Framework has been rolled out as a part of cyber hygiene promotion to bring together citizens to contribute in the fight against cybercrime in the country and assist State/UT LEAs in their endeavour to curb cybercrimes.

The volunteers are registered, and their services utilised, by the respective State/UT LEAs as per their requirement. It is requested to kindly seek the information directly from the respective State/UT LEAs.

Though the Ministry did not provide information in the RTI reply, according to its Output Outcome Monitoring Framework budget of 2021-22, the programme was expected to include 500 volunteers, 200 “cyber awareness promoters” and 50 “cyber experts”.

The National Cyber Crime Ecosystem Management Unit, of which the Cyber Crime Volunteers Program is a constituent, is part of the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) scheme launched by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in January 2020.

Russia to fly in oxygen generators, medicines #GS2 #IR

It and will include oxygen generating equipment for various purposes, ranging from use in individual homes to nursing homes and hospitals, as well as drugs such as favipiravir, used to treat milder versions of COVID-19.

However, exports of remdesivir, which the Russian government had earlier offered to facilitate, have run into trouble, with the California-based Gilead Sciences Inc., which developed the drug, invoking the U.S. licensing laws. Sources said the Russian side has now conveyed that the drug may not be sent to India unless the issue is resolved.

Earlier reports said Russia had offered to supply 3,00,000-4,00,000 injections of remdesivir to India, which is understood to have triggered an alarm in the U.S., which is already upset with Moscow over unlicensed production of the drug. Any exports, said officials, could invoke stringent U.S. penalties against Russia and even India.

So far, Gilead has signed non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with 10 manufacturers based in India, Egypt and Pakistan for remdesivir production, of which seven are Indian companies, but none with Russia. Demand for the drug has grown worldwide, despite a recommendation from the World Health Organization against its use.

In India, in the past few weeks, with the number of cases catapulting to record highs, hospitals have run out of the drug, which is being sold at 10 times the maximum retail price (MRP) in the black market.

While supplies of the non-licensed product from Russia would have eased the pressure on the market, industry analysts say they hope Indian companies, that have now been banned from exporting remdesivir, will be able to ramp up their supplies instead.

India has already been in touch with the U.S. government over other licensing and regulatory issues, and the remdesivir issue could add to New Delhi’s wishlist from Washington. Remdesivir, which was cleared for COVID-19 treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2020, is being made in Russia after the government in Moscow decided to defy the international patent held by Gilead, and issued an ordinance allowing Russian company Pharmasyntez to manufacture the drug under a “compulsory licence”.

According to Pharmasyntez president, Indian-born Russian national Vikram Punia, quoted in a Reuters report, the decision to manufacture the drug came after he wrote to Gilead requesting licensing permission, but did not receive any reply.

U.S. to allow India access to vaccine raw materials #GS2 #IR

The U.S. will immediately deploy supplies and other assistance to India, following a Sunday call between the National Security Advisers of the two countries, Ajit Doval and Jake Sullivan. The U.S.’s assistance will include making raw materials for COVID-19 vaccine Covishield immediately accessible and pursuing options to generate oxygen “on an urgent basis”.

However, there was no mention of the U.S. shipping ready-to-use vaccines. Over the past week, the Biden administration had faced growing criticism for not doing or saying enough about the situation in India.

The U.S. was “working around the clock” to deploy “available resources and supplies,” said a statement released by NSC spokesperson Emily Horne on Sunday. “Mr. Sullivan affirmed America’s solidarity with India, the two countries with the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in the world,” Ms. Horne said.

The U.S. had identified sources of raw materials needed to manufacture Covishield and will make them “immediately” available for India, she said. Earlier this month, Adar Poonawalla, whose company Serum Institute of India (SII) manufactures the vaccine, had publicly appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to lift export embargoes on raw materials.

The administration denied that outright embargoes exist. However, as a consequence of the U.S.’s Defense Production Act (emergency powers that allow the government to control private sector production decisions), federal government purchase orders have to be prioritised over foreign orders.

Sunday’s statement from Ms. Horne detailed other forms of immediate assistance. “To help treat COVID-19 patients and protect front-line health workers in India, the United States has identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] that will immediately be made available for India. The United States also is pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis.

The U.S. will also expand financing for BioE, a Hyderabad-based firm, to ramp up production to meet requirements of a vaccine supply programme that is being rolled out by the Quad. It will also deploy a team of experts to work with the U.S. Embassy in India.

“The U.S. Development Finance Corporation [DFC] is funding a substantial expansion of manufacturing capability for BioE, the vaccine manufacturer in India, enabling BioE to ramp up to produce at least 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022.

Additionally, the United States is deploying an expert team of public health advisers from the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] and USAID to work in close collaboration with the U.S. Embassy, India’s health ministries, and India’s epidemic intelligence service staff.

USAID will also quickly work with the CDC to support and fast-track the mobilisation of emergency resources available to India through the Global Fund.

Waive charges for oxygen imports, Centre tells ports #GS3 #Economy

A day after the Central government dropped the basic customs duty on the import of COVID-19 vaccines, medical oxygen and equipment needed for patients to use such oxygen, the government has directed all major ports to waive all charges for oxygen-related imports and accord them the “highest priority” in the berthing sequence.

The Shipping Ministry’s directive to chairpersons of these ports, however, does not mention the import of COVID-19 vaccines as part of the proposed waivers.

Details to be monitored

“The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways will monitor the details of such vessels and cargo along with the time taken in the port from the time a ship entered in the port limits till the exit of cargo from the port’s gate

Chairpersons of ports have been asked to personally supervise logistic operations to ensure unhindered movement of such consignments for berthing of such vessels on top priority in the ports, unloading of oxygen related cargo, co-ordination with Customs and other authorities for speedy clearance and documentation for quick evacuation of oxygen-related cargo from the ports.

The list of items for which the government has asked for swift clearance from these ports includes medical grade oxygen, oxygen tanks, oxygen bottles, portable oxygen generators, oxygen concentrators, and steel pipes for manufacturing oxygen cylinders and associated equipment.

Exemptions till July 31

The customs duty exemptions on some of these items will be in effect till July 31, as per a notification issued by the Finance Ministry. The Ministry’s directive to major ports, including the Kamarajar Port near Chennai, is effective for the next three months, “or until further orders”.

In cases where a shipping vessel is not carrying just oxygen-related cargo, ports have been instructed to waive their relevant charges on a “pro-rata basis, considering the overall cargo or containers handled at port”. Ports usually levy a vessel-related charge and storage charges for inbound and outbound cargo.

Centre issues advisory on containment measures #GS3 #DM

The Health Ministry advised the States and Union Territories on COVID-19 containment measures, including declaring entire cities or districts containment zones. The Ministry suggested intensive action and local containment measures for districts with either 10% or more positivity in the previous week or more than 60% occupancy of oxygen-supported or ICU beds.

“On account of a very high number of daily new cases being reported for the past few days, the Union government has expressed the urgent need for States to consider strict management and control measures in surge areas to bring the situation under control…The existing infrastructure may not be able to cope with this kind of surge, it has been stressed,” it said.

Among the actions suggested were local containment zones for 14 days. The areas that need containment zones could be cities, towns, parts of towns, districts headquarters, semi-urban localities, municipal wards and panchayat areas. The advisory said only quarantining individuals or families would not help where there were clusters.

Use of liquid oxygen only for medical purpose: Centre #GS3 #DM

Invoking the Disaster Management Act, the Centre on Sunday ordered States that all liquid oxygen, including the existing stock with private plants should be made available to the government and will be used for medical purposes only.

Earlier on April 18, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had written to States prohibiting supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except for nine industries that include the pharmaceutical, petroleum, nuclear energy and steel sectors.

Situation reviewed

The order by the Union Home Secretary, who is the Chairman of the National Executive Committee under the DM Act, 2005 said, “The Central government has reviewed the oxygen supply situation and has decided that with immediate effect, use of liquid oxygen, including the existing stock, will be allowed for medical purposes only, and that all manufacturing units may be allowed to maximise their production of liquid oxygen, and make it available to the government, for use for medical purposes only.”

The order said that under Sections 10(2)(I) and 65 of the DM Act, States had to ensure that “liquid oxygen is not allowed for any non-medical purpose” and all stocks to be made available to the government without any exception.

On April 22, the Centre issued an order under the DM Act making the district magistrates and senior superintendents of police personally liable to allow unhindered inter-State movement of vehicles carrying medical oxygen and to ensure that the supply is not restricted to a particular State where the oxygen plant is located.

Medical oxygen to States are being provided as per daily quota decided by an empowered group of officers in Central ministries. Despite the MHA’s orders and letters, States continued to flag shortage of oxygen supply with hospitals in Delhi using social media to send distress messages.

On Friday, steel industrialist Naveen Jindal tweeted that a tanker carrying 16 MT of liquid medical oxygen dispatched from its Raigarh plant in Chhattisgarh had reached Batra Hospital in Delhi. The hospital had said in a statement that it was running low on oxygen that could last only few hours.

15 people spend 40 days in cave, lose sense of time #GS2 #IR

Ever wonder what it would feel like to unplug from a hyperconnected world and hide away in a dark cave for 40 days?

Fifteen people in France did just that, emerging on Saturday from a scientific experiment to say that time seemed to pass more slowly in their cavernous underground abode in southwestern France, where they were deprived of clocks and light.

With big smiles on their pale faces, the 15 left their voluntary isolation in the Lombrives cave to a round of applause and basked in the light while wearing special glasses to protect their eyes after so long in the dark.

“It was like pressing pause,” said Marina Lançon,33, one of the seven female members in the experiment, adding she didn’t feel there was a rush to do anything.

Although she wished she could have stayed in the cave a few days longer, she said she was happy to feel the wind blowing on her face again and hear the birds sing in the trees of the French Pyrénées. And she doesn’t plan to open her smartphone for a few more days, hoping to avoid a “too brutal” return to real life.

For 40 days and 40 nights, the group lived in and explored the cave as part of the Deep Time project. There was no sunlight inside, the temperature was 10 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity stood at 100%. The cave dwellers had no contact with the outside world, no updates on the pandemic nor any communications with friends or family.

Scientists at the Human Adaption Institute leading the $1.5 million “Deep Time” project say the experiment will help them better understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments.

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