Current Affairs 20th May

COVID-19 affected should defer shots by 3 months #GS3 #SnT

Vaccination should be deferred by three months after recovery in individuals having lab test proven SARS-2 COVID-19 illness.

COVID-19 patients who have been given anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma should also defer vaccination by three months from the date of discharge from the hospital. The Ministry also recommended COVID-19 vaccination for all nursing mothers.

The Ministry said it had accepted the recommendations of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC). “These recommendations have been based on the evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging global scientific evidence and experience.

It recommended that individuals who have received at least the first dose of the vaccine and got the infection before the completion of the dosing schedule should also defer by three months the second dose after clinical recovery from COVID-19.

Blood donation

“Persons with any other serious general illness requiring hospitalisation or ICU care should also wait for 4-8 weeks before getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Also an individual could donate blood after 14 days of either receipt of COVID-19 vaccine or testing RT-PCR negative, if suffering from COVID-19.

There was no requirement for screening of the vaccine recipients by Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) prior to vaccination. The matter of vaccination of pregnant women was under discussion and further deliberation by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI).

“The Health Ministry has written to States and UTs to direct the concerned officials to take note of these recommendations and undertake necessary action for their effective implementation. States have also been advised to undertake training of the vaccination staff at all levels.

Scrap update, Centre tells WhatsApp #GS2 #Governance

The government of India has sent a notice to WhatsApp asking it to withdraw the controversial update to its privacy policy and sought a response from the company within seven days. It has also warned the Facebook-owned firm that the failure to give a satisfactory response may result in steps “in consonance with law”.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), in the May 18 notice, has told WhatsApp that deferring the May 15 implementation deadline does not absolve it from “respecting the values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users. The Ministry highlighted how the new policy violated several provisions of Indian laws.

When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson said, “We reaffirm what we said before that this update does not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone.”

The MeitY notice directs WhatsApp to withdraw its Privacy Policy 2021 as the changes and the manner of introducing these changes “undermine the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens.”

“In fulfilment of its sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the Government of India will consider various options available to it under laws in India. The government has given seven days’ time to WhatsApp to respond to his notice and if no satisfactory response is received, necessary steps in consonance with law will be taken.

The government had earlier this year also written to Will Cathcart, CEO of the instant messaging firm, asking that proposed changes to the privacy policy be withdrawn, expressing “grave concerns” over the implications of the choice and the autonomy of Indian citizens.

In the latest missive to the U.S.-headquartered firm, MeitY has reiterated the issue of discriminatory treatment of Indian users.

NGOs can open Delhi accounts till June 30 #GS2 #Governance

The Union Home Ministry extended the deadline for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to activate accounts with the State Bank of India main branch in Delhi (NDMB), a compulsory requirement to receive foreign funds, from March 31 to June 30.

However, 10 NGOs petitioned the Delhi High Court the same day, seeking a longer extension of six months and seeking the court’s intervention in operationalising their foreign contribution accounts. The Ministry granted the extension, a day before the petition is to be heard by the court.

The 10 NGOs are part of a group of 490 NGOs that had made a representation to the Ministry seeking an extension as their funds were blocked due to various administrative lapses on the part of the bank and the Ministry.

The SBI, in a press release on May 17, said that “out of the total 22,598 active FCRA [Foreign Contribution Regulation Act] associations, 17,611 entities (NGOs and Associations) approached SBI for opening of FCRA accounts.”

Bank’s claim

The bank claimed that it had opened accounts of 78% of the applicants. “The rest of the accounts shall also be initiated once their pending documentation formalities are completed.

An NGO functionary, however, said that even though documents were submitted to the bank much before March 31, the accounts could not be operated as a form sent by the SBI making the NGO eligible to receive foreign funds was yet to be authorised by the FCRA division of the Ministry.

According to the amended provisions of the FCRA enacted in September 2020, NGOs were asked to open accounts with the NDMB by March 31, failing which they will not be able to receive any fresh funds.

At least five NGOs moved the Delhi and Gauhati High Courts, arguing that even though they had applied to open FCRA accounts at the bank before March 31, administrative delays on the part of the SBI and the Ministry severely restricted their activities, including providing COVID-19 related relief and paying urgent salaries of staff.

HC directive

Last week, the Delhi High Court asked the MHA to consider if the deadline can be extended in view of the pandemic.

The Ministry issued an order on May 18, where it said that “keeping in view the exigencies arising out of the COVID-19 situation and to ensure smooth transition to the amended FCRA regime” the Central government, under section 50 of the FCRA, 2010 was making an amendment to allow NGOs to open an account with the SBI up to June 30 or earlier. “After that date, they shall not be eligible to receive foreign contribution in any other account other than the FCRA account opened in the NDMB.

Registration relief

The MHA has also given a relief up to September 30 to the NGOs whose registration was expiring between September 29, 2020-May 31,2021. The NGOs had to apply for renewal of certificates or registration by May 31, which has now been extended to September 30, the Ministry said in an order.

New storm likely in Bay of Bengal #GS1 #Geography

Though Cyclone Tauktae is yet to entirely abate, a new storm may be in the works, this time, however, in the Bay of Bengal. The India Metereological Department said that a “low pressure area” — a precursor to a cyclonic storm — was likely to form in the eastern Bay and the Northern Andaman Sea by May 22. “It is very likely to gradually intensify into a cyclonic storm during the subsequent 72 hours and reach the Odisha and West Bengal coast by May 26.

There are relatively more cyclonic storms in May and November, particularly in the Bay of Bengal — coinciding with the arrival and exit of the monsoon — than in the rest of the year because of elevated ocean temperatures. However, the IMD has also forecast the arrival of the monsoon over Kerala on May 31 and that is premised on the monsoon’s arrival over the South Andaman Sea by May 21.

M. Mohapatra, Director-General, India Meteorological Department (IMD), told The Hindu that the formation of a low pressure at this time would be favourable for the monsoon onset. “This strengthens the cross-equatorial flow and would give a push to the monsoon over the Andaman Sea.

However, it’s early to say what specific trajectory [the nascent cyclone] it will take and how strong it is likely to become. Only after a few days, when there is more confidence, can we say if it will obstruct or aid the monsoon onset.

Significant rain

Cyclone Tauktae, the first extremely severe cyclonic storm in the Arabian Sea to make landfall in Gujarat in 130 years, brought significant rain and caused considerable infrastructure damage in several coastal States.

The current cyclone, were it to fully form, will be called Yaas, a name proposed by Oman. Last May, Cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal ravaged West Bengal as a ‘super cyclonic storm’, the most powerful in the IMD’s intensity measuring scale. This year, the IMD has forecast a ‘normal monsoon.

‘PM-CARES must disclose details of COVID-19 care’ #GS2 #Governance

A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court to direct the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund) to disclose the money it has allocated so far for COVID-19 care.

Activist Saket Gokhale said PM-CARES should produce details of its mechanism to monitor the progress of the various projects it had allocated money for.

‘Important stakeholder’

Mr. Gokhale urged the court to make PM-CARES a party in its suo motu case on COVID-19 management and lapses. The application said the fund has been, since the first national lockdown, an “important stakeholder in the procurement and funding of essential supplies and services for the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“The PM-CARES Fund, according to the press release announcing its constitution, was set up primarily keeping in mind the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“Since its inception, the PM-CARES Fund has collected monetary contributions from India as well as overseas which includes salary contributions by employees and members of several Government of India Ministries and PSUs.

The application listed a series of announcements said to be made by the fund, including an allocation on May 13 last year of “Rs. 3,000 crore for COVID-19, of which Rs. 2,000 crore will be earmarked for the purchase of ventilators, Rs. 1,000 crore for care of migrant labourers and Rs. 100 crore to support vaccine development”.

6 UNESCO heritage sites added in India #GS3 #Environment

Six sites, including the Ganga ghats in Varanasi, temples of Kancheepuram and the Satpura Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, have been added to India’s tentative list of UNESCO world heritage sites.

Mr. Patel said six of the nine sites submitted by the Archaeological Survey of India had been accepted by UNESCO for inclusion in the tentative list, which is a requirement before the final nomination of any site.

The recently-included proposals are the Maratha military architecture in Maharashtra, the Hire Bengal megalithic site in Karnataka and Bhedaghat-Lametaghat of Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh. The six proposals were included in the list on April 13, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

DD International to present ‘India story’ #GS2 #IR

State broadcaster Doordarshan is planning to set up a new channel DD International to “project India’s point of view” to the world. Doordarshan floated an Expression of Interest (EOI) seeking applications for consultancy service to provide a detailed project report for establishing the channel.

As per the EOI document, the idea is to “build a global presence for Doordarshan and to establish an international voice for India”.

International criticism

This comes against the backdrop of growing criticism in the international media about the Narendra Modi government’’s handling of the pandemic. The EOI says the channel will present India’s point of view on contemporary issues of both global and domestic significance.

Officials said it was felt that India’s perspective was getting lost in the noise. The EOI also mentions that the channel will specifically tell “the India story to a global audience”. Doordarshan’s global outreach is primarily through bilateral distribution arrangement with select broadcasters in other countries apart from live streaming through Prasar Bharati’s global digital platform.

Centre raises subsidy on DAP fertilizers; no hike for farmers #GS3 #Economy

The Central government has enhanced the subsidy on di-ammonium phosphate, or DAP fertilizers, in order to retain the selling price for farmers at the current level of Rs. 1,200 per bag, following a review meeting on fertilizer prices chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The move, which entails raising the subsidy from Rs. 500 per bag to Rs. 1,200 per bag of DAP, will raise India’s annual fertilizer subsidy bill of about Rs. 80,000 crore by Rs. 14,775 crore as subsidy in the Kharif season.

While international prices of phosphoric acid and ammonia used for producing DAP have gone up by 60%-70%, the actual price of a DAP bag is now Rs. 2,400, the government said. With the existing subsidy, the price would have to be pegged at Rs. 1,900 per bag, but it has been retained at Rs. 1,200 per bag.

In April, India’s largest fertilizer producer, IFFCO, had announced a 58.33% hike in DAP prices, but later said farmers would continue to get old stocks at existing prices and the hiked prices were “only tentative”.

“The PM stressed that farmers should get fertilizers at old rates despite the international rise in prices,” the official statement said, calling this an unprecedented subsidy hike.

Rajasthan govt. declares mucormycosis an epidemic #GS3 #SnT

Amid the increasing instances of mucormycosis or black fungus, which is primarily affecting people recovering from COVID-19, the Rajasthan government on Wednesday declared it an epidemic and a notifiable disease. It will be mandatory for the health facilities to report every case of the disease in the State.

The State has at present more than 100 black fungus patients, for whom a special ward has been established at the Sawai Man Singh Government Hospital here. More of these cases are being reported from Jaipur, Jodhpur, Sirohi and Kota districts.

Principal Health Secretary Akhil Arora said the declaration of mucormycosis as an epidemic would ensure its “integrated and coordinated” treatment along with the treatment for COVID-19. The notification was issued under the Rajasthan Epidemic Act, 2020.

Mucormycosis appears as a side effect among COVID-19 patients who are put on oxygen support through liquid medical oxygen cylinders or oxygen concentrators. The State government has also given instructions for procurement of oxygen concentrators of good quality and ensure strict compliance with safety measures while using them.

NHRC flags lack of cover for doctors on contract #GS2 #Governance

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) asked the Union Health Ministry and the Delhi government to “consider providing adequate medical care and financial protection” to contractual medical and paramedical staff engaged in COVID-19 care.

The NHRC issued notices to the Health and Family Welfare Secretary and the Chief Secretary of Delhi asking them to submit reports within two weeks, an NHRC statement said. The NHRC said the governments should consider getting medical insurance for the contractual healthcare workers so they can get treatment in private hospitals.

The NHRC also asked them to provide financial support to Dr. Amit Gupta, a senior resident in paediatrics at Satyavadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital, Delhi, who was admitted to the ICU of Medanta Hospital in Gurugram for COVID-19 treatment.

The NHRC said the complainant in the matter said Dr. Gupta could not get a bed in the hospital he worked at and did not get any financial support from the government on the grounds that he was engaged on contract.

Serious issue

“The Commission has observed that it is a serious issue if the contractual doctors/resident doctors and paramedical staff of the Delhi government and other Central government hospitals are not getting life care medical facilities when they fall ill during their service to save lives of the people during such a pandemic situation. Presently, the country is already facing huge crisis of medical facilities and losing lives too.

U.S. to work with COVAX to allocate 80 mn vaccine doses #GS2 #IR

The U.S. will work with the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) programme as well as its partners to decide how to allocate the 80 million doses of vaccine it is sending to other countries over the next six weeks. India, which is currently the global epicentre of the pandemic, is expected to receive a significant share of these vaccines, but administration officials have not released actual numbers.

We’re consulting closely with COVAX, which, as you know, is the largest vaccine delivery platform in the world and that is focused on, in particular, low income and low-middle income countries and with our partners. Ms. Smith referred to COVAX as “an absolutely critical and the central platform” for vaccine allocation.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, said vaccine allocation decisions would be made based on ‘equity’, in response to a question on whether India would be a recipient of the vaccines. The U.S. has deployed around $100 million in assistance to India during this current wave of the pandemic.

Transparent manner

“We, of course, will be making decisions based on equity, based on ensuring we are — we are providing these vaccines in a transparent manner with the global community through COVAX and also through direct relationships,” Ms. Psaki said.

While India could theoretical use some of the vaccines it will produce as part of a Quad (India, the U.S., Australia and Japan) plan to supply at least 1 billion doses of to the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022, the actual decisions will be taken based on ground conditions at the time, as per Ms. Smith. Biological E, a Telengana-based pharmaceutical company, is collaborating with Johnson & Johnson to produce the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine under the Quad plan.

‘Low confidence plus high fuel, health costs to hurt demand’ #GS3 #Economy

The pandemic’s second wave will dent consumer sentiment even as high healthcare expenses and retail fuel prices will squeeze disposable incomes and consumers, rating agency ICRA warned in a note on Wednesday.

While the low base of April 2020, which saw very tepid economic activity, had propped up several economic indicators this April, ICRA said that there is a persistent slackening in activity due to the second wave that overshadows the base effect.

“The optimism generated by this trend of high growth rates in several high-frequency indicators for April is limited, as eight of the 13 non-financial indicators in April 2021 remained below their pre-Covid (April 2019) levels.

Many indicators such as GST e-way bills, fuel consumption and vehicle registrations displayed a slowing sequential momentum in April 2021, reflecting the rise in COVID-19 cases, and imposition of restrictions in various parts of the country, ICRA noted, adding that this trend has continued so far in May, with restrictions spreading to more States.

“In our view, the sharply higher daily infections in the second wave of COVID-19 in India will have a prolonged negative impact on consumer sentiment.

In addition, the substantial healthcare expenses related to the COVID-19 treatment, along with high retail prices of fuels, are likely to squeeze disposable incomes in the urban as well as rural areas,” Ms. Nayar said. With pent-up demand satiated during the festive season in 2020, demand for many varieties of consumer durables may be low, ICRA reckoned.

What’s a wave in a pandemic, and is India likely to face a third wave of Covid-19? #GS3 #SnT

Having failed to adequately prepare for the second wave of coronavirus infections, officials and health authorities are now routinely warning people of the possibility of a third wave. It started earlier this month with the Principal Scientific Advisor K VijayRaghavan calling the third wave “inevitable” even though its timing could not be predicted.

VijayRaghavan added a caveat two days later, saying a third wave could be avoided through “strong measures”, but several others have issued similar warnings in the last couple of weeks. Local administrations and some hospitals have already begun ramping up their infrastructure in anticipation of a fresh surge in cases after a few months.

What is a wave in an epidemic?

There is no textbook definition of what constitutes a wave in an epidemic. The term is used generically to describe the rising and declining trends of infections over a prolonged period of time. The growth curve resembles the shape of a wave.

Historically, the term wave used to refer to the seasonality of the disease. Several viral infections are seasonal in nature, and they recur after fixed time intervals. Infections rise and then come down, only to rise again after some time.

Covid-19 has continued relentlessly for the last one-and-a-half years, but in every geography, there have been periods of surge that have been followed by a relative lull. In India so far, there have been two very distinct periods of surge, separated by a prolonged lull.

Smaller regions within a country, a state or a city, for example, would have their own waves. Delhi, for example, has so far experienced four waves.

There are three very distinct peaks in its growth curve even before the current wave, while in states like Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, the growth curves had a much more diffused look until February, lacking a sharp peak. It would be difficult to identify distinct waves in such a situation. (See graphs)

Waves of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, the US, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh

So, how would one identify a third wave, if it comes?

The third wave currently under discussion refers to a possible surge in cases at the national level. The national curve seems to have entered a declining phase now, after having peaked on May 6. In the last two weeks, the daily case count has dropped to about 2.6 lakh from the peak of 4.14 lakh, while the active cases have come down to 32.25 lakh, after touching a high of 37.45 lakh. If current trends continue, it is expected that by July, India would reach the same level of case counts as in February.

If there is a fresh surge after that, and continues for a few weeks or months, it would get classified as the third wave.

In the meanwhile, states could continue to experience local surges. Like it is happening in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh right now. Or, at a more local level, in the districts of Amravati, Sangli and a few others in Maharashtra.

But as long as they are not powerful enough to change the direction of the national curve, they would not be described as the third wave. Also, the more localised the surge, the quicker it is likely to get over, although cities like Mumbai and Pune have gone through prolonged surges.

Will the third wave be stronger?

There has been some speculation about the third wave being even stronger than the second. However, this is not something that can be predicted. Usually, it is expected that every fresh wave would be weaker than the previous one. That is because the virus, when it emerges, has a relatively free run, considering that the entire population is susceptible. During its subsequent runs, there would be far lower number of susceptible people because some of them would have gained immunity.

This logic, however, has been turned on its head in India’s case. When the number of cases began declining in India after mid-September last year, only a very small fraction of the population had got infected. There was no reason for the disease spread to have slowed down, considering that such a large proportion of the population was still susceptible. The reasons for the five-month continuous decline in cases in India is still not very well understood.

And since the second wave was expected to be weaker than the first, many were fooled into believing that the pandemic was nearing its end. With the lessons learnt in a very painful manner, there are now suggestions that the third wave might be even stronger.

But that might not be the case. A far greater number of people have been infected during the second wave than the first. With the positivity rate almost four times that of the first wave, the unconfirmed infections — those who were never tested — is also expected to be large.

In addition, vaccination would also induce immunity in a large proportion of the population. So, there would be a significantly lower number of susceptible people in the population after the second wave.

However, gene mutations in the virus can alter these calculations. The virus can mutate in ways that make it escape the immune responses developed in the already infected people, or those vaccinated.

But is it inevitable?

The third wave is a distinct possibility. It is likely to come, although the scale or timing is not something that can be predicted. But it is not inevitable. As mentioned, VijayRaghavan, the Principal Scientific Advisor, also modified his remarks, clarifying that it could possibly be avoided if people continue to take strong measures. It’s also possible that this time, the fresh wave will be indeed much smaller than the previous one, so that it inflicts much less pain and can be managed more efficiently.

A lot would depend on how people heed these warnings. They can become paranoid about an incoming disaster, or get numb to repeated warnings. The second wave has taught us that it is far better to remain paranoid and cautious than be hopeful in a situation like this.