Current Affairs 24th April

Centre to give 5 kg foodgrains free to poor #GS3 #Economy

The Union government announced that 5 kg of foodgrains would be provided to 80 crore beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) in May and June as many States were undergoing curfews and the high rates of COVID-19 infections had led to a slowdown in economic activity.

The announcement came as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with the Chief Ministers, especially of the States with a high case burden. The outlay for the free grain programme has been pegged at Rs. 26,000 crore.

Mr. Modi assured the States that all resources, including those of the Railways and the Indian Air Force, were being deployed to reach oxygen to different corners of the country. He asked the States to strictly crack down on hoarding and black marketing of essential drugs and injections. He added that the Centre would be providing COVID-19 vaccines acquired by it to the States free, as earlier.

Coordination teams

The meeting with the Chief Ministers, followed by Mr. Modi’s meeting with oxygen manufacturers, the fourth such review of oxygen availability in the past week, assumes significance with daily new cases nearing the 3.5 lakh mark.

According to a statement released after the meeting with the Chief Ministers, Mr. Modi called for a unified approach in dealing with resource scarcities, which he said were being addressed. He stated that it was through such an approach that India could tackle the first wave of COVID-19.

The Prime Minister said the IAF was flying in empty tankers for oxygen to reduce turnaround time on supplies. The Railways had been roped in to run Oxygen Express trains. He urged the States fighting for scarce oxygen to set up coordination teams to allow free movement of tankers across the State borders.

Tier 2 and tier 3 cities, which are now facing a rapid rise in cases, were highlighted as an area of concern. Mr. Modi also expressed grief at the accidents that had taken place in hospitals, adding that the staff had to be more aware of safety protocols.

Same rates for jabs

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel made a strong demand that vaccines be provided at the same rates for both the Centre and the States.

The Serum Institute of India has announced that it would be providing the Covishield vaccine, which it currently sells at Rs. 150-Rs. 200 a dose to the Centre, at Rs. 400 per dose to the State governments and Rs. 600 a dose to private entities. “Please provide an action plan for vaccine availability to the States for running vaccination drive for those above 18 years of age from May 1.

Rising prevalence of U.K. strain in Delhi #GS3 #SnT

The proportion of the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7) in genome samples sequenced from COVID-19 cases in Delhi has risen from 28% in the second week of March to 50% last week. The U.K. variant has a mutation N501Y that is reported to increase the transmission of the virus, leading to more numbers and a knock-on consequence of increasing disease severity and mortality.

Speaking at the webinar, organised by the Department of Biotechnology, Dr. Singh said there was also a rise in the Indian variant (B.1.617), which has two mutations associated with increased efficacy and decreasing the potency of vaccines.

Calls grow for U.S. to help India with spare vaccines #GS2 #IR

As a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic rages in India, calls are growing in the United States to send spare vaccine doses to New Delhi. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Indian and U.S. officials were in touch about possible U.S. help to India at this time, but did not comment on whether the U.S. would send vaccines from its stockpiles.

“Let me first say that the United States offers our deepest sympathy to the people of India who are clearly suffering during this global pandemic and we are working closely with Indian officials at both political and experts level to identify ways to help address the crisis.

“So there are ongoing discussions. I don’t have anything more to preview but we are in touch with at a range of levels about how we can help them get through this period of time,” Ms. Psaki said.

On the question of whether the U.S. was helping India with its oxygen shortage, Ms. Psaki said the U.S. had provided a “huge, significant” amount of health funding to India over time towards a range of supplies.

Several lawmakers and health experts remarked on the current wave of the pandemic in India, asking for the U.S. to donate spare vaccines.

“India is reporting the world’s highest ever single-day COVID case rise. Earth Day is about the health of the planet and everyone and everything on it. The U.S. has more than enough vaccine for every American, but we are denying countries like India desperately needed support.

In March, the U.S. announced plans to release 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico.

A group Senators, including former Democratic primary progressive candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have written to President Joe Biden, asking the U.S. to support a request by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization to facilitate the production of vaccines and therapeutics globally.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price referred questions on export controls to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). You asked about intellectual property and certain controls. That was — is within the purview of USTR.

Emergency use nod for Virafin #GS3 #SnT

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) granted emergency use approval for pharma major Zydus Cadila’s antiviral drug ‘Virafin’ to treat moderate COVID-19 disease in adults.

“A single dose subcutaneous regimen of the antiviral Virafin [a pegylated interferon alpha-2b (PegIFN)] will make the treatment more convenient for the patients. When administered early on during COVID, Virafin will help patients recover faster and avoid much of the complications. Virafin will be available on the prescription of a medical specialist for use in hospital/institutional setup.

Safety profile

The drug’s safety profile is already well known as it is used in treating people with chronic hepatitis B and C. The drug has been repurposed for treating moderate COVID-19 disease.

According to Dr. Sharvil Patel, Managing Director, Cadila Healthcare Limited, the therapy “significantly reduces viral load when given early on and can help in better disease management”.

In a multi-centre trial in 20-25 centres across India, the company found the drug reduced the need for supplemental oxygen. This clearly “indicates that the antiviral was able to control respiratory distress and failure which has been one of the major challenges in treating COVID-19”, the company said.

In the phase-3 trials, the drug was able to achieve “better clinical improvement in the patients suffering from COVID-19”. A “higher proportion (91.15%) of patients administered the drug were RT-PCR negative by day seven as it ensures faster viral clearance”.

Covishield protects against double mutant: study #GS3 #SnT

Preliminary studies show that people who have been vaccinated with Covishield have protection against the double mutant variant (B.1.617) first found in India.

Researchers at the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) found that protection against the double mutant variant was also seen both when convalescent plasma from people who have been infected and have already recovered was tested in the lab.

“Both Covishield vaccinated sera and convalescent sera were found to offer protection against the double mutant variant (B.1.167),” said Dr. Rakesh Mishra, Director, CCMB. “This is only a preliminary study involving four-five people for each group, and was carried out among young people who have recovered from prior infection and another group who received Covishield vaccine. Also, the study will involve older people to understand the level of protection.

“The study, though preliminary, does show that vaccination with Covishield offers protection against the double mutant variant. So people should go ahead and get vaccinated quickly,” said Dr. Mishra.

“The preliminary study also suggests that convalescent plasma may offer protection against reinfection with the double mutant variant. Studies using plasma from more recovered and vaccinated people of different age groups are needed for confirmation,” he said.

The institute is carrying out similar studies using plasma from people vaccinated with Covaxin. The B.1.617 variant has two mutations — E484Q and L425R — of concern. According to Dr. Vinod Scaria, a senior scientist at the Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), the two mutations have individually been found to make the virus more infectious and evade antibodies. But their combined effect when found together has not been determined.

Lab studies found that convalescent plasma from recovered people neutralised the double mutant variant almost completely even when the plasma was diluted 20-fold. The relative viral load seen when plasma was diluted 40- and 80-fold was about 2-3%. It was nearly 65% when the plasma was diluted 320-fold.

RBI extends Ways and Means credit for States, UTs to Sept. #GS3 #Economy

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) decided to continue with the existing interim Ways and Means Advances (WMA) scheme limit of Rs. 51,560 crore for all States/ UTs shall for six months i.e., up to September 30, given the prevalence of COVID-19.

Based on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on WMA to State Governments, 2021 — chaired by Sudhir Shrivastava — the RBI had revised the WMA Scheme of States and Union Territories (UTs), it said.

The WMA limit arrived at by the Committee based on total expenditure of States/ UTs, works out to Rs. 47,010 crore. The RBI said it would review the WMA limit thereafter, depending on the course of the pandemic and its impact on the economy.

The Special Drawing Facility (SDF) availed by State Governments/ UTs shall continue to be linked to the quantum of their investments in marketable securities issued by the Government of India, including the Auction Treasury Bills (ATBs), it said.

The net annual incremental investments in Consolidated Sinking Fund (CSF) and Guarantee Redemption Fund (GRF) shall continue to be eligible for availing of SDF, without any upper limit. A uniform hair-cut of 5% shall be applied on the market value of securities, for determining the operating limit of SDF on a daily basis

‘RBI intent is key to curb further rupee weakness’ #GS3 #Economy

The rupee’s near-term fortunes may directly be influenced by the Reserve Bank of India’s intent on preventing any further depreciation in the currency as the surge in COVID-19 cases hits jobs and growth, economists and traders said.

The rupee has already lost 2.6% against the dollar so far this month, putting it on the cusp of marking its worst month since the pandemic hit the country early last year.

“INR [Indian rupee] is likely to trade with a depreciating bias on the back of a stronger dollar, relatively weaker [emerging market or EM] currencies, muted EM inflows and rising COVID-19 cases in India.

A fortnightly Reuters poll showed bearish bets on the rupee climbed to their highest since last April, as the surge in infections has halted what had been seen as a promising growth story in the region.

‘Forecast is for 74.50-76’

The rupee closed at 75.01 to the dollar, and traders said they expect it to stay in the 74.50 to 76.00 range against the greenback in the near-term.

India reported 3,32,730 new daily cases on Friday, the highest single-day tally anywhere globally. Rising cases have been one of the main factors behind the recent fall in the rupee, but the RBI’s decision to commit to large bond purchases has added to downside momentum.

The RBI has committed to buying ₹1 trillion worth bonds in the April-June period in its effort to temper the rise in bond yields to help the government borrow its budgeted ₹12.06 trillion from the market at low interest rates. It said it would do more going forward, and this would be alongside its regular open market bond purchases and special open market operations — the simultaneous sale and purchase of government securities over different tenors — the equivalent of the U.S. Operation Twist.

“We also believe the RBI’s policy priority of keeping a lid on G-sec (government bond) yields is more pressing than arresting INR depreciation,” economists at ANZ wrote. The road ahead for the rupee is likely to be complicated by rising inflation and faltering economic fundamentals.

The RBI has stressed it intervenes to smooth volatility in the forex market. It aggressively bought dollars last year as investors flocked to India but economists are unsure if the intervention on the downside will be as strong.

A weaker rupee helps exports and the RBI may prefer it, said economists. Negative real interest rates, potential GDP and earnings downgrades and rising inflation have also become headwinds.“The INR could continue to weaken in the absence of a strong anchor from the” RBI,”%20RBI%2C%20as%20per%20ANZ.

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