Current Affairs 28th April

After HC rap, ECI bans victory processions on counting day #GS2 #Governance

The Election Commission of India (ECI) banned victory processions after the declaration of Assembly election results in Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, West Bengal and Kerala on May 2 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision came a day after the Madras High Court expressed its displeasure with the Commission for failing to enforce COVID-19 protocols during campaigning in the five States. The court blamed the Commission for the second wave of the pandemic in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

“In view of the surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the country, the Commission has decided to make more stringent provision to be followed during the process of counting, in addition to exiting broad guidelines dated 21st August, 2020.

It said no victory processions would be allowed after the counting of votes and only a maximum of two people would be allowed to accompany the winning candidate or their authorised representative to receive the certificate of election from the Returning Officer.

The Commission had issued guidelines for elections in August last year and then reiterated them during the latest Assembly elections.

After finding that political parties and candidates had been flouting the COVID-19 guidelines, the Commission had issued warnings before banning campaigning from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. and extending the silence period before polling from 48 hours to 72 hours on April 16. However, the decision came after the polling was over in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and three of the eight phases were remaining in West Bengal.

High Court order

The Madras High Court held that though polling was by and large peaceful in Tamil Nadu, the “Election Commission could not ensure the political parties adhered to the COVID-19 protocol at the time of election campaigns and rallies”. The High Court observed that in light of the ongoing surge in cases, the counting of votes on May 2 should not result in a further spike.

“Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that Constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard.

India may get major share of U.S. vaccine exports #GS2 #IR

“Our Prime Minister has been assured that India will be given priority; the ratio of Indian share is being worked out,” said the official, who is involved in the negotiations with the U.S. authorities.

We are also assuring them that once COVID cases decline, we will manufacture and distribute vaccines to other nations, in line with a pact among the Quad group of nations comprising the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.

Both officials declined to be named ahead of a formal announcement of beneficiaries by the United States. The Prime Minister’s Office and India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The first source also said the government would help Indian States import vaccines. “We are facilitating. “Some States have the money and they are willing to pay for it, whether it’s for local or imported vaccines.

SC refuses to interfere in work of HCs #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court cannot remain a “mute spectator” in the face of a national calamity. However, the top court will not interfere in the work done by the various High Courts to monitor life-saving COVID-19 management amid a second wave of the pandemic.

The Bench sat for almost the whole day, grilling the Centre, the States and the authorities on the various aspects of COVID management in a suo motu hearing called, ‘In re distribution of essential supplies and services during COVID-19’.

“During a national crisis, the Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator. The role of the SC is complementary in nature. The court will examine issues which travel beyond the boundaries of States and have national repercussions,” the Bench assuaged apprehensions that the top court would derail the ongoing work of various HCs.

“The Supreme Court will examine issues which travel beyond the boundaries of States and have national repercussions,” the Bench assuaged apprehensions that the top court would derail the ongoing work of various High Courts.

Over 11 High Courts are hearing COVID-19 related cases and passing orders on a daily basis.

“High Courts are best suited to make an assessment of ground realities in each State and find flexible solutions for problems faced by citizens. No need to interfere in the work of the High Courts,” the Bench observed.

The Bench questioned the Centre about its vaccine pricing policy. It asked why different manufacturers were rating their vaccines differently. Justice Bhat asked whether the Centre should not invoke a statutory regime and introduce uniform rates. The Bench asked how vaccines sold in private hospitals turn out more expensive.

“What is the rationale or basis for different manufacturers coming out with different prices. What is the Centre doing about it? Control the prices and bring them under a statutory regime under the Drugs Control Act or the Patents Act.

Enforcing COVID-19 rules is State responsibility, says ECI #GS2 #Governance

The Election Commission of India said that the enforcement of COVID-19 protocols under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 was the responsibility of the State authorities, a day after the Madras High Court said the ECI was unable to ensure political parties followed the rules while campaigning for the Assembly election.

In its oral observations, the Madras High Court blamed the ECI for the second wave of COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, where polling was held on April 6 and counting of votes is scheduled for May 2.

In a statement, the ECI said on Tuesday that “the statements being attributed to the Hon’ble High Court in certain sections of media do not find mention in the order finally passed”.

The ECI said it would comply with the directions of the court and apprise it of the steps taken to ensure safe elections.

“The enforcement under the 2005 Act has to be ensured by the SDMA [State Disaster Management Authority] concerned and notified authorities under the Act. The Commission has always emphasised in its 21.8.2020 and all subsequent instructions that the State authorities shall ensure COVID-19 compliance in the matter of public gatherings, etc. for campaign purposes. At no occasion, the Commission takes over the task of SDMA for enforcement of COVID-19 instructions,” it said.

It added that the campaign for the Tamil Nadu polls ended on April 4 and “fortunately, the second wave of COVID-19 was yet to be visible fully by that time.”

The ECI said polling was conducted while following COVID-appropriate measures. It added that Tamil Nadu ordered lockdown restrictions due to the second surge from April 20, 16 days after the campaign ended.

U.S. disagrees with social media policy #GS2 #IR

The Biden administration has said the Modi government’s orders to remove social media content critical of New Delhi’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak is not in sync with the U.S. views on freedom of speech. Well, that certainly wouldn’t be aligned with our view of freedom of speech around the world.

Twitter had removed over 50 posts at the behest of the government in recent days. Most of these were critical of the Centre — including it’s decision to allow mass gatherings like the Kumbh Mela, a shortage of beds and medicines, and so forth.

Government hits out at Australian paper #GS2 #IR

Facing a barrage of criticism from a number of international newspapers for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, the government hit out at The Australian newspaper for reproducing an article that portrayed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a poor light, accusing him of “leading India” into a “viral apocalypse”.

In a letter addressed to the Editor of the Australian newspaper Christian Dore, the Indian High Commission in Canberra said that the article sought to “undermine” the Modi government for its approach to the pandemic, which the government said had been “universally acclaimed”.

“It is astonishing to see that your respected publication has chosen to reproduce a baseless malicious and slanderous article without bothering to check the facts of the case with any authorities in the Government of India,” said the rejoinder, signed by India’s Deputy High Commissioner, who claimed that last year’s lockdown, the ongoing vaccination drive, an upgradation in diagnostics and treatment facilities, as well as India’s “Vaccine Maitri” initiative, where it exported 66 million vaccines to 80 countries (now 95 countries), were counters to the article’s assertions.

The High Commission also said that it was unfair to blame the current coronavirus surge, that has seen new cases in India rise to record levels, on what it called a “restricted” election campaign by Mr. Modi, and “one religious gathering”, referring to the organisation of the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar in April that saw millions of devotees gather over the past month at the Ganga.

It is unclear why the government chose to respond to the article in Canberra, given that it had been reproduced from the original article in The Sunday Times , in the U.K. previously, and is one of the several scathing columns written internationally about the government’s response.

The Sydney Morning Herald also published a piece, written by the former High Commissioner to India and board member of the Australia India Institute John McCarthy that said that Mr. Modi’s government “has not distinguished itself” by allowing the Kumbh Mela and going ahead with massive rallies as the coronavirus pandemic spread.

“Demonstrating both the government’s desperation and its regrettable inclination towards autocracy, over the weekend it banned on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, social media posts critical of its handling of the pandemic,” he added, referring to the Ministry of Information Technology’s reported requests for social media posts to be taken down.

Indian govt. did not request ready-to-use vaccines, says U.S. #GS2 #IR

The Biden administration has said the Government of India did not request it ready-to-use vaccines, as pressure has been mounting on the U.S. to give out vaccines to India, which is in the throes of a massive COVID-19 outbreak. A senior official told The Hindu, during a briefing call with reporters, that no specific request for vaccines was made by the Modi government.

American lawmakers and other influential voices have been calling for the U.S. to donate its spare vaccines, particularly some of the tens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Just to be clear, right now we have zero doses available of AstraZeneca in which a remarkable amount of time was spent on questions and answers about India.

Ms. Psaki said approximately 10 million doses could be released if and when the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) clears those — a process that could be completed in the coming weeks. Another 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca are expected to be ready in May and June.

The White House COVID-19 and National Security teams, working with other government departments, are going to assess the needs and requests around the world, she said.

Three other vaccines are approved in the U.S. — from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Indian is facing a shortage of vaccines. The Hindu has reached out to the Indian Embassy for comment on why ready-to-use vaccines were not on the list of requests for U.S. assistance.

A U.S. official said among India’s requests however were oxygen and related supplies, with COVID-19 patients dying due to a lack of oxygen, as per reports in the media. The official said the Department of Defense (DoD) and the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) were working on getting oxygen generation systems to India, including by re-routing shipments. The DoD is also looking at field oxygen generations systems, which could support 50-100 beds.

In addition, the U.S. is planning to facilitate training in India and technical discussions are under way around whether these devices can be connected to Indian systems. A “strike team” is also being deployed to the U.S. Embassy in India, to work with Indian experts including in laboratory-related services.

States have 1 crore doses: Centre #GS3 #SnT

A day ahead of when India opens vaccine registration for all over 18, figures from the Health Ministry show that relative to stocks, Tamil Nadu reported a high percentage of vaccine wastage of nearly 8.83%.

Only Lakshwadeep had a higher wastage ratio of 9.76%. Assam, Manipur and Haryana ranked after Tamil Nadu in wastage of vaccines at 7.7%, 7.4% and 5.2%, respectively.

Over 1 crore vaccine doses remain in stock with the States. An additional 80 lakh will be made available to them in the next three days, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

U.P. on top

Uttar Pradesh had the most available doses, about 1 million, followed by Maharashtra with 9,00,000 doses and Bihar which has 7,50,000 doses. Maharashtra led the table of vaccines administered with 1.4 crore doses followed by Rajasthan (1.3 crore), Uttar Pradesh (1.23 crore) and Gujarat (1.21 crore).

These were also the States that had so far received the most number of doses, again in that order. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Mizoram, Odisha were the States that had reported no vaccine shortage.

The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country on Tuesday touched 14.5 crore.

These include 93,24,770 healthcare workers who have taken the first dose and 60,60,718 in that category who have taken the second dose, 1,21,10,258 (first dose) and 64,25,992 (second dose) frontline workers, 5,05,77,743 first dose and 87,31,091 second dose beneficiaries aged over 60 and 4,93,48,238 first dose and 26,92,376 second dose beneficiaries aged 45 to 60.

As many as 3.1 million vaccine doses were given in the past 24 hours. As many as 19,73,778 beneficiaries were vaccinated across 22,797 sessions for the first dose, and 12,00,910 beneficiaries received the second dose of the vaccine.

Timely support important: Rawat #GS3 #DM

Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat on Tuesday called upon the armed forces to rise to the occasion and support the civil administration in creating COVID-19 mitigation facilities in a time-bound manner. “Timely support at this juncture is important.

The Services have pressed in personnel and resources to assist the civil administration in dealing with the pandemic.

Reviewing the situation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, Gen. Rawat said oxygen cylinders available with the armed forces at various establishments will be released for hospitals.

The IAF has deployed heavy transport aircraft to transport cryogenic oxygen containers from several countries which have been procured as part of commercial agreements and transfer oxygen containers within the country.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh approved temporary hiring of additional contractual staff in 51 high pressure Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme(ECHS) polyclinics to cater to veterans and their dependants.

“The contractual staff, including one each of medical officer, nursing assistant, pharmacist, driver and chowkidar for identified ECHS polyclinics, will be hired through station headquarters for night duty, beyond normal working hours, for three months, the statement said. The validity of this sanction is up to August 15, 2021.

Navy’s oxygen express

The Navy too had launched an oxygen express via the sea to transport cylinders and other supplies to Lakshadweep. The second consignment as part of this was sent on Tuesday. The Navy’s IN LCU 55 arrived in Port Blair on Monday with oxygen cylinders and Multi feed Oxygen Manifolds, manufactured by the Naval Dockyard, Vizag.

Aid pours in from the world #GS2 #IR

Nearly 15 countries, including the U.S., Russia, France and the U.K., are rushing critical emergency use equipment to help India counter the COVID-19 second wave. A compilation from the External Affairs Ministry showed that countries are sending hundreds of oxygen concentrators, respirators and large quantities of liquid oxygen to help ease the difficult situation.

Out of the promised international assistance, a large chunk is expected from the U.S., following President Joe Biden’s telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 26

An important part of support from the United States will include raw materials required for production of the vaccines here.

Vaccine manufacture

Under the Quad Vaccine Initiative, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is funding a substantial expansion of manufacturing capability for BioE, a vaccine manufacturer in India. It is expected that BioE may produce 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by 2022.

Assistance from the leading economies of the world is expected to reach in multiple phases with France this week sending eight large oxygen generating plants and items such as respirators and electric syringe pushers. The French government is on track to send five liquid oxygen containers next week. Germany will make an oxygen production plant available for three months along with 120 ventilators and protective gear such as KN95 masks.

Australia announced that it will send 500 ventilators, 1 million surgical masks, 5,00,000 P2 and N95 masks, and other protective items for frontline health workers. The Hindu had earlier reported citing official sources that Delhi is looking for oxygen-related items.

Accordingly, four cryogenic oxygen containers were sourced from Singapore. Saudi Arabia has sent 80 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen which is currently en route via sea. Thailand and the United Arab Emirates have sent four and six cryogenic oxygen tanks respectively.

As many as 800 oxygen concentrators were sent by Hong Kong. Ireland is on track to send 70 of this equipment.

The international campaign to support India appeared to intensify with more countries joining the effort by late Tuesday. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has also received calls from Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Mohammed Al Sabah offering support. Both countries discussed ways to strengthen efforts to deal with the second wave.

U.S. pharma firm to donate remdesivir #GS2 #IR

Gilead Sciences, the U.S. manufacturers of anti-viral drug remdesivir, used in the treatment of COVID-19, has announced that it will donate at least 4,50,000 vials of the drug, under the brand name Veklury, to the government of India.

Russia had planned to supply up to 4,00,000 doses of the anti-viral drug but those plans had run into trouble over intellectual property rights. The Indian government was trying to procure them directly from the U.S. as a consequence.

Gilead said it will provide technical assistance to its seven Indian licences so they can expand production capacity and donate active pharmaceutical ingredients (API). Last week, the Centre had announced that India’s monthly production capacity was being increased from 38 lakh vials to 74 lakh vials.

“Gilead is also committed to providing support to voluntary licences based outside of India to increase their production capacity. Gilead’s planned support will include the donation of API to licences with a view to accelerate production.

China ‘ready to support’ India, offers vaccines to South Asia #GS2 #IR

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday offered Chinese vaccines to countries in South Asia to ensure “a more diversified and stable” regional supply and said Beijing was also “ready to provide support and assistance” to India.

Mr. Wang was speaking at the fourth multilateral dialogue involving countries in South Asia on coordinating their COVID-19 responses and economic recoveries. The virtual dialogue involving the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka marked China’s stepped up engagement in the region following the pandemic, and was the latest in a series of meetings involving all countries in South Asia barring India, Bhutan and the Maldives.

China previously held a meeting of Foreign Ministers with Afghanistan, Nepal, and Pakistan, a dialogue with Vice-Foreign Ministers involving Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as a meeting at the Director General level of the six countries that again met on Tuesday.

Assistance to India

Mr. Wang said at the meet that China had “extended an invitation to India” and also expressed its sympathy and condolences amid the current COVID-19 surge. He said China is “ready to provide support and assistance to the Indian people at any time according to the needs of India”.

The Chinese Foreign Minister called on the six countries to work together in fighting against COVID-19 and said China was prepared to offer its vaccines through flexible arrangements to ensure “more diversified and stable” vaccine supplies for countries in South Asia. China has also raised a proposal of establishing an emergency reserve for supplies for South Asian countries.

Mr. Wang called on the countries, all of which are involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, to explore “fast channels” to enable exchanges of people and commodities and said China would establish a poverty reduction development cooperation centre for South Asia to share its experiences.

Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali in a statement said the country supported the need for “an enhanced level of regional and international cooperation for COVID-19 response and economic recovery”.

Nepal’s Foreign Ministry said China had agreed to provide Nepal “with an additional grant of medical equipment and materials equivalent to 5 million RMB [around Rs 5.7 crore] to complement national efforts in fighting against COVID-19.”

ADB sees India grow by 11%, adds caveat #GS3 #Economy

The Asian Development Bank has raised its forecast for India’s growth in 2021-22 to 11%, from 8% earlier, even as it warned that failure to control the resurgence of COVID-19 cases including April’s exponential jump poses a “considerable downside risk to the recovery”.

‘Targeted containment’

In its assessment based on end-March data, the ADB cited this year’s ‘more targeted’ containment measures compared with last year’s ‘large-scale’ national lockdown and said these would prove ‘less costly’ to the economy, which had seen a strong rebound in recent months’ economic indicators after last year’s ‘big recession’.

“A stimulus-fuelled surge in the U.S., India’s largest export market, will support the revival, but a severe second COVID-19 wave is threatening the recovery,” the lender said in its Asian Development Outlook report, projecting growth to moderate to 7% in 2022-23, after a 11% expansion this year. Government capex and accommodative financial policies, along with the vaccine roll-out programme this year, would also help.

“Risks to the outlook tilt to the downside. The second wave of COVID-19 cases is worrying, especially if vaccine roll-out falters or fails to contain it. Another risk is a further tightening of global financial conditions, which would apply pressure on India’s market interest rates and therefore affect economic normalisation, adding that a likely pick-up in private investment could be dented as rising bad loans could discourage India’s banks from undertaking fresh lending.

The lender sees India’s average inflation rate slowing to 5.2% this year from 6.2% last fiscal, and reverting to 4.8% (recorded in 2019-20), over the succeeding 12 months. “Inflation is projected to moderate as good harvests and supply chain recovery contain domestic food inflation even as global food prices rise, though oil prices… may exert some inflationary pressure,” the ADB noted, adding that gasoline taxes had spurred fuel inflation last year even though oil prices had been low.

“The projections are based on data and information up to March 31, so we were already aware… of the rise in cases,” said Abdul Abiad, ADB’s director for macroeconomic research.

“Obviously, throughout the month of April, cases have risen exponentially and that really poses a downside risk. We need to monitor the situation closely; depending on how that evolves and the policies implemented to respond to that, we may have to revise our forecast in July.”

How SARS coronaviruses use host cells to produce proteins and replicate #GS3 #SnT

Coronavirus researchers have discovered how SARS viruses enhance the production of viral proteins in infected cells, so that many new copies of the virus can be generated. Notably, coronaviruses other than SARS-CoV (which causes SARS) and SARS-CoV-2 (which causes Covid-19) do not use this mechanism, the researchers said. This may therefore provide a possible explanation for the much higher pathogenicity of the SARS viruses, they report in the EMBO Journal.

Coronaviruses that cause harmless colds in humans were discovered more than 50 years ago. When it emerged in 2002-03, the SARS coronavirus was the first coronavirus found to cause severe pneumonia in infected people. From comparisons of the RNA genomes of innocuous coronaviruses with those of the SARS coronavirus, researchers identified a region that only occurred in the latter, and was called the “SARS-unique domain” (SUD). Such genomic regions and their protein products might be linked to the extraordinary pathogenicity of SARS coronavirus and its cousin, SARS-CoV-2, they said.

The research groups involved in the new study showed that the SUD proteins of these two viruses interact with a human protein called Paip-1, which is involved in the first steps of protein synthesis. Together with Paip-1 and other proteins in human cells, SUD apparently binds to the ribosomes, the molecular machines that are responsible for protein synthesis in cells. This would lead to an enhancement of the production of all proteins, both those of the host cell and those of the virus. However, in cells infected with SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-2, the messenger RNA molecules that code for host proteins are selectively destroyed by a viral protein named Nsp1. As a result of this complicated process, the infected cell predominantly produces viral proteins, so that many new copies of the virus can be created.

A research group led by Albrecht von Brunn of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich discovered the interaction between the proteins SUD and Paip-1 several years ago. “Being an experienced coronavirologist, I knew that one has to inspect the special regions of the SARS genome when trying to understand this virus,” he said in a statement released by Ludwig Maximilian University.

A research group led by Professor Rolf Hilgenfeld of the University of Lübeck, meanwhile, had already elucidated the three-dimensional structure of the SUD protein some years previously. The two research groups teamed up. Dr Jian Lei in Hilgenfeld’s group, a group leader at Sichuan University in Chengdu (China), meanwhile, crystallised the complex formed by SUD and Paip-1 and determining its three-dimensional structure by X-ray crystallography. And co-first author Dr Yue “Lizzy” Ma-Lauer of von Brunn’s group characterised the complex of the two proteins and its function using a variety of cell-biological and biophysical methods, Ludwig Maximilian University said in the statement

“Interaction studies of this kind between coronavirus proteins and proteins of the infected human cell will help us understand how the viruses change key functions of the cell to their own benefit,” the university quoted Hilgenfeld as saying.

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