Current Affairs 24th January 2021

India, China to hold 9th round of talks today #GS2 #IR

India and China are scheduled to hold the ninth round of Corps Commander talks after a long delay in the senior military-level talks to work out a phased disengagement and de-escalation along the disputed border in Eastern Ladakh.

The Indian stand continues to be complete disengagement and de-escalation along the entire Eastern ladakh.

No progress

After the sixth round on September 21, both sides for the first time issued a joint statement in which they agreed to “stop sending more troops to the frontline” and “refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground”. There has been no progress towards resolution in the subsequent rounds.

He had also downplayed reports of Chinese troop withdrawal from the training areas in the depth which he said were 500-1,500 km away from the border and one should not lay “too much significance” on these comings and goings.

With the long-term view, the Army is reorganising some of its strike elements from the western border to the northern border for deployment along the LAC.

Benefits of the NewsRecent India-China talks

India-France air exercise concludes #GS2 #IR

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat flew on a French Air Force mid-air refueller aircraft at the India-France air exercise Desert Knight 2021. The IAF is looking at leasing six mid-air refuelling tankers for which Airbus A330 is the lead contender.

A first-of-its-kind bilateral exercise, Rafale aircraft from both sides along with Su-30 MKI and Mirage 2000 aircraft of the IAF undertook complex missions.

Both Air Forces exercised in realistic settings to enhance operational capabilities. The exercise provided an opportunity to share best practices and evolve operational concepts; particularly for effective combat employment of the Rafale fleet.

Benefits of the NewsAbout India- France relations one addition point.

Maharashtra to unlock history in prisons #GS1 #History

The Maharashtra government is set to launch “jail tourism” under which historically significant jails in Maharashtra, which are still being used as penal centres, will be opened to visitors to see the barracks where freedom fighters were imprisoned by the British.

Pune’s Yerawada Jail will be opened for first-of-its-kind jail tourism from January 26. Freedom fighters including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Motilal Nehru, Lokmanya Tilak and Subhas Chandra Bose were imprisoned by the British in different jails in Maharashtra during the freedom struggle.

The famous Poona Pact between Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi took place beneath a mango tree at Yerawada jail. In 1899, the Chapekar brothers were given death sentence in this jail. Schools, colleges, educational institutions will be given the chance to see these historic places under the jail tourism project.

Terrorists Jinda and Sukha, who murdered General Vaidya, and Mumbai attack convict Ajmal Kasab were all hanged in the same jail.

Benefits of the NewsNew point about Jail Tourism for example.

More flash droughts in India by end of century #GS3 #Environment

Flash droughts

Flash droughts are those that occur very quickly, with soil moisture depleting rapidly. Normally, developing drought conditions take months, but these happen within a week or in two weeks’ time. Several factors including atmospheric anomalies, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions play an important role.

Hopeful note

If we can meet the ‘Paris Agreement’ goals and limit global warming to well below 2 degrees C, the numbers and frequency of the projected flash droughts may go down. The top five flash droughts based on the overall severity score occurred in 1979 followed by 2009,1951, 1986 and 2005.

To predict the future flash droughts the team used a Community Earth System Model which simulates the summer monsoon precipitation, sea surface temperature, role of El Nino Southern Oscillation, and air temperature over India. 

The analysis showed a considerable rise in the frequency of extremely dry and hot years in the coming three decades. They also examined the role of greenhouse gas emissions, industrial aerosols, and land-use/land-cover change. The frequency of concurrent hot and dry extremes is projected to rise by about five-fold, causing an approximately seven-fold increase in flash droughts like 1979 by the end of the 21st century.

They conclude that this increased frequency of flash droughts can have deleterious implications for crop production, irrigation demands and groundwater abstraction in India.

Predicting droughts

The team has planned future studies that will consider the flash-drought prediction ahead of time using operational meteorological forecasts from India Meteorological Department. They explain that this will help manage irrigation water demands and avoid considerable losses in agriculture.

Benefits of the NewsAbout Flash floods data.

Testing the efficacy of a nasal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine #GS3 #SnT

The story so far: Recently, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation recommended granting permission for phase 1 human clinical trials for Bharat Biotech’s nasal COVID-19 vaccine, BBV154. The nasal route has excellent potential for vaccination due to the organised immune systems of the nasal mucosa. Effectively, intranasal candidates have shown good potential for protection in animal studies conducted thus far.

What is a nasal vaccine?

An intranasal vaccine does exactly what it says it does — deliver a vaccine through a spritz through the nostrils. The advantages of this method of vaccine delivery over the injection and oral forms are quite apparent. The method comes with the guarantee of better compliance and the advantage of lower costs. But only clinical trials can determine whether such a vaccine with an easy delivery mechanism can be efficacious too.

In August 2020, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine said they had developed a nasal vaccine that targets the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Science Daily reported the study published in Cell , a journal, specifying that the vaccine could be given in one dose via the nose and was effective in preventing infection in mice susceptible to the novel coronavirus. 

The investigators then revealed their plan to test the vaccine further on non-human primates and humans. “We were happily surprised to see a strong immune response in the cells of the inner lining of the nose and upper airway — and profound protection from infection with this virus.

These mice were well protected from disease. And in some of the mice, we saw evidence of sterilising immunity, where there is no sign of infection whatsoever after the mouse is challenged with the virus.

Is the vaccine suitable for COVID-19?

The Washington University study, while doing a comparison, found that while a COVID-19 vaccine injection (at that stage) induced an immune response that prevented pneumonia, it did not prevent infection in the nose and lungs. Such a vaccine might reduce the severity of COVID-19, but it could not prevent infected individuals from spreading the virus, said the study.

A study published in Science Direct in December 2020 showed the pre-clinical efficacy of a lentiviral vector, delivered nasally, as a COVID-19 vaccine. The authors said targeting the immune response to the upper respiratory tract provides critical protection, and intranasal vaccination induces protective mucosal immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 in rodents. 

Given that the SARS-CoV-2 virus shows a proclivity to dwell in the upper respiratory tract for a prolonged period of time, a safe and efficacious nasal vaccine is well-placed to target the literal entry point of the virus into the body.

Earlier this month, researchers at Lancaster University working with the Biomedical Research Institute in Texas claimed they had administered two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine via a nasal spray in animals, and this had elicited robust antibodies and T-cell responses that were enough to be able to neutralise SARS-CoV-2.

Are there other such nasal vaccines?

So far, intranasal vaccination is being used only for influenza . However, it cannot be used on certain groups of people, particularly those who have compromised immune systems. Science Daily reports that “the new COVID-19 intranasal vaccine in the Washington University study does not use a live virus capable of replication, presumably making it safer”. The Bharat Biotech vaccine also rides on an adenovirus vector.

Will it be a game changer?

Dr. V.K. Paul, a neonatologist and member of the NITI Aayog, said, “It looks like an exciting development because potentially, yes, this route can be used to deliver the safe antigen against which an immunological response would happen.

U.S. & climate action #GS2 #IR #GS3 #Environment

The story so far: Joe Biden assumed office as President of the United States on January 20, 2021, and among the first orders he signed was one to restore America’s participation in the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change. 

His decision on America’s return will take effect on February 19, which would be 107 days after its withdrawal under the Donald Trump administration became formal on November 4, 2020. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. played an active role in climate negotiations, although the Copenhagen UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in 2009 failed to produce a consensus, and member-countries only acknowledged the science, without committing themselves to greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions-reduction targets. 

By 2015, the negotiations progressed with the Obama administration engaging in diplomacy, resulting in the Paris Agreement premised on voluntary targets for national emissions cuts. On the long road to Paris, the U.S., under George W. Bush, had pulled out of the previous pact, the Kyoto Protocol, in 2001.

What changes did the Trump administration make on climate?

The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement meant that the U.S. was no longer bound by its national pledge made under the pact: to achieve an economy-wide reduction of its GHG emissions by 26%-28% below the 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce emissions. America also stopped its contribution to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, to which it had pledged $3 billion, after transferring an estimated $1 billion.

On the contrary, the Trump regime focused on, among other things, relaxing controls on emissions from fossil fuel-based industries, diluting standards on air quality and vehicular emissions, hydrofluorocarbon leaking and venting from air-conditioning systems, loosening the way the government calculated the social cost of carbon, restraining individual States such as California from setting higher standards, revoking protection for natural habitats, including the Arctic sought by the oil and gas industry, and for individual wildlife species. 

In all, more than 100 environmental rules were tinkered with by the administration, with some rule reversals remaining in process when the presidential election took place, and others taken to court. 

The Clean Power Plan, a major provision from the Obama-era to cut power sector emissions by 32% over 2005 levels by 2030, was initially replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, with a reduction effect of only 0.7%. 

What areas will Mr. Biden focus on to cut emissions?

The U.S. accounts for 15% of global GHG emissions, but it is the biggest legacy contributor of atmosphere-warming gases. Transport (28%) and power (27%) are the two biggest national sectors contributing to GHG emissions, followed by industry (22%) and agriculture (10%)

Commercial and residential emissions together make up only 13% . Significantly, 10% of U.S. emissions are methane, which has a greater warming effect than CO2, and 81% is carbon dioxide. The rest is made up of nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

The plan revolves around 10 million well-paying clean energy jobs with a focus on solar and wind power, close linkages between university research and the private sector modelled on the post-World War II economy, active support for carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and a renaissance in green transport that includes the “second great railroad revolution” in a country that starved the railways to promote cars and road freight.

How effective are the two COVID-19 vaccines rolled out in India, and are there concerns about safety? #GS3 #SnT

The story so far: Two COVID-19 vaccines, Covaxin and Covishield, after being granted emergency use authorisation, were rolled out on January 16 across India to inoculate 3 crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase of the vaccination drive. Both the vaccines have been manufactured in India. 

While Covaxin is produced under a collaboration between Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research, Covishield has been developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University with the Serum Institute of India conducting clinical trials of the vaccine in the country and also manufacturing the vaccine for India and low- and middle-income countries.

What are the known side effects of the two vaccines?

Covishield is made of a weakened and modified version of adenovirus (a common cold virus) that causes infections in chimpanzees and contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein. After vaccination, the surface spike protein is produced, priming the immune system to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if it later infects the body.

Common side effects of the vaccine include tenderness, pain, redness, itching, swelling or bruising, fatigue, chills or feeling feverish, headache, nausea, joint pain or muscle ache, a lump at the injection site, fever, vomiting and flu-like symptoms, such as high temperature, sore throat, runny nose, cough and chills. Feeling dizzy, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, enlarged lymph nodes, excessive sweating, itchy skin or rash are the uncommon side effects of the vaccines. Apart from this, “serious and unexpected side effects may occur.

Bharat Biotech in its fact sheet notes that besides the listed side effects, Covaxin, in rare cases, can also cause a severe allergic reaction. “Although rare, signs of this include difficulty in breathing, swelling of your face and throat, a fast heart rate, rash all over the body and dizziness and weakness.

Who should not be taking the vaccines?

Cross-use of either of the vaccines is not permitted and the vaccines are contraindicated for pregnant and lactating women.

Besides this, Covaxin should not be given to those who are immune compromised or are on medication for the same, individuals with a history of allergies, those who have a fever, a bleeding disorder or are on a blood thinner, as per information released by the company. Similarly, Covishield, which is allowed for restricted use in emergency situations in individuals 18 years of age and older, should not be used by people who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient of the vaccine or had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose. 

Beneficiaries are also to tell medical staff about any bleeding disorder, an immune compromised medical condition, and the medication for that. Healthcare workers should also be informed if the beneficiary has got another vaccine shot.

Why is an effective and safe vaccine important?

The development of safe, effective, affordable, and deployable vaccines against COVID-19 is paramount for tackling the COVID-19 crisis and re-establishing normality.

 We report on the first clinical efficacy results of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 [Covishield] in a pooled analysis of phase 2/3 trials in the UK and Brazil, and safety data from more than 20,000 participants enrolled across four clinical trials in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa. 

ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 has an acceptable safety profile and is efficacious against symptomatic COVID-19, with no hospital admissions or severe cases reported in the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 arm. The vaccine can be stored and distributed at 2–8°C, making it particularly suitable for global distribution.

Covaxin has demonstrated the ability to produce antibodies against COVID-19. However, the clinical efficacy of the vaccine is yet to be established and it is still being studied in phase 3 clinical trials, said the company.

Both the vaccine makers note that receiving the vaccine does not mean that other precautions against COVID-19 need not be followed.

What should be done in case of side effects?

While the Health Ministry has claimed that so far, there have been no serious or severe reactions after vaccination, it is advised that you call a healthcare provider if you have any side effects that bother you or which do not go away. The Ministry says that if one experiences a severe allergic reaction, they must go to the nearest hospital. 

The Health Ministry has now also updated its Co-WIN system for “enhanced safety of the beneficiaries”. It said the enhanced system allows tagging of contraindications in the vaccinator module. “The improved module also allows the creation of more session sites and change in site location. It also facilitates the planning and scheduling of the sessions for the entire week.

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