- WHO alert on airborne spread of SARS-nCoV2
- WHO sets up panel to probe its virus response
- Australia ends Hong Kong extradition treaty
- Centre urges SC against direct relief in scam cases
- Lack of air pollution data puts Indians at risk
Focus: GS-III Science and Technology
Why in news?
Union Health Ministry said it was closely watching the dynamic evolution of the virus situation in India, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) now indicating that the virus may be airborne.
WHO on Airborne spread of COVID-19
- After earlier denials, the WHO said there is evidence emerging of the airborne spread of the coronavirus, after over 230 scientists across the world urged the global body to update its guidance.
- Currently the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19 is being inspected and discussed.
- Data indicates that 25% population (above 45 years) has witnessed 85% deaths, while 10% population (above 60 years) has witnessed more than 50% deaths.
- The Health Ministry said it is reviewing the drug remdesivir for use among COVID patients after the drug indicated negative impact on the liver function.
- An airborne disease is any disease that is caused by pathogens that can be transmitted through the air over time and distance by small particles.
- The relevant pathogens may be spread through breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing, raising of dust, spraying of liquids, toilet flushing or any activities which generate aerosol particles or droplets.
Airborne vs Respiratory Droplets
- Airborne transmission is distinct from transmission by respiratory droplets.
- Respiratory droplets are large enough to fall to the ground rapidly after being produced (usually greater than 5 μm), as opposed to the smaller particles that carry airborne pathogens.
- Also, while respiratory droplets consist mostly of water, airborne particles are relatively dry, which damages many pathogens so that their ability to transmit infection is lessened or eliminated.
-Source: The Hindu
Focus: GS-II International Relations
Why in news?
The World Health Organization, which faced fierce U.S. criticism over its handling of the coronavirus crisis, launched an independent panel to review its response to the pandemic.
- Through the Independent panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the world will understand the truth of what happened and also the solutions to build our future better as one humanity.
- At their annual assembly WHO member states agreed to an independent probe into the UN agency’s coronavirus response, following repeated U.S. attacks.
- The panel will stage one mission briefing per month to give updates, while it will present an interim report to the next World Health Assembly gathering.
Background to the Situation: What other countries said/did
- President Donald Trump threatened to freeze US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), saying the international group had “missed the call” on the coronavirus pandemic, and accusing the WHO was very “Chinacentric” in its approach. U.S. suggested that the WHO had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to under-represent the severity of the outbreak.
- The resolution, tabled by the European Union, called for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation”.
- Australia and other countries also were suggestive of inquiry into the WHO’s handling of the pandemic in the early stages.
The United States formally started its withdrawal from the WHO.
This comes as a follow up on the threats to deprive the UN body of its top donor, the U.S. over its management of the pandemic.
World Health Organization (WHO)
- The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.
- It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
- Its main objective is ensuring “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”
- The WHO’s broad mandate includes advocating for universal healthcare, monitoring public health risks, coordinating responses to health emergencies, and promoting human health and well-being.
- The World Health Assembly (WHA), composed of representatives from all 194 member states, serves as the agency’s supreme decision-making body.
World Health Assembly (WHA)
- The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO.
- It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.
- The Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland (sometimes in special sessions).
The main functions of the World Health Assembly are:
- To determine the policies of the Organization
- Appoint the Director-General
- Supervise financial policies
- Review and approve the proposed programme budget.
- Reporting to the Economic and Social Council in accordance with any agreement between the Organization and the United Nations.
-Source: The Hindu
Focus: GS-II International Relations
Why in news?
Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended visas for Hong Kong residents in response to China’s imposition of a tough national security law on the semi-autonomous territory.
- Australia announced a range of visas that will be extended from two to five years and offers of pathways to permanent residency visas, although, it is not clear how many Hong Kongers are expected to get the extensions.
- The move comes after China bypassed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to impose the sweeping security legislation without public consultation.
- Critics view it as a further deterioration of freedoms promised to the former British colony.
The Controversial Law
- The national security law prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs.
- Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
Have other countries done something similar?
- Britain, too, is extending residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas passports, allowing them to live and work in the U.K. for five years.
- US parliament unanimous passed a bill that would impose sanctions on entities that help violate Hong Kong’s autonomy and financial institutions that do business with them.
- Canada has suspected its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and is looking at other options including migration.
- China last week warned Australia against “interfering in China’s internal affairs with Hong Kong.”
- The Party warned that “no one should underestimate the repercussions to the Australian economy from a further deterioration of bilateral ties.”
-Source: The Hindu
Focus: GS-II Governance
Why in news?
The Union government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court suggesting there was a trend of people accused in high-value economic offences approaching the Supreme Court directly — instead of an appropriate court — to get protection from arrest.
- In 44 such instances where economic offenders had approached SC, the court had granted relief to them, significantly affecting the ability of investigative agencies to go about their probes into these cases.
- Large-scale financial frauds, the accused were consciously not resorting to the remedy available under the law — applying to the court of sessions or high court for bail – under section 438 of the CrPC (criminal procedure code) or other statutory remedies.
- Instead they approach the Supreme Court directly under Article 32 of the Constitution for protection from arrest by investigating agencies.
- The grounds cited for claiming such relief is usually that the constitutional validity of the special laws under which action is being taken against them, are under challenge.
Handling the situation
- The Government wanted SC to ask the petitioners to follow the prescribed legal route by appearing before the appropriate lower courts.
- The CJI has asked for a list of such cases heard by different benches and has listed the matter “along with other similar matters”.
- Under Indian criminal law, there is a provision for anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
- This provision allows a person to seek bail in anticipation of an arrest on accusation of having committed a non-bailable offence.
- Anticipatory bail is a direction to release a person on bail, issued even before the person is arrested.
- It is only issued by the Sessions Court and High Court.
- When any person apprehends that there is a move to get him arrested on false or trumped up charges, or due to enmity with someone, or he fears that a false case is likely to be built up against him, he has the right to move for grant of bail in the event of his arrest, and the court may, if it thinks fit, direct that in the event of such arrest, he shall be released on bail.
-Source: Hindustan Times
Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology
Why in news?
India is among seven countries that does not share air pollution data in a fully transparent manner despite it being termed as “the greatest environmental risk to health” by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Highlights of a report
- The report highlighted that outdoor air pollution leads to an estimated 4.2 million deaths every year worldwide; more than Ebola, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
- This information vacuum is preventing people from demanding action from their governments to tackle the biggest environmental risk to health, and changing their behaviour.
- The 13 most populous countries (4.2 billion) with populations exceeding 50 million, each, produce real-time air quality data in some format, but not in a fully open manner on a national-level.
- Over half of the world’s population has no access to official government data on air quality, despite the fact that nine out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants, according to WHO.
Air pollution in India
- Of the most polluted cities in the world, 21 out of 30 were in India in 2019.
- As per a study, at least 140 million people in India breathe air that is 10 times or more over the WHO safe limit.
- 13 of the world’s 20 cities with the highest annual levels of air pollution are in India.
- Over 50% of pollution is caused by industrial pollution, more than 25% by vehicles, more than 15% by crop burning and 5% by diwali fireworks.
- Air pollution contributes to the premature deaths of 2 million Indians every year.
- India has a low per capita emissions of greenhouse gases but the country as a whole is the third largest greenhouse gas producer after China and the United States.
- The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) is a national initiative introduced by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) to measure the air quality of a metropolitan city, by measuring the overall pollution level and the location-specific air quality of the city.
- The ultimate objective of the project is to increase awareness among the general public regarding the air quality in their city so that appropriate mitigation measures and systematic action can be taken up.
- SAFAR is an integral part of India’s first Air Quality Early Warning System operational in Delhi.
Air Quality Index (AQI)
- AQI was launched in 2014 with outline ‘One Number – One Color -One Description’ for the common man to judge the air quality within his vicinity.
- It has been launched for monitoring the quality of air in major urban centers across the country on a real-time basis and enhancing public awareness for taking mitigative action.
The measurement of air quality is based on eight pollutants, namely,
- Particulate Matter (PM10),
- Particulate Matter (PM2.5),
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2),
- Sulphur Dioxide (SO2),
- Carbon Monoxide (CO),
- Ozone (O3),
- Ammonia (NH3), and
- Lead (Pb).
AQI has six categories of air quality. These are: Good, Satisfactory, Moderately Polluted, Poor, Very Poor and Severe.
Recently in News: The Union Environment Ministry has proposed to extend the measurement of air quality to 22 state capitals and 44 other cities with a population exceeding one million.