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15th April – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. The pandemic and the contours of a health response
  2. Economic liberalisation and its faults
  3. Invasive, alien, most fearsome
  4. The Nihangs: once valiant warriors
  5. Explained: Air pollution’s link to the coronavirus pandemic

THE PANDEMIC AND THE CONTOURS OF A HEALTH RESPONSE

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

India’s worries

  • India is facing the worst public health crisis in its independent history which pales the earlier ones such as AIDS, SARS and H1N1 into insignificance.
  • The speed at which the virus entered the country and the multiple challenges it has posed before the people and the government are unprecedented.
  • While the initial response of the government was quick in restricting the entry and the quarantine of travellers from China and other South East Asian countries, the subsequent wave of international travellers has completely caught everyone off guard.

Time to strategize

  • We should realise that despite the best response, the epidemic will not be going away for all time to come.
  • It is a novel virus and people have no immunity to protect themselves.
  • Prevention, care and support are the only strategies that will succeed in mitigating the crisis.
  • This will need a carefully planned public health approach which identifies the risks based on evidence and pro-actively intervenes to mitigate them.
  • Civil society should be invited to be partners in organising the care centres and managing them.

Focus on counselling

  • As the flood of patients starts increasing in hospitals, counselling services for patients and members of their families would be of utmost necessity.
  • Large number of counsellors can be mobilised at short notice from existing national programmes and communities which have the necessary experience in counselling.

On testing

  • A critical gap in the level of response is the limited testing facilities available for people to know their COVID-19 status. Current testing procedures which depend on viral tests are expensive and time consuming. It is high time that rapid testing is introduced on a large scale in the country using the window of opportunity the lock down provides.
  • Rapid test kits should be made available in care centres and people who test negative should be asked to remain in isolation at home.

Migration of daily wage earners

  • Large-scale migration of daily wage earners and construction workers from metropolitan cities, in the aftermath of the lockdown, has resulted in enormous challenges for the administration.
  • Providing shelters and protecting them from loss of employment is a socioeconomic problem, where community involvement can ensure that the benefits governments are announcing actually reach the needy and those who deserve them.
  • Community-based organisations should also help in mobilising Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, funds for mitigating the misery migrant families now face and for no fault of theirs.

ECONOMIC LIBERALISATION AND ITS FAULTS

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Privatisation and Liberalisation

  • The 1991-92 Budget speech marked the beginning of the end of the ‘Licence Raj’ in India.
  • The 1991-92 Budget also announced the reduction of import duties and paved the way for foreign-manufactured goods to flow into India. Following this, most of the manufacturing sector was opened up to foreign direct investment.
  • India’s industrial policy was virtually junked, and policymakers and the political leadership became contemptuous of the idea of self-reliance.

History of the model

  • In the late 1980s, transnational corporations started shifting the production base to smaller companies in developing countries, especially Asia, in search of cheap labour and raw materials.
  • Developed countries supported the move because shifting the polluting and labour-intensive industries suited them as long as ownership remained with their companies.
  • Thus, the world witnessed the development of global supply chains in many products starting with garments, wherein huge companies with massive market power dictated the terms to smaller manufacturers down the value chain to produce cheaply.
  • Though many developing countries participated in the global production/value/supply chains, the substantial value addition in developing countries happened in a few production hubs, of which China emerged to be a major one.

How did China do it?

  • Manufacturing shifted from a decentralised production system spread across different counties to just a few locations.
  • However, countries like China defied the logic of supply/value chains ensuring substantial value addition for themselves.
  • They even carried out backward integration and thus emerged as global manufacturing hubs for certain products.
  • In the case of health products, China became the global supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical devices diagnostics.

How does it affect the current outbreak?

  • This has major implications for the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The resultant loss of manufacturing base has affected the ability of many governments, including of developed countries, to put up an effective response to the crisis.
  • With various countries depending on and asking the private manufacturers in their countries to produce essential equipment, it exposes the poor state of preparedness and dependence on imports for essential goods required to meet the challenge of any major disease outbreak.
  • This shows that what is good for the company may not be good the country in all circumstances.
  • So, the overwhelming objective of private sector-led economic growth has proved to be disastrous.

How has it affected India Specifically?

  • In India, economic liberalisation has damaged the government’s capacity in two ways. First, it incapacitated the government to respond to emergencies based on credible information. The dismantling of the ‘Licence Raj’ resulted in the elimination of channels of information for the government, which is crucial to make informed policy choices. For instance, as part of the removal of ‘Licence Raj’, the government stopped asking for information from the manufacturer to file the quantity of production of various medicines. As a result, it has taken weeks now and a series of meetings for the government to gather information about stocks and the production capacity of pharmaceutical companies.
  • Second, the logic and policies of economic liberalisation seriously undermined the manufacturing capabilities of health products in India. The short-sighted policy measures, with the objective of enhancing profitability of the private sector, allowed the import of raw materials from the cheapest sources and resulted in the debasing of the API industry, especially in essential medicine. According to a report of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), nearly 70% of India’s API import is from China.

INVASIVE, ALIEN, MOST FEARSOME

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology, Science and Technology

Introduction to the scenario

  • Given the little knowledge we have about its origin, and given its rapid spread and massive impact on our lives, novel coronavirus is the most fearsome invasive alien species mankind has ever had to confront.
  • Invasive alien species are species of plants, animals and microbes which move out of their native location into alien locations and cause economic, ecological and health damage.

Features of an alien invasive species

  • All invasive alien species remain unproblematic in their land of origin where natural enemies limit their population increase.
  • But when a species arrives at a new location, it escapes from the control of its natural enemies and its population explodes.
  • In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the individual body of each and every host is a landscape in itself.
  • Unlike in the case of SARS, where the virus jumped from bats to civet cats to humans, the intermediate host for SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown.
  • The host is devoid of immunity against the pathogen.
  • With no prior exposure to it and no antibodies, the body initiates a violent response against the new intruder, which could prove fatal.
  • In its new location, the invasive species can grow and reach the reproductive stage.
  • One way of controlling biological invasion is to slow the spread.
  • The idea of imposing lockdowns originated from this logic of slowing the spread.
  • Unlike plants and animals which can be visually encountered, we need to contact-trace and test people to find out the extent of spread of this pathogen.

Significance of n-CoV2

  • A salient feature in the pattern of the spread of invasive alien species is the formation of satellite populations.
  • SARS-CoV-2 has established the largest number of satellite populations in the shortest period of time.
  • Every satellite population has the potential to spread the virus on its own.
  • This spread is a function of the reproductive rate of the virus (R0), which is defined as the number of cases, on average, an infected person will cause during the infectious period. For SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen emission rate from an infected person is yet to be computed.
  • The dispersal ability is closely linked to social contact, which is influenced by the level of urbanisation.
  • The susceptibility of new landscapes (new human bodies) is a function of health, which again is a function of age, disease history, and how much the respiratory system has been challenged by ways of air pollution, respiratory diseases or smoking.

The question of herd immunity

  • The critical question is how long the pandemic will last. It will probably continue until the pathogen reaches the point of naturalisation, i.e., when it stops being invasive.
  • This means that the quicker the ‘herd immunity’, the faster the pandemic will end. Since we don’t have a vaccine yet, the only other way to build immunity is to do so naturally, which is happening in the recovered cases.
  • Herd immunity has to rise to a level at which disease transmission will reduce considerably or become impossible.
  • Until then, the lockdown will ensure that the R0 value is maintained as low as possible. We will know only when the lockdown is lifted whether keeping the R0 value well below 1 for a reasonable period of time will really help us.
  • The length of the period during which infected ones, with and without symptoms (we don’t know the length of this period yet), spread the disease will decide how best we move out of the pandemic and how much time nature will get to repair itself.

THE NIHANGS: ONCE VALIANT WARRIORS

Focus: GS-I Indian Society

Why in news?

The Patiala incident in which a group of Nihangs attacked a Punjab police party and chopped off the hand of an assistant sub-inspector when stopped for a curfew pass, and the subsequent seizure of weapons and narcotics, has put the spotlight on the Nihangs.

Who is a Nihang?

  • Nihang is an order of Sikh warriors, characterised by blue robes, antiquated arms such as swords and spears, and decorated turbans surmounted by steel quoits.
  • The 19th century historian Rattan Singh Bhangu described Nihangs as “unaffected by pain or comfort”, “given to meditation, penance and charity” and “complete warriors”.

When was the order formed?

  • This can be traced back to the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
  • The word nihang, he says, also occurs in a hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib, where it alludes to a fearless and unrestrained person.

How were Nihangs different from other Sikhs, and other Sikh warriors?

  • As per an account by the East India Company’s Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841), Khalsa Sikhs were divided into two groups: “Those who put on blue attire which Guru Gobind Singh used to wear at the time of battle” and those who “do not follow any restrictions on the colour of their dress” though both of them “follow the profession of soldiery and are brave without peer in the art of musketry and chakarbazi, and the use of quoits”.
  • Nihangs observe the Khalsa code of conduct in its strictest sense.

What is their role in Sikh history?

  • Nihangs had a major role in defending the Sikh panth after the fall of the first Sikh rule (1710-15) when Mughal governors were killing Sikhs, and during the onslaught of Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani (1748-65). When the Khalsa army was divided into five battalions in 1734, one Nihang or Akali battalion was led by Baba Deep Singh Shahid.
  • Nihangs also took control of the religious affairs of the Sikhs at Akal Bunga (now known as Akal Takht) in Amritsar. They did not consider themselves subordinate to any Sikh chief and thus maintained their independent existence. At Akal Takht, they held the grand council (Sarbat Khalsa) of Sikhs and pronounced the resolution (Gurmata) passed.
  • Their clout came to an end after the fall of Sikh Empire in 1849 when the British authorities of Punjab appointed a manager (sarbrah) for the administration of the Golden Temple in 1859. “In the recent past, the Nihang chief, Baba Santa Singh, at the instance of Indian Government had fallen afoul of the mainstream Sikhs as he went on to rebuild the Akal Takht that was damaged during Operation Bluestar in June 1984.

What is their current status?

  • Nihangs today constitute a small community. About a dozen bands, each headed by a jathedar (leader), are still carrying on with the traditional order.
  • With the advent of modernity, the balance between Bani (Guru Granth Sahib) and Bana (outer form) broke down, resulting in problems and unethical actions.
  • Earlier, Nihangs would never attack an unarmed person.

EXPLAINED: AIR POLLUTION’S LINK TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology, Science and Technology

Introduction to Connection between COVID-19 and Air Pollution

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19): Even before the pandemic struck, outdoor air pollution was linked to the deaths of as many as nine million people each year.
  • Now two new studies show that Covid-19 patients are more likely to die if they live in regions with high levels of air pollution.
  • Air pollution affects human health in insidious ways.
  • The burning of fossil fuels in cars and factories creates soot and other too-small-to-see particles. Every breath filled with these particles slowly increases the risk of heart problems, strokes, asthma, pneumonia, and lung cancer.
  • These particles are so small that they end up in almost every organ in the body. The longer we study air pollution’s effects, the longer the list of diseases it’s linked to—now including Covid-19.

How does COVID-19 affect people differently?

  • Covid-19 doesn’t impact everyone equally. In those who suffer severely, the virus is thought to move from the upper respiratory tract, where it can cause a sore throat, to the lower respiratory tract, where it causes inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to death if it spirals out of control.
  • The authors of the University of Siena study wrote that, because air pollution “impairs the first line of defense” of the upper respiratory tract, it likely explains why those who live in areas with higher air pollution might fall prey to the disease more than others.

Proof that Air Pollution does affect recovery

  • Past evidence makes the case stronger. A study published in 2003 found that higher air pollution caused greater deaths from SARS, which was caused by a cousin of the current strain of coronavirus.
  • A range of studies have found that air pollutants are linked to increased risk from influenza-type illnesses.

Way Forward

  • The good news is that policymakers know what needs to be done: improving access to public transport, electrifying the transport fleet, raising regulations or pricing emissions on power plants and factories, and developing new technology alternatives to polluting industries, such as steel and cement.
  • All of these measures lead to cleaner air (and lower carbon emissions). Better still, the interventions lead to higher productivity. Some people with influence might be making the connection between air pollution and ill-health more clearly than before.
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