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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 01 April 2020

Contents:

  1. ‘Three quasi-subspecies of virus in circulation’
  2. Pre-monsoon crop cultivation takes a hit
  3. SC upholds right to discuss COVID-19
  4. Andhra Bank fades into history
  5. Ministry, Scientific Adviser differ on mask use
  6. ‘Step up checking in patients’; Community transmission in Indore?; Middle-age COVID-19 mortality risk
  7. Hydroxychloroquine combination allowed
  8. Centre to borrow Rs. 4.88 lakh cr. in first half

‘THREE QUASI-SUBSPECIES OF VIRUS IN CIRCULATION’

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology, Prelims

Why in news?

  • A mixture of three quasi-subspecies of SARS-CoV-2 is in circulation in India, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on 31st March 2020.
  • These imported variants showed no differences from how they behaved in the place of origin.
  • Scientists are yet to classify a SARS-Cov-2 variant as an Indian strain.

Explanation

  • India’s COVID-19 cases were mainly from people with travel history and their immediate contacts, which is to say that this virus was brought in from outside.
  • ICMR is not seeing any variation from what is being seen on how this strain is behaving around the world. So there is no difference in its severity.
  • However, in a large country like India, it’s difficult to predict an accurate trend about the progression of COVID-19 because we still don’t have enough time gap between the upswing of cases.
  • The progression in terms of cases could not be compared with any other country as of now and people should be looking at the risk of exposure and adherence to physical distancing.
  • Availability of testing kits was still an issue, and masks should not be used indiscriminately.
  • India would be able to make indigenous diagnostic kits within the next month or two.

Virus and Strains of Viruses Explained

What is a virus?

A virus is a very simple thing – a coat of protein wrapped around some genetic code (DNA or RNA). It’s not a cell and it’s not living.

Virus Structure 
Envelope 
Protein coat 
Nucleic acid 
(genetic code - 
DNA or RNA) 
@ 2007-2010 The University of Waikato I www.sciencelearn.org.nz 
Spikes 
(for attaching 
to specific cell 
surfaces) 
10 20 30 40 50 
Nanometers

Hijacking a host cell

  • A virus needs a host cell to be able to replicate itself. Once inside the host cell, it takes over.
  • The cell is reprogrammed to produce the virus instead of doing what it was designed to do before.
  • The virus is replicated thousands and thousands of times within that cell.
  • Eventually, the cell bursts open and the multitude of viruses move around the body infecting other cells. This can happen within a few hours.

Mutation and Strains

  • Mutation is when something changes as it is replicating. Viruses survive through mutation.
  • This is a random act, rather than a deliberate act of survival.
  • Some of the ways that viruses replicate are quite sloppy compared to the cells in our bodies.
  • Our cells have special enzymes that make sure that a new cell has copied the gene sequence perfectly, but a virus is not so exact. The host cell (under instruction from the genetic material of the virus) produces thousands of copies of the virus, but they are often not going to be 100% exact.
  • A slight mutation such as this with a virus means our immune system might not recognise it.
  • That means the mutated virus copy can infect a new cell making another 50,000 copies of the new mutation without our immune system trying to stop it. The mutation results in a new strain of virus.
  • You can have lots of strains (slight variations) of the same virus. Some viruses are sloppier than others when replicating and have many mutations. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an example of this.

Reassortant strains

Reassortant Viruses Covid 19
Human Flu Virus 
Avian Flu Virus 
2003-2010 of 
Pig Mixing Vessel 
Human Mixing Vessel & 
Human Flu Virus 
New Virus Strain 
New Virus Strain 
General Population 
General population
  • Viruses like Influenza (flu) and rotavirus produce many different strains. They do this in a slightly different way from mutation.
  • These viruses can make reassortant strains, meaning the strain is produced from the genetic material from two or more similar viruses.
  • This happens when the gene material is chopped up in little pieces (rather than being in one long piece as with other viruses).
  • Say you caught two different strains of the flu at once from two different people. A cell in your body could get infected with these two different strains. The strains can jumble up within the host cell and mix and match their little pieces of genetic material to create a new, dramatically different strain.
  • This is how a flu pandemic occurs.
  • The reassortant can spread quickly.
  • Nobody’s immune system recognises the new virus strain so it is able to spread rapidly.

PRE-MONSOON CROP CULTIVATION TAKES A HIT

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management, Agriculture, Prelims

Why in news?

  • Despite the State government being on overdrive to ensure that agricultural activities continue to be normal during this unprecedented crisis caused by COVID-19, officials are hopeful about pre-monsoon crop cultivation.
  • Besides the main crops such as ragi and maize, farmers cultivate green gram, black gram and sesame, especially in Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, Mandya and Hassan districts, during this season.
  • There is concern whether farmers will take up cultivation of these crops given the situation.

Details

  • The preparatory work for sowing normally starts by the first week of April.
  • In a few places, sowing has been completed, but it has not even commenced in many places.
  • In agriculture timing, is very important. If sowing is delayed, it will hurt the yield and overall productivity.
  • State Agriculture Department officials are appealing to farmers to continue with their agricultural activities while also staying safe.
  • District administrations are working with dealers to ensure there is enough supply of seeds and fertilizers.
  • Pre-monsoon crop contributes to less than 10% of the total agricultural production in the State, but remains important.
  • The paddy in fields in Raichur, Ballari, Koppal and Gangavathi were ready for harvesting, but farmers were facing labour issues though the department has allowed them to get farm machineries for harvesting.

Background

Kharif Crops

  • Kharif crops, monsoon crops or autumn crops are domesticated plants like rice that are cultivated and harvested in India,Bangladesh during the Indian subcontinent’s monsoon season, which lasts from June to November depending on the area.
  • Kharif crops are usually sown with the beginning of the first rains during the advent of the south-west monsoon season, and they are harvested at the end of monsoon season (October-November).
  • These crops are dependent on the quantity of rain water as well its timing.
  • Too much, too little or rain at the wrong time may lay waste to the whole year’s efforts.
  • Kharif crops stand in contrast to the rabi crops, which are cultivated during the dry season.

Kharif Season

  • The kharif season varies by crop and region, starting at the earliest in May and ending at the latest in January. In India the season is popularly considered to start in June and to end in October.
  • Monsoon rains may begin as early as May in some parts of the Indian subcontinent, and crops are generally harvested from 3rd Week of September to October, again depending upon the region and the crops. Rice,maize, sorghum and cotton are the major kharif crops in India.

Rabi Crops

  • Rabi crops or rabi harvest are agricultural crops that are sown in winter and harvested in the spring in India and Pakistan.
  • The opposite of rabi crops are the kharif crops which are grown after, the rabi and zaid (zaa-id) crops are harvested one after another respectively.

Rabi Season

  • The rabi crops are sown around mid-November, preferably after the monsoon rains are over, and harvesting begins in April / May.
  • The crops are grown either with rainwater that has percolated into the ground, or using irrigation.
  • A good rain in winter spoils the rabi crops but is good for kharif crops.
  • The major rabi crop in India is wheat, followed by barley, mustard, sesame and peas.
  • Peas are harvested early, as they are ready early: Indian markets are flooded with green peas from January to March, peaking in February.
  • Many crops are cultivated in both kharif and rabi seasons.
  • The agriculture crops produced in India are seasonal in nature and highly dependent on these two monsoons.

SC UPHOLDS RIGHT TO DISCUSS COVID-19

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

  • The Supreme Court on 31st March 2020 upheld the right to free discussion about COVID-19, even as it directed the media to refer to and publish the official version of the developments in order to avoid inaccuracies and large-scale panic.
  • It ordered the government to start a daily bulletin on COVID-19 developments through all media avenues in the next 24 hours.
  • This was in response to a request from the Central government that media outlets, in the “larger interest of justice”, should only publish or telecast anything on COVID-19 after ascertaining the factual position from the government.

Arguments put forth by the Ministry of Home Affairs

  • “Any deliberate or inaccurate” reporting by the media, particularly web portals, had a “serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in larger section of the society”.
  • Any panic reaction in the midst of an unprecedented situation based on such reporting would harm the entire nation. (Creating panic is also a criminal offence under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.)

Court’s Views

  • In  view of balancing free press and the need to avoid panic in society during an unprecedented crisis – The court said: “We expect the media [print, electronic or social] to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated.”
  • The court also recommended – A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues, including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people, would be made active within a period of 24 hours as submitted by the Solicitor- General of India.
  • The court did not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments.

Fake News issue

“Deliberate or inadvertent fake news and material capable of causing a serious panic in the minds of the public is found to be the single most unmanageable hindrance in the management of this challenge.”

What the Ministry of Home Affairs is going to do about it?

The Ministry of Home Affairs will set up a separate unit headed by a Joint Secretary-level officer in the Health Ministry and consisting of eminent specialist doctors from recognised institutions like AIIMS to answer the queries of citizens.

Other key highlights of the Report

  • The mass migration of the poor would defeat the preventive measures taken by the Central government.
  • There was no necessity for migrant workers to rush to their villages.
  • The Centre, fully conscious that no citizen should be deprived of basic amenities, had announced a ₹1.70 lakh crore package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to take care of their daily needs.

Why stop Migrant workers from returning in masses?

  • The mass migration had to be stopped to protect the rural population so far “untouched” by the virus.
  • If infection penetrates rural India, the epidemic, which has taken the form of a pandemic, will manifest itself in a still severe form, making its unmanageable.

ANDHRA BANK FADES INTO HISTORY

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy, GS-I History, Prelims

Why in news?

Come April 1, it will be curtains for Andhra Bank as one of the oldest and well-known household names in the region gets amalgamated with Union Bank of India.

Details

  • A part of the Central government plan to create four larger banks by merging 10, the move will see Andhra Bank over time coming to be identified as Union Bank of India.
  • Under the present plan of the Centre, four sets of merger will come into force on 1st April 2020.
  • One of them will see Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank amalgamating into Union Bank of India.
  • The combined entity will be the 5th largest public sector bank and will have the 4th largest branch network of any bank in India, Union Bank of India said.

The consolidation of 10 PSBs into four includes the merger of:

  1. Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India into Punjab National Bank.
  2. The amalgamation of Syndicate Bank into Canara Bank.
  3. The merger of Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank into Union Bank of India, and
  4. The amalgamation of Allahabad Bank into Indian Bank.

History of Andhra Bank and its founder

  • Andhra Bank was founded by freedom fighter Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya and commenced business on November 28, 1923 in Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, with a paid up capital of ₹ 1 lakh and an authorised capital of ₹10 lakh by Raja Yarlagadda Sivarama Prasad.
  • Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya was an Indian independence activist and political leader in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
  • He started his practice as a doctor in the coastal town of Machilipatnam, headquarters of Krishna District and the political centre of Andhra.
  • He left his lucrative practice to join the freedom fighting movement.
  • During the years 1912–13, when there was a great controversy over the desirability of forming a separate province for Andhra, he wrote a number of articles in “The Hindu” and other journals explaining the need for immediate formation of linguistic provinces.

MINISTRY, SCIENTIFIC ADVISER DIFFER ON MASK USE

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology, Disaster Management

Why in news?

India’s highest science advisory body, the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), and the Union Health Ministry appear out of sync on whether masks should be widely used by people.

Ministry’s view

  • The Ministry’s standing recommendation is that NOT everybody should be wearing masks.
  • Among those who are not healthcare workers, only those who had a cough or exhibited signs of a flu or a respiratory illness need to be wearing them as did those caring for COVID-19 patients.
  • The reason this isn’t recommended for the public at large — though now almost anyone on the street can be seen to be wearing them — is that it will lead to a shortage and unavailability for doctors, nurses and other hospital staff.

Views of Office of Principal Security Adviser (PSA)

  • The office of the PSA through the Press Information Bureau recommended the widespread use of masks.
  • It endorsed, above all, home-made masks that could easily be made and were reusable with washing and sanitising.
  • The proposed guide is meant to provide a simple outline of best practices to make, use and reuse masks to enable NGOs and individuals to self-create such masks and accelerate widespread adoption of masks across India.
  • The key criteria for proposed designs are Ease of Access to Materials, Easy of Making at Home, Ease of Use and Reuse. Wearing of masks is especially recommended for people living in densely populated areas across India.
  • It does NOT recommend the use of the health mask or the N95 mask that are expensive, not-reusable and largely used in hospital settings.

What the future holds?

  • The World Health Organization hasn’t given a categorical opinion on its [mask] usage. However, a technical committee is looking into this issue and suitable guidelines will be issued soon.
  • The government will be taking more notice of the fact there may be a sizeable number of asymptomatic carriers of the infection — some studies suggest nearly 25% of COVID-19 infected may be asymptomatic — and wearing a mask is a good precautionary measure.
  • Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.

‘STEP UP CHECKING IN PATIENTS’; COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION IN INDORE?; MIDDLE-AGE MORTALITY

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

  • At a time when hotspot containment measures are among the focus areas for prevention and control of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), renowned virologist T. Jacob John has called for a shift in strategy — chasing the virus should be phased down and checking the virus in infected persons should be stepped up.
  • As most COVID-19 patients in Indore, where 17 persons tested positive on 31st March 2020, have no contact or travel history, health workers are grappling to identify the source, indicating the most populous and largest city of Madhya Pradesh MAY already be witnessing the community transmission stage.
  • Middle-aged people, and not just the elderly, have a dramatically higher risk of dying or developing serious illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), says a study.

Prioritizing Containment and Testing for the virus: Virologist’s views

  • Healthcare checking is another way of containment measure as we will be finding infected people who had no travel history.
  • We do not see it because the majority of people are silently infected and only a few will show symptoms.
  • We are not looking at symptomatic people. We are looking at test results, tests based on travel and contact with those who have travelled. That phase is more or less over.
  • Continuing to chase people who had travelled and their contacts is alright if we have sufficient manpower and energy.
  • But today, what we need to understand is that the virus has widely spread.
  • Anybody with fever and cough must be checked. Additional symptoms like fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, body ache are common to both influenza and COVID-19.
  • High fever is common in COVID-19 but not in common cold. So, influenza and COVID-19 should be in one category, and all other respiratory infections in another.

Suspected Community Transmission in Indore?

  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), community transmission is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples.
  • Indore bears the burden of 44 patients, most residents of congested localities, of the 66 cases in the State.
  • Coincidently almost all positive cases, including first ones, have come from congested areas, so probably they have done a lot of community transmission.

Middle-age COVID-19 mortality risk

  • It was found in a study that age was a key determining factor in serious infections, with nearly one in five over-80s requiring hospitalisation, compared to around 1% among people under 30.
  • Taking into account estimates of the number of cases that may not have been clinically confirmed — that is, mild or asymptomatic infections — the data showed the hospitalisation rate of patients in their fifties was 8.2%.
  • Analysis very clearly shows that at aged 50 and over, hospitalisation is much more likely than in those under 50, and a greater proportion of cases are likely to be fatal.

HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE COMBINATION ALLOWED

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

The Union Health Ministry has allowed the use of Hydroxychloroquine in combination with Azithromycin under close monitoring for patients with severe disease and requiring ICU management as per the revised Guidelines on Clinical Management of COVID–19.

Details

  • Hydroxychloroquine was previously under testing and was allowed to be administered only to doctors and caregiver in direct contact with COVID-19 positive cases.
  • The Health Ministry has noted that no specific antiviral have been proven to be effective as per currently available data.
  • However, based on the available information (uncontrolled clinical trials), the following drugs may be considered.
  • It has, however, cautioned that the medication is presently not recommended for children less than 12 years, pregnant and lactating women.

CENTRE TO BORROW RS. 4.88 LAKH CR. IN FIRST HALF

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

The Centre will borrow ₹4.88 lakh crore in the first half of the coming financial year 2020-21, or 62.56% of the gross borrowings of ₹7.8 lakh crore for FY21.

Managing Borrowing

  • The government is committed to meet its requirements for fighting COVID-19, whether on account of health issues, or on account of protecting the economy, and also providing necessary stimulus at any point of time. The entire borrowing was designed in that fashion
  • The Centre proposes to revise its ways and means advances (WMA) limit to ₹1.2 lakh crore.
  • The plan would enable the government to have sufficient amounts for cash management to meet such requirements.
  • The Budget announcement for G-sec issuances through Debt Exchange Traded Fund route will be operationalised in the second half of 2020-21, and will be rolled out by initiating appointment of required intermediaries.

Where will the Money come from?

  • Our fund-raising resources not only from the markets but also from multilateral agencies are geared towards that.
  • It plans to issue 790 billion rupees of government securities in April 2020.
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