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1st March – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. Explained | Why is COVID-19 not a pandemic yet?
  2. NPR 2020 skids
  3. Explained: Why snow in Antarctica is turning blood-red

EXPLAINED | WHY IS COVID-19 NOT A PANDEMIC YET?

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

On February 26, for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak began in China on December 8, the number of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) cases reported in a single day was more outside mainland China than within the country.

Coronavirus SARS-CoV2 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Disease COVID-19

All about the Spread of Corona Virus

  • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, including some that cause the common cold to some that cause major diseases such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
  • The coronavirus outbreak came to light when on December 31, 2019, China informed the World Health Organisation of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause in Wuhan City in Hubei province.
  • On January 9, 2020, WHO issued a statement saying Chinese researchers have made “preliminary determination” of the virus as a novel coronavirus.
  • The novel coronavirus has acquired the ability to spread among humans, with cases of human-to-human transmissions being reported first in Vietnam and Germany.
  • Coronavirus symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
  • The illness also causes lung lesions and pneumonia.
  • Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, making detection difficult.
  • Chinese researchers have shared the whole genome sequence of the novel coronavirus, however apart from some basic details, not much is known about the virus in terms of its source, precise duration of incubation, severity, and what makes it quite easily transmissible.

Besides mainland China, how many countries have reported at least one confirmed case?

  • As on February 27, 3,346 confirmed cases have been reported from 49 countries.
  • Only five countries — Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal Taiwan — in the WHO South-East Asia region have reported SARS-CoV-2 infections.
  • In the Americas, cases have been reported from only Canada, the U.S. and Brazil.
  • South Korea has the most number of confirmed novel coronavirus infections — 1,766 (and 13 deaths) outside mainland China.
  • Italy (528), Iran (245) and Japan (189) are the other countries with most number of cases.

Why is it not a Pandemic yet?

  • In a press briefing on February 26, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made it abundantly clear that WHO will not declare COVID-19 a pandemic at this moment.
  • It is better to NOT declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts. Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems.
  • Of course, there should not be any hesitation to use the word pandemic if it is an accurate description of the situation.

When was the last time a pandemic was declared?

  • A pandemic is defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease.
  • The last pandemic reported was the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, which killed hundreds of thousands globally.
  • Unless it is influenza, WHO generally avoids declaring diseases as pandemics.
  • This change came about after the lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 experience.
  • According to 2017 pandemic influenza risk management guidelines, the WHO uses pandemic influenza phases — interpandemic, alert, pandemic and transition — to “reflect its risk assessment of the global situation regarding each influenza virus with pandemic potential infecting humans”.

Way Forward: What steps should countries take to stop the virus from spreading?

  • The priority should be to detect cases early and isolate people who test positive for the virus.
  • Once a case is detected, the focus should be to trace the contacts and treat them if already infected.
  • Since the molecular test is not highly sensitive and can return false negatives, people who have returned to India or have come in contact with people who have tested positive should be made aware to seek immediate medical care once symptoms show up.
  • Though the average incubation period is five-seven days, a few have shown up symptoms at the end of 24 days.
  • Efforts should also be focussed on preventing outbreaks in hospitals and spread in the community.
  • One way to stop the spread in the community is to avoid mass gathering in enclosed spaces.
  • The Ministry of Health has advised people to avoid all non-essential travel to countries where community spread of the virus is reported, particularly Singapore, South Korea, Iran and Italy.
  • According to February 13 release, the Health Ministry has been following up passengers travelling from China, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Japan for a period of 28 days.

NPR 2020 SKIDS

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

On February 25 2020, the Bihar Assembly passed a unanimous resolution stating that there is no need for a National Register of Citizens in the State and that the implementation of the National Population Register (NPR) would be done strictly according to the 2010 format.

What is the National Population Register (NPR)?

  • The NPR is a database of usual residents in the country who have stayed in a local area for the past six months or more and who intend to remain in the same place for the next six months or more.
  • The NPR is individual and identity specific unlike the Census which only provides information on the status of the residents of India and population swings.
  • The NPR database was first created in 2010.
  • The data collection is done under the aegis of the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.
  • The NPR is undertaken under the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
  • The NPR was last updated, except in Assam and Meghalaya, in 2015-16.

How is the NPR linked to the National Register of Citizens (NRC)?

Successive governments have said that the NPR is the mother database for “identity purposes”.

The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 mandates that particulars of “every family and individual” in the NPR would be used for verification in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process.

Proving Citizenship

  • The Local Registrar is empowered, during verification, to mark out the particulars of individuals whose citizenship is doubtful, with “appropriate remarks” for further enquiry.
  • The individual concerned has to then appear before the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration to prove he or she is a citizen before a formal decision is taken to include or to exclude their particulars in the National Register of Indian Citizens.
  • The onus to prove he or she is a citizen is entirely on the individual concerned.
  • Thus, the data collected through NPR becomes the crux for determining the citizenship of a person.

What is the NPR format of 2010?

  • Fifteen identity particulars of the individual members of the household are sought in the 2010 format.
  • These include name, relationship to the head of the household, sex, date of birth, marital status, educational qualification, occupation/activity, names of parents, place of birth (of everybody staying in the household at the time), nationality, present address of usual residence, duration of stay at the present address and permanent residential address.

What does the updated manual of 2020 say?

  • The NPR 2020 enumeration exercise will be undertaken during April–September this year.
  • Certain new information will be collected by enumerators in a house-to-house collection exercise such as Aadhaar, mobile, voter ID, passport and driving licence, if available with the residents on a voluntarily basis.
  • Unlike in the 2010 NPR, the new format for NPR 2020 requires residents to disclose their mother tongue and the places and dates of birth of their parents even if they are not living in the same household at the time or not alive.
  • Individuals have to disclose the districts and States of their parents’ birth.

What is the problem?

  • Besides Bihar, several State governments such as Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab have already objected to the implementation of NPR 2020, saying it is a harbinger for a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify illegal migrants.
  • The NRC exercise in Assam alone has seen the exclusion of over 19 lakh people from the citizens’ list in the State.
  • Petitions have also been filed in the Supreme Court of India, describing the NPR as a facilitator for the NRC.
  • State governments are nervous that the NPR data would be used to target citizens on the basis of their identity and deprive them of their citizenship.
  • Fears about the NPR-NRC have been compounded with the passage of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or the CAA of 2019, which fast-tracks citizenship-by-naturalisation process of persons from six religious communities, other than Muslims, who have fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The NPR 2020 Manual says “date of birth is one of the important items of information being collected in the NPR”. But in a country where a large part of the population is underprivileged and where people have not been able to formalise their birth due to lack of access to health care, the task of disclosing the exact birth and place of birth, especially of their aged parents and orphans, would prove to be a daunting task, point out experts.

What lies ahead?

  • The workforce for updation of NPR 2020 has to be provided by the State governments.
  • With more States objecting to the new format and its contentious clauses, the exercise may reach an impasse.
  • Widespread doubts about the intentions behind the NPR may also affect the smooth conduct of the Census.

EXPLAINED: WHY SNOW IN ANTARCTICA IS TURNING BLOOD-RED

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

Snow around Ukraine’s Vernadsky Research Base, located off the coast of Antarctica’s northernmost peninsula, has started to take on a red tinge, courtesy of an algae that thrives in freezing weather. Because of the red tinge, the snow is often dubbed “watermelon snow”.

Red snow Algae watermelon snow

Why is the snow turning red?

  • Algae found around the Ukrainian research base grow well in freezing temperatures and liquid water.
  • During the summer, when these typically green algae get a lot of sun, they start producing a natural sunscreen that paints the snow in shades of pink and red.
  • In the winter months, they lie dormant.
  • The algae produce the tinted sunscreen to keep themselves warm.
  • The report mentions that because the snow becomes darker from the tinge, it absorbs more heat, as a result of which it melts faster.
  • Further, these algae, that are not uncommon in other polar settings around the world, change the snow’s albedo, which refers to the amount of light or radiation the snow surface is able to reflect back.

Extra information

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is believed to be one of the first to give a written account of watermelon snow over 2,000 years ago.

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