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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 3 April 2020

Contents:

  1. PM asks States to suggest plan for staggered end to lockdown
  2. Virus cases double in India in five days, Geofencing app to help Quarantine
  3. Karnataka moves SC against Kerala HC order to lift border curbs
  4. Doctors wary of BCG vaccine study
  5. Tablighi Jamaat Explained: on a mission to ‘purify’ Islam
  6. DRDO develops bio suit, sealant for safety gear

PM ASKS STATES TO SUGGEST PLAN FOR STAGGERED END TO LOCKDOWN

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at his second video conference with Chief Ministers on 2nd April 2020 told them that it was “important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends.”
  • He asked the States to brainstorm and send suggestions for the exit strategy.

Highlights of what the Prime Minister said:

  • Our first priority for the next few weeks should be testing, tracing, isolating and quarantine. For this all State to district level efforts must be coordinated.
  • District-level disease surveillance officers should be appointed as soon as possible to make sure that penetration of this strategy is optimum.
  • The data collected from private laboratories allowed to test should be collated district-wise to be utilised for further strategising on tackling the pandemic.

About Supply Lines

  • The PM emphasised that the supply lines for medical equipment and drugs and raw materials needed for the manufacture of these products need to be kept seamless, even more than supplies of other products.
  • He said Every State should ensure that there are separate hospitals for COVID-19 patients and the doctors attending them need to be protected.
  • He urged the states to step up online training of doctors in the treatment of COVID-19.

Route to be taken to manage Supplies

  • This being the harvest season in many parts of the country, farmers and labourers, exempted from the lockdown, were engaged in harvest operations and they should maintain some social distancing even on fields.
  • For procurement, we must find ways to do it beyond the route of Agricultural Produce Marketing Corporations (APMC).
  • A truck pooling scheme should also be worked out with farmers for ferrying produce to the market.
  • Harvesting will possibly need to be done in a staggering manner.

Other Recommendations of the Prime Minister

  • The monies and grains released under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana should be disbursed speedily.
  • Volunteers of the National Cadet Corps and the National Service Scheme would also be recruited in the effort to combat COVID-19.
  • Other than this, crisis management groups should coordinate with as many NGOs as possible and strategies should be shared with all stakeholders as we need everyone’s help at this time.
  • Other than this, crisis management groups should coordinate with as many NGOs as possible and strategies should be shared with all stakeholders as we need everyone’s help at this time.

VIRUS CASES DOUBLE IN INDIA IN FIVE DAYS, GEOFENCING APP TO HELP QUARANTINE

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management, Science and Technology, Prelims

Why in news?

  • The number of COVID-19 cases in India has doubled in the past week, with 328 more cases and 12 deaths reported on April 2. According to the Union Health Ministry, the tally now stands at 2,069 cases, with 53 deaths and 155 cured of the novel coronavirus infection.
  • The Health Ministry said there were reports of several doctors, nurses and paramedics testing positive.
  • The Health Ministry confirmed that it was looking at tweaking the testing protocol, with a rapid anti-body test in hotspots, where those indicating a positive would be sent for confirmation and the others would be quarantined.

Controlling Spread in Dharavi Slum

  • The Health Ministry said extensive action was being taken in Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi in Mumbai, after a death due to COVID-19 was reported there.
  • Have sealed the building from where the case has been reported, and the collection of samples from all residents of the building is under way. As per the protocol, contact-tracing is also under way.

Handling Shortage of Equipment

  • There was a shortage of equipment, but now supply of more than 1.5 crore pieces of personal protection equipment has started.
  • Personal protection equipment has also been sent to the States, based on their needs.
  • The Ministry of Health has placed orders for more than 1 crore N95 masks.

Other Actions taken

  • The Central government has launched Aarogya Setu, a mobile application, to connect health services and the people in the combined fight against COVID-19.
  • The application will inform the users of the potential risk of infection, the best practices and medical advisories.
  • States had also been asked to take effective measures to fight fake news in order to prevent panic.
  • The Health Ministry, with the help of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), has recommended general public measures on the mental health of the elderly and children to deal with anxiety and stress due to the outbreak.

Geo-fencing app will be used to locate quarantine violators

  • The Centre is using powers under the Indian Telegraph Act to “fetch information” from telecom companies every 15 minutes to track COVID-19 cases across the country.
  • The government has tested an application that triggers e-mails and SMS alerts to an authorised government agency if a person has jumped quarantine or escaped from isolation, based on the person’s mobile phone’s cell tower location.
  • The “geo-fencing” is accurate by up to 300 m, a government communication said.

Is it being used now?

  • Kerala was one of the first States to use geo-fencing to track COVID-19 cases.
  • On March 29, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) shared a standard operating procedure (SOP) with all telecom service providers regarding the application called COVID-19 Quarantine Alert System (CQAS).
  • The system will collate phone data, including the device’s location, on a common secured platform and alert the local agencies in case of a violation by COVID patients under watch or in isolation.

Security and other details

  • The DoT and C-DOT, in coordination with telecom service providers, have developed and tested the application.
  • It said the location information is received periodically over a secure network for the authorised cases with “due protection of the data received”.
  • The States have been asked to seek the approval of their Home Secretaries under the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, for the specified mobile phone numbers to request the DoT to provide information by email or SMS in case of violation of “geo-fencing”.
  • The particular provision under the Act, amended multiple times since 1885, authorises State or Centre to access information of a user’s phone data in case of “occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety.”
  • The phone number should be deleted from the system after the period for which location monitoring is required is over and the data would be deleted four weeks from thereon.
  • The data collected shall be used only for the purpose of Health Management in the context of COVID-19 and is strictly not for any other purposes. Any violation in this regard would attract penal provisions under the relevant laws

Note:  Geo-fencing will only work if the quarantined person has a mobile phone from Airtel, Vodafone-Idea or Reliance Jio, as “BSNL/MTNL” do NOT support location based services. BSNL and MTNL are government owned.

What is Geofencing?

  • Geofencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, known as a geofence. 
  • Some geofences are set up to monitor activity in secure areas, allowing management to see alerts when anyone enters or leaves a specific area. Businesses can also use geofencing to monitor employees in the field, automate time cards and keep track of company property.

There are two types of geofence virtual barriers.

  1. Active geofence depends on the end-user – it can easily use location services to track them down. It can also be done with the help of a certain smartphone apps.
  2. Passive geofencing is one which stays on all the time. These type of fencing depends on internet connectivity that can be cellular or via Wi-Fi rather than RFID and GPS. They always work in the background if the location on a smartphone is switched on.

Indian Telegraph Act, 1885

  • The Indian Telegraph Act, 1883 is the enabling legislation in India which gov
  • e Indian Constitution.

History of the Telegraph Act

  • The Indian Telegraph Act, passed in 1883, was intended to give the Central Government power to establish telegraphers the use of wired and wireless telegraphy, telephones, teletype, radio communications and digital data communications.
  • It gives the Government of India exclusive jurisdiction and privileges for establishing, maintaining, operating, licensing and oversight of all forms of wired and wireless communications within Indian territory.
  • It also authorizes government law enforcement agencies to monitor/intercept communications and tap phone lines under conditions defined within th
  •  lines on private as well as public property.
  • At the time the Act was conceived, India was still under the rule of the British Raj.
  • Telegraph was first installed in 1851 and a trans-India telegraph was completed three years later in 1854.
  • The telegraph had become, in the intervening thirty years, an important tool for British dominion over India by quelling rebellions and consolidating information.
  • It was thus important for the British to have control of telegraphy and infrastructure across the subcontinent.

KARNATAKA MOVES SC AGAINST KERALA HC ORDER TO LIFT BORDER CURBS

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

Karnataka on 2nd April 2020 challenged in the Supreme Court a Kerala High Court order on April 1 to remove the road blockade at the inter-State border to facilitate flow of vehicles carrying essential items and patients in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Karnataka’s Petition

  • The border had been sealed to “combat the spread of the pandemic by preventing the movement of people from the bordering districts of Kerala to Karnataka.”
  • Kerala is the “worst affected” State in the country with coronavirus cases.
  • In this, Kasaragod, adjoining Karnataka, is the “worst -affected” district of Kerala with over a 100 positive cases.
  • Opening the blockade now would cause a law and order issue within Karnataka as the local population wants the border sealed.
  • It is of grave importance that the affected districts be sealed and the pandemic be stopped from spreading to newer areas.
Kasaragod District Map in Kerala Karnataka Border

Kerala’s Petition

  • The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on April 3 a writ petition filed by Kasaragod MP for an order to open the State border.
  • Since Karnataka had blocked roads, the movement of ambulances and other emergency vehicles for patients’ treatment and for the transport of commodities to Kerala had been hindered.
  • The people of Kasaragod depended entirely on the medical facilities in Mangaluru.
  • Kasaragod MP said Karnataka’s blockade is “ill-planned and dangerous” and has already led to the loss of lives.
  • Two patients from Kerala, in need of urgent medical care, died after their ambulances were denied entry at the border by the Karnataka authorities.
  • The petition stated that the blockade was against the Constitution and violated constitutional guarantees such as the right to travel, the right to food, and the right to health care.
  • That national highways were the property of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the State government had no authority to block them.
  • The NHAI had not given Karnataka permission to block the roads.
  • The blockade was against the directive of the Union government to all State governments that the transportation of all goods, without the distinction of essential and non-essential ones, be allowed during the lockdown period.
  • Karnataka’s refusal to open the roads was against the guidelines of the Union government and against the interest of the public at large.

DOCTORS WARY OF BCG VACCINE STUDY

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology, Prelims

Why in news?

Doctors and scientists in India have expressed caution on a study, which argues that countries that have deployed the BCG-tuberculosis vaccine in their immunisation programmes have seen fewer deaths from coronavirus (COVID-19).

What the Study showed?

Note: The study, that hasn’t been peer-reviewed, but is available for public scrutiny.

  • The Study argues that 55 middle and high-income countries chosen for the analysis, that have a current universal BCG policy had 0.78 deaths per million people, whereas middle and high income countries that never had a universal BCG policy (5 countries) had a larger mortality rate, with 16.39 deaths per million people, a significant variation.
  • Low and middle-income countries, even if they had universal immunisation policies, were excluded from the analysis because they were also likely to have low testing rates for COVID-19 infection and therefore fewer reported deaths.
  • India, while having a universal BCG policy in place and relatively fewer deaths as a proportion of confirmed coronavirus infections, wasn’t included in the analysis. Many experts say that India tests relatively too little.
  • The BCG vaccine is known to confer a strong immune response that had protective effects beyond just staving off a tuberculosis infection and because COVID-19 was particularly lethal to the elderly, those countries where the elderly were likely to have had a BCG shot in their childhood were likely to be better protected against coronavirus – says the study.

What can be relied upon for now?

  • Only actual data that showed people who’d been immunised and showed less disease would be convincing.
  • Australia, the Netherlands, the United States are going to vaccinate healthcare workers with BCG, so the results from that would be good evidence.
  • However, several studies over the years have shown that the BCG vaccine, because it accentuates a powerful immune response, has conferred a significant degree of protection against leprosy and non-invasive bladder cancers.

What is BCG Vaccine?

  • Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine is a vaccine primarily used against tuberculosis (TB).
  • In countries where tuberculosis or leprosy is common, one dose is recommended in healthy babies as close to the time of birth as possible.
  • In areas where tuberculosis is not common, only children at high risk are typically immunized, while suspected cases of tuberculosis are individually tested for and treated.
  • Adults who do not have tuberculosis and have not been previously immunized but are frequently exposed may be immunized as well.
  • BCG also has some effectiveness against Buruli ulcer infection and other nontuberculous mycobacteria infections.
  • Additionally it is sometimes used as part of the treatment of bladder cancer.
  • India and Pakistan introduced BCG mass immunization in 1948, the first countries outside Europe to do so.

TABLIGHI JAMAAT EXPLAINED: ON A MISSION TO ‘PURIFY’ ISLAM

Focus: GS-I Indian Society

Why in news?

  • The Tablighi Jamaat, a little known Islamic organisation, has been at the centre of a controversy after dozens of people who attended a religious congregation the group held at its headquarters in Delhi in March tested positive for COVID-19.
  • At least 2,000 people, both from across the country and foreign nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia, had attended the gathering in Nizamuddin that started in early March and went on for a couple of weeks.

Origins of Tablighi Jamaat and its growth

  • The Tablighi Jamaat (Society of Preachers) was founded by a Deobandi Islamic scholar Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in Mewat, India, in 1926.
  • As its name suggests, Al-Kandhlawi’s goal was to establish a group of dedicated preachers as a Muslim revivalist society, who could revive “true” Islam, which he saw was not being practised by many Muslims.
  • The slogan Al-Kandhlawi coined for his new organisation captured the essence of its activities — “Oh Muslims, become true Muslims”.
  • This was also a time when Islam and Hinduism had seen several revivalist streams in Asia. India had seen the rise of the Deobandi school in the second half of the 19th century.
  • In India, Hinduism was seeing revivalist movements such as the Shuddhi Movement in the early 20th century.
  • The mission was to revive the faith based on its core teachings and lifestyle of its early leaders.
  • He sent his volunteers to villages to spread “the message of Allah”.
  • The organisation grew fast in British India. In its annual conference held in November 1941, some 25,000 people attended.
  • After Partition, it grew stronger in Pakistan and East Pakistan (lately Bangladesh).
  • Now, Tablighi’s largest national wing is in Bangladesh. The group has presence in 150 countries and millions of followers.

Ideology and organisation

  • Inspired by the Deobandi creed, the Tablighis urge fellow Muslims to live like the Prophet did.
  • They are theologically opposed to the syncretic nature of Sufi Islam and insist on its members to dress like the Prophet did (trouser or robe should be above the ankle).
  • Men usually shave their upper lip and keep long beard.
  • The focus of the organisation was not on converting people from other faiths into Islam. Rather, it is focussed on ‘purifying’ the Muslim faith.
  • The organisation has a loose structure – The Emir is the leader of the international movement and is always related to the group’s founder Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi.
  • The current leader, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, is the grandson of the founder.

What do they do?

  • The Tablighi Jamaat members have declared they are not political.
  • They have also decried violence in the name of religion.
  • They say the Prophet Mohammed has commanded all Muslims to convey the message of Allah, and the Tablighis take this as their duty.
  • They divide themselves into small Jamaats (societies) and travel frequently across the world to spread the message of Islam to Muslim houses. During this travel, they stay in local mosques.
  • The group’s modus operandi is peaceful and it is focussed entirely on the Muslim community worldwide.
  • The Tablighi Jamaat has been banned in some Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, whose governments see its puritanical preachings as extremist.

DRDO DEVELOPS BIO SUIT, SEALANT FOR SAFETY GEAR

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology, Prelims

Why in news?

  • In a major breakthrough, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a special sealant as an alternative to seam sealing tape which is critical in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • A bio suit was also developed to keep medical and other personnel engaged in combating COVID-19 safe from the deadly virus, Defence Ministry said on 2nd April 2020.

Details

  • The DRDO has prepared a special sealant as an alternative to seam sealing tape based on the sealant used in submarine applications.
  • Presently, bio suits prepared using this glue for seam sealing by an industry partner has cleared test.
  • The bio suit was developed with the help of the industry by scientists at various DRDO laboratories by applying the technical know-how and expertise in textile, coating and nanotechnology.
  • It has been subjected to rigorous testing for textile parameters as well as protection against synthetic blood.
  • The DRDO is trying to ensure that these suits are produced in large numbers to serve as defensive equipment for all the paramedics, medics and other health care personnel who are fighting in the frontlines against the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Efforts are on to increase the production capacity to about 15000 suits per day. Another vendor is being brought, who has the experience in garment technology.

Why was it necessary?

  • Bio suit production in the country by DRDO industry partners and other industries were being hampered due to non-availability of seam sealing tapes.
  • DRDO can mass produce this glue through the industry to support the seam sealing activity by suit manufacturers.
  • The industry is preparing to produce the bio suit in large quantities, to meet the increasing shortage of personal protective equipment in the nation.

Another instancesof Innovation in the country

  • Naval Dockyard, Mumbai, has designed and developed its own handheld Infra Red (IR) based temperature sensor for screening at its entry gates, which have an average influx of around 20,000 personnel every day.
  • The instrument has been manufactured through in-house resources at a cost of under ₹1000, a fraction of the cost of the temperature guns in the market, the Navy said.
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