- Govt. mulls lockdown extension amid requests from the States
- India revokes ban on export of hydroxychloroquine, Opposition slams
- Karnataka-Kerala border blockade: consensus reached
- Special session of the U.N. Security Council likely on April 9
- Researchers find cells that may explain loss of smell in COVID-19 patients
- Two CSIR labs start sequencing novel coronavirus
- Gender violence is a “shadow pandemic”: UN Women
- Economy to contract 4.5% in fourth quarter, says ICRA
GOVT. MULLS LOCKDOWN EXTENSION AMID REQUESTS FROM THE STATES
Focus: GS-III Disaster Management
Why in news?
The Union government on 7th April 2020, indicated that it was actively considering an extension of the 21-day nationwide lockdown that began on March 25 and due to end on April 14 as many States have openly appealed for its continuation in the face of rise in COVID-19 cases.
What Ministers of various states had to say?
- People have got used to the lockdown. We should take advantage of that and deal conservatively with the question of lifting the lockdown.
- Certainly, borders of States should remain closed although activities within districts are on to some extent.
- A conservative estimate and looking at the expected spikes in cases, we must go for another 14 days of lockdown at least.
- There should be a partial lifting of the lockdown in a graded and calibrated manner.
- Allow farmers to harvest their crops but keep schools and colleges closed.
- Allow scooters and two wheelers to ply first.
- Many State governments as well as experts have requested the Central government to extend the lockdown and the Centre is thinking in this direction.
Recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) in Centre:
The GoM had an extensive discussion on the prevailing situation and shared its appreciation of the Cabinet decision to reduce the MPs salaries for a year and also the suspension of MPLAD funds for 2 years.
- Places such as religious centres, where people have a tendency to gather in large numbers, should be closely monitored and such gatherings prevented.
- Increased monitoring through drones was also suggested.
- Steps to enhance testing facilities in laboratories.
- The States were told to consult epidemiologists to analyse the spread of COVID-19 in potential hotspots.
INDIA REVOKES BAN ON EXPORT OF HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE, OPPOSITION SLAMS
Focus: GS-II International Relations, GS-III Science and Technology, Disaster Management
Why in news?
The Government of India announced on 7th March 2020 that it had rescinded its earlier ban on the export of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which is now being used in countries such as the U.S. as a possible line of treatment for COVID-19, setting off a controversy over whether the two-day old blanket ban was overturned under pressure from Washington.
What the Ministry of External Affairs had to say?
- In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities.
- We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations that have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic.
- The latest decision, which was taken at a high-level meeting on April 6, effectively overturns the previous notification.
- The MEA indicated that pre-existing orders, mainly to the U.S., Brazil and European countries would be fulfilled, depending on the stock position and domestic demand for the drug.
- In a notification on March 25, the government placed HCQ on a restricted items list, and then put a blanket ban on any export of the drug on April 4.
- The MEA announcement came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump said that India could invite “retaliation” if it withheld supplies of HCQ for which the U.S., Brazil and other countries have already placed advance orders.
- “I spoke to [PM Modi] yesterday, a good talk. I would be surprised [if India refused to supply HCQ], because India does very well by the U.S. For many years they have been taking advantage of the United States on trade….I spoke to him and said, we appreciate your allowing the supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it come out, that would be ok, but of course there may be retaliation, why wouldn’t there be?” Mr. Trump said.
- While the drug’s efficacy is not yet clinically proven, Mr. Trump has been a proponent of its use.
- The Opposition criticised the Union government for the quick capitulation in the face of a veiled threat by United States President Donald Trump on the ban on export of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
- The government should think deeply about the export of essential medicines as our citizens have the first right over them.
- While the humanitarian gesture made by the Indian government was welcome, it should have raised concern over the language used by Mr. Trump.
MEA’s Response to Criticisms
- MEA is in touch with the Department of Pharmaceuticals, which has assured us that we have enough supply.
- This drug is not recommended for use in general population. In India, it is still given as a trial drug to a restricted category of people, and should not be taken without doctor’s advice.
- The MEA also denied criticism that its decision to reverse the ban had been taken under pressure from the U.S. and other countries.
- Like any responsible government, our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people.
- In order to ensure this, some temporary steps were taken to restrict exports of a number of pharmaceutical products.
KARNATAKA-KERALA BORDER BLOCKADE: CONSENSUS REACHED
Focus: GS-III Disaster Management
Why in news?
The Supreme Court on 7th March 2020 disposed of a bunch of petitions concerning the Kerala-Karnataka border sealing case after the Union government informed that a consensus had been worked out to allow patients requiring urgent medical treatment to cross the Talapadi border and access the hospitals in Mangaluru.
Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said a meeting was held among the Union Home Secretary and the Chief Secretaries of the two States to amicably resolve the crisis. An agreement had been reached on the parameters and protocol for allowing medical patients into Karnataka.
- On April 3, the court ordered the Centre, Kerala and Karnataka to confer immediately and “formulate parameters for passage of patients for urgent medical treatment at the inter-State border at Talapadi”. The court then listed the case on April 7.
- The April 3 order was based on petitions highlighting how Karnataka had enforced a blockade which, the court was informed, had resulted in deaths as ambulances bound for Mangaluru were not being permitted to cross the border.
- The petitions asked the court to intervene to facilitate free movement of vehicles carrying persons who need urgent medical treatment across the border.
SPECIAL SESSION OF THE U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL LIKELY ON APRIL 9
Focus: GS-III Disaster Management, GS-II International Relations
Why in news?
India is gearing for diplomatic activities as the U.N. Security Council appears set for a special session over the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is likely to happen?
- A special closed session of the UNSC is to be held as early as on April 9 when all 15 members of the highest U.N. body are likely to discuss the situation on the intensifying crisis that has disrupted life and economy in India as well.
- The session will draw statements from all the member-countries with interested non-members participating as observers.
- A meeting of the UNSC had been talked about since the beginning of the pandemic in China in December 2019, but the process seems to have taken off with the arrival of the Dominican Republic as the president of the body.
- The meeting though closed is not “closed door” and there is a possibility that it could be globally webcast if all members agree.
- Though other regional and global bodies like G20 have convened urgent virtual summits, the Security Council’s inability to meet raised concern in world capitals in recent weeks.
- Several of its 10 elected members demanded a special session on the pandemic caused by the novel coronnavirus during the previous presidency which was with China.
- The COVID-19 crisis has gripped almost all the U.N. member-countries barring a few with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being one of the most high profile names to be affected by the viral infection.
- COVID-19 is a truly global crisis that the SC must discuss.
- It makes sense to have a meeting of the UNSC as the pandemic is threatening global peace and economy.
- Apart from the health aspect, the economic disruption will require global cooperation among all member-nations of the UNSC and the UN General Assembly.
- This is a time for cooperation and the meeting should not be seen as an occasion to corner any member of the UNSC.
United Nations Security Council
- The Security Council is one of the six main organs of the United Nations.
- Its primary responsibility is the maintenance of international peace and security.
- While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to member states, only the Security Council has the power to make decisions that member states are then obligated to implement under the Charter- Hence, It is the only body of the UN with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
- Resolutions of the Security Council are typically enforced by UN peacekeepers, military forces voluntarily provided by member states and funded independently of the main UN budget.
- It has 15 Members (5 as Permanent Members and 10 as Non- Permanent Members), and each Member has one vote.
- Five permanent members: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Each of the Permanent Members has Veto Power over every decision of UNSC.
- The Permanent Residence of UNSC in the UN Headquarters New York City, USA.
- The presidency of the Council rotates monthly, going alphabetically among member states.
Functions and Powers of UNSC:
Under the United Nations Charter, the functions and powers of the Security Council are:
- to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
- to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction;
- to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
- to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;
- to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;
- to call on Members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression;
- to take military action against an aggressor;
- to recommend the admission of new Members;
- to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in “strategic areas”;
- to recommend to the General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.
RESEARCHERS FIND CELLS THAT MAY EXPLAIN LOSS OF SMELL IN COVID-19 PATIENTS
Focus: GS-III Science and Technology
Why in news?
- Can a loss of smell be an early warning for a COVID-19 infection? Multiple reports have surfaced, primarily from Europe and the United States, from physicians and ear, nose and throat specialists, of COVID-19 patients complaining of an inability to smell — or anosmia.
- However, it is not clear whether neurons in the brain that are responsible for recognising various odours are damaged, or whether other cells may be involved.
Details of related studies and views
- It is not neurons but a class of cells in the upper regions of the nasal cavity that may be involved: these are called sustentacular cells and horizontal basal cells.
- Crucially, both are not directly involved in helping us smell, but nourish and support the cells that help us do, and so the virus may be inflicting an indirect attack on the olfactory sensory cells.
- While research on this aspect of the disease is emerging, studies say the loss of smell is different from diminished smell or a lack of perceiving flavour in food when one is afflicted with a cold or stuffy nose.
- There is the presence of a key enzyme — called ACE 2 (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme) — in these olfactory cells and the coronavirus has spike proteins that bind to ACE 2 receptors on human cells and the enzyme’s presence is a proxy to revealing the signature of the virus in the body’s cells.
- Research so far suggests that it take between 5-14 days for clinical symptoms of the virus — dry cough, laboured breathing and fever — to show and unless this manifested, those infected are likely to continue socialising and spreading the virus.
Significance of Loss of Smell
- Because the loss of smell surfaces much earlier, anyone who does not feel sick but registers a significant inability to smell could self-isolate and cease infecting others.
- An analysis by a team at King’s College London showed that 59% of COVID-19 positive patients reported a loss of smell and taste, compared with only 18% of those who tested negative for the disease. These results were much stronger in predicting a positive COVID-19 diagnosis than self-reported fever.
- Multiple clinicians have highlighted the abrupt loss of smell in a large number of SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals, particularly from Britain, the U.S., France, South Korea, China, Germany and Iran, therefore, collectively reinforce its potential application as the first line of diagnostics in the patients possessing SARS-CoV-2 hallmark symptoms.
TWO CSIR LABS START SEQUENCING NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
Focus: GS-III Science and Technology
Why in news?
India has shared nine whole genome sequences of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) with the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID).
- So far, 3,086 sequences of the virus isolated from humans have been shared by 57 countries.
- With 621, the U.S. has shared the most number of sequences, followed by the U.K. (350), Belgium (253) and China (242).
- It has been found that a spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 also known as 2019-nCoV, enables the virus to enter and infect human cells.
Sequencing the genome of SARS-CoV-2 will help understand
- where the virus came from.
- if there are different strains circulating in India.
- how the virus has spread.
- Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of Adenine, Cytosine, Guanines, and Thymine that make up an organism’s DNA.
- On April 2, 2020, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) allowed all national research laboratories including those under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to conduct testing for the novel coronavirus.
According to CSIR DG:
- Both the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB, Telangana) and the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB, New Delhi) have already started sequencing the virus.
- The CCMB has both Biosafety Level (BSL)-2 and BSL-3 labs.
- The virus is isolated and deactivated in BSL-3 facility and sequenced in BSL-2 facility.
Besides sequencing, the virus will also be cultured (grown in cells).
- Cell culture is the maintenance and growth of the cells in specially designed containers and under precise conditions of temperature, humidity, nutrition, and freedom from contamination.
- This will help in studying the virus and will be useful while testing vaccines and drugs.
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research:-
- CSIR was established by the Government of India in September 1942 as an autonomous body.
- It is known for its cutting edge R&D knowledge base in diverse S&T areas.
- Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has been ranked first in the Nature Ranking Index-2020.
- The Nature Index provides a close to real-time proxy of high-quality research output and collaboration at the institutional, national and regional level.
Indian Council of Medical Research:-
- ICMR is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.
- Its mandate is to conduct, coordinate and implement medical research for the benefit of the Society; translating medical innovations into products/processes and introducing them into the public health system.
- It is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data:
- It is a public platform started by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2008 for countries to share genome sequences.
- The GISAID Initiative promotes the international sharing of all influenza virus sequences, related clinical and epidemiological data associated with human viruses, and geographical as well as species-specific data associated with avian and other animal viruses
- This helps researchers understand how the viruses evolve, spread and potentially become pandemics.
- It actively promotes the development of novel research tools for the analysis of influenza data by helping developers to facilitate the integration or connection of their tools to analyze GISAID data.
GENDER VIOLENCE IS A “SHADOW PANDEMIC”: UN WOMEN
Focus: GS-II Social Justice, International Relations
Why in news?
The UN Women has urged member-States to include prevention of violence against women in their action plans on COVID-19 and consider shelters and helplines essential services, calling the rise in gender-based violence a “shadow pandemic”.
- According to UN Women, globally 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the previous 12 month.
- “The number is likely to increase as security, health and money worries heighten tensions and strains are accentuated by cramped and confined living conditions.”
- It says according to emerging data, violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has ‘intensified’.
- As per data compiled by the U.N. body, France has seen a 30% increase in domestic violence since the lockdown on March 17.
- In Argentina, emergency calls for domestic violence cases have increased by 25% since the lockdown on March 20 and Cyprus (30%), Singapore (33%) have also registered an increase in calls.
- Canada, Germany, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. have also registered an increase in cases of domestic violence and demand for emergency shelter.
UN Women: The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women:
UN Women is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide.
It works globally to make the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for women and girls and stands behind women’s equal participation in all aspects of life, focusing on four strategic priorities:
- Women lead, participate in and benefit equally from governance systems
- Women have income security, decent work and economic autonomy
- All women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence
- Women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters and conflicts and humanitarian action
Conventions by UN related with violence against women:
United Nations has made significant progress in advancing gender equality, including through landmark agreements such as the
- Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
Beijing Declaration is an agenda for women’s empowerment and considered the key global policy document on gender equality.
It sets strategic objectives and actions for the advancement of women and the achievement of gender equality in 12 critical areas of concern like women and health, women in power and decision-making, the girl-child, women and the environment.
Recent government schemes to achieve gender equality:
- Beti Bachao Beti Padhao
- Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana
- Scheme for Adolescent Girls
- National Nutrition Mission (NNM)
- Pradhan Mantri Mahila Shakti Kendra
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The Convention on the Elimination of ALL Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly.
Described as an international bill of rights for women,
Steps Taken by the Indian Government:
- Fundamental Rights: It guarantees all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State on the basis of gender (Article 15(1)) and special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women (Article 15(3)).
- Directive Principles of State Policies (DPSP): It ensures equal pay for equal work (Article 39 (d)).
- Fundamental Duties: It ensures that practices derogatory to the dignity of women are prohibited under Article 51 (A).
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005:
- It provides victims of domestic violence with a means for practical remedy through prosecution.
- The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961:
- It prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry.
- The sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and redressal) Act, 2013:
- This legislative act seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work.
ECONOMY TO CONTRACT 4.5% IN FOURTH QUARTER, SAYS ICRA
Focus: GS-III Indian Economy
Why in news?
The Indian economy is likely to witness a sharp contraction of 4.5% during Q4FY20 and is expected to recover gradually to post a GDP growth of just 2% in FY21, rating agency ICRA said.
ICRA said it reduced the growth forecast due to the nationwide lockdown imposed in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Concerns have morphed from the impact of imports from China on domestic supply chains into domestic and external demand shock, with social distancing and lockdowns leading to production shutdowns and job losses in some sectors.
Sectors that will be impacted most:
Aviation, hotels, restaurants and tourism, auto dealerships, ceramic tiles, gems and jewellery, retail, shipping, ports and port services, seafood and poultry and microfinance institutions.
Moderately impacted sectors:
Automobiles, auto components, building materials, construction, chemicals, residential real estate, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, logistics, banking, mining, paper, consulting, ferrous metals, footwear, glass, plastics, power and trading
Low impacted sectors:
Education, dairy products, fertilisers and seeds, FMCG, healthcare, food and food products, insurance, telecom, utilities, sugar, tea, coffee and agricultural produce
- It was created in 1991 by prominent financial institutions and commercial banks in India with a devoted crew of experts for the MSME sector
- Moodys, which is considered as the International credit rating agency holds the major share.