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

Why in news?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 14th March 2020 called for a videoconference summit of leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to discuss a common strategy to tackle COVID-19.
  • Masks and hand sanitisers have been declared as essential commodities due to shortage in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • India is only the fifth country in the world besides — Japan, Thailand, U.S. and China — to have successfully isolated the COVID-19 virus strain, helping it take the first step towards expediting the development of drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits in the country.

SAARC Videoconference proposal

  • All leaders in the 8-nation regional grouping welcomed the PM’s suggestion and agreed to join the conference, except Pakistan PM Imran Khan, who deputed his special advisor on health to participate.
  • Mr. Modi’s suggestion was also received with some surprise, since SAARC has had no summit level meeting since 2014, and has been shelved since then due to India-Pakistan tensions, and PM Modi’s decision not to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016.


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  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia
  • Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2015.
  • SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration.
  • It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006.
  • SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

About Masks and Hand Sanitizers as Essential Commodities

  • On March 13, the Centre notified an order under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to declare 2 ply and 3 ply surgical masks, N95 masks and hand sanitisers as essential commodities till June 30, 2020.
  • It has also issued an advisory under the Legal Metrology Act, so that States can ensure these items are not sold for more than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP).
  • States can now notify the Central order in their own official gazettes, and ask manufacturers to enhance production capacity of these products, said the statement.
  • The decision would also empower the State and Central governments to regulate production, quality, distribution and sales of these items and carry out operations against those involved in speculation, overpricing and black marketing.

N95 Masks

  • The NIOSH air filtration rating is the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)’s classification of filtering respirators.
  • N95 filtering facepieces that have been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration as surgical masks are labeled “Surgical N95”, and these provide respiratory protection to the wearer as well.
  • Typical surgical masks do not provide the same level of filtration as a NIOSH approved respirator as they are neither tight-fitting nor capable of providing sufficient filtration over a wide range of particle sizes.

Essential Commodities Act, 1955

  • The Essential Commodities Act is an act of Parliament of India which was established to ensure the delivery of certain commodities or products, the supply of which if obstructed owing to hoarding or blackmarketing would affect the normal life of the people.
  • The ECA was enacted in 1955. It has since been used by the Government to regulate the production, supply and distribution of a whole host of commodities it declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.
  • The list of items under the Act include drugs, fertilisers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products.
  • The Centre can include new commodities as and when the need arises, and take them off the list once the situation improves.

How does addition of Essential Commodities work?

  • If the Centre finds that a certain commodity is in short supply and its price is spiking, it can notify stock-holding limits on it for a specified period.
  • The States act on this notification to specify limits and take steps to ensure that these are adhered to.
  • Anybody trading or dealing in the commodity, be it wholesalers, retailers or even importers are prevented from stockpiling it beyond a certain quantity.
  • A State can, however, choose not to impose any restrictions. But once it does, traders have to immediately sell into the market any stocks held beyond the mandated quantity. This improves supplies and brings down prices.
  • As not all shopkeepers and traders comply, State agencies conduct raids to get everyone to toe the line and the errant are punished. The excess stocks are auctioned or sold through fair price shops.

Legal Metrology Act

  • “Legal metrology” means that part of metrology which treats units of weighment and measurement, methods of weighment and measurement and weighing and measuring instruments, in relation to the mandatory technical and legal requirements which have the objects of ensuring public guarantee from the point of view of security and accuracy of the weighments and measurements.
  • Legal Metrology Act is an act to establish and enforce standards of weights and measures, regulate trade and commerce in weights, measures and other goods which are sold or distributed by weights, measure or number and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto

About India Isolating the Coronavirus Strain

  • Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has said that India has managed to isolate the strain from a very small batch of positive cases which is a remarkable achievement.
  • The strain that we have is 99.99% similar to the Wuhan strain.
  • These steps will enable India to expedite detection of the virus and will help in effective management.

How can Indians handle the spread of Coronavirus?

  • India is currently in the second stage of transmission — local transmission — and scientists here are speaking about why they are not recommending asymptomatic testing for all noted that they are taking measures to detect the first signs of community transmission.
  • Strong systems and processes are in place to deal with COVID-19 and the Health Ministry is constantly monitoring the situation.
  • We have to be prepared for community transmission stage but we would like to highlight the fact that if we all work together and follow the guidelines we can improve the outcome.

About ICMR

  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is one of the oldest and largest medical research bodies in the world.
  • The ICMR is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • The governing body of the council is presided over by the Union Health Minister.
  • It is assisted in scientific and technical matters by a scientific advisory board comprising eminent experts in different biomedical disciplines.
  • The board, in its turn, is assisted by a series of scientific advisory groups, scientific advisory committees, expert groups, task forces, steering committees etc. which evaluate and monitor different research activities of the council.
  • The council promotes biomedical research in the country through intramural as well as extramural research. Over the decades, the base of extramural research and also its strategies have been expanded by the council.

May 2024