Government Schemes & Policies
- Covid-19: What India must do next
- DekhoApnaDesh webinar series
Issues related to Health & Education
- CBSE, Fit India to start live fitness sessions for school students
- Invasive, alien, most fearsome
- ICMR suggests using pooled samples for molecular testing
- Can an unborn baby be infected with coronavirus?
- World Chagas Disease Day
- Is India equipped to carry out clinical trial on vaccines?
- India is not making full use of its digital capabilities to track COVID-19 cases
- IMF projects 1.9% growth for India in 2020
- Targeted Long Term Repo Operations
- Bank Sakhi/ Bc Sakhi
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Amid lockdown, hunters eye rhino horns
Defence & Security Issues
- S. approves sale of missiles, torpedoes to India
Key Facts for Prelims
- Tour De France
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Government Schemes & Policies
Covid-19: What India must do next?
Recnetly, when physician Harvey Fineberg talked about 10 weeks to crush the COVID-19 curve in America, he outlined six key steps.
What are those 6 steps?
- Establish a clear command system.
- Test widely.
- Protect health workers with proper gear and equip hospitals for a surge in demand.
- Determine and track who is infected, likely to be infected, exposed, unexposed, or recovered.
- Inspire and mobilise the public.
- Learn from research to continually improve.
Challenges for Indian scenario:
- These principles apply equally to India, but the relative difficulties of each step are very different.
- For India, the command system is clear and active, the public is engaged, but testing is low, the determination of the five classes (of step four) is not yet clear, and supply chains of protective gear and hospital equipment are thin and fraying.
- The sixth step, research, has to not only meet these defensive challenges, but also launch an all-out offensive against the enemy.
Successful interventions of government and private sector
- While the challenges are severe, the unified response of the government, industry and academia in this time of crisis has been heartening. For example, to test widely, we need diagnostic kits. As global supplies of kits and their components start becoming scarce, Indian industry and start-ups are developing indigenous alternatives. Medical researchers, epidemiologists, molecular biologists, and technocrats are jointly formulating strategies for minimum testing for maximum insight.
- Apps like Aarogya Setu leverage India’s digital and telecom infrastructure and tech talent to supplement community testing and provide virtual intelligence.
- Previous investment in high-quality basic research is also paying off.
- The recent development of futuristic alternatives such as a Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-based paper strip test, which may eliminate the need for expensive and scarce real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines, came from years of background work.
DekhoApnaDesh webinar series
The ministry of tourism launched the Dekho Apna Desh webinar series.
About Dekho Apna Desh webinar series
- Objective: To provide information on the many destinations and the sheer depth and expanse of the culture and heritage of Incredible India.
- The first webinar of the series titled “City of Cities- Delhi’s Personal Diary” touched upon the long history of Delhi as it has unfolded as 8 cities.
- The webinar will be available on the Ministry’s social media handles- IncredibleIndia.
Issues related to Health & Education
CBSE, Fit India to start live fitness sessions for school students
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Fit India, the government’s flagship fitness movement, will start live fitness sessions for school students to keep them engaged as well as fit in the second phase of the countrywide lockdown.
- The live sessions will cover all aspects of children’s fitness such as daily workouts, yoga, nutrition and their emotional well-being.
About Fit India
- Fit India Movement is a nation-wide movement in India to encourage people to remain healthy and fit by including physical activities and sports in their daily lives.
- It was launched by Prime Minister of India on 29 August 2019 (National Sports Day).
- Fit India Movement aims at behavioural changes – from sedentary lifestyle to physically active way of day-to-day living.
- Fit India Mission encourages Schools to Organise a Fit India School Week in month of November/December.
Invasive, alien, most fearsome
Given the little knowledge we have about its origin, and given its rapid spread and massive impact on our lives, novel coronavirus is the most fearsome invasive alien species mankind has ever had to confront.
About Invasive alien species
- Invasive alien species are species of plants, animals and microbes which move out of their native location into alien locations and cause economic, ecological and health damage.
Linking alien invasive species with COVID-19
- All invasive alien species remain unproblematic in their land of origin where natural enemies limit their population increase. But when a species arrives at a new location, it escapes from the control of its natural enemies and its population explodes.
- In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the individual body of each and every host is a landscape in itself. Unlike in the case of SARS, where the virus jumped from bats to civet cats to humans, the intermediate host for SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown.
- The host is devoid of immunity against the pathogen. With no prior exposure to it and no antibodies, the body initiates a violent response against the new intruder, which could prove fatal.
- In its new location, the invasive species can grow and reach the reproductive stage.
- A salient feature in the pattern of the spread of invasive alien species is the formation of satellite populations. SARS-CoV-2 has established the largest number of satellite populations in the shortest period of time.
- Every satellite population has the potential to spread the virus on its own. This spread is a function of the reproductive rate of the virus (R0), which is defined as the number of cases, on average, an infected person will cause during the infectious period.
- For SARS-CoV-2, this rate is yet not known.
The susceptibility of new landscapes (new human bodies) is a function of health, which again is a function of age, disease history, and how much the respiratory system has been challenged by ways of air pollution, respiratory diseases or smoking.
Why we don’t know the Reproductive rate of SARS-CoV-2?
- R0 is a critical value in the case of all invasive alien species. If it is less than 1, the disease will vanish without causing an epidemic. As it goes above 1, the probability of an epidemic increases.
- In the absence of precise data for computing the R0 of SARS-CoV-2, the estimated value is somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5.
There are mainly four reasons for not arriving at a precise value.
- The basic properties of this viral pathogen, such as the infection period, are unknown.
- We don’t know how many mild cases of infections that do not result in symptoms have been missed but are spreading the disease.
- We don’t know about the precise susceptibility of a wide range of communities with different social structures.
- No one knows the future impact of measures such as travel restrictions, social distancing and self-quarantine and how they influence the virus’s continued spread.
- One way of controlling biological invasion is to slow the spread. The idea of imposing lockdowns originated from this logic of slowing the spread.
- Unlike plants and animals which can be visually encountered, we need to contact-trace and test people to find out the extent of spread of this pathogen.
Stating that the number of COVID-19 cases in India is registering a rise, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is now advising the feasibility of using pooled samples for molecular testing of COVID-19.
What is pooled testing?
- Pooled testing is a procedure commonly used to reduce the cost of screening a large number of individuals for infectious diseases.
- The objective of pool testing is to increase the capacity of laboratories to screen more samples in the same amount of time without doubling the resources needed.
How does it work?
- In its simplest form, pooled testing works by compositing a set of individual specimens (e.g., blood or urine) into a common pool.
- If the pool tests negative, all individuals within it are diagnosed as negative.
- In case the pooled test turns out to be positive, individual samples are tested, which is referred to as pool de-convolution.
- As all individual samples in a negative pool are regarded as negative, it results in substantial cost savings when a large proportion of pools tests negative.
- Pooled screening can also help in tracking down the asymptomatic cases of the disease, thereby tracking community transmission.
- The “door-to-door” pooled-sample approach can facilitate mass screening in early stages of COVID-19 outbreaks, especially in low- and middle-income settings, and in containing foreseeable second wave outbreaks worldwide.
Advice from ICMR on pooling test
Eligible areas for pooling test
- This method can be used in areas where the prevalence of COVID-19 is low, which implies a positivity rate of less than 2%.
- In areas with a positivity rate between 2 to 5 %, sample pooling of PCR screening may be considered in a community survey of surveillance among asymptomatic individuals.
- Pooling of samples is not recommended in areas or populations with positivity rates of over five per cent.
Number of Pooling:
- While more than two samples can be pooled together, the number should not exceed five samples to avoid sample dilution, which can lead to false negatives.
- Samples of individuals with known contact with confirmed cases or healthcare workers should not be included in the pooled samples.
Can an unborn baby be infected with coronavirus?
After several months of the world believing that a pregnant woman cannot transmit novel coronavirus infection to her unborn baby, evidence has been emerging to suggest that this can indeed happen.
What is vertical transmission?
- Vertical transmission refers to the transmission of an infection from a pregnant woman to her child. It can be antenatal (before birth), perinatal (weeks immediately prior to or after birth) or postnatal (after birth).
- Among infections of which vertical transmission has been known to happen are HIV, Zika, rubella and the herpes virus. In fact, one of the biggest worries about the Zika outbreak a couple of years ago was the possibility of babies being born with birth defects.
What has ICMR said?
- ICMR has issued a Guidance for Management of Pregnant Women in COVID-19 Pandemic. It says: “With regard to vertical transmission evidence suggests that vertical transmission is probable, although the proportion of pregnancies affected and the significance to the neonate has yet to be determined.”
- It also follows international norms in recommending that the baby should be isolated after birth, highlighting the lack of enough scientific knowledge about the chances of a COVID-19-affected baby developing complications.
What is the available scientific evidence on vertical transmission?
- Recent researchers from Wuhan University suggest that there is currently no evidence for intrauterine infection caused by vertical transmission in women who develop COVID-19 pneumonia in late pregnancy.
- Another group of researchers from the same university reported the case of a woman with COVID-19 who delivered a baby with COVID-19 virus and antibodies against it soon after birth.
- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention though still does not subscribe to the vertical transmission idea.
World Chagas Disease Day
World Chagas Disease Day is being observed for the first time on April 14, 2020 to spread awareness about Chagas disease.
- The 72nd World Health Assembly approved the designation of Chagas Disease Day on May 24, 2019.
Why Chagas Disease is called the “silent and silenced disease”?
- The Chagas disease is called silent because it progresses slowly, and silenced because it mainly affects the poor people who often lack political voice and proper health care.
About Chagas Disease
- The disease got its name from Dr Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, who diagnosed the first patient with the disease in Brazil on April 14, 1909.
- It is classified as a neglected tropical disease (NTD), meaning it affects the low-income populations in developing countries across the globe.
- Also called the American trypanosomiasis, this vector-borne disease hits the most poverty-stricken communities, especially in Latin America.
- A parasitic protozoan called Trypanosoma cruzi that causes this vector-borne disease is usually transmitted by faeces and urine of triatomine bugs or kissing bugs, which belongs to the family of assassin bugs.
- The disease can also be transmitted by contaminated food, organ transplantations, blood or blood products transfusion, and infected mothers to newborn.
- Lack of awareness and neglecting the symptoms, especially among poor households, results in much severe symptoms and even death.
The symptoms of the disease come in two phases: Symptoms include fever, muscle pain, headache, difficulty in breathing, abdominal or chest pain and enlarged lymph glands.[Ref: The Hindu]
Is India equipped to carry out clinical trials on vaccines?
Three India-based organisations are involved in studies to find a vaccine against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). But none are being tested in here as the country does not have animals suitable for such pre-clinical trials.
Trials on Animals
- Vaccines have to go through a series of trials before they are ready for the market. First preclinical trials on animals and then a series of trials on human beings. The animal models used have to be susceptible to the disease so that the efficacy of the vaccine can be determined.
India’s scenario on animal trial
- As suitable animals’ models are not available in India, none of the preclinical trials are being carried out in India.
- India has invested in creating facilities for carrying out research on animals.
- The Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA), established under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 has registered 1748 supplier establishments including government organisations from where researchers can get experimental animals.
- These animals include mice, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs along with transgenic animals. The animal trials are governed by the Breeding of and experiments on animals (Control and Supervision) Rules, 1998 which were last amended in 2006.
India is not making full use of its digital capabilities to track COVID-19 cases
The principles that have propelled two domestic digital payments’ platforms also offer India an opportunity to show how the tracing of COVID-19 cases can be done at scale and with greater speed. The JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) trinity for DBTs (Direct Benefit Transfers) and UPI (Unified Payments Interface) have made India a technology leader in money transfers.
Aarogya Setu mobile application
- The success of India’s Aarogya Setu mobile application will depend on its widespread adoption. The app, like other similar products, relies on bluetooth technology to map and deconstruct the contact history of individuals who may have come in contact with potential carriers of the coronavirus.
- If two individuals are at the same place at the same time, their apps can exchange information without the server knowing anything about it. Further, the app notifies users and authorities of individuals who are at risk.
- Some privacy safeguards have been put in place to ensure that individuals do not share personally identifiable information with each other but only with authorities — that too, in select cases.
- As Nandan Nilekani has underlined earlier, app downloads in India are perhaps the most expensive compared to any other developed or fast-developing nation, despite the falling cost of data, since Indian users pass potential downloads through several filters such as required storage space, the potential impact on battery and data usage.
- Given India’s open internet, several publishers from across industries and geographies are vying for smartphone real estate. In such a situation, drawing attention to particular use-cases is challenging.
Delinking the technology from the channels
- An alternative strategy that we can pursue is delinking the technology we want to use for tracing (the backend) from the channels (the front end).
- A fine-tuned backend can be pushed to, and used by, publishers (other apps) who already have the reach. This is akin to the UPI being used by several banks and technology firms for payment. The government did build its frontend in the form of the BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) app but mostly for signalling purposes.
- In the current context, the government can consider using its own app for tracing and for additional use-cases such as passes and approvals for movement when the lockdown is gradually eased out. It could even host other health-related features. Expanding its ambit and making it a conduit like JAM will likely increase the incentive for people to embrace it.
Tooling for tracking
- While reports have indicated that the developers are using bluetooth for tracing and are also capturing GPS coordinates, both users and device manufacturers limit their usage of these technologies in favour of other optimisations.
- Users are concerned with both data and battery usage while device manufacturers kill background jobs even if the publishers have sought and secured permissions from users.
- In such a scenario, developers ought to think about using other techniques. For instance, using cell tower data and WiFi identifiers to bolster tracing efforts. This is especially important in a context where only a third of our population has smartphones and even fewer people have devices with bluetooth capability. Even the recently announced Google-Apple partnership may not have meaningful results in this setting.
IMF projects 1.9% growth for India in 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to cause a -3% change in global output in 2020, much worse than the 2008-09 financial crises, as per the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) World Economic Outlook (WEO).
Highlights of World Economic Outlook (WEO), April 2020
- India’s growth is expected to dip to 1.9% in 2020 and rebound to 7.4% in 2021.
- Assuming that the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020, the world economy is projected to grow at 5.8% in 2020 as economic activity normalizes, aided by policy.
- If the pandemic does not recede in the second half of 2020, global GDP would fall an additional 3% in 2020 and if the pandemic continues into 2021, global GDP may fall by an additional 8% relative to the baseline scenario.
- The cumulative loss to global GDP over 2020 and 2021 from the pandemic crisis could be around 9 trillion dollars, greater than the economies of Japan and Germany, combined.
- Emerging Asia is projected to be the only region that grows in 2020, at a rate of 1.0%.
- Apart from India’s modest 1.9% in 2020, Indonesia is expected to grow at 0.5%, while others in the region experience contractions.
Factors of economic impact of the disease:
- The economic impact of the disease depends on a number of factors and their unpredictable interaction, including the pandemic’s pathway, the intensity and effectiveness of containment efforts, supply chain disruptions, spending pattern changes, behavioural changes (for example around people visiting shopping malls and public transport use), significant tightening of global financial market conditions and so forth.
Targeted Long Term Repo Operations
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently introduced the Targeted Long Term Repo Operations (TLTROs), as a tool to enhance liquidity in the system, particularly the corporate bond market, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
What is LTRO?
- It is a tool under which the central bank provides one-year to three-year money to banks at the prevailing repo rate, accepting government securities with matching or higher tenure as the collateral.
How is it different from LAF and MSF?
- While the RBI’s current windows of liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) and marginal standing facility (MSF) offer banks money for their immediate needs ranging from 1-28 days, the LTRO supplies them with liquidity for their 1- to 3-year needs.
- LTRO operations are intended to prevent short-term interest rates in the market from drifting a long way away from the policy rate, which is the repo rate.
- As banks get long-term funds at lower rates, their cost of funds falls. In turn, they reduce interest rates for borrowers.
- LTRO helped RBI ensure that banks reduce their marginal cost of funds-based lending rate, without reducing policy rates.
- LTRO also showed the market that RBI will not only rely on revising repo rates and conducting open market operations for its monetary policy, but also use new tools to achieve its intended objectives.
Bank Sakhi/ Bc Sakhi
SHG women working as Business Correspondents for banks (BC Sakhis) and Bank Sakhis playing a vital role in disbursement of first tranch of ex-gratia of Rs.500/- to women PMJDY accounts amidst COVID-19 Lockdown.
Who are Business Correspondents?
- Business Correspondents are retail agents engaged by banks for providing banking services at locations other than a bank branch/ATM.
- Banks are required to take full responsibility for the acts of omission and commission of the BCs that they engage and have, therefore, to ensure thorough due diligence and additional safeguards for minimizing the agency risk.
Function and Role
- BCs are permitted to perform a variety of activities which include identification of borrowers, collection and preliminary processing of loan applications including verification of primary information/data, creating awareness about savings and other products, education and advice on managing money and debt counseling, processing and submission of applications to banks, promoting, nurturing and monitoring of Self Help Groups/ Joint Liability Groups, post-sanction monitoring, follow-up of recovery.
- They can also attend to collection of small value deposit, disbursal of small value credit, recovery of principal / collection of interest, sale of micro insurance/ mutual fund products/ pension products/ other third party products and receipt and delivery of small value remittances/ other payment instruments.
The banks may engage the following individuals/entities as BC:
- Individuals like retired bank employees, retired teachers, retired government employees and ex-servicemen, individual owners of kirana / medical /Fair Price shops, individual Public Call Office (PCO) operators, agents of Small Savings schemes of Government of India/Insurance Companies, individuals who own Petrol Pumps, authorized functionaries of well run Self Help Groups (SHGs) which are linked to banks, any other individual including those operating Common Service Centres (CSCs).
- NGOs/ MFIs set up under Societies/ Trust Acts and Section 25 Companies.
- Cooperative Societies registered under Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies Acts/ Cooperative Societies Acts of States/Multi State Cooperative Societies Act.
- Post Offices.
- Companies registered under the Indian Companies Act, 1956 with large and widespread retail outlets, excluding Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs).
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Amid lockdown, hunters eye rhino horns
At least six thwarted attempts have been made for rhino-poaching within a week in and around Assam’s national parks including Kaziranga National Park.
Kaziranga National Park
- Location: Golaghat and Nagaon districts of Assam.
- Crisscrossed by four main rivers- Brahmaputra, Diphlu, Mora Diphlu and Mora Dhansiri.
- Has more than 250 seasonal water bodies
- Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
- Described as a “biodiversity hotspot”.
- The 2018 census had yielded 2,413 rhinos and approximately 1,100 elephants.
- Much of the focus of conservation efforts in Kaziranga are focused on the ‘big four’ species— rhino, elephant, Royal Bengal tiger and Asiatic water buffalo.
Reasons behind the Declining Population of Rhinos
- Sport Hunting: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a trend amongst royals for sport hunting. It was during this period when Greater one-horned rhinos were hunted continuously and relentlessly.
- Poaching: It is the most important reason for the decline in the population of Indian rhinos. From 1980 to 1993, 692 rhinos were killed due to poaching. As a result of this, the Indian rhino species was on the stage of extension by mid-1900s. Not just this, poaching was a major concern even till a few years back.
- Habitat Loss or Human-Rhino Conflict: With the increasing human population, the needs of every human being is also increasing. Since a long time, humans are entering in the wildlife habitat in order to have fresh lands. This results in the disappearance of alluvial plain grasslands that are the necessity of rhinos. Because of the habitat, the territories of rhinos are also declining. As an outcome of that, they frequently leave their protected area for forage in the nearby settlements.
- Population Density and Genetic Diversity: Some times, high population density can also be a reason to start a conservation programme. High population leads to lower breeding rates.
Steps Taken Towards Rhino Conservation in India
Indian Rhino Mission 2020:
- In the year 2005, the Assam government along with the International Rhino Foundation, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Bodoland Territorial Council, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service launched the ‘Indian Rhino Mission 2020’.
- This entire mission was basically an effort to attain the rhino population of at least 3000 in seven protected areas of Assam by the year 2020.
- Under this initiative, Indian rhinos are moved by the concerned authorities from the crowded places like Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park to protected areas. The reason for doing so is to provide ample space to these creatures to breed so they can live long.
Wild to Wild Translocation: Form 2008 to 2012, a total of 18 rhinos were translocated to Manas National Park. With all the efforts and security measures, the park was only one poaching case was recorded in 2014 and 2017.
Restoring Landscapes: All the concerned organization started restoring rhino habitat not just in India but Nepal as well. For that, habitat corridors were secured so that these creatures can move to higher areas during flood times.
Working with Locals: In India and Nepal, several projects have been carrying out towards the conservation of Indian rhinos that also ensure livelihood to locals by asking them to plant several specific floral species that support anti-poaching operations. This also helps in reducing the conflicts between humans and rhinos.
Reducing Illegal Trade: Several measures are being taken to stop the illegal trade of rhino horn by its concerned organization along with TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network.
Monitoring and Census: In every three years, the census of Indian rhinos is done in Kaziranga National Park. This census is carried out in a visual count form.[Ref: The Hindu, Livemint]
Defence & Security Issues
U.S. approves sale of missiles, torpedoes to India
The U.S. State Department has approved two potential missile deals with India, for an estimated $92 million and $63 million.
- The first deal, for which Boeing is the contractor, is for ten AGM-84L Harpoon Block II air launched missiles and related equipment.
- These missiles can be fitted onto Boeing’s 8-PI (Poseidon Eight India) maritime patrol aircraft and are intended to enhance India’s capability in anti-surface warfare while defending its sea lanes.
- The second deal, contracted with Raytheon Integrated Defense System, is for 16 MK 54 All Up Round Lightweight Torpedoes (LWT); three MK 54 Exercise Torpedoes and related equipment. Also included are MK 54 spare parts; two Recoverable Exercise Torpedoes (REXTORP) and support from the U.S. government and contractors.
- The torpedoes are expected to enhance India’s anti-submarine warfare capability and can be used with the P-8I.
Prelims Key Fact
- In first-of-its-kind innovation, Robots – Co-Bot – started serving food and medicines to Corona patients in dedicated Covid-19 ANM Skill Centre-based Hospital in Chaibasa, in Jharkhand.
Tour De France
Why in news? Tour de France called off amid pandemic.
- The Tour de France is an annual men’s multiple stage bicycle race primarily held in France, while also occasionally passing through nearby countries.
- Like the other Grand Tours, it consists of 21 day-long stages over the course of 23 days.
- It is known as Grande Boucl in France.
- The race was first organized in 1903 to increase sales for the newspaper L’Auto and is currently run by the Amaury Sport Organisation.