Current Affairs Analysis

8th April 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Shadow pandemic; SAMADHAN Challenge; Surge in domestic violence; Corona bonds; Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI); Export of hydroxychloroquine; Delhi’s ‘5T’ war; WTO Agreement on Safeguards; General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994; Whole genome sequencing; Human Genome Project; Genome India Project; Swasth ke Sipahi; Ujala Samoohs; Enhancing Overdraft facility
By IASToppers
April 08, 2020

Contents

Government Schemes & Policies

  • MHRD launches Samadhan challenge
  • Delhi’s ‘5T’ war against virus
  • India revokes ban on export of hydroxychloroquine

Social Issues

  • With lockdown, gender violence is a “shadow pandemic”: UN Women

Economy

  • COVID-19 pandemic pulls India’s service sector activity into contraction mode

Bilateral & International Relations

  • How countries are dealing with the surge in domestic violence
  • How euro zone ‘coronabonds’ might work
  • India takes US to WTO’s safeguard committee for hiking duties

Science & Technology

  • Indian researchers work on novel coronavirus genome sequencing

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Swasth ke Sipahi
  • Ujala Samoohs
  • Enhancing Overdraft facility

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Government Schemes & Policies

MHRD launches Samadhan challenge

The Innovation Cell of the Ministry of Human Resources Development and All India Council for Technical Education in collaboration with Forge and InnovatioCuris launched a mega online challenge – SAMADHAN – to test the ability of students to innovate.

About the SAMADHAN Challenge

  • The students participating in this challenge will develop such measures that can be made available to the government agencies, health services and other services for quick solutions to the Coronavirus epidemic and other such calamities.
  • Through this challenge, work will be done to make citizens aware, to face any challenge, to prevent any crisis and to help people get livelihood.
[Ref: PIB]

 Delhi’s ‘5T’ war against virus

Chief Minister if Delhi announced a “5T plan” created by his government to contain COVID-19 spread in Delhi.

What are 5Ts?

5Ts are: Testing, Tracing, Treatment, Teamwork and Tracking-monitoring.

  • Testing: It will be done on a mass scale which to find actual data of people affected by novel coronavirus. Through rapid testing, the government will also be able to identify COVID-19 hotspots and take necessary action.
  • Tracing: Involves identifying and quarantining people who have come in contact with infected persons.
  • Treatment: Declaring whole hospital for exclusive treatment of COVID-19.
  • Teamwork: All State governments must learn from each other and work together.
  • Tracking and monitoring: Ensure that all these measures are in place and all the systems are functioning smoothly.
[Ref: The Hindu]

India revokes ban on export of hydroxychloroquine

The Government of India announced 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.

  • The announcement came hours after U.S. President 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.

Details:

  • The Indian government said that: “In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all neighbouring countries who are dependent on India’s capabilities. India will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations (including US) that have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic.”

Background

  • The Directorate-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) had prohibited the export of the drug on March 25. But it left the option of export open to fulfil export obligation and on humanitarian grounds.
  • On April 4, the DGFT issued a new notification, ending the exception mentioned in the previous order. As a result, India did not export Hydroxychloroquine and formulations made from it even against full advance payment.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Social Issues

With lockdown, gender violence is a “shadow pandemic”: UN Women

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”.

Suggestions by UN

  • Helplines, psychosocial support and online counselling should be boosted, using technology-based solutions such as SMS, online tools and networks to expand social support, and to reach women with no access to phones or Internet.
  • Police and justice services must mobilise to ensure that incidents of violence against women and girls are given high priority with no impunity for perpetrators.

Key Facts

  • 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.
  • As per data compiled by the U.N. body, France has seen a 30% increase in domestic violence since the lockdown In, emergency calls for domestic violence cases have increased in Argentina (25%) , Cyprus (30%), Singapore (33%) since lockdown.
  • 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.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Economy

COVID-19 pandemic pulls India’s service sector activity into contraction mode

The IHS Markit India Services Business Activity Index (Service Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was at 49.3 in March, down from February’s 85-month high of 57.5, as the new coronavirus pandemic pulled the service sector into contraction.

Details:

  • The Index is compiled by IHS Markit which is a global leader in information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets.
  • The fall implies contraction in India’s services sector activity during March basically due to COVID-19.
  • The Composite PMI Output Index that maps both the manufacturing and services sector also fell to 50.6 in March, down 7 points from February’s 57.6.
  • In PMI language, above 50 means expansion, while a score below that denotes contraction.

What is Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)?

  • PMI is an indicator of business activity-both in the manufacturing and services sectors.
  • It is a survey-based measure that asks respondents about changes in their perception of some key business variables from month before.
  • PMI is usually released at start of month, much before most of official data on industrial output, manufacturing and GDP growth is made available. It is, therefore, considered a good leading indicator of economic activity.
  • Manufacturing growth measured by PMI is considered good indicator of industrial output.
  • It is calculated separately for manufacturing and services sectors and then composite index is constructed.
  • It is different from the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), which also gauges the level of activity in the economy.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Bilateral & International Relations

How countries are dealing with the surge in domestic violence

UN Secretary-General appealed governments to pay attention to and prevent a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” over the last few weeks amid lockdown measures imposed by several countries to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Reports showed that while fewer women called helplines than usual, the number of instant messages to aid organisations had gone up, suggesting that perpetrators could be preventing their victims from reporting incidents via phone.

France:

  • Since lockdown, the number of domestic violence reports made to the police had gone up in France.
  • As a result, the French government announced an additional EUR 1 million to fund relief organisations working against domestic abuse. It has also promised to open up pop-up counselling centres and pay for hotel rooms for domestic violence victims.

Italy:

  • In Italy, the government has launched an app that enables domestic violence victims to seek help without making a phone call.

UK:

  • In the UK, since the lockdown started, the National Domestic Abuse helpline saw a 25 per cent rise in calls and online requests for help.

Scotland:

  • Scottish government announced grants of over GBP 1.5 million for Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland over six months to ensure that access to support services is maintained.

Other countries:

  • Since the pandemic, the UN is reporting that Lebanon and Malaysia have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years.
[Ref: Indian Express]

How euro zone ‘coronabonds’ might work

The coronavirus pandemic has revived the acrimonious debate between euro zone countries about jointly issuing debt to meet healthcare needs and address the deep economic downturn that is set to follow.

Corona bonds

  • Corona bonds is a collective debt amongst EU member states, for providing financial relief to Eurozone countries battered by the coronavirus.
  • The funds will be mutualised and supplied by the European Investment Bank, with the debt taken collectively by all member states of the European Union.

Opposition

  • The idea of corona bonds has received reinforcement from nine EU countries: Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Slovenia.
  • However, the idea of coronabonds was rejected by Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria, fiscally “frugal” northern states as they are wary of pooling liabilities with what they see as more spendthrift countries in southern Europe.

Pros of corona bonds

  • The idea of fiscal unity amongst nations seems a beneficial and supportive concept.
  • The advantage of corona bonds is that they would allow European countries to gain essential financial support. States could receive economic aid without expanding their national debt.
  • If the EU member states were able to show a display of unity, this would likely strengthen confidence amongst Europe. 

Cons of corona bonds

  • It would not necessarily enhance debt sustainability. The concept would only aid future debt forgiveness, distinguishing between coronavirus related debt and legacy debt.
  • The implementation of a common bond amongst EU member states could also potentially take a lot of time. The delay is not ideal for countries who require access to funds immediately.
[Ref: Indian Express]

India takes US to WTO’s safeguard committee for hiking duties

India has sought consultations with the US, under the WTO’s safeguard agreement, against American authorities’ decision to increase import duties on derivatives of steel and aluminium products.

What is the issue?

  • In January 2019, the US issued a presidential proclamation stating that steel and aluminium derivatives would be subject to tariff increase.
  • According World Trade Organisation (WTO), India considers this measure of the US to be a safeguard measure within a provision of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994, and the Agreement on Safeguards.
  • The WTO said that India reserves the right to raise additional issues and make further factual arguments, without prejudice to any other remedies provided under the understanding on rules governing the settlement of disputes.

Background

  • In March 2018, US levied a 25 % tariff on steel and a 10 % tariff on aluminium.
  • After this, India drags the US to WTO’s safeguard committee and had sought consultation. On that request, the US had stated that the taxes imposed are not safeguard duties.
  • In April 2018, India had requested consultations with the US with respect to tariff imposed by the US through a presidential proclamation issued in March 2018.
  • The consultations, however, do not fall under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO’s) dispute settlement system.

WTO Agreement on Safeguards

  • The Agreement on Safeguards (“SG Agreement”) sets forth the rules for application of safeguard measures pursuant to Article XIX of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994.
  • Safeguard measures are defined as “emergency” actions with respect to increased imports of particular products, where such imports have caused or threaten to cause serious injury to the importing Member’s domestic industry.
  • SG agreement explicitly applies equally to all WTO Members.
  • As per a provision of the Agreement on Safeguards, a WTO member country proposing to apply a safeguard measures shall provide adequate opportunity for prior consultations with those members having a substantial interest as exporters of the product concerned, to review the information provided and reaching an understanding on ways to achieve the objective set out in the agreement.

Major guiding principles of the Agreement with respect to safeguard measures are that

  • Such measures must be temporary; 
  • They may be imposed only when imports are found to cause or threaten serious injury to a competing domestic industry;
  • They should be applied on a non-selective (i.e., most-favoured-nation, or “MFN”, basis);
  • They should be progressively liberalized while in effect; and
  • Member imposing them must pay compensation to the Members whose trade is affected.

Need

  • The SG Agreement was negotiated because GATT Contracting Parties increasingly had been applying a variety of so-called “grey area” measures (bilateral voluntary export restraints, orderly marketing agreements, and similar measures) to limit imports of certain products.
  • These measures were not subject to GATT, and the legality of such measures under the GATT was doubtful. The SG Agreement now clearly prohibits such measures, and has specific provisions for eliminating those that were in place at the time the WTO Agreement entered into force.
[Ref: Business Standard, WTO]

Science & Technology

Indian researchers work on novel coronavirus genome sequencing

The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad and the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi have started working together on whole genome sequencing of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). 

  • This will help us understand the virus’ evolution, how dynamic it is and how fast it mutates. It will also help us know future aspects.

About whole genome sequencing

It is a method to determine the complete DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) sequence of a specific organism’s genome.

Human Genome Project (HGP):

  • HGP was an international programme that led to the decoding of the entire human genome.
  • It was a discovery looking to sequence and map all of the genes — together known as the genome — of members of our species.
  • Beginning on October 1, 1990 and completed in April 2003, the HGP gave the ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.

Genome India Project:

  • The project is being headed by the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru as the nodal point of about 20 institutions including a few IITs, each doing its bit in collecting samples, doing the computations, and then the research.
  • Aim: To ultimately build a grid of the Indian reference genome, to understand fully the type and nature of diseases and traits that comprise the diverse Indian population.
  • The mega project hopes to form a grid after collecting 10,000 samples in the first phase from across India, to arrive at a representative Indian genome.
  • The Indian project will aim to vastly add to the available information on the human species and advance the cause, because of the scale of the Indian population and the vertical and horizontal diversity here.
[Ref: Down to Earth]

Key Facts for Prelims

 Prelims Key Facts

Swasth ke Sipahi

  • Pharmacists, popularly known as “Swasth ke Sipahi”, of Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Kendra ,are delivering essential services and medicines at doorstep of patients and elderly under Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP) of the Government of India. 

Ujala Samoohs

  • Ujala Samoohs, working as women’s solidarity groups, have come together in 15 village panchayats of the tribal-dominated Salumbar block of Udaipur district to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that vulnerable families, which may have been left out of the schemes, receive their benefits during the present crisis.

Enhancing Overdraft facility

  • Giving more flexibility to cash-starved state governments to tide over their cash flow mismatches, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to increase the number of days for which a state or union territory (UT) can be in overdraft continuously to 21 working days from the current stipulation of 14 working days.

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