Covid 19 performance Index new

India Ranks 86th out of the 98 Countries in a Covid -19 performance index published by Lowy Institute

A COVID-19 performance index by Australia-based Lowy Institute used data available publicly of 98 countries to assess each country’s response against Covid-19.  While India ranked 86th in its coronavirus performance index, New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan bagged the top three spots. The bottom five countries in the study were Brazil (with the lowest score), followed by Colombia, Iran, and the United States of America. China was excluded from the Index due to the lack of publicly available data.

The top 10 countries also included Thailand, Cyprus, Rwanda, Iceland, Australia, Latvia, and Sri Lanka, where cases and deaths related to Covid-19 were fewer than other countries.

The countries were broadly categorized based on their economic development, population size, region, and political systems. According to the study, democracies had “marginally” more success in controlling the disease’s spread than countries with other political systems. Countries with a “hybrid” political system like Ukraine and Bolivia had the most challenging time trying to decrease the pandemic’s effect. The economic development did not have much of an impact on a country’s ability to contain the spread of Covid-19. The report further added that small countries with a population of less than 10 million outperformed countries with a larger population through the pandemic but for the end of the period during which the study was conducted (till 9th Jan) The Print. The Index also shows that countries in the Asia-Pacific were more successful in containing the pandemic. At the same time, Europe and the USA were “quickly overwhelmed” by the rapid spread of the disease, as Reuters has pointed out.

The data used by the study included daily figures of confirmed cases, confirmed deaths, and tests conducted by each country independently and in proportion to its population. An average was calculated based on these figures, and each nation received a score between 0 (worst performing) to 100 (best performing). New Zealand received the highest score of 94.4, while Brazil received the lowest score of 4.3. India received a score of 24.3, as indicated by The Print.

vaccine side effects

The Covid-19 Vaccines are released, but not without side effects.

With the vaccine being distributed in India frontline health workers, over 2 lakh people have been inoculated till day 3. Though a vaccine for Covid-19 means good news, there have already been multiple reports of people experiencing side effects.

According to the Health Ministry, there have been 580 cases with side effects reported on 16th and 17th January, with seven hospitalized and two pronounced dead. The government said that, for the 52-year-old ward boy, who died in UP after receiving the vaccine, the death is not linked to the vaccination as he died due to cardiopulmonary disease as revealed by the post – mortem. The government plans to do a post – mortem in the second case of the 43-year-old man from Karnataka to determine the reason for his death.

On Day 1 of the vaccination, 52 cases of AEFI (Adverse Events Following Immunisation) were reported from Delhi, but only one was severe. On Day 1, Maharashtra reported 14 cases of side effects, as reported by Mint. Due to technical glitches in the Covin App, the vaccination drive had been put on hold in the state. However, the drive is expected to begin again on 19th January after resolving all the glitches.

Two vaccines are being released in India, Covishield and Covaxin. All three trials for Covishield have been completed as per protocol. However, Covaxin is still undergoing stage – III trials, making critics and experts skeptical about the vaccination’s side effects and efficacy. People receiving Covaxin also have to sign a consent form for “clinical trial mode,” implying that the trials are not yet over and the beneficiaries are a part of the clinical trial. The document also says that the beneficiaries will be compensated in case of adverse effects from the vaccine.

Along with India, many other parts of the world have fallen prey to side effects from the vaccine. In Israel, 13 people suffered mild facial paralysis after receiving the vaccine, while in Norway, 29 people have died after being inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine. The Norwegian Medicines Agency said that all the people who died were senior citizens suffering from “serious basic disorders” while others suffered other adverse reactions like nausea and vomiting. Norwegian officials have said that the vaccine trials may be too risky for the elderly and terminally ill patients.

As there have been side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines, it is too early to comment if these vaccines are fruitful in the long run and to determine the actual efficacy of these vaccines. We will have to wait and see if these vaccines provide us with a solution from Covid-19 without causing much harm to its beneficiaries.

Covid-19 vaccine with syringe and Indian flag image in the background-selective focus

The Vaccines may Work for the New Strain as well

Dr. K. Raghavan, the Principal Scientific Adviser, has assured that the vaccines approved by India will work for the new variants of SARS-CoV-2, as the new mutations have taken place only in the spike protein while the vaccine affects the entire virus in the body to produce an immune response. The new strain of the virus has 17 changes which has increased the rate of transmission in the virus. This is why UK has been showing more positive cases.

Dr. Raghavan also said that India will be more cautious against the new strain as they are not only testing international travellers but will also test people from across the country. He has advised people to still be very cautious and take precautions ass rolling out vaccines will take time.

Dr. V.K. Paul, a member of the NITI Aayog, said that till now data has not shown that the new strain  of the virus is more severe than the existing strain. Tracing and contacting of Covid positive patients will continue at a “great speed”. If the new strain is not controlled initially, it will spread rapidly in the country, causing the cases to rise again.

Dr, Paul also said that the process of identifying and prioritizing co – morbid patients will be done by forming a committee, consisting of experts from specialties and the committee’s report is expected to be out soon.

Bolide meteorite observed by Padre Secchi

A fireball crashes in China, suspected to be a meteorite

On 24th December, a giant fireball crashed in China’s Yushu City at 7 in the morning (local China time). Several people saw the fireball travel across the sky before it crashed and the videos of the same went viral. People claimed to have heard noises from the crash but no one was injured. According to India.com, the local media reported that the fireball may have been a meteorite while some experts believe that it was a bolide, a very bright meteorite. China’s Earthquake Networks Centre confirmed the reports that a suspected bolide landed between Nangqian County and Yusu County at 7:25 am.

SCAM Road Sign - 3D Rendering

Charge sheet filed against 36 People in the Assam Police SI Recruitment Scam

On 18th December, the Assam CID filed a charge sheet against 36 accused in the Assam Police recruitment scam which includes several high-profile arrests like Assam Police Service (APS) officer Kumar Sanjit Krishna, former DIG PK Dutta and BJP leader Diban Deka.

On September 20th, the written exam for the selection of 597 sub-inspectors in the Assam Police was cancelled as the question paper was leaked.  The charge sheet, filed in 87 days of the case’s first arrest, has named 183 prosecution witnesses. 5 accused people have given their confessions and 32 witnesses have recorded their statements with the judicial magistrate.

The 2621 pages long charge sheet includes charges under several sections of the Assam Police Act, the Indian Penal Code, Arms Act, Information Technology Act and Prevention of Corruption Act.

As per the charge sheet, the police seized Rs. 2.26 crore in cash, 32 mobile phones, 11 video recorders, 5 laptops and 10 vehicles from 24 crime scenes spread across 4 districts as reported by the Hindustan Times.

According to the police investigation, a day before the actual test, some candidates gave a mock examination in Guwahati, out of which around 70 candidates stayed in one of the five hotels owned by Dutta. Dutta and Deka have allegedly fleeced these candidates, assuring them of the SI post. Krishna is accused of leaking the question paper while Deka is accused of procuring the paper for the candidates according to the Hindustan Times.  Pradeep Kumar, the then chairman of the police recruitment board, filed an FIR in September based on which the case was registered.

The SI recruitment written exam was then freshly conducted in November after which the results were declared earlier in December.

INDIA-POLITICS-AGRICULTURE-PROTEST

Farm Bills or Farmers: What is Justified?

There still hasn’t been any breakthrough in the talks between the government and the farmers. Though the government has agreed to give in writing that the farmers will still have an MSP, the farmers are not willing to sacrifice for anything less than a repeal of the laws. The centre has appropriated the protests to be instigated by leftists and Naxalites while it claims that the farmers are being misled by them. The farmers have been protesting against the three farm laws in the centre namely, The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 as the farmers believe that these laws favour corporates instead of the farmers.

These laws abolish the Agricultural Market Produce Committees (APMC) mandis, enabling the farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country to anyone even without a license to sell. This may help the farmers as they get to sell the produce in any district directly to consumers, eliminating all middlemen who currently get a huge number of profits from the consumers. But, nowhere do these laws mention a Minimum Support Price (MSP), even though the Prime Minister did assure that the farmers will continue to sell their products above a certain MSP. The farmers are worried that without an MSP, corporates will take advantage of them. The farmers, in that case, will make even lesser money than they make now with all the middlemen involved, rendering the laws useless.

The law on contract farming will allow the farmers to pass on their losses to corporates as they can then directly form contracts with the corporates. If not regulated properly, these contracts can again be turned to favour the rich corporates, making the farmers their slaves. However, if this act is regulated properly by the government, the losses and profits will be born equally by the farmers as well as the corporates, creating a win-win situation for both.

The third law removes cereals, pulses and other food items from the essential commodities list. This enables foreign investments in the agricultural sector, further pushing agriculture into the hands of wealthy corporates from the farmers who would then be puppets in their fields, doing all the hard work.

Every time there are protests in the country, whether it be the anti – CAA or currently the protests by the farmers, the government claims that it’s being instigated by anti-nationals who are misleading the people of the nation.

Taking the last two laws into consideration, a sense of corporatization of agriculture is perceived by the government. If these laws go through without any amendments that are currently being proposed, then there have to be strict regulations from the government that the rights of the farmers are upheld and corporates do not take advantage of the farmers for their profits.

After these laws have been passed, Sugarcane farmers have been able to gain profits by selling their produce directly to corporates. But at the same time in Bihar, due to the removal of MSP, many farmers have had to sell their produce below their MSP. Initial field reports after the passing of these Acts have been mixed. There has currently been no advancement between the farmers and the government and only time will tell whether or not their conversation will bear any fruit.

On the death row

Maharashtra Cabinet Introduces Bill for Death Penalty in heinous crimes against Women and Children

The Maharashtra cabinet has approved the introduction of two draft bills pertaining to atrocities against women and children in the assembly session scheduled to begin on 14th December.

The two draft bills are, The Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law (Maharashtra Amendment) Bill, 2020 which would be called the Shakti Act once passed and the Special Court and Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Criminal Law, 2020 which is for the implementation of the Shakti Act.

The draft bill talks of a death penalty to offenders who commit crimes against women and children which are heinous in nature. Those who are guilty of rape, child abuse or acid attack will be given imprisonment of at least 10 years, which may be extended for a lifetime or even capital punishment. Acid attack survivors will be given a compensation of 10 lakhs for cosmetic surgery which will be collected from the offender through fines.

According to the Bill, investigation in such crimes has to be completed within 15 working days, as opposed to two months currently and trials have to be completed within 30 working days instead of 60 working days. The bill provides for special police investigation teams and 36 special courts for such cases in the state, with a special prosecutor in each court as reported by The Indian Express.

As reported by Scroll.in, the bill provides for new categories of crimes. Threats and defamation using any medium including telephone and social media platforms will involve a fine for a lakh or two months imprisonment. Even failure to share data regarding these cases with the police can cost internet providers and mobile companies with a penalty of 5 lakhs and jail term for a month.

These bills are on similar lines as Andhra Pradesh’s Disha Act which is still awaiting an approval form the central government.

traffic barrieres at the india gate ready for quick use

Major Attack in Delhi Foiled, 2 Suspected JeM Members Arrested

Two suspected Jaish – e – Mohammed terrorists were arrested in the Sarai Kale Khan area in Delhi on Monday around 10:15 as the Special Cell of the Delhi police laid a trap for them. A major attack has been filed in the National Capital. The terrorists are still being interrogated but they were caught with 2 semi – automatic pistols and 10 live cartridges in their possession.

The young men are natives of Jammu and Kashmir and have been identified as Abdul Latif Mir, (22) resident of Pala Mohalla in Baramulla and Mohammad Ashraf Khatana, (20) resident of Hat Mulla village in Kupwara.

According to India Today, the suspects were headed towards Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), but their attempt was foiled by the Indian Army. The youth were eventually going to escape to POK through Nepal after they attacked Delhi.

The Delhi Police has been carrying out many such operations at different locations to foil any possible attacks.

World war

Is a Third World War lurking around the corner?

A video surfaced on November 18th, with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), having done an all-out assault at the Taiwan Strait. This may lead to a full-blown war between Taiwan and China. The Chinese state media claimed that the Chinese president Xi Jinping is preparing for war at multiple points. This comes when China and India are at logger’s heads with each other at Pangong Tso. Troops have been deployed at both the sides and dialogues are going on to deescalate the tensions. There is also a trade war going on between the US and China. For instance, India, America, Japan and Australia have signed a pact to not let Chinese company Huawei operate in these countries due to privacy concerns. This may irk China even more against India and the US. There are tensions in Kashmir with Pakistan as well which has been going since the partition.  There is also escalated tensions between China and Japan in the South China Sea over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands. China has over the years, has been increasing its presence in the South China Sea.

As China prepares to go to war, in the West the outgoing US president had asked the White House officials for “options” to solve the Iran nuclear problem. His advisors, as per reports have been talking him out of it for now. Tensions have been escalating between Iran and the US after the top general of Iran Qassem Soleimani was killed in the US airstrikes in January.

With a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, fighting may have stopped for now. But the peace brokered by Russia has tilted power towards Azerbaijan. As other countries also have their stakes in this geopolitical conflict, tensions may escalate again in this region. Turkey, Pakistan and China strongly supported Azerbaijan, while Russia had its stakes on Armenia.

In the middle east with the Syrian Civil war raging for over 9 years now, more countries have got involved. With Russia and Iran backing the Syrian government, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are supporting the rebels. France, the UK and some other western countries are supporting what they call ‘moderate rebels.’  This tension in the middle east has caused a deterioration in the relationship between other countries like the tensions between the US and Turkey and even Iran and Israel.

With a stalemate between the US and North Korea over North Korea’s constant tests of nuclear missiles despite strict warnings from the US, maybe a cause for worry for another brimming war. In 2018, Trump was the first US president to visit North Korea but despite the Trump administrations offering a peace deal with North Korea, the country has shown little interest in peace negotiations. Earlier this year, North Korea said it will give the US a “Christmas present”, which has many worried as it may be a nuclear missile test, however unlikely it may seem.

In August 2020, Russia said that it will perceive any ballistic missile attack on its territory as a nuclear attack and will retaliate with a nuclear weapon. This harsh warning was in the official military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) and may have been directed at the US which has developed long-range non-nuclear weapons. Russia may give a nuclear response to a conventional attack on its government or military. Russian interference in the 2016, and 2020 US elections and its annexation of Crimea and war with South-Eastern Ukraine has made the relationship between US and Russia very toxic. The war between Ukraine and Russia has entered its seventh year and there is no end in sight. Even though there are regular ceasefire treaties the war may not be over very soon.

Almost every major country in the world seems to be involved in some form of conflict, escalated tensions or war which is becoming worse as the days pass. A world war seems inevitable if the tensions keep escalating as time passes. With nuclear missiles, modern ammunition and bioweapons, if this war happens, it would be more devastating than the first two World Wars. We can only hope that a peace treaty and other adequate measures are taken by countries before it reaches the threshold.

Vulture latest

Ministry of Environment and Forests Releases Action Plan to save Endangered Vultures

On Monday the Ministry of Environment and Forests released the “Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020 – 2025” with an approximate budget of Rs. 207 crores. According to the plan, the centre will regulate the sale of veterinary non – steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) by allowing their distribution only by prescriptions and only for the treatment of livestock by qualified veterinarians.

NSAIDs was banned in 2006 but can be used as a painkiller for cattle. When the cattle die, the vultures feed on the carcass which may lead to the death of the vultures. According to the minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, “Just 0.4-0.7% of animal carcasses contaminated with Diclofenac were sufficient to decimate 99% of vulture populations. Due to dedicated conservation efforts, the vulture population is stabilizing.”

NSAIDs are currently available easily over the counter which has resulted in its widespread use, endangering vultures. The Action Plan also states that the new molecules of NSAIDS should be released in the market only after they are tested and deemed safe for vultures. If a drug is found toxic to the vultures, the plan aims to remove it from the market automatically. This system is put in place under the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). The plan provides for systematic disposal of animals which have died due to the treatment where NSAIDS are involved so that vultures do not get exposed to such carcasses.

According to the plan, more conservation and breeding centres have to be built across the country apart from the already 8 existing conservation and breeding centres for vultures. A special breeding and conservation plan will be launched for the red-headed vulture and the Egyptian vulture whose populations have decreased over 80% in the recent years. At least one “Vulture Safe Zone” has to be set up in every state for the conservation of the remaining vulture population.

For different geographical regions, four different vulture rescue zones have been set up, namely,  Pinjore, Bhopal, Guwahati and Hyderabad for Northern, Central, North Eastern and Southern parts of India respectively.

The Five Year Plan aims to carry out a coordinated nationwide count of the vultures to provide an estimation of the surviving vulture population in India and also create a database on the emerging threats to vultures like electrocution and collision.