Daily Current Affairs 04.07.2020 (Covaxin, ICMR, China)

Daily Current Affairs 04.07.2020 (Covaxin, ICMR, China)

1. ICMR looks at vaccine launch by Aug 15

Clinicians differ: Covaxin has ‘potential’, but it is unlikely to be ready by that time

  • A vaccine for COVID-19 from India is unlikely to be ready for public use by August 15 but early data on whether it is safe and the proof of its working could be available by then, say clinicians involved with the trial.
  • On July 2, Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Dr. Balram Bhargava sent out a letter asking officials at 12 hospitals across the country to expedite the vaccine testing process.
  • The vaccine candidate, called Covaxin, has been developed by the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech India Ltd (BBIL) which got approvals from the Drug Controller General of India on June 29 for the phase-1 and phase-2 trials.
  • The trials are done on groups of people and are meant to test if the vaccine is safe on humans and produces protective antibodies. The potential vaccine in question is a SARS-CoV-2 strain sourced from the ICMR-National Institute of Virology.
  • However a paragraph in Dr. Bhargava’s letter suggested haste and presumption of the vaccine’s protective abilities. “It is envisaged to launch the vaccine latest by 15th August, 2020 after completion of all clinical trials. BBIL is working expeditiously to meet the target, however final outcome will depend on the cooperation of all clinical trial sites involved in this project.”
  • A scientist familiar with India’s COVID-19 vaccine development strategy, but who did not wish to be identified, said the vaccine had potential but it was “overtly optimistic” to expect it soon.
Four Stages of Transmission of COVID-19 Stage 1-Imported Transmission It is reported among the travellers entering the country via the borders and airports.These can be controlled through thermal screening and quarantine.To prevent imported transmissions, India has suspended visas to foreign nationals and the facility of visa-free travel to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card-holders. Stage 2-Local Transmission The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines it as the transmission through direct contact with an infected person within the country. Stage 3-Community Transmission It signifies that a virus is circulating in the community and can affect people with no history of travel to affected areas or of contact with an infected person.India’s current emphasis on social distancing and discouragement of public gatherings is aimed at checking community transmission.Once community transmission begins, it is more difficult to trace contacts. As one unknown source of infection can infect many people unknowingly.Among the countries where community transmission seems to have begun are China, Italy and South Korea. Stage 4- Epidemic An epidemic is a large outbreak, one that spreads among a population or region.It is less severe than pandemic due to a limited area of spread.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is one of the oldest medical research bodies in the world. As early as in 1911, the Government of India set up the Indian Research Fund Association (IRFA) with the specific objective of sponsoring and coordinating medical research in the country. After independence, several important changes were made in the organisation and the activities of the IRFA. It was redesignated in 1949 as the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) with considerably expanded scope of functions. The ICMR is funded by the Government of India through the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The Council’s research priorities coincide with the National health priorities, such as: control and management of communicable diseases, fertility control, maternal and child health, control of nutritional disorders, developing alternative strategies for health care delivery, containment within safety limits of environmental and occupational health problems; research on major non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, blindness, diabetes and other metabolic and haematological disorders; and mental health research and drug research (including traditional remedies). All these efforts are undertaken with a view to reduce the total burden of disease and to promote health and well-being of the population.   Main activities ICMR 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. Intramural research is carried out currently through the Council’s (i)21 Permanent Research Institutes/Centres which are mission-oriented national institutes located in different parts of India and address themselves to research on specific areas such as tuberculosis, leprosy, cholera and diarrhoeal diseases, viral diseases including AIDS, malaria, kala-azar, vector control, nutrition, food & drug toxicology, reproduction, immunohaematology, oncology, medical statistics, etc. and (ii) 6 Regional Medical Research Centres which address regional health problems, and also aim to strengthen or generate research capabilities in different geographic areas of the country. Extramural research is promoted by ICMR through: (i) Setting up Centres for Advanced Research in different research areas around existing expertise and infrastructure in selected departments of Medical Colleges, Universities and other non-ICMR Research Institutes; (ii) Task force studies which emphasise a time-bound, goal-oriented approach with clearly defined targets, specific time frames, standardized and uniform methodologies, and often a multicentric structure; and (iii) Open-ended research on the basis of applications for grants-in-aid received from scientists in non-ICMR Research Institutes, Medical colleges, Universities etc. located in different parts of the country.

2. With economic measures, India seeks to turn tables on China

Options are tilted in Beijing’s favour as it is far less dependent on India’s market than the latter is on Chinese imports

  • At a protest in Ahmedabad calling for a ban on products from China. PTI-
  • India is considering a range of economic measures aimed at Chinese firms amid the border tensions. The move to ban 59 Chinese apps may be just the start, with other measures likely to follow if tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) continue, without disengagement.
  • On Friday, Power Minister R.K. Singh said India would not import power equipment from China — worth $2 to $3 billion annually — while Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari said on July 1 Chinese companies would not be allowed to take part in road projects. Reports have said the government is considering trade and procurement curbs targeting China. The government is also increasing scrutiny of Chinese investments in many sectors, and weighing a decision to keep out Chinese companies from 5G trials.
  • The moves could potentially cost Chinese companies billions of dollars. The message from Delhi is it cannot continue trade and investment relations as normal, if China does not agree to return to the status quo of April before its incursions along the LAC began.
  • The Chinese government has hit out at the measures, while state media have widely criticised calls in India to boycott Chinese goods. China is itself no stranger to such moves, having frequently deployed economic countermeasures, from restricting market access to boycotting goods, in the midst of its own disputes, with countries ranging from South Korea and Japan to the Philippines.
  • China’s state media spearheaded a boycott of South Korean goods in 2016 and 2017, when Seoul deployed the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile system. China then placed curbs on outbound tourism to South Korea, and closed almost 90 Korean-owned Lotte Mart stores in the mainland. In 2010, China began restricting exports of rare earths elements to Japan — a key ingredient for many electronics industries — following a collision near disputed East China Sea islands. Two years later, mass protests were organised by China over the islands issue, which led to boycotts of Japanese brands. With the Philippines, a dispute over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea in 2012 led to China curbing imports on bananas.

China’s leverage

  • In all those relationships, China had particular leverage that it used to inflict immediate economic pain. In the India-China economic relationship, where trade is lopsided in China’s favour, both sides have different levers that they could turn to, but options are tilted in China’s favour because China is far less dependent on India’s market than India is on Chinese imports.
  • India’s biggest lever is its market. For TikTok, one of the 59 apps banned, India is the biggest overseas market with more than 100 million users. While the parent company ByteDance reported modest earnings of $5.8 million in 2018-19, its first full year in India, a source close to the company told the Chinese finance magazine Caixin that ByteDance “is anticipating a loss of more than $6 billion, most likely more than the combined losses for all the other Chinese companies behind the other 58 apps banned in India.”
  • If India does have leverage that could hurt potential revenues of Chinese companies, the problem for New Delhi is China could inflict immediate economic pain should it choose to. In 2019-20, India’s imports from China accounted for $65 billion out of two-way trade of $82 billion. India relies on China for crucial imports for many of its industries, from auto components to active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Between 70% to 90% of APIs come from China.
  • Industry representatives have expressed concern over delays in customs clearances. If China curtailed exports to India, consequences would be more serious.
  • India faces difficult choices and needs to be selective in its measures, said former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran. “You have to choose areas where you don’t get hurt more than they do,” he told The Hindu. “TikTok is a good candidate as India is their largest market. Telecom is another. This is a huge market for Huawei.”
  • Whether India’s measures will influence China’s behaviour on the border will ultimately depend on Beijing’s calculus, and whether its perceived gains from the current border stand-offs outweigh the potential costs of losing a key market.
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