1. More anti-bodies produced by Covishield than Covaxin: study
It tracked 515 vaccinated people across 22 cities
Two doses of Covishield vaccine produced more antibodies than Covaxin doses, but there were relatively fewer instances of ‘breakthrough infections’ after the latter, reports a study of healthcare workers (HCW) in India.
The study is being peer-reviewed and has been submitted to a journal but appears as a preprint in MedrXiv, an online repository, and is among the few studies of the real-world effectiveness of vaccination in India.
The study shows that none of the participants, who were all doctors and got both doses of vaccines, were ill and only about 6% tested positive at different points of the vaccination schedule. While both vaccines were protective, there were differences in the protection accorded by a single dose of the vaccines.
Due to the shortage, it’s easier for people to get a single dose — given that the recommended gap has been extended to as many as 12 weeks for Covishield.
For the study, 515 healthcare workers from 13 States and covering 22 cities were evaluated from January to May 2021. Their blood samples were also tested for the presence, quantity of anti-bodies produced and levels of the specific anti-bodies directed to the spike protein of the virus, widely held to be a proxy of protection.
A single dose of Covishield elicited about 10 times the anti-bodies than Covaxin whereas a second dose narrowed the gap somewhat, with Covishield-triggered anti-bodies about six times that of Covaxin-stimulated ones, the study found.
“Contrarily, Covishield showed a good seropositivity rate and a 4-fold rise in median antibody titre even after a single dose,” the authors note.
Overall, 97.8% of those who never had COVID and had two complete doses of Covishield had detectable levels of antibodies, or tested seropositive, compared to 79.3% with Covaxin. It is important to note that of the 515, only 90 got Covaxin. Covishield constitutes the overwhelming majority of vaccines administered in the country with nearly nine persons getting it for every one of Covaxin.
Though the spike protein remains the key target of most vaccines, ICMR and Bharat Biotech, the makers of Covaxin, have previously said that being a vaccine made out of an inactivated virus, it elicited a ‘broader immune’ response, meaning antibodies aimed at different parts of the coronavirus to neutralise it. T-cell immunity, that is reported to elicit a longer lasting protection wasn’t measured in the study. While real world efficacy data of Covaxin and India-centric data on Covishield isn’t public yet, recent studies have shown that most vaccines — including Covaxin and Covishield — have reduced response to some coronavirus variants such as B.1.617.2 or the Delta variant.
Of the 30 HCWs who tested positive for the virus, three tested positive after the first dose and 27 after the second. Breakthrough infections — testing positive for the coronavirus two weeks after the second dose — were noted in 5.5% (22/399) cohorts in Covishield and 2.2% (2/93) of Covaxin recipients.
Dr. A.K. Singh, of the GD Hospital and Diabetes Institute, Kolkata, and among the authors of the paper, said the greater number of infections after the second wave was probably due to the increased number of cases after April .
Monoclonal Antibodies for Covid-19
- Monoclonal Antibodies:
- Antibodies are proteins produced naturally by the immune system that target a specific foreign object (antigen). They are called monoclonal Antibodies (mAbs) when they are produced by clones derived from a single parent cell.
- They are man-made proteins that act like a human antibody in the immune system. They are made by cloning a unique white blood cell.
- mAbs have monovalent affinity, it binds only to the same epitope i.e. the part of an antigen that is recognized by the antibody.
- They are designed to perform many roles, like they can be used to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive substances directly to affected cells.
- mAbs are used to treat many diseases, including some types of cancer.
- mAbs and Covid-19:
- Neutralising monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against SARS-CoV-2 were co-invented by IAVI and Scripps Research.
- They are widely considered to be promising candidates for Covid-19 treatment and prevention.
- Encouraging results for Covid-19 antibody treatment have emerged from preclinical research and from initial clinical trials.
- mAbs also have the potential to play an important complementary role to Covid-19 vaccines.
- It can be used both for treatment and potentially for prevention, especially for those individuals who, due to age or medical conditions, may not benefit from vaccination.
|Antibody Antibody, also called immunoglobulin is a protective protein produced by the immune system in response to the presence of a foreign substance, called an antigen.A wide range of substances are regarded by the body as antigens, including disease-causing organisms and toxic materials.Antibodies recognize and attack onto antigens in order to remove them from the body.|
2. Since February pact, it’s all quiet on the Line of Control
No infiltration attempts either for over 100 days, say officials
There has been no exchange of fire nor infiltration attempts from across the Line of Control (LoC) for over 100 days since the commitment by India and Pakistan to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire, two defence officials on the ground said.
“There have been no infiltration attempts so far. No reported infiltration as well. However, the presence of terrorists at launch pads is reported. There has not been any reduction in the numbers,” a senior officer on the ground said. “The border population is the biggest beneficiary. It is a huge relief for the villagers as they are able to move freely as no firing is taking place.”
As per data from the Army, last year there were over 4,600 ceasefire violations (CFV) and 592 CFVs this year till the commitment came into effect on February 25. For comparison, till June 1, 2020, there were 1,531 CFVs.
However, smuggling continues as there are several villages ahead of the LoC fence, the officer said. In these 100 days, there have been major seizures of narcotics and improvised explosive device materials, grenades and pistols, he added.
“The guns are quiet, but we have not lowered our guard,” he said.
In a conversation between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) over the established hotline on February 22, both sides agreed on “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and all other sectors” with effect from the midnight of February 24/25, a joint statement said.
With summers setting in the high altitude areas, the next few months have to be carefully watched, said two officials. “This is just the start of the summer. So we have to take it day by day,” said one officer. “We will have to watch through the season. This season will be important to see if Pakistan walks the talk,” he added.
Last week, Army Chief General Manoj Naravane was in Jammu and Kashmir to review the security situation on the ground.
However, the Kashmir Valley has not seen such steep reduction in violence, noted several officials. The local recruitment in the Valley has seen only partial reduction with respect to last year. As per data, the local recruitment in 2019 was 119 and in 2020 it was 166. Till May 1 this year it stood at 38 compared to a corresponding figure of 49 last year.
There are also regional developments which can impact the ground situation and are being closely watched, officials say. Later this month, at the plenary from June 21-25,the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will take a decision on its grey listing of Pakistan for terror financing and money laundering.
Difference between LOC and LAC
|Full form||Line of Control||Line of Actual Control|
|Location||Three areas of Kashmir (Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan)occupied by Pakistan and two-thirds, Jammu, Ladakh, and the Kashmir Valley, administered by India.(although whole Kashmir is an integral part of India)||It is scattered in three areas of northern Indian states: eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh), western (Ladakh, Kashmir), and middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh).|
|Appearance||It is clearly demarcated by the militaries and a lot of activities (face to face confrontation, firings, etc) take place. Indian and Pakistan army is present here.||These are big empty regions and nearly 50 to 100 km distance is maintained between Indian and Chinese armies.|
|Area (Length)||776 kilometer (unofficial)||4,057 kilometer (unofficial)|
|Between||India and Pakistan||India and China|
3. Punjab, T.N. and Kerala top education index ranking
Gujarat loses ground in grading of school education
Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have all scored higher than 90% in the Education Ministry’s Performance Grading Index for 2019-20, which was released on Sunday.
Gujarat dropped from second to eighth rank in the index, while Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are the only States which have seen actual regression in scores over this period.
The index monitors the progress that the States and Union Territories have made in school education with regard to learning outcomes, access and equity, infrastructure and facilities, and governance and management processes.
Punjab recorded the highest score of almost 929 out of a possible 1,000, showing a huge jump from 769 last year. The State topped the charts in terms of equity, infrastructure and governance, and shared the top spot in the domain of access with Kerala.
In fact, Punjab overtook the Union Territory of Chandigarh, which topped both previous editions of the index, but has now slid to second place with a score of 912.
Tamil Nadu also overtook Kerala, with a score of 906, largely driven by improvements in the State’s educational governance and management, as well as in terms of infrastructure and facilities.
Gujarat, which had the second highest score in the previous edition, dropped to eighth place. It regressed in the key domain of access, which measures enrolment of students in school and the ability to keep them from dropping out as well as mainstreaming out-of-school students. Its progress in other areas also did not keep pace with other States.
Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh saw a glaring drop in their scores, pushing both States to an overall performance that was worse than in the previous edition. The new Union Territory of Ladakh was included separately for the first time in this edition, and had the lowest score of just 545.
This is the third edition of the index and uses 70 indicators to measure progress. Of these, the 16 indicators related to learning outcomes remain unchanged through all three editions, as they are based on data from the 2017 National Achievement Survey, which tested students in Classes 3, 5, 8 and 10.
The next NAS was scheduled to be held in 2020, but was postponed because of the pandemic.
The remaining 54 parameters use Central databases, collating information from the school and district level, and have been updated for 2019-20.
4. Govt. keen on implementing labour codes
It will result in reduction in take-home pay, higher provident fund liability of firms
The four labour codes are likely to see the light of day in a couple of months as the Centre is now keen on going ahead with the implementation of these laws, which, among others, will result in a reduction in the take-home pay of employees and a higher provident fund liability for the companies.
Once the wages code comes into force, there will be significant changes in the way basic pay and the provident fund of employees are calculated.
The Labour Ministry had envisaged implementing the four codes on industrial relations, wages, social security and occupational health safety and working conditions from April 1, 2021.
These four labour codes will rationalise 44 Central labour laws.
The Ministry had even finalised the rules under the four codes. But these could not be implemented because many States were not in a position to notify rules under these codes in their jurisdiction.
Labour is on the Concurrent List of the Constitution and, therefore, both the Centre and the States have to notify rules under these four codes to make them the laws of the land in their respective jurisdictions.
“Many major States have not finalised the rules under the four codes… The Central government cannot wait forever for the States to firm up the rules under these codes. Therefore, it is planning to implement these codes in a couple of months as some time would have to be given to establishments or firms to align with the new laws,” a source said.
According to the source, some States had already circulated the draft rules.
Under the new wages code, allowances are capped at 50%. This means half of the gross pay of an employee would be basic wages. Provident fund contribution is calculated as a percentage of the basic wage.
After the implementation of the new codes, the take-home pay of employees would reduce, while the provident fund liability of employers would increase in many cases.
Key Proposals in the Three Labour Codes
Industrial Relations Code Bill 2020
- The code, among its important provisions, makes it easier for companies to hire and fire workers.
- Companies employing upto 300 workers will not be required to frame rules of conduct for workmen employed in industrial establishments. Presently, it is compulsory for firms employing upto 100 workers.
- It proposes that workers in factories will have to give a notice at least 14 days in advance to employers if they want to go on strike.
- Presently, only workers in public utility services are required to give notices to hold strikes.
- Besides, every industrial establishment employing 20 or more workers will have one or more Grievance Redressal Committees for resolution of disputes arising out of employees’ grievances.
- The code also proposes setting up of a reskilling fund to help skill retrenched workers.
Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020
- It spells out duties of employers and employees, and envisages safety standards for different sectors, focusing on the health and working condition of workers, hours of work, leaves, etc.
- The code also recognises the right of contractual workers.
- The code provides employers the flexibility to employ workers on a fixed-term basis, on the basis of requirement and without restriction in any sector.
- More importantly, it also provides for statutory benefits like social security and wages to fixed-term employees at par with their permanent counterparts.
- It also mandates that no worker will be allowed to work in any establishment for more than 8 hours a day or more than 6 days in a week.
- In case of an overtime, an employee should be paid twice the rate of his/her wage. It will be applicable to even small establishments, which have upto 10 workers.
- The code also brings in gender equality and empowers the women workforce. Women will be entitled to be employed in all establishments for all types of work and, with consent can work before 6 am and beyond 7 pm subject to such conditions relating to safety, holidays and working hours.
- For the first time, the labour code also recognises the rights of transgenders. It makes it mandatory for industrial establishments to provide washrooms, bathing places and locker rooms for male, female and transgender employees.
Code on Social Security Bill, 2020
- This will replace nine social security laws, including Maternity Benefit Act, Employees’ Provident Fund Act, Employees’ Pension Scheme, Employees’ Compensation Act, among others.
- The code universalizes social security coverage to those working in the unorganised sector, such as migrant workers, gig workers and platform workers.
- For the first time, provisions of social security will also be extended to agricultural workers also.
- The code also reduces the time limit for receiving gratuity payment from the continuous service of five years to one year for all kinds of employees, including fixed-term employees, contract labour, daily and monthly wage workers.
5. NPR slips valid for long-term visas: MHA
Six minority groups from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh can use them as proof of duration of stay
Migrants belonging to six non-Muslim minority communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, while applying for long-term visas (LTVs), can also produce National Population Register (NPR) enrolment slips as proof of the duration of their stay in India, according to a Union Home Ministry manual.
The NPR number is part of an illustrative list of more than 10 documents that could be provided to apply for an LTV, which is a precursor to acquiring Indian citizenship either by naturalisation or registration under Section 5 and 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, for the six communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from the three countries. The special provision of LTVs for Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Afghanistan was first made in 2011.
The NPR was first compiled in 2010 simultaneously with the decadal Census exercise and later updated in 2015. It already has a database of 119 crore residents. The NPR is a register of usual residents linked with location particulars down to the village level and is updated periodically “to incorporate the changes due to birth, death and migration”.
The next phase of the NPR, expected to include contentious questions on date and place of birth of father and mother, last place of residence and mother tongue, was to be simultaneously updated with the 2021 House Listing and Housing Census that has been indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to detailed guidelines issued by the Home Ministry on documents that can be produced to prove the date of entry of the minority community migrants currently in India, the “slip issued by the Census enumerators” during the survey for the preparation of the NPR prior to December 31, 2014, can be provided. Migrants who can apply for LTVs will have to produce any document issued by the governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan “clearly showing the religion of the applicant like school certificate etc. to establish that the applicant is from a minority community”, the guidelines said.
As reported, the Home Ministry has been sensitising the States about the relevant provisions under the Citizenship Act, 1955, which could help the six communities who entered India on legal documents before 2014 and are here on LTVs, expedite their citizenship applications. Ministry officials assert that the awareness drive is not related to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), which is intended to benefit undocumented migrants from the six groups who entered India before the 2014 cut-off date. The CAA is yet to implemented.
National Population Register
- It is a list of “usual residents of the country”.
- A “usual resident of the country” is one who has been residing in a local area for at least the last six months, or intends to stay in a particular location for the next six months.
- Legal Provisions:
- The NPR is being prepared under provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
- It is mandatory for every “usual resident of India” to register in the NPR.
- The data for the NPR was first collected in 2010 along with the house listing phase of Census 2011.
- In 2015, this data was further updated by conducting a door-to-door survey.
- However, with the use of Aadhaar as the key vehicle for transfer of government benefits in the last few years, the NPR has taken a backseat.
- The NPR exercise is conducted at the local, sub-district, district, state and national levels.
- The NPR will collect both demographic data and biometric data. Biometric data will be updated through Aadhar details.
- In the 2010 exercise, the RGI had collected only demographic details.
- In 2015, it updated the data further with the mobile, Aadhaar and ration card numbers of residents.
- For the 2020 exercise, it has dropped the ration card number but added other categories.
- It will streamline data of residents across various platforms.
- For instance, it is common to find a different date of birth of a person on different government documents. NPR will help eliminate that.
- It will help the government formulate its policies better and also aid national security.
- It will help to target government beneficiaries in a better way and also further cut down paperwork and red tape in a similar manner that Aadhaar has done.
- It will help in implementing the idea of ‘One Identity Card’ that has been recently floated by the government.
- ‘One Identity Card’ seeks to replace duplicate and siloed documentations of Aadhaar card, voter ID card, banking card, passport, and more.
- It will streamline data of residents across various platforms.
- Privacy Concern:
- There is no clarity on the mechanism for protection of the vast amount of data that will be collected through NPR.
- NPR and the NRC:
- Unlike the NRC, the NPR is not a citizenship enumeration drive, as it would record even a foreigner staying in a locality for more than six months.
- With the government insisting that the NRC would be implemented across the country, the NPR has raised anxieties around the idea of citizenship in the country.
- All this is happening in the backdrop of the NRC in Assam which has excluded 19 lakh among the 3.3 crore who had applied.
- NRC countrywide would only happen on the basis of the upcoming NPR.
- After a list of residents is created (i.e. NPR), a nationwide NRC could go about verifying the citizens from that list.
6. Odisha’s forest produce gatherers hit hard
Amid the pandemic, there aren’t enough buyers and government procurement is delayed
For the second year running, forest dwellers across Odisha have been deprived of the right price for the non-timber forest produce (NTFP) gathered by them.
With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting local economies across the country, the NTFP market in Odisha has also suffered due to the absence of adequate buyers this year. “Last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced, forest dwellers, especially tribals, could not get the price for their produce and even failed to dispose of NTFP stocks. After a year, the crisis has deepened further and hit them again,” said Chittaranjan Pani, an expert on the NTFP market.
Around this time, tribals collect sal leaves, siali leaves, mohua flowers, mango kernel, karanja seeds, char seeds and tamarind. The hard cash earned by forest dwellers and tribals in the summer helps them survive the critical four monsoon months and use the money in agricultural activities.
This year, the spread of COVID-19 infections was more profound in the rural and tribal hinterland. Unscrupulous traders took advantage of the fear prevailing in society and reduced the purchase price of NTFPs. Sources said NTFP gatherers sold their forest produce at lower prices, before government agencies intervened.
Tribal activists also expressed anguish over the alleged apathetic approach of government agencies in ensuring the right price for NTFP. “Government agencies delayed procurement of NTFP,” Mr. Pani pointed out.
He alleged that the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) promoted Van Dhan Vikash Kendra, which was introduced to create a market for minor forest produce while ensuring minimum support price, but it could not perform to its potential.
- The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) came into existence in 1987. It is a national-level apex organization functioning under the administrative control of Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
- TRIFED has its Head Office located in New Delhi and has a network of 13 Regional Offices located at various places in the country.
- The ultimate objective of TRIFED is socio-economic development of tribal people in the country by way of marketing development of the tribal products such as metal craft, tribal textiles, pottery, tribal paintings and pottery on which the tribals depends heavily for major portion of their income.
- TRIFED acts as a facilitator and service provider for tribes to sell their product.
- The approach by TRIFED aims to empower tribal people with knowledge, tools and pool of information so that they can undertake their operations in a more systematic and scientific manner.
- It also involves capacity building of the tribal people through sensitization, formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs) and imparting training to them for undertaking a particular activity.
It mainly undertakes two functions viz. Minor Forest Produce (MFP) development and Retail Marketing and Development.
Minor Forest Produce (MFP) development
- An important source of livelihood for tribal people are non-wood forest products, generally termed ‘Minor Forest Produce (MFP)’. This includes all non-timber forest produce of plant origin and include bamboo, canes, fodder, leaves, gums, waxes, dyes, resins and many forms of food including nuts, wild fruits, honey, lac, tusser etc.
- The Minor Forest Produces provide both subsistence and cash income for people who live in or near forests. They form a major portion of their food, fruits, medicines and other consumption items and also provide cash income through sales.
- MFP has significant economic and social value for the forest dwellers as an estimated 100 Million people derive their source of livelihood from the collection and marketing of Minor Forest Produce (Report of the National Committee on Forest Rights Act, 2011).
- Around 100 million forest dwellers depend on Minor Forest Produces for food, shelter, medicines and cash income. Tribals derive 20-40% of their annual income from Minor Forest Produce on which they spend major portion of their time.
- MFP also has strong linkage to women’s financial empowerment as most of the Minor Forest Produces are collected and used/sold by women.
- The people who depend on MFP are generally beset with a number of other problems such as perishable nature of the produce, lack of holding capacity, lack of marketing infrastructure, exploitation by middlemen, etc. Due to this, the MFP gatherers who are mostly poor are unable to bargain for fair prices.
- To cope with the above problem, Govt. of India has decided to introduce the scheme of “Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) through Minimum Support Price (MSP) and development of value chain”.
- The scheme is designed as a social safety net for improvement of livelihood of MFP gatherers by providing them a fair price for the MFPs they collect.
Retail Marketing and Development
- TRIFED aims to improve the livelihood of the tribal communities by creating a sustainable market and create business opportunities for tribal people.
- It involves exploring marketing possibilities for marketing of tribal products on a sustainable basis, creating brand and providing other necessary services.
- It has a network of 13 regional offices across the country which identifies and source tribal products for marketing through its retail marketing network of TRIBES INDIA outlets.
- It has been undertaking sourcing of various handicraft, handloom and natural & food products through its empanelled suppliers across the country. The suppliers comprise of individual tribal artisans, tribal SHGs, Organisations/ Agencies/NGOs working with tribals. The suppliers are empanelled with TRIFED as per the guidelines for empanelment of suppliers.
- TRIFED has been marketing tribal products through its Retail Outlets located across the country and also through exhibitions. It has established a chain of 35 own showrooms and 8 consignment showrooms in association with State level Organisations promoting tribal handicrafts.
7. ‘Delta variant 40% more transmissible’
Britain’s Health Secretary on Sunday said the delta variant, which is fast becoming the dominant coronavirus variant in the U.K., is 40% more transmissible compared to the country’s existing strains.
Matt Hancock acknowledged on Sunday that the rise in delta variant cases may delay the government’s plan to lift most remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21. He also said he wouldn’t rule out continuing measures, such as face masks in public settings and working from home where possible. On Friday, the country recorded 6,238 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since late March. The figure came down to 5,765 on Saturday.
Naming Coronavirus Variants: WHO
Every variant would be given a name from the Greek alphabet, which would help simplify the public discussion and remove the stigma arising from the emergence of new variants.
As per the WHO, any country would willingly inform the existence of the virus variant if the new version would be non-stigmatic like Sigma or Rho instead of carrying the country’s name.
The letters of the Greek alphabet would refer to the variants.
B.1.1.7 variant would be known as Alpha which was first identified in Britain. The B.1.351, identified in South Africa would be named Beta.
The variant P.1 detected initially in Brazil is called Gamma and B.1.671.2 found in India would be called Delta.
The earlier found variant in the country would be known as Kappa.
Naming Covid Variants:
- WHO chose the labels after a wide consultation process and a very elaborate review of potential naming systems.
- Many experts were convened and partners from around the globe were called in for this purpose. The group was inclusive of individuals specializing in existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts, researchers and national authorities.
- As per WHO, most variants of Coronavirus have no changes than the other in terms of virus properties. Some changes however have been observed like ease of spreading and disease severity or performance of vaccines.
- WHO has been studying the evolution of the virus since January 2020 and observed many VOI or Variants of Interest in late 2020.
- The established nomenclature systems would remain in use by scientists and scientific research. They were used for tracking the genetic lineages by GISAID, Nextstarin and Pnago.
- The group named WHO Virus Evolution Working Group along with the WHO COVID 19 reference lab network, representatives from GISAID, Nextstrain, Pangolin and other experts suggested the use of more communicable and easy to pronounce labels for Variants of Interest and Concern.
What is the Variant of Concern?
These variants have the following properties:
- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID19 epidemiology
- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation
- Decrease in effectiveness of the public health and social measures or available diagnostic techniques
What is the Variant of Interest?
The SARS-CoV- 2 variant which is phenotypically changed or has a genome with mutations that cause changes in amino acids. It is either
- Identified to cause community transmission in multiple countries
- Is assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the Virus Evolution working group.
What if the 24 Greek letters are exhausted?
As per Van Kerkhove, “When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet have been exhausted another series like the same would be announced.”
As per the initial plan the virus would have been named with two syllables that wont have been words. These would have been called Portmanteaus. However too many were apparently claimed already so it would have shifted to three syllables which would have been quite long.
The team also considered using numbers for each variant but the idea was rejected due to confusion it might have created.
How are Viruses Generally named?
Generally WHO follows a pattern for naming the viruses. They are named on the basis of their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines.This work is generally done by various virologists and scientific communities. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) is basically responsible for naming the viruses.
8. Editorial-1: The red flags on the trail of the virus
China’s actions and the Wuhan lab connection do require closer scrutiny even if the U.S. may not find the smoking gun
The publication of science writer, editor, and author Nicholas Wade’s well-researched article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?” (https://bit.ly/3uWUxMI), hasset alarm bells ringing about the collusive cover up of the possible leak of the novel coronavirus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). He has laid out a strong case for a fuller investigation into the event.
The U.S. link
China promoted the narrative that the virus spread from a wet market (seafood and animal market) in Wuhan to avoid any scrutiny of what was being done in the WIV. Senior health officials in the United States seemed to concur. It soon became public that the coronavirus-related research in the WIV was funded by American money. Most experts embraced the natural spread narrative since the alternative was unimaginable. The lab-leak proposition was discredited as a conspiracy theory simply because it was being espoused by then U.S. President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
With advances in biotechnology, it is now possible to genetically engineer existing pathogens to make them more lethal and difficult to treat. Higher mortality and ethnic specificity could be the other features of such new, synthesised organisms or viruses. A possible antidote or vaccine would only be accessible to those conducting such research.
Dr. Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance obtained grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and subcontracted research to a group headed by Dr. Shi Zhengli at the WIV. Dr. Daszak claimed in a 2019 interview that after six or years of research, over 100 new SARS-related coronaviruses, some of which were introduced into human cells in the lab, caused SARS disease in humanised mice and were untreatable. The research carried out involved the creation of novel, life-threatening and pandemic-creating viruses.
The WIV operates a Biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) facility. Its deficient safety had been flagged by U.S. inspectors, but there is no record of any remedial action. A 2018 inspection report stated that the facility did not have appropriately trained professionals to safely operate the BSL-4 laboratory. A former Israeli intelligence official and visiting fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Dany Shoham, now with the Bar Ilan University, Israel, has linked the WIV to China’s biological weapons programme.
Why were American funds made available to a Chinese laboratory to conduct sensitive research? No doubt because it was less expensive and dangerous to carry out the experiments in China. Besides, U.S. funding ensured it would have access to the experiments conducted at the WIV. In a recently released email, Dr. Daszak thanked the Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, for publicly stating that scientific evidence supported a natural origin for the coronavirus and not a lab release.
Admittedly, it is difficult to distinguish between a naturally occurring event, an accidental release of a genetically modified pathogen, or its deliberate use. Because of this and the lingering suspicions, it is the responsibility of the institution and the country where the first outbreak occurred to establish the facts.
China has done the opposite. It has covered up facts and impeded the investigation. A 34-year-old doctor in Wuhan, Li Wenliang, tried to alert others on a social media platform from his hospital bed in Wuhan about a possible outbreak of a SARS-type virus. Instead of treating the young doctor as a hero, Chinese security officials vilified him and charged him with making false claims, spreading rumours, and disturbing the social order. He died as a result of a coronavirus infection. While he was officially exonerated by an investigation into his death, the report has been criticised for only having recommended the reprimand be withdrawn. There are also other reports of the police making an apology to his family.
The WIV head of coronavirus research, Shi Zhengli’s database on SARS-like viruses went offline just before the virus outbreak in Wuhan. Countries demanding greater transparency and accountability have been either denounced or ‘punished’ by China. China’s vehement opposition to further investigations, actions to suppress facts from getting out, and reluctance to share data only fuel the suspicion that China has something to hide.
The release of the findings of the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 30 — and revised on April 6— on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (coronavirus) that dismissed the lab-leak as “extremely unlikely” actually energised the controversy instead of laying it to rest. Subsequently, the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for further studies on the virus origins and said that all hypotheses remained on the table, dismissing the earlier findings as non-definitive.
The WHO findings were tainted because Dr. Daszak, a self-declared partisan of the natural occurrence theory and with a personal financial stake in the WIV experimentation, was included in the inquiry team. Together with a group of fellow virologists, Dr. Daszak had already declared in February that they stood together to “strongly condemn conspiracy theories” suggesting that the virus did not have a natural, zoonotic origin. Including him in the WHO investigation team was akin to having a suspect investigate the crime scene.
It is unlikely that U.S. President Joe Biden’s call to the U.S. intelligence community — “to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days” — will result in a smoking gun being found. Unfortunately, the available evidence that is scant will compromise a credible forensic examination. Any determination of what went wrong will necessarily be circumstantial.
Present and future dangers
That the coronavirus escaped from the WIV is in fact increasingly plausible. Whether this was a negligent or wilful act can never be proven, but it is evident that the research at the WIV — bioengineering more lethal coronavirus variants — crossed ethical boundaries.
The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) — formerly known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction — has no systems to verify compliance with its prohibitions, nor any enforcement mechanisms to penalise infringement of its provisions. These shortcomings have been repeatedly highlighted in the five-yearly Review Conferences of the BWC, but the state parties to the BWC have been unable to agree on any measures to address them, thus compromising on biosecurity and wilful breaches of the Convention.
Smallpox and other viruses have escaped from secure laboratories before. Public knowledge is that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, Koltsovo, are now the only two “official” repositories of smallpox spores, but there have been persistent fears that these have been disseminated, and certain countries are experimenting with genetically modifying them. Smallpox was deadly enough. Its ‘improved’ version might be devastating.
The coronavirus research conducted in the WIV for years is an example of science that has run amok, without ethical restraints or any code of conduct for the scientists, who appear to be bereft of any accountability. Such action threatens the very existence of humankind. This is why China’s role requires closer scrutiny.
9. Editorial-2: Media and sedition
The Supreme Court’s rulings on cases of sedition give hope the law will be re-examined
It has long been recognised that strident criticism of government will not amount to an attempt to excite disaffection and disloyalty towards government. Yet, the archaic and colonial view that an intemperate attack on an incumbent ruler should be met with fierce prosecution for sedition prevails among many in power even today. In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has quashed a criminal case registered in Himachal Pradesh against journalist Vinod Dua by invoking the narrowed-down meaning of what constitutes an offence under Section 124A of the IPC, the provision for sedition, set out in Kedar Nath Singh (1962). Every journalist, the Court has ruled, is entitled to the protection of that judgment, which said “comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal”. The law on sedition has come a long way from the formulation of British-era judges Comer Petheram and Arthur Strachey that “feelings of disaffection” towards the government connote “absence of affection… hatred, enmity, dislike, hostility… and every form of ill-will towards the government” to the more rational reading that only a pernicious tendency to create public disorder would be an offence. Yet, it appears that every generation needs a judicial iteration of this principle, and that is because of two reasons: that Section 124A remains on the statute book and that powerful political figures and their minions are unable to take criticism in their stride.
Enacted to put down journalistic criticism of the colonial administration from an increasingly vocal press, Section 124A is essentially a provision which seeks to protect the government’s institutional vanity from disapprobation using the interests of public order and security of the state as a fig leaf. It has often been criticised for being vague and “overbroad”. Its use of terms such as “bringing (government) into hatred or contempt” and “disloyalty and all feelings of enmity” continues to help the police to invoke it whenever there is either strong criticism or critical depiction of unresponsive or insensitive rulers. The explanation that disapproval of government actions or measures with a view to altering them by lawful means will not amount to an offence is not enough to restrain the authorities from prosecution. The mischief lies in the latitude given to the police by an insecure political leadership to come down on the government’s adversaries. It is unfortunate that the Bench did not go into the aspect of political motivation behind the police registering FIRs without checking if the required ingredient of incitement to violence is present. The Court’s verdict brightens the hope that the section’s validity will be re-examined. For now, it is a blow for free speech and media freedom.
10. Editorial: Recognising sex work as work
Adults who earn by providing sexual services should be granted basic labour rights
The pandemic has hit millions of people and caused a great deal of suffering across communities. But there is one community that is especially hard hit and that is sex workers. Owing to the non-recognition of sex work as “legitimate work”, sex workers have mostly been kept at arm’s length from the government’s relief programmes. COVID-19 has thus provided more reason to consider a long-pending demand of sex workers in India — decriminalisation of sex work and a guaranteed set of labour rights.
An archaic, regressive view
The legislation governing sex work in India is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act. The Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Children Act was enacted in 1956. Subsequent amendments were made to the law and the name of the Act was changed to Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act. The legislation penalises acts such as keeping a brothel, soliciting in a public place, living off the earnings of sex work and living with or habitually being in the company of a sex worker.
This Act represents the archaic and regressive view that sex work is morally wrong and that the people involved in it, especially women, never consent to it voluntarily. After all, in popular depiction, entry into sex work is involuntary, forced, and through deception. As a consequence, it is believed that these women need to be “rescued” and “rehabilitated”, sometimes even without their consent. While this is a valid argument for minor girls, for many consenting adult sex workers, it has been a problem. This is what has led to the classification of ‘‘respectable women” and “non-respectable women”. This view is based on the belief that sex work is “easy” work and no one will or should choose to practise it. It thus perpetuates the prejudice that women who do practise sex work are morally devious.
The Act has not only criminalised sex work but also further stigmatised and pushed it underground thus leaving sex workers more prone to violence, discrimination and harassment. The Act denies an individual their right over their bodies. Moreover, it imposes the will of the state over adults articulating their life choices. It gives no agency to the sex workers to fight against the traffickers and in fact, has made them more susceptible to be harassed by the state officials. The Act fails to recognise that many women willingly enter into agreements with traffickers, sometimes just to seek a better life as chosen by them. Evidence shows that many women choose to remain in sex work despite opportunities to leave after ‘rehabilitation’ by the government or non-governmental organisations.
The Justice Verma Commission had also acknowledged that there is a distinction between women who are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and adult, consenting women who are in sex work of their own volition.
We must recognise sex work as work and stop ourselves from assigning morality to their work. Adult men, women and transgender persons in sex work have the right to earn by providing sexual services; live with dignity; and remain free from violence, exploitation, stigma and discrimination. It is time we rethink sex work from a labour perspective, where we recognise their work and guarantee them basic labour rights.
The judiciary is moving in the direction of recognising sex workers’ right to livelihood. The Supreme Court, in Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal (2011), opined that sex workers have a right to dignity. Parliament must also take a re-look at the existing legislation and do away with the ‘victim-rescue-rehabilitation’ narrative. During these times of crisis especially, this is all the more important.