1. G7 accommodates Indian stand on need for Internet curbs
Open Societies Statement reworked to prioritise national security over freedoms
Internet freedoms are subject to national security, said government sources, claiming that India’s tough negotiations on the joint communique issued by G7 and Guest Countries at the session on Open Societies had ensured that the original language criticising “Internet shutdowns” was amended to include New Delhi’s concerns.
The explanation came after the ‘G7 and Guest Countries: 2021 Open Societies Statement’ referred to “politically motivated Internet shutdowns”, which indirectly addresses Internet blackouts in various parts of the world including India.
Kashmir has experienced Internet and mobile telephony shutdown since Article 370 was amended on August 5, 2019. Similar communication shutdowns were witnessed in Delhi and Assam during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act during 2019-2020 and the farmer’s protest last January. Communication shutdowns were also witnessed in other parts of the world, including Hong Kong where a protest against Chinese security laws intensified during 2019.
The G7 statement also took note of the developments in military-ruled Myanmar as well as in larger economies. “We are at a critical juncture, facing threats to freedom and democracy from rising authoritarianism, electoral interference, corruption, economic coercion, manipulation of information, including disinformation, online harms and cyber attacks, politically motivated Internet shutdowns, human rights violations and abuses, terrorism and violent extremism,” declared the statement, referring to the problems facing the democratic world.
The assertion in the statement appears to touch upon several issues that are sensitive in nature as they are often subjected to public debate in India.
Sources indicated that the mention of the topics in the statement took place in the backdrop of a sustained exchange of opinions between G7 and Indian teams.
The statement went on to say that the G7 and guest countries would “promote respect for internationally accepted norms that drive inclusivity and protect digital civic-space, including through capacity building, and ensure that the design and application of new technologies reflect our shared values, respect human rights and international law, promote diversity and embed principles of public safety”.
Government sources said that “politically motivated Internet shutdowns” clarified that national security and public order concerns are an exception to the need for Internet freedoms.
According to the sources, during his visit to London in early May, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar fielded questions about the government’s actions against protesters and the clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir after August 5, 2019. The sources said Mr. Jaishankar “made it clear” that law and order concerns were important and public safety had to be prioritised when regulating the flow of information.
He also fielded questions about the Internet shutdown for months in Jammuand Kashmir, as well as during the Republic Day protests by farmers in Delhi this year.
Mr. Jaishankar attended the meetings virtually as he was under quarantine in London.
The G7 Foreign Ministers-level statement issued earlier in May, however, also referred to “Internet shutdowns” as a subject that the organisation would counter.
2. Govt. report flags ‘lapses’ in Nagaland bat study
Role of foreign authors under lens, amid sample storage row
More than a year after a probe into a filovirus study of bats in Nagaland by the Bengaluru-based National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), the government has concluded that there had been “concerning lapses” in the conduct and protocols followed for the study, even as an inter-department row continues over where the bat samples should be stored.
The Hindu had first reported in February 2020 on the enquiry being initiated into whether adequate permissions had been sought for the study that had listed two scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology as “co-authors”, and was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense through its Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
In 2020, a committee convened by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which consisted of officials from the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Home Affairs, Health, Environment, Law, Departments of Science & Technology, Development of the North Eastern Region, and others met to “to streamline processes and avoid such lapses in the future,” a report by the Ministry of Health said. Both the foreign-funding of the study, which cost an estimated ₹1.9 crore, as well as concerns over the storage of the bat samples collected came up for scrutiny.
No Wuhan link
The findings of the report became significant given the debate over the origins of COVID-19 worldwide, and handling of bat samples at the Wuhan Institute laboratory. However, scientific experts and officials that The Hindu spoke to made it clear that the Nagaland bat study on filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg) was in no way related to the coronavirus (SARS) studies at Wuhan.
When contacted, NCBS Director Satyajit Mayor said he had no knowledge of the Health Ministry’s report’s conclusions.
“We are not aware of lapses,” said Mr. Mayor, in written replies to The Hindu. “The [bat] samples we have collected are invaluable to research and understanding zoonotic pathogens,” he added, directing all further enquiries on the clearances and bat samples to the Ministry of Health.
However, both the Ministry of Health report dated February 2021, as well as a series of communications between the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Department of Atomic Energy, which oversaw the NCBS study in October-November 2020, referred to the issues. The Hindu has seen copies of these documents.
“The research publication raised serious concerns as the samples were collected from humans and bats with intent to test for viral pathogens and resulting antibodies of highly infectious pathogens (risk group 4 viruses).
The study didn’t have the requisite approval of ICMR. Moreover, the facility at NCBS was not equipped in terms of biosafety and biosecurity to undertake such testing,” states the Health Ministry report.
“The inquiry committee (including Health Ministry and ICMR officials) visited NCBS, Bangalore as well as Nagaland to understand the work done, methodology followed, and places visited during the course of the study,” said the report, adding that they found “concerning lapses in the study protocols and procedures”.
“All the lapses were discussed and appropriate actions were suggested,” it added.
Safe storage issues
Meanwhile, differences over the storage of the Nagaland bat samples between the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), and the Ministry of Health continue. The Health Ministry wants the samples of nucleic acid extract stored at the Bio Safety Level -4 (BSL-4) standard facility at the National Institute of Virology laboratory in Pune, rather than NCBS’s Bengaluru facilities, that are rated BSL-3 at present.
While the DAE contends that the samples were “non-infectious” and had been checked for the presence of filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg), the Health Ministry contends that such samples must be handled in a laboratory equipped for “biosafety and biosecurity conditions” as otherwise they can pose a “significant public health hazard”.
“The issue of bio-security comes under the Department of Biotechnology, and the ICMR has no business raising any concerns on a study done by the NCBS, which is an institution under the Department of Atomic Energy,” said noted virologist Gagandeep Kang.
When asked, however, an official said that a 1987 Health Ministry order had designated ICMR Director General and the Health Secretary as the Chairpersons on the committee clearing all research involving foreign funding and foreign collaboration.
According to the citation in the study, named “Filovirus-reactive antibodies in humans and bats in Northeast India imply zoonotic spillover”, that was published in 2019, the research was funded by U.S. Dept of Defense, U.S. Naval Biological Defense Research Directorate, and Indian Department of Atomic Energy, and credits researchers at Duke-NUS Singapore, U.S. Uniformed Services University as well as Shi Zhengli and Xinglou Yang from the Wuhan Institute for “writing- review and editing” the paper.
3. ‘China, India, Pak. expanding nuclear arsenal’
Number of warheads globally appears to be increasing, reversing the earlier trend, says SIPRI report
China is in the middle of a significant modernisation and expansion of its nuclear weapon inventory, and India and Pakistan also appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals, according to Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Year Book 2021 released on Monday.
“The overall number of warheads in global military stockpiles now appears to be increasing, a worrisome sign that the declining trend that has characterised global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War has stalled,” said Hans M. Kristensen, associate senior fellow with SIPRI’s Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.
According to the year book, India possessed an estimated 156 nuclear warheads at the start of 2021, compared with 150 at the start of last year, while Pakistan had 165 warheads, up from 160 in 2020. China’s nuclear arsenal consisted of 350 warheads, up from 320 at the start of 2020.
The nine nuclear armed states — the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — together possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. Russia and the U.S. together possessed over 90% of global nuclear weapons, SIPRI said.
A report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London, in May titled ‘Nuclear Deterrence and Stability in South Asia: Perceptions and Realities’ said that chance played an important ameliorative role in the India-Pakistan crisis of February 2019 and the two countries “risk stumbling into using their nuclear weapons through miscalculation or misinterpretation in a future crisis.” “India and Pakistan are seeking new technologies and capabilities that dangerously undermine each other’s defence under the nuclear threshold,” said the report. It said China’s evolving profile as a nuclear-weapons state was compounding India’s security challenges.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) established in 1966 is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. Based in Stockholm the Institute provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.
- Eight sovereign states have publicly announced successful detonation of nuclear weapons.
- Five are considered to be nuclear-weapon states (NWS) under the terms of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In order of acquisition of nuclear weapons these are the United States, Russia (the successor state to the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, France, and China.
- Since the NPT entered into force in 1970, three states that were not parties to the Treaty have conducted overt nuclear tests, namely India, Pakistan, and North Korea. North Korea had been a party to the NPT but withdrew in 2003.
- Israel is also generally understood to have nuclear weapons,but does not acknowledge it, maintaining a policy of deliberate ambiguity, and is not known definitively to have conducted a nuclear test.Israel is estimated to possess somewhere between 75 and 400 nuclear warheads.One possible motivation for nuclear ambiguity is deterrence with minimum political cost.
- States that formerly possessed nuclear weapons are South Africa (developed nuclear weapons but then disassembled its arsenal before joining the NPT)and the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, whose weapons were repatriated to Russia.
According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the worldwide total inventory of nuclear weapons as of 2019 stood at 13,865, of which 3,750 were deployed with operational forces. In early 2019, more than 90% of the world’s 13,865 nuclear weapons were owned by Russia and the United States.
- A new yearbook released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
- The yearbook “assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security”
The highlights of the yearbook are as follows
- All nations that have nuclear weapons continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals, while India and China increased their nuclear warheads in the last one year.
- China is in the middle of a significant modernization of its nuclear arsenal. China’s nuclear arsenal had gone up from 290 warheads in 2019 to 320 in 2020.
- China is developing a so-called nuclear triad for the first time, made up of new land and sea-based missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft.
- India’s nuclear arsenal went up from 130-140 in 2019 to 150 in 2020.
- Pakistan, too, is slowly increasing the size and diversity of the nuclear forces. It has reached 160 in 2020.
- Both China and Pakistan continue to have larger nuclear arsenals than India.
- Together the nine nuclear-armed states — the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — possessed an estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons at the start of 2020, which marked a decrease from an estimated 13,865 nuclear weapons at the beginning of 2019.
- The decrease in the overall numbers was largely due to the dismantlement of old nuclear weapons by Russia and the U.S., which together possess over 90% of the global nuclear weapons.
- The U.S. and Russia have reduced their nuclear arsenals under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) but it will lapse in February 2021 unless both parties agree to prolong it.
4. Indian labs widen net for a mutant form of Delta variant
It allows the virus to escape antibodies, similar to virulent South African variant
An emerging form of the Delta variant that allows the coronavirus to “escape” antibodies, in recently approved treatment regimes, is appearing on the radar of Indian scientists.
Five Indian labs have submitted data on this modified variant in May and June to GISAID, a global repository of coronavirus variants. Public Health England (PHE), a United Kingdom body, has also stated that of the 63 genomes in its repository as of June 7, six were from India. This does not, however, mean that only six instances of this form of the virus exist in India. Evidence of the mutant have been found in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka.
Called AY1 or B.1.617.2.1, it is a variant of Delta (B.1.617.2), but with a mutation called K417N, which has previously been identified in the Beta variant — first identified in South Africa. This is an international Variant of Concern (VOC), marked by being highly infectious and significantly able to reduce the potency of vaccines.
“It has all the mutations that make the Delta variant, along with an additional concerning one with the South African variant,” said Shahid Jameel, former adviser to the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomic Consortium (INSACOG). “It is indeed a matter of concern, and we should be sequencing more to identify how widely prevalent it is in India.”
The Delta variant is now regarded as the most prevalent variant in India, comprising nearly 31% of the 21,000 community samples processed until late May.
The ICMR-National Institute of Virology and the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, have conducted laboratory tests to determine the potency of Covishield and Covaxin against the new variant.
While antibodies continued to be produced against the variant, they were fewer than against the strain used by the vaccine companies to prepare their vaccines. However, antibody levels are not the only markers of immunity.
An additional concern with the K417N mutation, according to a database of the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), was that it was associated with resistance to a newly developed monoclonal antibody treatment drug, Casirivimab and Imdevimab, for treating those with moderate and severe disease, but at high risk. Marketed by Roche and Cipla in India, the drug was recently approved by India’s Central Drug Standards and Control Organisation. The price for each patient dose, a combined dose of 1200 mg (600 mg of Casirivimab and 600 mg of Imdevimab), will be ₹59,750 inclusive of all taxes, a statement said.
Anurag Agrawal, Director, CSIR-IGIB, New Delhi, however, said as of now, the AYI was “just something to keep track of”.
A report from PHE on June 11 said that of the 36 identified cases of the AY1 in the U.K., 27 occurred in those who had taken at least one dose of vaccine. There were no deaths reported so far among the 36 cases.
Naming SARS-CoV-2 variants
The established nomenclature systems for naming and tracking SARS-CoV-2 genetic lineages by GISAID, Nextstrain and Pango are currently and will remain in use by scientists and in scientific research. To assist with public discussions of variants, WHO convened a group of scientists from the WHO Virus Evolution Working Group, the WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory network, representatives from GISAID, Nextstrain, Pango and additional experts in virological, microbial nomenclature and communication from several countries and agencies to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels for VOI and VOC. At the present time, this expert group convened by WHO has recommended using labeled using letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., Alpha, Beta, Gamma, which will be easier and more practical to discussed by non-scientific audiences.
SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern and Variants of Interest
Variants of Concern
A SARS-CoV-2 variant that meets the definition of a VOI (see below) and, through a comparative assessment, has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance:
- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; or
- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or
- Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.
|WHO label||Pango |
|GISAID clade/lineage||Nextstrain |
|Earliest documented |
|Date of designation|
|Alpha||B.1.1.7||GRY (formerly GR/501Y.V1)||20I/S:501Y.V1||United Kingdom, |
|Beta||B.1.351||GH/501Y.V2||20H/S:501Y.V2||South Africa, |
Variants of Interest
A SARS-CoV-2 isolate is a Variant of Interest (VOI) if, compared to a reference isolate, its genome has mutations with established or suspected phenotypic implications, and either:
- has been identified to cause community transmission/multiple COVID-19 cases/clusters, or has been detected in multiple countries; OR
- is otherwise assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group.
|WHO label||Pango |
|GISAID clade/lineage||Nextstrain |
|Date of designation|
|Epsilon||B.1.427/B.1.429||GH/452R.V1||20C/S.452R||United States of America, |
|Eta||B.1.525||G/484K.V3||20A/S484K||Multiple countries, |
|Iota||B.1.526||GH||20C/S:484K||United States of America, |
5. Centre lists food schemes for migrants labourers
States responsible for distribution: govt.
The Centre on Monday informed the Supreme Court that the States and the Union Territories have purchased nearly 3.7 lakh tonnes of foodgrains at concessional rates from the Food Corporation of India this year to supply to migrants without ration cards and others outside the protective cover of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), debunking apprehensions raised in court that those without ration cards may be left to die amid a devastating pandemic.
The Supreme Court had asked the Centre to explain “how food will reach migrant labourers without ration cards”. The Centre has placed on record details of its schemes to feed migrants, the poor and the badly affected in the public health crisis.
Besides the purchase of grains by the States and the UTs under the Open Market Sales Scheme (OMSS) in 2021-22, the Centre said, NGOs and charitable organisations had purchased 421 tonnes of food commodities. “NGOs run kitchens for supply of cooked food to non-card migrants,” the Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor-General Aishwarya Bhati, said in written submissions in the court. However, the responsibility to distribute foodgrains lies with the States, it noted. “Union of India is committed to making sufficient foodgrains available to the States at highly subsidised prices under the above schemes, to tide over the difficulty of food security during the current crisis. However, the responsibility of identification and distribution to the beneficiaries lies with the States/UTs,” it submitted.
The Centre also said it had written twice to the States/UTs — on May 20 and May 25 — advising them to “avail their requirements of foodgrains under the schemes and to provide foodgrains to those not covered under the National Food Security Act”.
National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013
- Notified on: 10th September, 2013.
- Objective: To provide for food and nutritional security in the human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantities of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
- Coverage: 75% of the rural population and upto 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidized foodgrains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
- Overall, NFSA caters to 67% of the total population.
- Priority Households to be covered under TPDS, according to guidelines by the State government.
- Households covered under existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana.
- 5 Kgs of foodgrains per person per month at Rs. 3/2/1 per Kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains.
- The existing AAY household will continue to receive 35 Kgs of foodgrains per household per month.
- Meal and maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000 to pregnant women and lactating mothers during pregnancy and six months after the child birth.
- Meals for children upto 14 years of age.
- Food security allowance to beneficiaries in case of non-supply of entitled foodgrains or meals.
- Setting up of grievance redressal mechanisms at the district and state level.
- Number of Beneficiaries at Present:
- Approximately 2.37 crore households or 9.01 crore persons, as in February 2021 under Antyodaya Anna Yojana.
- While approximately 70.35 crore persons are under the priority households.
- Significance of the NITI Aayog’s Recommendations:
- If the rural-urban coverage ratio remains the same (67% of all population), then the total number of people covered will increase from the existing 81.35 crore to 89.52 crore – an increase of 8.17 crore (based on the projected 2020 population).
- This will result in an additional subsidy requirement of Rs. 14,800 crore.
- If the national coverage ratio is revised downward, the Centre can save up to Rs. 47,229 crore.
- This amount of savings can be utilised by the Government in other important areas of concern such as health and education.
- If the rural-urban coverage ratio remains the same (67% of all population), then the total number of people covered will increase from the existing 81.35 crore to 89.52 crore – an increase of 8.17 crore (based on the projected 2020 population).
- Challenges of the Move:
- In the times of Covid-19 pandemic, it will be a double burden (Unemployment and Food insecurity issues) on the poor section of the society.
- The move may be opposed by some of the states.
6. NCPCR warns portals on illegal adoption
The National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has written to WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram over the issue of illegal social media posts offering children orphaned due to COVID-19 for adoption, and warned them that failure to report such posts would invite “strict action”.
“It is requested that in cases where such posts are posted on your online social media platforms, information about the same must be reported to the law enforcement authorities and/or National Commission or State Commission of the State/Union Territories [UTs] concerned and provide the details of the IP address, origin of the post and other such relevant details,” NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo wrote in a letter on June 13. The Commission also demanded an action taken report “within 10 days” from each of the four entities.
Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the States and UTs to take stringent action against private individuals and NGOs who invited people to adopt children orphaned by the pandemic.
7. A year on, unanswered questions on Galwan clash
China’s accounts reveal few details that appear aimed at conveying a carefully crafted message to the domestic audience
A year after the June 15, 2020 clash in the Galwan Valley, China’s official accounts of what led to the worst violence on the India-China border since 1967 still leave many questions unanswered, revealing few and selective details that appear aimed at conveying a carefully crafted message to the domestic audience.
While Chinese officials have said repeatedly in recent months “the rights and wrongs are clear” of what led to the LAC tensions, Indian officials say Beijing is, in fact, yet to provide any clarity or credible explanation of its actions last year, starting with mobilising a large number of troops in April following annual military exercises and deploying them close to the LAC, not just in Galwan Valley.
That mobilisation in April, coming at a time when India had to delay its own summer exercises because of the COVID-19 outbreak, is one of several key missing details in China’s official accounts so far.
A reading of all of China’s public statements issued in the year since the Galwan clash underlines a two-fold approach in Beijing’s messaging: a focus only on the Galwan Valley with little to no mention of the other troubled spots on the LAC, where PLA transgressions led to multiple stand-offs, and since February this year, a more proactive propaganda effort aimed at emphasising the bravery of China’s troops in Galwan and portraying Beijing not as the aggressor, but as defending its sovereignty.
Since this year, China has also firmly clamped down on any questioning of the official narrative. Earlier this month, Chinese authorities sentenced Qiu Ziming, one of at least half a dozen people who have been detained over comments on Galwan, to eight months in prison “for defaming martyrs”. Mr. Qiu had questioned why India had promptly recognised the loss of 20 Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley but China was yet to fully reveal casualties, with the first announcement of honours coming only eight months later.
In the past year, China has issued two detailed statements on the LAC, a “step-by-step account” from the Foreign Ministry on June 19, 2020 and accounts in February 2021 published in the official PLA Daily after the Chinese government revealed it had suffered casualties as it announced military honours for five soldiers, four of them recognised posthumously.
The first Chinese account of tensions came in the Communist Party-run Global Times on May 18, which said Chinese troops had “bolstered border control measures and made necessary moves in response to India’s recent, illegal construction of defence facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region”. The June 19 statement from the Chinese government said “since April, the Indian border troops have unilaterally and continuously built roads, bridges and other facilities at the LAC in the Galwan Valley.” It referred to the early morning of May 6 as the start of more serious tensions, alleging the Indian troops had “crossed the LAC by night”.
Indian officials said the reverse had happened: that Indian troops had since April been prevented from reaching Patrolling Point 14, which they go up to every summer, and that construction of facilities had taken place on India’s side of PP14. Satellite images later released suggested the June 15 clash had happened near PP14. Most Indian patrolling points lie short of the LAC on India’s side.
In February, the announcement of military honours for five soldiers was accompanied by the release of a video on Chinese state media from Galwan Valley.
The video clips, which triggered an outpouring of anger in China, showed Indian soldiers crossing the river and Chinese troops holding their ground. The message was to show India as the aggressor, which is the widely prevailing view in China. Left unsaid was the context of the video, in which Indian troops were trying to push back Chinese troops who had come up to PP14.
On June 11, in the lead up to the one-year anniversary of the clash, which also comes just two weeks before China is planning a major military parade to mark the centenary of the Communist Party on July 1, state broadcaster CCTV interviewed Qi Fabao, the regimental commander who was among the five honoured in February. Mr. Qi spoke at a military meeting, appearing with “the scar on his head clearly seen”, the Global Times reported. Chen Hongjun, one of the four soldiers who was named as being killed in the clash, will be among 29 people honoured with a medal on the July 1 anniversary.
The continued focus on Galwan, while the still unresolved tensions in Depsang, Demchok, Gogra and Hot Springs, remain almost entirely ignored in the coverage, is one key element of the broader messaging effort, as acknowledging multiple stand-offs, as well as the fact that it is India and not China that is demanding a return to status quo in the slow-moving negotiations, would undermine the Chinese military’s central claim of not being the aggressor.
8. Novavax announces efficacy of about 90% for its vaccine
In India, it is slated to be produced in partnership with SII
U.S. vaccine manufacturer Novavax said its COVID-19 vaccine had shown an overall efficacy of 90.4% in trials in the U.S. and Mexico, potentially adding — in a few months — another vaccine to the world’s arsenal against the disease, which has killed close to 4 million people. Trials have already occurred in the U.K. and South Africa.
The Maryland-based company, which tested its two dose ‘NVX-CoV2373’ vaccine on a population of just under 30,000 adults in the U.S. and Mexico, said the jabs provided 100% protection against moderate to severe disease and an overall efficacy of 90.4%. Of the 77 individuals out of 29,960 in the trial who contracted COVID-19, 14 received the actual vaccine, doses of which were spaced three weeks apart, while 63 had received placebos.
Ten moderate to severe cases of the disease were observed, but all were confined to the placebo group, the company said. All 14 infections in the vaccinated group were mild. Preliminary data suggest that the vaccine is safe, according to a press release from Novavax.
Novavax detected strains of the virus found first in the U.K.,U.S., Brazil, South Africa and India, according to data released by the company during a Monday morning conference call.
Vaccine efficacy was 91% in “high-risk “populations (above 65 years of age, or under 65 years with comorbidities or frequent COVID-19 exposure) the company said.
Novavax said it plans to apply for authorisations in the third quarter (July-September) and is on track to manufacture 100 million doses a month by the end of September, and 150 million doses a month by the end of 2021. The U.S. has more doses than it will need to vaccinate its entire population and as a result, much of the Novavax vaccine may be used in developing countries. That it can be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius makes it easier to use in developing countries, where maintaining unbroken cold chains can be challenging. The vaccine works by eliciting an immune response to a prefusion spike protein built from Novavax’s recombinant nanoparticle technology and an adjuvant (a substance that increases immune response).
The vaccine is likely to be authorised first in a country other than the U.S., its CEO Stanly Erck said, according to the New York Times. “Many of our first doses will go to… low- and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with,” Mr. Erck told The Associated Press. Novavax has signed an agreement with international vaccine access coalition Gavi, to supply 1.1 billion to low-and middle-income countries.
In India, the vaccine is slated to be produced in partnership with the Serum Institute of India (SII), under the name Covavax. Earlier in June, the Drugs Controller General of India had given permission to SII to go ahead with Phase 2/3 trials.
9. Editorial-1: Unlocking war histories with a purpose
The declassification of India’s military history should also lead to building on successes and avoiding past follies
Saturday’s announcement by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on archiving, declassifying and compiling of war histories is a long overdue initiative that signals that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is at last willing to shed its shroud of confidentiality over happenings long gone by. Largely conforming to global practices, the policy has the potential to kick-start multiple initiatives within the MoD and the three services that will offer researchers, analysts and historians an easy lens into studying military operations in the post-Independence period.
Drawing on my own experiences of nine years as a practitioner-historian who has struggled to put together two definitive historical and joint narratives of war and conflict in contemporary India, conversion of this policy into deliverables will be a tough and unglamorous grind. The four biggest challenges facing this initiative will be the fusion of political directives and strategic decision making with the operational and tactical happenings on ground; compilation and reconciling and analysis of events at multiple levels (headquarters, commands and field formations); putting together a team of dedicated researchers and historians with a mix of academics and practitioners with access to records and files; and lastly, putting together a concurrent oral history and digitisation of all archival compilations associated with this initiative.
Decisions to go to war and wage conflict in democracies are largely political decisions and it is important that such decisions are fused into compilations of war histories. For example, one of the reasons why the Indian Army is reluctant to declassify the Henderson Brooks Report that considered operational failures during the 1962 war with China is because it is largely a scathing indictment of the Indian Army’s leadership without any accountability assigned to the political establishment led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon. On the other hand, several histories of the Vietnam War can now be considered credible and well-rounded because researchers have had access not only to operational accounts but also to archived discussions between the political architects of the conflict such as Presidents J.F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and Defence Secretary Robert S. McNamara.
Similarly, General K. Sundarji and Ambassador J.N. Dixit have borne the brunt of much criticism by researchers examining India’s intervention in Sri Lanka from 1987-1990 because they expressed themselves in the open domain without fear. But it is only when researchers get access to records of discussions involving other generals, admirals and air marshals and even Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Minister of State for Defence Arun Singh and even political heavyweights in Tamil Nadu such as M.G. Ramachandran and M. Karunanidhi, that the cobwebs around Operation Pawan will be cleared.
‘Most military historians of contemporary India agree that Exercise Brasstacks (1986-87) heralded the transformation of Indian war fighting doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures in conventional war fighting, particularly in the plains and the desert. However, all of them, including this writer, have relied on oral recollections to put together a mosaic of what may have transpired in the confines of the Military Operations (MO) Directorate of the Army HQ and thereafter. Writing the official history of Exercise Brasstacks must be high on the list of the initial projects in this initiative as it will highlight the fusion of decisions taken at multiple headquarters right down to the regiment and squadron level.
The right approach needed
Notwithstanding the effort taken to put together official histories of the 1965 and 1971 wars, these are considered as safe histories that only scratch the surface of strategic decision making, operational analyses, leadership and lessons for the future. The reason for this is the absence of robust multi-disciplinary teams that are required to put together each such history and the desire to bring out non-controversial documents. While highlighting controversies and failures must not be an obsession with such initiatives, it is only a robust academic-cum-practitioner flavour accompanied by good and contemporary writing that will lend weight to such histories.
Unlike the Ministry of External Affairs which has stolen a march over other ministries in declassifying files, the three service headquarters and MoD have been rather slow in initiating this. Not only is it difficult to trace files from eras gone, it is highly possible that in the absence of digital conversion, several priceless discussions have been destroyed in the periodic discarding of files. But even if such files are available, who will spend long hours trying to identify elements that remain historically relevant?
Digitisation and creation of oral histories will form a critical component of this transformation. Both are either unfolding at a snail’s pace or are absent in our existing official repositories of history at the service headquarters or war colleges. A software major must be roped- in for this and an outreach must be made to individual historians, think tanks and global repositories to share their oral history collections on contemporary Indian military history.
The first chapter
Considering the timeline of 25 years, a suggested list of declassifications to trigger this transformative initiative are the Nathu La skirmish of 1967, ‘The Lightning Campaign’ in the Eastern Theatre during the 1971 War, Operation Meghdoot (Siachen), Exercise Brasstacks and its subsidiary operations, and Operation Falcon (Sumdorong Chu). Lest the initiative be accused of only showcasing successes, Operation Pawan (Indian Peace Keeping Force; picture) too needs to be officially written about, albeit with due sensitivity. One of the hallmarks of a leading power/emerging power/power of consequence and a leading military is the ability to take criticism, tackle institutional reluctance to expose faultlines and push forward with reform with the big picture in mind. History does not offer a blueprint for the future, but it is certainly instructive in building on successes and not repeating the follies of the past. That proposition must be the bedrock on which this initiative takes off.