Daily Current Affairs 26.05.2021 (Over 13 lakh evacuated as Yaas races towards Odisha coastline, New IT rules come into force today; will comply, says FB, Mucormycosis: avoid damp, dusty places, Panel to define offences of speech, expression)

Daily Current Affairs 26.05.2021 (Over 13 lakh evacuated as Yaas races towards Odisha coastline, New IT rules come into force today; will comply, says FB, Mucormycosis: avoid damp, dusty places, Panel to define offences of speech, expression)


1. Over 13 lakh evacuated as Yaas races towards Odisha coastline

Wind speeds of 165 kmph expected during landfall today; Bengal may also be hit

Several thousands of people in coastal districts of Odisha are bracing for the impact of the very severe cyclonic storm, Yaas, which is set to hit the coast with wind speeds of 155-165 kmph early on Wednesday morning. The State government has moved over two lakh people from vulnerable areas to safety.

In neighbouring West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said about 11 lakh people have been evacuated and given shelter in 4,000 cyclone shelters of the State. Ms. Banerjee said that there were reports of localised tornadoes at two places Halisahar in Nadia and Chinsurah in Hooghly district of the State.

In view of the weather conditions, Kolkata Airport has decided to suspend flight operations from 8.30 a.m. to 7.45 p.m on Wednesday.

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the cyclone was intensifying and moving north-northwest and is likely to make a landfall near north Odisha coast very close to Chandbali-Dhamra port. According to the IMD wind speeds would further increase to 155-165 kmph over northwest Bay of Bengal and along and off north Odisha and adjoining West Bengal coasts including Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara and Bhadrak, from early morning of May 26.

The system will extend to Balasore district of Odisha from the forenoon of May 26. Tidal waves of height 2-4 metres are likely to inundate low lying areas of, Balasore, Bhadrak and about 2 metres above tide are likely to hit coastal areas of, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur Districts around the time of landfall.

“We had started the process of evacuation from Monday. As of now, more than 2.5 lakh people have been evacuated and the process is going on,” said Pradeep Kumar Jena, Odisha Special Relief Commissioner, addressing a press conference here.

The government said it was prepared for landfall near Bhitarakanika, Dhamra and Chandbali. It has also brought new areas such as parts of Dhenkanal, Angul and Sundargarh districts under disaster management operations along with Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Jajpur.

Climate scientists say the Bay of Bengal, where Cyclone ‘Yaas’ has formed, is at least two degrees warmer than what is normal for this time of the year. “The north Bay of Bengal is exceptionally warm with temperatures up to 32 degrees Celsius. Distance to landfall is short, preventing it from drawing that energy and intensifying into an extremely severe cyclone,” Roxy Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, said on Twitter.

Generally, cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are ferocious and cause significant devastation. Amphan was a super cyclone that ravaged West Bengal in March last year. It was the strongest storm that hit India’s eastern coast since the super cyclone of 1999, that struck Paradip, Odisha. Before Amphan, Fani in 2019 also hit Odisha, causing immense damage that lasted weeks.

Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are not unexpected in May and result from increased ocean surface temperatures. The formation of storms in this period are favourable for drawing in the monsoon into the Andamans and subsequently to the Kerala coast.

Researchers have pointed to trends that suggest a relative decrease in the number of cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and a rise in the Arabian Sea. About 60% of the cyclones that form in these seas make landfall in India causing damage and devastation, according to data from the Earth Sciences Ministry.

First warning

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) first warned on May 19 the likelihood of the formation of Yaas, even as Tauktae was still to completely abate after landfall over Gujarat.

The maximum windspeeds from Yaas, a name furnished by Oman’s meteorological agency, are expected to touch 125 kmph, lower than recorded from Tauktae, which landed at the Gujarat coast earlier this month, and was categorised as an ‘extremely severe’ cyclone, which is only one category lower than the highest ‘super cyclone’ grading on the weather agency’s cyclone grading scale.

Yaas is expected to heighten into a ‘very severe’ cyclone by Tuesday noon and make landfall between the Odisha and West Bengal coasts by Wednesday morning.

“It is very likely to cross north Odisha-West Bengal coasts between Paradip and Sagar Island around Balasore (Odisha) during noon of May 26 as a very severe cyclonic storm,” said an IMD statement on Monday.

With the advent of the storm, rains and gale force winds are expected in northern Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Sikkim. Tidal waves up to 4 metres in height are expected over the West Bengal and Odisha coasts as the storm approaches.

The Bay of Bengal is more prone to cyclones as compared to Arabian Sea.

The Indian subcontinent is located between two water bodies viz The Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. This makes India prone to cyclonic activity. But it is observed that the Bay of Bengal region is more likely to experience cyclonic activity in comparison to Arabian Sea region.

The reasons for Bay of Bengal to be cyclone prone

  • Water Temperature

It is observed that the temperature in Bay of Bengal is more suitable for initiating cyclonic activity. This may be due to various features such as underwater volcanic activities, that maintains a constant and desirable water temperature of about 24-27 degree celsius.

  • Geographical features

The geographical features in the Bay of Bengal region is apt for creating a desired effect of low pressure and high temperature. The water region is surrounded by land in most of the directions thereby ensuring that heat from the land is continuously transferred to the water. This phenomenon is not observed in Arabian Sea region.

  • Occurance of ITCZ

The Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone is formed over the Bay of Bengal region during the withdrawl of monsoon from Indian subcontinent. The ITCZ becomes a perfect spot for converging winds and thus creates cyclonic region.

  • Link with Pacific ocean

Bay of Bengal is linked with the pacific ocean through a passage way that facilitates movement of wind system. The western pacific ocean is a hot bed for cyclonic activities and some sytem are so powerful that it can move into Bay of Bengal region and subsequently gain power to become cyclones.

Thus, Arabian Sea system lacks the desired features to make it suitable for cyclonic activity. Eventhough it may host low-pressure wind system , it does not gain enough power to turn into a full scale cyclonic activity capable of causing largescale destruction.

2. New IT rules come into force today; will comply, says FB

Industry bodies have sought more time for compliance

While the new stricter rules for social media intermediaries such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google. Twitter and Telegram, come into effect on Wednesday, a majority of platforms are yet to fully comply with ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’.

There is no clarity on the immediate consequences of non-compliance. However, experts say these companies could lose the ‘safe harbour’ protection that currently gives them protection against liability (civil as well as criminal) for content posted on their platform by third party users.

In reply to a query, social media giant Facebook on Tuesday said it “aims to comply” with the provisions of the revised IT Rules and continues to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government.

“Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform,” a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, in an emailed response, instant messaging firm Telegram said it has complied with “almost all the new IT laws” and has informed the concerned authorities regarding the compliance in writing. Indian microblogging platform Koo, has said that it has met the compliance requirements of the new rules.

Twitter and WhatsApp did not comment on the issue.

While Google did not specify whether it was in full compliance with the new rules, a company spokesperson said, “We respect India’s legislative process and have a long history of responding to government requests to remove content where the content violates the local law or our product policies. We have consistently invested in significant product changes, resources, and personnel to ensure that we’re combating illegal content in an effective and fair way, and in order to comply with local laws in the jurisdictions that we operate in.”

Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director at Software Freedom Law Centre, India explained that the new rules are a set of compliances which the intermediaries have to abide by in order to keep the safe harbour protection intact.

“The primary consequence of non-compliance…would be that significant social media intermediaries would end up losing the safe harbour protection granted to them under Section 79 of the IT Act. This could open up an entire plethora of unpleasant possibilities. It could leave Intermediaries open to incurring liability (civil as well as criminal) for the acts done by third party users,” he said.

Mr. Sugathan added that the exact scope of criminal liability that these platforms would have to face, is something one will have to wait and see.

“Since state is the prosecuting agency for criminal cases, it will depend on how the Central government and the State governments will initiate action against SSMIs before the courts. In the past we have seen employees of social media companies being named in FIRs and criminal prosecution being initiated against them,” he said.

He added that non-compliance with the rules could give more ammunition to prosecution agencies in all such cases and could dent safe harbour protection even further.

3. Bay of Bengal, fomenting Yaas, hotter than normal for season

Northern part of the sea experiencing temperatures up to 32°C, says scientist

Climate scientists say the Bay of Bengal, where Cyclone ‘Yaas’ has formed, is at least two degrees warmer than what is normal for this time of the year. “The north Bay of Bengal is exceptionally warm with temperatures up to 32 degrees Celsius. Distance to landfall is short, preventing it from drawing that energy and intensifying into an extremely severe cyclone,” Roxy Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, said on Twitter.

Generally, cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are ferocious and cause significant devastation. Amphan was a super cyclone that ravaged West Bengal in March last year. It was the strongest storm that hit India’s eastern coast since the super cyclone of 1999, that struck Paradip, Odisha. Before Amphan, Fani in 2019 also hit Odisha, causing immense damage that lasted weeks.

Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are not unexpected in May and result from increased ocean surface temperatures. The formation of storms in this period are favourable for drawing in the monsoon into the Andamans and subsequently to the Kerala coast.

Researchers have pointed to trends that suggest a relative decrease in the number of cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and a rise in the Arabian Sea. About 60% of the cyclones that form in these seas make landfall in India causing damage and devastation, according to data from the Earth Sciences Ministry.

First warning

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) first warned on May 19 the likelihood of the formation of Yaas, even as Tauktae was still to completely abate after landfall over Gujarat.

The maximum windspeeds from Yaas, a name furnished by Oman’s meteorological agency, are expected to touch 125 kmph, lower than recorded from Tauktae, which landed at the Gujarat coast earlier this month, and was categorised as an ‘extremely severe’ cyclone, which is only one category lower than the highest ‘super cyclone’ grading on the weather agency’s cyclone grading scale.

Yaas is expected to heighten into a ‘very severe’ cyclone by Tuesday noon and make landfall between the Odisha and West Bengal coasts by Wednesday morning.

“It is very likely to cross north Odisha-West Bengal coasts between Paradip and Sagar Island around Balasore (Odisha) during noon of May 26 as a very severe cyclonic storm,” said an IMD statement on Monday.

With the advent of the storm, rains and gale force winds are expected in northern Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Sikkim. Tidal waves up to 4 metres in height are expected over the West Bengal and Odisha coasts as the storm approaches.

4. CJI made ‘statement of law’ at CBI panel

‘It was not a comment on professional prowess of those who are left out of contention’

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana’s opinion in the high-level committee to avoid officers with less than six months left to retire for appointment as CBI Director is a simple “statement of law”. It was not a comment on the professional prowess of those who now find themselves outside the zone of consideration.

Two senior IPS officers, Y.C. Modi and Rakesh Asthana, went out of contention for the post. Mr. Modi retires in May. Mr. Asthana in July.

The CJI was clear during the meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of largest Opposition party, on Monday that the committee’s selection of officers should be able to withstand the “scrutiny of law in the future”.

For this, officers with a “few days left” in service should not be considered. In this context, 10 of the senior most officers of the 1984 batch, scheduled to retire soon, were not considered. The six-month minimum residual tenure rule was introduced by the Supreme Court in a March 13, 2019 order. Though the order in the Prakash Singh case pertained to the appointment of DGPs, it was extended to CBI Director too.

The order, pronounced by a three-judge Bench led by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, had clarified that the “recommendation for appointment to the post of Director General of Police by the Union Public Service Commission and preparation of panel should be purely on the basis of merit from officers who have a minimum residual tenure of six months, that is, officers who have at least six months of service prior to retirement”.

The apex court had indicated the possibility that officers with only a few days of service may be in an insecure state of mind. In the Prakash Singh case, the Supreme Court had stressed the point that appointment of DGPs “should be purely on the basis of merit and to insulate the office from all kinds of influences and pressures”.

As on date, the CBI has jurisdiction to investigate offences pertaining to 69 Central laws, 18 State Acts and 231 offences in the IPC. The Director is to hold the post for not less than two years as held by the Vineet Narain judgment of 1998. He/she may not be transferred except with the previous consent of the high-level committee. The CJI had also studied a Supreme Court judgment, Union of India versus C. Dinakar, reported in 2004, in the context of the appointment process. In this, the apex court had held that “ordinarily IPS officers of the senior most four batches in service on the date of retirement of CBI Director, irrespective of their empanelment, shall be eligible for consideration for appointment to the post of CBI Director”.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

  • Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the premier investigating police agency in India.
  • It functions under the superintendence of the Deptt. of Personnel, Ministry of Personnel, Pension & Public Grievances, Government of India – which falls under the prime minister’s office.
  • However for investigations of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, its superintendence vests with the Central Vigilance Commission.
  • It is also the nodal police agency in India which coordinates investigation on behalf of Interpol Member countries.
  • Its conviction rate is as high as 65 to 70% and it is comparable to the best investigation agencies in the world.

Historical Background

  • During the period of World War II, a Special Police Establishment (SPE) was constituted in 1941 in the Department of War of the British India to enquire into allegations of bribery and corruption in the war related procurements.
  • Later on it was formalized as an agency of the Government of India to investigate into allegations of corruption in various wings of the Government of India by enacting the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946.
  • CBI derives power to investigate from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946.
  • In 1963, the CBI was established by the Government of India with a view to investigate serious crimes related to defence of India, corruption in high places, serious fraud, cheating and embezzlement and social crime, particularly of hoarding, black-marketing and profiteering in essential commodities, having all-India and inter-state ramifications.
  • With the passage of time, CBI started investigations in conventional crimes like assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, crimes committed by extremists, etc.

Cases Handled by the CBI

  • Anti-Corruption Crimes – for investigation of cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act against Public officials and the employees of Central Government, Public Sector Undertakings, Corporations or Bodies owned or controlled by the Government of India.
  • Economic Crimes – for investigation of major financial scams and serious economic frauds, including crimes relating to Fake Indian Currency Notes, Bank Frauds and Cyber Crime, bank frauds, Import Export & Foreign Exchange violations, large-scale smuggling of narcotics, antiques, cultural property and smuggling of other contraband items etc.
  • Special Crimes – for investigation of serious and organized crime under the Indian Penal Code and other laws on the requests of State Governments or on the orders of the Supreme Court and High Courts – such as cases of terrorism, bomb blasts, kidnapping for ransom and crimes committed by the mafia/the underworld.
  • Suo Moto Cases – CBI can suo-moto take up investigation of offences only in the Union Territories.
    • The Central Government can authorize CBI to investigate a crime in a State but only with the consent of the concerned State Government.
    • The Supreme Court and High Courts, however, can order CBI to investigate a crime anywhere in the country without the consent of the State.

Director of CBI

  • Director, CBI as Inspector General of Police, Delhi Special Police Establishment, is responsible for the administration of the organisation.
  • Till 2014, the CBI Director was appointed on the basis of the DSPE Act, 1946.
  • In 2003, DSPE Act was revised on Supreme Court’s recommendation in the Vineet Narain case. A committee that had members from Central Vigilance Commission, Secretaries from Home Ministry, Ministry of Personnel and Public Grievances would send recommendations to Central Government for the appointment of CBI Director.
  • In 2014, the Lokpal Act provided a committee for appointment of CBI Director:
    • Headed by Prime Minister
    • Other members – Leader of Opposition/ Leader of the single largest opposition party, Chief Justice of India/ a Supreme Court Judge.
    • Home Ministry sends a list of eligible candidates to DoPT. Then, the DoPT prepares the final list on basis of seniority, integrity, and experience in the investigation of anti-corruption cases, and sends it to the committee.
  • Director of CBI has been provided security of two year tenure, by the CVC Act, 2003.


  • The Supreme Court of India has criticised the CBI by calling it a “caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice”, due to excessive political interference in its functioning.
  • It has often been used by the government of the day to cover up wrongdoing, keep coalition allies in line and political opponents at bay.
  • It has been accused of enormous delays in concluding investigations – For example, the inertia in its probe against the high dignitaries in Jain hawala diaries case [of the 1990s].
  • Loss of Credibility: Improving the image of the agency is one of the biggest challenges till now as the agency has been criticised for its mismanagement of several cases involving prominent politicians and mishandling of several sensitive cases like Bofors scandal; Hawala scandal, Sant Singh Chatwal case, Bhopal gas tragedy, 2008 Noida double murder case(Aarushi Talwar).
  • Lack of Accountability: CBI is exempted from the provisions of the Right to Information Act, thus, lacking public accountability.
  • Acute shortage of personnel: A major cause of the shortfall is the government’s sheer mismanagement of CBI’s workforce, through a system of inefficient, and inexplicably biased, recruitment policies – used to bring in favoured officers, possibly to the detriment of the organisation.
  • Limited Powers: The powers and jurisdiction of members of the CBI for investigation are subject to the consent of the State Govt., thus limiting the extent of investigation by CBI.
  • Restricted Access: Prior approval of Central Government to conduct inquiry or investigation on the employees of the Central Government, of the level of Joint Secretary and above is a big obstacle in combating corruption at higher levels of bureaucracy.

5. Mucormycosis: avoid damp, dusty places

It is affecting COVID-19 patients who are given steroids or those with uncontrolled diabetes: experts

It takes around four weeks for the effect of steroids administered to COVID-19 patients to wear off and it is important to keep oneself protected during this time. Patients, especially those in the high-risk category for mucormycosis, should avoid visiting damp and dusty places for a few weeks post recovery, Arun Sharma, Director, National Institute for Implementation Research on Non-Communicable Diseases (NIIRNCD), Jodhpur, and a community medicine expert, told The Hindu.

He said if it is unavoidable, they are strongly advised to wear a three-ply mask and gloves and fully cover legs and arms.

“It is vital to keep COVID-19 patients’ oxygen mask and canula sterile to prevent mucormycosis. It is necessary to keep a regular check on water used in oxygenation for any possible contamination.”

Mucormycosis (black fungus infection) is caused by a group of moulds known as mucormycetes, which are present in the air, water and moist surfaces, in damp places. It appears as black spots in the nasal cavity, mouth and throat.

A healthy person’s immunity does not allow it to cause infection. However, it can cause severe infection in an immunocompromised person.

The Central government on Tuesday allocated an additional 19,420 vials of Amphotericin-B to all States/UTs and Central institutions.

Dr. Sharma said doctors should guide a COVID-19 patient about how to look for its early signs. “At the hospitals, doctors and nurses should check for the symptoms in patients being treated with steroids or other immunosuppressive agents,” he said.

On why so many patients are getting affected, Dr. Sharma said mucormycosis is generally affecting COVID-19 patients who are prescribed steroids or those who have uncontrolled diabetes.

“Though steroids are an effective treatment for some patients who develop severe inflammatory response. But they should always be given under medical supervision. If given too early, too much and for too long, they can make one susceptible to catching secondary bacterial or fungal infections,” he said.

Doctors say Amphotericin-B is not a commonly used antifungal drug and with a low safety profile it’s used for very severe, life-threatening fungal infection or for mucormycosis, for which cases were low previously.

Vikramjeet Singh, senior consultant, Department of Internal Medicine, Aakash Healthcare, Delhi, said: “Now due to COVID infection and some other factors, the incidence of mucormycosis has increased and we have started using Amphotericin-B in these cases. For post-COVID mucormycosis, this is the only drug which can be given.

“Due to the shortage of the drug, it is the patients of mucormycosis who are suffering. But the situation is improving and we are hopeful that patient survival rate will be good,” he said.

6. Panel to define offences of speech, expression

The committee constituted by Home Ministry on reforms to the IPC may propose a separate Section

A panel constituted by the Union Home Ministry to suggest reforms to the British-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) is likely to propose a separate Section on “offences relating to speech and expression.”

As there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “hate speech” in the IPC, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is attempting for the first time to define such speech.

“Who will decide what constitutes a hate speech? Legally speaking, for criminal Sections to be invoked, any such speech has to lead to violence or disturbance of law and order. We will refrain from using the word ‘hate speech’ as it is a loaded term, merely criticising someone is not hate speech,” G.S. Bajpai, Chairperson of the Criminology Centre at National Law University (NLU), Delhi, one of the members of the committee, told The Hindu.

The committee is expected to submit its report soon.

Bureau’s definition

The Bureau of Police Research and Development recently published a manual for investigating agencies on cyber harassment cases that defined hate speech as a “language that denigrates, insults, threatens or targets an individual based on their identity and other traits (such as sexual orientation or disability or religion etc.).”

Earlier in 2018, the Home Ministry had written to the Law Commission to prepare a distinct law for online “hate speech” acting on a report by a committee headed by former Lok Sabha Secretary General T.K. Viswanathan who recommended stricter laws. The committee was formed in the wake of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, that provided punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services being scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2015.

In 2019, however, the Ministry decided to overhaul the IPC, framed in 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after seeking suggestions from States, the Supreme Court, High Courts, the Bar Council of India, Bar Councils of States, universities and law institutes on comprehensive amendments to criminal laws.

The suggestions received by the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws will be examined by the Ministry before the changes are adopted.

“The committee is examining a gamut of subjects pertaining to reforms in the IPC. Instead of ad hoc changes, it was decided that all the pending issues such as those on hate speech as recommended by the Viswanathan committee can be examined and comprehensive changes are brought in,” said a Home Ministry official.

7. EU leaders agree to donate 100 mn doses of vaccines

They vow support to COVAX for equitable access to doses

EU leaders agreed on Tuesday to donate at least 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to poorer nations by the end of the year as supplies steadily rise across Europe.

Gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit, the 27 leaders backed a text in which they pledge to continue efforts “to increase global vaccine production capacities in order to meet global needs.”

Leaders also called “for work to be stepped up to ensure global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines” and reiterated their support for the UN-backed COVAX programme. COVAX aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 shots for low-and middle-income countries.

The programme suffered a major setback last week when its biggest supplier, the Serum Institute of India, announced it would likely not export any more vaccines until the end of the year due to the COVID-19 crisis in the subcontinent.

Leaders acknowledged that vaccination has finally picked up across their continent following a painfully slow start.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented data to the leaders suggesting that 300 million doses will have been delivered in the region by the end of May, with about 46% of the adult population in the bloc of 450 million getting at least a first dose of vaccine.But as vaccination campaigns continue to progress in the Western world, poorer countries are struggling to acquire supplies.

The leaders also pledged to help countries in need to develop vaccine production locally.

8. U.S. calls for ‘transparent’ new probe into COVID-19 origins

Intelligence agencies are examining reports

The United States called on Tuesday for international experts to be allowed to evaluate the source of the SARS-Cov-2 and the “early days of the outbreak” in a second phase of an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

U.S. intelligence agencies are examining reports that researchers at Wuhan Institute of Virology were seriously ill in 2019 a month before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, according to U.S. government sources who cautioned on Monday that there is still no proof the disease originated at the lab.

“Phase 2 of the COVID origins study must be launched with terms of reference that are transparent, science-based, and give international experts the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak,” U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a video message to the annual ministerial meeting of the World Health Organization.

Mr. Becerra did not mention China directly, where the first known human cases of COVID-19 emerged in the central city of Wuhan in December 2019.

The origin of the virus is hotly contested. In a report issued in March, written jointly with Chinese scientists, a WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February said the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway”.

A WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, asking about a follow-up mission, told Reuters on Monday that the agency was reviewing the recommendations from the report at the technical level.

China on Monday dismissed as “totally untrue” reports that three researchers in Wuhan went to hospital with an illness before the coronavirus emerged in the city.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that, according to a statement from the laboratory, it “had not been exposed to COVID-19 before December 30, 2019, and a “zero-infection” record is kept among its staff and graduate students so far”.

9. ‘WHO nod for Covaxin likely in July-Sept.

Bharat Biotech expects to receive regulatory approvals from the World Health Organization (WHO) for Covaxin in the July-September quarter.

It had already submitted an application to the WHO seeking Emergency Use Listing for the vaccine, the company said on Tuesday.

Regulatory approvals for the vaccine are in process in more than 60 countries, the firm said. Emergency use authorisations were obtained in 13 countries with more set to follow.

Meanwhile, Bharat Biotech’s partner in the U.S. Ocugen Inc. said it had submitted Master File as part of the process to get emergency use authorisation for the COVID-19 vaccine from the U.S. FDA.

10. Editorial-1: One-state solution, the way forward in Palestine

The whole premise of the two-state solution is wrong, providing Israel the immunity to continue its ethnic cleansing

For more than 50 years, well-intentioned and more cynical, local and external actors involved in the attempts to bring peace and reconciliation to historical Palestine have religiously adhered to the two-state solution as the only way forward.

The idea of partitioning Palestine between the settler movement of Zionism, and later the state of Israel and the indigenous population of Palestine is not new. It was first offered by the British in 1937 and rejected by the Palestinians already then. The Zionist movement was hardly 50 years old and was already offered by the new British occupiers of Palestine, a chunk of the Palestinian homeland as a future state. This in the 1930s and 1940s would have been akin to an offer to decolonise India by partitioning it between a British India and local India or to propose the decolonisation of Algeria by dividing it between a French Algeria and a local Algeria. Neither the Indian anti-colonial movement nor the Algerian one would have ever consented to such a post-colonial arrangement; nor did the British and French dare to offer it when they reconciled with the fact that they will have to leave their colonial empires and go back to Europe.

Catastrophic event

But even when decolonisation was achieved in India in 1947, not only the British but also the so-called civilised world through the United Nations insisted that the Palestinians should give half of their homeland to the settler movement of Zionism. The Palestinians attempted to convince the international community that the problem was not only aboutdispensing with half of their homeland but that the settler movement of Zionism would not be content with just half of the country and intended to take as much of it as possible and leave in it as few Palestinians as possible. This ominous prediction turned out to be chillingly accurate and true in less than a year after the UN insisted that partition was the only solution for Palestine. Under the guise of UN support, the new Jewish state took over nearly 80% of historical Palestine and ethnically cleansed almost a million Palestinians (more than half of Palestine’s population), and in the way demolished half of Palestine’s villages and most of its towns in nine months in 1948; an event known by the Palestinians as the Nakba, the catastrophe.

Incremental cleansing

In 1967, Israel occupied the rest of historical Palestine, and in the process expelled another 300,000 Palestinians. Like all settler colonial projects, it had to navigate between a wish to take over indigenous territory while downsizing the number of native people living on it. It was impossible after 1948 to repeat a massive ethnic cleansing, so it was substituted by incremental ethnic cleansing (the last stage in this process was one of the root causes that ignited the cycle of violence last week — the proposed eviction of Palestinians from Shaykh [Sheikh] Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighbourhood, as part of an overall attempt to Judaise East Jerusalem).

Incremental ethnic cleansing is not the only way of achieving the old Zionist goal to turning historical Palestine into a Jewish state. Imposing military rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after they were occupied was another means which enclaved the people there without basic human and civil rights. Imposing a version of an Apartheid regime on the Palestinian minority in Israel is another method and the constant refusal to allow the 1948 refugees to return completes the matrix of power that allows Israel to retain the land and disregard a demographic reality by which the Jews are not the majority in historical Palestine.

It is Israel that decides

The two-state solution, offered for the first time by liberal Zionists and the United States in the 1980s, is seen by some Palestinians as the best way of ending of the occupation of the West Bank and at least the partial fulfilment of the Palestinian right for self-determination and independence. This is why the Palestine Liberation Organization was willing to give it a go in 1993, by signing the Oslo Accords. But the Palestinian position has no impact in the current balance of power. What mattered is how Israel interprets the idea and the fact that there is no one in the world that could challenge its interpretation.

The Israeli interpretation, until the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu to power in 2009, was that the two-state solution is another means of having the territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, without incorporating most of the people living there. In order to ensure it, Israel partitioned the West Bank (which is 20% of historical Palestine) into a Jewish and an Arab part. This was in the second phase of the Oslo Accords, known as the Oslo II agreement of 1995. The Palestinians were forced to accept it under American and Egyptian pressure. One area, called area C, which consists of 60% of the West Bank) was directly ruled from 1995 until today by Israel. Under Mr. Netanyahu, Israel is in the process of officially annexing this area while at the same time ethnically cleansing the Palestinians living in it. The remaining 40% of the West Bank, areas A and B under Oslo II, were put under the Palestinian Authority, which optimistically calls itself the state of Palestine, but in essence has no power whatsoever, unless the one given to it, and withdrawn from it, by Israel.

A Bantustanisation

The Gaza Strip was divided too. But the Jewish part was small and could not be defended from the local national movement’s wrath. So, the settlers were taken out in 2005 and Israel hoped that another Bantustan, like the one in areas A and B, would be established there under the Palestinian Authority’s rule and under the same conditions. But the people of Gaza opted to support a new player, Hamas, and its ally, the Islamic Jihad, which resisted this offer. They supported them not only because there was a return to religion in the face of the ongoing predicaments but also because there was big disappointment from the compliance of the PLO with the Oslo arrangements. Israel responded by imposing a callous siege and blockade on the Gaza Strip that, according to the UN, made it unliveable.

To complete its strategy that included the partition of the West Bank, its Bantustanisation, and the siege of Gaza, Israel passed in 2018 a citizenship law, known as the nationality law, which made sure that the Palestinian citizens who live in Israel proper (which is Israel prior to the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) and who are supposedly equal citizens of the Jewish state, will in essence become the “Africans” of a new Israeli Jewish apartheid state: living in a permanent regime that discriminates against them in all aspects of life on the basis of their nationality.

The endless negotiation on the two-state solution was based on the formula that once the two states become a reality, Israel will stop these severe violations of the Palestinian civil and human rights, wherever they are. But while the wait continued, more Palestinians were expelled and the Jewish settler community in the West Bank doubled and tripled and took over the fertile land, leaving no space for Palestinian expansion. The presence of more than 600,000 Jewish settlers, with a very high rate of natural growth, means that Israel will never consider moving them out; and without that, even a soft version of a two-state solution is impossible.

Decolonise, build a new state

The whole premise of the two-state solution is wrong and that is why it did not materialise. It is based on the assumption of parity and of framing the conflict as one fought between two national movements. But this is not a “conflict” as such. This is a settler colonial reality which began in the late 19th century and continues until today. The late scholar, Patrick Wolfe, described settler colonial movements as motivated by a logic he called “the elimination of the native”. Sometimes it led to genocide, as it happened in North America, sometimes it translated to an ongoing ethnic cleansing operation, which is what has unfolded in Palestine. The two-state solution is not going to stop the ethnic cleansing; instead, talking about it provides Israel international immunity to continue it.

The only alternative is to decolonise historical Palestine. Which means that we should aspire to a state for all its citizens all over the country, based on the dismantlement of colonialist institutions, fair redistribution of the country’s natural resources, compensation of the victims of the ethnic cleansing and allowing their repatriation. All this will be so that settlers and natives should together build a new state that is democratic, part of the Arab world and not against it, and an inspiration for the rest of the region which desperately needs such models to push it forward towards a better future.

11. Editorial-2: Slowing the pace of India’s mucormycosis threat

The experience of oncologists who rely on steroid-based protocols offers lessons in preventing and managing cases

The alarming rise in India recently in the incidence of mucormycosis — a rare fungal infection — in patients who have been diagnosed and treated for COVID-19 has come as no surprise to those of us in the medical oncology community. This outcome was our greatest fear as the administration of dexamethasone and other steroids began to become common. As oncologists who rely on steroids in many of our protocols, and having managed several cases of mucormycosis, we are acutely aware that treatment protocols need to differ from patient to patient due to the complexities in clinical presentation and an individual’s tolerance to treatment.

However, we find ourselves in a different position today because of the magnitude of cases being reported, and the inability of treating physicians to create individualised treatment protocols under this burden. Some States, including Tamil Nadu, have declared mucormycosis as a notifiable disease under the Epidemic Diseases Act. Guidelines and protocols need to be adapted and modified rapidly to arrest this growing epidemic.

Why did the risk of mucormycosis overwhelming us come as no surprise? The estimated burden of mucormycosis in India is 14 per 100,000 in a study published in Current Fungal Infection Reports. This is almost 70 times higher than what is reported in other countries. In a multi-centre study across several tertiary-care hospitals in India, published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection, the rough estimate of proven mucormycosis was around 40 cases on an average over a 21-month period observed at each centre.

Focus on diabetes

It must be made absolutely clear that mucormycosis is not transmitted from one individual to the other, the way COVID-19 is. The most common cause is uncontrolled diabetes mellitus (raised blood sugars). Other causes include the treatment of some cancers; steroids, chemotherapy or immunotherapy, and solid organ or stem-cell transplantations. The common sites of presentation include rhino-cerebral involvement (i.e., the fungus can damage the nose, paranasal sinuses, the eyes and the brain), and pulmonary involvement (i.e., the fungus can cause pneumonia).

Raised blood sugars being a cause is of particular concern for multiple reasons. According to a study in The Lancet, the number of people with diabetes increased to 65 million in 2016 in India. The highest prevalence of diabetes was observed in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Delhi. The crude prevalence of diabetes above 20 years of age has increased to 7.7% in 2016, from 5.5% in 1990. Further, there is an underlying higher genetic susceptibility to diabetes in Indians; some of these cases could get unearthed only after exposure to steroids.

The treatment of COVID-19 is, unfortunately, only worsening this situation. In a lab study published in Nature Metabolism, SARS-CoV-2 can potentially multiply in pancreatic cells and contribute to increased blood sugar levels in COVID-19 patients. Steroids form a very important aspect of treatment for COVID-19 because they lower death rates by reducing the cytokine storm phase which can develop in some patients. However, steroids when used excessively or prematurely, and without medical supervision can be harmful. Besides causing reduced immunity levels, steroids can also increase blood sugar levels which can cause additional harm if left unchecked. Dexamethasone, methylprednisolone or prednisone are among the steroids used in the treatment of COVID-19.

Treatment approach

Mucormycosis is associated with very high morbidity and mortality. Its treatment requires a multi-disciplinary team approach that includes microbiology, pathology, radiology, infectious diseases, surgery, pediatrics, hematology, intensive care, dermatology, and pharmacology. A multi-disciplinary approach is simply not feasible on a large scale, especially in areas with limited medical access.

Surgery for mucormycosis can be debilitating requiring major resections. Additionally, there are limited antifungal drugs available for mucormycosis. The gold standard drug is liposomal amphotericin B, which is priced out of reach for many. Amphotericin B deoxycholate (conventional) is cheaper, but is associated with an unfavourable toxicity profile including kidney problems, abnormalities in electrolyte levels; reduced sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium levels can lead to other toxicities. Some other expensive treatment options include posaconazole and isavuconazole. All these medicines often have to be administered for prolonged durations, making treatment protocols difficult to sustain on a large scale, given the cost implications and difficulty in drug administration due to its side-effects.

When a patient is recovering from COVID-19 infection, it is certainly going to be a challenge to perform debilitating surgeries and administer these antifungal drugs for a prolonged duration. In the case of rhino-cerebral mucormycosis especially, surgery is usually required in addition to antifungal drugs. If these surgeries cannot be performed, the outcome is dismal. It is also important to keep in mind that treatment for mucormycosis will require prolonged hospital admissions. Given the health-care constraints we are faced with, this infection should be avoided at all costs.

Monitoring is essential

What can be done to reduce the number of cases and the intensity of mucormycosis? Steroid use at home for COVID-19 should be only under the supervision of a health-care worker. The control of blood sugars during steroid intake is crucial to avoiding mucormycosis. When patients are medicating themselves at home, monitoring of capillary blood glucose is essential. If high blood sugars are encountered, a tele-consult with a doctor is advisable. Going a step further, health authorities may consider arranging for blood glucose monitoring for patients at home on steroids, and also promoting awareness campaigns on the importance of controlled blood sugar levels.

Patients on steroids for COVID-19 should report symptoms of mucormycosis at the earliest. Among other symptoms, they should look out for facial swelling on one side, protrusion of the eyeball, new-onset visual disturbances, headache and vomiting, new onset swelling or ulcers with blackish discolouration, and prolonged fever. COVID-19 treatment experts and policy-makers may consider widespread training of health-care personnel including Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and nursing professionals to raise awareness on mucormycosis while educating people locally.

The prolonged requirement for hospital admission linked to COVID-19 will also lead to a rise in other hospital-acquired infections necessitating the use of multiple antibiotics. We are staring at the grim reality of managing large numbers of patients with other long-standing side-effects of steroids. Additionally, the concern is the alarming increase in multi-drug resistant bacterial infections for which we are grossly unprepared.

12. Editorial-3: Calibrated closures

With no short road to universal vaccination, lockdowns should be precise and painless

Several States have extended the coronavirus lockdowns beyond May 31, while fresh cases appear to show a downward trend, but India’s COVID-19 battle lacks strategic focus. Although a cessation of activity has been imposed, there is not much clarity on the future threat from virus variants, notably B.1.617 that now has three sub-types and the dominant one, B.1.617.2, is estimated to be 50% more transmissible than another variant of concern, B.1.1.7. Neither is there a road map for vaccine availability ahead, with direct imports by States hitting a roadblock and vague assurances of a domestic ramp-up from July substituting for firm commitments. Some States are unwisely taking the foot off the testing pedal, making it that much harder to map the course of transmission. A miasma of confusion has come to pervade COVID-19 policy, where the Centre no longer has an appetite for leadership, even if it means shunning responsibility for universal vaccination, and the only tool available with States is a lockdown. But as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has pointed out, a lockdown does not provide a solution, and comes with its own economic side-effects that hit the working class poor the hardest. The time has come for a pandemic policy reset that reflects scientific insight, encourages safe public behaviour through persuasive communication, monitoring, and, importantly, incorporates medical interventions of scale.

The medium-term outlook does not point to a steep rise in vaccination by the end of the year to cover most of the population, making it imperative for States to prepare for potential future surges. Although claims have been made of a large volume of three vaccines becoming available between August-December, the road to universal immunisation is going to be long. The process is complicated by the finding in Britain that it takes two doses of Covishield for 60% protection against the dominant virus variant that is also found in India; the second dose, therefore, should be administered after eight weeks, not 12 or 16. What States can do immediately is to arrive at a good lockdown protocol, sparing people frequent shocks. Tamil Nadu’s recent move to intensify the lockdown, and, inexplicably, allow even jewellery and clothing shops to open for a day before that, led to massive crowding triggered by induced demand. Clearly, measures to shut down everyday activity lead to fear and panic, and leave less affluent sections, the disabled, migrant workers and many single individuals unable to cope. The golden mean would be to shut all non-essential shops, encourage remote transactions, open street sales and home deliveries, actively monitor compliance with COVID-19 protocols in public places and vaccinate workers in services, including domestic workers, on priority. Free food distribution must be a central feature of lockdowns.

13. Editorial-4: Rules and rulers

The Govt. must hear out the social media industry, and shed its arbitrary rule-making

It does seem that most if not all global social media giants will miss complying with the new IT rules of intermediaries, which come into effect today. It would be unfortunate if this non-compliance were to trigger a further worsening of the already poor relationship between some social media players and the Government. The new rules were introduced in February. Among other things, they require the bigger social media platforms, which the rules referred to as significant social media intermediaries, to adhere to a vastly tighter set of rules within three months, which ended on May 25. They require these platforms to appoint chief compliance officers, in order to make sure the rules are followed, nodal officers, to coordinate with law enforcement agencies, and grievance officers. Another rule requires messaging platforms such as WhatsApp to trace problematic messages to its originators, raising uneasy questions about how services that are end-to-end encrypted can adhere to this. There are indeed many problems with the new rules, not the least of which is the manner in which they were introduced without much public consultation. There has also been criticism about bringing in a plethora of new rules that ought to be normally triggered only via legislative action.

But non-compliance can only make things worse, especially in a situation in which the relationship between some platforms such as Twitter and the Government seems to have broken down. The latest stand-off between them, over Twitter tagging certain posts by BJP spokespeople as ‘manipulated media’, has even resulted in the Delhi Police visiting the company’s offices. Separately, the Government has been fighting WhatsApp over its new privacy rules. Whatever the back-story, it is important that social media companies fight the new rules in a court of law if they find them to be problematic. The other option, that of engaging with the Government, may not work in these strained times. But stonewalling on the question of compliance can never be justified, even if it is to be assumed that the U.S. Government has their back. Facebook, on its part, has made all the right noises. It has said that it aims to comply with the new rules but also needs to engage with the Government on a few issues. What is important is that the genuine concerns of social media companies are taken on board. Apart from issues about the rules, there have been problems about creating conditions for compliance during the pandemic. As reported by The Hindu, five industry bodies, including the CII, FICCI and the U.S.-India Business Council have sought an extension of 6-12 months for compliance. This is an opportunity for the Government to hear out the industry, and also shed its high-handed way of rule-making.

14. Editorial-5: Vaccination is our only weapon

It is important to hold manufacturers to account on efficacy data

On May 14, 2021, the Indian government announced that over two billion doses of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 will be produced in India from August to December. The government can be applauded on its intent: vaccinating a billion Indians with two doses each should in theory give India herd immunity. But while the number 2.1 billion doses makes sense, little else does. Vaccines don’t save lives; rapid, mass, repeated vaccinations do.

Vaccinate on a war footing

In the 2019 general election, in just five weeks, about 610 million Indians voted at one million polling stations that were supervised by 10 million election officials. If the nation can be mobilised every five years for the general election, there is no reason why India cannot vaccinate one billion Indians in five weeks. On a war footing, India needs to vaccinate 75% of the population in five weeks, not five months.

Up to May 23, only 10.9% of the population had received one dose and only 4% had been fully vaccinated with two doses. On average 1.5 million Indians have been vaccinated every day since the vaccination programme started on January 16. If in the 150 days between August and December this year, about 2.1 billion doses are produced, India requires not just the production but the administration of at least 14.4 million vaccines per day. But it lacks the infrastructure to administer the produced vaccines at 10 times the current rate. It will fail in this critical task unless it mobilises the armed forces for logistics. Every health worker not working in a hospital and every medical, paramedical, and nursing student will have to be on vaccine administration duty. Unless every Indian is protected either by vaccination or herd immunity, India will remain unprotected.

Spreading viruses mutate. The only way a host can break the cycle of replication and mutation is if the host’s immune system neutralises the virus. Immunity is acquired in only two ways – either by natural infection or vaccine-derived immunity. The problem with the current rate of vaccination is that in the large population groups which remain unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, the virus is spreading, replicating, and mutating. Unless it resorts to mass, rapid vaccinations, India will be condemned to new variant pandemic cycles that will keep surging and receding with cyclical and devastating consequences on lives and livelihoods.

Like influenza, SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay. There is a high possibility of another wave of infections, with another strain if not this. Many more will get infected. The aim is to downregulate the virus with rapid, mass and repeated vaccinations from an epidemic to an endemic infection that has seasonal outbreaks with lower number of cases, morbidity and mortality, allowing us to safely open up and keep the economy open.

Sadly, many decision-makers forget that vaccinating the nation is not a one-off; we will have to repeat this herculean exercise every season with updated and re-engineered booster vaccines to prevent the next pandemic cycle which will be driven by new and emerging variants.

All vaccines are not equally effective – high efficacy equals high economic benefit. The primary driver of the choice of a vaccine manufacturer is not just the ability to produce large quantities in the time frame required; it is the efficacy of the vaccine following peer reviews, publications and rollout. Equally important is the ability of the manufacturer to quickly re-engineer and produce updated vaccines against the prevalent strains and future ‘variants of concern’.

Both the Russian Sputnik V and the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines were rolled out widely and ahead of sufficient phase 3 trial data. Mostly low- and middle-income countries have given emergency use licence to both these vaccines and millions have been vaccinated with them. Both vaccines remain under review by the European Medicines Agency. On May 7, the World Health Organization listed Sinopharm for emergency use and is expected to do the same for Sputnik V shortly. However, absence of transparency in clinical trial protocols and of the data and its analysis have cast doubts on approval of these vaccines in developed countries with access to other vaccines.

Surge in the Seychelles

Policymakers and vaccine manufacturers would be wise to pay close attention to what is happening in the Seychelles with respect to the efficacy of vaccines. Despite being the most vaccinated nation in the world, with more than 60% of its population fully vaccinated, the Seychelles is battling a surge of the virus and has had to reimpose a lockdown. In the fully vaccinated population in the Seychelles, 57% were given Sinopharm (donated by the United Arab Emirates), while 43% were given AstraZeneca (produced by the Serum Institute of India). On a per capita basis of reported cases, the Seychelles outbreak is worse than India’s. All vaccines do not necessarily demonstrate the efficacy that the manufacturers tout. Manufacturers must be held to account not just on their production targets but on efficacy data. Transparency in clinical trials including post-vaccine rollout analysis is mandatory.

Until all Indians are protected, none of us is protected. The government’s announcement that 2.1 billion doses will be provided in five months, without any mention of a central vaccine agency managed by experts to govern the purchase, procurement and production centrally for all States, will create and promote vaccination asymmetry. It will exacerbate the pre-existing healthcare iniquity and inequity in India. To the rich-poor, rural-urban, digital divides we now appear to be adding a new vaccination divide.

India has to learn from its colossal mistakes. It must set aside its hubris and exceptionalism. It must on a war footing coalesce behind the only weapon that works — vaccination. The pandemic cycles have left in their wake incalculable but preventable loss of life, human suffering, financial ruin and economic decrepitude. If we fail, generations of Indians to come will ask why we did not come together and do the right thing.

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