Daily Current Affairs 30.05.2021 (IIT Mandi researchers reveal key SARS-CoV-2 protein structure, Declining forest bird species in Western Himalaya, Our inheritance from the Neanderthals, Industry laments inadequacy of GST compliance relaxations)

Daily Current Affairs 30.05.2021 (IIT Mandi researchers reveal key SARS-CoV-2 protein structure, Declining forest bird species in Western Himalaya, Our inheritance from the Neanderthals, Industry laments inadequacy of GST compliance relaxations)


1. IIT Mandi researchers reveal key SARS-CoV-2 protein structure

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi (IIT Mandi) in Himachal Pradesh have revealed the part of structure of a key protein in COVID-19 virus, which helps in understanding its mode of action, its role in the spread and severity of the disease and development of antiviral therapeutics. The findings have been published in Current Research in Virological Science.

“One route to neutralising any virus is to attack its proteins. Such an approach holds true for the COVID-19 virus as well, and scientists across the globe are involved in studies to elucidate the structure and functions of these proteins to understand the viral disease and develop drugs that are effective against the virus,” said Rajanish Giri, Assistant Professor of Biotechnology, IIT Mandi.

This virus has 16 non-structural proteins (NSP1–NSP16), of which the NSP1 plays a vital role in the pathogenicity (ability to cause disease) of the virus.

“The NSP1 disrupts the proteins of the host cell and suppresses its immune functions. Its importance can be understood by the fact that it is also called the ‘host shutoff factor’. Earlier in 2020, we have shown through bioinformatics studies that NSP1 C-terminal region has intrinsic disorder propensity between 0.4 to 0.5 scales – very close to borderline of intrinsic disorder prediction.

“However, without experimental studies we were not sure that this 13-180 amino acid region is actually an intrinsically disordered protein region. Generally, these regions are unfolded in solution but are folded into particular conformations when binding with specific molecules or partners inside the host cells,” said Giri, explaining the recent developments to his previous research.

The IIT Mandi team has experimentally studied the structural conformations of SARS-CoV-2 NSP1 under various conditions – in an organic solvent, membrane mimetic environment and inside liposomes.

The researchers have shown the dynamic changes in the conformation of the IDR of the NSP1, in response to its surroundings, due to hydrophobic and electrostatic interactions between the protein and the environment.

The other members of the team include IIT Mandi research scholars Amit Kumar, Ankur Kumar and Prateek Kumar, along with Neha Garg from the Banaras Hindu University.

What is a Virus?

Viruses are non-cellular, microscopic infectious agents that can only replicate inside a host cell. From a biological perspective, viruses cannot be classified either a living organism or non-living. This is due to the fact that they possess certain defining characteristic features of living organisms and non-living entities.

In a nutshell, a virus is a non-cellular, infectious entity made up of genetic material and protein that can invade and reproduce only within the living cells of bacteria, plants and animals.

For instance, a virus cannot replicate itself outside the host cell. This is because viruses lack the required cellular machinery. Therefore, it enters and attaches itself to a specific host cell, injects its genetic material, reproduces by using the host genetic material and finally the host cell splits open, releasing the new viruses.

Viruses can also be crystallized, which no other living organisms can do. It is these factors that lead to viruses being classified in the grey area – between the living and non-living.

Structure and Function of Viruses

Viruses are tiny and smaller in its size, ranging between 30-50 nm. They usually lack a cell wall but are surrounded by a protective protein coating called the capsid. It can be seen as a genetic element and is characterized by the combined evolution of the virus and the host. They contain either RNA or DNA as the genetic material

Viruses mainly depend on a host to deliver the complex metabolic machinery of prokaryotic or eukaryotic cells for propagation. The main task of the virus is to carry its DNA or RNA genome to the host cell, which then can be transcribed by the host cell. The viral genome is packed in a capsulated symmetric protein. The protein associated with nucleic acid (also known as nucleoprotein) produces the nucleocapsid with the genome.

Bacteriophage and HIV

These microbes belong to the family viridae and genus virus.  Viruses could not be placed in any of the kingdoms because they are practically neither living nor dead. The term virus was coined by the Dutch microbiologist, Martinus Willem Beijerinck in the year 1897. It is derived from Latin, which means poison or venomous substance.

Once a susceptible cell is infected, a virus can start the cell machinery to generate more virus. Viruses are composed of a core of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat. They are very small and their size ranges from 20 nanometers to 250 nanometers. Therefore, they can only be seen with an electron microscope

Many viruses have either DNA or RNA as the genetic element and the nucleic acid with single or double strands. The whole infectious virus, called as virion has nucleic acid and an outer shell of proteins. The simplest virus includes DNA or RNA for encoding four proteins and the most complex encodes 100-200 proteins.

The study of viruses is called as virology.

Properties of Viruses

  1. They are non-cellular organisms, which is enclosed in a protective envelope.
  2. The presence of spikes helps in attaching the viruses to the host cell.
  3. These viruses do not grow, neither respire nor metabolize, but they reproduce.
  4. They are surrounded by a protein coat – capsid and have a nucleic acid core comprising DNA or RNA.
  5. They are considered both as living and non-living things. These viruses are inactive when they are present outside of host cells, but become active within host cells. These viruses cause several infections and reproduce within the host cell by using the enzymes and raw materials.

Classification of Viruses

Viruses can be classified primarily on their phenotypic characteristics, core content, chemical composition, capsid structure, size, shape, genome structure and modes of replication.

The Baltimore classification is the most commonly used for studying the system of virus classification. This system was developed by an American biologist David Baltimore in the 1970s, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

The below flowchart describes the classification of viruses based on their different criteria.

Classification based on the presence of nucleic acid

DNA virus

The virus, having DNA as its genetic material. There are two different types of DNA virus

Single-stranded (ss) DNA virus: e.g. Picornaviruses, Parvovirus,  etc.

Double-stranded (ds) DNA virus: e.g. Adenovirus, Herpes virus, etc.

RNA virus

The virus, having RNA as its genetic material. There are two different types of RNA virus

Double-stranded (ds) RNA virus: e.g. Reovirus, etc.

Single-stranded (ss) RNA virus. It is further classified into two Positive sense RNA (+RNA) and negative sense RNA (-RNA). Poliovirus, Hepatitis A, Rabies virus, Influenza virus are examples of single-stranded RNA virus.

Classification based on the structure or symmetry

  1. Complex virus. E.g Poxvirus
  2. Radial symmetry virus. E.g.Bacteriophage
  3. Cubical or icosahedral symmetry shaped virus. E.g. Reovirus, Picornavirus
  4. Rod or Spiral shaped or helical symmetry virus.E.g. Paramyxovirus, orthomyxovirus

Classification based on the replication properties and site of replication

Here, viruses invade into the host cell, where it replicates and assembly within the cell organelles.

  1. Replication within the cytoplasm of the host cell. E.g. All RNA viruses except the Influenza virus.
  2. Replication within the nucleus and the cytoplasm of the host cell. E.g. Influenza virus, Poxvirus, etc.
  3. Replication within the nucleus of the host cell.
    All DNA viruses except Poxvirus.
  4. Replication of the virus through the double-stranded DNA intermediate. E.g. All DNA viruses, Retrovirus and some tumour causing RNA virus.
  5. Replication of the virus through a single-stranded RNA intermediate. E.g. All RNA viruses except Reovirus and tumour-causing RNA viruses.

Classification based on the host range

Based on the type of host, there are four different types of viruses:

Animal viruses

These viruses infect by invading the cells of animals, including humans. Prominent examples of animal viruses include the influenza virus, mumps virus, rabies virus, poliovirus, Herpes virus, etc.

Plant viruses

These viruses infect plants by invading the plant cells. Well-known examples of plant virus include the potato virus, tobacco mosaic virus, beet yellow virus, and turnip yellow virus, cauliflower mosaic virus, etc.


The virus which infects bacterial cells is known as bacteriophage. There are many varieties of bacteriophages, such as DNA virus,  MV-11, RNA virus, λ page, etc.

Insect virus

The virus which infects insects is known as Insect virus, also called the viral pathogen of insects. These viruses are considered as a powerful biocontrol agent in the landscape of modern agriculture. Ascovirus virions and  Entomopox virus, are best examples for insect virus.

Classification based on the mode of transmission

  1. Airborne infections – Transmission of the virus through the air into the respiratory tract. E.g. Swine flu, and Rhinovirus.
  2. Fecal oral route  – Transmission of the virus through the contaminated water or food. E.g. Hepatitis A virus, Poliovirus, Rotavirus.
  3. Sexually transmitted diseases – Transmission of the virus through sexual contacts with the infected person. E.g. Retrovirus, human papillomavirus, etc.
  4. Transfusion-transmitted infections- Transmission of the virus through the blood transfusion. E.g. Hepatitis B virus, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, etc.
  5. Zoonoses -Transmission of the virus through the biting of infected animals, birds, and insects to human. E.g. Rabies virus, Alpha virus, Flavivirus, Ebola virus, etc.

List of Viral Diseases

Following is a list of virus diseases that have made a significant socioeconomic impact in the last few decades.

  • AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)
  • Ebola
  • Influenza
  • SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)
  • Chikungunya
  • Small Pox (Now eradicated)

2. Declining forest bird species in Western Himalaya

Invasion by non-native species, land-use changes led to decrease in abundance of important birds

With extremely cold winters and pleasant summers, the State of Uttarakhand is home to the Western Himalayan temperate forests, which harbour a large number of endemic bird species. A new study that analysed these natural oak-dominated forests and modified forests has noted that there was a drastic loss of bird species in all modified landscapes.

The researchers studied an area of about 1,285 square kilometres between the altitudes of 1,700 and 2,400 metres. Six major land-use types which included natural oak forest, degraded oak forest (lightly used), lopped oak forest (intensively used), pine forest, agricultural cultivation area and sites with buildings were studied.

The results showed that there was a low diversity of species in monoculture areas and urban sites. They also noted a drastic loss of pollinator birds and insectivores in the degraded forests, monocultures and urbanised sites. The results were published recently in Global Ecology and Conservation.

Habitat guilds

Ghazala Shahabuddin, first author of the paper from the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research, Dehradun, adds: “We also noticed strong decline in some of the habitat guilds in the areas that experienced land-use change.

Habitat guilds are groups of bird species that have common habitat preferences. For instance, forest specialists include species which forage and breed only in dense protected oak forests at this altitude, while forest generalists can adapt to modified habitats such as orchards and degraded forests.”

The researchers noticed that many of the species that dropped out of the modified land areas were recognised oak forest specialists such as rufous-bellied woodpecker, greater yellownape, rufous sibia, white-throated laughingthrush and black-faced warbler.

Another paper published by the group looked at woodpeckers in the region to understand how they can be used as indicators of bird diversity and also to understand habitat degradation

Woodpeckers enhance

They found that the higher the number of woodpeckers at a site, the higher was the richness of all other birds. “The cavities that woodpeckers make on trees are used by a number of other birds to nest in. This may be the primary reason how woodpeckers enhance the diversity in a region. Woodpeckers are known to abandon their cavities and even be chased away from their own cavity by other birds,” explained Tarun Menon, one of the authors of the paper who is currently a PhD student at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

They also noted that two species (rufous-bellied woodpecker and greater yellownape) showed great potential as indicators of forest quality as they were most likely to be found in dense canopied forests with larger and taller trees on which they preferred to forage.

“With tourism and other anthropogenic activities increasing in the region, we are witnessing rapid invasion by non-native species. One would not expect to see pigeons and Black Kites in these altitudes, but with increasing concrete urban ghettos, these birds have become a common sight now,” adds Rajkamal Goswami who was associated with the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research, Dehradun, while carrying out the field surveys. He is currently working with the Ashoka Trust for Research and the Environment (ATREE) and is one of the authors of the paper.

3. Our inheritance from the Neanderthals

Modern humans acquired varying skin, hair colour, immunity from them

While people like me, in their eighties, use the wrist watch to know the time of the day, today’s ‘hip’ youngsters, typically clad in blue jeans with pre-planned rips at the right place and a watch carrying facilities that not only tell the time but also the right tweets, movies and music of the present day. Compared to them, people like me are museum pieces. But when I challenge some of the more ‘knowledgeable’ among them, about how early this technological advance has come about, they proudly point out that right here in India, there is the Qutub Minar and its Iron Pillar in Delhi, both from the Iron Age.

Modern humans

‘Modern’ humans have populated the earth from long before the Iron Age, for some 300,000 years, cohabiting Mother Earth along with other pre-human hominins. Who were these other people? Because bones of one of these ‘others’ were first discovered in the Neander valley, just east of Dusseldorf in Germany, they were called ‘Neanderthals’. This hominin arose about 430,000 years ago and did not evolve in Africa, as Homo sapiens did. Early humans first encountered them when they migrated out of Africa.

Compete or co-operate

Did they compete with us Homo sapiens, or was there cooperation? Answers to such questions have come, one fragment at a time, from studies on the genetics of populations from Asia and Europe in places where migration brought the two species face to face. The techniques for these analyses are also advancing rapidly – all you need today is a bone fragment or, even better, a tooth – these are drilled to remove a few milligrams of powder, from which DNA is extracted and sequenced. Sometimes, you don’t even need the fragment, dwelling places like caves have extractable DNA in their sediments! Notable driving forces behind all these technical and intellectual advances in this field include the Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo and the biochemist Johannes Krause.

‘Modern’ humans interbred with the locals in these regions. Recently a thigh bone of such a cross-bred individual became available, as Dr Ann Gibbs points out in her column titled, ‘When modern humans met Neanderthals’, (Science, 9 April 2012: vol 372, issue 6538, pp. 115-116, DOI:10.1126/science.372.6538.115). A more recent genetic analysis of one set of samples from the region showed that Neanderthals came to the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria first, more than 50,000 years ago and left their stone tools. Next came modern humans in two or more waves, and littered the cave with beads and stones about 45,000, and then 36,000 years ago. Genome-wide data of three human males who lived in this cave 45,000 years ago show that all three had Neanderthals in their family lineage, from just a few generations ago. This clearly showed that the modern human population in that region had interbred with the ‘locals’ and produced a cross-bred group of people – modern with Neanderthals. This cross-bred group had 3.4%–3.8% Neanderthal ancestry (in modern non-Africans it is about 2%). The inheritance was in the form of long chunks of chromosomal segments, which grew shorter with each generation. By measuring the size of these chunks, it is estimated that these three residents had a Neanderthal ancestor 6–7 generations ago. In another study, a nearly intact feminine skull from the Zlatý kůň hill in the Czech Republic, roughly as old as the Bachi Kiro gentlemen, was found to have Neanderthal ancestors going back about 70 generations (2,000 years).

Genetic connections

Tracing the genetic lineages of these four individuals, it is somewhat surprising that no traces are to be found among today’s Europeans. However, they are connected to present-day East Asians and Native Americans. The descendants of these Eurasian cave dwellers appear to have packed up and moved eastward, finally enduring the hardship of crossing an ice-age Bering Strait, and the luxury of visa-free travel, into the Americas.

Conferring immunity

Further studies on the genomes of the Neanderthals themselves allow a comparison with those of modern humans (see reference above) and give us a glimpse of the genetic changes in the DNA sequences of the two. The chunks inherited from Neanderthals were whittled down to 2%, but what advantages did these newly acquired genes confer on humans? Having adapted to colder regions for 400,000 years, the Neanderthals gave us out-of-Africa humans variations in skin and hair colour better suited to the cold, as well as adaptive variants for metabolism and immunity – to help better adjust to strange new food sources and to unfamiliar disease-causing viruses in the new environment.

4. Between the sea and a hard place

The new administrator’s proposals, including a beef ban and a Goonda Act, have triggered widespread protests among the islanders

The British system of having two separate collectorates — Malabar for the Laccadive group and Mangalore for the Amindivi group — continued till 1956 when it was all united to form the Union Territory

It was renamed Lakshadweep in 1973 and the first local elections were held in 1997 after Panchayat Regulations were notified. But powers largely remain with the administrator

There is an estimated population of about 70,000 people on the islands — 36 in total with 10 being habitable and the others having vast lagoons spread over 4,200 sq km

In December 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru despatched a fighter pilot-turned-civil servant to a tiny group of islands located southwest of mainland India in the Arabian Sea with the ‘challenging’ mission of steering it into the modern era.

Moorkkoth Ramunni, who took over as the fourth administrator of the Union Territory of Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi islands formed in 1956, quickly won the hearts of minds of the islanders. He walked with the people, accustomed himself to their ethos, marvelled at the atolls surrounding the tiny landmasses and spent several nights on their sprawling sandy beaches.

The island chain witnessed a new dawn as Ramunni brought in some path-breaking reforms. Land was apportioned between tenants and landlords, with the tenants receiving three quarters of a parcel. At village meetings held in the glow of kerosene lamps, historic decisions were taken, including the one to float cooperative societies for marketing island merchandise such as coir, copra and fish. The relocation of the Dweep administration office to Kavaratti from Kozhikode, then Calicut, gave momentum to the administrator’s initiatives to eradicate leprosy and to set up schools.

“To improve their means of livelihood, he introduced them to tuna fishing using live bait which was until then not known to the islanders except those of Minicoy,” recalls Ali Manikfan, 83, marine researcher and ecologist from Minicoy. When Ramunni left the archipelago in the summer of 1965, he took a slice of it with him. So much so, that his home in Thalassery near Kannur was named after the smallest of the islands in the chain, Bitra.

Sixty years later, the same islands that embraced Ramunni and his reforms are up in arms against a host of proposed policies by another administrator, a political appointee. A ‘Save Lakshadweep’ campaign is gaining strength and the Chief Ministers of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, among others, have pledged their support to it.

Myths, ballads, facts

The archipelago’s early history is anchored in a sea of myths, legends, ballads and facts that are inseparably entwined. It’s believed that the earliest known reference to the island chain was in Mushika-Vamsa, an 11th century work in which a king is said to have ruled some islands in the western ocean. Among the several legends about its discovery is one about a search party for a king who went missing while on a voyage to Mecca accidentally spotting these isles. “A Kolathiri king is believed to have sent people, mostly farmers, from north Kerala to settle down here. They came under the rule of the Arakkal family in Kannur whose origins are mired in local legends. There’s this tale about a Musalman rescuing a drowning princess who subsequently marries him, taking away with her suzerainty over these isles and Kannur,” says M. Mullakkoya, former secretary of the Lakshadweep Sahitya Kala Academy and a resident of Kiltan island.

The islanders fell on bad times as the Arakkal family’s interest was predominantly in filling their coffers using their karyakars (revenue collection agents) on these islands. When an Arakkal king tried to monopolise coir trade by asking the islanders to only sell it in Kannur, the Amini group of islands revolted and sought the help of Tipu Sultan, who entered into a pact with Arakkal and secured rights over the Amindivi group of islands. However, when Tipu fell in the battle of Seringapatam in 1799, this group came under the British rule. Meanwhile, the Arakkal family, which remotely governed the Laccadive and Minicoy islands, fell into a debt trap laid by the British and the inability to pay off debts and the tribute forced it to forfeit control over these islands to the British in early 20th century.

In an island chain with over 96% of Muslim population, the advent of Islam is traced to the legend of a saint named Ubaidulla, who landed following a shipwreck on the shores of Amini in AD 7. On the Androth island, the largest in the group with just 4.9 sq. km. area, is a tomb in his name. News of India’s Independence came to the islands about three months later. The southwest monsoon was raging and the ships remained at berth. When the islanders who left for the mainland after mid-September returned, they broke the news of India’s freedom triggering celebrations, recalls Dr. Mullakkoya.

The British system of having two separate collectorates — Malabar for the Laccadive group and Mangalore for the Amindivi group — continued till 1956 when it was all united to form the Union Territory. It was renamed Lakshadweep in 1973. If Ramunni had laid the foundations of a modern Lakshadweep, Omesh Saigal, who was administrator in the early 1980s, cut through bureaucracy to bring helicopter service mainly for evacuation of seriously ill patients to Kochi for medical treatment.

The tourism potential of these emerald islands, 36 in total with an estimated population of about 70,000 people on the 10 inhabited islands and with vast lagoons covering 4,200 sq km area, dawned on the administration in the 1980s when Bengaram island was leased out to a hotel chain. The arrangement, though an international hit, ran into rough weather some 20 years later with the government taking over the reins following litigation that went up to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, tourism societies formed in all islands ensured that the UT, a notified Scheduled Tribes (ST) district with outsiders’ entry limited by permits, conducted tourism in keeping with the ethos of the people and a ban on alcohol was fitting.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Independence, then administrator Rajeev Talwar brought a ‘Kochi-Agatti-Goa-Agatti-Kochi’ daily flight to further boost tourism. The Lakshadweep Development Corporation Ltd (LDCL), formed in the late 1980s, also began operating passenger ships and cargo barges.

Local elections

Though a Panchayat Regulation was notified in 1994 and the maiden local elections were held three years later, powers have largely remained with the administrator. The role of the district planning committee chaired by the collector and the sole MP as one of its members is to draft a development plan.

In 2015, following a Supreme Court order, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified an integrated island management plan (IIMP), which sought to enhance the productivity of the UT without compromising on its coral reef ecosystem or the people’s customs.

Life in the UT was peaceful and at a languid pace, free of COVID-19 for nearly a year, thanks to a quarantine stipulation for inbound travellers in Kochi when in December 2020, a new administrator, a former BJP leader named Praful Khoda Patel, set foot on Kavaratti following the demise of the incumbent. In one stroke, he reversed its success against COVID-19 — the UT has seen over 7,000 cases since — and proposed a slew of draft pieces of legislation ranging from a beef ban, a law to cut back the powers of elected representatives of panchayats, an arbitrary Goonda Act regardless of the low rate of crimes in the UT and a law for the creation of a land development authority with sweeping powers for eviction.

The UT is in the throes of an unprecedented agitation now with appeals for the repeal of these proposals and recall of the administrator resonating across the country. “It’s a life and death situation for us,” says an islander.

5. Industry laments inadequacy of GST compliance relaxations

‘Overall expectation was a complete waiver of late fees for pandemic-hit months’

The GST compliance relaxations announced on Friday to help businesses cope with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic need to be enhanced to provide meaningful relief to firms hit by the ongoing severe disruption, industry representatives contend.

Following the GST Council’s meeting, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an amnesty scheme for late fees on small businesses’ pending returns from July 2017 to April 2021, and lower interest rates for tax payment delays for the months of March to May this year, among other measures.

“About 89% of the GST taxpayers constitute small tax payers, so tax payers can now file their pending returns and avail the benefits of the amnesty scheme with reduced late fee,” she had said. “ate fees have also been rationalised, so that it’s not too high or too low for some,” she added.

Industry body FICCI said the amnesty scheme to reduce the late fee would provide some relief to the small taxpayers, but it would recommend ‘a waiver from the late fees and interest’ too.

“While the announced relaxations are a welcome relief to the pandemic ridden businesses, the overall expectation was a complete waiver from payment of late fees, especially for the months where the pandemic had disrupted business since early 2020,” said Sandeep Jhunjhunwala, Partner, Nangia Andersen LLP.

Industries hit hard due to COVID such as hospitality and travel also require some relaxation to be able to sustain themselves, said Shweta Walecha, director at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan Attorneys. “The council has not discussed such issues.”

6. Vietnam detects new hybrid variant

Authorities in Vietnam have detected a new coronavirus variant that is a combination of the Indian and U.K. COVID-19 variants and spreads quickly by air, the Health Minister said on Saturday.

After successfully containing the virus for most of last year, Vietnam is grappling with a spike in infections since late April that accounts for more than half of the total 6,713 registered cases. So far, there have been 47 deaths.

“Vietnam has uncovered a new COVID-19 variant combining characteristics of the two existing variants first found in India and the U.K.,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in a statement.

“The new variant is very dangerous,” he added.

The Southeast Asian country had previously detected seven virus variants: B.1.222, B.1.619, D614G, B.1.1.7 — known as the U.K. variant, B.1.351, A.23.1 and B.1.617.2 — the “Indian variant”.

Online newspaper VnExpress said Mr. Long had described the new variant as a hybrid of the Indian and U.K. variants.

“The new one is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the UK variant,” Mr. Long was quoted as saying, adding that authorities would soon announce the name and detailed characteristics of the newly discovered variant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four variants of SARS-CoV-2 of global concern.

Officials at the WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the new variant identified in Vietnam.

7. Philippines protests against China’s ‘illegal’ South China Sea presence

This was 84th diplomatic protest since Duterte took office

The Philippines has protested China’s continuing “illegal presence and activities” near an island in the South China Sea held by the Southeast Asian nation, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Manila lodged the diplomatic protest on Friday over the” incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels” in the vicinity of Thitu island. It demanded its giant neighbour withdraw the vessels.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside business hours.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing have escalated over the months-long presence of hundreds of Chinese boats in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The Philippines says it believes the vessels were manned by militia, while Beijing has said they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather.

“The Pag-asa Islands is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Thitu, known as Pag-asa in the Philippines, is 451 km from the mainland and is the biggest of the eight reefs, shoals and islands it occupies in the Spratly archipelago.

China has built a mini-city with runways, hangars andsurface-to-air-missiles in the Subi Reef about 25 km from Thitu.

This was at least the 84th diplomatic protest the Philippines has filed against China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.

An international tribunal that year invalidated China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea, where about $3 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to various islands.

Mr. Duterte shelved the favourable ruling in exchange for pledges of billions of dollars of Chinese aid.

8. ‘Coast Guard will get more responsibilities’

Doval commissions OPV ‘Sajag’

Observing that the Coast Guard plays an important role in supporting neighbouring countries in the Indian Ocean Region, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval on Saturday said that the force will have greater responsibilities in the years to come as India’s maritime zones expand to include entitlements in the extended continental shelf.

Mr. Doval made the comments after virtually commissioning the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) ‘Sajag’ into the Indian Coast Guard. This is third of five OPVs indigenously designed and built by the Goa Shipyard Limited.

Mr. Doval also said that this lean and visible service plays a critical role in anti-smuggling and anti-narcotics, both nationally and internationally, a Coast Guard statement said.

In his address, Mr. Doval said that the concept of forming the Coast Guard was conceived after the 1971 war, when it was assessed that maritime borders are equally vital as land borders, the statement said. “The blueprint for a multi-dimension Coast Guard was conceived by the visionary Rustamji Committee even as the United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) was being negotiated and India’s assets off Mumbai high were growing,” the statement quoted Mr. Doval as having said.

What is the Indian Coast Guard?

Unlike the Indian navy which is responsible for securing the freedom of India on waters through maintaining, training, and equipping combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas; the Indian Coast Guard is into law enforcement, search and rescue in the sea.

  • It was established on 18 August 1978 by the Coast Guard Act, 1978. It performs non-military functions.
  • Motto: वयम रक्षामः” (Vayam Rakshamah), which translates from Sanskrit as “We Protect”
  • It operates under the Ministry of Defence.
  • The headquarter of the Indian Coast Guard is in New Delhi
  • It has jurisdiction over the territorial waters of India including contiguous zone and exclusive economic zone.
  • It is responsible for marine environment protection in maritime zones of India and is a coordinating authority for response to oil spills in Indian waters.

Indian Coast Guard Ships

Indian Coast Guard Ships are the Vessels bearing the prefix “ICGS”. Check the list of ICGS below:

Categories of Indian Coast Guard Ships (ICGS)
ICGS Pollution Control Vessel
ICGS Offshore Patrol Vessels
ICGS Fast Patrol Vessels
ICGS Patrol Boats
ICGS Patrol Crafts
ICGS Hover Crafts

List of ICGS Pollution Control Vessel Class

ICGS Samudra2010 – present

List of ICGS Offshore Patrol Vessels

ICGS Vajra2021
ICGS Vikram2018 – present
ICGS Samarth2015 – present
ICGS Vishwast2010 – present
ICGS Sankalp 2008 – present
ICGS Samar1996 – present

List of ICGS Fast Patrol Vessels

Aadesh2013 – present
Rajshree2012- present
Rani Abbaka2009- present
Sarojini Naidu2002- present
Priyadarshini1992- present

List of ICGS Patrol Boats

ICGS Bharati 2013 – present
ICGS L&T2012 – present
ICGS ABJ2000 – present
ICGS AMP1993 – present
ICGS Swallow Craft1980 – present

List of ICGS Patrol Crafts

Timblo2010 – present
Bristol2004 – present
Vadyar1988 – present
Mandovi Marine1980  – present

List of ICGS Hover Crafts

Griffon Class2000 – present

Integrated Underwater Harbour Defence and Surveillance System (IUHDSS)

  • The defence system at a naval harbour in Kochi has a state-of-the-art automated system capable of tracking, identifying, detecting, and generating warnings for surface and underwater threats.
  • It will enable operators to foresee, and respond to, surface and sub-surface threats to vital assets along the harbour and warships in the quay.
  • The system comprises a cluster of coastal surveillance radars, high-power underwater sensors, and diver detection sonars.
  • Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) ELTA was involved in designing IUHDSS.
  • The IUHDSS, along with the specialised Sagar Prahari Bal, would help in augmenting security of the coast around the naval installations in Kochi.
  • It will relay images to the multi-agency Joint Operations Centre (JOC).
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