Not a time to panic 

India must cut the transmission chain of the virus to save its health system from collapse 

  • With the virus galloping to 116 countries/regions causing more than 118,000 cases and 4,291 deaths, as on Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization took the last logical step the same day to spotlight the threat posed by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) — by declaring it a pandemic.
  • The WHO chief did caution that the “threat of a pandemic has become very real” based on the number of countries reporting new cases.
  • Unfortunately, many countries did not take the warning seriously.
  • The response to WHO’s new classification should not be one of panic but must instead stir countries into changing the course of the pandemic. 
  • While WHO had always asked all countries to take aggressive action in viral containment, it has now become all the more important to take that warning seriously.
  • All countries are required to trace, detect, test, isolate and treat cases to prevent a handful of cases from becoming clusters, and for clusters from becoming widespread in the community and overwhelming the health-care system. 
  • Even as India has done well in this by testing, isolating, contact tracing and treating people, it has so far restricted itself to people who have returned from abroad and those who have come in contact with infected people. 
  • It may be prudent for India to adopt a more aggressive approach by looking for cases in the community to prevent the silent spread of the virus. 
  • In addition, containment measures such as closing down schools and cancelling mass gatherings in enclosed places should be done wherever necessary. 
  • Steps such as suspending tourist visas for nearly a month starting March 13 and quarantining Indians if needed are welcome — thermal screening cannot detect infected people who do not show symptoms yet. 
  • India should pull out all the stops to cut the transmission chain as its fragile public health-care system will collapse if cases rise exponentially.

Fighting COVID-19 together for a shared future 

China and India have maintained close communication and cooperation on epidemic prevention 

  • The COVID-19 outbreak is a major public health emergency that is most difficult to contain for China since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. 
  • It is also a formidable challenge to global public health security. Under the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China adopted unprecedented, most comprehensive, rigorous and thorough prevention and control measures, which not only protected the health and the security of the Chinese people, but also gained time for global response.
  • The Chinese government has mobilised the whole nation with confidence, unity, a science-based approach and a targeted response. 
  • While India focused on the following aspects: first, formulated timely strategies for epidemic prevention and control; second, strengthened a unified command and response in Wuhan and Hubei; third, coordinated the prevention and control work in other regions; fourth, strengthened scientific research, emergency medical and daily necessity supplies; fifth, effectively maintained social stability; sixth, strengthened public education; and seventh, actively engaged in international cooperation.

A resilient country 

  • We are consolidating the positive momentum in outbreak control across the country. In general this round of the epidemic peak is over in China. 
  • The progress once again demonstrates the great strengths of the CPC’s leadership and the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
  • China is a resilient nation that has emerged stronger from numerous trials and tribulations. 
  • The bigger the difficulties and challenges China faces, the more cohesion and fighting spirit the Chinese nation demonstrates. 
  • We have all the confidence, capacity and determination to triumph over the epidemic.

Mutual support 

  • China and India have maintained close communication and cooperation on epidemic prevention and control. 
  • In a letter to President Xi, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed support for China. We appreciate the medical supplies provided by India and have helped facilitate the safe return of Indian nationals in Hubei.
  • The fundamentals of China’s economy will remain strong in the long run, and China will remain an important engine for global economic growth.
  • The history of civilisation is also one of a history of fighting diseases and a great journey of ceaseless global integration.

Delhi’s shame is India’s shame 

The riots were stoked by a series of factors, but it is the stark police ineptitude that must cause much introspection 

  • More than 100 days since protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or the CAA began, and weeks after the worst ever communal riots in Delhi since 1984, questions are being raised as to what went wrong. It is quite evident by now that collective failure lay at the root of what could have been restricted in scope, if not entirely prevented.

The mix that ignited 

  • Some saw in the Delhi riots the shadow of 1984. The comparison is, however, flawed. The 1984 Sikh riots took the authorities by surprise, while the country has been in a kind of ‘slow burn’ ever since the CAA was passed by Parliament in December 2019.
  • Over time, protests against the CAA became larger in scope, specially in urban centres such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru.
  • A mixture of political insensitivity, deliberate apathy in allowing the situation to simmer, social disharmony, pronounced incompetence of those responsible for law and order, and, above all, a highly polarised atmosphere, helped stoke the embers of conflict.
  • The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court came in for a share of blame, albeit for not intervening effectively to contain the violence. 
  • One former Justice of the Supreme Court argued that had the judiciary been more proactive, lives lost in the recent violence could have been saved. 
  • The Chief Justice of India, Sharad Bobde, opined that courts were not ‘equipped’ to handle palpable ‘pressure’ being created to somehow step in and prevent violence.

The politics 

  • The Central government demonstrated an obvious unwillingness to step in to quell the violence, despite the fact that law and order in Delhi is primarily the responsibility of the Home Ministry. 
  • Political analysts have speculated that this may be due to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s angst, consequent on the rebuff it received in the recent Delhi elections.
  • The BJP government at the Centre, sat out the conflict, at a time when social harmony was at high risk, and sizeable segments of the population in northeast Delhi were facing extraordinary high levels of risk to their lives and livelihoods. 
  • In security and law and order parlance, intelligence and police constitute the vital last 10%. 
  • Compounding the failure of the political and administrative leadership has been the ineptness displayed by the police and intelligence agencies.

A lapse 

  • Arguments adduced subsequently that nearly 7,600 members of the Central Forces — Delhi has about 80,000 police officers and men — were deployed to contain the riots, cannot obscure the extent of failure.
  • Preparations for violence and the polarising rhetoric had made it all too evident that violence could be expected.
  • Blaming the police is par for the course whenever a major riot occurs. Sometimes the police are taken unawares, but this time the police had ample warning, from their own accumulation of day-to-day information and presumably from central intelligence agencies as well.
  • The Delhi police does function under a kind of diarchy, controlled not by the Chief Minister, but by bureaucrats in the Union Home Ministry, who operate through the Lt. Governor. 
  • In effect, no one remains in control. Yet, even this does not quite explain why the Delhi police failed to see what was coming.
  • The Delhi police needs to provide a true explanation for their utter ineptitude.

Target for all 

  • The riots in Delhi did not fall into the category of nuclear science. If it were the latter, one could at least have attributed this to intelligence failure.
  • A far less endowed police force, would have been able to effectively handle a situation that has since become a symbol of shame for Indian democracy, inviting the wrath of not only bodies such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but also allowing countries with little pretense to secular democracy to point fingers at us.
  • The Delhi police need to set their house in order for, alongside other police forces across the world, they need to prepare for a future in which technological advances are creating an entire new paradigm of threats. 
  • In the age of rampant social media, they need to be ready to deal with the ‘weaponisation of social media’ — this may have already occurred in the Delhi case.
  • In the era of artificial intelligence, they will also need to prepare for the so-called ‘deception revolution’, including dealing with ‘deep-fake’ threats, where digitally manipulated audio and video material designed to be as realistic as possible, becomes near impossible to separate from the truth. This would create a whole new portfolio of dangers.
  • As we face untold new dangers, it would be unfortunate that through a combination of factors, including unwarranted interference in its role and activities, India’s law and order showpiece, the Delhi police, is portrayed as inefficient and ineffective, even to deal with a mundane communal riot.

Protecting bank nationalization 

  • The Union Cabinet decided to issue an ordinance to restore the status quo ante in regard to the nationalisation of the 14 banks, following the Supreme Court judgment invalidating the Bank Nationalisation Act of 1969.
  • The ordinance will meet the “twin” objections of the Supreme Court to the Act that was struck down, namely, hostile discrimination against the 14 major banks and payment of compensation.
  • It is reliably learnt that the ordinance will provide for the acquisition of the shares in the 14 banks nationalised.
  • It is also learnt that no further extension of nationalisation to other banks, Indian and foreign, is being contemplated. 
  • The Law Ministry is understood to be studying the bearing of the Supreme Court’s judgment on other matters – the reference is clearly to general insurance.

Bills on bankruptcy code, mineral law get RS nod 

  • The Rajya Sabha passed two Bills — the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and the Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
  • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) Amendment Bill, that will help ring-fence successful bidders of insolvent companies from the risk of criminal proceedings for offences committed by previous promoters, the Bill replaces an ordinance.
  • The IBC, which came into force in 2016, has already been amended thrice.
  • The Bill is an exact replica of the ordinance and the changes recommended by the Standing Committee of Finance would be incorporated later.

'This is euthanasia' 

  • Only 10% of defaulted loans had been recovered other than seven big ones to be resolved so far. 
  • The law was brought to find a way to keep the firms afloat. 
  • Out of 970 cases referred to the IBC, 780 had been liquidated, indicating a mortality rate of 80%.

Sensex slumps 2,919 points, Nifty sinks to 33-month low 

Indian benchmarks register their biggest single-day fall 

  • A day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, equity markets worldwide went into a bear phase — denoted by more than 20% fall from the recent highs of the benchmarks.
  • The Indian benchmarks registered their biggest single-day fall on Thursday, with the Sensex plunging 2,919.26 points, or 8.18%, to close at 32,778.14 — over 22% lower than its January high of 42,273.87. This was the lowest close for the index in nearly two years.

Deep losses 

  • All 30 stocks in the Sensex ended the day with deep losses, with heavyweights such as HDFC Bank, TCS, Axis Bank, ONGC, State Bank of India (SBI) and ICICI Bank shedding over 9% each on Thursday.
  • The broader Nifty fell below the psychological 10,000 mark to close at its lowest level since June 2017. The index lost 868.25 points, or 8.30%, to close at 9,590.15. 
  • The India VIX index jumped over 31% after witnessing a jump of 35%.
  • Incidentally, equity markets opened in the U.S. with a sharp fall with the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting its circuit breaker of 7%.
  • Elsewhere in Asia, the benchmarks of Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and South Korea all fell between 3% and 5% each.
  • Foreign investors continued to sell Indian equities with Thursday’s selling pegged at nearly ₹3,500 crore. 
  • The current month’s net sales are already nearing the ₹23,000-crore mark.

Avian flu confirmed in 3 places: Kerala 

Special squads formed to cull birds 

  • While suspected cases of avian influenza (bird flu) are being reported from various parts of Kerala, the disease has been confirmed only at three places in Kozhikode and Malappuram.

Avian influenza 

  • Avian flu or bird flu, is a variety of influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds.
  • The type with the greatest risk is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). 
  • Bird flu is similar to swine flu, dog flu, horse flu and human flu as an illness caused by strains of influenza viruses that have adapted to a specific host. 
  • Out of the three types of influenza viruses (A, B and C), influenza A virus is a zoonotic infection with a natural reservoir almost entirely in birds.
  • The beginning of recorded history of avian influenza was in 1878.

Symptoms 

  • You may have an H5N1 infection if you experience typical flu-like symptoms such as: cough, diarrhea, respiratory difficulties, fever(over 100.4◦F or 38◦ C), headache, muscle aches, malaise, runny nose, sore throat.

Preventions 

  • Because of the small number of human cases, it has not been possible to conduct rigorous medical or medication treatment trials for bird flu. 
  • The CDC suggests the best way to prevent bird flu is to avoid exposure whenever possible to birds and their feces. 
  • People are advised not to touch any ill-appearing or dead birds. 
  • The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommend antiviral drugs oseltamivir(Tamiflu) and zanamivir(Relenza) for the treatment and prevention of avian influenza A viruses along with supportive care.

Retail inflation eases to 6.58%, industrial production quickens 

Food inflation abates; faster output growth in mining, manufacturing 

  • Retail inflation based on the Consumer Price Index slowed to 6.58%, while the industrial production growth as measured in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) quickened to 2% amid subdued performance by the manufacturing sector.
  • Inflation in the food basket was 10.81% February 2020, lower from 13.63% in the previous month, as per data from Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
  • The IIP had accelerated 1.6% in January 2019. For January 2020, official data showed that the mining sector output grew 4.4% against a rise of 3.8%, manufacturing output rose 1.5% compared with 1.3% in the year-ago month, and electricity generation rose 3.1% versus 0.9% in January 2019.
  • Cumulative IIP growth for the period April-January 2019-20 over the corresponding period of the previous year stands at 0.5%, as against a growth of 4.4% in the corresponding period of 2018-19.

RBI opens dollar-swap window 

Central bank takes first step to fire-fight market volatility 

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has opened a six-month dollar sell-buy swap window to pump liquidity in the foreign exchange market — the first move following financial markets in India and across the globe experiencing turbulence over the spread of COVID-19, which could lead to a slowdown in growth.
  • The central bank will conduct U.S. dollar-rupee sell-buy swaps worth $2 billion on March 16, to begin with, in its effort to fight market volatility.
  • The swaps would be conducted through the auction route in multiple tranches and the auctions would be multiple price-based, that is, successful bids will be accepted at their respective quoted premiums.
  • RBI said the financial markets worldwide are facing intense selling pressures on extreme risk aversion due to the spread of COVID-19 infections, compounded by the slump in international crude prices and a decline in bond yields in advanced economies.

Why are oil prices crashing? 

The collapse of a Saudi-Russia deal has rattled markets 

  • Oil prices saw their biggest single-day crash in almost 30 years, throwing global equity markets into turmoil.
  • The price of a barrel of Brent crude closed down 24% at $34.36 after a price war was initiated between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two of the world’s largest oil producers. 
  • Prices crashed by almost 50% this year, from $66 a barrel on December 31, 2019 to the current levels, primarily driven by lack of demand.

OPEC-Plus alliance 

  • After 2014 “glut” diplomacy which brought down prices below $30 a barrel, Saudi Arabia and Russia came together to cut output and steady prices. 
  • Known as the “OPEC Plus” arrangement (Russia is not a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC), this alliance kept production lower and pumped up the prices.
  • Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco announced that it would increase output from 9.7 million barrels a day now to 12.3 million barrels in April. Aramco also offered a discount to its variety of crude, targeting Russian markets in Asia and Europe. The fear of glut at a time of slowing demand (supply and demand shock) rattled the markets, crashing prices.

What do Saudis want? 

  • As it was clear that Russia was not ready to cut its output further, the Saudis moved to the attack mode.
  • The plan is to flood the markets with Saudi oil and depress the prices, which would hurt all oil exporters. 
  • One is to exert pressure on Russia and make it come back to the negotiation table. 
  • Second, if the Russians do not blink, the plan is to capture market share from Russia with discounts.
  • Third, bleed the U.S. shale oil producers who could not sustain production at depressed prices. In a way, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, is trying to take on both Russia and U.S. shale oil companies with a single move.
  • But the question is whether Saudi Arabia could sustain the price war for a longer term. 
  • Roughly 90% of Saudi budget revenues are coming from the petroleum sector. 
  • The Kingdom wants prices to be over $60 a barrel to balance its budget. 
  • Prolonged depressed prices will leave a bigger hole in the Saudi budget, complicating further the Crown Price’s economic reform and diversification agenda.

What’s Putin’s plan? 

  • Though Russia had been cooperating with OPEC for three years, there’s a growing opinion in Moscow that the output cut was hurting Russian energy companies. 
  • Russian companies also want to open the taps and gain more market share.
  • there’s a convergence of interests between Saudi Arabia and Russia in hurting the U.S. shale oil companies, which are flooding markets with shale oil and challenging the supremacy of traditional oil producers in determining the prices 
  • Russia is in a relatively stronger economic position than Saudi Arabia. Oil now accounts for less than a third of its budget revenue. 
  • The country has also built a war chest of $435 billion in foreign exchange reserves. 
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin may be in for a long game—to weaken both U.S. shale oil industry and the OPEC’s clout in the market. 
  • If so, the glut won’t drain away any time soon.

Russia is in a relatively stronger economic position than Saudi Arabia. Oil now accounts for less than a third of its budget revenue. The country has also built a war chest of $435 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Russian President Vladimir Putin may be in for a long game—to weaken both U.S. shale oil industry and the OPEC’s clout in the market. If so, the glut won’t drain away any time soon. 

How home quarantine works 

News:  The government has issued guidelines on home quarantine for people who have been exposed to novel coronavirus.

  • In India’s fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID 2019), the Union Health Ministry has issued elaborate guidelines on how to enforce “home quarantine” for a fortnight. 
  • While less stringent than being quarantined in an Army or paramilitary facility, home quarantine comes with its own set of restrictions.

What is home quarantine? 

  • Quarantine, like isolation, separates some people from others during the outbreak of a contagious disease. 
  • While isolation separates sick people from people who are not sick, quarantine separates those who were exposed to a contagious disease, and who are then observed to see if they too become sick. 
  • Home quarantine means being quarantined at home.

How is home quarantine to be done? 

  • Home quarantine means that a person is confined to a well-ventilated single-room, preferably with an attached/separate toilet, in his or her own home. 
  • If another family member needs to stay in the same room, the two need to maintain a distance of at least 1 metre between each other.
  • Given the enhanced risks for some people, the person needs to stay away from elderly people, pregnant women, children and persons with co-morbidities within the household.
  • In the coronavirus outbreak, children have so far been less affected than others — in China only 2% of the patients have been below age 20. 
  • However, given the fact that this virus is essentially an unknown organism, the government’s home quarantine guidelines highlight the need for a contact to stay away from children as well.
  • All social or religious gatherings have to be avoided during the 14-day period. The person should not share any items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, etc with other people at home and should wear a mask at all times. 

Is home quarantine known to control spread of a disease? 

  • Officials associated with the detection and surveillance of COVID-19 say that home quarantine has so far turned out to be a very effective means of infection control.

Who needs to be in home quarantine? 

  • Every person who has come in contact with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-2019 needs to be in home quarantine. 
  • This is not only because the disease is highly contagious but also because the virus has an incubation period of 14 days during which a person may stay asymptomatic and yet be capable of spreading the virus.

A contact of a COVID-2019 patient is defined as:

  • A person living in the same household as a COVID-19 case;
  • A person having had direct physical contact with a COVID-19 case or his/her infectious secretions without recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) or with a possible breach of PPE. 
  • A person who was in a closed environment or had face to face contact with a COVID-19 case at a distance of within 1 metre including air travel.

What precautions are necessary for family members of a person in home quarantine? 

  • To minimise the number of people in a family who come in contact with a person with possible-COVID 2019 exposure, only one designated family member, who needs to wear a mask and gloves at all times, should be the caregiver. 
  • All physical contact should be scrupulously avoided, including sharing of linen. 
  • Visitors are not to be allowed.
  • A very important aspect of the process of home quarantine is disinfection and cleaning of all surfaces possibly contacted by the person with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution. 
  • Toilet surfaces have to be cleaned with phenolic disinfectants or other household bleaching solutions. 
  • Clothes have to be washed separately.

How is all this less restrictive than being put in quarantine in an Army facility?

  • Being quarantined in one’s own home is always better than staying with strangers at an Army or paramilitary facility. Besides the daily medical examinations, there are also other restrictions. 
  • Apart from playing games, watching TV and having meals together within a barrack, no one is allowed to interact with the members of another barrack and definitely not another sector for fear of infection.

 

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