Picking up the quantum technology baton 

#GS3 #Science&Technology #Economy 

With the Budget announcement providing direction, the stakeholders need to roll-out the national mission quickly 

  • In the Budget 2020 speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a welcome announcement for Indian science — over the next five years she proposed spending ₹8,000 crore (~ $1.2 billion) on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.  
  • This promises to catapult India into the midst of the second quantum revolution. 
  • In this article we describe the scientific seeds of this mission, the promise of quantum technology and some critical constraints on its success that can be lifted with some imagination on the part of Indian scientific institutions and, crucially, some strategic support from Indian industry and philanthropy. 

A timeline 

  • Quantum mechanics was developed in the early 20th century to describe nature in the small - at the scale of atoms and elementary particles.  
  • For over a century it has provided the foundations of our understanding of the physical world, including the interaction of light and matter, and led to ubiquitous inventions such as lasers and semiconductor transistors.  
  • Despite a century of research, the quantum world still remains mysterious and far removed from our experiences based on everyday life.  
  • A second revolution is currently under way with the goal of putting our growing understanding of these mysteries to use by actually controlling nature and harnessing the benefits of the weird and wondrous properties of quantum mechanics. 
  • One of the most striking of these is the tremendous computing power of quantum computers, whose actual experimental realisation is one of the great challenges of our times.  
  • The announcement by Google, in October 2019, where they claimed to have demonstrated the so-called “quantum supremacy”, is one of the first steps towards this goal. 

Promising future 

  • Besides computing, exploring the quantum world promises other dramatic applications including the creation of novel materials, enhanced metrology, secure communication, to name just a few.  
  • China recently demonstrated secure quantum communication links between terrestrial stations and satellites.  
  • And computer scientists are working towards deploying schemes for post-quantum cryptography - clever schemes by which existing computers can keep communication secure even against quantum computers of the future.  
  • On the experimental front, the challenge lies in harnessing the weird and wonderful properties of quantum superposition and entanglement in a highly controlled manner by building a system composed of carefully designed building blocks called quantum bits or qubits.  
  • These qubits tend to be very fragile and lose their “quantumness” if not controlled properly, and a careful choice of materials, design and engineering is required to get them to work.  
  • On the theoretical front lies the challenge of creating the algorithms and applications for quantum computers. 
  • These projects will also place new demands on classical control hardware as well as software platforms. 

Where India stands 

  • Globally, research in this area is about two decades old, but in India, serious experimental work has been under way for only about five years, and in a handful of locations. 
  • So far we have been plagued by a lack of sufficient resources, high quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility. 
  • The new announcement in the Budget would greatly help fix the resource problem but high quality manpower is in global demand. 
  • In a fast moving field like this, timeliness is everything - delayed funding by even one year is an enormous hit. 
  • Private funding, both via industry and philanthropy, can play an outsized role even with much smaller amounts. 
  • Unrestricted funds that can be used to attract and retain high quality manpower and to build international networks. 

India must encourage industrial houses and strategic philanthropists to take an interest and reach out to Indian institutions with an existing presence in this emerging field. 

The perils of an all-out lockdown 

#GS2 #DisasterManagement #Economy #Governance 

If the poor must stay at home, they need income support and essential services 

  • As the novel coronavirus spreads, a double crisis looms over India: a health crisis and an economic crisis. 
  • The economic crisis is hitting with full force, throwing millions out of work by the day. 
  • Unlike the health crisis, it is not class-neutral, but hurts poor people the most. 

India slows down 

  • Migrant workers, street vendors, contract workers, almost everyone in the informal sector - the bulk of the workforce - is being hit by this economic tsunami. 
  • The economic standstill in Maharashtra is spreading fast to other States as factories, shops, offices and worksites close with little hope of an early return to normalcy. 
  • This economic crisis calls for urgent, massive relief measures. Lockdowns may be needed to slow down the epidemic, but poor people cannot afford to stay idle at home. 

Tap social schemes 

  • Since time is of the essence, the first step is to make good use of existing social-security schemes to support poor people - pensions, the Public Distribution System (PDS), midday meals, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), among others.  
  • Initial measures could include advance payment of pensions, enhanced PDS rations, immediate payment of MGNREGA wage arrears, and expanded distribution of take-home rations at schools and anganwadis. 
  • State also requires the central government to avoid squandering its resources on corporate bailouts: most crisis-affected sectors of the economy will soon be lobbying for rescue packages. 
  • When you decide to stay at home, there are two possible motives for it: a self-protection motive and a public-purpose motive. 
  • In the first case, an individual act out of fear of being infected. In the second, an individual participate in collective efforts to stop the spread of the virus. 

Display creativity 

  • A similar reasoning applies to the case for shutting down public services as a precautionary measure. 
  • Self-protection of public employees is not a major issue (for the time being), the main consideration is public purpose. 
  • Services that help poor people in their hour of need without creating a major health hazard should continue to function as far as possible. 
  • Poor people depend on these services in multiple ways, closing them across the board at this time would worsen the economic crisis without doing much to stem the health crisis. 
  • An explicit list of essential services and official guidelines on coronavirus readiness at the workplace would be a good start. 
  • Anganwadis could play a vital role of public-health outreach at this time, even if children have to be kept away. 

The urgent need for effective social security measures makes it all the more important to avoid a loss of nerve. The way things are going today, it will soon be very difficult for some State governments to run the Public Distribution System or take good care of drinking water. That would push even more people to the wall, worsening not only the economic crisis but possibly the health crisis as well. This is not the time to let India’s frail safety net unravel. 

Not an unfettered right 

#GS2 #Constitution #Acts #InternationalRelations 

Sovereignty is subject to constraints 

  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, filed an application seeking to intervene as amicus curiae in the pending litigation in the Supreme Court against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. 
  • That the case has attracted the attention of the international human rights agency is a matter of concern for the Indian government. 
  • On the other hand, the intervention may enable the Supreme Court to read in public international law principles in determining the constitutionality of CAA. 
  • Ultimately, this would assist in laying down the law on concepts of sovereignty in addition to determining the obligations of a nation-state to the international community at large. 

A precedent? 

  • This application stands out for a number of reasons. First, this is a voluntary application rather than at the invitation of the Supreme Court. 
  • Second, Bachelet accepts that India is a state party and signatory to various international conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Culture Rights which contain important non-discrimination clauses, including on the ground of religion. 
  • India is obliged, under international law, to ensure that migrants in its territory or under its jurisdiction receive equal and non-discriminatory treatment regardless of their legal status or the documentations they possess. 
  • The High Commissioner has filed similar amicus curiae briefs on issues of pubic importance before a range of international and national judicial fora. 
  • However, this intervention, if permitted, would serve as a precedent for a number of future applications. 
  • It would also provide an opportunity for the Supreme Court to lay down the law on whether such applications interfere with national sovereignty. 
  • It would also provide an opportunity for the Supreme Court to lay down the law on whether such applications interfere with national sovereignty. 

Sovereignty as responsibility 

  • The Preamble to the Constitution lays out the position, wherein the people of India have resolved to constitute Indian Republic into a sovereign and not just any one authority. 
  • As such, the courts (judiciary), the government (executive) and elected legislatures (legislature) are equally sovereign authorities. No one can claim exclusivity over sovereignty. 
  • Furthermore, Article 51 (c) of the Constitution directs the state to “foster respect for international law”. 
  • According to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, “national political authorities are responsible to the citizens internally and to the international community through the UN”. 

Therefore, it is trite to say that an authority’s right to sovereignty is not unfettered. It is subject to constraints including the responsibility to protect its citizenry and the larger international community. Furthermore, Article 14 extends the right to equality to all persons, which is wider than the definition of citizens. Even illegal immigrants shall, consequently, be treated by the government in a manner that ensures equal protection of Indian laws. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will conclude that the intervention is necessary as the Court would benefit from the High Commissioner’s expertise in public international law principles. 

How to handle a pandemic 

#GS2 #Governance #Health 

The Kerala government has been successful in putting the public health sector back on the rails 

  • Every year after the Union Budget, newspapers carry articles critiquing the abysmal allocation for the health sector. 
  • As the COVID-19 threat looms, doctors, healthcare professionals and state institutions have been regularly issuing guidelines on the precautions to be taken. 
  • The advent of COVID-19 has led to a peculiar scenario wherein those who can otherwise afford private healthcare are now relying on government facilities to be quarantined and tested. 
  • It took a pandemic like COVID-19 for some to realize what most of India has been dealing with for decades. 

Preparing for an outbreak 

  • Given India’s record on public health, Kerala has been receiving praise for the way it is tackling the emergency. 
  • Be it the presence of health infrastructure prerequisites or its experience in handling the Nipah virus, the Kerala government’s preparedness for COVID-19 was relatively stronger than other States. 
  • The government has become more vigilant and taken proactive measures to trace people who have had primary and secondary contact with those who tested positive. 
  • The situation became grave after a family that flew down from Italy tested positive for the virus.  
  • After vigorous tracing, we found that 719 people had come in contact with the first case. The government then tightened the norms for people returning from other countries.  
  • It started taking strict action against all those who were not revealing their travel history. All those who were in primary and secondary contact were tested and kept in isolation or home quarantined.  
  • The next step was to cancel big religious ceremonies. Healthcare workers are stationed at all check posts on roads to check travellers for the virus before they enter the city.  
  • A similar exercise is conducted for those taking trains. If we are to learn from China and South Korea, the most efficient way to tackle the situation is to aggressively trace and test potential cases of COVID-19.  
  • All of this can be achieved only through clear political will, strong public healthcare services and commitment on the part of people.  
  • It is important for citizens to closely follow measures prescribed by the government. An important step towards this is to ensure that people don’t go for testing without solid grounds 
  • To ensure that people have access to the dos and don’ts for self-isolation, monitoring symptoms and reporting to health facilities at the right time, the Kerala government has launched a mobile application called GoK Direct.  
  • The Disha helpline has also been used for awareness generation. The ‘Break the Chain’ campaign advocates ideas of basic cleanliness and hygiene. 
  • Based on the State government’s request, the Indian Council of Medical Research has sanctioned 10 testing centres in Kerala.  
  • The government is also planning to facilitate the setting up of more testing centres with the help of the private sector for meeting the required capacity.  

Lessons from and for Kerala 

  • That Kerala came up with a set of guidelines before the COVID-19 outbreak was possible because of its history of unswerving governmental support for public health. 
  • The administration has been serving as a catalyst for the development of health services. This is reflected in the expansion of health infrastructure. 
  • The healthcare system in Kerala is decentralised to achieve the potential gains of improvement in service delivery and access.  

Consequently, in the context of COVID-19, the State has been successful in tracing individual cases and implementing measures like the ‘Break the Chain’ campaign successfully. Efforts are being made to provide infrastructure and quality services through the ‘Aardram Mission’, which focuses on developing primary health centres into family health centres. The government has been successful in putting the public health sector back on the rails. 

80 districts in lockdown to contain virus spread 

#GS2 #Governance 

  • Apart from essential services like hospitals, fire services, prisons, banks and newspapers, States were told to ensure that the production and provisioning of medical supplies continued uninterrupted.  
  • The Health Ministry said States would earmark hospitals to exclusively treat coronavirus patients and the government was expanding the network of labs for testing samples from suspected cases. 
  • According to the Union Health Ministry, Maharashtra continues with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 67, followed by Kerala with 52 and Delhi, 29. 
  • Uttar Pradesh had 27 cases, Karnataka has 26, Rajasthan 24, Telangana 22 and Haryana 21. 
  • The Delhi Government closed its borders to Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and announced it would run a skeletal bus service. 
  • However its announcement that all domestic flights had been suspended from Monday morning was contested by the Director-General of Civil Aviation. 
  • “Domestic flights to and from IGIA Delhi shall continue to operate and the airport shall remain functional,” DGCA said. 

ATF price cut, petrol, diesel unchanged 

#GS3 #Economy 

  • Jet fuel prices were slashed by 12% after oil firms reverted to fortnightly revisions to pass on the benefit of falling crude oil prices, but rates of petrol and diesel remained unchanged. 
  • State-owned oil firms cut aviation turbine fuel (ATF) price by ₹6,687.75 a kilolitre (kl) or 11.76% to ₹50,171.26 per kl, the lowest since September 2017, according to a price notification put out by oil marketing companies. 
  • This is the third straight reduction in jet fuel rates since February which make up for as much as 40% of an airline’s running cost. 
  • In all, rates have fallen by ₹14,152.5 per kl or 22%. 
  • Aviation Turbine Fuel prices, which already were lower than petrol and diesel, are now even lower than the rates of non-subsidised kerosene which comes at ₹58,818.07 a kl, according to price notification of oil firms. 

Demand for cash transfers increases 

#GS2 #Governance 

  • With multiple cities and States announcing lockdown on Sunday in the wake of COVID-19, demand for an economic relief package for the vulnerable sectors is growing from different quarters. 
  • The head of the All India Unorganised Workers’ Congress, Arbind Singh, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking to create a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore for the informal sector and offer direct cash transfers to the poor. 

Rations sought 

  • In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Arbind Singh, who also heads the National Association of Street Vendors of India, urged the government to provide three months’ rations to 44 crore workers who work as domestic help, street vendors, brick making workers, Ola and Uber drivers, food delivery boys and those working with the hospitality industry. 
  • The Congress’s wing for the informal sector workers also suggested ₹10,000 cash transfer for a month. 
  • A study conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has also mooted direct cash transfer of ₹10,000 to the rural and urban poor to help increase consumer demand. 

COVID-19-hit Zagreb suffers quake jolt 

#GS3 #Environment 

  • 5.3-magnitude earthquake is the biggest to hit Croatia’s capital. 
  • A large earthquake struck near the Croatian capital Zagreb 
  • The quake, with a magnitude of 5.3 according to GFZ, was the biggest to hit Zagreb in 140 years. 
  • It struck 6 km north of the city and was felt across the Western Balkans.  
  • The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured 5.4, while the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) also reported 5.3 magnitude, followed by another 5.1 magnitude earthquake. 

Cover for a pandemic 

#GS2 #Governance #Economy 

  • While pandemics such as COVID-19 are not new to the world, it is important to stay protected in every manner possible.  
  • While you may take all required precautionary measures such as maintaining social distancing to stay protected, what is more important here is to understand how you can secure your health. 
  • As per a circular from the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) to all health insurers regarding the guidelines on handling of claims reported under COVID-19, the regulator has made it clear that all such claims shall be handled as per the usual norms  

24-hour hospitalisation 

  • IRDAI has even made it clear that the entire cost of admissible medical expenses during the course of treatment, including the treatment during quarantine period, shall be settled in accordance with the regular health insurance policy. 
  • Every basic health insurance plan will compensate the policyholder for expenses incurred on pre-hospitalisation, post-hospitalisation, in-patient treatment, OPD and ambulance expenses, should one seek treatment for COVID-19. 

Fixed benefit plan 

  • While the above features are for an indemnity-based health plan, those looking for a fixed benefit health plan that compensates them for loss of income due to hospitalisation following COVID-19 can invest in the fixed benefit health plan offered by Digit Insurance. 
  • Offered under the IRDAI’s regulatory sandbox framework, Health Care Plus plan is available for a sum insured of between ₹25,000 and ₹2 lakh. 
  • The premiums start at ₹299 at the lower end, while the maximum sum insured entails a premium of ₹2,027 plus GST. 
  • Retired people may consider it for additional benefits even if they have a standalone plan since they are more vulnerable to the virus. Those suffering from symptoms of cold or respiratory diseases will not be able to purchase this plan. 

Understanding ‘community spread’ of coronavirus— what is it, what does it entail? 

#Health 

Community Transmission  

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) says community transmission “is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories)”. 
  • In the simplest terms, community spread is when you do not know the source of the infection — you are unable to trace it back to someone who has travelled in an affected area overseas, or got it through contact with someone who is infected. 

So are all the cases in India so far traceable to a history of travel or contact? 

  • Officially, almost all. But there have been a few cases in which the contact tracing has not been conclusive. Those cases serve as evidence that the infection could have reached the stage of community spread. 

When can it be said that the virus is definitely in the stage of community spread? 

  • Irrespective of what is being posted on social media and the apparent inevitability of community spread, the general public should wait for an official announcement, either from the ICMR or any other responsible government body. 
  • There have to be several cases of untraced infection source to conclude definitively that the outbreak has moved to the next level. 

What steps will be taken if — and when — the stage of community spread is declared? 

  • The lockdowns announced on Sunday, restricting movements to only essential services in 75 districts, appear to be a precursor to such a step nationwide in the event of community transmission. 

How long before India enters the stage of community transmission? 

  • We have to wait for the government’s announcement. The janata curfew, shutting down of trains and Metro services, and the lockdowns announced by states like Punjab and Rajasthan suggest it could be very soon. 

Source : Indian Express 

CARISSA KOPILII 

#GS3 #Environment  

  • The Carissa kopilii is threatened by the very river it is named after — Kopili in central Assam. 
  • The study on the Carissa kopilii, a wild berry, was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity. 
  • A hydroelectric project on the river and water turned acidic because of coal mining in Meghalaya upstream. 
  • The “sun-loving” plant is distributed sparsely, rooted in rocky crevices along the Kopili riverbed at altitudes ranging from 85-600 metres above sea level. 
  • Carissa kopilii, yielding white flowers from August-October and fruits from November-January, should have all the medicinal and utilitarian properties.  

Source : The Hindu 

Govt constitutes high level committee of medical experts for prevention & control of COVID-19 

#GS2 #Governance #Health #Committees 

Source : AIR 

IUSSTF - Viterbi Program creates long-term S&T linkages between India & US 

#GS3 #Science #Technology #InternationalRelations 

A total of 14 students will undertake a research internship at Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California, LA, USA.  

  • The internship would commence from mid-May for a period of 8 weeks, and students would be working broadly in areas of Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Neural Networks, communication circuits, Analog and Digital Circuit Design, and so on. 
  • This exposure would not only enhance the students’ confidence to utilise the knowledge gained at their respective institution after coming back but would also trigger their interest to take up research as a career. 
  • The Viterbi Program of IUSSTF was developed between IUSSTF and the Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California (USC).  
  • This program is a part of the Government’s endeavour to encourage research and development amongst the bright young Indian minds to create long-term, sustainable, and vibrant linkages between India and the US. 

India - US Science & Technology Forum(IUSSTF) 

  • IUSSTF was established under an agreement between the Governments of India and the United States of America in March 2000.  
  • It is an autonomous bilateral organization jointly funded by both the Governments that promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Innovation through substantive interaction among government, academia, and industry.  
  • The Department of Science & Technology (DST), Governments of India, and the U.S. Department of State are respective nodal departments.  
  • IUSSTF has an evolving program portfolio that is largely conceived and driven by scientific communities of both the countries through extending support for symposia, workshops, conferences on topical and thematic areas of interest, visiting professorships and exchange programs, advanced training schools, public-private networked centers, and knowledge R & D networked centers. 

Source : PIB 

Can vitamin C prevent or cure novel coronavirus infection? 

#Health

Can vitamin C help you ward off the novel coronavirus infection?  

  • This has been one of many theories on social media since the outbreak spread globally, but the answer is no. 
  • There is no evidence that vitamin C can prevent an infection.  
  • Vitamin C is, however, still good for you, and can help the body’s immune system fight the virus if it does infect someone. But again, there is no evidence that it can cure a patient either. 
  • When the body is fighting an infection, it experiences “oxidative stress”, a process that eventually leads to inflammation in cell tissue.  
  • Vitamin C not only helps cells fight oxidative stress but also helps clean up this cellular mess by producing specialised cells to mount an immune response 
  • Given that vitamin C has never been conclusively established as a cure against the common cold, which is also caused by a coronavirus, experts believe it is unlikely that vitamin C can cure or prevent a novel coronavirus infection. 
  • The flu shot is also being propped up in social media — falsely — as a novel coronavirus cure. A flu shot helps against the flu by boosting the recipient’s health, but it is not known to have any impact on the coronavirus. 

Source : Indian Express 

The government has constituted a high level technical committee of Public Health Experts for COVID-19  to guide the prevention and control activities in the country. 

Dr. V K Paul Committee 

  • The 21 member committee will be headed by NITI Aayog member Dr V K Paul. Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan and Director General Indian Council of Medical Research are the Co-Chair. 
  • Besides, Director, AIIMS, Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director of National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi Dr Sujeet Singh, Director of  Institute of Infectious Diseases, Pune  Dr Sanjay Pujari and Additional Chief Secretary of Kerala Dr Rajan Khobragade are among the members of the Task Force. 
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