Daily Current Affairs : 13th and 14th September 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Singapore Convention on Mediation
  2. Phase 3 Vaccine Trial
  3. COVID Reinfection
  4. FCRA
  5. NIMHANS develops new Indian Brain Templates
  6. Dining out raises risk of infection, reports U.S. study
  7. SCO
  8. Facts for Prelims


1 . Singapore Convention on Mediation


Context : The Singapore Convention on Mediation came into force and will provide a more effective way for enforcing mediated settlements of corporate disputes involving businesses in India and other countries that are signatories to the Convention.

Background

  • The United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (“the Convention”) on 20th December 2018.
  • The General Assembly authorized that the Convention will open for signature at a signing ceremony to be held on 7thAugust 2019 in Singapore and will be known as the “Singapore Convention on Mediation” (the Convention).
  • Also known as the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, this is also the first UN treaty to be named after Singapore.
  • Singapore had worked with the UN Commission on International Trade Law, other UN member states and non-governmental organisations for the Convention.
  • Signatories: As on September 1, the Convention has 53 signatories, including India, China and the U.S.

Aim

  • It aims to provide a more effective way for enforcing mediated settlements of corporate disputes involving businesses in India and other countries that are signatories to the Convention.

Details of the Convention

  • The Convention provides a uniform and efficient framework for the enforcement of international settlement agreements resulting from mediation and for allowing parties to invoke such agreements, akin to the framework that the Convention onthe Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York, 1958) (the “New York Convention”) provides for arbitral awards.
  • The Convention defines two additional grounds upon which a court may, on its own motion, refuse to grant relief. Those grounds relate to the fact that a dispute would not be capable of settlement by mediation or would be contrary to public policy.

Significance

  • With the Convention in force, businesses seeking enforcement of a mediated settlement agreement across borders can do so by applying directly to the courts of countries that have signed and ratified the treaty, instead of having to enforce the settlement agreement as a contract in accordance with each country’s domestic process.
  • The harmonised and simplified enforcement framework under the Convention will help in saving the time and legal costs, which is important for businesses in times of uncertainty, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The harmonised and simplified enforcement framework under the Convention translates to savings in time and legal costs, which is important for businesses in times of uncertainty, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the statement issued by Singapore’s Ministry of Law said.

Benefits for India

  • Signing of the Convention will boost the confidence of the investors and shall provide a positive signal to foreign investors about India’s commitment to adhere to international practice on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
  •  It would boost India’s ‘ease of doing business’ credentials by enabling swift mediated settlements of corporate disputes.
  • With this convention thebusinesses in India and around the world will now have greater certainty in resolving cross-border disputes through mediation.

2 . Phase-3 of vaccine trial


Context: The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have decided to resume the clinical trials for a new coronavirus vaccine across all U.K. sites after it was paused for a while when a patient in Britain fell ill.

How are vaccine and drugs tested in trials?

  • There are similarities and differences in the way new drugs and vaccines are tested. Broadly both follow a four-stage process when they are tested in people.
  • After a drug has proven itself safe in a variety of animals — usually mice, rabbits, hamsters and primates that mirror human physiology and the way it reacts to diseases — it enters Phase-1 studies.

Phase-1

  • A small group of volunteers is given the drug in small doses and monitored to see if it is safe and whether it was well tolerated. This is also when any occurrences of side effects are closely monitored.
  • On an average, 10-50 candidates are chosen.
  • In the normal course, those undergoing the trial must report results to the drug regulator which gives the go-ahead for the next stage of trials.

Phase-2

  • In this stage a group of volunteers, usually in the hundreds, are selected.
  • This is the stage when researchers try to determine what dosage would be necessary for it to take effect or produce the desired response.
  • In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, this is the stage when it’s determined if the inoculation had triggered a desired level of antibodies and a sufficient cell response in terms of stimulating T-cells that are known to block and neutralise the virus particles respectively.
  • Again, side effects and adverse reactions are monitored and reported.

What is different about Phase-3 part of the trial?

  • In this stage, the drug or vaccine is tested at multiple locations in thousands of volunteers or patients.
  • In the case of a drug, this is the stage when a new drug is compared to the existing standard of care and when it must prove that it is either more efficacious, or is of similar potency but is safer, better tolerable or delivers any of the goods that the drugmakers had claimed when making the drug.
  • In the case of a vaccine for a new disease, there is usually nothing to compare it to, so Phase-3 becomes a larger version of the Phase-2 trial.
  • A Phase-3 trial is held at multiple locations to capture the demographic variability in the population.
  • It is also double-blinded and randomised and may have multiple treatment arms, meaning some participants may get a placebo, some may get lower doses, some higher doses, and in an ideal trial, neither the doctor nor the recipient knows who is getting the drug and who the placebo.
  • When the scale and scope of a trial increases and a diverse population group is exposed to a new vaccine, the odds of encountering adverse and the dreaded ‘severe adverse reaction’ are magnified.
  • When severe reactions are manifested, medical researchers have to determine if the reaction was due to the drug and if a pattern is apparent, a drug or vaccine can be pulled out.
  • Because of the multiple locations and the number of patients that are required, this is also the most expensive stage of a trial. Sometimes, phases are combined, given the kind of drug or vaccine and the urgency of the situation. Several COVID-19 vaccines are being developed on accelerated time lines.

What happened in the case of AstraZeneca?

  • For the vaccine candidate- AZD1222, the company had recruited 30,000 volunteers for Phase-3 trials in the United States.
  • The Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which had been contracted to manufacture a hundred million doses for 92 countries including India, had also started to test the vaccine on a proposed group of 1,600 volunteers in India.
  • However after a few days, a recipient of the vaccine in the United Kingdom contracted transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord, and this led AstraZeneca to pause its trials.
  • Serum Institute did not initially halt the India trial as no adverse reactions were reported here. But after a show-cause notice from the regulator, the Drugs Controller- General of India, the company decided to halt recruitment of volunteers until AstraZeneca finishes evaluation of the safety data.

What has the independent review said?

  • According to a release from Oxford University, the independent review process has concluded and following the recommendations of both the independent safety review committee and the U.K. regulator, the MHRA (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency), trials will restart in the U.K.

What happens in Phase-4?

  • A drug or vaccine candidate that clears Phase-3 is usually approved and licensed and the entire infrastructure of the company is devoted to ramping up production and working out the logistics of storing the drug or vaccine safely without it degrading or losing potency.
  • Once the product goes out into the field, there is post-marketing surveillance, or a Phase-4, where all instances of the product’s failure and adverse events are recorded.
  • Companies are expected to furnish periodic data to the drug regulator.

3 . COVID Reinfection


Context: A 33-year-old Chinese male from Hong Kong reportedly caught his second infection during a trip to Europe, four-and-a-half months after he first tested positive for COVID-19. 

Background

  • The cases of reinfection were studied and post-testing, genomic sequencing made it clear that the first and second infection involved variants of the SARS-CoV-2. This seemed to rule out viral shedding or continuing infection from the first time.

Are these isolated cases?

  • Scientists are still debating whether these reinfection cases are the isolated few cases or portends of a larger batch of infections as the world opens up and global travel begins again.

What is immunity and how does it work?

  • The human body’s immunity acts in two forms — as innate (jumping to the task of protection immediately) and adaptive (immunity acquired by the body in the process of surviving infection by pathogens, essentially over a period of time).
  • Adaptive immune system consists of two types of white blood cells, called T and B cells, that detect molecular details specific to the virus and, based on that, mount a targeted response to it.
    • T cells detect and kill those infected cells.
    • B cells make antibodies, a kind of protein that binds to the viral particles and blocks them from entering our cells; this prevents the replication of the virus and stops the infection in its tracks.
    • T and B cells retain this memory and help the body fight the infection later.

4 . Foreign funds & NGOs


Context: The licences of 13 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been suspended under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010, this year as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had received “serious adverse inputs” regarding their working.

What is the FCRA?

  • FCRA regulates foreign donations and ensures that such contributions do not adversely affect internal security.
  • It was first enacted in 1976 and then amended in 2010 when a slew of new measures were adopted to regulate foreign donations.
  • The FCRA is applicable to all associations, groups and NGOs which intend to receive foreign donations. It is mandatory for all such NGOs to register themselves under the FCRA.
  • The registration is initially valid for five years and it can be renewed subsequently if they comply with all norms.
  • Registered associations can receive foreign contribution for social, educational, religious, economic and cultural purposes.
  • Filing of annual returns, on the lines of Income Tax, is compulsory.

New rules under FCRA

  • In 2015, the MHA notified new rules, which required NGOs to give an undertaking that the acceptance of foreign funds is not likely to prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India or impact friendly relations with any foreign state and does not disrupt communal harmony.
  • It also stated that all such NGOs would have to operate accounts in either nationalised or private banks which have core banking facilities to allow security agencies access on a real time basis.

Who cannot receive foreign donations?

  • Members of the legislature and political parties, government officials, judges and media persons are prohibited from receiving any foreign contribution.
  • In 2017 the MHA, through the Finance Bill route, amended the 1976-repealed FCRA law paving the way for political parties to receive funds from the Indian subsidiary of a foreign company or a foreign company in which an Indian holds 50% or more shares.

How else can one receive foreign funding?

  • The other way to receive foreign contributions is by applying for prior permission.
  • It is granted for receipt of a specific amount from a specific donor for carrying out specific activities or projects. But the association should be registered under statutes such as the Societies Registration Act, 1860, the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, or Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.
  • A letter of commitment from the foreign donor specifying the amount and purpose is also required.

Exemption

  • Home Ministry has clarified that it has the power to exempt in the public interest “any person or association or organisation” not being a political party or a candidate for election from the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. Using these powers, the Centre had issued an order in June 2011 under which the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was exempted from all FCRA provisions. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) was granted exemption through a Central government order dated March 28, 2020.
  • Six other organisations, including the Overseas India Development Foundation and Bharat Ke Veer, have been extended similar FCRA exemptions.
  • “Vide gazette notification dated 1st July, 2011, the Central government has also exempted all such entities which were created by a Central Act or a State Act and also compulsorily audited by CAG [Comptroller &Auditor General] from all provisions of the FCRA,” the clarification

When is a registration suspended or cancelled?

  • The MHA on inspection of accounts and on receiving any adverse input against the functioning of an association can suspend the FCRA registration initially for 180 days.
  • Until a decision is taken, the association cannot receive any fresh donation and cannot utilise more than 25% of the amount available in the designated bank account without permission of the MHA.
  • The MHA can cancel the registration of an organisation which will not be eligible for registration or grant of ‘prior permission’ for three years from the date of cancellation.

Have there been suspensions in the past?

  • According to MHA data, since 2011, the registration of 20,664 associations was cancelled for violations such as misutilisation of foreign contribution, non-submission of mandatory annual returns and diversion of foreign funds for other purposes.
  • As on September 11, there are 49,843 FCRA-registered associations.

What about international donors?

  • The government has also cracked down on foreign donors such as the U.S.-based Compassion International, Ford Foundation, World Movement for Democracy, Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy.
  • The donors have been placed on a ‘watch list’ or in the ‘prior permission’ category, barring them from sending money to associations without the MHA’s clearance.

5 . NIMHANS develops new Indian Brain Templates


Context: Indian Brain Templates (IBT) and a brain atlas has been developed by a team of neuroscientists from NIMHANS which will help the neurologists, neurosurgeons and psychiatrists in India to map the brain structure of their patients and make an accurate assessment.

About Brain Atlas

  • India is dependent on the Caucasian brain template while the other countries have their own scale to measure the brain
  • The neuroscientists studied over 500 brain scans of Indian patients to develop five sets of templates and a brain atlas for five age groups covering late childhood to late adulthood (six to 60 years).

Significance

  • IBT and atlas is a scale that will measure an Indian brain
  • The templates and atlas will provide more precise reference maps for areas of interest in individual patients with neurological disorders like strokes, brain tumours, and dementia.
  • These templates and atlas will also help pool information more usefully in group studies of the human brain and psychological functions, aiding the understanding of psychiatric illnesses like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, autism, substance dependence, schizophrenia and mood disorders
  • As the brain size and shape differ across ages, and across regions and ethnicities, and even greatly within any population, the IBT and atlas will help in overcoming this challenge.
  • It will also help in significantly improving the accuracy of alignment and thereby noticeably reducing distortions, errors or biases in final reports of brain structure and function.

6 . Dining out raises risk of infection, reports U.S. study


Context: An analysis was done by the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) on the risk associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection on dining out.

About the study

  • The study was conducted by researchers from the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, along with those from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, and Hennepin County Medical Center, among others.

Findings of the study

  • The study has cautioned of the risk of contact exposure on on-site eating and drinking options. Restaurant and pub exposure were cited as important risk factors associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection
  • According to the study, adults with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant 14 days prior to getting the infection than were those with negative results.
  • The CDC report has stated that reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation too.
  • Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance.

Suggestions

  • The study has suggested that efforts should be made to reduce possible exposure to situations where mask use and social distancing are difficult to maintain, such as when eating and drinking. This should be considered to protect customers, employees, and communities.

Significance of the study

  • The study is significant as India has eased restrictions including on restaurants, dining out and weddings.
  • This study will increase awareness regarding steps to be taken to prevent COVID-19 infection.

7 . Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)


Context : External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi negotiated a five-point agreement which they hoped will lead to a disengagement process between Indian and Chinese troops ranged against each other at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), it wasn’t just the host, Russia, that played a part behind the scenes. In fact, the occasion for their presence in Moscow, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), had as a much of a role to play.

About SCO

  • The SCO was founded in June 2001, built on the ‘Shanghai Five’ grouping of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz Republic) and Tajikistan, which had come together in the post-Soviet era in 1996, in order to work on regional security, reduction of border troops, and terrorism.
  • A particular goal all these years has been “conflict resolution”, given its early successes between China and Russia, and then within the Central Asian Republics.
  • The 1996 meeting of the Shanghai Five, for example, resulted in an ‘Agreement on Confidence-Building in the Military Field Along the Border Areas’ between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which led to an agreement on the mutual reduction of military forces on their common borders in 1997.
  • Subsequently, it helped push the Central Asian countries to resolve some of their boundary disputes as well.
  • The 1997 meeting of the Shanghai Five, for example, resulted in “an Agreement on Mutual Reduction of Military Forces along China’s borders with Kazakhstan” and other agreements that resolved “disputes between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on border issues and the Ferghana Valley enclaves” have been facilitated by the grouping. In 2001, the Shanghai Five inducted Uzbekistan into the group and named it the SCO, outlining its principles in a charter that promoted what was called the “Shanghai spirit” of cooperation.

Administration

  • According to its rules, the organisation has two permanent bodies — the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.
  • The SCO Secretary-General and the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS are appointed by the Council of Heads of State for a term of three years.
  • However, the venue of the SCO council meetings moves between the eight members (including India and Pakistan). The SCO also has four observer states — Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia — which may be inducted at a later date.

Main goals

  • The SCO describes its main goals, part of its Charter that was adopted in St. Petersburg in 2002, as: “strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research and technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.”
  • In 2005, the Astana declaration called for SCO countries to work on a “joint SCO response to situations that threaten peace, security and stability in the region”, indicating the group’s strategic ambitions
  • “The SCO Charter doesn’t allow any bilateral dispute to be taken up, but it provides a comfortable platform for building mutual trust, expanding cooperation, finding common ground and eventually, creating conditions for dialogue between countries.

Contradictions

  • India and Pakistan joined the SCO as observers in 2005, and were admitted as full members in 2015.
  • Joining the SCO has been seen as one of the Modi government’s more significant yet puzzling foreign policy choices, as it came at a time that New Delhi was looking more keenly at the West, and in particular at the maritime ‘Quadrilateral’ with the U.S., Japan and Australia. India has explained its membership in both ostensibly clashing groups as a part of its principles of “strategic autonomy and multi-alignment”.
  • Other contradictions have also been noted. Since 2014, India and Pakistan have cut all ties, talks and trade with each other, and India has refused to attend the SAARC summit due to tensions with Pakistan, but both their leaderships have consistently attended all meetings of the SCO’s three councils: the Heads of State, Heads of Government, Council of Foreign Ministers, as well as other meetings.
  • Despite the fact that India accuses Pakistan of perpetrating cross-border terrorism at every other multilateral forum, at the SCO, Indian and Pakistani armed forces even take part in military and anti-terrorism exercises together, as part of the SCO-Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. In addition, the two countries are part of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, to discuss the course of Afghanistan’s future, an issue New Delhi and Islamabad are bitterly divided over.

8. Facts for Prelims


About Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

  • The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), is a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security.
  • It is the premier think tank functioning under the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
  • The MP-IDSA was established in 1965 as a registered society and is funded by the MoD.
  • It is governed by the EC with Defence Minister as the President and Defence and Foreign Secretaries as ex-officio members.
  • All decisions related to the institute are taken by the EC with the approval of the MoD.
  • The institute moved to contractual system in 1995 and that has since been institutionalised through the fellowship system.
  • The MP-IDSA is eligible for all Central Pay Commissions as a full grant institution
  • Its mission is to promote national and international security through the generation and dissemination of knowledge on defence and security-related issues.

Train 18/ Vande Bharat Express

  • It is India’s first indigenously built engineless semi-high speed train.
  • It is called Tain 8 as it was designed and developed in a record 18-month period in 2018.
  • The self-propelled train was later flagged off as Vande Bharat Express between Delhi and Varanasi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2019.
  • It has been built by the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai, in a record time of 20 months.
  • It is an energy-efficient train as its coaches will be fitted with LED lights. Coaches will have automatic doors and retractable footsteps.

Blowout

  • The flame atop the Baghjan well no. 5 in Tinsukia district of eastern Assam has been tamed 110 days after it had a disastrous blowout.
  • Well no. 5 which is one of the 22 crude oil and natural gas wells in the Baghjan oilfield close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, had a blowout on May 27.
  • A blowout is an uncontrolled escape of gas at great speeds, usually due to equipment failure.

Global economic freedom index

  • India slipped 26 places to 105 among 162 countries and territories on the index of global economic freedom, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2020 report released by the Fraser Institute in Canada.
  • The country ranked 79th in the previous edition of the report, which measures the ‘economic freedom’, or the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions in a country, by analysing policies and institutions of these countries.
  • It does so by looking at indicators like regulation, the freedom to trade internationally, size of government, property rights, government spending and taxation.
  • In India, the report was co-published by Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society.
  • According to the 2020 report, India performed worse in terms of size of government, regulations and the freedom to trade internationally.
  • In 2018, India ranked 54 in size of government, compared with 11 in 2017. Its rank dropped to 122 in regulation from 108 during this time, while its rank in freedom to trade internationally also dropped to 137 from 131 previously.
  • The country marginally improved its position in areas of ‘legal system and property rights’ and ‘sound money’, moving up a rank each to place 79 and 88, respectively.
  • China ranked worse than India overall and was positioned at 124 on the index.


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