Daily Current Affairs : 2nd and 3rd December 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Universal Vaccination
  2. Char Dham project
  3. Emergency Use Authorisation
  4. Tree Rings & Floods
  5. Honey Adulteration
  6. State of the Global Climate 2020 report 
  7. Task force to draft roadmap for imparting technical education in mother tongue
  8. Interpol
  9. Facts for Prelims

1 . Universal Vaccination


Context : Government has never spoken about vaccinating everyone, against COVID, said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Tuesday, speaking at a press conference in the national capital. He added that it is important to discuss such scientific issues based on factual information only.

About immunization

  • Immunization is the process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine. Vaccines are substances that stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease

About Universal Immunisation Programme

  • Immunization Programme in India was introduced in 1978 as ‘Expanded Programme of Immunization’ (EPI) by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. In 1985, the programme was modified as ‘Universal Immunization Programme’ (UIP) to be implemented in phased manner to cover all districts in the country by 1989-90 with the one of largest health programme in the world.
  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India provides several vaccines to infants, children and pregnant women through the Universal Immunisation Programme.

Vaccines provided under universal immunization programme

  • BCG Vaccine : BCG stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine. It is given to infants to protect them from tubercular meningitis and disseminated TB.
  • Oral Polio Vaccine : It protects children from poliomylitis.
  • Hepatitis B : Protects from Hepatitis B virus infection.
  • Pentavalent vaccine : It is a combined vaccine to protect children from five diseases Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertusis, Haemophilis influenza type b infection and Hepatitis B.
  • Rotavirus vaccine : It gives protection to infants and children against rotavirus diarrhoea. It is given in select states.
  • Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine : It protects infants and young children against disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae.
  • Fractional Inactivated Poliomylitis Vaccine. It is used to boost the protection against poliomylitis.
  • Measles vaccine is used to protect children from measles. In few states Measles and Rubella a combined vaccine is given to protect from Measles and Rubella infection.
  • Japanese encephalitis vaccine : It gives protection against Japanese Encephalitis disease. JE vaccine is given in select districts endemic for JE after the campaign.
  • DPT is a combined vaccine; it protects children from Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis.
  • TT vaccine has been replaced with Td vaccine in UIP to limit the waning immunity against diphtheria in older age groups

2 . Char Dham Project


Context : Environmentalists have alleged that the contractors deputed by the government to make roads as part of the Chardham project are violating the Supreme Court orders on the appropriate road width to be followed in mountainous terrain.

About the Project

  • The project comprises improvement as well as the development of 889 km length of national highways.
  • It is being constructed by the Ministry of Road Transports and Highways, and includes work to widen about 900 km of highways connecting Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath and the Tanakpur-Pithoragarh.
  • The project will connect Badrinath Dham, Kedarnath Dham, Gangotri, Yamunotri, and part of the route leading to Kailash Mansarovar yatra.
  • The current project seeks to convert the existing narrow mountain road into an eight-metre wide highway to ease motorised travel.

Importance

  • Better connectivity will help local communities in accessing services. It will be easy for government to provide basic services to communities living in that area.
  • It will also help tourism to flourish industry as it will bring more tourists into the area.
  • As a multiplier effect increase in Tourism will help in growth of traditional industry of the region and create additional employment.
  • It will enhance avenues of trade between India and Nepal and improve people to people contacts as the connectivity project extends up to Tanakpur and Pithorgarh, which are near Indo-Nepal border.

Issues with the Project

  • Roads in the world’s tallest and youngest mountain range can be widened only by scooping out trees, soil and rocks from the hillsides – which makes the entire slope unstable. The more that is scooped out, the more unstable it is. The situation is worsened if the bare hillsides are left untreated – without planting afresh, without placing meshes to hold the soil in place, without blocking the natural water channels along the slope. It is further worsened if the debris is just dumped down the gorge and ends up in the rivers below.
  • Area lies on the border where the Indian tectonic plate goes under the Eurasian Tectonic Plate which makes the area susceptible to earthquakes and landslides.
  • The Geological Survey of India, in its report prepared after the Kedarnath disaster, states that road construction in mountains reactivates landslides as it disturbs the “toe of the natural slope of the hill.”
  • On one hand we are aiming to reduce CO2 emission as targeted under our INDCs for Paris agreement, on theother hand as many as 25,300 trees have been cut and 373 hectares of forestland diverted for Char Dham Mahamarg.
  • The road from Uttarkashi to Gangotri comes under the Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ). Since projects less than 100km are not required to go through EIA, the Government has been accused of bypassing the Environment Impact Assessment by breaking the project in many small projects.
  • Villagers in the are have also complained that thousands of tonnes of debris have been dumped carelessly along the roads. This stuff will eventually find its way to rivers and streams, impacting the waters’ original carrying capacity and increasing the turbidity.

3 . Emergency Use Authorisation


Context : Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorisation of its vaccine

What is emergency use authorisation (EUA)?

  • Vaccines and medicines, and even diagnostic tests and medical devices, require the approval of a regulatory authority before they can be administered.
  • In India, the regulatory authority is the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).
  • For vaccines and medicines, approval is granted after an assessment of their safety and effectiveness, based on data from trials. In fact, approval from the regulator is required at every stage of these trials. This is a long process, designed to ensure that a medicine or vaccine is absolutely safe and effective. The fastest approval for any vaccine until now — the mumps vaccine in the 1960s — took about four-and-a-half years after it was developed.
  • In emergency situations, like the current one, regulatory authorities around the world have developed mechanisms to grant interim approvals if there is sufficient evidence to suggest a medical product is safe and effective.
  • Final approval is granted only after completion of the trials and analysis of full data; until then, emergency use authorisation (EUA) allows the medicine or the vaccine to be used on the public.

When can EUA be granted?

  • In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants an EUA only after it has been determined that the “known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine” (or medicine). This means that an EUA application can be considered only after sufficient efficacy data from phase 3 trials had been generated.
  • For Covid vaccines, the FDA has specified that it would consider an application for EUA only if phase 3 data showed it was at least 50% effective in preventing the disease.

What is the process of getting an emergency use authorisation in India?

  • India’s drug regulations do not have provisions for an EUA, and the process for receiving one is not clearly defined or consistent.
  • Despite this, CDSCO has been granting emergency or restricted emergency approvals to Covid-19 drugs during this pandemic — for remdesivir and favipiravir in June, and itolizumab in July.

Is there a risk in using a product that has only been granted an EUA?

  • According to the US FDA, the public has to be informed that a product has only been granted an EUA and not full approval. In the case of a Covid-19 vaccine, for example, people have to be informed about the known and potential benefits and risks, and the “extent to which such benefits or risks are unknown”, and that they have a right to refuse the vaccine.

4 . Tree Rings & Floods


Context : Every year, the Brahmaputra floods vast areas in India’s Northeast, particularly Assam, and continues its trail of destruction into Bangladesh, from where it finally flows into the Bay of Bengal. For years, scientists have been looking with concern at the river’s potential for catastrophic flooding in the future, especially as the climate warms. It turns out that this potential has been underestimated so far — even without accounting for a warming climate. This is the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

What’s different

  • The new study is based on an examinations of tree rings, which provided a picture of rainfall patterns going back seven centuries.
  • The rings showed that the post-1950s period was actually one of the driest since the 1300s — there have been much wetter periods in the past. Using climate models to simulate for future discharge, the researchers found that destructive floods probably will come more frequently than thought.
  • “The tree-rings suggest that the recent decades (particularly from the 1950s to 1980s) were unusually dry. Therefore, in general, past conditions were wetter
  • “Similarly, climate models suggest that the future will likely be wetter due to our emissions of carbon-dioxide. Taken together, this suggests that we might be underestimating the current frequency of ‘wet years’ and in turn of flooding
  • If one projects from modern discharge records, the study found, one would be underestimating the danger by 24% to 38%.

Why tree rings

  • Tree rings grow wider in years when soil moisture is high. Indirectly, wider rings reflect more rainfall and higher river runoff.
  • As trees grow they incorporate information about the environmental conditions they are living in in their annual growth rings
  • Trees in the region grow more and put on wide rings in wet monsoon years. Conversely in dry monsoon years (or droughts) they grow less and put on narrow rings. Since some of these trees can live for a long time, by taking a small, pencil-thin tree-core from these trees and measuring their rings under a microscope we can learn more about climate conditions for the past several centuries.”
  • Ancient trees were sampled at 28 sites in Tibet, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan, at sites close enough to be affected by the same weather systems as the Brahmaputra watershed. Analysing the rings, the scientists built a 696-year chronology (1309 to 2004).
  • “The trees are telling us about past river flow by informing how wet the upper part of the basin was. This is obviously closely related to the strength of the monsoon,” Rao said. (The river originates in Tibet.)
  • From historical records going back to the 1780s, the researchers found that the widest rings coincided with major flood years. From this, they extrapolated the yearly river discharge in the centuries preceding modern records. 

5 . Honey Adulteration


Context : Honey marketed by prominent Indian brands failed a key test of purity, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has claimed, citing an investigation it conducted.

About the News

  • CSE food researchers selected 13 brands of raw and processed honey, including Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath and Zandu, and subjected them to tests that are required under national food regulatory laws to be labelled as honey.
  • Most brands passed muster but when subjected to one test, called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance that was done at a lab in Germany, only three brands (spanning six samples) passed: Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar (one sample of two). There were often multiple samples tested for each brand.
  • Current regulations specify around 18 parameters that honey must comply with for producers to label it ‘pure honey’.
  • The CSE investigation also said some Indian companies were importing synthetic sugar syrups from China to adulterate honey.

About NMR Test

  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is an analytical chemistry technique used in quality control and research for determining the content and purity of a sample as well as its molecular structure. 
  • The NMR test is not required by Indian law for honey that is being marketed locally but is needed for export.

6 . State of the Global Climate 2020 report 


Context : ‘2020 set to be among warmest years on record’

About the Report

  • State of the Global Climate 2020 report is released by the World Meteorological Organization.
  • WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said there is at least a one in five chance of global temperatures temporarily exceeding the pre-industrial level by 1.5°C by 2024. The UN agency’s provisional report is based on data findings between January-October 2020. A final report will be released in March.

Key Observations

  • The State of the Global Climate 2020 report also says 2011-20 will be the warmest decade on record, with the warmest six years all coming since 2015. The warmest year on record is 2016, followed closely by 2020.
  • Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016. Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near-record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016.
  • The most notable warming was observed across northern Asia, particularly the Siberian Arctic, where temperatures were more than 5 °C above average.
  • Ocean heat content for 2019 was highest on record in the datasets going back to 1960. There is a clear signal for faster heat uptake in recent decades, says the report. More than 90% of the excess energy accumulating in the climate system as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases goes into the ocean.
  • The number of tropical cyclones globally was above average in 2020, with 96 cyclones as of 17 November.
  • In India, Cyclone Amphan “was the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the North Indian Ocean with reported economic losses in India of approximately US$14 billion

7 . Task force to draft roadmap for imparting technical education in mother tongue


Context : The Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank has announced to set-up a task force that will create a roadmap for imparting technical education in the mother tongue of students.

About the News

  • This is part of the National Education Policy (NEP) which suggests teaching in regional language till class 8 and enabling teaching the curriculum in a language which a student is comfortable in.
  • The task force will be set-up under the chairmanship of the secretary, higher education, Amit Khare. The task force will take into consideration the suggestions made by various stakeholders and will submit a report in a month. The decision was taken by the minister at a high-level meeting on imparting technical education in the mother tongue.

Benefits

  • Students learn better and faster in a language they can understand (preventing delays in learning)
  • Imparting technical education to students in their mother tongue will benefit those hailing from rural areas
  • Studies have reported that when children take advantage of their multilingualism they also enjoy higher socioeconomic status, including higher earnings

8 . Interpol


Context : The Interpol has issued a global alert to law enforcement agencies across its 194 member countries, asking them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

About the News

  • “The Interpol Orange Notice outlines potential criminal activity in relation to the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines, with the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour
  • The notice also includes examples of crimes where individuals were found to be advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines.
  • The alert was issued on the day the United Kingdom authorised a COVID-19 vaccine for use from next week.
  • Criminal networks would also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.
  • Given that international travel is gradually resuming, the Interpol also suspects that testing for the virus will become of greater importance, leading to a parallel production and distribution of unauthorised and falsified testing kits.
  • With cases of COVID-19-related frauds increasing, the Interpol is also advising people to take special care when going online to search for medical equipment or medicines.

About Interpol

  • International Criminal Police Organization is an inter-governmental organization. Currently there are 194 member countries, and interpol help police in all of them to work together to make the world a safer place.
  • To do this, they enable them to share and access data on crimes and criminals, and offer a range of technical and operational support.
  • The General Secretariat coordinates day-to-day activities to fight a range of crimes. Run by the Secretary General, it is staffed by both police and civilians and comprises a headquarters in Lyon, a global complex for innovation in Singapore and several satellite offices in different regions.
  • In each country, an INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) provides the central point of contact for the General Secretariat and other NCBs.
  • In India CBI is the central Point of Contact

Functions

  • The General Secretariat provides a range of expertise and services to member countries. Interpol manages 17 police databases with information on crimes and criminals (from names and fingerprints to stolen passports), accessible in real-time to countries.
  • Offer investigative support such as forensics, analysis, and assistance in locating fugitives around the world. Training is an important part of the function so that officials know how to work efficiently with our services.
  • Expertise supports national efforts in combating crimes across three global areas; terrorism, cybercrime and organized crime.
  • Officials working in each specialized crime area run a variety of different activities alongside member countries. This can be investigative support, field operations, training and networking.
  • Research and development in international crime and trends.

Interpol Notices

  • INTERPOL Notices are international requests for cooperation or alerts allowing police in member countries to share critical crime-related information.
  • Notices are published by the General Secretariat at the request of a National Central Bureau and are made available to all our member countries. Notices can also be used by the United Nations, International Criminal Tribunals and the International Criminal Court to seek persons wanted for committing crimes within their jurisdiction, notably genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
  • Most Notices are for police use only and are not made available to the public. However, in some cases, for example to alert the public, or to request help from the public, an extract of the Notice can be published on the website. United Nations Special Notices are public.

Different Notices

  • Red Notice: To seek the location and arrest of wanted persons wanted for prosecution or to serve a sentence.
  • Yellow Notice: To help locate missing persons, often minors, or to help identify persons who are unable to identify themselves.
  • Blue Notice: To collect additional information about a person’s identity, location or activities in relation to a crime.               
  • Black Notice: To seek information on unidentified bodies.
  • Green Notice: To provide warning about a person’s criminal activities, where the person is considered to be a possible threat to public safety.
  • Orange Notice: To warn of an event, a person, an object or a process representing a serious and imminent threat to public safety.
  • Purple Notice: To seek or provide information on modus operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals.
  • INTERPOL–United Nations Security Council Special Notice: Issued for groups and individuals who are the targets of UN Security Council Sanctions Committees.       

9 . Facts for Prelims


Import of Rice by China

  • China has started importing Indian rice for the first time in at least three decades due to tightening supplies and an offer from India of sharply discounted prices
  • India is the world’s biggest exporter of rice and China is the biggest importer. Beijing imports around 4 million tonnes of rice annually but has avoided purchases from India, citing quality issues.
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