China says new FDI norms violate WTO; officials say others put firewalls too

GS Paper III

Topic: International relations

Mains: WTO’s principle of non-discrimination

What’s the News?

  • The government tweaked its FDI policy to make its approval mandatory for firms in neighbouring countries to invest in Indian companies which China claims that this violates the WTO’s “principle of non-discrimination’’.

Background:

  • This came days after China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), raised its shareholding in Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC) to over one per cent during the recent stock market slump.
  • The government’s move is seen as aimed at checking “opportunistic takeovers” of Indian firms hit by the ongoing Covid outbreak and lockdown.

WTO’s principle of non-discrimination:

Non-discrimination is a key concept in WTO law and policy. There are two main principles of non-discrimination in WTO law: the most-favoured-nation (MFN) treatment obligation and the national treatment obligation.

  • In simple terms, the MFN treatment obligation prohibits a country from discriminating between other countries; the national treatment obligation prohibits a country from discriminating against other countries. This chapter examines these two principles of non-discrimination as they apply to trade in goods and trade in services.
  • Discrimination between, as well as against, other countries was an important characteristic of the protectionist trade policies pursued by many countries during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Negatives:

  • Historians now regard these discriminatory policies as an important contributing cause of the economic and political crises that resulted in the Second World War.
  • Discrimination in trade matters breeds resentment among the countries, manufacturers, traders and workers discriminated against. Such resentment poisons international relations and may lead to economic and political confrontation and conflict. 

Impact on China:

  • The impact of the policy on Chinese investors is clear. Chinese investment has driven the development of India’s industries, such as mobile phone, household electrical appliances, infrastructure and automobile, creating a large number of jobs in India. Chinese enterprises actively made donations to help India fight COVID-19 epidemic.
  • China’s FDI has grown five-fold since 2014 and, as of December 2019, its cumulative investment in India has exceeded $8 billion. A Brookings India paper pegs the total current and planned Chinese investment in India as being over $26 billion.
  • These all are meant to underline Beijing’s contribution to Indian economy and its fight against the pandemic.
  • The additional barriers set by Indian side for investors from specific countries violate WTO’s principle of non-discrimination, and go against the general trend of liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment.

International examples:

  • Over the last two months, countries like Germany, Australia and Spain have tightened their foreign investment policies to prevent hostile takeovers by overseas investors.
  • The European Union has issued guidelines to ensure key EU assets are protected and to prevent purchase of domestic entities at cheaper valuations.
  • Italy has also restricted investment in sensitive areas. The US already has an inter-agency committee responsible for reviewing foreign acquisitions. India has just followed suit, in line with actions being taken globally.

Conclusion:

  • But, unlike in other cases, the new norms do not apply to all countries but just those which share borders with India.
  • There will now be different sets of procedures for the same set of investments based on which country the company is investing from. This is where the potential issue of discrimination may be raised by critics of the new norms.

Man on plasma therapy improving, say Doctors

GS Paper III

Topic: Science and technology

Prelims: Plasma Enrichment Therapy

What’s the News?

A 49-year-old coronavirus patient who was given plasma therapy has shown improvement and been taken off ventilator support. The man is admitted to Max Hospital in Saket. Two consecutive tests have returned negative, said the hospital in a statement.

Background:

  • At present there are no specific antiviral agents which have been found to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19.
  • Convalescent plasma therapy is not new and has been used by doctors to treat critically ill patients during earlier epidemics too, during H1N1, SARS and Ebola.
  • When reports that HIV antivirals (lopinavir/ritonavir) might be potentially useful in treating COVID-19 patients, then too Kerala had sought ICMR’s early clearance for the protocol in January itself.

Qualifications for the test:

  • He/she should be between 18-60 years of age, having no diabetes or blood pressure. He/she should have crossed three weeks and tested negative for COVID-19 twice.
  • Plasma therapy uses antibodies found in the blood of people who have recovered from the infection (or convalesced), to treat infected patients.

On April 16, the Delhi government received a go-ahead from the Indian Council of Medical Research to use plasma therapy. The institute also gave its approval to Maulana Azad Medical College.

Coronavirus: Stages of a pandemic

  • First stage: In the first stage of a disease cases of an epidemic are imported into a country in which the infection did not originate and it eventually takes the form of a pandemic sweeping the globe.
  • Second stage: The second stage is when the virus starts being transmitted locally.

Local transmission means that the source of the infection is from within a particular area and the trajectory the virus has taken from one person to the next is clearly established.

  • Third stage: The third stage is that of community transmission which means that the virus is now circulating in the community, and can infect people with no history either of travel to affected areas or of contact with an infected person.
  • If and when community transmission happens, there might arise the need for a full lockdown because in that situation it is theoretically possible for every person, regardless of where they are from and who they have been in contact with, to spread the disease.
  • Fourth stage: from pandemic to endemic It is when the disease, COVID-19 in this case, becomes endemic in some countries.

Plasma Enrichment Therapy:

  • The plasma enrichment therapy is a much speculated answer to the COVID-19 problem.
  • The therapy involves taking plasma from the blood of a COVID-19 cured patient and injecting it into the blood of the COVID-19 infected patients.
  • This boosts the antibodies in the blood of the COVID-19 infected patient, which could recover the patient from COVID-19 infection within 7 days.

 

Covid-19 and plasma enrichment therapy:

  • The condition of several COVID-19 patients, who were admitted to hospitals in the last week of March and the first week of April, is improving now and many of them will be discharged in the next three-four days.
  • It is those who are already suffering from heart or respiratory diseases who continue to be at a higher risk of losing their lives.
  • If plasma technology is used in such cases, it can save lives.

Conclusion:

It is important to understand that plasma enrichment therapy is no magic bullet. During the treatment, other standard treatment protocols were followed. So, the plasma therapy could have worked as a catalyst in speeding up his recovery.


Types of human coronaviruses and the symptoms they cause

GS Paper III

Topic: Science and Technology

Mains: Types of Coronaviruses

What’s the News?

While there are hundreds of coronaviruses that cause diseases in animals such as pigs, camels, bats and cats, till date seven different types of coronaviruses have been identified that infect humans.

Coronaviruses:

  • Coronaviruses are a large family of single-stranded RNA viruses that cause diseases in animals and humans.
  • In humans, the viruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses such as the common cold.
  • Human coronaviruses were first characterised in the mid-1960s and they are mostly considered to be responsible for causing upper respiratory tract infections in children.
  • In 1965, scientists DJ Tyrrell and ML Bynoe were the first ones to identify a human coronavirus, which they isolated from the nasal washing of a male child who had symptoms of common cold. They termed the strain B814 and later in 1968 the term “coronavirus” was accepted.
  • These viruses are named so because of spikes found on their surface that give them the appearance of a crown when looked through an electron microscope.

Symptoms they cause:

  • Before SARS-CoV-2 and MERS, SARS-CoV was the first example of a human coronavirus that could cause serious illness in humans in the form of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
  • Other human coronaviruses such as OC43 and 229E are known to cause the common cold, whereas NL63 is associated with serious respiratory symptoms such as upper respiratory tract infection and pneumonia.
  • SARS-CoV on the other hand, was identified after the 2003 outbreaks in China. It is thought to have come from an as yet unknown animal source, probably bats. Symptoms of SARS include cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea.
  • In severe cases, the symptoms can progress to respiratory distress, which may require intensive care.
  • MERS is another viral respiratory disease caused by a human coronavirus, which was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Typical symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
  • Further, while SARS-CoV-2 is considered to be milder than SARS-CoV and MERS, it is especially difficult to control its outbreak, given its high infectiousness.

Types of coronavirus:

In the last two decades, more aggressive coronaviruses have emerged that are capable of causing serious illness and even death in humans. These include SARS-CoV, MERS and now SARS-CoV-2.

Classification of Coronavirus:

  • Coronaviruses (CoV) are the largest group of viruses that belong to the Nidovirales order, which includes Coronaviridae among three others.
  • Coronavirinae are one of the two subfamilies of Coronaviridea, with the other being Torovirinae.
  • Coronavirinae can be further subdivided into alpha, beta, gamma and delta coronaviruses.
  • While there are hundreds of coronaviruses, there are seven that we know can infect humans. Out of the seven, two are alpha coronaviruses (229E and NL63) and four are beta coronaviruses (OC43, HKU1, MERS and SARS-CoV).
  • The classification of the viruses is based on their phylogeny, which is to say it reflects how these virus strains evolved from their common ancestors.

 When the human coronaviruses were first identified:

229E: One of the first coronaviruses strains to be described in the mid-60s, possibly by D Hamre and JJ Procknow in their 1966 paper titled, “A new virus isolated from the human respiratory tract”, published in Experimental Biology and Medicine.

OC43: Discovered in 1967 according to the Journal of Virology. However, a paper in Virology Journal has described it as the first human coronavirus to be discovered in 1965, citing a 1966 paper written by Tyrrell and Bynoe who worked with the nasal swab titled B814.

NL63 and HKU1: First identified in the Netherlands in 2004, probably after it was isolated from a seven-month-old infant showing respiratory symptoms. During this time, there was an increase in research on human coronaviruses, which led to the discovery of NL63 and HKU1 in Hong Kong in early 2005.

SARS-CoV: 2003 in China (animal source not yet known, bats thought to have given it to other animals, probably civet cats)

MERS: 2012 in Saudi Arabia (transmitted by dromedary camels)

SARS-CoV-2: 2019 in Wuhan (source not yet known, possibly bats)