India still far from herd immunity: Harsh Vardhan

Paper:

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news?

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan cautioned that the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) COVID-19 first sero-survey should not create a sense of complacency in people with regard to the virus.

Key details

  • Indications from the up-coming second sero survey are that India is far from having achieved any kind of herd immunity which necessitates that all of us should continue following COVID appropriate behaviour.
  • The first sero-survey from May 2020 revealed a nationwide prevalence of novel coronavirus infection of only 0.73%.
  • The Minister said the Health Ministry has advised against the wide usage of investigational therapies such as Remdesivir and plasma therapies.
  • Private hospitals have also been advised against routine use of these investigational therapies and doctors in the States/UTs have also been made aware of this.
  • States/UTs have now been directed to lower the prices of COVID tests and have been asked them to engage private laboratories and arrive at a mutually agreeable lower rate.

What is Herd Immunity and Herd Effect?

  • Herd Immunity is defined as: “the reduction of infection or disease in the unimmunized segment as a result of immunizing a proportion of the population“.
  • Herd immunity can be measured by testing a sample of the population for the presence of the chosen immune parameter.
  • Herd effect can be measured by quantifying the decline in incidence in the unimmunized segment of a population in which an immunization programme is instituted.
  • Herd immunity applies to immunization or infection, human to human transmitted or otherwise.
  • Herd effect applies to immunization or other health interventions which reduce the probability of transmission, confined to infections transmitted human to human, directly or via vector.

Medicines used in India for Covid patients

Remdesivir :

It is an antiviral drug first developed for treating Ebola in 2014, is one of the possible Covid-19 treatments being investigated in the WHO’s Solidarity Trial. It inhibits viral replication in the body.

Favipiravir :

It is an antiviral given to inhibit viral replication. It is used as an anti-influenza drug. First manufactured by Japan’s Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Ltd, it is manufactured in India by Glenmark Pharmaceutical and Strides Pharma. It is being used for moderately symptomatic to severely ill Covid patients, but access is not easy.

Itolizumab

This drug is commonly used for the skin disorder psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune disorders. In India, Biocon launched it in 2013.

Hydroxychloroquine

This anti-malarial drug is a subject of debate over its efficacy against Covid. The WHO halted its HCQ arm in the Solidarity Trial following a study in The Lancet, and then reinstated it after a retraction by the authors. India is the largest producer of this drug. Doctors use HCQ use in Covid patients with symptoms as mild as headache, fever, body pain, and even in critically ill patients.

Plasma therepay

This is meant for critical patients with low oxygen saturation levels, or those suffering a cytokine storm. Patients who have recovered from severe Covid-19 donate their plasma, which is then injected into other critical patients to boost their immunity.


Invisible killer threatens India’s sandalwood forests

Paper:

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news?

Dreaded Sandalwood Spike Disease has resurfaced, seriously infecting natural habitats in Karnataka, Kerala, say scientists.

Key details

  • India’s sandalwood trees, the country’s pride — particularly of Karnataka — are facing a serious threat with the return of the destructive Sandalwood Spike Disease (SSD).
  • The infection has resurfaced in the aromatic tree’s natural habitats in Karnataka and Kerala.
  • The natural population of sandalwood in Marayoor of Kerala and various reserve forests in Karnataka, including MM Hills, are heavily infected with SSD for which there is no cure as of now.
  • Presently, there is no option but to cut down and remove the infected tree to prevent the spread of the disease, caused by phytoplasma — bacterial parasites of plant tissues — which are transmitted by insect vectors.

Sandalwood Spike Disease (SSD)

  • SSD has been one of the major causes for the decline in sandalwood production in the country for over a century.
  • The disease was first reported in Kodagu in 1899.
  • Such was the impact of this disease in Karnataka that the growing stock had been reduced to 25% of its initial level between 1980 and 2000.
  • The devastating impact in natural habitats resulted in sandalwood being classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1998.
  • The present rapid spread of the infection is largely due to restrictions on green felling in forests, which has allowed vectors to spread the disease to healthy trees, says the IWST study.

India in Sandalwood production

  • India has been the traditional leader of sandalwood oil production for perfumery and pharmaceuticals.
  • As early as 1792, Tippu Sultan had declared it a ‘Royal Tree’ of Mysuru. The much-loved and much-valued tree now faces a threat to its existence from SSD.
  • Presently, the natural populations of sandalwood are available in Marayoor in Kerala and some patches of reserve forests and adjoining areas in Karnataka — both these stands are now heavily infected with SSD.
  • It is significant to note that the price of Indian sandalwood and its oil has risen significantly since 1995 at a rate of 20% annually mainly due to depletion in production.

Phytoplasma

  • Phytoplasmas are obligate bacterial parasites of plant phloem tissue and of the insect vectors that are involved in their plant-to-plant transmission.
  • Phytoplasmas were discovered in 1967 by Japanese scientists who termed them mycoplasma-like organisms
  • They are pathogens of agriculturally important plants, including coconut, sugarcane, and sandalwood, in which they cause a wide variety of symptoms ranging from mild yellowing to death.
  • Phytoplasmas are most prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions.
  • They are transmitted from plant to plant by vectors (normally sap-sucking insects such as leafhoppers) in which they both survive and replicate.

Assam to look into demand to include Manipuri in list of associate languages

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news?

The Assam government will translate into action the Manipuri language demands

Key details

  • Manipuri language is not one of the official associate languages in Assam.
  • If Manipuri is made an official associate language, the Manipuri candidates could write in their mother tongue in the competitive examinations.
  • The Assam government had recognised Manipuri in the lower primary schools in 1956. It is taught at the graduate level under the Gauhati university.
  • The Assam government had recently started granting ₹5 lakh as annual financial assistance to the Assam Manipuri Sahitya Parishad. Besides it created a corpus by sanctioning ₹6 crore for the development of the Manipuri language.
  • The population of the Manipuris in Assam, Tripura, Myanmar and Bangladesh is considerable.
  • Many of them had fled Manipur to dodge the marauding invaders from the bellicose neighbours. Some others were taken as prisoners of war.

Official languages of ASSAM

  • Assamese is the official language of the state. Additional official languages include Bengali and Bodo languages. Bodo in Bodoland Territorial Council and Bengali in the three districts of Barak Valley where Sylheti is most commonly spoken.
  • According to the language census of 2011 in Assam, out of a total population of around 31 million, Assamese is spoken by around half that number: 15 million.
  • Although the number of speakers is growing, the percentage of Assam’s population who have it as a mother tongue has fallen slightly.
  • The various Bengali dialects and closely related languages are spoken by around 9 million people in Assam, and the portion of the population that speaks these languages has grown slightly.
  • Hindi is the third most-spoken language.

THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT, 1963

  • An Act to provide for the languages which may be used for the official purpose of the Union, for transaction of business in Parliament, for Central and State Acts and for certain purpose in High Courts.
  • Part XVII of the Indian constitution deals with the official languages in Articles 343 to 351.
  • The Constitutional provisions related to the Eighth Schedule are:
  • Article 344: Article 344(1) provides for the constitution of a Commission by the President on expiration of five years from the commencement of the Constitution.
  • Article 351: It provides for the spread of the Hindi language to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India.
  • Sec(3) of the THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT, 1963 states that the English language may, as from the appointed day, continue to be used, in addition to Hindi,–
  • For all the official purpose of the Union for which it was being used immediately before that day; and
  • For the transaction of business in Parliament.
  • After the expiration of ten years from the date on which section 3 comes into force, there shall be constituted a Committee on Official Language, on a resolution to that effect being moved in either House of Parliament with the previous sanction of the President and passed by both Houses.

India Japan Navies match skills in Arabian sea

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news?

The 4th edition of the biennial India and Japan naval exercise JIMEX-20 is under way in the North Arabian Sea. This is the first exercise following the conclusion of the mutual logistics support agreement early this month.

Key details

  • The maritime cooperation has significantly increased between the two sides with focus on information sharing and Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and Indo-Pacific.
  • The three-day war games are being conducted in a “non-contact at-sea-only format”, in view of the COVID-19 restrictions.

About JIMEX

  • JIMEX series of exercises started in January 2012 with special focus on maritime security cooperation.
  • It is conducted biennially between the Indian Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).
  • The last edition of JIMEX was conducted in October 2018, Visakhapatnam, India.

Importance

  • JIMEX-20 will showcase high degree of inter-operability and joint operational skills through conduct of a multitude of advanced exercises, across the spectrum of maritime operations.
  • Multi-faceted tactical exercises involving weapon firings, cross-deck helicopter operations and complex surface, anti-submarine and air warfare drills will consolidate coordination developed by the two navies.
  • Advanced level of operations and exercises planned during JIMEX-20 are indicative of the continued upswing in Indo-Japanese defence relations and continued efforts by both governments to work closely for a more secure, open and inclusive global commons, in accordance with international regulations.
  • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands located close to the strategic Strait of Malacca have been of interest to several countries including Australia and Japan.

Clashes erupt between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news?

Worst clashes have broken out between Christian Majority Armenia and Muslim majority Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a dispute dating back 2 decades – a remnant of Soviet legacy. The international community recognises Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan. Ethnic Armenians form the majority of population in this region.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict- History

  • Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a conflict in 1991.
  • It is an ethnic and territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts, which are de facto controlled by the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, but are internationally recognized as de jure part of Azerbaijan.
  • A ceasefire was agreed in 1994, after thousands of people were killed and many more displaced, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier
  • The conflict has its origins in the early 20th century.
  • Under the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin decided to make the Nagorno-Karabakh region an autonomous oblast of Soviet Azerbaijan.
  • The present conflict began in 1988, when the Karabakh Armenians demanded that Karabakh be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war in the early 1990s.

  • A ceasefire signed in 1994 provided for two decades of relative stability, which significantly deteriorated along with Azerbaijan’s increasing frustration with the status quo, at odds with Armenia’s efforts to cement it.
  • A four-day escalation in April 2016 became the deadliest ceasefire violation to date.
  • Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region that is inside Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians, declared martial law and mobilised their male populations.
  • Armenia said Azerbaijan had carried out an air and artillery attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • Pipelines shipping Caspian oil and natural gas from Azerbaijan to the world pass close to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia-Azerbaijan war: Dynamics in the India’s geoplitik:

  • India has good ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  • The North-South international transport corridor goes from Mumbai to Chabahar via Azerbaijan to Moscow, crucial for India’s connectivity plans. 
  • In 2018, the then Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited the fire temple in Baku.
  • The temple was once used by Hindu and Zoroastrian communities, probably by visiting merchants from India as a place of worship.

  • In recent years, Indian-Armenian bilateral cooperation saw rapid growth, culminating with a high-level Indian delegation visiting Yerevan in 2017, led by then Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
  • For Armenia, close relations with India are vitally important as the latter provides a counter balance to the rival strategic axis between Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Turkey.