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27 March, 2020

50 Min Read

GS-II :
International efforts to Fight Coronavirus

International efforts to Fight Coronavirus

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II- IR

I. Amidst COVID-19 pandemic, G20 summit was held through video conferencing, recently.

Key takeaways:

  • G20 nations pledged a united front in the fight against coronavirus.
  • They also committed to inject $5 trillion into the global economy to ensure the situation of deep recession doesn’t arise.
  • G20 leaders also pledged to work with bodies such as the International Monetary Fund to deploy a robust financial package to support the developing nations which do not have access to capital markets or adequate health facilities.
  • Other affected countries also joined the virtual summit including Spain, Jordan, Singapore and Switzerland.
  • Leaders also agreed to contribute to the WHO-led COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund on a voluntary basis.
  • G20 was criticised recently for being slow to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

G20 additions:

COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund

  • It is a global fund for supporting the work of the World Health Organization in containing the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic.
  • It was launched in Geneva, Switzerland.

International Monetary Fund

  • It is an international organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.
  • It works to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world

II. The UNICEF recently appealed to the governments worldwide to not to ignore life-saving health interventions such as immunisation in their efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Key takeaways:

  • The children from the poorest families in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters will be at the greatest risk.
  • It is also feared that critical life-saving services, including immunisation may be disrupted, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East where they are essentially needed.
  • The UNICEF also announced that it would increase support to all countries so that children continue their learning despite schools being shut.
  • Initial sum of $9 million had already been allocated to help governments and education partners develop plans for alternative learning programmes and ensure access to remote learning.

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) (PT SHOT)

  • It is a United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide.
  • It is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.
  • UNICEF’s activities include:
    • Immunizations and disease prevention
    • Administering treatment for children and mothers with HIV
    • Enhancing childhood and maternal nutrition
    • Improving sanitation
    • Promoting education
    • Providing emergency relief in response to disasters
  • UNICEF relies entirely on contributions from governments and private donors.
  • Its Headquarter is in New York City, US.


III. US’s historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package

  • It is a $2.2 trillion economic package to contain the damage caused to the country’s economy due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
  • It is far bigger than the $800 billion assistance provided in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
  • The package intends to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and provide direct payments and jobless benefits for individuals, money for states and a huge bailout fund for businesses.

What does the US’s $2 trillion package aim to do?

Quarantine orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic in many parts of the US have caused a serious downturn in the country’s economy.

  • The deal aims at sustaining businesses and workers that have been losing income, as well as enabling the economy to recover once the quarantine orders are lifted.

Main provisions of the $2 trillion package

  • The package will provide direct financial support for low and middle-income families, and payments for companies that have lost a majority or all of their customers due to the pandemic.
  • The support for companies is aimed towards ensuring that they keep paying wages to their employees through the crisis, despite losing business activity. The deal also provides increased support for workers who have been fired or who have had their remuneration reduced.

1.Individuals and Families

  • The package has earmarked $250 billion for individuals and families. Workers with annual incomes of up to $75,000 will receive $1,200 in direct payments, which will increase to $2,400 for couples, as well as an additional $500 per child. The benefits will phase out for those with higher salaries.
  • At least $260 billion will be provided for emergency unemployment insurance, which will include an extra 13 weeks of coverage for those who have already used up existing benefits.
  • Self-employed and gig economy workers will also be covered, and weekly benefits will be increased up to $600.

2.Companies

  • $350 billion have been earmarked for small businesses to pay salaries, rent and utilities. These benefits will extend to businesses having 500 or fewer employees, as well as nonprofits, self-employed persons and hotel and restaurant chains having not more than 500 workers per location.
  • It has also provided $17 billion to help small businesses repay existing loans, and $10 billion for grants up to $10,000 for small businesses to pay operating costs.
  • The companies benefitting from the stimulus package will not be able to buy back outstanding stock, and have to maintain employment levels as of March 13, 2020, as far as possible.
  • The companies in which top administration officials, members of Congress or their families have 20 per cent stake will not be able to avail the schemes.

3.Institutions

  • A disaster relief fund of $45 billion will be created to reimburse state and local governments for the purposes of providing community services, medical services among other safety measures.
  • The package has assigned $31 billion for education, which will include $13.5 billion for local schools and programmes, and $14 billion for assisting universities and colleges.
    • Student loans have been suspended, and no interest will be accrued over the next few months.
  • Allocations have also been made for social programmes, such as child care, aid for heating and cooling, homeless assistance, as well as money for evacuating US citizens and diplomats stuck overseas, international disaster aid, and money for organising the 2020 general election.
  • Lastly, coronavirus testing will be free for all citizens.

yes Jai Hind Jai Bharat

Source: TH/IE

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GS-II : International Relations Afghanistan
Afghanistan terrorist attack

Afghanistan and terrorist attack

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II- IR

The terrorist attack on a gurudwara in Kabul, claimed by Islamic State (IS), has killed 25 people, mostly members of Afghanistan’s persecuted Sikh minority.

FOR CURRENT IMPORTANT LOCATION: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EBazqLy34M

Afghanistan is notorious for violence against its minority communities.

  • The Hazara Shias were brutally attacked during the Taliban regime in 1996-2001.
  • Most Hindus and Sikhs, once spread across the country in hundreds of thousands, have fled the country in past three decades

Past:

  • Post 9/11 attacks, US invaded Afghanistan with the aim to destroy Al-Qaeda terrorist group.
  • For past two decades, there is a Civil War going on in Afghanistan between Taliban (Fundamentalist group supported by Pakistan) and the Afghan government (supported by USA).
  • US and Taliban signed a peace deal in March 2020
  • One of the provisions of peace deal was that the Taliban had committed themselves to eliminating the Islamic State from Afghanistan

Why Islamic State (IS) has attacked now?

  • To send a message to its rivals that it continues to be a potent force
  • Increasing influence of Taliban (reflected through peace deal with US) is clashing with IS’s own interest to control vast territory & spread its own ideology
  • Hence, it wants to revive its own importance vis-à-vis Taliban
  • IS wants to exploit the clashes between Taliban and Afghan government – unable to finalize on the prisoner swap part of the peace deal – to increase its own influence
  • Division in Afghan Political leadership –Afghanistan now has two Presidents – meaning weak coordinated response on the perpetuators of attack

What are the consequences of the attack?

  • Less focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan – Iran (epicentre of the pandemic) borders the country => dangers of Afghanistan becoming a new epicentre.
  • Abandonment of minorities in the country may lead to refugee crisis
  • Derails the peace deal signed between Taliban and USA
  • Increased instability in the region

What is the Impact on India?

  • Internationalization of Kashmir Issue: IS has stated that it had carried out the attack in revenge for Kashmir.
  • Doubts over Pakistan’s involvement in this attack shows that there is increased security threat to Indians (workers & Officials) in Afghanistan
  • Increased terrorism in the region is not in the Economic & Strategic interest of India

Afghanistan faces two contagions, new and old — COVID-19 and the relentless violence. A united effort has to be made for the ceasefire of violence so as to enable humanitarian assistance to deal with the pandemic.

yesJai Hind Jai Bharat

Source: TH

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GS-III : Economic Issues Government policies and interventions
Initiatives to Fight Coronavirus

Initiatives to Fight Coronavirus

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III- Health

I. Recently, the Government has developed a platform which will host webinars by All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) doctors for healthcare workers across the country.

  • It has also developed an app that will trace the paths of COVID-19 positive patients, serving as a warning to possible contacts.

Key Points

  • Chat Boxes on Facebook and WhatsApp have been set up by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) for providing information about COVID-19.
  • A portal to map the requirements of hospitals, and cross-referencing them with those who have offered to help with equipment is also being set up by the government.
  • A webinar platform has been developed in tandem with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
    • The webinars are for the frontline health workers (nurses, paramedics, ASHA- Accredited Social Health Activist workers, anganwadi workers), who are more prone to COVID-19.
    • The webinars would be streamed on Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp.
    • The state governments would also be involved so as to make the content available in regional languages.
  • The government has also worked on a contact path tracing app, tentatively called ‘Corona Kavach’.
    • The app would store location data and would enter the credentials of the person if he/she tests positive. This information would be sent to the cloud.
    • A signal would come to the app which would convert it from green to red.
    • The server would then find out people who were in close proximity with the infected person in the last 14 days.
    • Their apps would turn yellow and they would get an alert that they should quarantine themselves.

Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana

  • PMSSY is a Central Sector Scheme.
  • The primary objective of PMSSY is to correct the regional imbalances in availability of affordable/reliable tertiary level healthcare in the country in general, and, to augment facilities for quality medical education in under-served or backward States, in particular.
  • In addition to setting up of AIIMS, PMSSY also envisages up-gradation of several existing Government Medical Colleges/Institutions in different states in the country.

All India Institutes of Medical Sciences

  • The AIIMS was created in 1956, as an autonomous institution of national importance through an Act of Parliament.
  • Objectives
    • To develop a pattern of teaching in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education in all its branches so as to demonstrate high standard of medical education to all medical colleges and other allied institutions in India.
    • To bring together in one place educational facilities of the highest order for the training of the personnel in all important branches of the health activity.
    • To attain self sufficiency in postgraduate in medical education.
  • Recently, the central government has decided to set up 22 new establishments of AIIMS. These AIIMS would be set up under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana.

II. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has invited manufacturers to supply 5 lakh antibody kits for diagnosis of COVID-19 infection.

  • The antibody test will help in screening suspected patients.

Key Points

  • The Antibody Test (PT SHOT)
    • The antibody test for COVID-19 will act as a screening process that will give quick results in a few hours.
    • The antibody test detects the body’s response to the virus. It gives an indication that a person has been exposed to the virus.
    • If the test is positive, the swab is collected and a Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) test is done using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) kit. Therefore, this is a two-stage process.
    • However, the antibody test does not not definitely indicate that a person is infected with COVID-19 infection. It is only for screening.
  • Currently, India is only conducting the conventional RT-PCR test (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction).
  • Antibody Kits vs RT-PCR Test (PT SHOT)
    • RT-PCR test detects the virus genetic material, which is the RNA.
    • The antibody test detects the body’s response to the virus.
    • RT-PCR provides direct evidence whereas antibody kits provide the indirect evidence.
  • Need for Antibody Kits
    • Shortage of the PCR kits and thus the test is complicated, expensive and time-consuming.
      • The antibody test will be where a large number of people are being quarantined and where everybody cannot undergo an RNA test.
    • Results of Testing in South Korea
      • The antibody test was done in South Korea, one of the few countries which has been able to flatten the pandemic curve.
      • In South Korea, people with a history of travel and contact are screened using the antibody kit.
      • Then, a large number of suspected patients were being quarantined in the country through contact tracing of just a single patient.


Ribonucleic Acid

  • RNA is an important biological macromolecule that is present in all biological cells.
  • It is principally involved in the synthesis of proteins, carrying the messenger instructions from Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which itself contains the genetic instructions required for the development and maintenance of life.
  • In some viruses, RNA, rather than DNA, carries genetic information.

Contract Tracing

  • Contact tracing is the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent transmission.


Indian Council of Medical Research

  • Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.
  • Its mandate is to conduct, coordinate and implement medical research for the benefit of the Society; translating medical innovations into products/processes and introducing them into the public health system.
  • It is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.


III. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a ventilator and plans to produce 5,000 of them per month to treat COVID-19 patients.

Key Points

  • DRDO had developed a ventilator along with the Society for Biomedical Technology (SBMT) and now the technology has been transferred to an industry in Mysuru.
    • The industry is producing the secondary version of a ventilator initially developed by DRDO.
    • Currently, it has a capacity to manufacture 5,000 ventilators per month and this could be scaled up to 10,000 per month.
  • Other contributions by DRDO:
    • DRDO laboratories have manufactured 20,000 litres of sanitiser and supplied to various organisations like Delhi police.
    • It has developed N-99 and 3-layered masks and supplied 10,000 masks to Delhi police personnel.
    • It is tying up with some private companies to make personal protection equipment such as body suits and also ventilators.
    • It is working on providing ready-to-eat meals for the government and health workers through the Defence Food Research Laboratory, Mysore which already supplies them to the armed forces.
    • The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) has also increased the production of sanitisers, masks and bodysuits.

Defence Research and Development Organisation

  • It works under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence.
  • It’s objective is to establish a world class science and technology base for India and provide Indian Defence Services decisive edge by equipping them with internationally competitive systems and solutions.
  • It was established in 1958 after combining Technical Development Establishment (TDEs) of the Indian Army and the Directorate of Technical Development & Production (DTDP) with the Defence Science Organisation (DSO).
  • Mission:
    • Design, develop and lead to production state-of-the-art sensors, weapon systems, platforms and allied equipment for Indian Defence Services.
    • Provide technological solutions to the services to optimise combat effectiveness and to promote well-being of the troops.
    • Develop infrastructure and committed quality manpower and build strong indigenous technology base.

Society for Biomedical Technology

It is an inter-ministerial initiative of the Government of India established to promote healthcare by providing indigenous solutions in the field of medical equipment and devices.

  • It was established under the Department of Defence Research and Development (DRDO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

Ordnance Factory Board

  • The OFB which includes 41 Ordnance Factories is headquartered at Kolkata.
  • Indian Ordnance Factories is the oldest and largest industrial setup which functions under the Department of Defence Production of the Ministry of Defence.
  • The ordnance factories form an integrated base for indigenous production of defence hardware and equipment, with the primary objective of self reliance in equipping the armed forces with state of the art battlefield equipment.

IV. The Supreme Court has issued a circular informing that it would continue to hear cases of extreme urgency through videoconferencing during the lockdown, keeping in mind physical distancing norms.

  • A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, recently used its extraordinary powers under Article 142 to lift the limitation period for all cases until further notice.

V. In view of prevailing sensitive health conditions affecting community health due to Covid-19, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has asked State Governments for rescheduling of holidays in Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) and Eklavya Model Day Boarding Schools (EMDBS).

Eklavya Model Residential Schools

  • Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) started in the year 1997-98 to impart quality education to ST children in remote areas.
  • The schools focus not only on academic education but on the all-round development of the students.
  • The objective of EMRS is to provide quality middle and high level education to Scheduled Tribe (ST) students in remote areas, not only to enable them to avail of reservation in high and professional educational courses and as jobs in government and public and private sectors but also to have access to the best opportunities in education at par with the non ST population.
  • Each school has a capacity of 480 students, catering to students from Class VI to XII.
  • These are being set up by grants provided under Article 275(1) of the Constitution.
  • Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRSs) are funded by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
  • In order to give further impetus to EMRS, it has been decided that by the year 2022, every block with more than 50% ST population and at least 20,000 tribal persons, will have an EMRS.
  • Eklavya schools are on par with Navodaya Vidyalaya and have special facilities for preserving local art and culture besides providing training in sports and skill development.

Eklavya Model Day Boarding Schools (EMDBS)

  • Wherever density of ST population is higher in identified Sub-Districts (90% or more), it is proposed to set up Eklavya Model Day Boarding School (EMDBS) on an experimental basis for providing additional scope for ST Students seeking to avail school education without residential facility.

Background

  • STs, constitute 8.6% of the country’s total population and 11.3% of the total rural population.
  • Despite the increase in literacy rates among STs from 8.53% in 1961 to 58.96% in 2011, and the fact that the Right to Education Act, 2009 makes it mandatory that all children between the ages of 6 and 14 be provided free and compulsory education, significant disparities exist in enrolment rates, drop-outs, across states, districts and blocks.
  • In the case of tribals, dropout rates are still very high – 35.6% in Classes I to V; 55% in Classes I to VIII; and 70.9% in Classes I to X in 2010-11, according to the Statistics Of School Education 2010-2011.
  • According to a 2014 UNICEF-sponsored South Asia regional study, economic and socio-cultural factors are reasons behind the education deprivation for certain groups in India, especially SCs, STs and Muslims.
  • The India Human Development Survey shows the incidence of poverty is highest among the STs (49.6%), followed by the SCs (32.3%), and then the Muslims (30.6%).

VI. RBI cuts rates, allows loan moratorium

Context:

  • The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) efforts to address it.

Details:

  • The countrywide lockdown in place to check the spread of novel Coronavirus will have an economic impact for India.
  • In this light of the unprecedented crisis, the meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) was advanced.
  • In a move aimed at easing the impact of the lockdown, RBI has come out with several measures to increase liquidity in the economy.

CRR reduction:

  • In a move to infuse sufficient liquidity into the banking system, RBI has reduced the Cash Reserv Ratio (CRR) requirement by 100 basis points (bps) for banks. The cash reserve ratio has been reduced from 4% to 3%.
  • The minimum daily requirement of maintaining CRR balance has also been reduced to 80% from 90%.
  • With the reduction in CRR requirements, banks can deploy the liquidity in interest-earning assets.

Reduction in key interest rates:

  • The RBI has reduced the key interest rates of repo and reverse repo rates sharply.
  • The repo rate was reduced by 75 bps to 4.4% while the reverse repo rate was cut by 90 bps point to 4%.
    • The higher reduction in the reverse repo rate was aimed at prompting banks to lend more rather than keeping their excess liquidity with the RBI.
  • While cutting benchmark rates, the RBI has continued with its accommodative stance.

EMIs deferred:

  • RBI has also allowed banks to defer payment of Equated Monthly Installments (EMIs) on home, car, personal loans as well as credit card dues for three months till May 31, 2020.
    • Since non-payment will not lead to non-performing asset classification by banks, there will be no impact on credit score of the borrowers.
  • The interest payments have been deferred and not waived.
  • The three-month moratorium on all term loan installments, along with deferment of interest on working capital, will help mitigate debt servicing burden due to COVID-19 disruption, and prevent transmission of financial stress to various sectors of the economy. This move will protect borrowers financially amid the nationwide lockdown.

Marginal Standing Facility:

  • RBI has increased the cap for liquidity available under the marginal standing facility.
  • Under the marginal standing facility (MSF), banks can borrow overnight at their discretion by dipping up to 2% into the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR). The RBI has decided to increase the limit of 2% to 3% till June 2020.
    • Marginal standing facility (MSF) is a window for banks to borrow from the Reserve Bank of India in an emergency situation when inter-bank liquidity dries up completely.
    • Banks borrow from the central bank by pledging government securities at a rate higher than the repo rate under liquidity adjustment facility. The MSF rate is pegged 100 basis points or a percentage point above the repo rate.

Long-term repo operations:

  • Observing that large sell-offs in the domestic equity, bond and forex markets has intensified redemption pressures, the central bank has decided to infuse money into the economy through Targeted Long-Term Repo Operations (TLTRO).
  • The RBI will auction long-term repo of around 1 lakh crore rupees.
  • Liquidity availed under the scheme by banks has to be deployed in investment grade corporate bonds, commercial paper and non-convertible debentures.
  • The three-year targeted long term repo operations will decongest credit channels and lower cost of credit, providing much needed relief to the corporate.

Indian Banks in offshore NDF markets:

  • The ongoing financial market volatilities triggered by Coronavirus outbreak dragged the rupee to touch lifetime lows and also breach the 75-mark against the US dollar. The rupee has come under pressure recently as foreign investors are exiting emerging economies.
  • The Reserve Bank of India has allowed Indian banks to participate in the offshore Non-Deliverable Forwards (NDF) rupee derivatives.
  • This is a positive step in broadening market participants and better rate discovery.
  • The move is aimed at curtailing the volatility in the domestic currency due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Conclusion:

  • The above actions will see an infusion of 3.74 lakh crore rupees into the banking system. These measures will provide adequate liquidity in the system, bring down the cost of capital and mitigate the impact of pandemic COVID-19.
  • The Indian financial markets which are facing heightened volatility due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic could stabilize with the Reserve Bank of India unveiling measures.
  • Given the importance of monetary policy transmission to ensure the effectiveness of RBI actions, banks will have to reduce their lending rates and ramp up credit disbursal.

Economic Impact of the Pandemic

  • According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Kristalina Georgieva, the world has entered a recession that will be worse than the one in 2009, following the global financial crisis.
    • Recession implies significant decline in general economic activity.
  • Moody's Investor Service (a rating agency) has reduced its GDP growth forecast for India to 2.5% in 2020 - a sharp drop from an earlier projection of 5.3%, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown.
    • At the low growth rate of 2.5% in 2020, India may see a sharp fall in incomes, further weighing on domestic demand and the pace of recovery in 2021.
    • The ongoing 21-day lockdown in India has brought business activity in most sectors of the economy to a halt and resulted in thousands of job losses.
  • The ratings agency expects the country's economy to recover in 2021, estimating a growth rate of 5.8%, but warned that uncertainty regarding the virus’s spread and containment makes it difficult to fully assess the economic toll of the crisis. India grew at 5% in 2019.
  • The G20 countries are likely to see an overall contraction of GDP by 0.5%. G20 GDP growth rate, which was 2.6% in 2019, is likely to recover to 3.2% in 2021.
  • The U.S. economy would contract by 2% in 2020, while the Euro area would see a 2.2% contraction. China's economic growth rate is expected to slow to 3.3%, although it is expected to recover to 6% in 2021.

VII. The Centre has announced a ?1.7 lakh crore relief package – Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan (PMGK) Yojana in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and countrywide lockdown, providing free food and cash transfers to support the poorest and most vulnerable citizens during the crisis.

Details:

  • The package will cost the national exchequer Rs 1.7 lakh crore, which is 0.8 per cent of India’s estimated gross domestic product in the current financial year.
  • Garib Kalyan package is a range of measures that the Government of India will take to alleviate the economic, health, and food-related distress of India’s poor.
  • The Finance Minister’s (FM) previous relief package was primarily targeted towards the firms in the organised sector of the economy. (However, the informal sector accounts for 90 per cent of all jobs in the country). The PMGK attempts to plug these gaps.

What does the PM Garib Kalyan package entail?

There are five elements to the PMGK package:

  1. Medical insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh for all health workers (doctors, paramedics, Asha workers, etc.) treating patients.
  2. Help for the poor and those engaged in the unorganised sector.
  3. Help for the poor engaged in the organised sector.
  4. Help for construction workers.
  5. Use the money already available in the “district(-level) mineral fund” to pay for medical testing and screening for the coronavirus.

How does it benefit the health workers?

  • Medical insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per person for all health workers (doctors, paramedics, Asha workers, etc.) treating COVID-19 patients has been announced.

What help is being provided to poor and those in unorganised sector?

The help is in two ways — free food grains and cash transfers.

  1. The central government, working with the state governments, will provide an additional quota of food grains free of cost to all 80 crore beneficiaries under the Public Distribution System.
    • As such, PDS beneficiaries will get 5 kg of wheat (or rice) per month for the next three months.
    • Additionally, each household (or family – typically, a household is assumed to have 5 members) will get 1 kg of pulses per month.
  2. 6 types of additional cash transfers have been announced. These are:
  • Rs 2,000 per farmer to 9 crore farmers under the PM-KISAN scheme. (To be frontloaded in the first week of April).
  • An additional Rs 1,000 per month pension for the next 3 months for those receiving old age, widow or disability pensions. It is a one-time payment. (Expected to help 3 crore beneficiaries).
  • Rs 500 per month will be transferred for the next 3 months to women holding a Jan Dhan bank account. (Expected to help 20 crore women).
  • Women who are registered beneficiaries under Ujjwala Yojana will get one LPG cylinder per month for the next three months. While this is not cash transfer, the cylinders will be free of cost. (Expected to help over 8 crore women beneficiaries under the programme).
  • Women Self Help Groups across the country can take collateral-free loans up to Rs 20 lakh instead of the existing limit of Rs 10 lakh. There are roughly around 63 lakh SHGs. (This is an enabling provision for receiving higher credit).
  • Wages paid for manual labour under MGNREGA have been increased from Rs 180 per day to Rs 202 per day. (This move will help 5 crore households [since only one person per household can avail of employment under MGNREGA] and enable them to earn Rs 2,000 as additional income). However, the work needs to be done in a manner that ensures social distancing.

What help is being provided to poor in organised sector?

This help essentially relates to the Employees’ Provident Fund. There are two initiatives announced by the government.

  • Under the first provision, the GoI will pay the EPF contributions (12% of the basic salary) of both the employees and the employers for the next three months.
    • However, this move applies only to about 4 lakh firms where the total number of employees is less than 100, and where 90 per cent of the employees earn less than Rs 15,000 per month.
    • The move is aimed at reducing the monetary strain on small firms in the organised sector that may feel compelled to fire employees given the mounting financial strain.
  • The government has amended the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) regulations to enable workers to withdraw a non-refundable advance from their EPF accounts.
    • This amount is, however, limited to 75 per cent of the total money in one’s EPF account, or one’s salary for three months, whichever is lower.
    • This move is expected to help close to 4.8 crore workers registered with the EPFO.

What about construction workers?

  • To alleviate the economic distress of construction workers, the government has asked state governments to use the money which is roughly Rs 31,000 crore, already available in a welfare fund for construction workers.
  • This would give relief to 3.5 crore registered workers.

Concerns:

The announcements related to the provisioning of food grains via PDS will be especially helpful. However, a few points need to be flagged.

  • Some of the cash transfer amounts are too small (like Rs 500 per month for women Jan Dhan account holders); some others are not really there (like the doubling of loans for women SHGs).
  • At present many construction workers and labourers are struggling to reach their homes. To receive help, they will need to have been registered in a particular state, but there is nothing to assume that they are in the state in which they are registered.
  • It is a concern as to how work would be carried out under MGNREGA while maintaining social distancing. If a lot of people join in, there would be a concern of disease transmission — and if very few join in (fearing the disease) then the hoped-for benefit may not actually accrue.
  • In a lockdown, where there’s little scope to undertake MNREGA works, an unemployment allowance would have served well.
  • Since the onus for paying unemployment allowance to MGNREGA workers under the Act is on the state governments, there remain concerns if the state governments would make the necessary budgetary provision.
  • These measures ignore the poorest, especially migrant workers, who have been excluded from the ambit of social security programmes of the government because they do not possess the necessary documents and proof of address.
  • It is time for states to learn from the experience of Kerala and other States which have universalised their social security programmes to ensure no deserving family is excluded.
  • Also, care needs to be taken to ensure that social distancing norms necessary to prevent the COVID-19 from spreading are adhered to, else the entire purpose of the curbs stands to be defeated.

Source: TH/IE

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GS-III :
Humanoid robot and application

Humanoid robot tested

Part of: GS Prelims and GS III – Science and Technology

A series of trials were conducted on a humanoid robot at a government hospital in Jaipur.

Key takeaways:

  • The trials were carried out to check if robot could be used for delivering medicines and food to the COVID-19 patients admitted there.
  • If approved, the robot would help in keeping the doctors and nursing staff at a safe distance to protect them against the dreaded coronavirus.
  • The medicos and paramedical staff are at higher risk of being infected with the virus despite wearing protective gear.
  • It is battery-operated humanoid robot with a lifespan of four to five years
  • It uses artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT).
  • It can navigate its own way without the instructions to follow lines on the floor.
  • The robots could also be easily disinfected and used multiple times inside the high-risk isolation ward.

Humanoid robot

  • It is a robot with its body shape built to resemble the human body.
  • The design may be for functional purposes.

More PICK Ups

1. Vyommitra, a half-humanoid is being developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for an unmanned space mission later in 2020.

Who is Vyommitra?

  • ISRO’s Vyommitra (vyoma = space, mitra = friend) is the prototype for a “half-humanoid”.
  • She is also being called a half-humanoid since she will only have a head, two hands and a torso, and will not have lower limbs.
  • She is under development at a robotics laboratory at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.
  • She will fly to space on an unmanned mission later this year, aiming to lay the ground for ISRO’s manned mission Gaganyaan in 2022.

What is a half-humanoid?

  • A humanoid is basically a robot with the appearance of a human being.
  • Like any robot, a humanoid’s functions are determined by the computer systems to which it is connected.
  • With the growth of artificial intelligence and robotics, humanoids are being increasingly used for repetitive jobs.
  • The artificial intelligence technologies are used in a humanoid to perform simple functions that include walking, moving things, communicating and obeying commands.

Why is ISRO developing a humanoid?

  • ISRO plans to send a human into space for the first time by 2022.
  • It is racing against time to develop a crew module and rocket systems that will ensure the safe travel and return of the Indian astronaut.
  • Other countries that have successfully launched humans into space did so after having used animals for conducting tests of their rockets and crew recovery systems.
  • ISRO will use the humanoid to test the efficacy of its GSLV Mk III rocket to transport a human to space and back.

What are the tasks that Vyommitra will perform in space?

  • The Vyommitra humanoid will test the ground for the human spaceflight.
  • Once fully developed for the unmanned flight, she will be able to perform activities which will include,
    1. Procedures to use equipment on board the spacecraft’s crew module such as safety mechanisms and switches,
    2. Receiving and acting on commands sent from ground stations.
  • The functions listed for the humanoid include attaining launch and orbital postures, responding to the environment, generating warnings, replacing CO2 canisters, monitoring the crew module, etc.
  • Vyommitra will have lip movement synchronised to mimic speech.
  • She can also double up as an artificial buddy to an astronaut - providing audio inputs on aspects like the health of the spacecraft during the launch, landing and orbital phases of the manned mission.
  • She will report back to Earth on the changes occurring in the crew module during the spaceflight and return.
  • This willl enable ISRO to understand the safety levels required in the crew module that will eventually fly a human being.

2. FEDOR

  1. It is carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station.
  2. Known as FEDOR, which stands for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research, the Skybot F-850 is the first humanoid robot to be sent to space by Russia.
  3. The robot’s main purpose it to be used in operations that are especially dangerous for humans onboard spacecraft and in outer space.
  4. FEDOR, who is the size an adult and can emulate movements of the human body, has apparently embraced his mission, describing himself as “an assistant to the ISS crew”.

Significance:

  1. Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on Earth to carry out tasks while the humans are strapped into an exoskeleton.
  2. Fedor is described as potentially useful on Earth for working in high radiation environments, demining and tricky rescue missions.

PT SHOT: Fedor is not the first robot to go into space.

In 2011, NASA sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot developed with General Motors that had a similar aim of working in high-risk environments.

In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS’s first Japanese space commander.

3. Recently an exhibition of art created by a humanoid AI robot, named Ai-da was held at University of Oxford.

  • Aida is the world's first ultra-realistic humanoid artist, able to draw creatively due to in-built artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
  • Ai-Da is named after Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician and writer often called the world's first computer coder.
  • In 2017, social robot Sophia was given citizenship of Saudi Arabia – the first robot to be given legal personhood anywhere in the world.

4. Sophia is a social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong based company Hanson Robotics. Sophia was activated on February 14, 2016, and made her first public appearance at South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in mid-March 2016 in Austin, Texas, United States. She is able to display more than 60 facial expressions.

Sophia has been covered by media around the globe and has participated in many high-profile interviews. In October 2017, Sophia became a Saudi Arabian citizen, the first robot to receive citizenship of any country. In November 2017, Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme first ever Innovation Champion, and is the first non-human to be given any United Nation title.

yes Jai Hind Jai Bharat

Source: TH/IE/PIB

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GS-III :
Pandemics of the world

Pandemics of the world

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III- Health

COVID-19 is the most recent disease which was declared as pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Difference between Epidemic Vs Pandemic

Epidemic is a term that is often broadly used to describe any problem that has grown out of control. An epidemic is defined as "an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population."2?

An epidemic is an event in which a disease is actively spreading. In contrast, the term pandemic relates to geographic spread and is used to describe a disease that affects a whole country or the entire world.3?

While casual use of epidemic may not require such nuance, it's important to know the differences between these two terms (and similar ones like outbreak and endemic) when considering public health news. In addition, from an epidemiologic standpoint, terms like these direct the public health response to better control and prevent a disease.

A glimpse through major pandemics of the world which caused huge loss to life:

The Plague of Justinian

It killed between 30 million and 50 million people. The cause of the Plague of Justinian was infectious fever caused by Yersinia pestis.

Black death

Between 1347 and 1351, it spread throughout Europe, killing approximately 25 million people. It is believed to have been the result of plague – an infectious fever caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis. It was likely transmitted from rodents to humans by the bite of infected fleas.

Smallpox (15th – 17th centuries)

Smallpox claimed the lives of approximately 20 million people, close to 90% of the population, in the Americas. The pandemic helped Europeans colonize and develop the newly vacated areas. Smallpox is caused by infection with the variola virus transmitted through various ways.

Cholera (1817 – 1823)

The first cholera pandemic began in Jessore, India. It was the first of 7 major cholera pandemics that have killed millions of people. The World Health Organization has called cholera “the forgotten pandemic”. Its seventh outbreak, which began in 1961, continues to this day. It is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium called Vibrio cholera.

Spanish Flu or H1N1 (1918 – 1919)

It is caused due to H1N1 virus. It infected around 500 million people, or a third of the world’s population, of that time. The pandemic was responsible for killing over 50 million people globally.

Hong Kong Flu or H3N2 (1968 – 1970)

Global fatalities were around one million. It was caused by an H3N2 strain of the influenza a virus. It is believed that the virus responsible for the Asian flu evolved and re-emerged 10 years later into this so-called “Hong Kong flu”. H3N2 was exceptionally contagious.

HIV/AIDS (1981 – present)

Since 1981, 75 million people have had the HIV virus and approximately 32 million have died as a result.

HIV/AIDS is a persistent epidemic that continues to impact millions of people every year. The HIV infection is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids.

SARS (2002 – 2003)

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is an illness caused by one of the 7 coronaviruses that can infect humans. In 2003, an outbreak that originated in the Guangdong province of China became a global pandemic. It infected around 8,000 people and killing 774 of them. The consequences of the 2003 SARS pandemic were largely limited due to an intense public health response by global authorities.

Swine Flu or H1N1 (2009 – 2010)

It was a new form of the influenza virus which emerged in 2009. It infected approximately millions of people with global deaths in the range of 151,700 to 575,400. It is called the “swine flu” because it appeared to cross over from pigs to humans in transmission. 80% of the virus-related deaths occured in people younger than 65.

Ebola (2014 – 2016)

It began in a small village in Guinea in 2014 and spread to a handful of neighbouring countries in West Africa. It is caused by infection with a virus of the Filoviridae family, genus Ebolavirus. The virus killed 11,325 of the 28,600 infected people, with most cases occurring in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Zika Virus (2017)

Zika virus (ZIKV) is a member of the virus family Flaviviridae. It is spread by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes, such as A. aegypti and A. albopictus. Its name comes from the Ziika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947. Zika virus is related to the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. Since the 1950s, it has been known to occur within a narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. From 2007 to 2016, the virus spread eastward, across the Pacific Ocean to the Americas, leading to the 2015–2016 Zika virus epidemic.

The infection, known as Zika fever or Zika virus disease, often causes no or only mild symptoms, similar to a very mild form of dengue fever. While there is no specific treatment, paracetamol (acetaminophen) and rest may help with the symptoms. As of 2016, the illness cannot be prevented by medications or vaccines. Zika can spread from a pregnant woman to her baby. This can result in microcephaly, severe brain malformations, and other birth defects. Zika infections in adults may result rarely in Guillain–Barré syndrome.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19 (2019 – present)

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Worldwide cases have surpassed 500,000 with more than 24,000 deaths globally. It is believed to be transmitted from animals to humans. The vast majority of cases are reported from USA now. On March 11, the WHO characterized the outbreak as a pandemic. Estimates indicate that Coronavirus could eventually infect 40% to 70% of the global population. Practicing social distancing is recommended. The damage to the world economy threaten the worst recession since the Great Depression or the “panics” of the 1800s, depending on the scale of government responses.

yesJai Hind Jai Bharat

Source: Web

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GS-III :
Laser Surface Micro-Texturing

Laser Surface Micro-Texturing

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III- S&T

The International Advanced Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARCI) has developed ultrafast laser surface texturing technology, which can improve the fuel efficiency of internal combustion engines.

  • The technology helps to control friction and wear.

Key Points

  • Laser surface micro-texturing offers precise control of the size, shape and density of micro-surface texture features.
  • In this technology, a pulsating laser beam creates micro-dimples or grooves on the surface of materials in a very controlled manner.
  • Such textures can trap wear debris when operating under dry sliding conditions and sometimes provide effects like enhancing oil supply (lubricant reservoir) which can lower friction coefficients and may enable reduced wear rate.

International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI)

  • It was established in the year 1997.
  • It is an autonomous research and development centre of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
  • Its main campus is located at Hyderabad with operations in Chennai and Gurgaon.
  • ARCI's mandate is-
    • Development of high-performance materials and processes for niche markets
    • Demonstration of technologies at prototype/pilot scale
    • Transfer of technology to Indian industry
  • Surface engineering, ceramics, powder metallurgy and laser processing of materials constitute the four major thrust areas at ARCI.

Source: TH

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GS-III :
107th Indian Science Congress

107th Indian Science Congress

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III- S&T

Recently, the Prime Minister has inaugurated 107th Indian Science Congress.

  • It is scheduled to take place between January 3-7, at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) in Bengaluru, Karnataka.

Key Points

  • The theme of the congress for 2020 is “Science & Technology: Rural Development”.
  • Indian Science Congress is a major focal point for scientists, researchers and academicians interested in various aspects of scientific discoveries and technologies.
  • The previous (2019) session 106th edition was held at Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Jalandhar, Punjab.

Indian Science Congress

  • The Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) owes its origin to the foresight and initiative of two British Chemists, namely, Professor J. L. Simonsen and Professor P.S. MacMahon.
  • The first meeting of the Congress was held from January 15-17, 1914 at the premises of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta.

Source: TH

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