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March 2020

Communicable and Non-communicable diseases – HIV, Malaria, Cancer, Mental Health, etc.

Home and nation


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2-Role of administration in 21-day lock-down of country.


A 21-day lockdown is extraordinary. Government, people must come together to ensure that supply chains and social trust must not break.

An unprecedented move

  • A 21-day nationwide lockdown: The way we conduct ourselves in these 21 days will be critical in our fight against the coronavirus.” With these words, Prime Minister announced a measure unprecedented in India’s 72-year-old history.
  • Never have the people of the country been asked to stay within the confines of their homes for this long a period, not even when the country has fought wars.
  • Yet extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. As the PM underlined, “stringent social distancing and staying within the Lakshman Rekha of our homes is the only prevention against the coronavirus”, the only way to break its transmission cycle.

Challenges and consequences

  • There will be social and economic consequences and the PM did not equivocate on the challenges. He spoke of the vulnerable sections, and, as in last week’s speech, emphasised the imperative to be compassionate.
  • He lauded the frontline workers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, expressed gratitude to safai karamcharis and praised the private sector and civil society.
  • A reworked social compact — more compassionate — will be necessary to confront the challenges posed by the lockdown.
  • It is now up to civil society, government agencies, the healthcare and corporate sectors to take their cues from the PM’s speech and ensure that the burden of fighting the pandemic does not fall too heavily on those at the margins, the migrant and daily wage labourers, the rickshaw pullers and others for whom these 21 days could prove to be the toughest.
  • Centre and state to work together: The Centre and state governments will need to work together, setting aside their political differences, to ensure that there is no shortage of essential commodities and the supply chains are not broken.

Measures to mitigate the impact

  • Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced a slew of measures that could soften the blow of a 21-day lockdown.
  • The deadline for filing of income taxes for the financial year 2018-19 has been extended, as has the last date for filing GST returns.
  • Sitharaman also announced that the threshold for taking companies through the insolvency and bankruptcy proceedings has been increased from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1 crore.
  • This will prevent creditors from taking small and medium-sized companies, who may be facing temporary cash flow management issues due to the lockdown, and hence are unable to meet their obligations, through the IBC process.
  • The Centre has also advised state governments to transfer funds to construction workers from the cess fund collected by the labour welfare boards.


As the PM said, “21 days is a long period”. It’s now up to the authorities and the people to own and implement his message — to ensure that not just supply chains, but also social trust, isn’t broken.

Digital India Initiatives

The Covid-19 crisis could bring the country up to digital speed


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Application of digitalisation in healthcare and judiciary.


The Covid-19 pandemic gives us a chance to re-evaluate the worth of two major initiatives of the government: demonetization and digitization.

Importance of digitalisation in pandemic

  • The importance of digitization in a pandemic cannot be exaggerated when we are repeatedly told to maintain social distance and work from home in order to avoid infection.
  • Consider how nigh impossible it would be to avoid contact with retail cashiers and point-of-sale (PoS) terminals if we were to use credit cards and cash to pay for our daily necessities.
  • Today, most bill payments have moved online and barring older people, who may prefer to pay their electricity bills at physical counters, digitization is delivering in spades.
  • But digitization is not just about payments and financial transactions. Consider what all will happen as the current lockdown persists across the country.

Application in the judiciary

  • Courts are beginning to use video-conferencing to conduct hearings. It is ironic that something that should have been done years ago to hasten hearings is now being done to prevent infections.
  • India’s judiciary has been resisting technology for as long as one can remember.
  • Witnesses do not have to drag themselves to court every day; they can video-record their statements in advance, and submit themselves to questioning through Skype or other such video-calling apps.
  • When the entire case is recorded, the possibility of judges conducting trials in an unfair way gets substantially reduced, for those at the receiving end of judicial injustice can seek retrials based on video recordings.
  • These recordings will also enable the higher judiciary to figure out who its good judges are, and who adopts dilatory tactics and frequent adjournments, delaying justice.
  • At some point, a judicial appointments commission will have video records of all judges shortlisted for promotions. They will thus know whom to recommend for elevation and whom to sideline. Corruption is also likely to come down.

Application in the healthcare sector

  • In the current Covid-19 crisis, doctors and nurses are putting themselves at huge risk, and so are those handling millions of samples of throat swabs that need to be analysed for the virus
  • Applications: Remote patient examinations, analysis of symptoms with the help of databases and algorithms, and even the basic task of taking down a new patient’s medical history can all be done remotely through a digital app or interface.
  • The doctor will know even before he has met the patient what could be wrong, something she only has to confirm after interacting with the patient.
  • India is spending humongous amounts of money, and so are to-be doctors, to master medical knowledge that doubles every 75 days. In short, by the time your average MBBS doctor completes his or her degree, much of that knowledge could be outdated.
  • He or she has to use technology to update himself or herself, and also rely on databases and artificial intelligence to deliver healthcare without the risk of misdiagnosis.
  • India may be spending too much on training doctors at a cost of millions of rupees per head when a lot of that money could have been spent on technology to deliver competent and lower-cost healthcare.


If we just stop to think where we would have been in this pandemic but for digital technology, we would recognize the importance of going digital. It should make us think of how to convert the Covid-19 disruption into an agenda that brings us up to technological speed in various spheres of human activity.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

The race to find a cure for COVID-19


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Vaccine development and trials.


The world is dealing with an unprecedented and unimaginably serious crisis. Therefore, the speed of vaccine development is crucial.

Speeding up the vaccine development

  • Availability of rationale and information: The race for developing an anti-COVID-19 vaccine has begun. Reasonable scientific rationale and the information needed for vaccine development are available to all stakeholders in academia and industry.
  • Vaccine platforms: A large number of candidate vaccines based on different vaccine platforms, including delivering the virus genetic materials (RNA, DNA) or using synthetic biology to produce key viral proteins, have already been developed.
  • Phase-I safety trials of an experimental vaccine, jointly developed by scientists at the National Institute of Health and at Moderna, a biotechnology company, has already been administered to healthy volunteers for its safety and immunogenicity.
  • The speed with which the experimental vaccine has entered safety trials is unprecedented.
  • Another vaccine jointly developed by China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and CanSino Biologics has reportedly been cleared for early-stage clinical trials.
  • Development in India: The Serum Institute of India has also recently announced its readiness to start safety trials following animal experiments.
  • According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, more than 20 vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of development and will be ready for Phase-I safety trials.
  • However, it is also clear that it will not be possible to roll-out any efficacious vaccine for at least another year.

Questions that need to be answered

  • While these developments are encouraging, several questions will need to be answered for this vaccine development to move further.
  • Triggering immune response safely: Although it is quite evident that humans mount a strong immune response and clear the viral load, the nature of the immune response and how to trigger it safely through vaccination will be key questions to address.
  • Duration of the acquired immunity: How long the acquired immunity in humans will last is another important question to be asked before experimental vaccines move forward.
  • We will need to know this because if the immunity is transient, then humans will be susceptible to reinfections.
  • Ensuring no disease enhancement: Before moving to Phase-II trials in a large number of healthy volunteers, we also have to ensure that the immune response induced by vaccination does not lead to any disease enhancement.

Repurposing the already available drugs

  • Therapeutic interventions, not only for curing severe cases of the disease but also for protecting all front-line healthcare workers, are urgently needed.
  • Using already approved drugs: Since developing new drugs is a complex and lengthy process, scientists and pharmaceutical companies have rushed to investigate and use drugs that have already been approved by regulatory authorities.
  • Using available molecular and structural biology information on the virus, a group of scientists have analysed all interactions of the viral proteins with human proteins that are crucial for the virus to enter human cells and use the host cell machinery to rapidly reproduce itself.
  • Of the nearly 70 short-listed molecules that may interrupt these key interactions, 24 happen to be already approved drugs which can now be tested in laboratory animal models as well as humans.
  • However, the re-purposing of several drugs, alone or in combinations to treat COVID-19 patients, have already been reported.
  • More confusion than hope: There are many success stories of curing patients of COVID-19 doing the rounds in different parts of the world, but these have managed to create more confusion than hope.
  • Without any appropriate controls, careful dosing and safety concerns, such small experiments can only do more harm than good.

Controlled randomised trials

  • Given the urgency of finding a cure, it is absolutely necessary to find out unequivocally what works well and what does not. For that conducting carefully controlled randomised trials is the only way to go.
  • In a welcome move, the WHO has announced clinical trials called the ‘Solidarity Project’.
  • Under this project four drugs or drug, combinations will be tested in many countries around the world.
  • These candidates include the anti-Ebola drug, Remdesivir, Chloroquine, anti-HIV drugs, and the Ritonavir/Lopinavir combination, with or without Interferon-beta.
  • The European counterpart of the trial, Discovery, will conduct these trials in countries including France, Spain, Germany and the U.K.
  • The pharma company Roche has also decided to initiate large, randomised Phase-III trials of its arthritis drug Actemra for its safety and efficacy in adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.
  • It is complex and tedious to conduct randomised, large multi-centric trials.
  • Quickly getting all the stakeholders together is laudable and underscores the notion that everyone needs to fight the deadly virus together. Hopefully, these trials will lead to tangible drug therapies against COVID-19.


It is most heartening to see scientists in academia and industrial partners coming together to fight a monumental public health crisis. The battle between pathogens and humans will continue but let us hope that we win the present one sooner than later.

Wetland Conservation

Protecting Peatlands can help attain climate goals


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Peatlands

Mains level : Significance of peatlands


Peatlands, which play a crucial role in regulating global climate by acting as carbon sinks, are facing degradation and need to be urgently monitored, according to the FAO. 

What are Peatlands?

  • Peatlands are a type of wetlands that occur in almost every country on Earth, currently covering 3% of the global land surface.
  • The term ‘peatland’ refers to the peat soil and the wetland habitat growing on its surface.
  • They are formed due to the accumulation of partially decomposed plant remains over thousands of years under conditions of water-logging.
  • In these areas, year-round waterlogged conditions slow the process of plant decomposition to such an extent that dead plants accumulate to form peat.
  • Over millennia this material builds up and becomes several metres thick.

Why are peatlands significant?

  • Large amounts of carbon, fixed from the atmosphere into plant tissues through photosynthesis, are locked away in peat soils, representing a valuable global carbon store.
  • Peatlands are highly significant to global efforts to combat climate change, as well as wider sustainable development goals.
  • The protection and restoration of peatlands are vital in the transition towards a low-carbon and circular economy.

1) Better sinks of Carbon

  • Damaged peatlands contribute about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from the land-use sector.
  • CO2 emissions from drained peatlands are estimated at 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 This is equivalent to 5.6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
  • However, at the same time, peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. Worldwide, the remaining area of near-natural peatland contains more than 550 gigatonnes of carbon.
  • This represented 42% of all soil carbon and exceeds the carbon stored in all other vegetation types, including the world’s forests. This area sequesters 0.37 gigatonnes of CO2 a year.

2) Vital ecosystem services

  • By regulating water flows, peatlands help minimize the risk of flooding and drought and prevent seawater intrusion.
  • In many parts of the world, peatlands supply food, fibre and other local products that sustain local economies.
  • They also preserve important ecological and archaeological information such as pollen records and human artefacts.
  • Draining peatlands reduces the quality of drinking water due to pollution from dissolved compounds. Damage to peatlands also results in biodiversity loss.

Other benefits

  • Peatlands occur in different climate zones.
  • While in a tropical climate, they can occur in mangroves, in Arctic regions, peatlands are dominated by mosses. Some mangrove species are known to develop peatland soils under them.
  • Besides climate mitigation, peatlands are important for archaeology, as they maintain pollen, seeds and human remains for a long time in their acidic and water-logged conditions.
  • In many countries, pristine peatlands are important for recreation activities. These areas also support livelihood in the form of pastoralism
  • The vegetation growing on pristine peatlands provide different kinds of fibres for construction activities and handicrafts.
  • Many wetland species produce berries, mushrooms and fruits, often economically important to local communities.
  • Peatlands also provide fishing and hunting opportunities. It is also possible to practise paludiculture or wet agriculture on rewetted peatlands.

Various threats

  • Their degradation due to drainage, fire, agricultural use and forestry can trigger the release of the stored carbon in a few decades.
  • Peatlands contain 30 per cent of the world’s soil carbon. When drained, these emit greenhouse gases, contributing up to one gigatonne of emissions per year through oxidation.

Way forward

  • In India, peatlands occupy roughly 320–1,000 square kilometres area.
  • To prevent further degradation, these areas should be urgently mapped and monitored.

With inputs from:

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs)

Mains level : Not Much


Researchers from a Canadian space observatory have been recording the periodic radio waves hitting Earth from a neighbouring galaxy from past few years. These radio waves are called Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs).

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs)

  • FRBs are super intense, millisecond-long bursts of radio waves produced by unidentified sources in the space.
  • Their discovery in 2007 by American astronomer Duncan Lorimer led to the term ‘Lorimer Bursts’.
  • Since then, just a few dozen similar events have been observed in data collected by radio telescopes around the world, building evidence that points to a variety of potential causes.
  • Only a handful of emissions have been traced to specific areas of the sky, indicating sources in other galaxies.
  • The flash of radio waves is incredibly bright if distant, comparable to the power released by hundreds of millions of suns in just a few milliseconds.
  • This intensity suggests powerful objects like black holes and neutron stars could be involved.
  • The events were once considered to be largely transient – they seemed to happen once, without obvious signs of a repeat emission. However, a number of such bursts have been identified since then.

Why are they significant?

  • First noticed in 2018 by the Canadian observatory the waves have created ripples across the globe for one reason — they arrive in a pattern.
  • This gave birth to theories that they could be from an alien civilization.
  • Initially, it was believed that the collision of black holes or neutron stars triggers them.
  • But the discovery of repeating FRBs debunked the theory of colliding objects.

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Kurzarbeit Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kurzarbeit Scheme

Mains level : Strategies to prevent job losses during economic fallouts

Amid the all-round disruption caused to the economy by the novel coronavirus outbreak, a concern across the world is the possibility of a loss of jobs. Various governments have unveiled various measures to address such concerns, and one of the most talked-about is Kurzarbeit.

Kurzarbeit Scheme

  • Kurzarbeit is German for “short-work”.
  • The policy provides for a short-time work allowance, called kurzarbeitgeld, which partially compensates for lost earnings during uncertain economic situations.
  • The policy was rolled out during the 2008 economic crisis while its origins date back as far as the early 20th century, before and after World War I.

How it works?

  • When companies face a loss of earnings due to unforeseen economic situations, they often need to cut back on their working hours or send some of their employees’ home.
  • It aims to address workers who are impacted by the loss of income due to shortened work hours during such times.
  • They can apply for short-term work benefits under the scheme, with the government stepping in to pay employees a part of their lost income.

Quantum of payment

  • Payment under Kurzarbeit is calculated on the basis of a net loss of earnings.
  • As per Germany’s Federal Agency for Work, short-time employees generally receive about 60 per cent of the flat-rate net wage.
  • In case there is at least one child in the house of the short-time worker, he/she receives 67 per cent of the flat-rate net wage.


  • This scheme helps the companies retain their employees instead of laying them off, and allows the latter to sustain themselves for a period of up to 12 months.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

What is Hantavirus?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hantavirus

Mains level : Rise in zoonotic diseases and their possible causes

China has reported the death of a person from Yunnan Province who tested positive for the Hantavirus.

What is Hantavirus?

  • The Hantaviruses are a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents. It is contracted by humans from infected rodents.
  • Cases of the Hantavirus in humans occur mostly in rural areas where forests, fields and farms offer suitable habitat for infected rodents.
  • A person can get infected if he/she comes in contact with a rodent that carries the virus.
  • In the US and Canada, for instance, the Hantavirus carried by the deer mouse is responsible for the majority cases of the Hantavirus infection.
  • Like this, there are various other kinds of Hantaviruses that find hosts in rodents, like the white-footed mouse and the cotton rat among others that may lead to infections in humans if transmitted.

Its origin

  • The Hantavirus is not novel and its first case dates back to 1993, according to the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC).
  • In the Americas, the family of viruses is known as ‘New World hantaviruses’.


  • A person infected with the virus may show symptoms within the first to eighth week after they have been exposed to fresh urine, faeces or the saliva of infected rodents.
  • Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, chills and abdominal problems.
  • Four to ten after being infected, late symptoms of HPS may start to appear, which include coughing and shortness of breath.

Mortality risk

  • It is the cause of Hantavirus pulmonary disease (HPS), a severe respiratory disease. The HPS can be fatal and has a mortality rate of 38 per cent.
  • It remains unclear whether human-to-human transmission of the virus is possible.
  • There have been no reports of human-to-human transmission of Hantavirus in the US.

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

India VIX Index


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : India VIX Index

Mains level : Impact of coronovirus outbreak on Economy

The  India VIX Index, an indicator of the volatility of the stock market has been plunging after the outbreak of novel coronavirus.

What is Volatility Index?

  • Volatility Index is a measure of the market’s expectation of volatility over the near term.
  • Volatility is often described as the “rate and magnitude of changes in prices” and in finance often referred to as risk.
  • It is a measure, of the amount by which an underlying Index is expected to fluctuate, in the near term, (calculated as annualized volatility, denoted in percentage e.g. 20%) based on the order book of the underlying index options.

India VIX Index

  • India VIX is a volatility index based on the NIFTY Index Option prices.
  • From the best bid-ask prices of NIFTY Options contracts, a volatility figure (%) are calculated which indicates the expected market volatility over the next 30 calendar days.
  • “VIX” is a trademark of Chicago Board Options Exchange, Incorporated (“CBOE”) and Standard & Poor’s.
  • The firm has granted a license to NSE to use such mark in the name of the India VIX and for purposes relating to the India VIX.