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Current Affairs – 22 December 2020

NEW VIRUS OF CORONA STRAIN IN UK

In News

  • A new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 strain has been discovered across the South East of England and could be the reason behind the sharp rise in cases in the country.
  • It is being referred to as VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01, or the 1.1.7 lineage that has 23 mutations in all.

About

  • UK government has imposed a strict Christmas lockdown in London and South East of England because a new strain of the coronavirus was “out of control”.
  • India has suspended flights from and to that country until the end of the year 2020.

Why Viruses Change?

  • Coronaviruses have all their genetic material in something called RNA, which is similar to DNA, but they aren’t the same.
  • When viruses infect you, they attach to your cells, get inside them, and make copies of their RNA, which helps them spread. If there’s a copying mistake, the RNA gets changed. Scientists call those changes as mutations.
  • These randomly or accidental changes in a virus is a normal part of what happens to viruses as they multiply and spread. They may make little to no difference in a person’s health. Other times, they may cause disease.
  • If a virus has a random change that makes it easier to infect people and it spreads, that strain will become more common.

How harmful is the new COVID-19 strain?

  • Due to large changes in the genome, the transmissibility of this virus has also changed and is 70% more infectious compared to the earlier variant.
  • Though a few of these are seen in the region of the virus that binds to the human receptor, a single mutation-N501Y- has been found to increase the binding affinity, making the variant more transmissible. The variant has been “growing in frequency” since November 2020 and is “responsible for an increasing proportion of SARS-CoV-2 cases in the UK”.
  • According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the variant has the potential to increase by over 0.4 the number of people a person can infect. There is no evidence as yet that it can cause any change in disease severity or increase the risk of reinfection.
  • According to COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK), a consortium that analyses genome sequencing data from the UK, it is probably due to prolonged infection in a single patient, potentially with reduced immune competence.
  • The emergence of the new variant underlines the compulsion to undertake surveillance following vaccination to track vaccine effectiveness and to look for the appearance of vaccine-escape mutants, the presence of 23 mutations strongly suggests that the variant has not emerged through gradual accumulation of mutations.
  • The emergence of the new variant with increased transmissibility is one more reason why non-pharmaceutical interventions should be strictly adhered to.

 

AUCTION OF SPECTRUM

In News

  • The Union Cabinet cleared an auction of radio spectrum in various bands for commercial mobile services.

About

  • Based on the recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the government is planning to auction spectrum in the sub GHz bands of 700, 800 and 900 MHz along with mid-band frequencies in bands of 1800, 2100, 2300, and 2500 MHz across the 22 Licensed Service Areas (LSAs).
  • In addition to the bid amount, successful bidders will also have to pay 3% of the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) excluding wireline services as spectrum usage charges for the spectrum won through this auction.
  • The total spectrum to be auctioned is about 2,251 MHz, compared to about 2,355 MHz put on the block in 2016.
    • The cumulative reserve price — and hence the potential revenue accrual to the government at reserve prices — is about $50 billion.
  • Total reserve price of spectrum put on auction in 2016 was about $90 billion while the realized value was just about one-tenth of that, with none of the 700 MHz spectrum band being sold.
  • The auction that will use the well proven methodology of Simultaneous Multiple Round Ascending (SMRA) Auction will be the seventh of its type and is being held four years after the last one.

Factors that determine the success of spectrum

  • First is the reserve price that is significantly and positively correlated to the winning bid price. However, a higher price also inhibits bidders from bidding for more spectrum blocks, resulting in lower amounts of spectrum sold. If the quantity effect is more than the price effect, then it results in reduced revenues for the government exchequer, as it happened in 2016.
  • Second, the willingness to pay by the telcos depends on their position vis-à-vis Over The Top (OTT) providers who are providing substitute goods such as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP); and capturing a greater mind share of customers while remaining relatively invisible to government regulators. Rise of VoIP subscribers could have a positive effect on winning bid prices.
  • Third, is the allocation of unlicensed spectrum for WiFi, which requires additional unlicensed spectrum allocation to provide Gigabit speeds. The more the unlicensed spectrum allocation, the lower will be the demand for licensed spectrum.
  • Fourth, is the visibility of spectrum that will be up for auction. The government indicated that the spectrum for 5G auction, namely 3.43.6 GHz, will be held in late 2021, the amount of spectrum that will be made available is not clear. There is still uncertainty about the release of 26 GHz by the Department of Space for mobile services. With this limited visibility, the bidders will be in a quandary whether to acquire the spectrum now, or wait for subsequent auctions.

A word of caution

  • Higher reserve prices, though they increase spectrum prices, may leave again a swathe of spectrum blocks unsold as in the 2016 auction. This will indicate a failure of the auction.
  • Spectrum is a perishable scarce resource. If it cannot be used, then its value is lost. Due to Work from Home in COVID19 crisis, government must ensure that the spectrum put on the block is sold successfully.

Recommendations

  • A revisit of reserve prices and lower it, especially that of 700 MHz (even though it was restimated to be lower by TRAI) which is the “golden band” for covering the hinterlands of the country.
  • Releasing more unlicensed spectrum in 2.4/5/60 GHz for proliferating WiFi as a suitable complement to [the] carrier network; this will also augment the deployments of the Public WiFi project which the cabinet approved recently.
  • Provide visibility of future auctions, especially the quantum of spectrum that can be put on the block in 3.3/3.6/26/28 GHz.
  • The government should release guidelines on how OTT firms will be regulated and what will be regulated so that the telcos and OTTs can join hands to provide superior services for the benefit of the consumers.

 

INDIA-VIETNAM TIES

In News

  • India and Vietnam agreed to boost practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of increasing concerns over rising Chinese belligerence in the region. They also inked seven agreements to expand bilateral ties in defence, nuclear energy and several other sectors.

About

  • For India, Vietnam is an important partner in India’s Indo-Pacific vision as well as for its Act East policy, and peace, stability and prosperity in the region is the common goal of both sides.
  • In the wake of growing belligerence by China in the South China Sea region, the two countries specifically reaffirmed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, while pursuing peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law without resorting to “threat or use of force”.
  • Both aims to promote coordination to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including cross-border terrorism, terror-financing networks and safe havens.
  • Both will step up military-to-military exchanges, training and capacity building programmes across the three services and coast guards, as it was agreed that enhanced bilateral defence and security partnership would be an important factor of stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • India stressed that the Code of Conduct negotiations on the South China Sea should not prejudice the interest of other countries in the region. India also invited Vietnamese companies to invest in India and highlighted the urgent need for long-overdue review of ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement as a concrete step towards revitalising economic engagement between the two countries as well as the larger ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region.
  • In reference to South China Sea, both countries also underscored the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, and avoidance of actions that could further complicate the situation or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability.
  • Both emphasized on the importance of promoting a rules-based order in the region including by upholding international law, especially the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), adding that they affirmed that a peaceful, stable, secure, free, open, inclusive and rules-based region is in the common interest of all countries.

 

SEASONAL UV RADIATION AND GLOBAL COVID-19 TRENDS

In News

  • According to the study published in the journal PNAS, due to the influence of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun has reduced COVID-19 transmission.

About research

  • The study compared various populations to themselves over time, and tested whether daily variations in UV radiation lead to changes in COVID-19 cases.
  • The research also looked at how artificial UV light can inactivate the coronavirus, it is also important to note that this is not the same as the effect of the sun’s UV radiation.
  • UV disinfectants rely on wavelengths in a range called UV-C. Such wavelengths do not reach us naturally from the Sun, as these are absorbed by the ozone layer. In sunlight that reaches the Earth, the wavelengths are in the range known as UV-A (and to an extent in the range UV-B).

The extent of variations

  • A change in UV exposure by 1 standard deviation reduced the growth rate of new cases by around 1 percentage point.
  • Based on changes in UV, the model predicted COVID-19 growth rates for the temperate zones north and south of the tropics.
  • UV seasonality looks different in India than in other parts of the northern hemisphere due to the South Asian monsoon. The onset of the monsoon lowers summer UV, which can raise the COVID-19 transmission risk relative to other times of the year and relative to other regions in the northern hemisphere, where summer tends to be the highest UV season.
  • Infection rates did appear to have decreased in much of the northern hemisphere during the summer, but many parts of the northern hemisphere also relaxed their pandemic restrictions during the same period.

 

IBC SUSPENSION TILL MARCH 2021

In News

  • The suspension of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) has been extended till March 31, 2021.

About

  • This step is aims to help businesses which faced economic disruptions due to COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns, the suspension was originally scheduled to remain in effect for six months from 25 March 2020.
  • It was later extended for three more months and was supposed to come to an end on 25 December 2020. Now defaults for a whole year since March 25 will not be subject to insolvency proceedings.
Out of the over 4,000 bankruptcy cases admitted to tribunals so far under IBC, turnaround plans have been cleared in the case of 277 and liquidation proceedings are on in over 1,000 cases at the end of September 2020.

Significance

  • Extending the suspension of bankruptcy action would keep alive both viable as well as unviable companies, a compromise that policymakers have to accept in order to ensure that the viable ones survive.
  • On the other hand, lifting the suspension on the IBC could expose even viable companies to the possibility of liquidation if investors do not bid for the assets.
  • IBC has been instrumental in releasing capital locked up in defunct companies. The suspension has meant this freeing up is delayed.
  • Investors can empathise with the government to keep the IBC away in a recessionary year. But one cannot ignore the dilution of the code, touted as among the biggest reforms.

 

AESTHETIC DHOKRA DECORATIVE PIECES

In News

  • Exquisite Dhokra products from different tribes of India were added in its 7th edition of “From Our Home to your Home” campaign on Tribes India, which focusses on sourcing new, natural, attractive as well as immunity-boosting tribal products and bringing them to the customer.

Dhokra style metal work

  • Non-ferrous metal casting style which uses the lost-wax technique
  • Reflect the simplicity and motifs of tribal and folk life.

Included products

  • Attractive statues of fish, elephants and hangers in the boat jail design from the Lohra tribes of Jharkhand.
  • From the Sadeibaraini tribals from Odisha, Ganesha statues, a mask of Goddess Durga and Lord Jagannath, a Buddha Jaali and beautiful diyas in different shapes.
  • Products from the Kattunayakan tribes of Tamil Nadu.
  • From the tribes of Assam, pure ghee, organic poha, pickles, raw honey have been sourced.

 

JSA II: CATCH THE RAIN AWARENESS GENERATION CAMPAIGN

In News

  • National Water Mission under Ministry of Jal Shakti in collaboration with Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan under Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has launched the JSA II: Catch the Rain Awareness Generation Campaign.

About

  • As a preparatory phase of JSA-II, the Ministry has involved Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangthan (NYKS) for undertaking ‘Catch the Rain’ awareness campaign to cover 623 districts.
  • It will run from mid-December 2020 to March 2021.
  • NYKS will undertake this awareness building campaign through various activities like conducting education & motivational programs, mass awareness campaigns, environment building including wall writing, banners & e-posters, knowledge competitions, demonstration activities like theme-based nukkadnataks& skits, branding & popularize the campaign by logos & printed IEC materials etc.
  • NYKS teams will also meet district administration, line departments and water agencies, hold meetings with Pradhans, local influencers and volunteers to further the cause and also prepare plans for the water conservation to be taken up in the next phase of the campaign.

Significance of campaign

  • NWM has launched a campaign Catch the rain” with tag line “catch the rain, where it falls, when it falls” in order to nudge all stake-holders to create Rain Water Harvesting Structures (RWHS) suitable to the climatic conditions and sub-soil strata to store rain water as rains falling in the four/five months of monsoon are the only source of water for most parts of the country.
  • Drives to make water harvesting pits, rooftop RWHS and check dams; removal of encroachments and de-silting of tanks to increase their storage capacity; removal of obstructions in the channels which bring water to them from the catchment areas; repairs to traditional water harvesting structures like step-wells and using defunct bore-wells and old wells to put the water back to aquifers etc, are some of the activities suggested to be taken up with peoples’ active participation under this campaign.
  • The collaboration with NYKS is a step to engage people at the grassroots through effective campaigning & IEC activities for implementation of the campaign.
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