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Current Affairs – 25 December 2020

BREXIT ACCORD

In News

  • Britain concluded a Brexit trade deal with the European Union (EU), before it exits the orbit of the 27-nation bloc, its biggest trading partner. Now, EU will deem the UK a “third country”.
  • Ties will now be based on the two sides’ 2020 divorce settlement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

About

  • The UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union, so the rules and regulations on trading everything from car parts to camembert cheese will change.
  • The deal announced means that this goods trade – roughly half of the $900 billion of annual EU-UK commerce – will remain free of tariffs and quotas.
  • The deal was negotiated on top of a formal Withdrawal Agreement reached last year, which ensured that extensive controls would not be put back on the sensitive border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
  • The third key element of the deal is dividing up fishing quotas between Britain and the EU.

Impact

  • Goods moving between the UK and the EU will be subject to customs and other controls, and extra paperwork is expected to cause major disruptions.
  • COVID-19 destroyed whole sectors across the Western world, neither the UK nor the EU’s 27 remaining members wanted another hit to their economies. A deal softens the blow of Brexit, though leaving the EU’s orbit will still hurt the world’s sixth-largest economy.
  • The deal does not envisage cooperation on the same level as before Brexit in many areas. Financial and business services, the backbone of UK exports, are only included to a small extent.
  • The same is true of cooperation on foreign policy, security and defence, while provisions for transport, energy and civil nuclear cooperation will be below current levels.
  • Mobile roaming, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, access to legal services, digital trade and public procurement are other areas where cooperation will be downgraded.
  • While the EU and the UK agreed not to require visas for travel, free movement of people will end.That means EU citizens going to the UK, and vice-versa, will be subject to border screening and no longer able to use biometric passports to cross swiftly through electronic gates.
  • The “deal” is actually a bundle: at the centre is a trade deal but there are also accompanying deals on fishing, law enforcement, transport, legal issues and data.
  • Law enforcement, for example, is important as the two sides share details about criminals, suspects and passports. Data is important for companies that store the data of citizens.
Positive Impact on India Negative Impact on India
Boost to trade ties between India and the UK.

Britain will now be free to discuss a bilateral trade pact with India.

More Indian tourists and Indian students can afford to go in Britain.

Brexit would weaken global growth and lead to a meaningful decline in commodity prices.

Once the dust settles, India may be seen to be a net gainer and inflows would continue to gravitate towards the Indian shores.

Rupee may depreciate because of the double effect of foreign fund outflow and dollar rise.

Prices of gold, electronic goods, among others may also increase.

Brexit will have a negative impact on the $108 billion Indian IT sector in the short term.

Foreign fund outflow and dollar rise.

 

INTANGIBLE HERITAGE

In News

  • Singapore’s vibrant street hawker culture was designated as UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as this culture is an important part of their national identity.
  • It is now part of a list that includes practices such as yoga from India, reggae music from Jamaica, Finland’s sauna culture and Turkey’s endangered whistled language.

Street hawking

  • Singapore’s street hawkers are an indelible part of the city-state’s local life, as seen in the hit film Crazy, Rich Asians (2018), which has scenes set in Newton Market, one of most popular late-night street food destinations.
  • It represents Singapore’s multiculturalism, with stalls selling cheap, delicious food of Chinese, Malay, Indian origins, among others.
  • The history of this culture goes back to the 1800s when Singapore became an important trading hub of the British empire. Immigrants from all across the region — China, India, the Malay archipelago — came here for employment opportunities, and many of them took to selling food on the streets.
  • After Singapore gained independence in 1965, in 1968, the authorities began to license street hawkers and move them to specially-built hawker centres, a process that continued until 1986.
  • National Environment Agency started the Incubation Stall Programme for aspiring street hawkers, the Hawkers’ Development Programme equips aspiring and existing street hawkers with relevant skills, such as social media marketing, and the Hawker’s Productivity Grant, which offers funding to individual stall owners to encourage them to be more productive by using automated equipment.
  • In 2016, Chinatown’s Liao Fan Hawker Chan, famous for its Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Roasted Pork Noodles, became the first hawker stall in the world to be awarded a Michelin star. Many other stalls in Singapore have since earned the coveted recognition, making them some of the cheapest Michelin-starred eateries in the world.

Struggling culture

  • Fewer and fewer young Singaporeans are keen to work the long, hard hours that a street hawking stall requires.
  • Rising costs of ingredients has made it increasingly unsustainable to sell high quality food that is cheap.
  • COVID-19 pandemic also hit Singapore’s street vendors hard. While community initiatives, such as Hawker Heroes SG, which offers a completely free delivery service to the worst-hit hawkers, have come up, the UNESCO announcement is expected to provide a much-required boost to this unique culture.

 

TSO KAR WETLAND COMPLEX

In News

  • India has added TsoKar Wetland Complex in Ladakh as its 42nd Ramsar site, which is a second one in the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh.

About

  • The Tso Kar Basin is a high-altitude wetland complex, consisting of two principal waterbodies:
    • Startsapuk Tso, a freshwater lake of about 438 hectares
    • Tso Kar itself, a hypersaline lake of 1800 hectares to the north, situated in the Changthang region of Ladakh
  • Tso Kar means white lake, because of the white salt efflorescence found on the margins due to the evaporation of highly saline water.
  • The Tso Kar Basin is an A1 Category Important Bird Area (IBA) as per Bird Life International and a key staging site in the Central Asian Flyway. It is also one of the most important breeding areas of the Black-necked Crane (Grusnigricollis) in India.
  • This IBA is also the major breeding area for Great Crested Grebe (Podicepscristatus), Bar-headed Geese (Anserindicus), Ruddy Shelduck (Tadornaferruginea), Brown-headed Gull (Larusbrunnicephalus), Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadriusmongolus) and many other species.
  • TsoMoriri or Lake Moriri or “Mountain Lake”, is a lake in the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh. It was notified in 2002 under the List of Ramsar Wetland sites under the Ramsar Convention.

 

SWACHHATA ABHIYAN

In News

  • Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment launched ‘Swachhata Abhiyan’, a mobile application to identify and geotag insanitary latrines and manual scavengers.

About

  • Through this ”Swachhata Abhiyan” app, it will provide the authorities concerned details of any insanitary latrine or manual scavenger they notice.
  • This would help in rehabilitating all manual scavengers and replace insanitary latrines with sanitary ones.
  • In the absence of any authentic data base regarding the location of insanitary latrines, it has been decided to seek the help of NGOs, Social Organisations and general public for collection and compilation of the data.

Manual Scavenging

  • Traditionally persons of a section of the society has been engaged or employed to clean undecomposed excreta from the dry latrines and latrines from which excreta is flushed into open drains. Such workers are called manual scavengers. Existence of the above mentioned type of insanitary latrines has been the main reason for manual scavenging.
  • Census 2011 reported existence of more than 26 Lakh insanitary latrines in the country. Existence of insanitary latrines is the main reason for manual scavenging.

Steps taken

  • “Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”mandates survey of insanitary latrines, their demolition and construction of sanitary latrines in their place.
  • Government has been implementing Swachh Bharat Mission for identification of insanitary latrines and construction of sanitary latrines in their place.
  • More than 9 crore sanitary latrines have been constructed under Swachh Bharat Mission. The country has been declared as open defecation free.
  • More than 66 thousand manual scavengers have been identified since 2013-14 through surveys by the States and also through a National survey in 194 districts.

Way Ahead

  • Despite construction of large number of sanitary latrines under Swachh Bharat Mission, there have been reports from social organisations about existence of insanitary latrines and manual scavengers in some isolated parts of the country.
  • Government is determined to identify all such insanitary latrines and manual scavengers and make the country insanitary latrine and manual scavenger free at the earliest.
  • Most of the insanitary latrines have been converted into sanitary latrines under the Swachh Bharat Mission implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Department of drinking water and Sanitation in urban and rural areas respectively. The country has been declared open defecation free.

 

ZOMI

In News

  • Manipur’s Zomi ethnic group has renewed its demand for the creation of Zoland Territorial Council (ZTC) under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, a self-administered zone on the lines of the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam.

About

  • The Zou people or Zomi are an indigenous community living along the frontier of India and Burma. They are a sub-group of the Zo people (Mizo-Kuki-Chin).
  • In India, they live with and are similar in language and habits to the Paite and the Simte peoples.
  • In India, the Zou are officially recognized as one of the thirty-three indigenous peoples within the state of Manipur, and are one of the Scheduled tribes.
  • According to the 2001 Census, the Zou/Jou population in Manipur is around 20,000, less than 3% of the population. The community is concentrated in Churachandpur and Chandel districts of Manipur.

 

MUTATED CORONAVIRUS VS TESTS AND VACCINES

In News

  • Due to the emergence of the new variant in the UK, called VUI 202012/01 (capable of transmitting faster among people) of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, one mutation has been of particular concern, N501Y. While the variant’s potential to impact testing and vaccination results are still being studied.

What is a mutation?

  • It means an alteration in genetic material. In an RNA virus like SARS-CoV-2, proteins are made of a sequence of amino acids.
  • Such a virus contains some 30,000 ‘base pairs’, which are like bricks placed next to each other to form a structure. An alteration in this base can be a mutation, effectively changing the shape and behaviour of the virus.
  • In the UK variant, one mutation has made the virus more likely to bind with human proteins called receptors. This is called N501Y.

What is N501Y?

  • The amino acid represented by the letter N, and present at position 501 in the coronavirus genetic structure, has been replaced in that position with another amino acid, represented by Y.
  • The position where this alteration has taken place is in the spike protein’s receptor-binding domain. (It is the spike protein of the virus that binds with the human receptor)
  • Therefore, the mutation has increased the binding affinity of the coronavirus.
  • Sequence analysis has shown that this mutation originated separately in the UK and South Africa.

Other coronavirus mutations

  • Mutations are common, but the majority of them cause no alteration in the structure of the proteins they encode — these are called ‘synonymous’ mutations, as they eventually translate to the same amino acids. Another type is ‘non-synonymous’ mutation, which could result in an amino acid change.
  • In the variant circulating in the UK, there are 6 and 14 synonymous and non-synonymous mutations respectively. There are three ‘deletions’ — amino acids removed from the sequence.
  • According the World Health Organization (WHO), other than N501Y, mutations that “may influence the transmissibility of the virus in humans” are P681H and HV 69/70.
P681H HV 69/70
  • Occurred in the amino acid present at 681 — another position in the receptor-binding domain.
  • The amino acid P has been replaced with H.
  • According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this is a site “with high variability in coronaviruses”, and this specific mutation has also emerged spontaneously multiple times.
  • The WHO has said this mutation is of “biological significance”.
  • This mutation can promote entry into respiratory epithelial cells and transmission in animal models.

 

 

  • This mutation is the result of a deletion of amino acids at positions 69 and 70. These positions are again in the spike protein of the virus.
  • According to the CDC, this double deletion has occurred spontaneously many times, and likely leads to a change in the shape of (i.e., a conformational change in) the spike protein”.
  • This deletion was also seen in a mink-associated outbreak in Denmark. In humans, this deletion has been associated with another mutation, N439K, which again occurred the receptor-binding domain.
  • The WHO has highlighted that this deletion can affect the performance of some RT-PCR tests that detect the novel coronavirus.

Impact on RT-PCR tests

  • According to WHO, the deletion at positions 69/70 has been found to affect the performance of some diagnostic PCR assays that use an ‘S gene target’ (in the ‘S’ or spike protein).
  • Most PCR assays worldwide use multiple targets and the impact of the variant on diagnostics is not anticipated to be significant.
  • According to CDC, most commercial PCR tests have multiple targets where they detect the virus, so that even if a mutation impacts one of the targets, the other PCR targets will still work.
  • Infection triggered by the new strain in the UK was detected by the RT-PCR test.

Impact on vaccine development

  • According to CDC, vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are “polyclonal”, producing antibodies that target several parts of the spike protein.
  • The virus would likely need to accumulate multiple mutations in the spike protein to evade immunity induced by vaccines or by natural infection.
  • According to WHO, Laboratory studies are ongoing to determine whether these variant viruses have different biological properties or alter vaccine efficacy. There is not enough information at present to determine if this variant is associated with any change in severity of clinical disease, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.
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