The invisible tax: On hopes of smooth rebound of economy

The pandemic’s second wave may have subsided but hopes of a smooth rebound in the economy in tandem with easing restrictions remain muddled, with the inflation numbers for May compounding the problem. The soaring pace of rising prices, both retail and wholesale, in the month that saw widespread lockdown-like restrictions, has come as a negative surprise. Inflation based on the Wholesale Price Index is reckoned to have hit a 25-year record of nearly 13%, while retail inflation touched a six-month high of 6.3%. While runaway fuel prices, that include high excise duties and taxes, were a key factor in driving up both the inflation indices, they were not the only ones at work. Retail inflation in food hit a six-month high of 5%, from barely 2% in April, with pulses and eggs as well as edible oils leading the surge. ‘Fuel and light’ inflation hit 11.6%, the highest in over nine years, and no respite is in sight on this front as pump prices for petrol raced past ₹100 a litre in even more
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Bracing for a threat: On dangers of emerging coronavirus variants

An emerging form of the Delta variant called AY.1 is raising global concern. Five of India’s leading laboratories, since May, have submitted data to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) on its presence in India. Public Health England, a body in the United Kingdom, has said that of the 63 genomes in its repository as of June 7, six were from India. AY.1, or B.1.617.2.1, is a variant of Delta (B.1.617.2) and has all its characteristic mutations along with one called K417N. This particular one has previously been identified in the Beta variant (first detected in South Africa), which is an international variant of concern as it is highly infectious and known to reduce vaccine potency. The Delta variant is reportedly the most prevalent coronavirus variant in India and comprises close to a third of the genome samples, sourced from those with no international travel history, processed until late May. An additional concern with the K417N mutation is that some studies
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An elite club: On G-7 summit

The G-7 summit, at Carbis Bay, sent out two very strong messages. The first was driven by the United States’s new President Joseph Biden and his vow that “America is back” to take the lead on global challenges. The G-7 commitment to donate one billion coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries and to invest $12 trillion in their combined pandemic recovery plan depends on U.S. commitments for a large part. The special communiqué on “Open Societies” for the G-7 outreach, and the invitation to “fellow democracies” India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa are also an extension of his stated commitment to convening a Democracy Summit this year. Even the slogan for the G-7, “Build Back Better”, was a White House term to declare America’s economy and jobs recovery plan. The second message was the consensus amongst the seven-member countries on countering China. The final G-7 communiqué holds no less than four direct references to China, each negative, including criticising Beijing for its


Numero Uno: On Djokovic win at French Open

Novak Djokovic has always maintained that ending his career with the most number of Grand Slam titles is one of his prime motivations to keep playing tennis. In the Roland-Garros final on Sunday, he took a giant stride in realising this dream with a sensational come-from-behind five-set victory over the fast-rising Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas for his 19th Major, pulling him within one title of his celebrated rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It was the Serb’s second French Open trophy, making him only the third man in history (after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver) and first in the Open Era (post 1967) to win all four Slams at least twice. The rhythmic allure of the record aside, the sense of completeness and the feeling of sporting immortality it brings, even to a career as storied as Djokovic’s, is unparalleled. So will the 34-year-old’s semifinal victory over 13-time champion Nadal, the greatest of all clay-courters. That Djokovic had the tennis to challenge the Spaniard was never in


Origin unclear: On the source of the coronavirus

Over 17 months after WHO first reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China, scientists are yet to determine with certainty how the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged. Much like other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 too could have a natural origin or somehow escaped from the coronavirus research lab in Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. With no hard scientific evidence available to confirm the lab leak hypothesis, there are some scientific leads that support a natural origin. If it is a zoonotic spillover, the virus could have either directly crossed over from bats to humans or through an intermediate host. But till date, neither the bat species that hosts the SARS-CoV-2 virus nor the intermediate host has been found. China’s secrecy and delay in reporting the Wuhan outbreak and in finding the natural host or the intermediary have further fuelled the lab spillover hypothesis. Finding the host animal can be daunting. While the civet cat and dromedary camel were

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Counting the dead: On measuring excess deaths

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