Managing an upheaval: On universal vaccination

A combination of panic, public pressure and comprehension of the magnitude of the crisis that India is in seems to have prompted the Centre to authorise vaccines to anyone above 18 and give States more control over procurement. This is despite the problems in scaling up production, and in the supply and management of vaccines amid the surge in cases. The step could not have been easy to take. For one, the processes initiated by the government in early January to expand India’s manufacturing capacity were under the assumption that it would be at least August before vaccines could be fully opened up for all. In December, it was announced that India’s priority would be to fully inoculate 300 million of the most vulnerable. Given that about 127 million doses have been administered, including a section of those above 45 without underlying health conditions, around 17 million have been fully inoculated — or about 5% of the intended beneficiaries. At the optimistic rate of three million doses

A league of their own: On Europe's biggest football clubs

The decision by 12 of Europe’s biggest football clubs to unveil a plan to launch The Super League, a multi-billion-dollar tournament to be played largely among a closed group of 20 teams has thrown the European game into turmoil. Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur from England, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain, and Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan from Italy have come together for an initiative “to put the game on a sustainable footing”. But the principal aim seems to be to upend the Champions League, the crown jewel among all competitions managed by European football’s governing body UEFA. That the announcement came just a day prior to UEFA announcing a reformatted Champions League starting from 2024 is no coincidence. The Super League will inevitably damage the domestic leagues in each of the countries. Currently, league positions decide who qualifies for the Champions League, whereas in the proposed

Saving lives: On health facilities in India

After painfully negotiating numerous hurdles during the first wave that peaked in mid-September last year, India appears to have learnt little as a more ferocious second wave is ravaging the country. Precious time was wasted before critical facilities began to be scaled up to meet the demands of the second wave that is accelerating at an unprecedented pace, leading to health-care facilities being overwhelmed; the number of deaths shows a sharp growth of 10.2%. A mad scramble for hospital beds, oxygen, medicines, vaccines and even a quick funeral are witnessed in many cities. If the mindless rush for convalescent plasma and hydroxychloroquine even in the absence of any evidence of benefit was seen last year, there is now hysteria to get remdesivir for hospitalised patients, leading to drug shortages. Though a small trial did show that the drug shortened the time to recovery, the World Health Organization’s large Solidarity trial found no evidence of its benefit in reducing mortality,


Vulnerability reminder: On credit-related corporate frauds

The U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel’s reported decision to allow fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi’s extradition to India, three years after state-owned Punjab National Bank admitted it had been defrauded to the tune of over ₹14,000 crore, serves as a reminder of the urgent need to address the banking system’s vulnerability to fraud. India’s lenders have had to contend not only with a sizeable share of sour loans but also a growing number and cumulative value of frauds. The RBI noted in its latest Annual Report, in August last year, that the total number of cases of fraud (minimum size of ₹1 lakh) at banks and financial institutions rose 28% by volume and surged 159%, or more than 2.5 times, by value to ₹1.85-lakh crore in the 12 months ended March 31, 2020. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may have likely slowed the cognisance of frauds since then, the trend from the preceding years is deeply troubling from multiple perspectives. With frauds mainly occurring in the loan portfolio,


Normal is good: On IMD monsoon forecast

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast a ‘normal’ monsoon for this year. In the agency’s parlance, normal implies that the country will get 96% to 104% of the 88 cm that it gets from June-September. This quantity, called the Long Period Average (LPA), is a mean of monsoon rainfall from 1961-2010. The IMD, for over 20 years now, follows a two-stage monsoon forecast system. After the prognosis in April, it gives an updated estimate in late May or early June. This includes an estimate of how much rain is likely in: northwest India, northeast India, central India and southern peninsula. Numbers are also given for July and August, which see two-thirds of the monsoon rains and are the most important months for sowing. This year, there will be forecasts for June and September too, to be given in May and August, respectively. Historically, predicting rain for June and September is challenging as it corresponds to the monsoon’s entry and exit. There will also be forecasts for

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