Examination priorities: On annual exams amid the pandemic

The decision to put off the CBSE Class 12 public examination and cancel the Class 10 examination at the end of a disrupted academic year brings much-needed relief to anxious students caught on the crest of the second COVID-19 wave. Unlike last year’s first phase of the pandemic, the ongoing wild spread covers young people as well. The age cohort of those infected now includes even 15-year-olds, according to the Health Ministry. It is a wise move on the Centre’s part to keep this risk group out of harm’s way, reducing the possibility of school-based clusters and onward spread to older age groups who have shielded themselves so far. The onus is now on State governments, some of which have already initiated the examination schedule, to similarly recognise the growing crisis and display flexibility in reconsidering dates. Kerala had, for instance, postponed its SSLC and higher secondary level examinations due to the State election, but these got under way immediately thereafter. Tamil

Twin troubles: On prices and industrial production

The latest official data on retail prices and industrial production released on Monday provide cause for disquiet, given that inflation continues to accelerate and output at the country’s factories contracted for a second straight month. While inflation quickened to a four-month high of 5.52% in March, as per provisional data from the National Statistical Office, the NSO’s quick estimates of the Index of Industrial Production for February show output including at mines, the manufacturing sector and electricity generators shrank 3.6%, following on from January’s 0.9% contraction. Consumer Price Index numbers show that stubbornly high food and fuel costs remain the main drivers of price pressures. Pulses and edible oils, key kitchen staples and vital nutritional sources for proteins and fats, have been climbing almost dizzyingly for the last few months, a fact not lost on the RBI. While inflation in pulses accelerated to 13.3%, from 12.5% in February, oils and fats saw a more than 400
Editorial

Another beginning: On vaccine vigilance

As India grapples with a vaccine shortage, the Drug Controller General of India has formally approved another vaccine candidate — Sputnik V — under emergency use authorisation. Since January, India’s vaccination strategy has hinged almost entirely on Covishield — the AstraZeneca vaccine — and to a very limited extent, Covaxin. Another significant move by the government is in allowing foreign-made vaccines approved by regulatory agencies in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Japan or those that find mention in the World Health Organization’s list of approved emergency use vaccines which can avoid conducting a local clinical trial but opt for a parallel bridging trial post-approval. Last year, Pfizer had approached Indian regulators for permission but a sticking point was over this question of the conduct of local trials. It is important to note that bridging trials are critical. A vaccine that is approved in a different country may have untoward effects in another population. Past learnings

Editorial

A small step: On abortion law amendments

Emancipation is seldom a linear progression to the finish; the hurdles are many, some entrenched in the mind. The passing of amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in India recently is a step forward in recognising the rights of women, but is no giant leap. It does push the envelope way past how far the now antediluvian MTP Act of 1971 went, primarily by allowing the termination of pregnancy beyond 24 weeks if there are foetal anomalies. However, it also sets the decision on the shoulders of a medical board formed by State governments for this specific purpose. The amended Act also allows the termination of pregnancy until 20 weeks based on the opinion of one qualified doctor, an improvement from the consensus between the two doctors clause that was previously required. As per the amendment, unmarried women can also terminate their pregnancy, and by replacing the word ‘husband’ with the word ‘partner’, it, for the first time, takes the dialogue outside the

Editorial

Salvaging strategy: On scaling up COVID-19 vaccinations

India’s aggressive second wave of coronavirus infections marked by over 1,50,000 cases a day and many deaths is clearly the result of irrational exuberance early in the new year. After prematurely assuming that COVID-19 was virtually over, governments made rash decisions to allow large religious gatherings and political campaigns with little regard for disease control. The lapse is now threatening a nascent economic recovery. Rather than view the crisis as a political setback, the government should focus on a mitigation strategy that will not hobble the economy, while stopping the wildfire spread of the virus. A key intervention would be to protect the labour force through a scaling up of vaccinations in industry and workplaces. Employers must also be encouraged to retain or opt for staggered working hours and work-from-home protocols. The national vaccination strategy, however, remains inscrutable and non-transparent, since more vaccines, including WHO-approved ones, remain

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