State action: On Centre’s role in COVID-19 fight

India’s national positivity rate, or the proportion of tested cases returning positive, is around 21%. Moreover, 533 of the 734 districts have reported positivity greater than 10%. There are 26 States that had more than 15% positivity, nine with over 25% and 10 with 20%-25% positivity. Couple that with the faltering vaccination drive, and the picture is far from pretty. On April 12, India administered 3.7 million doses of vaccine and after April 26, it has failed to administer over 3 million doses a day. Ever since the vaccine drive was expanded to all adults over 18, on May 1, the maximum number of daily doses administered has been 2.4 million. This, even as daily new cases added continue to be above 380,000 and deaths close to 4,000 a day. The oxygen crisis continues and the pandemic has now established itself in rural India in lethal proportions, with macabre reports of bodies surfacing in the Ganga in the stretch from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar. All of these point to the fact that

Protecting prisoners: On overcrowding of prisons

If overcrowding of prisons has been a perennial problem in this country, high occupancy levels can only mean bad news amidst a pandemic. The Supreme Court has been intervening from time to time to address this problem, but its latest order directing the interim release of eligible prisoners acquires salience in view of the uncontrolled second surge in the raging pandemic. Last year, the Court had passed such an order quite early — the one of March 23, 2020 came even before the nation-wide lockdown. The Court had then ordered all States to take preventive steps as well as constitute high-powered committees to determine the class of prisoners who could be released on bail or parole for a specified period. In directing this week that besides identifying more prisoners for release, the same set of prisoners be given parole this year too, the Court continues its trend of seeking to protect prisoners as well as those guarding them from getting infected. There have been significant
Editorial

A matter of concern: On Indian coronavirus variant

The Indian variant, B.1.617 and its family of related coronaviruses have been categorised as a Variant of Concern (VOC) by WHO, a classification which will now prompt greater international scrutiny of those who test positive overseas. While there are several so-called ‘variants of interest’, only three, other than the B.1.617, have been categorised as VOC — the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), the South Africa variant (B.1.351) and the Brazilian variant (P2). Usually, in countries that detect emergent variants, it is the health authorities there who flag them as potential VOC. To qualify as one, the identified variant must be linked to increased transmission or be associated with more severe disease or found to be evading detection by diagnostic tests. Concerns that the B.1.617 may be playing a role in disease spread in India were expressed by scientists by mid-March. The INSACOG, or the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomic Consortia, had flagged a variant with two concerning mutations, E484Q and L452R,

Editorial

Losing trust: On K.P. Sharma Oli and Nepal politics

Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s loss of a trust vote in Parliament on Monday comes at a particularly crucial time. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has not only ravaged India but has also begun to affect its landlocked neighbour Nepal, leaving citizens reeling under oxygen shortages, spikes in the daily case load, and fatalities. Political instability is the last thing Nepal needs now, but the trust vote did little to resolve the issue of who will take over the role of leading the government. Mr. Oli won just 93 votes in the 271-strong House of Representatives where only 232 turned up to vote, with 124 voting against him and 15 members staying neutral. The leading party in the Opposition, the Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, with 61 members voted against Mr. Oli along with the Pushpa Kumar Dahal-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) with 49 votes. The Maoists had just recently de-merged from the Nepal Communist Party after a Supreme Court ruling

Editorial

Vaccine skirmishes: On production of COVID-19 vaccine

The Biden administration’s announcement that it would support a waiver on intellectual property rights (IPR) for the production of COVID-19 vaccines appeared to catch the world off-guard, on both sides of the argument. The original proposal for the relaxation of TRIPS for such vaccines in the context of the ongoing pandemic was drafted at the WTO by India and South Africa last year. Months before it was tabled, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, erstwhile candidate Joe Biden vowed that should he win, he would “absolutely positively” commit to sharing vaccine technology with countries that needed it, perhaps anticipating the deep chasm of inequality in vaccine access. Now that his administration has proclaimed its intent to fulfil that promise, it must come as a bitter realisation that what sounds like a well-intentioned, pro-developing-countries policy stance has been rebuffed by major EU nations and met with counter-suggestions that might make even the most liberal U.S.

On the edge: On international pressure on Israel

Lockdown gains: On need to augment health system

Outreach and overreach: On judicial intervention

Hat-trick: On Mamata’s third term

A lending hand: On RBI and the second wave

Against excess: On Maratha quota

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