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,

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.

Editorial

On the edge: On international pressure on Israel

The ongoing violence in Jerusalem is a culmination of the tensions building up since the start of Ramzan in mid-April. When Israeli police set up barricades at the Damascus Gate, a main entrance to the occupied Old City, preventing Palestinians from gathering there, it led to clashes. Last week, close to a scheduled Israeli Supreme Court hearing on the eviction of Palestinian families in an Arab neighbourhood of Jerusalem, tensions escalated. Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif compound (Noble Sanctuary), which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, to disperse the protesters, injuring hundreds of Palestinians. A Jewish settlement agency has issued eviction notices to Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, claiming that their houses sit on land purchased by Jewish agencies in the late 19th century (when historic Palestine was a part of the Ottoman Empire). Arab families have been living in Sheikh Jarrah for generations. The Israeli Supreme Court postponed the

Editorial

Lockdown gains: On need to augment health system

Several States have done the inevitable, going into a strict lockdown for a fortnight to arrest India’s calamitous descent into COVID-19 hell since mid-March. The horror of sweeping infections, severe disease and staggering death rates has made a lockdown a popular measure, unlike last year’s imposition on an ill-prepared nation. Public acceptance of restrictions comes with the realisation that the threat to life from a mutating virus has aggravated manifold, although the spread of the scourge, from about 9,000 new daily cases in early February this year to over 4,00,000 in May, was brought about mainly by wrong messaging, massive political rallies and large religious events. After having been failed, what people now look forward to are measures that draw insights not from crude policing, but public health research. Unlike in 2020, the evidence is also stronger: WHO explains that SARS-CoV-2 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets and aerosols produced when people cough, sneeze,

Outreach and overreach: On judicial intervention

Assam discord: On BJP’s brand of identity politics

A difficult union: On All India NR Congress-BJP alliance in Puducherry

Against excess: On Maratha quota

Sudden death: On IPL 2021

DMK returns: On Tamil Nadu Assembly poll results

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