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

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

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

Judicial intervention in response to the Union government’s flailing response to the health crisis has reached its apotheosis with the Supreme Court order forming a 12-member national task force for the effective and transparent allocation of medical oxygen to the States and Union Territories “on a scientific, rational and equitable basis”. Making recommendations on augmenting the supply based on present and projected demands and facilitating audits by sub-groups within each State and UT is also part of its remit. The Court has also mandated it to review and suggest measures for ensuring the availability of essential drugs and remedial measures to meet future emergencies during the pandemic. In other words, the national task force has become a judicially empowered group that may significantly guide the handling of the health crisis set off by the second pandemic wave. Faced with proceedings in High Courts relating to the allocation and availability of oxygen, the Centre submitted that


Assam discord: On BJP’s brand of identity politics

A combination of welfarism, communalism and smart though daring alliances helped the BJP win a second consecutive term in Assam. The party and its allies, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), won 75 of the 126 seats in the State. A 10-party alliance, or Mahajot, around the Congress-AIUDF axis turned out to be no match for the BJP. A third front of Assamese nationalists, the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal, could win only one seat. The Congress and AIUDF have accused it of helping the BJP. The BJP performed well in Upper Assam, and the Barak Valley, though marginally weaker than its 2016 performance. With its newfound ally UPPL, the BJP outperformed the Mahajot, which had the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) as a constituent in the Bodo region. The AIUDF-Congress alliance swept Lower Assam, but overall, they ended up with a net loss by joining hands. The BJP campaign focused on the imaginary prospect of AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal becoming the

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

Hat-trick: On Mamata’s third term

A lending hand: On RBI and the second wave

DMK returns: On Tamil Nadu Assembly poll results

Keeping Left: On Kerala Assembly election results

A transient high: On GST inflows

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