This team has concluded that SARS-CoV-2 virus is NOT a product from a laboratory in China’s Wuhan
A group of 27 prominent scientists from outside China “strongly condemned conspiracy theories” in a letter published in The Lancet
Scientists have not found any sign of direct human influence
Wuhan is miles from any natural bat habitat
Role of an intermediary host species
The team has not been able to confirm the intermediary host.
The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists from the China CDC found evidence of human-to-human transmission as early as mid-December 2019, which again suggests virus circulation weeks before it was identified in Wuhan.
China officially confirmed human-to-human transmission only in mid-January.
As in the case of the SARS outbreak in the 2000s, China again failed to be truly transparent during the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.
Picking up pace | Ind Exp
Ministry of Finance: “a sustained and strengthening economic recovery continues to be witnessed in January 2021 across key high frequency indicators.”
In its first advance estimates, the National Statistical Office had pegged the economy to contract marginally by 0.1 per cent in the second half of the year.
The PMI manufacturing index rose to 57.7 in January, up from 56.4 the month before.
The PMI services index also rose, although modestly, to 52.8 in January, up from 52.3 in December.
Nomura’s India Business Resumption Index also inched up to 96.5 in the week ending February 7, up from 94.4 in the previous week, signalling that economic activities remain only 3.5 percentage points below the pre-pandemic levels.
On the consumption side too, the indicators point to an uptick.
GST revenues stood at Rs 1.2 lakh crore in January — the highest level recorded since the tax was introduced in 2017.
Non-oil non-gold imports grew for the second straight month in January, indicating a pick-up in domestic demand
And while railway freight traffic grew by 8.7 per cent in January over last year, vehicle registrations till January 18 were at 47.2 per cent of levels recorded last year.
In its December monetary policy review, the RBI had pegged the economy to grow at 0.7 per cent in the last quarter of the financial year, up from 0.1 per cent in the third quarter.
Absence of a surge in infection rates, the current momentum in activities, suggests that growth may well be higher.
A smoother and faster rollout of the vaccination programme will help shore up demand for high-contact services, providing a fillip to growth.
Disinformation is a cybersecurity threat
Cybersecurity focuses on protecting and defending computer systems, networks, and our digital lives from disruption.
Nation-state actors, ideological believers, violent extremists, and economically motivated enterprises manipulate the information ecosystem to create social discord, increase polarisation, and in some cases, influence the outcome of an election.
The lack of coordination between teams leaves a huge gap that is exploited by malicious actors.
Cognitive hacking is a threat from disinformation and computational propaganda.
This attack exploits psychological vulnerabilities, perpetuates biases, and eventually compromises logical and critical thinking, giving rise to cognitive dissonance.
Revolutions throughout history have used cognitive hacking techniques to a significant effect to overthrow governments and change society.
COVID-19 disinformation campaigns have prevented people from wearing masks, using potentially dangerous alternative cures, and not getting vaccinated, making it even more challenging to contain the virus.
Deep fakes add a whole new level of danger to disinformation campaigns.
We can learn from decades of experience in the cybersecurity domain to defend, protect and respond, and find effective and practical solutions to counter and intervene in computational propaganda and infodemics.
The defense-in-depth model identifies disinformation actors and removes them.
A critical component of cybersecurity is education.
Technology industry, civil society and the government should coordinate to make users aware of cyber threat vectors such as phishing, viruses, and malware.
More than 1,000 entities have signed the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, for stability and security in the information space.
Similarly, 52 countries and international bodies have signed the Christchurch Call to Action to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.
Denying women the right over their bodies
Recently, Argentina’s Congress legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy.
The Indian Parliament too will consider an amendment to our abortion laws this Budget Session but unlike the Argentina law which is touted as being historic.
The MTP Act of 1971 was framed in the context of reducing the maternal mortality ratio due to unsafe abortions.
It allows an unwanted pregnancy to be terminated up to 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires a second doctor’s approval if the pregnancy is beyond 12 weeks.
Further, it only allows termination when there is a grave risk to the physical or mental health of the woman or if the pregnancy results from a sex crime such as rape or intercourse with a mentally challenged woman.
Suppose a woman has had voluntary sex and she decides, for personal reasons, to end her pregnancy.
If she is 24 weeks pregnant, then this would be a criminal offence.
So, she moves the court under the condition that the pregnancy was affecting her mental health.
However, here the court can refuse her despite the woman’s choice to end it.
While the current Bill provides that safe abortions can be performed at any stage of the pregnancy in case of foetal “abnormalities,” it fails to consider any other reason such as personal choice, a sudden change in circumstances due to separation from or death of a partner, and domestic violence.
True spirit | Pioneer
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emotive speech in the Rajya Sabha proved again that he is a sensible person driven by strong emotions and love for millions of countrymen.
The way he choked up a couple of times while bidding farewell to leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad is what makes him stand out.
What happened in the House of Elders is enough to reflect the true strength of our parliamentary democracy.
However, the display of such emotions or camaraderie and respect for leaders cutting across party line is not unprecedented.
Even earlier, in 1994, then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao requested Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a member of the Opposition at the time, to lead the Indian delegation at a crucial United Nations (UN) meeting in Geneva, and Vajpayee agreed and played an important role at the session.
However, Modi and Azad — sitting across each other in the Upper House — shared the spirit of working together in national interest, which made them transcend party or petty politics.
Azad also referred to the incident in emotionally charged words, and said that when he reads about the situation in Pakistan, he feels proud to be a “Hindustani Muslim”.
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