India formally approved the coronavirus vaccines developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca (and made by Serum Institute of India in India) and Bharat Biotech for emergency roll-out on Sunday.
The decision comes at a time of growing urgency as a mutant new strain threatens to make the pandemic harder to control.
Drugs Controller General of India – green light Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin - candidate has not yet demonstrated how effective it is in preventing disease
The candidate uses a tried-and-tested technique for making vaccines.
There are important caveats: this data, released on December 23, is yet to undergo peer review, relates only to findings in 190 people, and did not include anyone above the age of 65.
Vaccine makers give thousands of volunteers in phase III trials the dose or a placebo and wait to see who develops infections.
If, for instance, infections are lower by 50% in the vaccinated group, the efficacy rate comes to 50% -- the globally accepted benchmark for success.
Oxford-AstraZeneca took nearly six months to determine this; Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna almost four months.
In contrast, Covaxin’s late-stage trials began only one-and-a-half month ago, its efficacy rate is unknown, and the period may be too short to map all possible side-effects.
Authorities indicated that Covaxin will be used only if there is a shortage and if the new mutation takes hold.
Turning point | Ind Exp
The emergency use approval is conditional on the vaccine developers submitting details of any adverse effect to the drug regulator, every 15 days.
A factsheet with safety details will also be provided to those receiving the first lot of vaccines.
The dry runs conducted by the Centre in different parts of the country on January 2 also provided a glimpse of the government’s efforts to acquaint people with the vaccine, and its effects.
The health authorities will need to remain alert
The government has begun registering the first list of beneficiaries.
The government plans to inoculate 27-crore people — those with co-morbidities and above the age of 50 — in the next phase.
Public health history is witness to misinformation being the Achilles’ heel of inoculation drives.
After Brexit | ToI
The UK’s exit from the European single market and customs union is a major international development.
London is now free to chart its own course.
With the global order already transforming due to the rise of an assertive China and the Covid-induced pandemic, London could play a key role in upholding democratic, liberal values, and building back the global economy better.
Multilateralism is on its last legs as reciprocity becomes the watchword – thanks in large part due to the distrust created by China gaming trade rules.
But the economic recovery from Covid necessitates that countries like India and the UK – both of whom have seen substantial economic contractions over the past year – work on bilateral and plurilateral trade deals with a strategic vision.
There already exists much complementarity between the two sides as exemplified by the partnership between Oxford University-AstraZeneca and Serum Institute on the Covid vaccine.
But the two countries must display pragmatic flexibility to achieve a deal and not repeat the bureaucratic wrangles that stalled the India-EU trade talks after 16 rounds.
In fact, an India-UK FTA should serve as a template for a future India-EU deal.
Having sat out the RCEP trade agreement over concerns on China, India must build economic bridges elsewhere, particularly with the Western world whose capital and technology offer the key to its transformation.
Beijing just concluded an investment deal with the EU.
India and Biden | Tribune
When Donald Trump visited India in February last year, bilateral ties were elevated to a ‘comprehensive global strategic partnership’.
It mainly meant that defence imports from the US were galloping and that White House acknowledged India as the most useful regional power.
The ever-looming shadow of Pakistan over Indo-US ties had finally been overtaken by the realisation in Washington that Islamabad is important only in the context of Afghanistan but India’s external canvas is exponentially wider.
But there has been no economic concession of any kind, including restoring duty-free access to Rs 40,000 crore of Indian exports.
Ever since the US-India Defense Framework Agreement was renewed during Barack Obama’s visit in 2015, defence and security have occupied centre stage at each and every high level interaction.
Quad has met four times in the past 18 months, but only US-India Economic and Financial Partnership dialogue was held in this period.
The US-India Trade Policy Forum, said to be a key pillar of the strategic relationship, went comatose earlier.
In the energy sector, plans for tie-ups in low-carbon alternatives and renewable energy exports have been overtaken by a simple buyer-seller relationship of petroleum.
The US private sector capital is yet to meet the expectations of India’s infrastructure needs.
The only Indian apprehension with regard to the Biden administration seems to be a hard-press on human rights and majoritarianism.
But ties should also not be straitjacketed into a couple of verticals.
Dubai is open, & safe | Pioneer
The world spent the past 10 months sitting bored at home, in self-isolation, self-captivity or, worse, quarantine.
Dubai comes to mind as the most prominent of such rare addresses; the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reopened to visitors, though a valid health insurance and negative COVID test are still mandatory for all arrivals.
The UAE has suffered its own COVID-19 surges, peaking in May and again in mid-September, but has a relatively low incidence rate compared to most urban centres.
It has done a good job in containing the virus, with only 662 deaths recorded as of December 30.
The UAE initiated a swift lockdown early on and, after adopting virus prevention measures, Dubai’s resorts have re-opened as swiftly — and safely.
Having had to wear a mask on board the airplane, the arrivals need to do the same in every public space or face a 3,000 dirham ($817) fine.
The city is religiously following all health-related norms, procedures and measures to ensure that every single tourist’s health concerns are rigorously and vigorously addressed; and while those masks can prove irritating in the UAE heat, it’s good to know you’re in a country with a relatively low infection rate.
A tortuous recovery
The GST collections in the last month of 2020, of over ₹1.15-lakh crore, come as welcome tidings.
With revenue receipts at just 40% of the Budget target in the first eight months of 2020-21, the government would hope that December’s indirect tax inflow, the highest since the indirect tax regime’s launch in July 2017, shall sustain over the last quarter of the year.
GST inflows have now stayed above ₹1-lakh crore for three months in a row, averaging ₹1.05-lakh crore through October and November, before the December spike.
But new GST rules, effective January 1, are expected to tighten GST compliance further so that part of the revenue booster should persist.
Second, the GST on imports grew a robust 27% in November, even though overall merchandise imports contracted 13.33%.
Similarly, car sales surged for the fifth month in a row in December, which should not only boost the GST receipts in January but also bring in precious compensation cess.
Core sectors recorded yet another contraction in November, with cement and steel slipping back after a minor uptick.
New investments in the October to December 2020 quarter declined a whopping 88% from a year ago, as per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
Employment levels declined significantly in October, followed by almost 35 lakh job losses in November and continue to deteriorate through December, CMIE reckons.
The Centre needs to address some of these challenges — in the coming Union Budget or outside — to recover lost ground faster.
Don’t ignore the women farmers
Eminent agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan once said, “Some historians believe that it was women who first domesticated crop plants and thereby initiated the art and science of farming. While men went out hunting in search of food, women started gathering seeds from the native flora and began cultivating those of interest from the point of view of food, feed, fodder, fibre and fuel.”
In India, whenever we talk about agriculture, we think of men as farmers.
According to the agricultural census, 73.2% of rural women are engaged in farming activities but only 12.8% own landholdings.
Due to cultural, social and religious forces, women have been denied ownership of land.
This stems from the perception that farming is a man’s profession.
The India Human Development Survey reports that 83% of agricultural land in the country is inherited by male members of the family and less than 2% by their female counterparts.
Besides, 81% of women agricultural labourers belong to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes, so they also contribute to the largest share of casual and landless labourers.
Govt names them ‘cultivators’ or ‘agricultural labourers’ but not ‘farmers’.
So they are out of benefit circle: loans for cultivation, loan waivers, crop insurance, subsidies or even compensation to their families in cases where they commit suicide.
It is clear that farmers will have no bargaining power in the corporatisatisation of agriculture, where corporates will decide the price with no safety net or adequate redressal mechanism for the farmers.
Consequently, the small marginal and medium farmers will be forced to sell their land to big agro-businesses and become wage labourers.
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