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11,12 may 21 The Hindu

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, that separately had been found in other variants elsewhere. INSACOG said they now seemed to appear together on a variant that was linked to a large fraction of cases in Maharashtra and began to be called ‘double mutant’ or even ‘triple mutant’ (as it also had another important mutation, P614R).

In March nearly 20% of the cases out of Maharashtra, which has consistently been among the most afflicted States, were being linked to the variant. However, it was in early April that this variant became formally classified as a lineage, B.1.617. It was only after the U.K.’s labelling it as a VOC that it was called so by health authorities in India. In fact, unlike the United States’s CDC or Public Health England, India still does not have a classification criterion for labelling viruses as variants of interest, or concern. Classifying variants is not just a matter of mere academic interest. Based on the prevalence, some variants may go on to become the dominant strain in a region or multiple geographies. It then becomes the responsibility of vaccine companies to check whether their vaccines continue to be effective. Such studies have already begun in India, but while laboratory studies show that vaccines continue to be effective, some of the emerging variants do seem to be better at evading antibodies. Along with monitoring reinfections and cases of breakthrough infections (testing positive after being double inoculated), flagging variants must be seen as a crucial health response. Detecting newer variants does not always merit radical changes in public health response — such as masking up — but they go a long way in reminding people to continue being alert, viewing vaccines as an important defence but not a magic pill, and keeping health authorities on their toes.

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1.Mutations (N)-a significant and basic alteration. परिवर्तन

2.Afflicted (Adj)-grievously affected especially by disease. पीड़ित

3.Lineage (N)-a sequence of species each of which is considered to have evolved from its predecessor.

4.Criterion (N)-a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided. मानदंड

5.Prevalence (N)-common and existing in large numbers. प्रसार

6.Inoculated (V)-treat with a vaccine to produce immunity against a disease; vaccinate. टीका

7.Masking Up (Phrasal Verb)-to put on a mask.

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🛑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 hearing on Monday on the advice of the government. Despite the volatile situation, the Israeli authorities gave permission to the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March, traditionally taken out by Zionist youth through the Muslim Quarter of East Jerusalem to mark the city’s capture by the Israelis. More violence broke out ahead of the march on Monday morning.

Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel, which captured the western part of the city in the 1948 first Arab-Israel war and the eastern half in the 1967 Six-Day War, claims sovereignty over the whole city whereas the Palestinians say East Jerusalem should be the capital of their future state. Most countries have not recognised Israel’s claim over the city and are of the view that its status should be resolved as part of a final Israel-Palestine settlement. Israel’s tactic till now has been to hold on to the status quo through force. A peace process is non-existent and the Palestinians are divided and weak. With carte blanche from the Trump administration, Israel expanded its settlements and extended repression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The move to evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem is seen as an attempt to forcibly expand Jewish settlements in the Arab neighbourhoods of the Old City. Israel’s actions have triggered condemnations from across the world, but it is unlikely to mend its ways. The international community, which largely overlooked Israel’s violent repression of Palestinians, should pressure Tel Aviv to at least treat the Palestinians with dignity, if not to ease the yoke of the occupation. U.S. President Joe Biden has said that America’s commitment to human rights would be at the centre of his foreign policy. In West Asia, he faces a reality check.

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1.Set Up (Phrasal Verb)-place or erect something in position.

2.Eviction (N)-expulsion, removal, ouster, deportation, banishment. बेदखली

3.Broke Out (Phrasal Verb)-to begin or arise suddenly.

4.Sovereignty (N)-supreme power or authority. संप्रभुता

5.Status Quo (N)-the present situation or condition.

6.Carte Blanche (N)-complete freedom to do something.

7.Repression (N)-the use of force or violence to control a group of people. दमन

8.Territories (N)-an area of land under the jurisdiction of a ruler or state. राज्य क्षेत्र

9.Condemnations (N)-the expression of very strong disapproval; censure. निन्दा

10.Yoke (N)-an oppressive force or burden. दमनकारी शासन

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🛑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. Democrats uncomfortable. The first pushback salvo came from Germany which said that it would create “severe complications” for the production of vaccines, echoing the view of major pharma corporations. While French President Emmanuel Macron had appeared relatively less hostile to considering the proposal earlier, he lashed out at the “Anglo-Saxons” for impeding vaccine availability globally by blocking the export of ingredients.

There are merits to the argument that an IPR waiver, even if it were to become a reality, may not entirely resolve the vaccine deficit issue in countries suffering the worst of the pandemic now. First, the grant of a waiver would have to be accompanied by a “tech transfer” that provides generic pharmaceutical manufacturers with the requisite trained personnel, raw materials and hi-tech equipment and production know-how. Second, there must be a scientifically convincing answer to the question of how any vaccine then produced by these generic manufacturers — in all likelihood, years from now — would pass the tests of safety, immunogenicity and protective efficacy. Third, the impact on global supply chains for vaccine production should be examined so major disruptions might be avoided. Finally, alternative options to urgently address vaccine shortfalls should be considered, including developed nations sharing a significantly greater part of their vaccine stockpiles, particularly in cases where the latter exceed projected domestic need. Indeed, there is speculation that the intention behind Mr. Biden’s waiver proclamation might be in favour of the last outcome, essentially a tactic to persuade pharmaceutical companies to accept less painful measures including sharing some of their technology willingly, agreeing to joint ventures to increase global production expeditiously, and simply produce more doses at affordable prices to donate directly to where the need is most severe, especially India.

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1.Off-Guard (Phrase)-Unprepared for a surprise or difficulty.

2.Vowed (V)-solemnly promise to do a specified thing.

3.Anticipating (V)-regard as probable; expect or predict. आशंका

4.Chasm (N)-a wide difference in interests or feelings.

5.Rebuffed (V)-reject (someone or something) in an abrupt or ungracious manner. अस्वीकार कर दिया

6.Pushback (N)-a negative or unfavourable reaction or response.

7.Lashed Out (Phrasal Verb)-to criticize vehemently.

8.Know-How (N)-practical knowledge and ability. तकनीकी जानकारी, अनुभव, तजरबा

9.Immunogenicity (N)-the property of eliciting an immune response. प्रतिरक्षाजनत्व

10.Expeditiously (Adv)-with speed and efficiency. शीघ्रता से

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