02 January 2021
A) SII’s Covishield vaccine set for emergency use approval.
Serum Institute of India’s (SII) vaccine candidate, Covishield, is set for approval by the Subject Expert Committee of the Drug Controller General of India (DGC), an informed source confirmed this. SII has partnered with AstraZeneca to bring to market the Oxford vaccine, which was approved by health authorities in the United Kingdom on Wednesday. The committee meeting is also reviewing an application by Bharat Biotech for its vaccine candidate Covaxin. Both SII and Bharat Biotech are testing the vaccine in ongoing phase-3 trials in India. For Covishield’s appraisal process, it was the nod by the UK regulator and data from a phase-2 trial in India on 100 volunteers that were relied on to accord emergency use approval. Covishield is currently being tested on 1,600 volunteers as part of its phase 2/3 trial. However, the results from these trials haven’t been published or publicized in scientific journals.
B) Farmers to escalate protest if deadlock continues on January 4.
Farmers groups say they plan to intensify their protest if the Centre does not take a firm decision on the repeal of the three farm laws during the next round of talks on Monday. Speaking to journalists after an internal meeting on Friday, Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SMK) leaders threatened to shut down malls and petrol pumps in Haryana, hold a tractor march on the Kundli-Manesar highway, and march further towards Delhi on the highway from Jaipur unless their demands are met. Tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting on the borders of Delhi for 37 straight days. After six rounds of talks with the Centre, they have reached in-principle agreements on issues related to stubble-burning and power subsidies, but there has been a deadlock on the major demands to repeal the three Central laws and provide a legal guarantee for procurement of crops at minimum support prices. The government seems to be taking the farmers’ protest lightly. In Shaheen Bagh, they were able to disperse the protestors, so they think they can do the same thing with us. But that will not happen, said Bharatiya Kisan Union-Tikait group general secretary Yudhvir Singh. If the government does not take a decision on January 4, then the farmers will have to take a decision, he added. Bhartiya Kisan Sangharsh Samiti leader Vikas Sisar said the protestors will announce dates to shut down all malls, petrol pumps, and toll plazas in Haryana if the deadlock continues. He added that leaders of the BJP and its ally Jannayak Janata Party would face continuous protests in the state. This is part of the SMK’s strategy to target NDA members and pressure them to quit the alliance and sever their partnership with the BJP in support of the farmers, they said. Only five per cent of our issues have been discussed so far. The farmers movement is now in a decisive phase. At the talks on December 30, the tail has come out, but the full elephant is yet to come out, said Yadav. Meanwhile, a group of 866 academics issued a statement in favour of the farm reforms, saying that the three contentious laws seek to free farm trade from all restriction and enable farmers for all transaction at competitive prices. The letter, publicised by the Education Ministry, was signed by eight vice chancellors of Central universities, apart from other professors.
C) Markets hit record highs on first day of 2021.
The BSE Sensex soared to record highs while the NSE Nifty closed above the 14,000-mark for the first time on Friday as markets continued their record run in the new year amid robust buying in IT, auto and FMCG stocks. Extending its record-setting streak for the fifth day, the 30-share BSE Sensex rose by 117.65 points or 0.25% to close at a fresh lifetime high of 47,868.98. This is the eighth consecutive day of gains for the barometer and it has climbed by around 5% since December 22. The broader Nifty closed at an all-time high of 14,018.50, showing gains of 36.75 points or 0.26% over its previous close. Among major Sensex gainers, ITC rose the most, by 2.32%, followed by TCS, M&M and SBI.
D) PM unveils project for affordable housing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday laid the foundation stone of six Light House Projects in six cities as part of the Global Housing Technology Challenge-India (GHTC-lndia) initiative. The aim of the programme is to build around 1,000 houses each in Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Rajkot (Gujarat), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Agartala (Tripura) and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) over a period of 12 months. Modern construction practices from countries such as France, Germany and Canada would be adopted. Addressing the Chief Ministers, Governors and other officials of the respective States via videoconference, Mr. Modi said the country was getting new technologies for providing resilient, and comfortable housing for the poor and the middle class. The cooperation extended by the States was strengthening cooperative federalism, he said. The GHTC provided the scope for incubating new technologies for construction and innovation, he pointed out, and called upon planners, architects and students to visit the project sites, learn from the technologies, and mould them for use in accordance with the local requirements. He said another major initiative the Central rental housing complex project was conceived last year, for migrant labourers. The project was being implemented in coordination with industrialists and other investors.
A) Trump extends freeze on H-1B visas.
U.S. President Donald Trump has extended the freeze on the much sought-after H-1B visas, along with other types of foreign work visas, by three months, ostensibly to protect American workers. He said that while therapeutics and Covid-19 vaccines have become available, their effect on the labour market and community health has not yet been fully realised. The decision will impact a large number of Indian IT professionals and several American and Indian companies who were issued H-1B visas by the U.S. government for the fiscal year 2021 beginning October 1. The freeze on various categories of work visas was ordered by Trump through two proclamations on April 22 and June 22 last year. Hours before the freeze was set to expire on December 31, Trump issued another proclamation on Thursday to extend it until March 31, saying the reasons for which he had issued such a restriction have not changed. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China. They would now have to wait at least till the end of March before approaching the U.S. diplomatic missions to get stamping. It would also impact a large number of Indian IT professionals who are seeking renewal of their H-1B visas.
B) India urges China to help stranded sailors.
India on Friday urged China to provide urgent assistance to 39 crew members of the stranded cargo vessels m.v.Jag Anand and m.v. Anastasia. Both the ships have been stuck for months near the Jingtang and Caofeidian ports. The statement came soon after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took suo motu cognisance of the condition of the stranded sailors and asked the External Affairs Ministry to ensure immediate relief for the crew. A Ministry official said the men were in increasingly difficult conditions as Chinese rules did not permit change of crew because of the pandemic. They have noted the statements of the Chinese side expressing their willingness to extend their assistance in this matter. They expect that this assistance will be provided in an urgent, practical and time-bound manner, given the grave humanitarian situation that is developing on board the ships, said Anurag Srivastava, official spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry. The Indian comments came a day after Ji Rong, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy here, said that Beijing had been in close communication with Indian side and provided timely assistance and necessary supplies to Indian sailors. The exchanges began as m.v. Jag Anand with 23 Indian sailors has been stranded on anchorage near Jingtang port in Hebei province of China since last June 13; m.v. Anastasia with 16 Indian crew has been stuck on anchorage near Caofeidian port since September 20 of last year. The official said the Chinese authorities had conveyed to India that in view of various COVID-19-related restrictions imposed by the local authorities, the vessels were not being allowed change of crew.
A) India-Australia Test series: Natarajan replaces Umesh in squad.
Tamil Nadu’s yorker sensation Thangarasu Natarajan on Friday replaced injured pacer Umesh Yadav in the Indian Test team for the remaining two games against Australia, continuing his remarkable rise in international cricket. Earlier, Shardul Thakur had replaced an injured Mohammed Shami in the squad before the second Test. Umesh Yadav sustained a strain in his left calf muscle on Day 3 of the second Border-Gavaskar Test in Melbourne. The fast bowler will not recover completely ahead of the remaining two Test matches and has been ruled out of the series, BCCI Secretary Jay Shah said in a media release. The All-India Senior Selection Committee has named T Natarajan as Yadav’s replacement. Ahead of the Boxing Day Test, Shardul Thakur was added to the Test squad as Mohd. Shami’s replacement after the senior fast bowler suffered a hairline fracture in his right forearm, the release added. The 29-year-old Natarajan had started off as a net bowler during the series and then subsequently made it to the T20 and ODI squads. He snared eight wickets (two ODI and six T20) during his four limited-overs appearances in national colours. He has played 20 first-class games for Tamil Nadu and will now be in contention for a slot in the Test team. The series is locked 1-1 right now with the third Test starting in Sydney from January 7.