A) Third-wave could hit India by October:
The third wave of coronavirus infections is likely to hit India by October, and although it will be better controlled than the latest outbreak, the pandemic will remain a public health threat for at least another year, according to a Reuters poll of medical experts. The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 healthcare specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed that a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak. Of those who ventured a prediction, over 85% of respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August, and 12 in September. The remaining three said between November and February. Paediatric ICU ward (NICU) prepared at the 1,200-bed Civil Hospital in view of the third wave of COVID-19 in Ahmedabad. But over 70% of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds than the smaller first surge in infections last year. It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave, said Dr. Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5% of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving many millions vulnerable to infections and deaths. While a majority of healthcare experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some States have done. When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes. The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them, said Dr. Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS). Experts warn the situation could become severe.
B) Supreme Court declines to stay bail given to student activists in Delhi riots case.
The Supreme Court on Friday did not intervene in the Delhi High Court decision of granting bail to student activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha, but said the High Court’s order of June 15 would neither be treated as a precedent in any proceedings nor be relied on by parties. It is clarified that the release of the respondents [student activists] on bail is not being interfered with at this stage. The impugned judgment shall not be treated as a precedent and may not be relied upon by any of the parties in any of the proceedings, a Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian recorded. The three students were granted bail by the High Court after a year’s incarceration in Tihar Jail. They were accused of offences under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with the North-East Delhi riots, which broke out after the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) turned violent last year. The High Court had accused the police of blurring the line between terrorist act under the UAPA and the students’ right to protest against a law. The issue is important. It has pan-India ramifications. There are many questions involved here… We want to decide it for the good of the entire country, Justice Gupta observed orally, issuing formal notice to the three students on the appeal. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued for the state that 53 people died and 700 were injured in the riots. The right to protest does not mean the right to kill and hurl bombs, he submitted. If the protests were held on the perceived belief that the CAA was against a particular community, then the lady who assassinated a former Prime Minister also did it on the belief that injustice was done to a particular community, he stated. Pushing for a stay of the High Court judgment, he said the three students may remain out but the High Court judgment may be used by others booked under the UAPA to get bail. A hearing on the limited question of bail for the three students was used by the High Court to discuss an entire law. Justice Gupta said, We understand the way the Act has been interpreted [by the High Courtre] requires to be examined. The court posted the government appeal for detailed hearing on the week commencing July 19.
C) ‘Rule of land’ is supreme, Twitter told by standing committee on IT.
Amid a tussle between the Union government and Twitter over the new IT rules, members of a parliamentary panel on Friday strongly objected to Twitter India officials’ observations that they abide by their policy and categorically told them that the law of the land is supreme. According to sources, members of the Parliamentary Panel on Information Technology also asked Twitter why it should not be fined as it has been found violating the rules of the country. Earlier this month, the Centre had issued a notice to Twitter, giving it one last chance to immediately comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology, chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, had last week summoned Twitter over issues related to misuse of the platform and protection of citizens’ rights. Twitter India’s public policy manager Shagufta Kamran and legal counsel Ayushi Kapoor deposed before the panel on Friday. Members of the panel asked some tough and searching questions to Twitter India officials but the answers lacked clarity and were ambiguous, sources said. They strongly objected to the observation of Twitter India officials that its policy is on par with the law of the land and categorically told them, rule of the land is supreme, not your policy, sources said. Twitter representatives remained non-committal about the timeline by when they will be able to comply fully with the rules. We have also asked for a written reply to a set of questions, one of the members said. The BJP MPs also questioned Twitter on their fact-checking policy, pointing out that BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra was promptly given the manipulated media tag, while such alacrity was not shown in the Ghaziabad case. The BJP members accused Twitter of showing bias against the saffron party, alleging that their fact checkers are more inclined to blame BJP instead of fighting fake news. Sources said that Twitter informed the panel that the fact-checking is done by a third party and not by Twitter itself.
D) Supreme Court declines to put off PG final year medical exams.
The Supreme Court on Friday declined to pass a sweeping order to postpone the final exams of the postgraduate medical courses in universities across the country. A Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and M.R. Shah was hearing pleas by PG medical students, who said preparing for the exams amid Covid-19 duty was difficult. They sought more time to study for the exams. The court said it could not possibly be asked to pass a general order to postpone exams for which dates had not been announced yet. The Bench said the National Medical Commission would keep in mind the Covid-19 situation and doctors working round the clock during the pandemic. The court also noted that the universities had not been made parties to the case. How do we pass a general order when hundreds of universities are involved? the court asked. Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for the students, said his clients would be made to choose between their Covid-19 duty and taking time off to study for their exams. He submitted this was something doctors should not be compelled to do during these dire times for public health. He said the court should intervene on behalf of the doctors to ensure that they are given reasonable time to prepare for the exams. On June 11, the court refused a plea by these students to waive the exams. The Bench said the court had, however, intervened on behalf of the students wherever possible. On June 11, the court, in a separate case, ordered the postponement of the AIIMS’ Post Graduate Entrance Test-INICET exams, scheduled for June 16, by a month after taking into consideration fatigue within the medical community after battling a particularly devastating second wave of the pandemic. In that case, a group of doctors had similarly moved the Supreme Court challenging an AIIMS notification that announced the exam in June in utter disregard of an assurance from the Prime Minister’s Office to postpone PG exams by four months.
E) Buzz over Centre’s possible meeting with J&K parties.
J&K is witnessing a heightened political activity as the Centre mulls inviting all the political parties from the Union Territory (UT) to New Delhi in the last week of June to start a political engagement, which is likely to pave the way for the restoration of statehood. Several constituents of the Gupkar alliance, an amalgam of five political parties fighting for pre-August 5, 2019 position of J&K, met in Srinagar on Friday to discuss the future course, sources said. As J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and the top police officials met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Friday, sources said the Centre is likely to invite J&K parties on June 24 or after that. J&K was split into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh 22 months ago. We have no information about any initiative. We have not got any formal invitation yet. Let them make it public. We have never blocked the way forward, the Gupkar alliance spokesman M.Y. Tarigami told. Tarigami said J&K needs initiatives because the confidence is completely shattered here. I urge the democratic Government of India that enough is enough. Let there be initiatives to restore confidence in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, he said. The Gupkar alliance spokesman said the onus of proving sincerity lies with those who hampered the normalisation and with the leadership of the country. We have a set agenda that we agreed upon on August 4, 2019. We are for a special constitutional position of J&K and against bifurcation of J&K. We are committed to it. However, this does not mean we will not talk. We will see that legitimate rights of people of J&K are restored, he added. Sources said both the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), key constituents of the Gupkar alliance, are weighing their options in case a political process is announced by the Centre. The PDP is likely to hold a meeting of its leaders to take stock of the situation and decide whether to attend it or not.
A) Turkey to secure Kabul airport.
President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed in a meeting this week that Turkey would take a lead role in securing Kabul airport as the United States withdraws troops from Afghanistan, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Thursday. However, the two leaders were not able to resolve the long-standing issue of Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems, Mr. Sullivan said, a bitter dispute that strained ties between the NATO allies. Mr. Sullivan told reporters that Mr. Biden and Mr. Erdogan, in their meeting on Monday at the NATO summit, discussed the Afghanistan issue. Mr. Erdogan sought certain forms of U.S. support to secure the airport and Mr. Biden committed to providing that support, Mr. Sullivan said. The clear commitment from the leaders established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport and we are now working through how to execute to get to that, Mr. Sullivan said, giving the first details from the U.S. side of the meeting. Contentious issues Turkey and the U.S. have been at odds over a host of issues, including Ankara’s purchase of Russian defence equipment, policy differences in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean and expectations for a breakthrough in first face-to-face meeting between Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Biden were slim. The two leaders sounded upbeat after their meeting although they did not announce what concrete progressthey made. One potential area of cooperation has been Afghanistan, where Ankara has offered to guard and operate Kabul airport after U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in coming weeks. The security of the airport is crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions out of the Afghanistan as Western forces pull out. Last week, a Taliban spokesman said Turkey should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under the 2020 deal for the pullout of U.S. forces, but Mr. Sullivan said the Taliban comments did not deter the detailed and effective security plan the U.S. was putting together.
B) U.S. to spend $3.2 bn to develop treatments for COVID-19.
The United States has announced that it will spend $3.2 billion on developing antiviral treatments for COVID-19 and prepare for other pandemic threats – viruses that have the potential to cause pandemics. Vaccines will continue to remain the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19, Anthony Fauci, medical adviser to the U.S. President, said on Thursday, when he described the programme, called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics. However, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for individuals with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk, he said. And it also adds a line of defence against other unexpected emerging things, like variants of concern that we are currently dealing with, he added. Regarding viruses with pandemic potential, Dr. Fauci put up a slide listing some of them: coronaviruses (e.g ., SARS , MERS), filoviruses (e.g. Ebola), togaviruses (e.g ., chikungunya), paramyxoviruses (e.g ., Nipah) and picornaviruses (e.g ., enterovirus D68). The programme seeks to accelerate the testing and authorisation of promising medicines and also support the discovery of new molecules by industry and academia, he said.
C) Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Roche are among those testing antiviral.
The U.S. will be allocating 55 million vaccine doses to other countries in the coming days, the country’s coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said at Thursday’s briefing. These 55 million doses are from a stockpile of 80 million doses that the U.S. has committed to other countries. This includes 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that has not yet been approved for use in America. The U.S. has already allocated 25 million of these doses bilaterally and via international vaccine distribution alliance COVAX. It is unclear how many doses India will receive totally, but indications are it will not be more than a few million. Some countries such as Canada and Mexico have received such doses. There’ll be an increasing number of shipments each and every week as we ramp up these efforts. The process to export the 80 million takes partnership in coordination with the receiving governments. But that’s well underway now, Mr. Zients said.
D) VVIP chopper deal: Special Court rejects Christian Michel’s bail pleas.
A special court on Friday dismissed the bail applications of British national Christian Michel, a key accused in the ₹3,700-crore VVIP chopper deal scam, in connection with the cases being pursued by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. He is currently lodged in Tihar Jail. During the last hearing on June 10, the court had reserved its order on the bail pleas after the two agencies filed their replies. Michel was extradited from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December 2018 and since then he has been in judicial custody. Both the agencies have recorded his statements. It is alleged that he had been hired by the helicopter suppliers as a middleman for routing the funds to be used to bribe Indian public servants to bag the deal. The Dubai Police had arrested Michel in February 2017 on the basis of an Interpol Red Notice issued against him. The Indian authorities sent the extradition request to the UAE authorities on March 19, 2017. After hearing both sides, the court there had allowed his extradition to India.