18th January 2021

10% of CSIR staff exposed to virus, says survey

A first such pan-India survey tracking nearly 10,000 employees of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on the prevalence of COVID-19 found that nearly 10% of the staff were infected.

  • 1. Key neutralising antibodies that protect against the virus waned after infection, but were at “detectable levels” even after six months — a proxy for the period of effectiveness of future vaccination and general immunity.
  • 2. About three-fourths of the respondents could not recall having experienced a single one of the symptoms commonly associated with the disease, and a vegetarian diet and smoking appeared to be “protective” against the infection.

‘LONGITUDINAL STUDY’

  • This is a first-of-its-kind longitudinal study anywhere in the world. An association between smoking and protection against SARS-CoV-2, or lower odds of infection by the virus, has also been reported in studies in China and France.
  • CSIR staff and family members who volunteered to be part of the survey filled out questionnaires on their lifestyle, food and disease histories. They were also tested with two different kinds of antibody tests to study the kinds of antibodies that were produced following infection.
  • It usually takes a week to a fortnight after being infected for antibodies to be detected in the blood.
  • A serology survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has estimated 7% exposure to SARS-CoV-2 until mid-August, and a modelling exercise by the National Supermodel Committee estimated that 30% may have been exposed by September.

Bias

  • The study also revealed a distinct class bias in those affected. Those able to work from home and able to access private transport were nearly twice less likely to be exposed to the virus than the “outsourced staff” involved with sanitation and security, and using public transport.
  • Higher sero-prevalence among outsourced staff and public transport users in our cohort is more likely to be representative of general population of cities and towns that are part of the cohort.
  • Millions of migrant workers trapped in Indian cities during the lockdown returned to villages in June in packed public transport.
  • Outsourced workers, with highest seropositivity, reflect the high infection rate of this subgroup and it can be reasonably assumed that the pandemic had already reached rural India by September 2020.
  • There was even a distinction in blood groups. “Sero-prevalence was highest for blood group type AB, followed by group B, group O and the lowest for group A . Blood group O was observed to be protective”.
  •  The overarching aim is to be able to build a medical cohort to give long-term perspective on the malaises that affect Indians, and determine if such a data bank can be used to help with predicting, say, the onset of diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

 

India to send 20 lakh vaccines to Dhaka, Pak explores options

India plans to send 20 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Bangladesh and on the other hand, Pakistan is exploring options to get made-in-India vaccines, either through a global alliance for vaccines or through the bilateral route.

  • On 20 January 2021, a specially equipped plane will carry 20 lakh doses of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine—manufactured in India by the Serum Institute of India under the name Covishield — to Dhaka.
  • The consignment will be handed over to the Bangladesh government by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
  • Pakistan’s move to source Indian vaccines comes after the country’s drug regulator, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), approved Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use.
  • Pakistan is planning that it can get the vaccine through Covax, an alliance set up by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and World Health Organisation.
  • The alliance has pledged free vaccines for 20 per cent of the population of around 190 countries, including Pakistan. Pakistan expects to get the first consignment from Covax just after the start of the second quarter of 2021.
  • But, for the remaining population, the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine as well as Bharat Biotech-ICMR’s Covaxin can be procured through bilateral arrangements.
  • Alternatively, Pakistan can procure the India-made vaccines through a third country, but that may push up costs.
  • While tensions between India and Pakistan have impacted bilateral trade between the two countries, the supply of “life-saving medicines” is exempted from restrictions.
  • Bilateral trade between the two neighbours has almost come to a standstill — first after the Pulwama terror attack in February 2019 and later, after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was withdrawn.
  • Given the tensions, vaccine diplomacy could be key to unlocking the ties.

Govt panel sought waiver for IITs, panel writes to ministry

THE NATIONAL Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) has sought an inquiry into a complaint against a government-appointed committee that recently recommended that IITs be exempt from reserving faculty positions.

  • The committee was setup by the Ministry of Education (MoE) in April 2020 to look into “effective implementation of reservation “in student admissions and faculty positions at IITs.
  • Instead of implementing quotas in faculty positions, the panel had suggested that the 23 IITs should be exempted from reservations altogether under the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act 2019.
  • The 23IITs reserve posts while recruiting faculty at the entry level of Assistant Professor.
  • There is no SC/ST/OBC quota for recruiting at senior faculty posts such as Associate Professor and Professor.
  • Even at the entry-level, if the IITs cannot find suitable SC, ST and OBC candidates, they can de-reserve these posts after a year, as per guidelines notified by the government in 2008. However, in humanities and management courses at IITs, quotas are offered at all three levels.
  • According to the panel, rather than specific quotas, diversity issues should be addressed through outreach campaigns and targeted faculty recruitment.
  • IITs should be added to the list of “Institutions of Excellence” mentioned in the Schedule to the CEI Act. Section 4 of the Act exempts “institutions of excellence, research institutions, and institutions of national and strategic importance” mentioned in the Schedule and minority institutions from providing reservation.
  • On the other hand, panel justified that that faculty positions cannot be kept vacant for long (in case no suitable SC, ST and OBC candidates are available) if the IITs have to break into the top global ranking.
  • There are many IITs which were established more than 60-70 years ago but never obtained world ranknig even within top 200 despite being there more than 95% faculty of these institutions from unreserved categories.
  • This will impact the diversity issues in these instutions, which will be against the spirit of the Constitution of India.
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