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We are not alone? Possible sign of alien life detected on Venus

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Scientists have spotted a possible marker of life on Venus, a planet which has not been a significant part of the search for life because of its extreme temperatures, atmospheric composition and other factors. The astronomers were surprised when they found the presence of a chemical called “phosphine” in the atmosphere of Venus, named after the Roman goddess of beauty.

Doing an analysis of the source of the chemical, the scientists ruled out non- biological sources, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday and another paper submitted to the journal Astrobiology.

“When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock!”, said team leader Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK, who first spotted signs of phosphine in observations from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope ( JCMT), operated by the East Asian Observatory, in Hawai’i.

Confirming their discovery required using 45 antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, a more sensitive telescope in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner.

Both facilities observed Venus at a wavelength of about one millimetre, much longer than the human eye can see — only telescopes at high altitude can detect it effectively. The international team, which includes researchers from the UK, US and Japan, estimates that phosphine exists in Venus’s clouds at a small concentration, only about twenty molecules in every billion.

Following their observations, they ran calculations to see whether these amounts could come from natural non-biological processes on the planet.

Some ideas included sunlight, minerals blown upwards from the surface, volcanoes, or lightning, but none of these could make anywhere near enough of it. These non-biological sources were found to make at most one ten thousandth of the amount of phosphine that the telescopes saw.

To create the observed quantity of phosphine (which consists of hydrogen and phosphorus) on Venus, terrestrial organisms would only need to work at about 10 per cent of their maximum productivity, according to the team.

Earth bacteria are known to make phosphine: They take up phosphate from minerals or biological material, add hydrogen, and ultimately expel phosphine. Any organisms on Venus will probably be very different to their Earth cousins, but they too could be the source of phosphine in the atmosphere.

While the discovery of phosphine in Venus’s clouds came as a surprise, the researchers are confident in their detection. “In the end, we found that both observatories had seen the same thing — faint absorption at the right wave- length to be phosphine gas, where the molecules are backlit by the warmer clouds below,” added Greaves, who led the study published in Nature Astronomy.

With IANS inputs

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Throttling environment to push growth agenda

Gaurika Chugh

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Environmental concerns are once again trapped in a scrimmage but interestingly it’s not between people and the government but this time, it’s the government that is treating the judiciary as a suspect. The government’s pet organisation ‘NITI Aayog’ appeared to be wary of judicial speed-breakers to its environmental oversights in developmental policies. This was considered an obstruction to NITI Aayog’s central role as per its standing for National Institution for Transforming India that would stimulate economic growth, promote development rather than hang its head before the judiciary which on most occasions emerged as a shield around forests, water bodies, and wildlife in the country.

A non-governmental organisation CUTS International, becomes a powerful vehicle to allude to a contract for research from NITI Aayog. The research study undertaken by CUTS International aims to examine some of the recent judgments by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal, handed over to them by NITI Aayog’s CEO. The research study highlights that the judgements delivered do not take into account a calibrated approach while delivering justice. The brief highlights that “some of the recent judgments/orders of the SC and NGT indicate that the economic impact analysis of judicial decisions is yet to gain broader acceptance. The absence of ex-ante analysis of the economic costs associated with a decision is further exacerbated when judicial activism by courts and tribunals is also in play.” This brief put up by CUTS International is part of the study that has been funded by NITI Aayog to study the unintended economic impact and reverberation of judicial activism. 

The research study has undertaken an examination of five cases out of which three have been decided by the SC and the other two by the NGT. While the SC cases deal with the suspension of the construction of Mopa Airport in Goa, suspension of iron-ore mining in Goa, and shutdown of Sterlite copper plant in Thootukudi, the NGT judgments deal with sand mining ban case and halt on the construction activities in Delhi NCR. This turns tables of the government’s commitment to achieving targets of the Sustainable Development Goal and the Paris Pact by 2030.

While one cannot disagree with CUTS International suggesting training for judges that has also been a repeated demand by many scholars across the country since new challenges of transdisciplinarity in environmental concerns is also a potentially powerful hurdle generating major deficits in justice delivery. For example, judges have failed to link environmental preparedness to disasters or ensuring time and space factors while ordering displacement of the poor from their unauthorised slums. The deficits of governance are mostly linked to a tendency of treating individuals in isolation to their ecosystem, creating silos of solutions for each one of them notwithstanding a million distortions in the process. A recent column that caught my attention ‘Is Law Enough to protect Environment?’ by Amita Singh where she has argued that law and the protectors of justice have always been complacent in protecting the denizens of the environment which are smaller nationalities linked together but not understood by the conceitful eyes of humans. The issues of ethics, integrity, and accountability are as much a need for the judiciary as it is for the administrators of the country. The voice of the voiceless has always been antagonised by the superior and the mighty living being in the garb of stimulating progress and economic development. To understand the dichotomy agonising the conundrum between environmental and development, CUTS International appears to be holding hands of its funding agency the NITI Aayog for endorsing that judicial concerns for the environment have led to major economic losses. CUTS International and NITI Aayog surface as organisations in primary need of training in issues of environment, development, and commitment to sustainable progress.

As the SC raises its head on some occasions to address calls for environmental protection, some of the aggressively pursued policy decisions by the government face a setback nonetheless, many still sneak through the crevices of courtrooms as major disasters to the citizens of this country. One such decision waiting to be addressed is that of the 2019 auction of Bakshwaha forest by the Madhya Pradesh government to the Aditya Birla Group Essel Mining and Industries Limited for undertaking diamond mining for a 50 years lease period for 342 million carats of diamonds. This catastrophic mining project will lead to the wreckage of 382.131 hectares of forest land. As per the forest department estimates, 2,15,875 trees include some precious and medicinal trees in the forest area. The Bakshwaha forest in Chhatarpur district adjoining Panna in Madhya Pradesh is an ecologically fragile region with forest natural resources that provides for the livelihood of ST population inhabiting the forest area. This project also poses a great danger to wildlife. 

In the ‘Geological Report on the Exploration of Diamonds’ in the Bakshwaha forest that was submitted in May 2017 by the Directorate of Geology and Mining, Madhya Pradesh, it has been reported that there are plenty of jungle cat, sloth bear, jackal, striped hyena, Indian fox, and wild dog among others. In contrast, a more recent report submitted by the forest department shows no evidence of wildlife found in the area. A PIL has been filed in the SC to stop this ecological destruction and awaits its due diligence in the court of law. Will the NITI Aayog conduct another research to assess economic losses due to ‘judicial activism’ if the court declares it environmentally destructive? Why environmentally sound decisions by the apex court are being treated as ‘judicial activism’ by the CEO of NITI Aayog.

Government is a ‘public trustee’ as affirmed clearly in the Kamal Nath case of 1992. The notion of public trust as envisaged by Joseph Sax (1970) can be defined as an affirmation of the duty and responsibility of the state to protect all common property resources — streams, lakes, marshlands, rivers, land, tidelands, and mountains held in public trust. It is a basis to ensure inter-generational equity that affirms that common resources are to be preserved by the government for use by current and future generations. The NITI Aayog has been the flag carrier to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 as laid out by the UN has contradicted its aim by supporting a research study that seeks to undermine the tenets of environmental justice. As per the report by Shreegireesh Jalihal of ‘The Reporters Collective’, it has been found that the NITI Aayog didn’t follow the specified norms and regulations of inviting competitors through open tender and instead commissioned CUTS International to do the research for Rs 24.8 lakh. By supporting such a research study for examining the economic cost of judicial decisions is neither eligible as research nor a study in national interest. So on what grounds was this work allocated to CUTS International? This demands accountability for public money spent for personal ambitions by government servants at the NITI Aayog. 

This year the ‘World Environment Day’ theme suggested by the UN is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’. The danger caused by deforestation is irrepressible and its impact on public health is even more alarming. David Wallace-Wells’ book ‘The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming’ says that “every sq km of deforestation produces 27 additional cases of malaria, thanks to what is called vector proliferation when the trees are cleared out, the bugs move in.” Covid- 19 has ensured some wisdom to homo sapiens that despite a unilateral assumption of being at the top of the environmental or bio-species, it is not only ‘not the mightiest’ but also an extremely weak creature knocked out by an invisible, microscopic zoonotic virus ruling the race now for many months and still going strong. The top priority of the government should be environmental conservation and anything that stands against it should be treated as a sacrilege even if this lasso drops from a window at NITI Aayog.

The writer is a research scholar in Centre for the Study of Law & Governance, JNU, Delhi & Consultant, Center for Land Governance.

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Be with yoga, be at home

Being confined in homes for long periods has added fuel to our other physical ailments and increased mental stress and anxiety. This has emphasised the importance of building immunity and many studies have proven the effectiveness of yoga in strengthening the immune system.

Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’

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The United Nations General Assembly adopted an India-led resolution declaring 21 June as International Yoga Day. It was a historic moment for two reasons: Firstly, after being proposed by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, it was implemented by member countries in the UN body in less than 90 days, and secondly, 177 nations joined as co-sponsors, the highest number ever for any general assembly resolution. We recently celebrated the 7th edition of Yoga Day and while the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the normal lives and livelihood of many people across the globe, the relevance of yoga has increased manifold.

The practices and concepts of Yoga originated in India with the very dawn of our ancient civilisation. Our great saints and sages carried the powerful yogic science to different parts of the world and made it available for every common man’s reach. It is one of the most amazing practices that streamline the mind, spirit and body and rewards those who seek mental clarity. Yoga is an essential tool for those facing stress and immense pressure in their daily lives and simultaneously seeking to improve flexibility and reduce other health ailments.

Today, Covid-19 has unleashed one of the biggest crisis upon humanity. The pandemic has led to a substantial loss of human life and thrown unprecedented challenges to public health. Due to the ongoing situation, we all are bound and restricted in our homes and constantly living under the fear of infection risks and hence, developing anxiety. Being confined for such long periods has added fuel to our other physical ailments and increased mental stress and anxiety. This public health crisis has emphasised the importance of building immunity and therefore adopting a healthy lifestyle. Many studies have proven the effectiveness of yoga in strengthening the immune system. Yoga is a combination of physical exercise, breathing practices and concentration improvement which strengthens the body and the mind which in turn improves immunity. To name some among the many yoga asanas, Shavasana and Sasakasana reduces stress and increases our immune system’s ability to fight antigens. Breathing practices such as Pranayam maintains our respiratory systems and increases the efficiency of our lungs. Trikonasana improves blood circulation and ensures the optimal functioning of all organs. Hence, practising Yoga is not only helpful in building immunity but also essential for the overall well-being of the human body.

Several medical practitioners and experts are suggesting that patients with Covid-19 mild symptoms who have been advised to isolate at home, must practice Yoga asanas and breathing exercise to fight against the deadly virus. As the virus directly affects the lungs, it is imperative to strengthen the respiratory system. The suggested Yoga asanas help in achieving ideal saturation levels and in restoring lung functions. Practising yoga is not only being advised to the Covid positive patients, but also to the patients who have recovered from the virus. Yogic breathing, beginner-level yoga asanas and meditation brings mental peace to the mind and calms the overall body of the patients who have faced the traumatic experience of Covid-19. Apart from these, the modified breathing techniques and recommended yoga pose by the experts have helped reducing fatigue and naturally restored energy levels among the recovered Covid patients.

The benefits of yoga are not only limited to adults but yoga for children can help counter the stress experienced by them. Covid has taken an unthinkable toll on our children at all levels: socially, emotionally, physically, and academically. Being the nation with the largest population of children and youth, coping with the disruption during this pandemic will require greater efforts from our end to mitigate the impact on their well-being. Hence, I appeal to all the parents and teachers to motivate young children to practice yoga in their daily lives. Practising yoga will allow the children to connect more deeply with the inner self and enhance their strength, flexibility and coordination. Apart from this, the young ones will derive enormous benefits from yoga by improving their concentration and maintaining a sense of calmness and relaxation during these challenging times.

Today, when the world has come to a standstill, yoga has emerged as one of the most effective health practices to improve our immunity and maintain an inner self-balance. Yoga has gained immense admiration and captured people’s imagination globally and thus has become India’s source of soft power. In the absence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we all would have celebrated this festival of the union of mind, body and spirit with great enthusiasm and excitement. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are expected to stay in our homes and maintain social distancing. I would appeal to all the citizens and children of my country to not allow the virus to dampen our spirits. Let us all grab our mats and celebrate the spirit of Yoga Day to bring our inner light within us to the surface and achieve a peaceful mind during these tough times. 

The writer is Union Education Minister, Government of India.

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The hunger and nutrition crisis: The dark side of Covid pandemic

Coronavirus has presented itself as a challenge and an opportunity to address our
long-standing problems of food security and nutrition. The current need is to come up with
sustainable solutions to lift millions of people out of the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.

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C ovid-19 has transformed into a silent pandemic of hunger and starvation as a result of millions of people pushed into the vicious cycles of economic stagnation, loss of livelihood and worsening food insecurity. The World Bank has estimated that 71 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty across the globe as a result of the pandemic. As per the State of Working India 2021 report by the Azim Premji University, about 100 million lost jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown. Most were back at work by June 2020, but even by the end of 2020, about 15 million workers remained out of work. Incomes also remained depressed. As we saw the deadly second wave of Covid-19 ravaging our country and leaving families devastated, the oxygen crisis overwhelmed the entire system while the crisis of hunger and starvation kept becoming grave each day. The CMIE Unemployment Data reveals a grim picture of unemployment spiralling to 12% by the end of May 2021 as compared to 8% in April 2021. Breaking this down further over 10 million or 1 crore people lost their jobs because of the second wave of coronavirus alone and 97% of households’ incomes have declined since the beginning of the pandemic last year. In a country like ours where a majority of the workforce is in the informal sector, people have not only been massively affected by the pandemic due to loss of jobs but also because they have no access to the benefits that come with formal employment and are out of the ambit of the social security schemes. The daily wagers, construction workers, street vendors, domestic helpers are the people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and lockdowns and are living a life of uncertainty and disrupted incomes.  Agriculture is the primary occupation in the villages but due to frequent lockdowns, there has been a disruption of the supply chains and access to the market for the sale of agricultural produce impacting the income of the rural households.  World Food Programme estimates that an additional 130 million people could fall into the category of being food insecure over and above the 820 million who were so classified by the State of Food Insecurity in the World Report, 2019. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 94th out of the 107 countries. The pandemic has worsened this hunger crisis in India. With higher food inflation combined with reduced incomes, more and more households have to cut down on the quantity and quality of their food consumption. The impact is the worst on the low and middleincome household spend a large share of their incomes on food expenditure. The First Phase of the National Family Health Survey (2019-2020) has revealed alarming findings, with as many as 16 states showing an increase in underweight and severely wasted children under the age of 5. Ever since the advent of Covid-19, the pandemic has risked becoming nutrition crisis, due to overburdened healthcare systems, disrupted food patterns and income loss. And the disruption of programmes likes the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the mid-day meal programme.  The current crisis highlights the importance of the existing welfare schemes like MGNREGA, PDS, and PMGKY etc which put cash and relief directly into the hands of the most vulnerable people and help them tide over the economic distress. There is an imperative need to improve food security by increasing local food production and strengthening food supply chains. The availability of high food stocks presents a bright opportunity to ensure the strongly advocated universal PDS which is the need of the hour. As the second wave has led to many young people who were the breadwinners of their families succumbing to the virus, it is of utmost importance that support is provided to these families with adequate cash and food support and building employment opportunities to prevent them from slipping further below the poverty line.  Like the first wave, it has been the collective endeavour of several citizen initiatives and NGOs to complement the efforts of the administration to mitigate the hardships and provide immediate relief to the most marginalised communities who have been the worst affected by the pandemic. At Samarpann, we are focusing all our resources on the rural areas keeping in view this alarming crisis. Until now we have distributed 2.6 million meals across India since the advent of the Pandemic. When our team visited the villages in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, and Mizoram we realised that nothing had changed for these families in the second wave as compared to the second wave. The second wave has worsened the conditions for most of these households as there has been a loss of livelihoods and depletion of savings due to medical expenses. The people have either not been reinstated into their jobs after the first lockdown or have suffered major pay cuts leading to reduced incomes. Though we provide immediate relief in the form of ration and sanitation kits, it is important to start rebuilding the lives of these families, especially those who have lost their earning members. Hence, we are purchasing the relief material from the women Self Help Groups (SHGs) so that it increases their income sources and providie the material in the community itself. We believe that the solution to the hunger crisis should follow a twofold approach of addressing food insecurity as well as providing livelihood opportunities to the people whose voices have largely been left unheard in this second wave of Covid-19. Each ration kit includes wheat flour, rice, two types of pulses, sugar, cooking oil, spices, and salt which is sufficient to take care of a family’s need for 15 to 20 days. There is also a sanitation kit that has soaps, sanitisers, and a packet of masks. Some of the villages which we are targeting are Rathkankara, Borabas, Kolipura, Girdharpura, and Bhairopura in the Kota district in Rajasthan which is mostly inhabited by the indigenous communities of tribal. In Kashmir, with our partner organisation, we are targeting villages in Anantnag, Baramulla, Pulwama, Bandipora, and Kulgam while in Uttarakhand the target areas are the women in the Khatima block of Udham Singh Nagar, who are single earning members coming from very poor families. Mizoram hosts its own problems, being tribal predominated and situated in the arduous terrains.   Covid-19 pandemic has presented itself as a challenge and an opportunity to address our long-standing problems of food security and nutrition and the current need is to come up with sustainable solutions which help us tide not only over the current crisis but also lift millions of people out of the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.  ‘One Nation, One Card’ across the country is a long term solution aimed at bringing a large number of excluded households into the ambit of social security. Similarly, diversification of the food basket under PDS and ICDS would go a long way in addressing malnutrition and reducing the disease burden in the country. The task at hand is a humongous one that needs to be dealt with at multiple levels by various stakeholders coming together to minimise the adversities and develop long term strategies for addressing hunger and malnutrition.  Dr Ruma Bhargava, Lead Healthcare, World Economic Forum and Founder, Samarpann & Dr Megha Bhargava, Deputy Commissioner Income Tax, Govt of India.

The views expressed are personal

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Reflecting on refugee pasts and possible future

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India has had a stellar history in welcoming refugees and sheltering them. Independent India saw us handling an unprecedented refugee crisis of 1947. In fact, as a child of 1947 refugees, I can’t but applaud that part of our nation-building history. India had hosted Tibetan refugees from the 1960s and in the 1970s we welcomed refugees from western Africa, later from Afghanistan and then from Sri Lanka. Most recently, we are hosting Rohingya refugees from Myanmar emerging from the persecution against their community from May 2015 and refugees fleeing from the February 2021 crisis in Myanmar. 

India’s example holds true for much of the global south. As UNHCR data notes, more than 86% of refugees were hosted by developing countries, with more than 73% by the neighbouring countries. In general, societies in the south have welcomed refugees as equal members of society. Countries of the North on the other hand have never embraced refugees in the same spirit of solidarity and responsibility, though it can be argued they carry much of the responsibility of the global refugee crisis. They need to be called out for that.

ActionAid Association has been at the forefront of responding to the emergency needs of forcibly displaced communities for over four decades now. ActionAid Association prioritises the needs of women and children and builds the resilience of marginalised populations. We have supported displaced minorities from Pakistan, living in Rajasthan, and internally displaced persons from Chhattisgarh settled in Andhra Pradesh. In partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees India, we continue to extend support to people from the Rohingya community settled in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Working in collaboration with social organisations, we have been offering humanitarian assistance to refugees from strife-ridden Myanmar too.

We need to recognise that in this century there has been a reversal in the perception of refugees. World Refugee Council calls it “a shortfall of humanity and empathy”. With growing xenophobic tendencies, stronger border controls, the rise of nativistic “sons of the soil” movements, as well as rising economic inequities which stoke fears of “risk from refugees”, host communities have become insecure and elected governments voice these insecurities, without resolving them; this comes at a time when the need is for addressing the refugee crisis in the framework of leaving no one behind.

With some exceptions, in general, there is a fast-growing antipathy towards refugees. The conscience of the world was struck by the tragic visuals of drowning refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea and of Rohingyas and other Myanmarese ethnic groups fleeing atrocities but governments have not been so easily moved. Rescuing drowning migrants became a crime in Italy; sheltering refugees from Myanmar a matter of political debate. Spectres of “dangers and threats” posed by refugees basis race, religion and economic competition that is propelled by fundamentalist actions of vested interest groups from both refugee and host communities groups, are raised to stoke xenophobia.

Let’s understand that refugees or for that matter any other groups, could become a threat to national sovereignty, only when the state has retreated from its welfare and caring orientation. To any government whose main focus is the increased physical, social, economic, and mental well-being of its people, care for people seeking refuge poses no threat. This has been demonstrated in ample measure by our collective past of accepting and integrating refugees. 

Refugees need safety during travel when fleeing oppression, hunger or fear. They need safety, social protection, and care in the spaces they flee to without discrimination, and a right to return to their native lands, should they so desire. Their children need access to continued education, and families need non-discriminatory access to healthcare, education, and all public services. Women need protection against violence and discrimination. Enabling conditions to earn livelihoods are critical, even when there is no right to employment; else how can their families survive. 

The lesson for us is not to mirror the countries that have regressive colonial attitudes to refugees and migrants. India should remain true to its warm non-discriminatory history of welcoming refugees. To the global community, that would be a message and an action demonstrating principled leadership —one that is morally, socially, politically and strategically defensible, and inspirational for others to follow.

Let us, however, remember that stellar pasts don’t automatically lead to glorious futures. Futures need active construction with humane people-centred politics and policies, set in a frame of a caring welfare state. Existing treaties and protocols need to be signed up to and newer societal imageries of futures based on solidarities, co-existence, and commons of humankind are needed, as are sensitive refugee policies and actions.

Sandeep Chachra is Executive Director of ActionAid Association and Joseph Mathai is Senior Manager – Communications of ActionAid Association. The views expressed are personal.

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NATHEALTH & ACHE present a gripping discussion on ‘The Evolution of COVID-19 Variants’

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NATHEALTH and American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), as part of its joint initiative, recently organised an engaging session to hear different perspective from India and US, on the evolution of Covid-19 variants and strategies to better understand their impacts. Moderated by Dr. Harsh Mahajan, President, NATHEALTH & Founder and Chief Radiologist, Mahajan Imaging and comprehensive discussion by two panel speakers Dr. David Perlin, Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President of the Centre for Discovery and Innovation and Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFl), the session centred around the variants of coronavirus, its impact and ways to tackle it.

It provided an enhanced and well-rounded understanding to the topic at hand. In addition to discussing the current science on Covid 19 variants in U.S and globally, the panel also assessed the mutations embedded in the virus variants, examined the public health implications of covid 19 variants in India and globally and also focused on the way forward.

Molley lowe, Director of content strategy for the American college of healthcare executive (ACHE), welcomed everyone to the webinar and expressed her unique pleasure of having an international audience. She introduced the distinguished panel of speakers of the day.

Dr. Mahajan initiated the session by explaining the need for global collaboration to fight back the pandemic. He said “Researchers and epidemiologists around the world have been predicting various models for the potential spread of Covid-19 pandemic which has devastated world in the last 18 months. Facing a big challenge of continuous mutations of corona virus which make it difficult to predict how the pandemic would unfold in future. Various models give different pictures about loss of lives in upcoming months. Rates of infection and deaths are declining in US, in the last 2 months we have seen devastating surges of the virus in India and other countries.”

He further reinforced the need to have a global collaboration to contain and finally end the current pandemic. He added “while the future of pandemic and its projections remain uncertain, vaccination rates are increasing. Yet there are inequities in vaccination across the globe. Hence, it would be useful to know the most likely outcomes, the best and worst case scenarios to guide local and national decisions those can lead us towards the end of pandemic.”

Next, Dr. David Perlin was invited. He talked about some of the science behind the evolution of generation of SARs COV variants of concerns and what are the concerns we should be worrying about. He addressed questions like what should we know about variants transmission, their health effects and impacts on potential therapies and vaccines? He further explained the process of how any airborne virus like corona attacks the respiratory and immune system. He said “the key to viral infections is binding of the virus to its receptor. We know that when the infected host cell responds to form neutralising antibodies that are directed against the receptor binding domain, so that virus is no longer able to interact with its host cell.”

He additionally explained “In terms of virus variants, we recognise that RNA viruses like SARs CoV2 rapidly generate mutations compared to lower rate of mutations in humans. RNA viruses replicate a million to 10 times to 10 million times more rapidly than humans. Each mutation has potential to change viral properties for the next generation of viruses. The antibodies generated against the receptor binding domains can have one of the 3 possibilities: 1. Leave virus unchanged; 2. Decrease or loss of virus functions leading virus to disappear and 3. Gain of virus functions making it more transmissible and infectious. We are worried about the 3rd possibility. If there’s an increased interaction of the virus with its host, the antibodies don’t bind as readily leading to consequences like mutations can enhance the infection rates, reduce the potential effectiveness of vaccines and natural antibodies or may facilitate reinfection.”

He concluded by saying “virus evolution has been an important component of Covid-19 pandemic; variants of concerns (VOC) like delta are more transmissible, some variants may impede antibody development but can be controlled by existing vaccines and lastly the best way to control VOCs is by broad vaccination.”

The moderator then welcomed Prof. K. Srinath Reddy for his comments on public health implications of Covid-19 variants in India and globally. Prof. Reddy began by appreciating Dr. Perlin’s excellent exhibition of the science of Virology and immunology as it pertains to SARS COVID-19 virus and its variants. In his part, he tried to deal mostly with the public health perspective with a little throwback to evolutionary biology as an additional perspective.

He said “Indeed when variants do come up, one of the biggest questions we ask ourselves particularly when we are looking at the implications it has for public health response is, is it more infectious than the wild virus or any other relevant virulent while any other variant that preceded it, is it more virulent, is it more capable of vaccine evasion or escape and also is it less responsive to therapeutic interventions? While we are trying to answer that, we also have to understand how so many variants are arising in the different parts of the world and of course transmitting themselves with great ease to the other parts of the world.”

He added “We are generally tended to look at the viruses and variants in a very linear fashion but viruses are complex adaptive systems. Joshua Lederberg called the father of microbial genetics wrote a seminal paper in science in 2000, in which he said it is our wits against their genes. So we have to try and overcome their inevitable attempt.” To sum up his talk, he said “our response in terms of public health has to be to protect ourselves from easy entry of virus into our body, to obstruct the virus in terms of its transmission by not allowing super spreader events, vaccinate fast and wide and develop new vaccines with innovations which can match the new virus variants.”

The session was wonderfully wrapped up by addressing some pertinent questions raised by the audience.

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Innovation is spurred when there is a challenge: Vikram Khurana

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special series NewsX India A-List, Vikram Khurana, Chairman of the Toronto Business Development Centre spoke about how they supported India’s fight with the Covid-19 pandemic, their Start-up Visa Programme and more.

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As India is fighting the biggest enemy the world has seen so far, the global community is doing its part vehemently. The Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC) supported India’s fight with the Covid-19 pandemic by providing 5000 ventilators and other medical supplies. In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special series NewsX India A-List, Vikram Khurana, Chairman of the Toronto Business Development Centre spoke about their beneficial initiative and shared his insights with us.

Talking about the initiative, Khurana said, “These ventilators have been donated kindly by the province of Ontario and the province of Saskatchewan. The ventilators are made to survive on their own. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of global relations among the nations. The virus doesn’t recognise any borders; it is evident that it moves freely, in the air. We cannot build any borders around this pandemic unless we’re able to build walls in the air.”

He explained about the organisation that facilitated the supply of ventilators in collaboration with Air Canada. TBDC is the oldest business incubator in Canada that support entrepreneurs with all their needs. While talking about giving rise to 9 Unicorns, Khurana said, “Our current focus is on India. We think that there is a great amount of innovation and start-ups coming from India.”

He also threw light on their Start-up Visa Programme, which is extremely helpful for young and new entrepreneurs. Khurana continued, “While there is a great discussion on brain drain, there is not as much discussion on business expansion. Start-ups that grow internationally become multi-national. To facilitate this, Canada started the Start-up Visa in 2013. It essentially allows entrepreneurs to move with their families, be closer to their markets, and access technology and sources easily. Currently, about 2500 entrepreneurs from all over the world migrate to Canada under this program.”

“Innovation does not go to sleep, and innovation is spurred when there is a challenge,” he said when asked about some innovations he saw during the pandemic by Indians. Khurana pointed out that one of the most considerable collateral damage of Covid-19 has been on seniors citizens. Khurana applauded several start-ups helping to solve the problem faced by senior citizens and start-ups to find vaccine sites by diverting and balancing traffic among those vaccine sites. He mentioned the fact that most of the time, entrepreneurs executed these initiatives without concern of making money which is a very noble way of entrepreneurs giving back to society.

Khurana talked about the collaboration with Air Canada that made this initiative a success. “Many people of the crew were Indians living in Canada for a while and have roots in India like Captain Rash Pal who piloted the aircraft that carried those ventilators along with many other supplies with great pride. Every member of the team took great pride and went above and beyond to make this happen,” he said.

Talking about the world being caught flat-footed by the virus, Khurana said, “There are a lot of lessons learned on the fly”. He concluded the conversation by talking about having a front window view of great ideas coming from all around and the dominance of AI, data modelling, and machine learning in the area of innovation.

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