Current Affairs May 3

Production of Medical Oxygen from modified Industrial Nitrogen Plants

Why in News?

  • Considering the COVID-19 pandemic situation and to further augment availability of oxygen for medical purposes in the country, the Central Government had asked Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), to identify the industries having spare nitrogen plants and explore the feasibility of converting of existing Nitrogen plants to produce oxygen.
  • CPCB with the help of State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) have identified such potential industries, wherein existing Nitrogen generation plants may be spared for production of oxygen.
  • About 30 industries have been identified, and efforts have begun to modify nitrogen plants for the production of medical oxygen.
  • In the existing nitrogen plants, replacing Carbon Molecular Sieve (CMS) with Zeolite Molecular Sieve (ZMS) and few other changes such as installation of oxygen analyzer, change in control panel system, flow valves etc., oxygen for medical use can be produced.
  • With the availability of ZMS, such modified plant can be set-up in 4-5 days while installation of new oxygen plant may take minimum 3-4 weeks.




Government targets road construction worth Rs.15 lakh crore in next two years

Why in News?

  • Ministry of Road Transport & Highways is giving utmost priority to the development of infrastructure and has set a target of road construction of worth Rs.15 lakh crores in next two years.
  • It will achieve target of 40 kilometres per day of highways construction in current fiscal.
  • The Government is permitting 100% FDI in road sector.
  • In India, projects like National Infrastructure pipeline for 2019-2025 is the first of its kind and government is committed to provide world class infra to its citizens and improving quality of their lives.
  • Under the NIP, there are over 7,300 projects to be implemented at a total outlay of Rs. 111 lakh crore by year 2025.
  • The NIP aims at improving project preparation, and attract investment into infrastructure like highways, railways, ports, airports, mobility, energy and agriculture and rural industry.




Gaseous Oxygen for Medical Purposes

Why in News?

  • In line with his direction of exploring innovative ways to ramp up supply and availability of oxygen, PM chaired a meeting to review the usage of gaseous oxygen.
  • Many industries like Steel plants, refineries with petrochemical units, industries using rich combustion process, power plants etc have oxygen plants which produce gaseous oxygen which is used in the process.
  • This oxygen can be tapped for medical use.
  • The strategy being used is to identify industrial units which produce gaseous oxygen of requisite purity, shortlist those which are closer to cities/dense areas/demand centres and establish temporary Covid care centres with oxygenated beds near that source.
  • This is being accomplished through PSUs or private industries operating the plant & co-ordination of centre & state governments.
  • It is expected that around 10,000 oxygenated beds can be made available in a short period of time by making temporary hospitals near such plants.




Herpetologist Deepak Veerappan

Why in News?

  • In the first four months of 2021, the Western Ghats presented new butterflies, frogs, fruit flies, and even a freshwater crab.
  • Joining the list is a tiny snake of just 20 cm length with iridescent scales – Xylophis deepaki, first stumbled upon in a coconut plantation in Kanyakumari, is now reported to be an endemic species of Tamil Nadu and has been sighted in a few locations in the southern part of the Western Ghats.
  • The species is named in honour of Indian herpetologist Deepak Veerappan for his contribution in erecting a new subfamily Xylophiinae to accommodate wood snakes. The team suggests the common name Deepak’s wood snake.

Wood snakes

  • Wood snakes are harmless, sub-fossorial and often found while digging soil in farms and under the logs in the Western Ghat forests.
  • They feed on earthworms and possibly other invertebrates. Interestingly, their close relatives are found in northeast India and Southeast Asia and are known to be arboreal.

Drier habitat

  • “This new species is found in the drier regions and in lower altitudes around Agasthyamalai hills. The other Xylophis were reported from cold higher altitudes, of 1,700 m and above, in the Nilgiris and the Anaimalai. Its close relative, Captain’s wood snake, is known from the western slopes of the Western Ghats in the Kerala.
  • The snake was previously confused with X. captaini, but detailed morphological studies showed that the it had a broader off-white collar and more ventral scales.
  • Further, DNA studies indicated that it was indeed a new species and was a close relative to X. captaini.
  • The new find increases the total number of currently recognised wood snakes to five species.




Climate change causing a shift in Earth’s axis

Why in news?

  • Rising sea levels, heatwaves, melting glaciers and storms are some of the well-known consequences of climate change. New research has added yet another impact to this list – marked shifts in the axis along which the Earth rotates.
  • While this change is not expected to affect daily life, it can change the length of the day by a few milliseconds.

How the Earth’s axis shifts

  • The Earth’s axis of rotation is the line along which it spins around itself as it revolves around the Sun.
  • The points on which the axis intersects the planet’s surface are the geographical north and south poles.
  • The location of the poles is not fixed, however, as the axis moves due to changes in how the Earth’s mass is distributed around the planet. Thus, the poles move when the axis moves, and the movement is called “polar motion”.
  • According to NASA, data from the 20th century shows that the spin axis drifted about 10 centimetres per year. Meaning over a century, polar motion exceeds 10 metres.
  • Generally, polar motion is caused by changes in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, oceans, or solid Earth. But now, climate change is adding to the degree with which the poles wander.

What the new study says

  • Since the 1990s, climate change has caused billions of tonnes of glacial ice to melt into oceans. This has caused the Earth’s poles to move in new directions.
  • As per the study, the north pole has shifted in a new eastward direction since the 1990s, because of changes in the hydrosphere (meaning the way in which water is stored on Earth).
  • From 1995 to 2020, the average speed of drift was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995. Also, in the last four decades, the poles moved by about 4 metres in distance.
  • The calculations were based on satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission as well as estimates of glacier loss and groundwater pumping going back to the 1980s.
  • The faster ice melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s.
  • The other possible causes are (terrestrial water storage) change in non‐glacial regions due to climate change and unsustainable consumption of groundwater for irrigation and other anthropogenic activities.
  • While ice melting is the major factor behind increased polar motion, groundwater depletion also adds to the phenomenon. As millions of tonnes of water from below the land is pumped out every year for drinking, industries or agriculture, most of it eventually joins the sea, thus redistributing the planet’s mass.




How are the coronavirus variants classified?

What is a variant and how do they emerge?

  • Variants of a virus have one or more mutations that differentiate it from the other variants that are in circulation.
  • While most mutations are deleterious for the virus, some make it easier for the virus to survive.
  • The SARS-CoV-2 virus is evolving fast because of the scale at which it has infected people around the world. High levels of circulation mean it is easier for the virus to change as it is able to replicate faster.
  • The B.1.617 variant of the virus has two mutations, referred to as E484Q and L452R. Both are separately found in many other coronavirus variants, but they have been reported together for the first time in India.
  • This variant is classified as a Variant of Interest (VOI) by the WHO as well.
  • The L452R mutation has been found in some other VOIs such as B.1.427/ B.1.429, which are believed to be more transmissible and may be able to override neutralising antibodies.

So, how are variants of the coronavirus being classified and what does it mean?

  • Public Health England (PHE) says that if the variants of SARS-CoV-2 are considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, they are raised for formal investigation.
  • At this point, the variants emerging from the B.1.617 lineage are designated as Variants Under Investigation (VUI) with a year, month, and number (For instance, the three variants first identified in India are called VUI-21APR-01, VUI-21APR-02 and VUI-21APR-03) by PHE.
  • Following a risk assessment with the relevant expert committee, the variants identified in India may be designated Variant of Concern (VOC) by the UK health authority.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on the other hand classifies variants into three categories– variant of interest (VOI), variant of concern (VOC) and variant of high consequence.
  • The CDC defines a VOI as, “A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.”
  • While a VOC is defined as “A variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.”




COVID-19 now 2nd biggest cause of death in India

  • The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has emerged the second-biggest cause of death in India In a span of merely eight weeks.
  • COVID-19 overtook chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to be only behind ischemic heart disease among leading causes of death in the country.
  • Other top causes of deaths in India were: strokes (fourth), diarrhoeal diseases (fifth), neonatal disorders (sixth), lower respiratory infections (seventh), tuberculosis (eighth), diabetes mellitus (ninth) and chronic liver diseases, including cirrhosis (tenth).
  • This pandemic is deadlier than the deadliest natural disasters that stuck India in the last two decades.
  • Natural disasters like the floods and cyclones have been attributed to impacts of climate attributed to human activities.




COVID-19 has aggravated challenges to manage forests

  • The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has aggravated the challenges faced by countries in managing their forests, a recent United Nations report has said.
  • Forests have been a lifeline for millions of people during the pandemic. Some of the most vulnerable segments of society, especially the rural poor and indigenous peoples have turned to forests for their most essential subsistence needs.
  • This has increased pressures on forest systems, the Global Forest Goals Report 2021, prepared by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations.
  • The report draws upon 52 voluntary national reports and 19 voluntary national contributions, representing 75 per cent of forests in the world.
  • It provides an initial overview of progress towards achieving the six Global Forest Goals and their 26 associated targets as contained within the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2030.
  • The United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030 was created with a mission to promote sustainable forest management and enhance the contribution of forests and trees to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The Plan recognizes that in order to create a world in which forests could provide economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits for present and future generations, they will be needed by humanity in the first place.
  • The first Global Forest Goal in the Plan provides for increasing forest area by three per cent by 2030.
  • Climate change and a biodiversity crisis are other big threats to forest ecosystems besides the pandemic.
  • The ‘Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) had highlighted that one million species were at risk of extinction and that 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost from 1980-2000.




Measles campaigns suspended in most countries

  • As countries observe the World Immunization Week 2021 (April 24-30), there is disturbing news of irreversible discontinuation of life-saving immunisation campaigns endangering lives of millions of children pouring out.
  • According to latest data released by the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 lifesaving campaigns — including mass immunisations — have been postponed in 50 countries. This puts around 228 million people, dominantly children, at immediate risk of diseases like measles, yellow fever and polio.
  • Over half of the 50 affected countries are in Africa.
  • Disruption in immunisation for measles, one of the most contagious diseases, is a cause of concern. This is because there have been large outbreaks of this disease in the unvaccinated population.
  • In November 2020, WHO researchers estimated that more than 207,000 people died from measles in 2019. This was the highest figure in 23 years.
  • In recent months, there have been major measles outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Yemen. WHO forecasts that there would be similar outbreaks in other countries as well due to slowing down or cessation of immunisation.




World Press Freedom Day 2021

  • 3 May acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
  • Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom.
  • It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.
  • This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Information as a Public Good” serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind.
  • World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, 3 May, is celebrated as World Press Freedom Day.




International Labour Day 2021

  • International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in most countries, is celebrated on May 1 every year.
  • International Labour Day 2021 or May Day dedicated to workers and labourers across the world, is also called the International Day of Workers or International Labour Day.
  • May Day celebrates labourers and encourages them to be aware of their rights.

History and significance

  • Labour Day or May Day honours the hard work of people across the world and celebrates their achievements. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement in the United States in the 19th Century. In the United States and Canada, Labour Day is however celebrated on the first Monday in September, honouring workers and their contribution to society.
  • In 1889, a body of socialist groups and trade unions, in the US designated May 1 as a day for workers. This was in rememberance of the Haymarket Riots in Chicago in 1886, when a labour protest rally turned violent after someone threw a bomb at the police.
  • May 1 in Europe, has historically always been linked with rural traditional farmers’ festivals but later on May Day became associated with the modern labour movement.