Dr Neha Mathur

How Merkel won back the love and confidence of Germany

How Merkel won back the love and confidence of Germany

This is the last year in office for Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the one that will seal her legacy. The current Covid-19 pandemic has likely been the greatest challenge for Merkel who is closing in to almost 15 years in the position. And it would be safe to say that this pandemic crisis has bridged the gap between Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel’s final term as Chancellor was proving to be a nightmare before the pandemic hit. She faced quite a backlash during migration crisis in 2015-16. Following that in 2017 Merkel’s party, Christian Democratic Union lost base in elections and started stumbling in polls. Post humiliating defeat in regional elections, Merkel announced in October 2018 not to re-run in 2021 national elections. Soon after that she quit her position as party head. Chancellor’s coalition partner party, the Social Democrats were also struggling with unmatched low numbers in the polls. European Union was struggling hard and treading water but unable to find any settling common ground on important issues such as migration. It seemed Chancellor Angela Merkel had lost her spark and appeared listless and lost – further fraying her away from Germany.

But 2020 was an unpleasant, but a welcome change to Merkel’s legacy. A pandemic that has made Ms. Merkel shining in headlines, and for all the good reasons. Under her unmatched leadership, Germany has notably low mortality rate with high number of tests being done and an excellent contact tracing mechanism, that have contributed to successfully contain virus spread in the country. This success is in high markings attributed to the chancellor. A recent poll stamps the belief indicating over 82% of Germans agreeing that Merkel is doing her “job rather well”. This has also bolstered her party’s faring among competitors.

The pandemic has been a litmus test of chancellor’s leadership and has pumped up her reputation and burnished it as one of Germany’s best leaders. How did Germany fall in love with Ms. Merkel all over again?

The prime decisions, like that of social distancing and schools closures, were being taken by 16 federal states of Germany when the virus struck. But without wasting any precious time, chancellor Merkel took the leading role and coordinated the decisions and communications between state heads, thus facilitating an equal and regularized guidelines to be followed across the country, with required convoking of top scientists.

Ms. Merkel assessed the severity of looming pandemic as early as in January with just a few cases in world and most in China. She grasped the implications it could have and rushed her way to chalk out a plan of action for possible worse days ahead. When in February number of cases spiked in Germany, chancellor was clear on what had to be done – her agenda was crystal clear. Public proceedings were immediately locked down in Germany. The fact that all 16 federal state heads agreed with Chancellor and followed through the guidelines was the true beauty signifying her leadership. It showcased the respect Ms. Merkel had gained through years of weathering down the crises efficiently. In her term in office as chancellor, Ms. Merkel had seen it all – financial crisis, European debt crisis, Russia’s 2014 invasion in Ukraine, migration crisis and international fallout from Brexit. And Merkel handled all of it with true leadership and poise. It was enough for state heads to fall in line right behind her.

Sigmar Gabriel, an eminent Social Democrat says, “She’s crisis-proof. Germany is lucky to have such an experienced leader in times of corona.”

At the level of European bloc too Merkel didn’t shy away from taking the lead as pandemic widened the drift between north and south Europe, and Italy facing financial and medical crisis, and some countries not too eager to provide aid. Mr. Gabriel adds, “I believe she understood that this could be Europe’s end. She knew that if she didn’t act, member states in need would look for help outside Europe – and China was fired up and ready to step in.”

Ms. Merkel along with French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a recovery fund. She did what she was criticized of not doing – speeding up Europe’s integration. Despite of backlash and opposition from the “frugal four” countries of Austria, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden regarding the terms of fund, Ms. Merkel is clear on her position.

“It is very much in all the member states’ own interests to maintain a strong European internal market”, Ms. Merkel said in a recent interview.

The best and most surprising development has been the support chancellor has got from the German people, and that too without trying. Her wisdom, reliability, diligence and levelheadedness are the most cherished traits, and the exactly ones that make her distant and impermeable. But when she reached out to people of Germany through a televised speech, it did the trick of striking a cord with the citizens.

The pandemic has brought a fierce leadership in Ms. Merkel, which was always there, but with a sense of overcaution and hesitance. But now these are no longer present, and are instead replaced by a highly capable leader that Germany needed at this time of crisis.

Trump has dug a pit for himself, Reparation possible before November? – An Analysis

Trump has dug a pit for himself, Reparation possible before November? – An Analysis

Presidency is a notoriously difficult job. But no event can be a positive illustration of the broadly divergent views of President Donald Trump’s stance at this important position and his predecessors’ views and approach on important issues such as health, civic state, and immigration, which are now engulfing the United States of America like wildfire.

Trump has conveniently been shrugging off important issues throughout this year, more so in this past week. He has, in a single tone, been insisting that coronavirus will eventually “disappear” and that things are “under control”. The intelligence reports on Russian bounties were declared as a “hoax”. The civil unrest in country has been handled by the President in the most un-Presidential manner – controversial tweets, indirectly supporting the police “misconduct” – while the entire nation was subliming in the old racial divisions in the country.  

Close aids to President Trump often show opinion of whether he actually enjoys being a President. His day in Oval Office infamously starts very late, sometimes by noon, while he is often spending his mornings in front of cable TV. He has clearly expressed his boredom through important meetings and sessions for some decisive actions. Trump has been seen fixated on superficial and unimportant pursuits like purchasing Greenland, presenting Elton John album to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un – while substantive issues laid ignored.

Pandemic – The nightmare for President Trump

President Trump has hinted many close aides in private how he has lost interest in combating the public health crisis of Covid-19 pandemic. He feels that there are just a few upsides related to political future to an uncontained pandemic.

President Trump, since the beginning of pandemic, has chimed the “situation is under control” stance. He has conveniently flaunted no-mask attire in public, demonstrating his outlook of a dire global situation.

Well, the current US situation is far from being “handled”.

US is leading the world in COVID-19 positive cases and also the deceased. The situation in country is quickly reeling out of control with new cases reaching 50,000 plus per day.

Despite of inflammable situation, Trump is open to hold rallies for upcoming Presidential elections in November, and with no-mask policy being issued during rally. Furthermore, instead of owning up the situation like a true leader he has made his Vice President Mike Pence the incharge of sharing bad news. He is consistently ignoring warnings and recommendations of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Head of White House Coronavirus Task Force and Director at NIAID, and CDC head Dr. Robert Redfield. President Trump is clearly not diverging from his callous outlook regarding pandemic.

Civil War – Anti Racism Protests

Since the day anti-racism protests engulfed the country post death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, President Trump has practiced tone-deaf and insensitive remarks and tweets attracting criticism from global and national leaders as well as public.

In a recent development on Wednesday, he called the slogan “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate”. Though he hasn’t used this phrase for the very evident confederate symbols and statues across the country which are being ripped off steadily now. Trump has made it sure not to engage in the discussion of omitting confederate symbols from the country, stating that its “an irreplaceable part of country’s heritage”. This is increasingly against the belief of over 52% of Americans who believe the symbols must be removed.

At the delicate situation of civic unrest in the country, President Trump has acted like a catalyst to fire. He has been more of a non-unifying President – turning his back on a situation that needs to be addressed. He ordered to tear-gas peaceful protestors in front of White Office just for a photo-op on his way to church. Nothing can be more non-dignifying and inhuman for a man at this important position.

Russia Issue  

Intelligence released the issue of Russia paying Taliban fighters to kill American troops. But President Trump instead of planning to combat the situation, he charged against the intelligence and those who leaked the information. “I think it’s a hoax. I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.”

President Trump has attracted a lot of attention during his term, more in this year. With his indifference towards sensitive issues he has clearly shown the stark difference between him and his predecessors. The year has clearly highlighted the absence of true leadership that is expected of a president. November is closing in for the Presidential elections and President Donald Trump seems to be losing his ground, especially in the states that were the deciding factors in 2016 elections. The point is that he doesn’t even seem to be trying. November will be the true litmus test of how Donald Trump has fared the Presidentship.

Historic vote in Mississippi state legislature passes bill to remove confederate symbol from state flag

Historic vote in Mississippi state legislature passes bill to remove confederate symbol from state flag

In a historic vote on Sunday the Mississippi state legislature passed a bill to remove confederate symbol from the state flag. This referendum holds its importance as this eliminates the confederate insignia from the last and only state flag still holding it. The last step is now the bill to be signed by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, who said that he would sign for it to be into law.

The legislation was cleared in both state house as well as state Senate. In the house the bill was cleared with 91-23 vote while in the Senate there was clearance with 37-14 vote. This was a win for Mississippi’s lawmakers who have been deliberating to bring the change in flag by removing the confederate symbol as cause and effect of the ongoing anti-racial protests across the country. The flag for Mississippi state was adopted in 1894 with design including red, white and blue stripes, and Confederate battle emblem in the corner.

The Mississippi voters are set to vote on the new flag design in November elections. The bill has established that a commission would be responsible for designing the state flag that includes phrase “In God, We Trust.” The flag would be lacking the confederate symbol.

State Rep. Jeramy Anderson tweeted welcoming the bill passing “I thank those who came before us, who with courage and resolve nurtured the Civil Rights Movement that helped bring us to this day. What a beautiful moment of unity.”

The confederate symbol, its flag and statues of confederate leaders have long divided the United States of America, experts say. Critics say that these symbols of confederacy mark the historic war that was on to uphold slavery. On the contrary, supporters say that it resonates pride and heritage of Southern America. In an aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, the increased protests against discrimination and violence against Black Americans led to removing of many confederate leaders statues across the country – some by protestors and some by the city leaders.

262 Pakistani airlines pilots grounded over shady licenses and credentials, case a ‘serious lapse’ in safety
Asia Pacific Focus

262 Pakistani airlines pilots grounded over shady licenses and credentials, case a ‘serious lapse’ in safety

In a serious lapse of safety protocols in aviation industry, Pakistan is grounding 262 pilots over dodging their examinations and flying under fake credentials, the Pakistan aviation ministry said on Friday. This action is to be followed by an enquiry into their qualifications. The recent development that became a global concern was an aftermath of recent Pakistan airlines airplane crash in Karachi in late May which led to a probe.

The airline crash in Karachi in month of May led to initiating of an investigation into the accident which revealed lapse on the pilots’ side where they neglected the safety protocols and standard procedures. 97 onboard passengers met their ill fate leading to uproar in the aviation ministry and a call for probe.

On Thursday, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had communicated that it would “ground the pilots with dubious credentials”. Since 2018 there has been an ongoing investigation around examinations and credentials of the airlines pilots, conveyed Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Majority of pilots have been accused of someone filling in for them during examinations, and on many occasions all the eight required papers were managed to be written fraudulently.

On Friday, it was conveyed by the Pakistan Aviation Ministry that the 262 grounded Pakistan pilots have pending inquiries against them. The pilots under investigations include 141 from PIA, 9 from Air Blue, Serene Airlines’ 9 pilots, and 17 from Shaheen Airlines. Shaheen airlines have however closed operations now. The list includes 109 commercial pilots while 153 are airline transport pilots, Sarwar Khan elaborated.

Raheel Ahmed, Air Blue deputy Managing Director – Commercial said, “We are still waiting for the list.” PIA official too reported as to not having received any list of grounded pilots. Both the airlines, Air Blue and PIA have offered full cooperation into the investigation and compliance of grounding the listed pilots. The list will be shortly publicized on civil aviation website, an official from aviation ministry said.

The listed pilots have been restricted from flying for clubs or charter services as well.

The recent grounding of the pilots in question is keeping in mind global standards and maintaining Pakistan’s airlines international standing. Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said, “I think this will help us in satisfying the international organizations that we have corrected the wrongdoings.”

The publicized error in pilot’s credentials has led to an uproar on international aviation stage. The International Air Transportation Association and European Union Aviation Safety Agency have conveyed their concerns over dubious credentials on such a large scale.

The pilots in Pakistan first came under scrutiny when a 2018 crash landing led to investigations – the pilot’s license had test date as a holiday, which indicated of a fake license. This led to a probe in motion leading to grounding of 16 PIA pilots in early 2019.

The revised test plan for pilots came into effect in 2012. It was a tricky test schedule in order to match international standards which might have led prospective pilots to acquire illegal means to get license. The program requires passing of 8 exams and minimum 1500 hours of flying experience to get the flying license.    The probe has led to suspending of at least 5 top aviation officials. Khan has assured of fair and legit inquiry into the matter.

Fauci and Redfield testify before House Committee on Trump’s response to COVID-19

Fauci and Redfield testify before House Committee on Trump’s response to COVID-19

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Head of US Covid-19 response team and Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were among the health experts who testified on Tuesday before a House Committee on the Coronavirus response of Donald Trump’s administration.

During the hearing, Dr. Redfield reported that in US more than 7000 nursing homes have Covid patients admitted. The nursing homes have been the worst effected of the coronavirus infection spread. Redfield commented that the coronavirus has “brought the country on its knees”. He said during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing “We’ve all done the best that we can do to tackle this virus.”

Dr. Redfield highlighted that the country could end up spending close to $7 trillion to control the Covid-19 pandemic. He also mentioned that this virus has highlighted the years of underfunding in health department in the country which is showcased by the under working of “core capabilities of public health”. He stressed on the importance of a well structured public health system at the local level.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said that it is mandatory to wear masks, with no ‘exceptions’ at all the universities and educational institutes. However, regarding reopening of the schools and colleges, he said that “no one size fits all”. He said “If you have very, very few cases like in a small college in a county, I think you can be really very liberal in the opening.” Fauci also stressed on the importance of the caregivers in schools and staff in colleges regarding infection spread.

Fauci Redfield - Fauci and Redfield testify before House Committee on Trump’s response to COVID-19
Operation Warp Speed

Dr. Anthony Fauci said that when he heard the name “Operation Warp Speed” given by the Trump’s administration to the coronavirus vaccine project, he “flinched a little.” He elaborated that the name sounded “reckless” to him and that worried him. “I think there was some good intentions about using the ‘Warp Speed’, but I myself flinched a little, because I know that people might think its reckless.”

The vaccine manufactures, Fauci said, were taking immense risk while working to bring out a vaccine in an earliest manner.

In the House hearing Dr. Fauci when asked by Rep. Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat that whether he had directly advised or recommended President Trump to wear a mask in public, Dr. Anthony said that he had not “directly recommended” him to wear mask.  

Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he is not in a position to clearly comment on President Trump’s multiple reasons of not wearing a mask. But the fact that he himself wears a mask in public at all times is a clear indication that wearing mask is highly recommended.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he was not consulted with anyone from the administration regarding the decision to hold US funding to World Health Organization.

Fauci clarified that irrespective of the US funding status to WHO, NIA and CDC are in constant collaboration with the WHO, and that himself and Dr. Redfield are in daily talks with WHO officials. However, Dr. Fauci said that he was concerned with the President Trump’s decision on funding.

The key highlights of the House hearing are:

  • Covid-19 vaccine by the end of 2020 is still a possibility.
  • Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield were clear that despite of President’s assertion over reducing the testing, the testing will only increase.
  • Dr. Redfield urged the Americans to get the flu shot for next season’s influenza as it is potentially be simultaneously with the Covid-19.
  • Dr. Fauci said that recent surge in cases in certain parts of country is worrying. But few states like New York are fairing better now.
A tough choice for Joe Biden: Who would be his Vice-Presidential candidate?

A tough choice for Joe Biden: Who would be his Vice-Presidential candidate?

United States is gearing up for November elections and the international stage is set to witness the unfolding. These elections have the power to change world’s political dynamics as well as the equilibrium of US, as the country faces a year buffeted by COVID-19 pandemic, economic plummeting, mass protests against racial discrimination.

The Presidential candidates President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have world’s attention. Polls and primaries show Democratic candidate Biden as the front runner and clearly a favorite.

In March during his final primary Democratic candidate speech Joe Biden had pledged that his Vice President candidate would be a woman. With months passed since that and post multiple developments, Biden is yet to finalize his VP nominee and is set to announce that in August. If Biden does fulfill his promise of choosing a woman as his VP runner, it would mark the third time in US politics history where a female VP candidate was chosen. This would be four years after Hillary Clinton became the first woman Presidential candidate in American politics history.

The decision of choosing a female VP would be advantageous for Democratic party to vet the female voters, and also for Biden who was lately accused of unwanted physical advances towards women.

The favorite top contenders for Biden’s Vice Presidential runner are an interesting amalgamation of qualities and what they bring to the table.

Kamala Harris – California Senator

Kamala Harris is the candidate of choice and considered the front-runner for VP’s slot. An impressive resume with experience of US Senate, California’s Attorney General and also San Francisco’s District Attorney. She has an upper hand due to her heritage, owing to recent anti-racist protests – her mother is from India and father from Jamaica. She is also being vetted by Democrats who prefer a ‘woman of colour’ to be Biden’s VP choice.

Harris has already shown her popularity and charisma of mass appeal as she was a top-tier candidate for President last year.

With her Harris brings funding and access to California’s money. She recently raised close to $2 million for Biden in a virtual event. She is popular among Democrats for being vocal about recent police reforms advocacy. It wouldn’t be a surprise if she does end up being Joe Biden’s VP choice.

Gretchen Whitmer – Michigan Governor

Gretchen Whitmer gained popularity after pandemic hit the country and her state Michigan became one of the first hotspot in country. She openly blamed Trump administration for poorly managing the pandemic. She also imposed strict social distancing and complete economy shutdown, attracting anger of Republicans. She was a target of Trump for her criticism and thus gained favor from Democrats.

She can be a possible choice as Michigan was narrowly lost by Hillary Clinton against Trump in 2016 elections. To avoid a similar situation Whitner can be a probable VP choice.

Tammy Duckworth – Illinois Senator

Tammy’s resume skyrockets just off the page. She lost both her legs when her helicopter that she was piloting was shot down in Iraq. She retired from military and later became assistant secretary in President Barack Obama’s Department of Veteran Affairs. She won the Senate seat in 2016. She is first Thai-American woman to be elected in Congress and also first double amputee woman. In 2018 she became first woman to give birth while serving in Senate office. These off the books pointers can make her an interesting choice.

Elizabeth Warren – Massachusetts Senator

Warren once a popular face during Democratic Presidential nominee, lost her charisma few months in line. She was expected to chime in with Bernie Sanders after she dropped out from race, but refrained. This might have earned her some brownie points from the Biden team.

Tammy Baldwin – Wisconsin Senator

In 2016 elections Hillary Clinton made a blunder of never campaigning in Wisconsin and paid a heavy price of losing this important state to Trump. Democrats are being extra cautious now with announcing national convention in Milwaukee. If Biden doesn’t want to repeat that mistake, Baldwin is the best choice he has got.

Kyrsten Sinema – Arizona Senator

Democrats believe that Arizona can be the deciding state which can deliver Presidentship to Joe Biden. With Trump’s anti-immigration stance the state of Arizona seems to be drifting towards Biden. She is also an interesting choice for VP candidate – if selected she would be the first openly bisexual person on VP ticket. This can vet the LGBTQ votes too for the democrats. Her young and energetic charisma can be a welcome contrast with Biden’s often staid presence.

Val Demmings – Florida Congresswoman

She first became visible after Nancy Pelosi gave her a seat as a key impeachment managers for Donald Trump’s Senate Trial in January. This former Chief of Police from Orlando was on Biden’s radar for VP candidate long before racial justice became a top agenda post George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

Keisha Lance Bottoms – Atlanta Mayor

Bottoms became a hero in office as she openly expressed her compassion and emotions during George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, and the protests that followed as an aftermath. She hit a string with mass being a woman of colour in office, mother of four children, and fearing for their lives being Black Americans. She can be an interesting choice for Biden’s VP ticket given current circumstances.

Joe Biden’s pick for his Vice Presential ticket is going to be an interesting feat to watch. The aftermath in response to the choice even more interesting. The November elections are going to be high voltage drama owing to current political scenario in country and the pandemic responses.

Top contenders for Biden’s Vice Presidential Runner - A tough choice for Joe Biden: Who would be his Vice-Presidential candidate?
Top Contenders For Biden’s Vice Presidential Runner
COVID-19: Low cost Dexamethasone proves to be first life-saving drug

COVID-19: Low cost Dexamethasone proves to be first life-saving drug

In a major breakthrough for treatment of Coronavirus infection, UK’s Oxford University scientists have identified Dexamethasone, a steroid drug of significantly reducing mortality in patients with severe respiratory complications.

Dexamethasone is a low cost steroid drug that is used for treatment of asthma, allergies and rheumatoid arthritis.

The UK experts say that this is a major breakthrough in the treatment of coronavirus infection as Dexamethasone is a widely available and cheap drug. The drug is a part of the world’s biggest trial for testing the existing treatments regarding their efficacy.

The study reports that dexamethasone use can reduce the deaths by one-third in patients on ventilators and by one-fifth in those on oxygen therapy.

The researchers in Oxford University suggest that if the drug had been used since beginning of pandemic in the UK, it could have saved lives of up to 5000 patients who couldn’t survive the virus. Furthermore, the fact that this drug is cheap and widely available makes it advantageous for poor countries with high Covid-19 case tally to avail the benefits of this drug.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrated this achievement by the researchers in the direction of Coronavirus treatment. He said, “We have taken steps to ensure we have enough supplies, even in the event of a second peak.” UK government has over 200,000 courses of dexamethasone in stockpile. NHS will be making the drug available to patients soon, said UK health secretary Matt Hancock.

The trial

The trial which began in March in NHS hospitals in the UK, began with 2,104 patients being given 6 mg of dexamethasone once a day for 10 days, orally or through intravenous injection. This sample was compared with control sample of 4,321 patients who were not given the drug.

Dexamethasone was found to reduce the mortality in one-third of ventilated patients and one-fifth in patients only on oxygen therapy.

Dexamethasone status in India

In India, dexamethasone is widely available in form of injectables and tablets, and is used in treatment of sepsis and other life threatening infections. The annual sale of the drug is of over INR 100 crore. The largest manufacturer of the drug in India is Ahmedabad based Zydus Cadila. Many small scale manufacturers also produce the drug.

Zydus Cadila chairman Pankaj Patel said, “There are enough supplies in India. It’s been used for over four decades in several indications and is very affordable.”

The price of dexamethasone is capped under Drug Price Control Order, at INR 5-6 per injection.  

Effects of Dexamethasone

Statistics show that of 20 patients of coronavirus, 19 recover without having to be admitted in hospitals. These patients may require ventilators or oxygen therapy and are considered to be high risk patients. Dexamethasone appears to be helpful in these patients.

The drug has anti-inflammatory properties for which it is indicated in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and many skin ailments.

When body’s immune system goes into overdrive to fight off the coronavirus infection, some damage appears to be caused in body. Dexamethasone helps to stop or minimize this damage. This overdrive, also known as “cytokine storm” can be deadly. The researchers however warn against over the counter use of this drug. Dexamethasone does not show any effects on patients with milder symptoms.

North Korea blows up joint liaison office in Kaesong as defectors’ leaflet campaign row escalates

North Korea blows up joint liaison office in Kaesong as defectors’ leaflet campaign row escalates

Just a few hours after North Korea threatened to send in military troops across the heavily guarded border, it blew up the liaison office with South Korea in Kaesong.

The liaison office was built near the North Korea’s border town of Kaesong in 2018 to help the countries communicate, especially during a state of war. It was a result of successful talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea President Moon Jae-in.  Since January 2020 however, it has been empty due to the coronavirus induced restrictions.

South Korea has responded to this action by North Korea warning that it would “respond strongly” if North Korea “continues to worsen the situation.” South Korea said over the latest development, “The destruction of the office abandons the hopes of everyone who wanted the development of inter-Korean relations and peace settlements in the Korean peninsula. The government makes it clear that all responsibility of this situation lies in the North.”

Background of the increasing rift

The tensions between the countries have been on a rise since weeks over defector groups in South sending propaganda across the border.

The anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets being sent by the defectors’ groups to North Korea across the borders haven’t gone too well by the country leading to the rapidly escalating situation.

Why the North blew up liaison office?

Kim Yo-Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had threatened of demolishing the “useless” office on weekend. She is being viewed as a strong ally to the leader with an increasing influence.

On Saturday she said, “Before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen.”

So why did North Korea decide on acting on the situation now? There are many possible scenarios being interpreted by Seoul.

One probable reason, but that is more likely an excuse, is that Pyongyang is blaming Seoul of its inability to curb the anti-regime propaganda leaflets passing across the border by the defectors. The leaflets were blamed to give North Koreans a reason to “rally around”.

This “leafleting” has widened the cracks in North Korea system as the leader has failed to bring economic prosperity in country since his regime beginning in 2011. The international sanctions strictness remains a major concern too. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the rural North Korea has given the citizens a reason to voice their protest – something feared by the leadership tremendously.

This escalation of situation by blowing the liaison office might be a way to “punish” South Korea and gain a leverage in future peace talks. It can also be an attempt to gain a stronghold back in the country with fear and panic spreading.

Deciphering the Group of 7: Time to evolve?

Deciphering the Group of 7: Time to evolve?

The G7 summit that was scheduled for June, 2020 in Washington D.C. has been rescheduled to a ‘to be decided’ date by the host President Donald Trump of U.S. The decision followed the Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opting out for the “in-person” summit, on the grounds of Covid-19 travel restrictions. Anyways, the past G7 meetings haven’t been particularly fruitful.

President Trump, who has postponed the summit to at least September this year has been touting expansion of the Group 7 with some additions and some negating of members. He has clearly declared “G7 is a very outdated group of countries and no longer properly represent of what’s going on in the world.” Rhetorically speaking, he stressed on the question “why is it G7, why can’t it be G10 or G11”? Trump is often seen advocating the inclusion of India, Australia, South Korea and Russia in the group. However, the inclusion of Russia is being opposed strongly by the member countries after it was ousted in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea.

This logic of expansion sounds pretty decent and self-explanatory – worth giving a thought.

The White House Director of Strategic Communication indicated that President Trump wanted to include countries, including the Five Eyes Countries – Australia, United States, Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom, that form the intelligence alliance. China’s future in the group is also under scrutiny, President Trump suggested.

India’s Position

China has reportedly opposed India’s permanent inclusion in the group, but that doesn’t necessarily affect India’s “attendance” and “presence”. India has in fact attended several G7 summits in past as a special invitee.

G7 – Past worth knowing

In the early 1970s, G7 was founded, a club of rich democracies.

When an embargo was imposed by OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) against Canada, Japan, Netherlands and U.S., their economies were rattled. This was an aftermath of 1973 Arab-Israel War that led to quadrupling of oil prices.

France was however, spared from this embargo, the reaction of OPEC was experienced across the countries. Post this, France invited Finance Ministers of five most economically developed countries – United States, Germany, Italy, Japan, and United Kingdom. With the inclusion of Canada following year in 1976, and European Union (European Commission at that time) a year later led to the official founding of G7.

G7 became G8 in 1998 with the Russian Federation joining with initiation from US President Bill Clinton and UK PM Tony Blair. However, in 2014 Russia was expelled post Crimea annexation leading to the present day G7.

Economic picture – Then, Now and in Future

G7 at the time of its establishment had countries whose GDP was almost two-thirds of global GDP. As per PwC report, these countries now account for less than one-third of Global GDP. This figure is based on the basis of PPP (purchasing power parity) and MER (market exchange rates).

The Emerging 7 or E7 are the seven largest emerging or growing economies. These include India, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey and Russia. These economies constitute more than a third of global GDP based on PPP and MER.

India is world’s third largest economy currently based on PPP.

PwC predicts that by 2050, leading six economies would be China, India, US, Indonesia, Brazil and Russia. It projects that China would be the leading economy followed by India and US as number three. India’s GDP is expected to increase from $17 trillion in 2030 to $42 trillion in 2050 based on PPP.

Reform needed in the G7 institution

Covid-19 pandemic has put the world in distress with global economy shattered. Countries need a flexible and resilient system to cope with the current situation flux and a multilateral approach to resolve the global scenario. Existing group and other international stages have failed to get ahead in task. A new approach is maybe needed to accentuate the existing system.

The smart decision would be to include the emerging economies to the G7 structure. But it is in high probability that if President Donald Trump loses the reelection, this might take a back seat for few years at least.

Coronavirus infection spread: Symptomatic vs Asymptomatic, What do we know?

Coronavirus infection spread: Symptomatic vs Asymptomatic, What do we know?

Coronavirus infection transmission rate and the potency of infection spread from asymptomatic patients is still “unknown”, World Health Organization clarified on Tuesday. This was after Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’S COVID-19 technical lead said on Monday that infection spread from asymptomatic cases is “very rare”. The fact that this observation was based on a small study group, makes it not reliable.

Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, Dr. Michael Ryan said that undoubtedly there is transmission of infection from asymptomatic sources and that he was “absolutely convinced” about it. Just the question left is that “how much” infection spread rate is from patients displaying no symptoms.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who is also the WHO’S Head of Emerging Diseases clarified the distinctive features between three categories of coronavirus patients/ carriers.

  • Asymptomatic patients – these are the ones who never develop any symptoms to infection, and therefore sometimes might go undetected.
  • Pre-symptomatic – These patients do not have any symptoms when they are tested positive, but they develop them later on.
  • Mild symptomatic – These people have very mild or common (atypical) symptoms and they usually do not realize they have the infection, and go undetected.

These minor differences between categories, which are seldom not mentioned in the reports, along with small sample size for study make it significantly difficult to draw any conclusions regarding carriers and spread of coronavirus infection.

But Dr. Van Kerkhove suggested that available evidences indicate lower infection spread instances from patients who never develop the symptoms or are asymptomatic, when compared to patients with mild or moderate-severe symptoms.  

According to studies conducted by the WHO in various random sample groups of asymptomatic cases, when contact tracing was done it was discovered that there were very low secondary infection cases among people who came in contact with asymptomatic patients.

WHO published in “guidance on wearing masks” on weekend, based on the study concluding “The available evidence from contact tracing reported by member states suggests that asymptomatically-infected individuals are much less likely to transmit the virus than those who develop symptoms.”

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) in UK after consistent sample testing of patients concluded that only 29% of positive tested patients of COVID-19 reported “any evidence of symptoms” when they were tested positive, or previous or following visits.

Symptomatic patients – highest risk carriers

 Contact tracing sample studies in many countries provides evidence that “true asymptomatic” cases “rarely transmit” infection. But the studies also indicate that there can be infection transmission before or on the day symptoms appear when they are mild in severity, stated Prof. Babak Javid who is an Infectious Diseases Consultant at the University of Cambridge.

Around three days before the patients first develop symptoms, there can be a detectable load of virus present in their system, which is capable of transmission relatively higher just before or on the day of symptoms appearance.

The asymptomatic cases can transmit the infection, but the relative high infection spread by symptomatic patients provides suitable evidence that they are the “highest risk” category of carriers.

The evidence collected through studies suggests – a positive case doesn’t directly indicate the transmission capacity of the patient or how much virus is in their system, also known as “Viral Load”. But when a patient displays symptoms like sneezing and coughing and the amount of contact he has with other people, directly influences how likely he can transmit the infection. It has been substantially determined that coronavirus mainly “passes through infectious droplets”. This determines that when a patient sneezes or coughs, he is most prone to pass on the infection, pointed out Dr. Van Kerkhove.

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