Uttara J Malhotra

Canada sticks to two meter Guideline for physical distancing but not mask
Americas

Canada sticks to two meter Guideline for physical distancing but not mask

Following the physical distancing guidelines to keep clear off contracting the corona virus is now becoming an ‘urban challenge’. Many countries are now contesting the idea of whether to keep the two meter distance is a viable option for the general public.

England for example has been debating it and there has been pressure on the government to relax the 2 meter WHO prescribed distancing protocol by travel lobby. Apart from Canada, most nations are cheating, giving away a few centimeters here or there to the prescribed distance protocol.

According to trusted sources, the United States has gone ahead with 1.8 metres, while Italy and Germany are agreeing on 1.5 metres. The most dangerous game being played is by China and France that have done with merely a meter of social distancing gap.

A minimum of 6 feet or 2 meters distance has been prescribed to ensure there is no spread of the virus from one person to the other. It is not just use of masks that can prevent the spread of the virus, but the physical distancing norm when maintained ensure the human moisture does not travel easily amongst persons.  However studies have shown that it is not just distance but also the time and duration of contact that matters when it comes to spreading the virus.

 However, some scientist differ that the two meter distance protocol isn’t written in stone and that there are other viruses that can travel through 7-8 meters as well amongst human beings. The Canadian Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam acknowledges that there’s still much to learn about the virus and that guidelines will be adjusted accordingly as more evidence is reviewed. Quebec has relaxed its two meter social distancing guideline for children below the age of 16 years, including places like day camps and schools as they resume from June 22. Strangely, the National public health guidelines were updated in May to recommend wearing a mask when it is not possible to “consistently maintain” a two-metre distance from others. But the Canadian government has not  made wearing  a mask mandatory, despite growing calls from doctors, such as a group in Ontario, to do so.

North Africa will import Wheat in substantial amounts
Middle East & Africa

North Africa will import Wheat in substantial amounts

North Africa has been hit with the worst form of drought this year.  According to agriculture experts, this has nothing to do with the pandemic but will exasperate the demand for wheat this fiscal.

According to economist Chuck Penner, looking ahead to June, July and August, “the COVID issue is actually starting to fade into the background” and many nations will start to look at stocking their pulses.  One can blame it on scant rain through mid-April that dimmed Morocco’s crop prospects in 2020. Additionally, harvests in neighboring nations also suffered.

Lackluster local supply may boost the region’s wheat purchases by 7.4% to a record 29.7 million tons in the year from July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts. The shortage of rain has been as bad as it was in 2016. Harvest prospects are as bleak as they were then prompting that Morocco will have to import a substantial amount of wheat for the year 2020-21.

It has been confirmed that Morocco might be forced to buy a record 5.8 million tons of foreign wheat and has already taken the unusual step of exempting import taxes through the end of 2020. This was compounded with private importers already pushing to double wheat inventories to six months of milling needs by October. Five months’ worth of soft wheat and four months’ worth of durum wheat was stockpiled by the end of May.

Drought like condition has exasperated over a decade due to increase in livestock and human population that has dwindled the meager supply of water to this rather dry area of the Middle East North Africa (MENA). This year, the rains have scanty. Usually the government would help needy farmers and herders with assistance. This would take the form of distribution of subsidized animal feed, rescheduling of loans, investments in water development, and in animal health. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, funds have not come that easily to the drought hit lot.

How the pandemic has redefined use of coal worldwide?
Geopolitics

How the pandemic has redefined use of coal worldwide?

The pandemic showed a complete new use of energy minus the use of the most polluting fossil fuel-coal. But as people went into lockdowns, the usage of this black rock diminished. It made the skies clearer and air felt breathable again.

Observatories worldwide reported dramatic drop in pollution levels. For UK, there was no coal usage for almost 60 days till June 01 when the country officially started to open itself up post a long lull.

The National Grid in the UK, while speaking to BBC has admitted that they don’t see the generator coming back into action sooner. Surprisingly, in the US aswell, around the Covid-19 pandemic times, more renewable energy was consumed than coal fueled energy for the first time ever this year; and all this was despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to support the industry.

Even for India, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, there is more talks about moving to renewable forms of energy, post the pandemic scare that had rendered coal fueling facilities without manpower.

India is one of the fastest growing users of coal. With the demand for the fuel having fallen anyway, there are first indications of actual reductions in the country’s carbon dioxide emissions in 37 years. The industrial revolution hit the nation a decade after independence and coal saw most corruption and black marketing around it.

According to International Energy Agency (IEA), coal usage has never been so low since the World War II.  Blame it on a trend where many nations are moving towards green energy use that has been pushed by environmental conscious lobby and NGOs.  Once you have invested in a green energy facility, it will run on natural and free resources like air, water and sunlight. Then, there is no use of incurring unnecessary costs of procuring and then feeding coal to your facility, which might have dual usage; but that’s in rare cases.

India is pioneering into round-the-clock green electricity modes. If the model is to be replicated, coal is out of business.  Speaking to Sunil Dhaiya, an energy analyst, one realizes that the virus hit the Indian coal industry in ways leaving it effectively bankrupt. “Our coal-based power plants are operating at less than 60% of capacity”, he told BBC correspondent. “They can’t pay back the money they have been lent.” There are therefore reasons to believe that international investors are already fleeing the sector.  The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (the world’s biggest) and the French bank BNP Paribas have joined financial giants like Blackrock, Standard Chartered and JP Morgan Chase to blacklist coal investments.  This has been a recent development. But as the trend is going, governments are going to be deciding the fate of the coal sector. If this is a norm followed worldwide, most maybe reluctant in investing in a sector that does not give back any sizable return. After all, they will not like to subsidize failing industries for any emotional reasons either. Here there are none, except that the environmental concerns are glaring everyone in their face; and governments cannot ignore this hugely important mandate of the people if they want to continue to hold office in whichever country they govern.

Will EU travel tourism business recover from pandemic hit?
Europe

Will EU travel tourism business recover from pandemic hit?

The European Union has been worst hit by the pandemic, when it comes to their key sector of travel and tourism. The economy which thrives on its tourist inflow has hit rock bottom as many nations systematically try and open their borders post a long induced lockdown.

In a web debate over how to make a recovery recently Matthew Baldwin, deputy director general, Mobility and Transport, the European Commission expressed his gravest concern was ‘to restore a sense of wellbeing and security amongst the people.’

Also engaging in the debate was Eduardo Santander, executive director and CEO of the European Travel Commission (ETC) who said that the situation might not revive that quickly though some activity has started to resume in the European Union post the pandemic and that is a fresh start.  According to him the best way to move ahead would be to ‘harmonized and use a united approach to travel across the European Union.’

Matthew expressed the Commission’s seriousness to come up with a solution owning to the fact that ‘there are 6 million jobs at stake and almost 10 percent GDP comes from travel and tourism for European Union.’

However in his understand a more “common approach would be most appropriate to lift restrictions of the border and create travel links without compromising the safety and hygiene aspect of the travelers.  Health protocols for hotels for example will need to be well defined as well. It is more of the perspective of safety and restoring public confidence that is important. Also we need to work out a way to really give travel operators the maximum possible certainty for them to feel reassured their business can still work,” said Matthew.

Speaking about moving ahead, he said that European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has already put down operational tool for the aviation industry.  Further he said that its most important that “as we open travel and tourism, lets concentrate on three things- coordination, transparency and non discriminatory approach.”

Portuguese Secretary of State for Tourism, Rita Marques spoke about the need for “data and information in order we can follow a coordinated approach. We will need this support coming from all member states. Mobility is also critical to restart the travel and tourism business. We need to work towards reopening borders and mobilize transport in a very harmonizing way, promote tourism within EU and then funding.  15 percent of our GDP, strong support from EU to restart the travel and tourism sector.”  Santander threw light on the fact that family travel businesses and enterprises are now facing an existential threat.  He also reiterated the problem facing EU nations post the summer months. In his opinion, the first thing to do would be to “really restore the trust amongst the players itself.” All of them believe that the damage is far more psychological that just economical and would definitely need consensus and unified rules, guidelines and standards that works well both for travelers and service providers.

How misinformation plays Trump card around George Floyd death
Geopolitics

How misinformation plays Trump card around George Floyd death

The African American citizen George Floyd was a previous offender and criminal. But the brutality of his death has shaken up America and many other nations alike. The 46 years old African American lost his life to police brutality, something which was filmed and viewed millions of times on various social media handles.

A multitude of civilians already harried due to corona virus scares and loss of jobs is angry, mobbing city bounds across the globe, shouting out for justice against racial discrimination. Previous instances of similar cases have also found mention in the mass protests that have rocked the world intrepidly over the weekend.

The world has not recovered from the uncertainty of survival to the Corona Virus. Yet people have busied themselves mimicking the death of Floyd by lying on the floor face down showing their solidarity. Floyd was pushed to the ground for almost nine minutes before he went unconscious and was later declared dead.

Photo and video grabs show people thronging streets and prominent city centres and historical hotspots. Some have gone ahead and defaced public property and given rather violent outcome to peaceful protests. Media sources are confirming the play of miscreants that are taking advantage of the sentiments of the masses.

The protests have stretched to Tokyo, Berlin, Spain, UK, Denmark, and Hungry not to forget the epicenter of the eruption- America itself. All four officers present at the time of his arrests, have been charged- one with second degree murder as well.

But what has blown the protests out of proportions is a blatant use of social media and a whole lot of misinformation that has done rounds on various channels. The social media has given the common man power; and sometimes too much of it as well. The crime was committed, recorded and therefore cannot be ignored. It might have had racial implications behind the police brutality. But the wave of misinformation that has come with it, is becoming difficult to handle for city administrations and police personnel across the globe.

According to Euronews, there has been a lot of misinformation doing rounds on the social media. Old clips are being posted and circulated. Most of them are isolated cases of assault that occurred anytime between the years 2014-2020, has been implicate to George Floyd’s death and is now (wrongly) building up hatred for police personnel in America.

The correspondents from major dailies in America and the UK have admitted that visual investigation has never been as important as it has become today, owing to the fact that a lot of misinformation could have lead to other catastrophic outcomes, had there not been visual evidence to substantiate what actually happened with George Floyd.

With the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ the globe is resonating and shouting against racial discrimination at every level, which includes various such instances of the past where Asians being subjugated in Australia as well. They might not hold relevance here right now but will only add more fuel to this uncontrollable fire.

George Floyd lost his life under the knee of a Minneapolis police man who pinned him down ,handcuffed as Floyd begged for him to free his neck, as he said ‘I can’t breathe’ for almost 16 times.

Similar demonstrations have been seen in Toronto itself. The same has seen solidarity from the prime minister who himself is said to have kneeled on one knee with his mask on to show solidarity amongst Americans and unity for all.

In Paris, several thousand demonstrators ignored a protest ban — issued due to the coronavirus pandemic — and assembled within sight of the U.S. Embassy, kept back by imposing barriers and riot police. An estimated 15,000 people gathered in the heart of Manchester, England, while 2,000 people joined in a demonstration in the Welsh capital of Cardiff.

The mass protests are a breeding ground for easy corona virus contractions and can push the various countries into second and third waves of infections again. Political analysts are right in fearing this.

Las Vegas bets on brisk Business amidst infection scares
Americas

Las Vegas bets on brisk Business amidst infection scares

Latin America does not look prepared to open up its economy for any kind of recovery from the pandemic led closed down. In the rest of America, some cities have been severely hit by the pandemic that the others. Las Vegas has braved the pandemic with low numbers of contractions and has now decided to open up its casinos to resume work. But chances of contraction are still high.

As people will start to travel across cities, it might need just constant vigilance to ensure contraction does not happen when social distancing becomes a challenge. Brazil for example had opened itself up and now reported the third wave of cases of contractions and consecutive deaths, surpassing even Italy in the toll.

As Nevada hopes to recover from the close down losses, one the biggest resorts and casinos opened up in Las Vegas. Jobs have been lost one too many as the industry is completely dependent on travel and free moving tourist.

As Vegas opened up gradually, people can be seen throwing caution to wind as normal life resumes and musical fountains start to play of Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas. But as the coronavirus pandemic threat continues, analysts are warning that a total return to normalcy for gaming stocks might not be as quick as hoped. Despite a slow trickle back to booking activity, Morningstar senior equity analyst Dan Wasiolek estimates it could take until 2023 before Las Vegas revenues return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

New York city mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the city will brave coming back to work from next week starting Monday. The city intends to keep the hygiene protocols in mind at all times and would provide two million free face masks to small businesses and set up a hotline for them to reach for questions.

Construction, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers with curbside pickup can resume operations with certain restrictions under the initial phase. The second phase would be resumption of services in eating outlets. The most vulnerable at dental clinics which are finding it tough to acquire personal care equipment at the moment.

With George Floyd’s death leading to mass protests across the US, medical fraternity fears another wave of infections and contractions amongst civilians that had taken to roads and looted and burnt public property.
Pricing has been changed for a lot of the Vegas properties that are hopeful to draw back guests, according to Brian Egger, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. With gaming floors operating at about 50% capacity, events yet to come back, and clubs remaining closed for at least the first phase of reopening, revenue streams aren’t going to be as diverse as before.

How the pandemic has redefined diplomacy world wide
Geopolitics

How the pandemic has redefined diplomacy world wide

Personal interactions have a way with relationship building in the diplomatic circuits. The walks, the tea sessions, the dining and meeting with spouses- there are many examples which help build bonds of trusts amongst the leaders of great nations.

But with the pandemic having restricted much of social meetings, virtual meetings are ruling the roost. But is virtual diplomacy really working out its way into the hearts of the leaders?

Indeed, there are consequences of social distancing and then virtual diplomacy. You have to depend on the earlier effect you might have left on the other person. It is difficult to give the same kind of impression and feeling again. According to Sven Jurgenson, Estonia’s ambassador to the U.N., “Face-to-face interactions are a key aspect of building diplomatic relations.

Right now, diplomacy seems to have been put on halt due to the pandemic and social distancing protocols which have to be adhered to. We will have to learn to adapt to this.”

Social distancing requirements and restrictions on movement have been seen to have effect on decision making processes at many levels. While virtual meetings are doing their work, the effectiveness maybe put to question.

For example, the functioning of the 15-member Security Council and the 193-member General Assembly, the two most important bodies in the multilateral system isn’t as effective as they would want it to be. The council has indeed, made a number of important procedural decisions, such as the prolongation of mandates for peacekeeping missions.

But what has been affected is strategic actions like inability to remotely cast and verify votes. Currently, the remote voting process takes up to three days. Xavier Sticker, the French ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna for example feels that sensitive issues are difficult to be addressed without in person interactions. “Diplomats have to be careful about discussing sensitive topics over phone or in a videoconference,” he explains.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) again found it difficult to get Iran on the same page, virtually. They are intending to be able to start atleast some partial personal meetings by June end.

The pandemic seemed to have hit the diplomatic channels in EU the worst. As a bloc, they are accustomed to many meetings. Many ministers admitted to a particular news agency that first few weeks were paralyzing. Videoconferences only started becoming functional when there was no other option to be seen. But that also, among European ministers was seen to be not that efficient as face-to-face meetings in Brussels are most popular to get things done. During in-person meetings, representatives of the bloc’s member states sit around a table and are able to get up and make progress on other issues while statements are made that do not concern them directly.

There is a lot of simultaneous and informal work which is also done over the personal meetings. That has been stopped and many EU ministers feel less efficient on virtual set ups.

Indeed multilateral negotiations have become slow and painful for many nations. But many leaders and governments are also forced to accept that evolution is the only way to move ahead in such times of restrictions and safe keeping.

Trudeau takes a firm stand against gun use in Canada
Americas

Trudeau takes a firm stand against gun use in Canada

Amidst getting back on tracks against a war with an unseen enemy, the coronavirus led pandemic, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has had to take some hard decisions which might not have gone well with the gun lobby.

Trudeau has now banned the use of 1500 different types of assault style gun use in Canada. This comes after a sad incident of a gunman opening fire and going on a killing spree in Nova Scotia where 22 innocent people lost their lives.

According to an Ipsos general study, most public is in support of Trudeau’s decision. Making a format announcement the government agrees that the intent is not to target rifle users and hunters but on the use on general public.

Protestors who have been victims to gun shooting in the past are not happy with the PM’s decision because they feel a complete ban would be the right thing to do that to only hold a ban on 1500 assault style guns only.

Currently, 52percent Canadian citizens feel any use of guns should be made illegal. Some believe it is an eye wash decision which is politically driven and will not have any effect on the crime rate in the country. Surprisingly hand guns are not covered in the ban, though statistics shows more instances of them being used in homicides in 2018. They accounted for almost 58 percent of such cases.

According to the ban now, effective immediately, there is a ban on buying, selling importing, exporting or dealing in any kind of military styled assault arms in Canada. This has put many gun owners in a corner and they may not even have the advantage of a buy in as of now. The gun lobby has not put in their right foot forward but that might just happen in the coming months, as not all variety of guns have been placed under the ban.

Australia may not climb the zero emission Bandwagon
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia may not climb the zero emission Bandwagon

Australia has no intentions of increasing its targets to include a zero emission rate commitment, unlike some 121 nations that have already done so, according to an official statement made by the hosting country Britain in February over a climate meeting. This could also be due to the prolonged coronavirus led lockdown that has hit their economy in a big way.

According to environmentalist, Australia’s commitment to global emission rates is not enough to meet the world standards of minimal emissions and also does not adhere to the goals send down in the Paris Agreement.

The government received advice in 2015 from the Climate Change Authority that its fair share under a meaningful global deal over that time would be a 45% to 63% cut. But somehow, the parliament is not interested in lowering its emission rates and come to a figure of general consensus.

According to Mark Butler, Labor’s Climate Change and Energy spokesperson, the Morrison government should work towards a zero emission target. Setting a target help frame appropriate policy decisions and give investors confidence too. But he feels that the Morrison government isn’t serious about the kind of damage that not lowering emission rates would do to the overall public life.

The Australian government doesn’t believe everyone has climbed the zero emission bandwagon. It says it is committed to lowering its emissions though. The Morrison government has further, promised a long-term emissions reduction strategy. It intends to hold onto it, like a trump card and will only release it before the Glasgow meeting that has been postponed due to the pandemic. It also has communicated that Australia will work according to a well defined technology investment roadmap.

This includes small modular nuclear reactors that will be brought into play to meet Australia’s energy needs.

Ironically, this stand is different from what the Morrison government had communicated in 2019 at the Pacific Island Forum about Australia’s plans to include commitments and strategies to reach net zero by 2050, which now stands that this is not the government’s policy.

According to the Paris Agreement, countries have to review their environmental commitment every five years. This would mean that those who set targets for 2025 would need to relook them in 2020itself. Additionally, the agreement has also stated that existing commitments for 2025 and 2030 are not enough to limit average global heating to less than 2C. This has been a major target for the Paris agreement. Also, we need much deeper cuts will be needed to avoid that mark. It commits countries to act in accordance with “best available science”.

AstraZeneca Funded By America For Mass Production Of Covid-19 Vaccine
Geopolitics

AstraZeneca Funded By America For Mass Production Of Covid-19 Vaccine

An Anglo-Swedish company has received a whopping order of 400 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine that is still in the testing phase. The testing has been supported by a US vaccine agency. The drug maker is AstraZeneca that has confirmed having received $1 billion from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine.

The vaccine has been developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, working with the Oxford Vaccine Group that. AstraZeneca has now joint hands with the British government and is also roping in potential partners to roll out mass production of the vaccine.

Known as the AZD1222, the company has now finalized this vaccines license agreement with Oxford University too. Currently, the company is in the position of manufacturing almost 1 billion doses. This vaccine has already been tested in England over a 1000 patients in the age group of 18-55 years. However, it is still under trial and does not guarantee that it would work on humans, as it even could not control the virus when tested on monkeys.

The delivery of the vaccine once tested and results positive will start by September 2020. Earlier this month, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that if Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate proves successful, up to 30 million doses could be available by September for the most vulnerable in the UK.

Previously, private biotechnological companies in Israel and Germany have also been contacted by the US for first doses of a potential corona virus vaccine they were developing. It is worth noting that the German company had been willing to share the formula for the greater good of humanity. However, those vaccines are also in testing phase.

Speaking over the public spending of funds from the US, Margarida Jorge, the campaign director of the pressure group, Lower Drug Prices Now has said that the U.S. Congress should insist that any drugs developed with taxpayer investments be provided at no additional cost. Also, putting in money into a vaccine that has not yet been proven successful is complete misuse of tax payers’ money.

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