1. Scale up supplies: Vaccines must be made widely available across the world if the pandemic is to end

The story COVID Variants:

  • While it took WHO several weeks to designate older VOCs such as Alpha, Beta and Delta as a VOC when they emerged.
  • In the case of Omicron, which was first confirmed in Botswana, it moved without even waiting for reports on the variant’s increased likelihood to cause disease and whether it is denting the normal public health response.

About Omicron Variant:

  • Spread: It has now been confirmed in South Africa, Botswana, the U.K., Germany, Italy and travellers into the Netherlands and Israel.
  • Mutations: It reportedly has over 50 mutations, 32 of which are on the spike protein, which binds to human cells and is the preferred target for vaccines.
  • Resistance to m-RNA vaccines: Several of the mutations confer the virus resistance to monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) such as etesevimab, bamlanivimab, casirivimab and their combinations.
  • Antibodies are the first line of defence against viral infection and mAbs are used in treatment. However, it is important to emphasise that every single mutation does not independently increase virulence and combinations of them might sometimes temper, and sometimes aggravate, virus properties.
  • Testing: It is detectable by RT-PCR test.
  • Virulence: The virus has been detected in comparable numbers only in South Africa’s Gauteng province, but the variant comprises over 90% of the fraction of genomes from those who tested positive there within just 10 days.

Solutions available to the countries:

  1. Travel ban on South Africa:  Some nations have already imposed travel bans on flights from South Africa.
  2. Alternatives of ban -testing, isolation & treatment: Given that Omicron is a variant of the virus that can be detected by the PCR test, these countries, rather than imposing a ban, should have taken the more considered step of screening passengers and followed the usual protocols of isolation and treatment.
  3. Argument against travel ban: Detecting a variant in a country does not imply it originated there. Travel bans punish South Africa for its transparency and forthrightness in alerting the world to this variant.

Vaccination is the most effective solution: From day one, the science was clear cut that the pandemic cannot end unless the whole world is protected.

  1. Africa was expected to be the next hotspot: A little over 10% in Africa have received one dose of a vaccine, compared with 64% in North America and 62% in Europe.
  2. It’s a common responsibility of the world: The panic over the variant shifts blame away from the world’s colossal failure in not making more vaccines available in Africa even as many countries roll out third doses.
  3. COVAX initiative: India must scale up supplies to COVAX, the international consortium seeking to vaccinate countries with limited access, as well as coax countries with surplus stocks to do so. India has done well so far to adhere to this system and observing caution.

About COVAX initiative:

  1. COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or GAVI), the World Health Organization (WHO).
  2. COVAX is a United Nations-backed initiative in which vaccines are delivered by UNICEF.
  3. It is not a vaccine itself, COVAX uses vaccines provide by various companies and administers them in Least developed countries.

Conclusion: It is a global responsibility to vaccinate the world so that the continuous influx of mutation stops. Until this happens there would be a continued possibility of those mutation on which vaccine may not provide immunity.

2. Questionable criterion: The SC is right in asking for basis on which Centre fixed income limit for EWS quota

Context:   The questions raised by the Supreme Court of India about the criteria for identifying the ‘Economically Weaker Sections’ (EWS) for the purpose of granting reservation are quite apposite.

About the current Issue on EWS criteria:

  • Current system: An annual income of ₹8 lakh is the limit beyond which an OBC family would fall under the ‘creamy layer’ and will be denied reservation. The same income figure is being used as the ceiling for identifying EWS.
  • News: The Union Government has decided to revisit the criteria set out for eligibility for its 10% reservation under the economically weaker sections (EWS) category within a month.
  • Context: The decision came after the Supreme Court closely questioned it on how it arrived at the income figure, while considering a challenge to the implementation of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes and 10% for the EWS under the all-India quota for medical admissions.

Sharp Questions by the Supreme court:

  • Quantifiable data is important: It is now a settled principle that quantifiable data or proof of a detailed study are required to justify any category of reservation, as well as the norms that determine which section gets it and which does not.
  • M Nagraj v. Union of India(2006): held that the ‘Creamy layer principle’ was based on  right to equality, therefore applied for SC/ST in Promotion. The benefits should go to the weakest of the weak and not be snatched away by members of the same class who were in the “top creamy layer”.
    • This means “Quantifiable data” should show:
      • The backwardness of community,
      • Inadequacy of its representation in service and
      • Lack of adverse impact on “the overall efficiency of administration”. [Art. 335]
  • Jarnail Singh v. Lachhami Gupta(2018): It re-affirmed the applicability of the creamy layer norms to SC/STs as in M. Nagraj Case. But it said that SC/STs are indubitably backward(as opined in Indira Swahney Case).
    • It favoured a ‘means test‘ to exclude from the purview of SC/ST reservation those who had achieved some level of economic advancement.
    • It rejects the opinion of Ashoka Thakur(2008case that ‘creamy layer’ is a principle of identification and not of equality.
  • In this backdrop, it is logical that the Court would want to know whether there was any study before the Centre prescribed the norms for identifying EWS beneficiaries based on indicators of economic disadvantage.
  • EWS criteria even under General category is in consideration: In fact that the validity of the 103rd Constitution Amendment, through which the EWS quota was introduced in 2019, is before a Constitution Bench. In the ongoing proceedings, the Bench is considering the validity of the 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10% for Economically Weaker Sections introduced for admission to the All-India Quota (AIQ) of seats in medical admissions throughout the country.
  • It has clarified that it is not examining any policy issue, but wants to determine if constitutional requirements have been complied with.

Conclusion: The main constitutional Question:  Whether those who do not face the impediments that come with social and educational backwardness can be equated with those who do.

  • However, the current proceeding will only decide the validity of OBC and EWS reservation in admissions under the AIQ.
  • The larger issue that remains is whether reservation can be treated as a poverty alleviation measure and those not well-off but belonging to socially advanced communities can be given a share of the reservation pie.
  • The Constitution Bench should resolve this question early.




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