Exams In The Time of Corona

Giving exams in times of Covid-19

In wake of Coronavirus, board and college exams had been postponed in various states and students of primary and secondary were given promotions. The Central government and few State governments have declared rescheduled dates for board exams along with the guidelines to be followed. Ministry of Human Resource Development is even creating a framework for the post-Covid academic session.
Complete Coverage: Coronavirus

Crux of the Matter

HRD’s Declaration
Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) announced that final exams will be conducted in July. The government said the health and safety of students are of utmost priority and thus social distancing, masks, and sanitizers will be common practices for conducting exams. Moreover, students will be able to give exams from the district they are in rather than going to the exam center in another district.

If the situation does not improve by July then for then, new dates or modes of conducting exams can be thought about but the exam will take place for final year students.

Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, HRD Minister

Following are some announcements made by Ministry of HRD:

  • Pending 10th and 12th boards exams to be conducted between 1-15 July
  • 1st-year college students may get promoted if exams not conducted till July
  • 2nd and 3rd- year students to get promotion on the basis of internal assessment (50%) and previous academic record (50%)
  • Final year college students have to appear for exams

However many students have raised concerns over conducting an exam during the pandemic. Some say that final exam is not possible with an incomplete syllabus. Furthermore, a lack of infrastructure to conduct and appear for an online exam is also a major concern. Delay in exams will also cause a delay in the issuance of Degrees.

Updates on Other Exams

  • JEE Mains and NEET to take place between 18-23 July, and JEE Advanced exams on 23 August
  • ~11 lakh students to appear for JEE mains
  • ~15 lakh students to appear for NEET
  • UPSC exam date to be announced on 5 June
  • CA exams to be conducted from 29 July to 16 August
  • SAT exam to be conducted in August, September, and October
  • GRE and GMAT have introduced home-based online exam under online surveillance of a trained human proctor from start to finish to maintain test security

Updates From Some States

  • Tamil Nadu board exams postponed to 15 June
  • Telangana SSC exams scheduled to begin from 8 June
  • Madhya Pradesh state board’s pending 12th board exams to be held between 9-15 June
  • West Bengal Higher Secondary Council and CISCE to conduct exam between 1-15 July
  • Uttarakhand state board to conduct remaining board exams of 10th and 12th after 15 June

HRD’s Post-Covid Proposal

  • 220 working days might come down to 100
  • Study hours at school: 600
  • Study hours at home: 600
  • Social distancing – 6ft distance – in classroom
  • Assessment components eased to quizzes, assignments, projects, presentations, role-play, games, etc.
  • Proposed attendance policy:
    • Standard 1 to 5 – 1-2 days/week
    • Standard 6 to 8 – 3-4 days/week
    • Standard 9 to 12 – 4-5 days/week

  • The University of the Third Age is an international movement whose aims are the education and stimulation of mainly retired members of the community—those in their third ‘age’ of life. It is commonly referred to as U3A. U3A started in France at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Toulouse in 1973.
  • Ancient China was the first country in the world that implemented a nationwide standardized test, which was called the imperial examination. The main purpose of this examination was to select able candidates for specific governmental positions. The imperial examination was established by the Sui dynasty in 605 AD.
  • The design of the NCERT logo is taken from an Ashokan period relic of the 3rd century BCE. The intertwined swans symbolize the integration of the three aspects of the work of NCERT – Research and development, Training, and Extension. The motto has been taken from the Isha Upanishad and means ‘life eternal through learning’.

Antibody Testing And Its Scope In Fighting Covid-19

Virologists and medical experts around the world have made themselves busy by researching different mechanisms to combat against Covid-19. Off late media coverage of antibody testing for SARS-CoV-2, has generated high hopes that individuals who are immune to this virus can be identified. So how does antibody testing work? Are immunity passports feasible? Can it be adopted by authorities as an additional tool to diagnostic testing?

Crux of the Matter

What Is Antibody Testing?

Source: ITV

Antibody testing involves screening a sample of blood for tiny protein molecules known as antibodies that have ‘learned’ to respond to a particular pathogen like a virus. T-cells found in antibodies can easily recognize and fight off viruses on being exposed to them and our immune system mounts different responses based on that within seven to 14 days.

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, antiviral antibodies can be found in the blood after infection, but they are also present in the respiratory system, where the virus resides and propagates. So if a doctor finds in a person’s blood antibodies that respond to virus, they can confirm that the person has overcome the infection caused by the novel Coronavirus.

IgM and IgG are antibodies

What Researchers Say?
Researchers and virologists initially stated that deploying antibody tests widely in communities can help monitor the local population and ease the quarantine restrictions accordingly. According to Dr. Jenny Harries, Chief Medical Officer of England, a deeper insight into the number of people that have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection could enable specialists to accurately estimate the dynamic and rate of the virus’ spread. This indicated a possibility of freedom of movement for asymptomatic people having their immunity proof in the form of documents or immunity passports.

A medical study yet to be peer-reviewed in France even posted on the medRXiv server about a finding that suggests, even mild cases of coronavirus that don’t require hospital treatment, produce antibodies in 99.4% patients, with the body’s defenses against the virus increasing during the weeks of recovery.

CDC and WHO Cannot Make Up Their Minds?

People who assume that they are immune to a second infection may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may, therefore, increase the risks of continued transmission.

World Health Organization

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) came under the scanner recently after there was an alleged mix up of numbers from the two completely different kinds of coronavirus test: RT-PCR and antibody tests, which confused medical experts around the globe who are invested in drawing conclusions from the released data and calculating how deadly the disease is.

About Short & Long Term Decisions
Even though antibody testing garnered media popularity with early stage research, many medical officials weren’t supportive of the immunity passports making public health policy decisions. They believe that there is no solid evidence that people have acquired long-term immunity after recovering from SARS-COV-2. Thus even if people’s bodies have produced antibodies in response to past infection, they can get re-infected. The silver lining being that till date, recurrence of the virus has been rare, so short term immunity.

About Prevalence, Sensitivity & Specificity 
In coronavirus diagnosis, test sensitivity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those with the SARS-COV-2 virus (true positive rate), whereas test specificity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those without the virus (true negative rate).

Thus the antibody test has to be sensitive enough not to miss the antibodies if they’re actually present, but specific enough not to accidentally show a positive result. Now the results of testing can go wrong if in the end, it all depends on the prevalence of the virus i.e how common the virus is in the population being tested. Take the two cases below:

Case 1: In a population where the prevalence is 5%, a test with 90% sensitivity and 95% specificity will yield a positive predictive value of 49%. So only less than half of those testing positive in the antibody test will have antibodies.

Case 2: In a population with prevalence exceeding 52%, a positive predictive value greater than 95% will be yielded, then only less than 1 in 20 people testing positive will have a false positive test i.e positive results for individuals that do not have the antibody in reality.

As per Bayes Theorem, lower the prevalence rate of the virus, larger the number of false positives. Therefore, it’s best to use tests with high specificity that are unlikely to throw up high false positives, like RT-PCR diagnosis, the current gold standard in the Covid-19 battle.

Where All Has It Been Approved ?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization for 12 tests, including a combination of lab-based and point-of-care tests, whereas 200 other devices are awaiting approval.

The EU recently validated an antibody test developed by the healthcare and medical device company Abbott Laboratories.Abbott claims that their test has “99.6% specificity and 100% sensitivity for patients tested 14 days after symptoms began,” which would indicate a high level of accuracy.

What’s Happening in India?
Meanwhile, the Indian government in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research is planning to do antibody tests in 69 districts of 21 major states in the country. A survey would be conducted to collect blood samples from 400 randomly selected individuals (one per household) from 10 clusters in each district. Samples from each of these individuals would be tested for the presence of IgG antibodies using ELISA test developed by the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and manufactured by Zydus Cadila.

So to use, or not to use ?
Complete reliance on antibody tests would give the people a false sense of security and make them lenient towards following social distancing and optimum quarantining mechanisms. These tests can instead be used as an additional tool to diagnostic testing to identify true positive coronavirus cases and lower the overall positivity rate by understanding the natural course of the virus.

Medical researchers globally plan to test new groups of participants every few weeks in the coming months to gauge the pandemic’s trajectory in various regions. Once we know more about the tests, evidence based guidelines can be further generated to indicate how to use the findings. 

  • The first use of the term “antibody” occurred in a text by Paul Ehrlich. The term Antikörper (the German word for antibody) appears in the conclusion of his article “Experimental Studies on Immunity”, published in October 1891. In 1908, Paul received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to immunology.
  • Angel of the West is an outdoor sculpture in Jupiter, Florida, United States. The sculpture was made in 2008 by German sculptor Julian Voss-Andreae. It is based on the antibody structure published by E. Padlan. The antibody is placed into a ring referencing Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man thus highlighting the similarity of the antibody and the human body.
  • Oswald Theodore Avery Jr. was a Canadian-American physician and medical researcher. Avery was one of the first molecular biologists and a pioneer in immunochemistry. The Nobel laureate Arne Tiselius said that Avery was the most deserving scientist not to receive the Nobel Prize for his work, though he was nominated for the award throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

Aarogya Setu Goes Open Source

India's Covid-19 tracking app Aarogya Setu

Indian government amid concerns over the security of the Covid-19 tracking app Aarogya Setu, made it open source with the aim of bringing transparency and improvement in the app.
Complete Coverage: Coronavirus

Crux of the Matter

History of Aarogya Setu
The app’s motive is to monitor the live location and trace the travel history of the user. It also has the health record of the user. As per the Government, Aarogya Setu uses the live location and Bluetooth-based proximity to keep track of an individual. More than 100 million people have downloaded the app so far and 98 % of users use it on Android devices.

In a press release, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITY) said that this app tracked around 9 lakh people related to Covid-19 positive cases and helped find 24% Covid-19 positive cases.

However, the app drew criticism and concerns over data security and Terms of Use from Cyberlaw activists and critics. Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) was at the forefront while addressing the issue. Software developers and experts demanded the government to allow reverse engineering of the app and to publish the source code of the app.

Government’s Action
The government responded to the concerns and have made the Aarogya Setu an open-source software. As of now, only the Android version of the app has been made open source. It is expected that next week the government will make iOS version of the app open source.

Open source means that anyone can open, analyze, change, and use the original code of the software without acquiring the license to do so to develop a separate derivative software. One just has to acknowledge the owner of the app or the original code. VLC media player, WordPress, Mozilla Firefox, etc are some of the open-source software.

The government has said that this is taken in order to promote transparency of the app. The government has also launched a bounty of ₹1 lakh for anyone who can find loopholes and vulnerabilities in the app.

Problem Solved?
By making the app open source, any software developer will be able to go through the code. The move is expected to help find vulnerabilities and loopholes in the app. One can address the problems by writing fresh codes or suggesting these to the government. Cyber experts have also demanded the government to release the server-side code of the app to address the issue effectively. Moreover, it is too early to say whether this move will address security and privacy concerns.

However, open sourcing the code can also be misused by miscreants in multiple ways. It can make any vulnerability easily transparent to the public at large. Also, others can make copycat apps that redirect user data to their servers.

Other Open Source Covid Tracking Apps

  • Czech Republic government’s Covid-19 tracking App eRouška (eFacemask)
  • Singapore’s TraceTogether Covid App
  • Austria’s Stopp Corona App
  • UK’s NHS COVID-19
  • Australia’s COVIDSafe App
  • A 2008 report by the Standish Group stated that the adoption of open-source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year for consumers.
  • A 1997 paper on analysis of the hacker community and free-software principles received significant attention in the early 1998 and was one factor in motivating Netscape Communications Corporation to release their popular Netscape Communicator Internet suite as free software. This source code subsequently became the basis behind SeaMonkey, Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, and KompoZer.
  • Open Source for America is a group created to raise awareness in the United States Federal Government about the benefits of open-source software. Their stated goals are to encourage the government’s use of open-source software, participation in open-source software projects, and incorporation of open-source community dynamics to increase government transparency.

RBI’s New Banking Reforms

Covid-19 has crippled the global economy and it is inexorably headed to a recession wherein central banks have to answer the call to the frontline in defence of the economy. This crisis is likely to shift scenarios and provide new dimensions to the economies and bring banking reforms worldwide.
Complete Coverage: Coronavirus

Crux of the Matter

India has a history of bringing in reforms during the periods of crisis and following the pandemic, the Reserve Bank Of India is making unprecedented monetary and regulatory banking reforms to provide relief and ensure liquidity funds flow to the affected sectors.

RBI reduced the repo rate by 40 basis points or 0.4% to 4%. The reverse repo rate stood at 3.35%. Moreover, it extended the moratorium on term loans by 3 more months till 31st August. RBI has announced other measures in four broad categories: Measures to Improve the Functioning of Markets, Measures to Support Exports and Imports, Measures to Ease Financial Stress, and Debt Management.

Firstly, a refinancing facility for Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) for funding requirements of the MSME and secondly, Investments by Foreign Portfolio Investors under the Voluntary Retention Route (VRR) shall offer operational flexibility in terms of instrument choices and certain regulatory exemptions. These market improvement measures are intended to ease constraints on market participants and channel liquidity to various sectors of the economy.

Under the second category, the RBI has increased the Export Credit from 9 months to 15 months and also provided an extension of time for payment for imports. Along with that, RBI will also be providing additional assistance and liquidity facility for Exim Bank Of India in order to promote international trade.

The third category is the most important as it will mitigate the burden of debt servicing, prevent the transmission of financial stress to the real economy, and ensure the continuity of viable businesses and households. RBI has permitted a 6-month moratorium on all term loan installments and it has also allowed a deferment of interest on Working capital facilities. The RBI will also undertake Long Term Repo Operations (LTRO) which will allow additional liquidity with the banks.

The central bank has further brought in changes in the Asset Classification, Resolution Timeline, and the Group Exposures under the Large Exposures Framework to ease financial stress. Finally, for effective debt management: guidelines have been relaxed in the Consolidated Sinking Fund (CSF) of state governments.

Global Financial Crisis of 2008
The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in the US unfolded the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. It was understood that there is a high amount of risks involved when banks give loans of the entire value for a property assuming that the cost will rise and it will be easily repaid. When a number of banks did so, the banking sector and the economy saw the consequent effects leading to the global crisis.

The Indian banking sector remained largely unaffected but India was compelled to shift its credit demand from external sources to the domestic banking sector. Even though India’s financial system was less developed at that time; it did face serious consequences as the crisis led to the sharp decline in exports and fall of GDP to 6.72% in 2008-09 from 9.32% in 2007-08, giving rise to the expansion of fiscal deficit and extensive Public sector lending.

Due to lack of a framework for bankruptcy, India faced a risk of a large private sector bank going bankrupt with no legal way of dealing with it other than to force a public sector bank to buy it out, an approach that generally weakens the banking system. A number of expert committees recommended banking reforms, changes in regulations, and new frameworks like the Indian Bankruptcy Code. However, following different political scenarios and the legislative framework they could not be brought in which lead to the crisis of NPAs.

NPA Crisis
The 2008 crisis laid the foundation for much of today’s non-performing loans which have plagued the Indian banking sector. A loan given by a bank is classified as a Non-Performing Asset (NPA) if the borrower has stopped making interest or principal repayments for over 90 days. As of 2018, the gross value of NPAs stands at Rs. 10.35 lakh crores, out of which 85% is of Public sector banks.

Post-crisis the public sector banks were under tremendous pressure to lend large amounts to steel, power, and infrastructure projects and the euphoric lending led to a rise in bad loans and the NPA crisis. A number of scams came to the forefront wherein businesses borrowed under shell companies to execute projects in other countries; later the foreign banks invoked guarantees and domestic banks were obligated to pay and they could never recover their money.

NPAs have lowered the bank’s profitability and made them vulnerable to adverse economic shocks and consequently put consumer deposits at risk. This also led to India’s Twin Balance Sheet problem, wherein both the borrower and lender i.e. corporate sector and banking sector come under financial stress.

Thus, to avoid the snowballing effects leading to insolvency and NPA crisis, liquidity management has been given a priority by the RBI while bringing back normalcy in financial markets post Covid-19.

  • The Reserve Bank of India, which was established on April 1, 1935 during the British Rule, modeled its official emblem after the double mohur of The East India Company. The logo originally featured a sketch of the Lion and Palm Tree but it was later decided to replace the lion with a tiger to represent India better.
  • Ex RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan predicted the 2008 financial crisis in 2005. In his 2005 paper titled ‘Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier?’, Rajan predicted that a financial crisis is in the making and going to hit the economy in the next 3-4 years.
  • The oldest continually operating bank in the world is Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which has been operating as a bank in Italy since 1472. The bank is on record as the first official bank in the world, although the practice of banking has been traced back for several centuries.

Will UP Come Out On Top Post-Lockdown?

Besides taking significant steps to attract investors to Uttar Pradesh, the UP government has also shown initiative to tackle the Coronavirus head-on. Both the steps have put the state on a path to emerge as India’s top-tier state.
Complete Coverage: Coronavirus

Crux of the Matter

Labour Law Changes
Uttar Pradesh government has suspended most of its labour laws for 3 years to attract investment from home and abroad. The move would reportedly generate employment for 24 lakh returned migrant labourers, the highest number in India.

Retained Labour Laws
Following laws would be retained by the UP State Govt:

  • Building and other constructions Act: Ensures the safety of workers.
  • Bonded Labour Act: Bonded labour system continues to be illegal.
  • Workmen Compensation Act: Ensures compensation of workers in case of accident or injury.
  • Section 5 of Payment of Wages Act: Ensures that workers receive wages on time.

Suspended Labour Laws
Following are the major laws abolished:

  • Minimum Wages Act: Ensured workers receive at least minimum wages for a fixed period.
  • Maternity Benefit Act: Ensured female workers of complete payment on leave for taking a child’s care.
  • Payment of Bonus Act: Ensured workers receive part of the profit earned by the company.
  • Equal Remuneration Act: Prohibited gender-discrimination in wages.
  • Industrial Disputes Act: Allowed workers to strike in case of a dispute of interests.

Workers Migration
To provide employment on the basis of expertise in fields, UP government recently released a ‘Skill Mapping’. In the mapping, workers are segregated according to their area of work, which would ease the Govt in providing required employment.

State Development
To develop a structure for employment, UP government has been engaging with industries to set up in the state.

Zurich Airport International AG would be developing an airport in Jewar which would be functioning by 2023. It would be India’s largest airport with 6 runways, and would provide employment to around 5 lakh people.

Similarly, the government started its plan of ‘Defence Corridor’ in the state, where defence equipment would be manufactured. It will generate around 2.5 lakh jobs and would create equipment worth $250 billion by 2025 as a part of Make In India initiative.

With the combination of India’s largest labour strength and potential settlement of several industries with the aid of modified labour laws, Uttar Pradesh might become a vibrant hub of industry in India. UP government has already claimed a reversal of labour migration.

If any state wants manpower, the state government will have to guarantee social security and insurance of the workers. Without our permission they will not be able to take our people…because of the way they were treated in some states

Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of UP

Controlling The Covid
Besides the attraction of investments to the state, UP has also shown relatively successful curbing of the Coronavirus spread. The control makes the state poised for a spring after the lockdown and the virus spread end.

  • Kushal Pal Singh is an Indian billionaire real estate developer and the chairman and CEO of real estate developer DLF Limited. Singh hails from Bulandshahar, UP and his personal wealth as of May 2020 is estimated at $ 3.5 billion.
  • Agriculture is the leading occupation in Uttar Pradesh and plays a vital role in the economic development of the state. In terms of net state domestic product (NSDP), Uttar Pradesh is the second-largest economy in India with an estimated gross state domestic product of ₹14.89 lakh crore, and hence contributes 8.406% of India.
  • UTTAR PRADESH FINANCIAL CORPORATION was established in 1954 by the Government of Uttar Pradesh to provide support for industrial development in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Since its establishment, Corporation had disbursed loans of ₹3200 crores to about 40,000 industrial units and helped generate 8,21,000 employment opportunities.