A Covaxin controversy
Back in November, authorities extended the shelf life of the vaccine by an additional six months—making it 12 months from the manufacturing date. Bharat Biotech is now picking up unused doses and relabelling them—which will be used to vaccinate children between the ages of 15 and 18. But this is after dragging its feet for months, according to hospitals in Karnataka: “The manufacturer is adopting a wait and watch policy as private hospitals will be forced to buy fresh stocks if they want to participate in the paediatric vaccination programme.”
More important: Part of the relabelling process includes revalidating the efficacy of these doses—and hospitals don’t know how the company plans to do that since the process takes weeks. And personal stories on Twitter suggest that Bharat Biotech may be opting for some kind of jugaad instead:
“So my son went to get his first vaccine, the drive for kids begin(s) today and realized that the vaccine had already expired in November. Then a letter was shown wherein it seems the shelf life has been extended!!”
But the government insists there is no reason for such paranoia. Indian Express explains how and why Covaxin’s shelf life was extended. And here’s a good thread on why the way it was handled is problematic.
Sri Lanka is going bankrupt
The country is on the brink of going broke. Inflation hit a record high of 11.1% in November—and many are struggling to feed their families. And people are queuing up to flee the country. Why this is happening:
“The meltdown faced by the government, led by the strongman president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is in part caused by the immediate impact of the Covid crisis and the loss of tourism but is compounded by high government spending and tax cuts eroding state revenues, vast debt repayments to China and foreign exchange reserves at their lowest levels in a decade. Inflation has meanwhile been spurred by the government printing money to pay off domestic loans and foreign bonds.”
Also going broke: The Chinese real estate giant Evergrande. Its shares have been suspended from trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange—amid reports that the company has been ordered to destroy 39 buildings in 10 days due to illegal permits. The buildings cover 435,000 square metres and took eight years to complete—so that’s a massive loss. Why this may be the final blow: Evergrande is struggling to repay more than $300 billion in debts—and was planning to repay debts to contractors and other creditors by giving them properties. The big picture: This is part of a wider meltdown in China’s real estate sector which is drowning in red. And Beijing appears entirely uninterested in bailing these companies out. For more context, check out this older Reuters’ explainer. (The Guardian)
Kohli drops out in SA
The Indian captain dropped himself from the team for the second test match against South Africa thanks to an upper back spasm. This means he will now play his 100th match in Bangalore against Sri Lanka. KL Rahul led the boys in blue yesterday—with Hanuma Vihari coming in as Kohli’s replacement. But Kohli’s absence (as a batsman, at least) was glaring on the first day as India folded for a modest total of 202. (The Telegraph)
Speaking of cricket: Jamie Mitchell—who played for the Australian under-19 team tour of India and Sri Lanka back in 1985—claims that he was drugged and raped by a senior team official. He and other teammates also recounted the official’s “creepy” behaviour towards players and also foreign children brought to the team’s hotel and other quarters. Cricket Australia says it is investigating these allegations. (BBC News)
Tesla makes dubious choices
First, CEO Elon Musk announced that the company would move its headquarters to Texas—soon after the state announced the most severe restrictions on abortion rights. Now, Tesla plans to open a showroom in China’s Xinjiang region—where hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have been incarcerated in “reeducation” camps. Musk fans make of this what you will. (Quartz)
Bad news about prenatal tests
An exclusive New York Times investigation has found that tests used to screen for genetic defects are extremely flawed. Example: the screen for Prader-Willi Syndrome—a condition that offers little chance for living independently as an adult—is wrong more than 90% of the time. Also this: for every 15 times that the tests correctly found a problem, they were wrong 85 times! The New York Times has more details.
In happier medical news: Scientists are testing a software named Thymia that uses video games for early detection of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia:
“Patients are asked to play simple games, such as tapping an animated bee character on a screen or verbally describing a picture. The software monitors their voice, eye movements, and tiny changes on the face known as ‘micro-expressions’.”
Why this matters: Clinicians often struggle to differentiate between depression and these conditions at the early stage. Also, the software can be used at home on any device with a webcam and internet connection. (Times UK)
Speaking of depression: It is also extremely difficult to diagnose and classify—since there are many kinds of depression. A new study has now found that a person’s metabolic signature can be used to detect and categorise the disease—specifically, metabolites which are tiny molecules made or used when the body breaks down food, drugs, chemicals, and fat. (Inverse)
Video game makes literary history
‘Hades’ became the very first video game to win the prestigious Hugo Award—which honours the best works of science fiction and fantasy. This was also the first year that a special category was created to consider games for the honour. Inspired by Greek mythology about Hades’ son Zagreus escaping the underworld, the game beat out the likes of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Spiritfarer. (IGN)
Also making history: Harpreet Chandi—a 32-year-old captain with the British army—who became the first woman of colour to make a 700-mile solo trek to the South Pole. (The Telegraph)
Ukraine is upset at ‘Emily in Paris’
The country’s culture minister has sent a letter to Netflix complaining about the series’ portrayal of a Ukrainian character—specifically, Petra who is shown shoplifting and (god forbid!) has a terrible fashion sense. To be fair, the most insulted by the show are the French who’re portrayed as “rude people who wear berets and frequently cheat on their partners.” No one wants Emily in Paris, it seems. (BBC News)
Three things to see
One: On New Year’s day, China raised its flag in Galwan Valley on the Ladakh border—the site of the violent confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops in 2020. The state-controlled media claimed: “In the Galwan Valley near the border with #India, under the characters ‘Never yield an inch of land,’ PLA soldiers send new year greetings to Chinese people on January 1, 2022.” Indian Army sources were forced to clarify that it was not unfurled in disputed territory. But as The Week notes, this is the latest in a series of provocative gestures by Beijing.
Two: Michelle Obama and her “boo” wishing us a happy new year. Consider this an ink blot test of your feelings about the ultimate power couple.
Three: On Kapil Sharma’s show, Modi = Voldemort.