Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath, Priyanka Gulati & Smriti Arora
Covid numbers rise in India
India recorded 1,300 new Covid-19 cases yesterday—the highest in nearly five months. The total number of active cases jumped by 579 in just 24 hours—reaching 7,605. The culprit: a new sub-variant called XBB.1.16—which was found in 204 patient samples in March with Maharashtra accounting for the highest number. FYI: XBB.1.16 may be more infectious—but there is no evidence of it being more likely to cause severe illness. Indian Express has loads more numbers if you need it.
Moving on to tuberculosis: The Indian Patent Office delivered a significant victory for TB patients. The global pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson’s patents on a key drug bedaquiline expire in July—leaving other companies free to manufacture cheaper, generic versions. But J&J tried to extend the lifetime of its patents by ‘evergreening’. This strategy involves filing fresh patents for minor changes to formulation of a drug.
Why this matters: Countries around the world are ramping up a short, six-month treatment regimen for drug-resistant TB that includes bedaquiline—and which has been proven to be highly effective. Generic versions would bring the price down from $45 per person per month to as low as $8-17 (Rs 650-1400) per person per month. (The Telegraph)
The great hunt for Amritpal: The latest update
The police arrested a woman in Haryana for giving shelter to the fugitive leader of Waris Punjab De. He stayed at Baljit Kaur’s home for a night soon after he went on the run. According to the police, Amritpal was carrying a gun and—based on the calls he made on her phone—his next destination is Uttarakhand. Then there is this bit of silliness:
The police have also released CCTV footage purportedly showing Amritpal holding an umbrella and Papalpreet near Baljit’s home on March 20. While their faces are not visible in the footage, Gill said the gait suggested that a man with the umbrella was Amritpal, with Papalpreet walking ahead of him.
Ooh, let’s play Where’s Waldo Amritpal? (Indian Express)
Transgender women banned in athletics
The global governing body World Athletics has voted to ban transgender women from elite female competitions if they have undergone male puberty. The council said the decision was taken to “protect the future of the female category.” President Seb Coe said it had been guided by the “overarching principle” of fairness—and the science on male advantage in physical performance. But he also indicated that this was not a permanent ruling—and the council would be open to reviewing any new research indicating otherwise. The Guardian has more on the decision. This older BBC News piece sums up the research on the matter.
Lethal Indian cough syrup: The latest update
The context: In January, the WHO issued a medical alert warning against two cough syrups made in India—which have been linked to deaths of children in Uzbekistan (explained here). At least 18 children died after consuming Dok-1 Max syrup—which is manufactured by UP-based Marion Biotech. Ukraine authorities found that it contained ethylene glycol—which is used in brake fluids, cosmetics, and lubricants. This was the second such tragedy after another Indian-made syrup was linked to 70 deaths of little children in Gambia (explained here).
What happened now: While the Indian government went on the defensive in the Gambia case, it launched a full-blown investigation into Marion Biotech. UP authorities have cancelled its licence—after confirming the presence of ethylene glycol in 22 out of 33 tested samples. (The Hindu)
California moves to ban caste discrimination
A bill introduced in the state legislature could make it the first US state to ban caste discrimination. It comes on the heels of a similar law passed in February by Seattle—which is now the first city to outlaw the practice. If it passes, caste would be added as a protected category in anti-discrimination laws alongside gender, race and disability. In 2020, California regulators filed a caste discrimination lawsuit against Cisco and two of its employees—based on a complaint by a Dalit engineer. And the California State University system added caste to its list of protected categories in 2022. We explained the debate over caste discrimination in the US in our Big Stories on CSU and Cisco. (BBC News)
Very good news about forever chemicals
Scientists have discovered a new way to break down so-called forever chemicals or Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—which are used to coat non-stick or stain-resistant material, be it clothing or cookware. They have developed a “silicate absorbing material that captures a far wider range of chemicals. The thin material can also be reused repeatedly.” Why this is a big breakthrough:
Most household water filters use activated carbon — and as a result, miss a wide range of possibly harmful chemicals. His team also found that the current filters concentrate the absorbed chemicals, creating a “highly toxic” form of waste that consumers throw into the garbage. Such filters “are not addressing the problem. We’re just temporarily fixing it and letting those chemicals stay in the environment,” he said.
In good news about coffee: A new study has found that coffee does not cause a range of disorders that mess with your heart rhythm—contrary to widely held medical wisdom. An irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation can lead to dangerous blood clots–—causing stroke and heart failure. That said, the research on coffee’s effects on your health are mixed. Yes, you tend to be more active but then you sleep less. But here’s the most useful takeaway:
Dr. Larry Chinitz, director of the Heart Rhythm Center and co-lead of NYU Langone Heart, said if people are looking to improve their heart health, drinking coffee or staying away from it isn’t likely to be the most critical factor. He said the kind of lifestyle choices that most people need to make to prevent and control cardiac conditions are much harder than picking up or avoiding that daily cup of coffee. “People ignore exercise, diet and sleep patterns, and those may be the greatest contributors to cardiovascular disease,” he said.
Jake Paul, Lindsay Lohan face crypto fraud charges
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged eight celebrities—including Paul, Lohan, Akon and Souja Boy—for promoting cryptocurrencies without disclosing that they were getting paid for it. Under US law, it is mandatory to disclose the amount that you’ve received for promoting crypto assets. They shilled Tronix (TRX) and BitTorrent (BTT) on behalf of founder Justin Sun—who has also been charged with fraud. Six of them—including Lohan—have paid $400,000 to settle the charges without admitting wrongdoing.
We’re guessing the real aim here is to undermine their influencer status—which ain’t ever going to happen since there’s a sucker born every minute on Insta. FYI: Sun was a protégé of Alibaba founder Jack Ma. (Washington Post)
Puri Jagannath has a serious rat problem
Given the amount of prasad and milk that is routinely offered to deities, it isn’t all that surprising that they are in serious need of pest control. But the infestation at the iconic temple is at another level:
Just as they were supposed to start the Khasapada ritual at the temple on Monday, the [priests]... discovered that rodents had damaged the clothes of the deities, chewed the garlands and eaten the prasad offered on the Ratna Singhasan (the sacred altar). The Garbhagriha (the sanctum sanctorum) was also full of rodent urine and faeces.
The good news: “There was no damage to the Shree Anga (the sacred wooden body) of the deities.” The temple authorities have tried all sorts of nuskas—but they can’t kill the rats since that violates temple rules.
Point to note: they recently installed a machine that used a humming sound to repel the rodents—but it was removed due to worries that it may disturb the sleep of the gods! Our recommendation: deport them to Karni Mata Temple in Bikaner where they will be welcomed and worshipped. One priest’s rat is another man’s god. (Indian Express)
In happier news of the sacred: The world’s oldest and most complete Hebrew Bible—‘Codex Sassoon’—has been put on public display in Israel. It will soon be snapped up by a private buyer at a Sotheby’s auction in New York—where it is expected to fetch between $30-$50 million. It could become the most expensive historical document to be sold at auction—beating the rare first edition of the US Constitution that went for a whopping $43.2 million. BBC News has more on why it’s so valuable—or watch the Sotheby’s vid below.
Three things to see
One: New York City folks are furious at the governor’s reboot of the city’s iconic logo—‘I ♥ NY’—which has graced many a tourist t-shirt. It has been changed to—shock, horror!—‘We ♥︎ NYC’. The aim was to “mobilize New Yorkers in every community to help ensure that New York remains the greatest city in the world.” Sadly, it has only united them in outrage:
Also amusing: this excellent thread documenting the ‘I ♥’ virus that has spread across Indian cities—all borrowing shamelessly from the Big Apple. Example:
Two: While we all wait for Donald Trump to be arrested—or not—the AI memes keep on giving. Like this one starring a sexy cop version of Beyoncé:
Three: Last not least, say hello to Mr Pickles who’s become a first-time parent at the grand old age of 90 years. Yes, his trophy wife Mrs Pickles is a mere 53. We’d normally disapprove at this example of routine misogyny—except radiated tortoises are a critically endangered species that rarely produces offspring. And Mr Pickles managed three: the adorable Dill, Gherkin and Jalapeno. Also: suck on that, Rupert! (USA Today)