The First Forum is an initiative which focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu with the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast changing world.
In the Twenty Second Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Shruti Jha, Nikunj Gulati, Kanika)


Trump says will ask Congress for more funds for Small businesses
President Donald Trump said that he would ask Congress for more money to make loans to small businesses struggling with the economic fallout from the Coronavirus outbreak. “I will immediately ask Congress for more money to support businesses under the @ppploan if the allocated money runs out, ” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter. The legislation signed late last month allocated $350 billion for a loan program for businesses with fewer than 500 employees.” Read MoreThis is money that’s really going directly to the people who need it, the small businesses who need it, and the workers that need it, ” Trump said during a White House briefing on COVID-19. He further said that he will immediately seek more funding if the employee retention programs included in the $2 trillion Coronavirus relief bill run out of money as the demand for the loans coming weeks is expected to be enormous.

Supreme Court postpones April oral arguments over Coronavirus
The US Supreme Court postponed oral arguments scheduled for April as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and is considering alternative options for handling the various outstanding cases. The arguments were to be held in April. The court which already had delayed cases due to be argued in March has yet to say how it will proceed. Read MoreThe court current term is due to conclude at the end of June. The court will consider a range of scheduling options and other alternatives if arguments cannot be held in the courtroom before the end of the term. The alternatives could mean moving cases to the term starting in October of this year or even resolving cases without oral arguments and just based on a written brief submitted to the court.

Israel’s Health Minister tests positive for coronavirus
Israel’s Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has been put into isolation after being tested positive for COVID-19, pushing all the top officials including Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat into self-quarantine. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier gone into seven days isolation after a close aide was found to have contracted with the deadly virus, but he has so far tested negative. Read MoreThe health ministerial official staff will continue to work from home and will maintain constant telephone communication as needed with the minister. The ministry is investigating from whom Litzman contracted the virus and is informing people who have been in contact with him to go into self-quarantine. 

Most Brazilians don’t want President to resign despite criticism for Coronavirus
Most Brazilians do not favour President Jair Bolsonaro resigning despite mounting criticism of his handling of the Coronavirus outbreak. As Coronavirus cases and death mount in Brazil, Bolsonaro has downplayed the COVID-19 respiratory disease from the novel coronavirus as a ‘little flu’, stirring up conflicts with governors and his own health minister who advocate social distancing measures that the President sees as economically disastrous. Read MoreThe survey conducted showed that 59% of respondents would oppose his resignation while 37% would approve and 4% could not give an opinion. Defying guidelines issued by his own health ministry, the president visited a commercial district in Brasilia, the capital where he called on all to go back to work.

Iran response to Donald Trump warning
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hit out at Donald Trump saying that his country only acts in self-defence, unlike the US which surreptitiously lies cheat and assassinates responding to US President Donald Trump in which he warned Iran and its allies against attacking US troops sanctioned in Iraq. Read MoreHe had earlier said that his administration had received intelligence that Iran is playing a strike on the US interest in Iraq. The war of words comes amid renewed tension between the two arch-foes despite the Coronavirus pandemic. The US and Iran are two countries which are among the few worst hit by the Coronavirus. Meanwhile, Iran Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani tested positive for Coronavirus and is receiving treatment in quarantine.

Society and Culture

Government to provide ration to those who are without the ration card
There are approximately 10 lakh people who might need help but do not have a ration card. Since the lockdown began the Delhi government has taken several measures to provide relief to the marginalised sections of the society who have been affected by the shutdown of activities. Read MoreDelhi CM Arvind Kejriwal announced that many poor people do not have a ration card, the government will give them the benefit of free ration through Public Distribution System (PDS). It has started issuing e-coupons to the poor to get the food grains free of cost. The beneficiaries will have to visit the designated relief centre with the e-coupon to collect the ration.

Centre modifies J & K order to extend Domicile Reservation
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) brought amendments to reserve all jobs for the domiciles of Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier the centre had reserved only level-4 jobs for the J&K residents, causing a huge resentment in the UT. However, it has now extended the new domicile to all the posts. After the amendment, all jobs are now reserved for the domiciles of J&K, which was stripped of its special status under 370 of the Constitution and downgraded to a UT. Read MoreAs per the gazette notification, anyone who resided in J&K for 15 years or has studied in the state for seven years and appeared in class 10 or the class 12 examination will be eligible for the domicile certificate. This would allow them to apply for gazetted and non-gazetted government jobs.

Kerala is ready to kick-off rapid tests to detect COVID-19 infections
Kerala CM has said that the state has managed to control the COVID-19 spread to a large extent and the steps would now be taken to increase the number of tests being conducted. He further said that the rapid tests kits will allow testing of a person with only one or two known symptoms, instead of the four-five symptoms as per current protocol. Read MoreThe advantage here is that the infection could be detected in two and a half hours, against the current normal of around seven hours. Kerala 1000 kits for rapid testing of COVID-19 have been flown into the city. Announcing the arrival of the first batch of the testing kits, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor also thanked Spicejet for helping transport the kits. The test kits were brought of Rs.57 lakh granted by Shashi Tharoor from the MPLAD funds.

Cabinet decides 30% pay cut and MPLADS suspension
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that the Prime Minister, President and all Members of Parliament have voluntarily offered to take the 30% pay cut as a social responsibility. The cabinet also approved temporary suspension of MPLADS (Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) fund during 2020-21 and 2021-22 and the fund will be used for managing health services in the adverse impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Read MoreThe total amount will be transferred into the consolidated fund of India. Prakash Javadekar also said that more than funds raised, the importance of the pay cut was to send the right message. “Charity begins at home”, he said. The move to cut salaries has been accepted by all parties, the decision to suspend the development fund has met with some opposition.

India to export anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine
Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi made an indirect reference to the US President Donald Trump retaliation comment on the export of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine by India by stating ‘Friendship is not about retaliation’. He further said that India must help all countries in their fight against Coronavirus but lifesaving medicines should be made available to Indians first. Read MoreIndia has received requests from several other countries including its immediate neighbours Sri Lanka and Nepal for the supply of hydroxychloroquine but India has banned the export in the midst of views that drug could be used as a potential antiviral agent to protect the healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients from the infection.

Science and Technology

Traces of ancient rainforest in Antarctica point to a warmer prehistoric world
A team from the UK and Germany discovered forest soil from the Cretaceous period within 900 km of the South Pole. Their analysis of the preserved roots, pollen and spores shows that the world at that time was a lot warmer than previously thought. The researchers report that the preservation of this 90-million-year-old forest is exceptional, but even more surprising is the world it reveals. Read MoreThe work also suggests that the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere were higher than expected during the mid-Cretaceous period, 115-80 million years ago, challenging climate models of the period. However, little was known about the environment south of the Antarctic Circle at this time. Now, researchers have discovered evidence of temperate rainforests in the region, such as would be found in New Zealand today. This was despite a four-month polar night, meaning for a third of every year there was no life-giving sunlight at all. The team CT-scanned the section of the core and discovered a dense network of fossil roots, which was so well preserved that they could make out individual cell structures.

Scientists’ Warning to Humanity on Insect Extinctions – Vital to Environment
Some of the tiniest creatures on the planet are vital to their environment.  But there is a worldwide fall in insect numbers and an accelerating rate of extinction.  Now, a global group of 30 scientists is highlighting the issue and suggesting practical steps that everyone can take to help halt the decline.  These include mowing lawns less often, avoiding pesticides and leaving old trees, stumps and dead leaves alone. Read MorePollution and human impact on habitats mean that insects such as beetles, dragonflies, and mayflies plus other macroinvertebrates such as snails are in long-term decline across the world, in the UK as much as anywhere. They provide food for other animals and they can also have a significant role in the functioning of freshwater ecosystems, forming a critical component in the diversity of life. These tell how factors such as climate change, the loss of habitats and pollution – including harmful agricultural practices – have all contributed to declines in insect population and to species extinctions.

How the chemical industry can meet the climate goals
Switzerland’s Federal Council has decided that the country should become carbon-neutral by 2050. This may be challenging as far as car traffic and the entire power sector are concerned, but not impossible, with systematic electrification and the exclusive use of carbon-neutral energy sources, for example. A switch of this kind will be more difficult for the chemical industry. While for many other industrial sectors one of the primary concerns is their energy efficiency, the chemical industry must also address the question of raw materials. Read MorePolymers, plastics, synthetic textile fibers, and medicines all contain carbon. It has to come from somewhere. Using concrete figures and methanol production as a case study, have now systematically compared various approaches that aim at reducing net CO2 emissions from the chemical industry to zero. Researchers based their study on the production of methanol, which is similar to the process used for producing fuels. Their work therefore also informs the discussion about future aircraft fuels. The study shows that there are at least two viable alternatives to synthetic fuels: aviation could continue to use fossil fuels if the CO2 emitted by aircraft were captured and sequestered elsewhere, or the fuels could be obtained from biomass.

Link between Air pollution and Coronavirus mortality in Italy could be possible
At Aarhus University, researchers have found yet another small piece in the puzzle of understanding the deadly disease. They have focused on examining why the mortality rate is up to 12% in the northern part of Italy, while it is only approx. 4.5% in the rest of the country. In their project, they have published that the two northern Italian regions are among the most air-polluted regions in Europe. Read MoreThe recently published article took its outset in data from the NASA Aura satellite, which has demonstrated very high levels of air pollution across precisely these two regions. The group compared these data with the so-called Air Quality Index; a measurement of air quality developed by the European Environment Agency. The index gathers data from several thousand measuring stations all over Europe, providing a geographical insight into the prevalence of a number of pollutant sources in the EU. However, they also provided various important co-factors such as the elevated medium age of the Italian population, the wide differences among Italian regional health systems, ICU’s capacity and how the infects and deaths have been reported have had a paramount role in the lethality of SARS-CoV-2, presumably also more than pollution itself.

Cell muscle movements visualized for the first time
The movements of cell muscles in the form of tiny filaments of proteins have been visualized at unprecedented detail by the University of Warwick scientists. In a study published, scientists have used a new microscopy technique to analyze the molecular motors inside cells that allow them to move and reshape themselves, potentially providing new insights that could inform the development of new smart materials. Read MoreMyosin is a protein that forms the motor filaments that give cell stability and are involved in remodeling the actin cortex inside the cell. By ‘flexing’, they enable the cell to exert forces outside of it and to propagate. When the cell wants to contract or exert stresses on its neighboring cells or tissue it will form stress fibers using an array of myosin and actin filaments to perform an action similar to our own muscles. But they can also form other structures. Scientists believe that they have found that myosin can behave in both regimes, something that wasn’t possible to observe before. There are very few studies of these ensembles, others have studied single molecules at this timescale but you could only theorize how a motor ensemble works.

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