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

(By Ankita Punjani, Ayush Harlalka, and Divyansh Gupta)

Politics

Rose Raponda Becomes Gabon’s First Woman Prime Minister
The president of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, appointed the country’s first woman prime minister, Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda. Raponda was promoted from her role as defence minister and takes over from Julien Nkoghe Bekale, who has held the role since January 2019. Read MoreAfter serving as budget minister eight years ago, she became the first woman to be elected mayor of the capital Libreville in 2014 as a candidate for Bongo’s Gabonese Democratic Party. Raponda had served as defence minister since February 2019. Raponda will now form a new government while facing further challenges dealing with falling oil production and prices and tackling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Election Commission Urged to Grant Postal Ballot Rights to Migrant Labourers
Civil society groups have urged the Election Commission of India to extend the postal ballot facility to migrant workers, who have had to return to their home states during the lockdown. The demand comes at a time the EC has had to withdraw a decision to lower the age threshold for those eligible for postal ballots to 65 years from 80 years following protests by the Opposition. Read MoreFive NGOs wrote to the EC saying that migrant workers need the postal votes as although an estimated 78 per cent of the more than 6 crore migrant workers have voter ID cards, only “48 per cent of those surveyed voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as compared to the national average of 59.7 per cent”. The NGOs — Citizens for Justice and Peace, Odisha’s Lok Shakti Abhiyan, the All India Union of Forest Working People, the Bangla Sanskriti Mancha and Assam’s Bhartiya Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Manch — requested the EC to use muster rolls that hiring companies are supposed to maintain under the Interstate Migrant Workers Act, 1979, to enroll them as voters.

Iran executes man accused of spying on Soleimani for intelligence agencies
Iran has executed Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd who was accused of spying on former Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Mahmoud allegedly reported the movement of Iranian forces in Syria and the whereabouts of Soleimani. He had worked as a translator of English and the Arabic language in Syria. Read More

The Iranian Judiciary has however clarified that Mahmoud was arrested back in 2018 and was not involved in the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani earlier this year in January. Iran had last week executed a former defence ministry employee who was convicted of spying for the CIA by providing information on Iran’s missile program. These executions came at a time when lakhs of Iranians protested on social media against the death sentences of three men with “#Don’tExecute” on twitter and were successful in suspending their executions.

 

UK indefinitely suspends its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over controversial law
The UK government has decided to indefinitely suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The government has also decided to extend its arms embargo to Hong Kong along with China. This will restrict UK exports of firearms, grenades and shackles. This comes after China passed a controversial National Security Law in Hong Kong, which gave it sweeping powers in the former British colony. Read MoreAccording to the extradition treaty, anyone in the UK who is suspected of a crime in Hong Kong needs to be handed over to the authorities of Hong Kong for justice. The UK suspects that the individual might then be sent to China under the new law. The UK has made it clear that re-activating of these arrangements will not take place until clear safeguards are available that prevent misuse of the new law. Foreign Secretary Raab stressed on positive relations with China but argued that the new law was a violation of the country’s international obligations. Earlier UK had announced its decision to grant citizenship to 3 million Hong Kong citizens.


Society and Culture

India’s smartphone shipments halve due to COVID-19 lockdown
Smartphone shipments in India halved as the world’s third most pandemic-hit nation shut its economy, forcing production halts and import delays. Shipments in the world’s second largest smartphone market shrank 48% in the second quarter 2020 to 17.3 million units compared with the same period in the previous year, according to Canalys, a data research firm. Read MoreSamsung was the most affected among the top ten smartphone brands in India as its shipments shrank 60% to 2.9 million units in the same quarter. India forced the world’s biggest lockdown in March last week to stop the spread of the virus. It allowed the sale of only “essential“ products and services like groceries, pharmacies, and prohibited even online retailers, like Amazon and Flipkart, to stop selling smartphones and other products labelled “non-essential” by the government. Even after the country relaxed its lockdown restrictions from mid-May production facilities struggled with staffing shortages on top of new regulations around manufacturing, resulting in lower production output. However, for the Chinese smartphone vendors who dominate the Indian smartphone market with around 80% market share, COVID-19 was not the only obstacle. India’s military stand-off with China in the northern borders triggering “Boycott China” demands, and the country’s self-reliant initiatives pushed Chinese vendors into the eye of the public storm.

Helpline for students’ mental health launched by HRD Minister
Keeping in mind the stress faced by students and their families especially during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry on Tuesday rolled out a mental health initiative named Manodarpan. The platform includes a national toll free helpline for students of schools, universities and colleges, which will be manned by a pool of experienced counsellors, psychologists and mental health professionals, according to an official statement. Read MoreStudents can call 8448440632 for help during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Manodarpan also has a website which will host an interactive online chat platform, advisories and tips on mental and emotional health, a national database of counsellors, links to webinars and other resources.

Japanese government announces $536 million for companies to move out of China
The Japanese government has decided to subsidize companies to move out of China and invest in Japan and other South-East Asian countries to reduce dependence on China for manufacturing. A total of 57.4 Billion Yen ($536 Million) will be provided by the government to 57 companies including privately-owned companies like Iris Ohyama and Sharp. Read MoreAlong with this, another 30 firms are to receive compensation to move their manufacturing to Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries. This step is a part of Japan’s plan that was announced in April where the country decided to use a total of 243.5 Billion Yen for the same. Japan’s decision comes at a time when discussions of reducing dependency on China have been in talks all around the world following the US-China trade war.

US House passes NDAA amendment urging China to de-escalate
The US House of Representatives unanimously passed an amendment to the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) against Chinese aggression around the disputed territories like the South China Sea, the Line of Actual Control and the Senkaku Islands. The amendment stressed on de-escalating the situation between India and China along the LAC with peaceful resolutions and diplomatic mechanisms without force to restore greater security to the Indo-pacific region. Read MoreThe amendment said that China used the coronavirus as a distraction to seize nearby territories. China today claims almost all of the South China Sea and has been building military bases in the regions claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. China has also claimed a part of Bhutan and shown rapid aggression in the past few months.

 

Science and Technology

UAE Launches Interplanetary Mission to Mars
The United Arab Emirates’ first interplanetary mission successfully took off from the southern tip of Japan, sending up a car-sized probe bound for the planet Mars. The launch marks the beginning of the country’s most ambitious space project yet, aimed at studying the weather on Mars as it evolves throughout the planet’s year. The spacecraft, called Hope, took off on top of a Japanese H-IIA rocket from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 6:58AM at the launch site. Read MoreThe probe will now spend the next seven months traveling through deep space, periodically correcting its course with a series of engine burns. Then sometime in February of 2021, it’ll attempt to put itself into an elongated orbit around Mars, where it will analyze the atmosphere and climate throughout the course of each Martian day. For the UAE, the timing of this launch was absolutely critical. The UAE government conceived of this project in 2014 to inspire young Emirati teens, and as a bold way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding in December 2021. To ensure that Hope is in orbit by the anniversary, the team behind the spacecraft had to launch this summer, during a small window when Earth and Mars come closest together during their orbits around the Sun. This planetary alignment happens once every 26 months, so the UAE team had to launch this year to meet the 2021 deadline.

Study finds evidence of vertical transmission of coronavirus across the placenta
Transmission through droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces seem to be the major routes of novel coronavirus spread. The World Health Organization recently acknowledged that “short-range aerosol transmission” of the virus “cannot be ruled out” in specific indoor locations which are crowded, inadequately ventilated and where exposure to the infected person is over a prolonged period of time. Read MoreNow, a study has found evidence that confirms vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus from the mother to the foetus. The route of infection is through the womb (in utero) well before the onset of labour and delivery of the baby. To confirm infection in the newborn, the researchers collected blood and bronchoalveolar lavage samples soon after birth and tested them for the virus. Both samples tested positive. They also collected nasopharyngeal and rectal swab samples at three time points — one hour after birth, and three and 18 days of postnatal age. These too tested positive for the virus, confirming infection with SARS-CoV-2.

 Scientists observe corona of a massive black hole disappearing and reappearing for the first time
Scientists at MIT observed that a supermassive black hole’s corona first disappeared and then reappeared for the first time. Astronomers first observed that the ultrabright, billion-degree ring of energy particles was abruptly destroyed possibly due to a star being caught in the black hole’s gravitational pull. Read More

Following this, a drop by a factor of 10000 was observed in the luminosity of the black hole in a year. Following the disappearance, astronomers observed that the black hole began pulling materials from its outer edges and regenerate the corona of its original luminosity in just a few months. Erin Kara, assistant professor of physics at MIT, said that it was the very first time they’ve observed the corona of a black hole first disappearing and then again rebuilding itself. This event will play an important role in understanding how a black hole’s corona is heated and powered.

 

Oxford vaccine shows promising response in early human trials
Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s potential coronavirus vaccine candidate has shown promising immune response and early human trials is regarded as safe according to the newly released data. The researchers said that the vaccine produced killer T-cells to combat infection along with antibodies. The vaccine, called AZD1222, uses genetic material from coronavirus and modified adenovirus in order give instructions to body to fight the virus. Read MoreOnly minor side effects like fatigue, muscle ache, headache, chills and feeling feverish was observed in phase one and two trials, which involved more than 1,000 patients from the age group of 18 to 55. The phase three trials have already begun in Brazil and South Africa and will begin in the United States in a few weeks. According to Professor Hill, study author, the vaccine has shown encouraging results and is likely to protect against the virus though nothing is yet guaranteed. There are a total of 24 vaccine candidates in the clinical stage and only two have begun the phase three clinical trials. Another 142 vaccine candidates are in the preclinical stage.

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