1.Wuhan Virus: China’s mystery virus that has killed six, triggered worry

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

A top Chinese scientist has confirmed that the mysterious coronavirus (a type of virus named after its spiky, solar corona-like appearance under an electron microscope) that had by Tuesday killed at least six individuals and infected another 291 in China, can spread between human beings. Chinese authorities had earlier said the virus was transmitted only from animals to humans. Now it is certain that it has a human-to-human transmission phenomenon.

The statement has increased pressure on Beijing to contain what could become a public health crisis in the peak travel season (Chinese people are projected to make some 3 billion trips during the Spring Festival /Lunar New Year holidays beginning on Friday), and there is heightened concern in countries as far away as in Europe and America.

A 45-year-old Indian is among those infected in Shenzhen, Guangdong, and travellers from China are being screened at major Indian airports. A committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is meeting on Wednesday “to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and what recommendations should be made to manage it”.

Why is it called the Wuhan Virus?

The first cases emerged in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. On December 31 last year, authorities confirmed that a large number of patients with unexplained pneumonia were admitted in hospitals in the city. The Huanan Seafood Market, which also sold live poultry and meats, was shut down after being identified as the likely source of the pathogen, which was identified early in January as a new coronavirus.

What are the symptoms of infection?

According to the WHO, common signs include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Serious infections can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and death. Although human-to-human transmission has now been confirmed, the WHO says animals are the outbreak’s likely primary source. It is not known yet which animals are responsible.

To prevent the spread of all respiratory infections, the WHO in general asks people to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, and to frequently wash their hands. Direct contact with farm or wild animals should be avoided — similar outbreaks in the past, like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged from markets where people were in contact with live animals.

Why is there concern around the world?

People see a similarity with the SARS outbreak that infected over 8,000 people and killed around 775 in more than 35 countries worldwide in 2002-03. SARS too, was caused by a mystery coronavirus, and started in China. The source of the virus remained unknown for 15 years, until Chinese scientists in 2017 traced it back to a colony of horseshoe bats living in remote cave in Yunnan province. The virus was carried by civet cats which are sold in markets in China.

Source: The Indian Express

2.Three capitals for Andhra Pradesh — its logic and the questions it raises

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

On Monday, the Andhra Pradesh Assembly passed The Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Bill, 2020, paving the way for three capitals for the state.

Amaravati, where former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had hoped to build his dream capital, will now be only the legislative capital, while Visakhapatnam will be the executive capital and Kurnool the judicial capital.

Rationale for three capitals

The YSR Congress Party government says it is against building one mega capital while neglecting other parts of the state. The government has given several reasons for its “decentralised development” project.

*Historically recommended: According to the government, decentralisation was the central theme in recommendations of all major committees that were set up to suggest a suitable location for the capital of Andhra Pradesh.  

* G N Rao Committee: A Committee constituted by the YSRCP government under former IAS officer G N Rao, in its December 2019 report, recommended three capitals for balanced growth, and four regional commissionerates along the lines of Karnataka.

* BCG recommendation: The government sought an opinion from the global management consulting firm Boston Consultancy Group, which on January 3, 2020, recommended that Visakhapatnam should be the seat of the Governor, Chief Minister, and all government departments, and a High Court Bench, and have provisions for a Legislative Assembly for use in an emergency; Vijayawada/Amaravati should have the Assembly and a High Court Bench; Kurnool should have the High Court and tribunals.

 The proposed three capitals of Andhra Pradesh

* High-powered Committee: A high-power Committee appointed by the government to study the recommendations of the G N Rao Committee and the BCG suggested that the state should be demarcated into zones with separate zonal planning and development boards in order to ensure inclusive development, and that infrastructure projects focussed Rayalaseema and North Coastal Andhra should be prioritised.

Major practical problems

The government argues that the Assembly meets only after gaps of several months, and government Ministers, officers, and staff can simply go to Amaravati when required. However, coordinating between seats of legislature and executive in separate cities will be easier said than done, and with the government offering no specifics of a plan, officers and common people alike fear a logistics nightmare.

The distances in Andhra Pradesh are not inconsiderable. Executive capital Visakhapatnam is 700 km from judicial capital Kurnool, and 400 km from legislative capital Amaravati. The Amaravati-Kurnool distance is 370 km. The time and costs of travel will be significant.

The AP Police are headquartered in Mangalagiri, 14 km from Vijayawada, and senior IPS officers who may be required to visit the Secretariat will have to travel 400 km to Visakhapatnam. Likewise, government officers who may have to appear in the High Court will have to travel 700 km to Kurnool, which does not have an airport.

All officers and Ministerial staff who may have to be at hand to brief Ministers when the Assembly is in session, will probably have to stay put in Amaravati, leaving behind their other responsibilities in Visakhapatnam.

Source: The Indian Express

3. Zomato acquires Uber

Relevant for GS Prelims

In 2017, when Uber Eats launched in India, commentators flagged its late entrance in the online food-delivery business dominated by Naspers-backed Swiggy and Alibaba-funded Zomato. Uber had reasoned then that entering a semi-mature market could possibly save it investments in developing an ecosystem in which people ordered food online.

Less than three years later, Uber has sold its food-delivery operations to Zomato in an all-stock deal that gives it 9.99% ownership in Zomato.

What is India’s food-delivery market like?

Swiggy and Zomato together command nearly 80% of India’s online food-delivery market, with smaller players including Ola (which acquired Foodpanda), and various cloud kitchens occupying the rest. According to estimates, more than 3 million orders are delivered by online platforms every day — with a majority of orders being placed in the seven cities of

Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, and Chennai. Both Zomato and Swiggy claim a presence in more than 500 cities across the country. Uber Eats was able to establish itself in 40 cities.

Over the past year, both the big players have expanded aggressively to tier-II and tier-III towns on the back of a growing selection of restaurants, and increased preference for online food ordering. Over the past two years, Uber Eats too, while controlling just over 1% of the market, went into smaller cities such as Guwahati, Madurai, Kottayam, Udaipur, Kollam, and Mangaluru.

The expansion, however, has come at a cost. Like other consumer tech sectors, food-tech too, is struggling with losses due to high spends on subsidising orders to acquire and retain customers. Both Zomato and Swiggy offer discounts and services like free delivery to retain customers on their platforms.

What does the deal mean for Uber?

The deal gives Uber 9.99% ownership in Zomato, which according to the latest round of fundraising earlier this month, was valued at $3 billion. Even though Zomato is loss-making as well, holding a 10% stake in a growing company gives Uber the chance to recover at least a part of its investment in India at a later stage.

What does the deal mean for Zomato?

Zomato has been in a neck and neck battle with Swiggy for the top position in India’s online food-delivery business. Acquisition of Uber Eats barely strengthens Zomato’s position in the segment, but it certainly gives it an advantage over its rival in terms of the customer data that it acquires from Uber.

Also, the exit of a player from the market will give Zomato greater negotiating power with restaurants, which could translate into lesser cash burn and reduced losses going ahead. Zomato’s purchase of Uber Eats also indirectly brings Softbank into India’s food-tech space. Earlier, Softbank had been in talks with Swiggy for a significant investment, but it did not come to fruition.

What does it mean for consumers and restaurants?

As Swiggy and Zomato continue to expand into newer markets, discounts and subsidised offerings will be their go-to strategy to acquire consumers. Restaurants, which are already at loggerheads with Zomato over its Gold offering for dining out and delivery will, however, lose bargaining power in a duopolistic market.

But unlike other sectors where a duopoly would effectively function like a monopoly, the online food-delivery segment is expected to be competitive even with two players, given that future valuations and fundraising for these companies would depend greatly on the numbers they are able to show to their investors.

Finally, there is the question of Uber Eats’ 100-odd employees, whom Zomato is unlikely to take over. Sources said some Uber Eats staff will be absorbed into Uber’s other verticals, while the remaining will be laid off.

Source: The Indian Express