1. Aarogya Setu data protocol norms issued

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

Data of about 13,000 Aarogya Setu App users, who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), have so far been transferred to the server for health intervention, according to the Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management Chairman, Ajay Sawhney.

On Monday, the Empowered Group Chairman issued an order notifying the Aarogya Setu Data Access and Knowledge Sharing Protocol, 2020, that lays down the guidelines for collection, processing, storage and sharing of the “anonymised” data.

  1. Importance to privacy concerns

Stating that Aarogya Setu had contributed immensely to the fight against COVID-19, Mr. Sawhney claimed that privacy protection was the primary consideration while developing the App. It stores an encrypted signature when the user comes in proximity with other registered devices. This interaction information is not pushed to the server unless the user turns positive.

  1. Automatic deletion of data from app

He claimed that encrypted data of all users, stored in their devices, get deleted automatically in 30 days. Data of the users who undergo tests are kept for 45 days and for those who have tested positive, it is stored in the server till 60 days from the day they are cured.

  1. Randomized ID is assigned to users

Mr. Sawhney claimed that upon sign-up, every App user was assigned a unique randomised anonymous device ID. All communications between two devices and between the device and the server was done using the ID. No personal detail was used or shared with anyone.

  1. Use for Contact tracing

The location data was used in case the person tested positive, only to map places the user visited in the past 14 days, for sanitisation and testing of people to prevent further spread.

  1. Use for identification of Hot spots

The information was combined with self-assessment data to identify the areas that were likely to turn into a hotspot. The details were shared with district and State authorities for timely preventive steps. The tool had helped in identification of 697 such potential hotspots.

Aarogya Setu Data Access and Knowledge Sharing Protocol, 2020

  1. The Aarogya Setu Data Access and Knowledge Sharing Protocol states that the contact and location data will, by default, remain on the device on which the App is installed. It may be uploaded to the server only for the purpose of formulating or implementing appropriate health responses.
  2. The contact, location and self assessment data, collected by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), will not be retained beyond the period necessary to satisfy the purpose for which it is obtained. The period, unless a specific recommendation to this effect is made, will not ordinarily extend beyond 180 days from the date on which it is collected, after which it will be permanently deleted, it says.

  3. Demographic data of an individual, collected by the NIC, will be retained for as long as the Protocol remains in force or if the individual requests that it be deleted, for a maximum of 30 days from such request, whichever is earlier.

  4. Any violation of the directions under the Protocol may lead to penalties under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and other applicable legal provisions.

  5. The Empowered Group will review the Protocol after six months or earlier, as and when it deems fit. Unless specifically extended, it will remain in force for six months.

Source: The Hindu

2. Why masks are important to control Covid-19

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

After initial debate, the utility of masks during the Covid-19 pandemic seems widely accepted now. The dominant scientific opinion says masks are very useful, and even relatively simple home-made masks can offer a great degree of protection against the novel coronavirus. In the last few days, several new studies have reinforced this advice with fresh evidence. These studies say the spread can be contained significantly if a large proportion of population begins to use these masks.

Impact of masks, quantified

In one study, researchers from universities in Arizona, Harvard and Sydney have, using mathematical models for population in New York, shown that if 70% of people wore an effective professional mask every time they ventured outdoors, the pandemic could be eliminated from the city. The same result could be achieved in the entire US, if at least 80% of the population regularly used masks.

Even low-quality home-made masks could lead to significant reduction in the spread of the disease, though other interventions would also be required in that case to achieve elimination, the study said.

The study also found that up to 45% of the deaths projected in New York over the next two months could be prevented if 80% of the people started using some sort of mask.

12 to 18 months

It will be another 12 to 18 months until mass vaccination or herd immunity finally becomes a reality. In the meanwhile, we need to start respecting the mask, change our behaviour and start getting used to this new face accessory on an immediate basis.

More masks, shorter lockdown

Another study, actually a review of available scientific literature, said that for preventing community transmission of the disease, home-made masks were adequate, even if these were about three times less effective than professional surgical masks in blocking transmission of smaller particles.

It said mask usage by a large proportion of the population could help in reducing the lockdown period as well.

Social distancing is still important

But he warned that use of masks must not lead to people ignoring physical distancing rules.

Keeping droplets out

In another study, Indian researchers from government and private institutions simulated the aerodynamic flow of particles from the mouth during coughing/sneezing (or speaking loudly) to show how masks could help in blocking airborne transmission of the virus.

“Without a mask, a turbulent jet forms (during the time of coughing or sneezing), and droplets with a broad size distribution are ejected. Large droplets (greater than about 125 microns in diameter) fall to the ground within about 2 metres, while turbulent clouds transport a mist of small aerosolized droplets over significant distances (approximately 5 metres). A loosely fitted simple cotton cloth mask qualitatively changes the propagation of the high velocity jet, and largely eliminates the turbulent cloud downstream of the mask. The spread of the ejecta is also changed, with large droplets trapped at mask surface,” the study said.

This study was carried out by Guruswamy Kumaraswamy of IIT Bombay, Pankaj Doshi from Pfizer, and Prem Andrade and his colleagues at Pune-based Ansys Software. The study found that while large droplets coming from the mouth were trapped by the mask, smaller ones get transported to much shorter distances, less than 30 cm, as compared to about 2 m in the absence of a mask.

Within one minute of sneezing by a person who had not worn a mask, approximately 37% of the potential viral load in the ejecta was found deposited on the floor, within 2 metres of the person, while the remaining 63% remained suspended in the air, between 2 metres and 5 metres from the individual. However, when a mask was won, about 70% of virus-laden droplets were deposited on the mask, while those that escaped could potentially take the virus no farther than 1.5 metres, the study found.

“Virus particles stay suspended within 1.5 m of the person, but this suspended concentration falls off sharply after that distance,” the study said, while concluding that the results suggested that airborne transmission from infected persons could be greatly reduced by wearing a simple cotton mask and maintaining a “strict physical distancing of two metres”.

Source: The Indian Express

3. Covid & summer: Still an unsettled question

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

The arrival of summer may have raised hopes that the novel coronavirus will not survive the temperature, but new studies have observed that there is still no statistically significant data to link epidemic growth with latitude and temperature. Even previous research that linked the spread with latitude, temperature and humidity, in fact, had noted that this correlation did not establish causation, and various other factors were not accounted for.

No temperature link found

A recent study by Canadian researchers looked at a prospective cohort of 144 geopolitical areas worldwide (3,75,609 cases) with at least 10 Covid-19 cases, and local transmission by March 20. It concluded that epidemic growth was not associated with latitude and temperature, but may be associated “weakly” with relative or absolute humidity.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, excluded China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. Most of the areas examined were in the northern hemisphere, near sea level, with temperate climates; the median temperature was 12.8°C and the median relative humidity was 69.0%.

The study projected that “seasonality” is likely to play “only a minor role”, and stressed that public health interventions — school closures, restricting mass gatherings, social distancing — “appear to have a major impact”.

Similar findings of other studies

This Canadian study is in concordance with three other studies from China. The most comprehensive of the three, published in the European Respiratory Journal, was conducted by the researchers of Fudan University. It examined data from 224 cities in China (including 17 in Hubei province).

Ultraviolet exposure

In contrast to the Fuhan researchers’ findings, ecological modellers at the University of Connecticut have suggested that “ultraviolet light was most strongly associated with lower Covid-19 growth rates” . Their study is pending peer review.

Seasonal variation

The Connecticut researchers’ study predicted Covid-19 will “oscillate between the northern and southern hemisphere” based largely on seasonal variation in UV radiation and temperature without continuing interventions. “Based mostly due to variation in UV and temperature, our model predicts that COVID-19 risk will decline across the northern hemisphere this summer, remain active in the tropics, and increase in the southern hemisphere as days shorten and UV declines.” Yet it added: “However, uncertainty remains high and the probability of a weekly doubling rate remained >20% throughout the summer in the absence of control. Consequently, aggressive policy interventions will likely be needed in spite of seasonal trends.”

Despite initial suggestions that seasonality would strongly control Covid-19, the researchers said weather only explains 17% of the variation in Covid-19 growth rates”. “Undescribed factors at the level of political units were just as important as weather (19% of variation), and much of the variation (64%) remains unexplained,” the study said, calling for further studies on the subject.

Source: The Indian Express

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