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US Congresswoman for thoughtful roll-out of H1-B visa changes

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Pramila Jayapal

New Delhi, May 12 : A US Congresswoman of Indian origin has cautioned the Donald Trump administration against hasty changes in the H1-B visa regime, saying this should be done via the legislative route rather than through a presidential executive order.

Representative Pramila Jayapal (Democrat, Washington), now in India as part of a US Congressional delegation headed by Leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, believes that there is bipartisan support for continuing the H1-B visa programme “perhaps with some changes”.

She is also hopeful that the Trump administration will continue to prioritise India though there are concerns about the growing process between the US and China and US and Russia but she feels that India “should be right in there”.

“You can’t just stop processing when people have been waiting in line for three years to get those H1-Bs and then put a barrier there and then say you are not going to get these…,” Jayapal told IANS in an interview.

“There has to be a thoughtful roll-out to any changes we might want to make to the H1-B programme and really it should come from Congressional authority, not from the President’s executive orders,” she said.

Her comments come after President Trump signed the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order last month to bring in major changes regarding the H1-B visa programme, including closing loopholes for immigration fraud and a shift from the current lottery system to a mechanism that favours higher-paid and higher-skilled workers.

Indian IT companies are likely to be badly affected if the rules are brought in.

Stating that every country has to make sure that it is taking care of its workers, Jayapal, however, said that the H1-B visa programme “is incredibly valuable”. She said that there has been some abuse of H1-B visas and that needed to be addressed.

“But I really do believe that there is a lot of bipartisan support for continuing the H1-B visa programme, perhaps with come changes,” the Chennai-born former pro-immigration advocacy activist.

Stating that she is on the immigration sub-committee that is chaired by Jim Sensenbrenner (Republican, Wisconsin), who is also a part of the visiting delegation, she said: “He (Sensenbrenner) raised the issue of H1-Bs in an internal meeting and you know, I think again that there is a lot of support for an H1-B programme that provides opportunities for Indians to come to the United States, provides opportunities for them to stay and also benefits India and Indian companies.”

Regarding India-US ties following the transition from the Democrats to the Republicans in the White House, the Congresswoman said she hoped that the Trump administration would continue to prioritise India.

“We were so proud of President (Barack) Obama at many levels but certainly the fact that he prioritised US-India relations was a huge benefit I think to the United States and to the world and I think probably those relations between India and the United States were never better in the last few years,” she said.

“We very much want this administration to continue to prioritise this relationship. We hope that they appoint an excellent ambassador (to India) very soon.”

Jayapal said that apart from diplomatic ties, “there are independent economic relationships that have been established regardless of which administration is in office”.

Asked about Trump’s policies on South Asia and Indian Americans, she said that there are now five Indian-origin members in the US Congress — Senator Kamala Harris and Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Ami Bera, apart from her.

Stating that there is an increased interest in South Asia, she said: “I don’t think that the President himself is going to determine whether or not there are ties with South Asia. We are going to make sure that we continue to lift up the region and the importance of the region and the importance of the contributions of the South Asian Americans to the United States.”

Regarding Trump’s comments last month that countries like India, China and Russia have done nothing on climate change, she said that during the visiting delegation’s meeting with Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, the latter said that this was not just a negotiation, it was a deep belief that India has that it must address climate change and the effects of climate change.

“I don’t think that India will back away from that, from taking on the climate question,” she said.

Asked about China’s criticism of the Congressional delegation’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, she said that “we know that China would not be happy”.

“It has not changed our resolve to really make sure that we address the issue of an autonomous Tibet and the United States I think in a bipartisan way continues to be deeply committed to speaking for autonomy for Tibet and the ability to practise their religion and their culture and their philosophies freely.”

Asked about Washington’s position on Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative, Jayapal said that Foreign Secretary Jaishankar informed the delegation that while it was seen as an investment, many of the Chinese investments were actually in the form of loans to governments and not grants.

“So we are looking to see how that rolls out,” she stated.

By : Aroonim Bhuyan

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

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How important is speech in transmitting coronavirus

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coronavirus infection

New York: Normal speech by individuals who are asymptomatic but infected with coronavirus may produce enough aerosolized particles to transmit the infection, according to a new study.

Although it’s not yet known how important this is to the spread of COVID-19, it underscores the need for strict social distancing measures, according to the findings, published in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology.

“Aerosols are particles small enough to travel through the air. Ordinary speech creates significant quantities of aerosols from respiratory particles,” said study lead researcher William Ristenpart, Professor at the University of California, Davis in the US.

These respiratory particles are about one micron, or one micrometre, in diameter. That’s too small to see with the naked eye but large enough to carry viruses such as influenza or SARS-CoV-2.

Last year, Ristenpart, graduate student Sima Asadi and colleagues published a paper showing that the louder one speaks, the more particles are emitted and that some individuals are “superemitters” who give off up to 10 times as many particles as others.

The reasons for this are not yet clear.AIn a follow-up study published in January in PLOS One, they investigated which speech sounds are associated with the most particles.

Calculating just how easily a virus-like SARS-CoV-2 spreads through droplets requires expertise from different fields, the study said.

From virology, researchers need to know how many viruses are in lung fluids, how easily they form into droplets and how many viruses are needed to start an infection.

Aerosol scientists can study how far droplets travel once expelled, how they are affected by air motion in a room and how fast they settle out due to gravity.

“The aerosol science community needs to step up and tackle the current challenge presented by COVID-19, and also help better prepare us for inevitable future pandemics,” the researchers concluded.

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Can water treatment methods kill COVID-19 virus?

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Coronavirus

New York, April 4 : As some coronavirus, including the deadly SARS-CoV-19 one responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, can remain infectious for days — or even longer in sewage and drinking water — researchers have called for more testing to determine whether water treatment methods are effective in killing coronavirus.

The virus can be transported in microscopic water droplets, or aerosols, which enter the air through evaporation or spray, the researchers wrote in an editorial for Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, a leading environmental journal.

The researchers — Haizhou Liu, Associate Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Riverside in the US; and Professor Vincenzo Naddeo, Director of the Sanitary Environmental Engineering Division at the University of Salerno in Italy — suggest governments of developed countries must support and finance water and sanitation systems wherever they are needed.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlights the urgent need for a careful evaluation of the fate and control of this contagious virus in the environment,” Liu said.

“Environmental engineers like us are well positioned to apply our expertise to address these needs with international collaborations to protect public health,” Liu said.

During a 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, a sewage leak caused a cluster of cases through aerosolisation.

Though no known cases of COVID-19 have been caused by sewage leaks, the novel coronavirus is closely related to the one that causes SARS, and infection via this route could be possible.

In fact, traces of the novel coronavirus have been found in some wastewater treatment plants in the Netherlands, according to reports.

Fortunately, most water treatment routines are thought to kill or remove coronaviruses effectively in both drinking and wastewater.

Oxidation with hypochlorous acid or peracetic acid, and inactivation by ultraviolet irradiation, as well as chlorine, are thought to kill coronaviruses.

In wastewater treatment plants that use membrane bioreactors, the synergistic effects of beneficial microorganisms and the physical separation of suspended solids filter out viruses concentrated in the sewage sludge.

Liu and Naddeo cautioned, however, that most of these methods have not been studied for effectiveness specifically on SARS-CoV-19 and other coronaviruses, and they have called for additional research.

They also suggested upgrading existing water and wastewater treatment infrastructure in outbreak hot spots, which possibly receive coronavirus from places such as hospitals, community clinics, and nursing homes.

For example, energy-efficient, light-emitting, diode-based, ultraviolet point-of-use systems could disinfect water before it enters the public treatment system.

Potable water-reuse systems, which purify wastewater back into tap water, also need thorough investigation for coronavirus removal, and possibly new regulatory standards for disinfection, the researchers wrote.

The extent to which viruses can colonise biofilms is also not yet known. Biofilms are thin, slimy bacterial growths that line the pipes of many ageing drinking water systems. Better monitoring of coronaviruses in biofilms might be necessary to prevent outbreaks.

If the novel coronavirus could colonise biofilms that line drinking water systems, showerheads might become a possible source of aerosolised transmission.

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Cover atheist Muslims from neighbouring countries under CAA: Taslima Nasrin

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Writer Taslima Nasrin

New Delhi : “If the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is about giving citizenship to the persecuted in the neighbouring countries, I appeal to the Government of India to extend it to atheists and persecuted Muslims too. Just like Hindus, Christians and Buddhists are discriminated against in Bangladesh and Pakistan, atheists and activists who criticise Islam are hacked to death in Muslim nations, be it Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan. In most cases, the well-off manage to get political asylum and settle in Europe or America, but what about the others? India must come forward,” says writer Taslima Nasrin, best-known for ‘Lajja’, who has been in exile for more than 25 years after a fatwa was issued against her for ‘criticising Islam’ by a fundamentalist Islamic organisation in 1993.

Stressing that she is still a staunch believer in the Uniform Civil Code, the writer, whose works have been translated into more than 30 languages adds, “Let’s be clear — all religions are anti-woman and need critical scrutiny. The basis of marriage has to be equality. In these times, how can you have archaic laws that favour men when it comes to inheritance, divorce, etc?”

Nasrin, a physician by profession, who fled Bangladesh in 1994 and spent the next ten years of her exile in Sweden, Germany, France and the US to come to Kolkata in 2004, was even forced out of West Bengal in 2007. “Isn’t it so absurd — a Bengali writer is neither accepted in East nor West Bengal? I moved from Europe to Kolkata for the love of the Bengali language, to be close to my roots. How do I feel now? Abandoned is the word,” she laments.

Talking about her recently released book in India, ‘My Girlhood’ (Penguin Hamish Hamilton), which has been banned in Bangladesh, Nasrin says, “It starts with the time when I was not even born and traces my life till the age of fifteen. I witnessed the mass movement against Pakistan in 1969, the 1971 war, how for nine months, our family had to move from village to village to save ourselves from Pakistanis who were leaving a trail of devastation wherever they went. It was banned by Bangladesh on charges of ‘obscenity’, just because it also talked about the sexual harassment of a 15-year-old by a family member,” says the author about the book that was written while she in Sweden. ‘My Girlhood’ was adjudged as the Best Non-Fiction work by Los Angeles Times.

A quarter of century of exile has surely changed the meaning of home for Nasrin. For the first five-six years, it was more on a physical level. Slowly, home has become a place that lives inside. “Now, it is where I feel safe, secure and loved. Where there is solidarity, respect and support. Physically, that can be anywhere in the world. After such a long time, different connections start collapsing from your own land….parents die, you lose touch with your friends…”

But writing for Nasrin is not visiting wounds from the past, (‘My Girlhood’ is a memoir). She insists that even if there are autobiographical elements in her body of work, she talks about the society, politics, women and patriarchy.”I tell stories so we can fight against sufferings. My intention has always been to keep talking about a society that is kind, liberal and most importantly, more human.”

As ‘Shameless’ (HarperCollins India), the sequel to her book ‘Lajja’ gets set to release in the near future, the author, who wrote it between 2004 and 2006, while living in Kolkata says that it revolves around the Bangladeshi Hindu family that escapes from Bangladesh to Kolkata in ‘Lajja’. “While living in Kolkata, I got a first-hand experience of the condition of refugees in the city. I finished it in 2007, but had to leave the country after that. The draft, which required polishing was in India, that’s why the delay in publishing.”

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