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Thursday, March 19, 2020
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Message of the day

With so many of us staying indoors, we will soon be climbing the walls. Social distancing can suck, and it may well become more restrictive with each passing day. Starting Friday, we’re kicking off a WFH (Work From Home) list of resources—be it sound advice or excellent timepass—to help all of us preserve our sanity. We’d love to hear from WFH folks on what’s working for you, or what challenges you face (that others can help solve). Just hit reply on this email to reach out! Looking forward to hearing from you!

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EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT...

The biggest news story today, explained.

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The 'haves' vs the 'have nots' of the pandemic

The coronavirus did not create inequality, but the pandemic has certainly brought it sharply in focus. Here are the many ways that class, income and geography are becoming a key factor determining who is safe and who is not.

 

First, the numbers: There were 14 new cases recorded in India yesterday, taking the total to 151. The death toll is still three. World tally: 219,033. Total deaths: 8,953. Biggest spike was in the UK where there were nearly 2,000 new cases in the span of 24 hours. Boris Johnson has finally shut down all schools.

 

Next, some context: For now, Covid-19 has remained a disease of the relatively affluent—limited to those who have travelled abroad, and people in their proximity. But if and when the disease spreads, it will affect thousands of Indians with far less resources. How will that play out?

 

Protection: We hear it over and over again. Wash your hands, work from home and keep your distance. But who can actually afford to follow that advice in India:

  • Wash your hands? The #SafeHands challenge is quite literally a challenge for millions of Mumbaikars who live in crowded slums. As one resident says: “Wash our hands frequently?... Sometimes I have to skip bathing to save water for cooking.” 
  • Self isolation? As three doctors who work in rural Tamil Nadu quickly realised, prescribing home quarantine to the working poor is just plain absurd. Even those who qualify for affordable housing are crammed into a small 400 square feet, single room home. And it’s harder still for women who can’t afford to sleep outside their houses. The situation is even worse in our overcrowded cities.
  • Work from home? That’s certainly not an option for either rural or urban day labourers who can’t survive without a daily wage. According to experts, if the situation deteriorates—and India implements a total lockdown—the impact on them will be catastrophic. And they will bear the brunt of the massive layoffs that will inevitably follow.
  • So it’s easy for this group of VCs and startup founders—including Urban Clap and SnapDeal—to appeal for a total shutdown. But they won’t be paying a daily price for that economic pain.
  • Also watch: this shameful display of entitlement at the Delhi airport. For the affluent, even quarantine is an unfair burden.

 

Testing: Industry titans like Anand Mahindra have urged the government to allow private labs to test for the virus. And more testing is indeed the need of the hour. But as Scroll points out, the wealthier patients will get themselves tested, but the poor will still be at the mercy of the government’s strict guidelines—which still limits tests to those with a travel history, or people who have been in contact with them. And it’s already happening in the UK where the wealthy are buying £375 home testing kits, while the government refuses to test anyone without severe symptoms.

 

Treatment: If India follows the same path as Italy or China, our already dysfunctional healthcare system will simply break. As Foreign Policy points out: “India has just 0.5 hospital beds for every 1,000 people living there; the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least five. India averages 0.8 doctors for every 1,000 citizens; even Italy, which has been badly hit by the coronavirus outbreak, has five times as many doctors per capita.” And there’s the scarcity of precious medical equipment like ventilators. And there is zero doubt as to who will get the lion’s share of these scarce resources.

 

The bottomline: We’re all scared about a Covid-19 epidemic. But it is far more terrifying for some Indians than others. So maybe it is time to practice empathy rather than give in to panic.


Learn more: New York Times explains how shutting down schools had very different outcomes for rich and poor Chinese kids. The Cut points out that self isolation is very different if you are a celebrity. The News Minute has an op-ed penned by three doctors who make a thoughtful and compassionate case against a total shutdown. Indian Express has a ground report from Mumbai’s slums. Experts in The Telegraph explain the effects of an epidemic on India’s working poor. Buzzfeed News highlights a different kind of inequality: Kashmiris struggle to stay informed and safe due to the government’s 2G internet policy.

 

Other virus-related news: includes the following:

 

  • What is working: Chinese doctors say that a Japanese drug called Favipiravir—used to treat flu—is the most effective treatment as of now. Indian pharmaceutical giant Cipla has volunteered to produce the most critical retroviral drugs—including Favipiravir. 
  • What doesn’t work: Baba Ramdev’s Ashwagandha which he’s been promoting as a cure—making experts super angry.
  • The economy: Oil prices plunged to an 18-year low. Meanwhile, the Sensex dropped 1,710 points, while the Nifty50 fell almost 500 points. Foreign investors have sold shares worth about $4.4 billion in March alone. Also: the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange is entirely virtual.
  • Kerala does it best: The state has the second highest number of cases in the country—and has done an amazing job dealing with the epidemic. This Mumbai Mirror column lays out the nimble, creative and super-transparent strategies that have made the state an exemplar to others. Also: Kerala revealed the food menu for its isolation wards. And that’s pretty impressive too.
  • Not so impressive: attacks on foreigners in Kerala who are being harassed by the locals. CM Pinarayi Vijayan, however, was quick to condemn it.
  • Look out for: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation at 8 PM tonight.
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

doing your best not to kill your WFH bae

SoftBank is bailing on WeWork: When the co-working behemoth’s planned IPO went south, sugar daddy and main investor SoftBank stepped in to sack CEO Adam Neumann, and offer a big juicy bailout—which included $3 billion to buy a bigger stake in WeWork. Well, Papa SoftBank just changed its mind on buying those shares. Still on the table: A $5 billion loan. The reason: the coronavirus. It isn’t exactly a good time to bet big on coworking spaces. Also: SoftBank lost 27% in the recent stock market rout. (Bloomberg

 

Government’s call tapping excuse: Yesterday, we learned that the Department of Telecommunications has been collecting call records of all mobile users in certain parts of the country—and at certain critical times. For example, Delhi before the Assembly elections. So what’s the excuse for this blatantly illegal mass tapping of phones? It is investigating “numerous complaints” regarding “quality of service of Telecommunications Network, call drops, echo, cross connections, incomplete or poor caller experience.” It also claimed: “There is no infringement of privacy of any person. No personal details are collected. There is no tracking of any phone number.” Finally, a government that really cares! (Indian Express)

 

No end to Shaheen Bagh protest: The Delhi police has been doing its best to shut down the now three-month anti-CAA protest. And the latest order to limit gatherings to 50 people was seen as the silver bullet… except may be not. The protesters instead have reorganised the sit-in so it meets every criteria of virus safety—from crowd limits, hand sanitisers to social distancing. This Print story is definitely worth your time.

 

Digvijaya’s Bengaluru drama: The ongoing political drama in Madhya Pradesh played itself out in plain sight in Bangalore. That's where the BJP has stowed its precious cargo of 21 rebel Congress MLAs—the ones who defected with Jyotiraditya Scindia, and will likely bring down CM Kamal Nath’s government. Veteran Congress leader Digvijaya Singh trotted off to the city to try and persuade them to change their mind. The result: This astonishing clip of Singh being literally dragged away by the police. Watch the clip here.

 

Nasty, painful cavities begone! This may be the best news today. Scientists may have discovered a way to save us all from the dentist’s nasty drill. An anti-Alzheimer’s drug Tideglusib activates cells inside your tooth to help it repair itself! The result: teeth can fill their own cavities! Bring on the Kit Kat! (BigThink)

 

The ‘Sex, Love, Etc.’ Pop Up: has a coronavirus theme:

 

  • Times of India investigates whether Indians are still dating despite the hazards of infection.
  • New York Times has an excellent read on how the coronavirus can prove to be a serious stress test for otherwise happy couples.
  • The Guardian answers the question on everyone’s mind: Can I still have sex?
  • Going viral: this story of a straying husband who is “in a blind panic” because he contracted the coronavirus on a secret trip to Italy with his lover.

 

Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following:

 

  • Bloomberg News profiles Mckinsey executive Kito de Boer and his wife Jane who accumulated a priceless Indian art collection—which will soon be auctioned by Christie’s. Photos included!
  • Wing—an exclusive womens-only club built by female founders—has long been a darling of the media and investors like Mindy Kaling and Meg Rapinoe. But as this eye-opening NY Times investigation shows, all that rah-rah feminist PR hid an ugly truth about its own women employees.
  • BBC News has Louis Vuitton’s plans to launch a new line of… hand sanitisers! The good news: they’re free.
  • In America, folks are raising glasses together at virtual happy hours. The cocktail of choice: quarantinis! Closer home: you grab a virtual chai with your office mates over at GrabChai.
  • Quartz explains how Chinese khana became Indians’ number one comfort food.
  • Indian Express tells you all about Ignaz Semmelweis, the first doctor to say ‘wash your hands’. He was mocked for his efforts and died in an asylum.

 

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

 

  • There are a lot more photos of a sparkling clean Venice—and now they include dolphins
  • Also still ruling viral video hit list: those happy penguins roaming around an empty aquarium. Have you ever watched penguins climb down stairs? You should.
  • There are cat videos and then there’s this masterpiece. Hint: dominos are involved. (Courtesy our ambassador Ameya Nagarajan)
  • Forget the celebs taking the #SafeHands challenge. Kerala cops offer a master class in hand washing—super dance routine included
  • Being a powerful Hindu god can get pretty darn tiresome during a coronavirus scare. And here’s the hilarious reason why.
  • This heart-warming story of how a community came together to build a Muslim-owned shop in Delhi.
  • This Greek woman dancing away her coronavirus blues by doing a Madhuri Dixit.
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