Thursday, March 12, 2020

Number of the day: 33%

That’s how many Brits think that the nation’s former colonies are better off for being, um, colonised by them. And the only nation worse than them are the Dutch. Around 50% of them think that their imperial past is something to be proud of—compared to 32% of the angrezas. Least proud of their history as oppressors: Germans at 9%. More shockingly, 27% of Britons and 26% of the Dutch still wish their countries had empires. See the entire results of the global YouGov survey here. Maybe they should poll the natives next time 🙄

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Covid-19 being declared a pandemic

It’s finally happened! The World Health Organisation used the P-word—as in pandemic—to describe the global coronavirus outbreak. And the very first consequence: India has shut its borders.


What happened? WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held a press conference to announce that his organisation is now characterising Covid-19 as a “pandemic.” And he offered the following reasons:

  • The sheer scale of the disease: “In the past two weeks, the number of cases of Covid-19 outside China has increased 13-fold and the number of affected countries has tripled. There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.”
  • The future spread of the disease: “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of Covid-19 cases—the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries—climb even higher.”
  • Finally, WHO’s “deep concern” at “the alarming levels of spread and severity” and the “alarming levels of inaction.”


Uh, what exactly is a pandemic? Infectious diseases are typically classified in three ways:

  • Endemic: when the disease spreads at a stable and predictable rate, and is localised within a specific region.
  • Epidemic: when there is an unexpected increase in cases, and when that outbreak spreads across a larger geographical area.
  • Pandemic: when there is a global and uncontrolled spread of the disease. This is typically caused by a new virus, or a new strain of an existing virus—and humans therefore have little or no immunity against it.


Sounds pretty scary! A pandemic sounds scarier than an epidemic, but as Vox points ot, “it’s important to remember that ‘pandemic’ refers to how many parts of the world are dealing with an elevated rate of the disease—and, in theory, says nothing about how serious the disease is.” For example, the 2002-03 SARS epidemic—mostly limited to China and Hong Kong—had a 10% mortality rate. OTOH, the fatality rate for Covid-19 is 3.4%.


But, but, but: The Covid-19 is highly infectious—and is rapidly spreading across the world. Hence, the number of cases is far higher than SARS. And because there are more patients, its death toll is also higher. 


So what happens now? In describing Covid-19 as a pandemic, the WHO has—in Tedros’ words—“rung the alarm bell loud and clear.” And done so for two reasons:


  • One: Force governments to acknowledge the fact that Covid-19 has now spread across the world. So the primary focus is not solely on “containment”—i.e. keeping the disease outside one’s borders, hoping to stay ‘clean’. A pandemic instead requires global coordination since no country can sit this one out. As Tedros put it, “People, we're in this together—to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world."
  • Two: Push governments to take more urgent action at home. Tedros specifically underlined the inadequate response thus far: “Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.”


What kind of action? The Indian government—which is still in containment mode—has immediately swung into action, essentially closing our borders

  • All existing visas—except diplomatic, official, those of international organisations, employment and project visas—have been suspended until April 15.
  • FYI: This includes OCI card holders whose visa-free travel privileges have also been suspended until April 15.
  • All of the above kicks in at 12:00 am GMT at the departure port.
  • All incoming travellers—including Indians—who arrive from or have visited China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, Spain, and Germany will be quarantined for at least 14 days.
  • Point to note: India now has 60 cases, and the most recent ones were traced to travellers from Dubai—which is not on the must-quarantine list as of now.
  • In related news: US Prez Donald Trump has banned all travel from Europe—excluding the UK—for 30 days. Americans will be allowed in after being screened.


What’s next? Dealing with the disease at home: Testing, treatment and social distancing (literally creating more space between people). 

  • Efforts should shift from just screening at airports to intensive testing and tracking within communities. The Telegraph has more on the government’s latest plan to randomly test patients with acute respiratory or influenza-like illnesses.
  • Governments also have to speedily ramp up healthcare resources—be it beds, trained personnel, labs or hospitals. 
  • And most importantly, leaders are being urged to abandon any pretence of ‘normalcy’, and take drastic measures to minimise the spread. For example, cancelling events, preventing mass gatherings, shutting down schools, instituting work-at-home policies etc.
  • Toward that end, the upcoming One Day International between India and South Africa will be played “behind closed doors”—i.e. there will be no audience in the stadium. And there is now a big question mark over the IPL.


Learn more: Watch Tedros’ press conference here. Vox has the best explainer on pandemics. Newsweek explains social distancing. Business Insider lists the 10 worst pandemics in history. Frank Snowden in the New Yorker talks about how pandemics change history. Reuters has an astonishing story—with infographics—of how a single woman triggered the epidemic in South Korea. Indian Express has the collateral damage on tourism and other industries due to India’s self-quarantine.


Related Covid-19 news: includes this seemingly never ending list:


  • Tom Hanks announced on Insta that he and his wife Rita have tested positive for the virus—with admirable and exceptional calm.
  • Indian Express has more on how Indian cities are coping with the coronavirus scare. TLDR: by buying lots of masks and hand sanitisers.
  • Worried about getting Covid-19 from that pizza you ordered? Swiggy and Zomato have issued customer advisories letting us know that their delivery personnel and restaurant partners are following “best practices.” 
  • Lots of young people are saying ‘whatevs’ to the coronavirus epidemic—and snapping up super-cheap plane tickets while they can.
  • Related read: “Young and unafraid of the coronavirus pandemic? Good for you. Now stop killing people”.
  • ‘Shining’ cricket  balls is now a problem for cricketers ahead of the ODI series against South Africa. Bowler Bhuvnesh Kumar said: “We have thought about this thing (not using saliva) but I can't say right now we will not use saliva because if we don't use saliva then how will we shine the ball. Then we will get hit and you people will say you are not bowling well.”
  • We recommend this thoughtful thread on the high price of ‘social distancing’—i.e. the potentially severe economic damage to industries and their employees is lost in the focus on just cases and death tallies.
  • Here’s a useful guide to making your phone squeakily virus-clean 
  • A 14th century Italian Renaissance author. Giovanni Boccaccio offered an excellent guide on how to maintain one's sanity in the midst of a pandemic—in his case, the plague in Florence. 
  • Our gods were protected by face masks at the height of #DelhiPollution. So why should it be any different for the coronavirus? That it’s a shivling in this case gives a whole new meaning to using ‘protection’ 😉
  • Thanks to the virus, Indians have a new excuse to flaunt their deep-seated racism. Example one: Chennai landlords forcing their South Korean tenants to vacate their flats. Example two: Pune ladies covering their faces at the sight of a young woman from Mizoram. Shabaash!
  • Also: being super safe by buying face masks and hand sanitisers can actually make you more susceptible to riskier behaviour—as per well-proven scientific research.
  • On a lighter note: former model Naomi Campbell showed up at the airport in a hazmat suit!
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wondering if it's officially okay to panic now

Scindia is a BJP man: Former Congress loyalist Jyotiraditya Scindia formally joined the BJP, praised PM Modi, talked smack about Congress—and was promptly rewarded with a Rajya Sabha nomination. Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath put on a brave face, insisting he will stay in power. 

  • Related read: NDTV on the growing generational divide within Congress. 
  • Also: this Telegraph piece filled with scathing and rude quotes about Rahul Gandhi—from Congress sources, no less! 
  • What we found most amusing: Folks digging up the very long history of gaddari in the Scindia dynasty—dating back to the time of the East India Company. 


Is Putin gonna be king for life? Russian presidents can only serve two consecutive six-year terms… unless they’re Vladimir Putin. The Russian Duma—the equivalent of our Lok Sabha—has voted 383 to 0 to approve a constitutional amendment that removes all term limits. It means Putin—who has already spent 20 years in office by variously running as PM and prez—can run for reelection, and maybe hang around until 2036. Putin is already the longest serving leader since Stalin. And who doesn’t want to outdo Stalin? (BuzzFeed News)

Poor Harry got prank called: The prince was allegedly duped by two Russian pranksters pretending to be Greta Thunberg and her dad. And they got the self-exiled royal to say things like: "I think the mere fact that Donald Trump is pushing the coal industry so big in America, he has blood on his hands." The Sun has the exclusive story—and the unverified call recordings. TBH, he sounds like a really nice guy.


Disney+ has arrived! The eagerly anticipated streaming service has gone live on Hotstar—which has been rebranded as Disney+hotstar. And you won’t pay extra for it if you are already a premium customer—which costs Rs 999 per year. Or not as yet. The official launch date for India is March 29—so this may well be a stealth promo that comes at an extra price once it becomes official. (Indian Express)


Mukesh Ambani is no longer #1: As per the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma has toppled Ambani to snag the #1 spot in Asia. TBH, the gap between the two isn’t particularly large. Ambani's current net worth is $41.8 billion, compared to Jack Ma’s $44.5 billion. The true #1 billionaire in the entire world: Jeff Bezos, of course. Yawn! (NDTV


Baboons in mourning: A new and extensive study shows that baboon mothers carry and groom dead infants for up to ten days as a way to cope with grief. Fathers also protect the corpses and look after them when the mothers are not present. Why this matters: "Other primates have been observed carrying their dead infants for much longer periods of time. Chimps and Japanese macaques for example have been observed carrying infants for over a month. However, chacma baboons travel much longer distances on an average day and the desert environment is harsh, making it costly for a mother to carry her infant for long periods." (


Time to get a ‘kneeling desk’: Turns out those standing desks are overrated. A new study shows that squatting or kneeling are far better for your health when you have a sedentary job. According to one of the co-authors: “Being a couch potato – or even sitting in an office chair – requires less muscle activity than squatting or kneeling. Since light levels of muscle activity require fuel, which generally means burning fats, then squatting and kneeling postures may not be as harmful as sitting in chairs.” Er, what about slouching in bed? (Science Focus)


Things that make you go WTF!  Example one: Are Tik Tokers the ‘shudras’ of the internet? Apparently, there are some completely effed up people who think so. Example two: US soccer authorities say that the women’s team (which won the World Cup) shouldn’t get equal pay. Reason #1: “The job of a [men’s national team player] carries more responsibility within US Soccer than the job of a [women’s national team] player.” Also: there is “indisputable science” that men’s football “requires a higher level of skill.”


Cool stuff we learned on the internet: includes the following:


  • Well+Good has good news about the super-trendy (and kinda tedious) beauty must: the double cleanse. The glad tidings: you don’t actually need two separate cleansers!
  • Are you easily fooled? Are you likely to fall for some online scam that empties your bank account? Now there’s a test to help you honestly answer that question.
  • Indian Express lists the countries that will let you drive with your ‘made in India’ license.
  • Not exactly cool, but Nikkei Asian Review has an excellent read on how the Modi government won the election but lost the economy.
  • Artsy profiles seven women collectors who are disrupting the global art world, and making it more diverse. Scroll down to read about Ahmedabad native Komal Shah who is championing women artists in Silicon Valley.
  • Mint profiles Bubberjung Trisuli Venkatesh—lawyer for free speech martyr Gauri Lankesh—who is stepping up to defend anti-CAA protesters accused of sedition.
  • Can the incorrect use of menstrual cups sometimes cause ‘pelvic organ prolapse’? BBC News investigates.
  • Big Think explains why a healthy sex life can earn you more money.


Your daily quota of sunshine: includes the following:


  • This bit of dark humour that all Indian women will totally appreciate. We couldn’t help but laugh. 
  • Salman Khan has way too many flaws, but he is unquestionably a doting uncle to his Arpita’s daughter. Though we question the wisdom of all that mouth-to-mouth kissing in these virus-infested times.
  • The Irish President’s dog gatecrashing a super-serious official event to get a belly rub.
  • This brilliant Insta post that uses body paint to underline the very real pain of endometriosis.
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