Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Number of the day: 75,000

The nation of Chad owes Angola $100 million in debt. Chad is also a "livestock farming country par excellence"—with about 94 million head of cattle. Solution: Repay Angola in cattle, or 75,000 heads of cattle to be specific. That’s $1,333 per animal. That’s more expensive than a Macbook Air!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The virus, of course! What else?

There is some good news for Indians in India, but it’s all bad news if they are scrambling to fly back home from pardes.


First, the tally: Global number of cases: 198,378. Global death toll: 7,981. Cases in India: 147. Number of deaths: three. Yes, that’s right we have one more casualty. A 64-year-old man in Mumbai who had travelled to Dubai became the first victim in Maharashtra.


Next, the good news: Until now, Indian authorities were only testing people with a travel history to infected locations, or those in contact with them—and only if these people displayed symptoms. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) finally conducted the first batch of 1,020 tests on a random sample of hospital patients. The criteria: they all have severe respiratory illness, pneumonia or flu-like symptoms. The good news: 500 of them have come back negative!


Explain? This is an early (and hopeful) indication that India may not have reached the stage of community transmission. In other words, the disease has not spread beyond that first set of infected travellers and their contacts. But as ICMR’s Director General says: “It is too early to say that we have contained the virus. How strongly we close our borders… should help. We cannot say that community transmission will not happen.” (Read our explainer on the various stages of the epidemic)


But 500 is a small number: Yes, it is. We have only conducted 11,500 tests so far. But according to the World Health Organisation’s rep in India, we may have dodged the bullet: “I have been quite impressed with India… From the onset they’ve been taking it very seriously.” And that’s included shutting borders, aggressive tracing of contacts with Covid-19 cases, and speedy social distancing measures. That said, many experts remain sceptical, with some putting the number of actual cases at 3000.


Ok, hit me with the bad news: It’s all bad news for any Indian trying to fly to India, landing at the airport or being put in quarantine.


Stranded away from home: The travel ban got a whole lot more serious yesterday, and now includes Indian citizens. 

  • The government banned all travellers from Europe—plus Afghanistan, the Philippines and Malaysia. And that’s terrible news, especially for the many Indian students in the UK.
  • It also imposed a two-week quarantine for anyone coming in from parts of the Middle East—including Dubai. This rule was already in place for the most affected countries like Spain, South Korea and Iran.
  • And the government appears to have abandoned 800 Indians in Iran. The reason: they are part of a tourist group of whom 252 have tested positive for Covid-19. So yes, New Delhi is rescuing its citizens from Iran, but not if they are infected (or in high risk of it).


Chaos at the airport: If you do insist on coming home to the welcoming embrace of Bharat Mata, you may be stuck at the airport for over eight hours—like the 405 passengers who landed in Delhi from Frankfurt and Paris. How bad was it on the ground? “They took away our passports, and about a thousand people were put in one hall, which increases the chance of infection. The authorities did not have any idea what was to be done. They told us after four hours that we were to be quarantined.”


Woes of quarantine: While the young and healthy were allowed to self-isolate at home, others were shipped off to face more trials and tribulations:

  • They were sent in DTC buses to four nearby government quarantine facilities—unless they paid for a hotel room. 
  • The scene that awaited them: “[T]here are flies buzzing around, rotten vegetables in the cupboards, stained bedsheets like someone has puked, stinking toilets.” 
  • Also: There is no social distancing in quarantine. There were 6-10 beds per room. 
  • See Delhi photo and video plus some from Mumbai pics here. Scroll has more details.


What caught our eye: None of these people were tested, and only received a routine temperature check at the airport. Also this little detail: “She said she was taken to a facility in SGT Medical College in Gurgaon, where the travellers were kept in a ward of 30 beds. Sood said that around 9 pm, the passengers were allowed to go home and self-isolate after signing a declaration that they did not have any symptoms of Covid-19.” 


The bottomline: WTF?


In other virus-related news: from around the world and at home:


  • The lockdown: is gaining pace in the US. Nearly 7 million residents of the Bay Area in California have been asked to “shelter in place”—i.e. stay home. And Trump has banned all gatherings of more than ten people. Meanwhile, his BFF Boris Johnson has embraced social distancing—after being informed that his do-nothing plan could lead to 250,000 deaths in the UK. 
  • The global economy: Both the United States and the UK announced big-ticket financial measures to help citizens survive the fallout. One big reason: People are already throwing around the D-word (as in Depression) on Wall Street. But what is all but certain: a global recession.
  • The virus: Earlier, there was hope that the virus would do poorly in hot and humid climates—and be eliminated during a hot summer. Sadly, experts now say this isn’t true, and the virus may be back with us in the winter. In happier news: A reinfection is very unlikely.
  • The hate: India’s most recent victim—the Mumbai man—was tormented with abusive messages, and treated as a pariah by neighbours and relatives. And now his apartment building is being targeted.
  • Airline travel: A total of 5,680 flights across 10 international airports were cancelled this week. The most affected: Italy. Happily, we can still fly freely within the country. And aviation authorities now require each plane to be disinfected every 24 hours. Just in case you were wondering…
  • Sports: The French Open has been postponed to September, but the Japanese insist that the Olympics will be held this summer as scheduled.
  • Celebs and coronavirus: Deepika Padukone was one of the three celebrities nominated by the WHO for the #SafeHands challenge—i.e. to demonstrate her fab hand-washing skills (clip here). She in turn tagged  Roger Federer, Christiano Ronaldo and captain Virat Kohli to be next.
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admiring your squeaky clean hands

The government wants your call data: A shocking report reveals that the government has been collecting call records of all mobile users in targeted areas of the country—and during very specific time periods. For example: In Delhi, the data of nearly 53 million subscribers was sought for February 2, 3 and 4—during the anti-CAA protests and just before the Delhi elections. More alarmingly, the call records were secured via the Department of Telecommunication—breaking Supreme Court rules that require such requests to be made by senior law enforcement officials. What this amounts to: mass tapping of phones with zero probable cause. (Indian Express)


Amazon cracks down on ‘Mein Kampf’: The company has told booksellers on their platform that they can no longer hawk Adolf Hitler’s autobiography (aka the Nazi bible)—because it violates the company’s “code of conduct.” Why this matters: Amazon has steadfastly refused to ban the sale of hate lit on the grounds of free speech. Of course, the book is freely available at pretty much any dukan in India. (The Guardian)


Big tech companies unite to fight! In an unprecedented move, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube issued a joint statement vowing to fight fraud and misinformation about Covid-19. It made a lot of news but no one knows what this Avengers edition of the fake news battle will entail—especially since some of the superheroes are already doing a crap job. Like Facebook whose algorithm is in ‘overkill’ mode. No, Zuck, Tom Hanks testing positive is not spam.

China is kicking out US journos: The government has ordered American reporters working for three major news organisations—New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post—to surrender their press cards within 10 days. The reason: President Trump recently kicked out a third of the staff at five Chinese media outlets in the US. Oh look, it’s the Cold War again. (Time)


Things that make you go ‘Hain?’: We have noooo idea what is going on with Sara Ali Khan in this clip. Also: Are British bros the absolute worst? This clip of a bunch of them whooping it up in virus-ravaged Spain suggests they may be.


The ‘Health Myths’ Pop Up: We all ‘know’ stuff about our body and how it works. Turns out a lot of our gyaan just isn’t true. 


  • Tired? Why don’t you just take a short nap? But as this Washington Post story explains, that bit of popular advice doesn’t work for everyone—and the fault, dear friend, lies in our genes.
  • Think all those actors blaming their size zero bodies on their metabolism aren't full of sh**t? Yup, they are. Business Insider explains how metabolism works, and why you can’t speed it up to lose weight.
  • We quite enjoyed Good Housekeeping’s list of 14 old wives tales that are totally bs. For example, carrots are good for your eyesight. Take that, Mom!


Cool stuff we learned online: is mostly all about that damn virus and its effects. But it’s still pretty cool:


  • The Conversation explains how to stay connected (and less lonely) at a time of social distancing. 
  • A related read from USA Today: Why some people just refuse to follow the rules of social distancing (i.e. crowding at beaches and bars) even when it's hazardous to their health.
  • GQ explains why merely tapping elbows—instead of shaking hands—won’t keep you safe from the virus.
  • On a lot of Zoom calls these days? The Cut introduces you to a secret feature that can help look a little more awesome during your remote meetings.
  • For a change of pace: Are you ready for smoked duck in “outer space”? Or immerse all your senses and emotions in a 50-course meal? Ozy introduces you to the insanely expensive world of multisensory dining. 
  • Also: The Atlantic has an excellent read on the many perks of being a weirdo—that one person who just doesn’t fit in. 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • This collection of very funny self-quarantine diary tweets.
  • This hilarious clip of a ‘homemade treadmill’—proving creativity and humour will save us all!
  • Depressed at all those cancelled football matches. Console yourself with this clip of footgolf! Yes, you read that right.
  • A dog attacks large piles of dried leaves, over and over again. Result: this super-viral clip
  • Chris Cuomo is a CNN anchor. His brother Andrew is the governor of New York. Watch the age-old battle of chota bhai vs bada bhai
  • An unexpected and lovely side effect of the pandemic in Venice. 
  • These astonishing satellite images that capture the steep fall in carbon emissions around the world—all thanks to the virus.
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