Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Message of the day

Skip past our lead explainer if you’ve had enough of all things Covid-19. We promise our ICYMI section is (mostly) a coronavirus-free zone. Stay sane, stay healthy 🤗

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Staying home, sweet home!

Now that social distancing has become the new ‘coronavirus normal’, many parts of the world have been ordered to hunker down at home—with varying success.


First, the world in numbers: The crazy state of affairs is best captured by the following:

  • The global tally of cases: 182,550. India: 126. Number of deaths, worldwide: 7164. India: 2. 
  • The stock markets tanked again! Sensex plunged 2700 points, wiping out Rs 8 lakh crore in investor wealth. In the United States, the Dow Jones experienced the worst point drop in its entire history, falling 2,997 points.
  • Half a billion students stayed at home as 56 countries implemented a nationwide shutdown. The only continent keeping the lights on right now: Africa.
  • How bad is it for the airlines? Norwegian Air has cut 85% of its flights, and laid off 90% of its staff. Some experts warn that the virus could bankrupt most airlines by the end of May.


Herding cats and humans: Governments around the world discovered it is easier to make new rules than enforce them.

  • In France, open air markets were bustling, bakeries were jammed and parks were full. As a result, President Macron has put in place even sterner measures: The French will have to fill an online form offering a good reason to leave their homes or else pay a fine.
  • In Spain, the police are using drones to tell people to stay in their own damn homes.
  • In Ireland, the government is shutting down all bars and pubs for St Patrick’s Day—because folks can’t resist the allure of a good booze up.
  • In Karnataka, CM Yeddyurappa couldn’t resist the allure of band, baaja, baraat. He was photographed at a 2000-strong wedding just days after banning mass gatherings in the state.
  • In Maharashtra, the government is planning to use indelible stamps to ‘mark’ international passengers under home quarantine: “Two lines stating they need quarantine till a specific date will be stamped. If they step out, people will notice the stamp and caution them.”
  • In Delhi, CM Kejriwal banned gatherings of more than 50 people—which is now a challenge for anti-CAA protesters. In Shaheen Bagh and other sites, the crowds are far smaller—but these protesters are not planning to go home anytime soon.


But who gets to stay home? As Quartz notes, self-isolation is a luxury. It is the affluent and well-educated who can avoid public transit, work from home and order everything online. Hindustan Times reports on bus conductors, contract workers, cab drivers who still have to brave the world—often minus masks and sanitisers. In India, 54% of companies don’t have the technology or resources to allow employees to work from home: “More than two-thirds of employees [at non-IT companies] lack access to information such as Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Group Chat, document sharing, and software that works for the group.”


And who gets to stay in a hotel? The Delhi government has arranged 182 rooms at three hotels near the airport for people under quarantine. But they will have to pay: “The per day rate of the rooms have been capped at Rs 3,100 (plus taxes), which includes breakfast, lunch, dinner; two bottles of mineral water per day; tea and coffee and other facilities such as WiFi and TV.” For those who can’t pay, government accommodations look something like this.


And if you are stuck at home: Here are some excellent suggestions on how to cope from our ambassadors:

  • Being terrorised by your bored kids? Sirisha Gadepalli points to this list of shows kids can watch that you won't feel bad about.
  • Saakar Bagga found writer and single mom Sandhya Menon’s Twitter thread very useful for maintaining parental sanity.
  • Our exec editor Sunainaa Chadha suggests this collection of online games you can play with friends.
  • Want celeb gyaan on at-home fitness? Karthika Sivakumar recommends Katrina Kaif’s quarantine-ready workout routine. Sunainaa says she loves Simrun Chopra’s Insta guides as well.


Virus-related stuff that made us smarter: includes the following:

  • Al Jazeera explains why ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatories make us more susceptible to the virus.
  • This may be the coolest illustration of how social distancing stops the spread.
  • Experts say there are four ways that the pandemic could end—some are happier than others.
  • If you care about Trump’s reelection, Politico explains how the virus is dividing even his die-hard supporters.
  • Caravan explains why Covid-19 will expose fundamental problems with our healthcare system and is likely to become its “come-to-Jesus moment.”
  • Voice of Fashion offers a deep dive into the pandemic’s impact on the Indian fashion industry.


Other virus-related updates: include the following: 

  • The first coronavirus vaccine trials have started in the US with 45 young, healthy volunteers.
  • In Kolkata, students from Darjeeling are being heckled on the streets—with people yelling ‘coronavirus esheche (here comes coronavirus)’ at them. 
  • There was more tu-tu, main-main over testing with the WHO slamming governments for not doing enough: “You cannot fight the fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic, if we don’t know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.” Number of tests in India:  6,000
  • Meanwhile, India is still shying away from “indiscriminate testing”—though private labs have now been allowed to conduct tests. 
  • News 18 explains who gets tested and where. And if it’s any consolation, the US appears to be as crap at testing as us.
  • In Bollywood news, all movie and TV production has been shut down until the end of the month. Deadline has more details. Also: movie theatres are facing a potential loss of Rs 7,800 crore per month.
  • In Hollywood news, Universal will offer its latest releases online on iTunes. Also actor Idris Elba and director Baz Luhrmann are the latest celeb Covid-19 patients. 
  • In a coronavirus edition of ‘stars, they’re just like us!’: Joaquin Phoenix getting a dab of hand sanitiser from his bae; and Demi Lovato grocery shopping in a mask and surgical gloves.
  • Meanwhile, our gharwale celebs posted carefully staged pics of… Oh look, Saif can read! A much better (and real) book-themed photo, courtesy India Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane.
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embracing the joys of coronavirus-style ghar wapsi

Netanyahu is in, out, in… nope, out! The country has held three national elections in the past year. And each time, the verdict was so splintered that it was impossible for any party to form the government. Now, the country’s former army chief—and PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s arch-rival—Benny Gantz has drummed up a thin majority. Here’s the kicker though: he needed the unanimous support of both Israeli Arab parties and a hardcore nationalist party to do it. Fun times for Mr Gantz! Haaretz explains why Gantz’s eleventh-hour triumph amid the coronavirus crisis is a real shocker. Also: Our 2019 explainer has details on Israel’s hot electoral mess.


Will the Supreme Court show mercy to telcos? Telecommunication companies like Airtel and Vodafone owe a whopping 1.47 lakh crore to the government. That’s because of a Supreme Court judgement explained in great detail here. Since forcing these companies to pay up will destroy the industry, the government has begged the Court to let them off the hook. The ask: allow the companies to pay the owed amount over 20 years at 8% interest—without added penalties. (Economic Times)


Gogoi is going to the Rajya Sabha: The former Chief Justice of India has been nominated to the upper house by President Kovind—less than six months after his retirement. 


  • He will be the second CJI to become a Rajya Sabha member. The first was Ranganath Mishra who oversaw the (failed) investigation into the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage—and later became a member of Congress. 
  • Gogoi’s record also includes decisions viewed as ‘pro-government’—including the Rafale fighter deal, National Register of Citizens in Assam, Ayodhya and, of course, Kashmir. 
  • Oh, and he was also accused of sexual harassment. 
  • Supreme Court lawyer Gautam Bhatia tweeted: “It took a while for what was implicit to become evident, but the independent judiciary is now officially dead.”
  • Gogoi’s former colleague retired Justice Madan B Lokur told Indian Express: “There has been speculation for some time now about what honorific would Justice Gogoi get. So, in that sense the nomination is not surprising, but what is surprising is that it came so soon. This redefines the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary. Has the last bastion fallen?”


Joe Biden wants a woman Veep: The Democratic presidential candidate declared that he will absolutely pick a woman as his vice-presidential nominee. Names mentioned include Kamala Harris—instantly seeding hope in every desi heart.


Your YES bank update is here: And it’s mostly good news for its customers.


  • All of the bank’s 1132 branches across India will open for business starting Wednesday evening. And customers can take advantage of all banking services, on- and offline.
  • The bank will be bailed out by a consortium led by State Bank of India—and will include the likes of ICICI, HDFC and Axis. 
  • Meanwhile, five other companies—which took big fat loans from YES—have been drawn into the money laundering investigation of former CEO Rana Kapoor. The fat cats summoned include:  Essel Group’s Subhash Chandra, Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal, Indiabulls chairman Sameer Gehlaut, DHFL’s Kapil Wadhawan and Anil Ambani.

TikTok’s ugly content policies: An Intercept investigation uncovered internal memos that directed moderators to suppress posts by people with “Abnormal body shape,” “ugly facial looks,” dwarfism, and “obvious beer belly,” “too many wrinkles,” “eye disorders,” and many other “low quality” traits. The reason: “uploads by unattractive, poor, or otherwise undesirable users could ‘decrease the short-term new user retention rate’.” Also deemed unattractive: anyone with a disability. (The Intercept)


Your ‘Good Fashion Gyaan’ Pop Up: includes these excellent reads:


  • Jing Daily explains why true luxury isn’t defined by a price tag but by “extreme value.”
  • Vogue profiles Anita Dongre whose brand brings in more money than any other Indian fashion house.
  • New York Times has a must read on how the most haute designer brands—like Dior and Saint Laurent—have been minting moolah off the labour of underpaid Indian embroiderers.


Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following:


  • Atlas Obscura traces the history of a Burmese bazaar in Chennai.
  • Fast Company explains why it's so effing hard not to touch your face.
  • Here’s a strange psychoanalytical test that tells you all about your repressed demons… though it didn’t really work with  us.
  • Did you know there is such a thing as ‘nicotine withdrawal acne’? We owe this unhappy discovery to this Glamour UK piece—which doesn’t tell you what to do about it. 🙄
  • Did you know that there is a planet where it literally rains iron? No? Well, now you do.
  • NBC has a ‘ground report’ on a new course being offered by University of Southern California: Influencer Relations. Also: an on-campus social media influencing club called Reach.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • This penguin in an empty zoo is every Indian relishing our empty streets.
  • No? Tired of empty, colourless streets instead? Here is a gorgeous gallery that captures a psychedelic Tokyo at night-time. (laptop viewing recommended)
  • Musalmano Ka Mohalla’ is the title of a lovely video that politely and beautifully calls out anti-Muslim bias. 
  • This gorgeous print of Krishna flying a kite, circa 1820.
  • This perfect #Covid19 clip of a couple recreating their cancelled cruise in their living room.
  • This smile-inducing clip of a Kashmiri boy dancing in the snow. Yup, he is in PoK… but he is a happy, lovely kid, irrespective. Funny how children are like that.
  • Rashmi Shaarvi’s excellent coronavirus-inspired remake of Camila Cabello’s ‘Havana’.
  • Not exercising enough while you “work from home”? No worries, let this panda be your sensei! 
  • Hmm, how do you keep those dratted bears from stealing your honey? This Turkish beekeeper’s solution will make you smile. Also: bears have very expensive taste in honey.
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