Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bug of the day

No, it isn’t the coronavirus. Microsoft announced that there is a ‘critical’ security flaw in all versions of Windows—including Windows 10. A hacker can trick someone into opening a malware-infected document, and then take control of their computer. Nope, there isn’t a patch for it as yet, but the company's advisory lists a number of workarounds (scroll past the geeky bits for it). FYI: ‘critical’ is code for extremely severe.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The definition of a curfew

As we all expected, that one-day ‘janta curfew’ has now turned into a longer lockdown—a measure that feels sudden and extreme but is—as the data shows—extremely necessary.


A global snapshot: Tally of cases: 381,643. Number of deaths: 16,558.  Now for the rest:


  • The Boris Johnson government has finally declared a three-week lockdown in the UK. The trigger: The death toll rose to 335 on Monday—a six-fold increase in a week.
  • Meanwhile Boris’ BFF, Donald Trump is mulling going in the exact opposite direction. He is itching to lift social distancing rules in two weeks to avert a giant recession.
  • The Tokyo Olympics have finally been postponed, and will likely be pushed to 2021. This will be the first time that an Olympiad has been cancelled in a peacetime situation.
  • New York (the state not the city) now has 5% of the world’s coronavirus cases. The total: 16,887. One reason for the massive jump: increased testing. Other numbers to note: 18-to 49-year-olds make up more than half of all cases, and 11,000 are in NYC.
  • A vaccine—already in human trials in the US—could be available by September, but only to healthcare workers.
  • Cuba is coming to the rescue of Italy. Havana is sending a brigade of doctors and nurses—at a time when other EU countries have done little to help.
  • Syria confirmed its first case, but health workers suspect that the disease is already widespread. This would be a catastrophe in a war-torn country where vast numbers live in refugee camps. Vice has more details.
  • Air pollution is down across the globe, slashing nitrogen dioxide levels almost overnight. The air is also improving in India—where NO2 levels have dropped by 45% in Mumbai and Pune. As one expert puts it: “We are now, inadvertently, conducting the largest-scale experiment ever seen.” The Guardian has astonishing satellite images from around the world (sadly, India is not included). Also see: these haunting pics of empty US cities seen from above.
  • Zoombombing is now a thing in the US. That’s when trolls use screen sharing to interrupt public Zoom calls. What they are sharing: highly graphic pornography. Yikes!


An India snapshot: India now has 499 cases. Number of deaths: 9. Number of tests: 19,817. 


  • The deaths: The latest victims include a 57-year old in Kolkata with no history of foreign travel and a Tibetan resident in Himachal Pradesh—who recently returned from the US. 
  • A must read: The Telegraph’s compelling report on the funeral of the Kolkata patient—and the panic and paranoia that made this death even more tragic. 
  • What caught our eye: the death of a 68-year-old man from the Philippines who contracted Covid-19, received treatment, recovered… and then died! Last week, the demise of a 69-year-old Italian tourist in Rajasthan followed the exact same trajectory.
  • The Lockdown: is now in place in 548 districts across 30 states.
  • Maharashtra is under a statewide curfew. CM Thackeray declared: “Private vehicles will be allowed only for emergencies. Private vehicles and taxis will be allowed with the driver and two people. Autorickshaws will be allowed with a driver and one person.” Note: people are allowed to leave their homes but only to avail of essential services such as shopping for food, petrol or medicines.
  • And that’s pretty much the same in other states including Kerala—which, however, is keeping its liquor shops open: “When asked, CM Vijayan pointed to a tweet by Punjab CM Amarinder Singh where ‘beverage’ shops have been classified under essential services. He also said a knee-jerk reaction to shut liquor retail outlets may have ‘social consequences’.” 😂
  • Also: all domestic flights have now been suspended—as is the current Parliament session. The Supreme Court has moved to video-conferencing. Let’s hope our honourable justices aren’t using Zoom.
  • The crash: The stock market suffered its worst single-day rout in history—3,935 points—and the rupee plunged more than 1%. The crash wiped out Rs 14.2 trillion of investor wealth. The cumulative loss since the outbreak: Rs 52 trillion—essentially undoing all the gains made under the Modi government.
  • The food: The good news is that India has enough grain to supply ration shops for a year. The bad news is that ordering groceries online has turned into a nightmare—mainly because policemen harass delivery personnel. They often don’t know that e-commerce is covered under essential services.
  • The stranded: As we all go stir-crazy in our homes, spare a thought: for thousands of migrant workers who are stranded in railway and bus stations across the country. Watch a ground report here. Indian Express has more on the challenges created by this sudden mass migration.
  • Also stranded: 300-plus Indian students at the Kazakhstan airport.


Mapping the spread: The latest data shows that India is now on a steep upward trajectory—and the current lockdown may already be behind that ascending curve. 


  • The trajectory: As The Print notes: “It took India forty days to reach the first 50 cases, five more days to reach 100 cases, three more days to reach 150 cases and then just two more days to reach 200 cases.” 
  • On Saturday, we had 315 cases. We now have 499—+103 from yesterday. We are doubling every four-five days, unlike the US which is doubling every two days. But that comparison is misleading. 
  • As per The Hindu’s data analysis, 57% of countries took more days than India to jump from 200 to 300-plus cases, while only 4% took fewer days. Translation: the virus is spreading faster in India than more than half of the world. So our path parallels Europe and the US rather than, say, Singapore or Taiwan. (See the charts here)
  • The X factor: The lack of adequate testing makes the data above near meaningless. The reason: As of March 21, we were only conducting 11.6 tests per 1 million people—in a nation of 1.4 billion. 
  • We are way behind the US (150) and the UK (986). We are currently testing at the same rate as South Korea was on February 4—a time when the Korean case tally was less than 20.
  • The prediction: The COV-IND-19 Study Group’s report published on March 22 projected the following increase: “The predicted cumulative number of cases in India on March 31 is 379, on April 15 is 4836, and on May 15 is 58643.” Point to note: we are at 499 on March 24. 
  • Also: according to the report’s authors, these estimates are almost certainly wrong due to the lack of testing. The worst case: the number of cases by May 15 could be as high as 915,000. OTOH, urgent and aggressive measures (i.e. lockdowns) can bring that number down to 13,800. 
  • The intervention: So what would it take to bring down the numbers? India will have to detect and quarantine 50% of all infected patients within three days of developing symptoms—which will reduce the number of cases by 62%. And that’s according to a new government-sponsored study. This, of course, requires extensive testing.


The bottomline: In the wise words of WHO Director General Tedros: “Test, test, test!” 


Other virus related news: includes the following:


  • Reliance Industries is doing its bit. The company will pay the wages of its contract and temporary workers wages,  set up India's first dedicated Covid-19 hospital in Mumbai, and produce 100,000 face masks a day. Jio will also offer various discounts and tools to help its users stay connected and work from home.
  • You can now get your smartphone delivered at home—thanks to Xiaomi’s “Delivery on Call” service. 
  • The Big B embarrassed himself by tweeting: “An opinion given: 5 PM, 22nd Mar, ‘amavasya’, darkest day of month; virus, bacteria evil force at max potential & power! Clapping shankh vibrations reduce/ destroy virus potency Moon passing to new ‘nakshatra’ Revati. Cumulative vibration betters blood circulation.” Then he deleted the tweet. 
  • India’s leading medical authority approved hydroxychloroquine as a “protective medication” for healthcare workers. Recently, both Elon Musk and Donald Trump endorsed the exact same drug—but as a treatment for Covid-19! Neither claim is backed by reliable scientific evidence. Inverse has the story on chloroquine, while The Telegraph reports on its use in India. 
  • The latest virus gyaan: doctors recommend testing and isolation for people who suddenly lose their sense of smell and taste. The reason: it may be an early symptom of Covid-19.
  • What will the world look like after the pandemic has run its course? Here are a bunch of thoughtful answers from the world’s leading thinkers.
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wondering if there is any news other than the virus

Madhya Pradesh has a new CM: Kamal Nath is gone and BJP's Shivraj Singh Chouhan is back. More things change… (Economic Times)


WeWork takes on SoftBank: In a bizarre phadda between investor and investee, the co-working giant is refusing to accept SoftBank’s plan to cancel a $3 billion bailout of the company. A WeWork board committee issued a statement saying: “SoftBank has made numerous assurances to employees, and reneging on the agreement would be completely unethical, especially given the current environment.” (CNBC)


Corrections: We flubbed a bunch of things yesterday. For starters, German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not test positive for Covid-19. Rather she came into contact with someone who did—and therefore went into quarantine. Latest update: She has since tested negative so yay! Two: We misread the number of healthcare workers who died in China. The correct number is 22. And three: We accidentally linked to our internal doc instead of this Guardian story on Italy. Yup, it was that kind of day. A big thank you to all our readers who gently corrected us. We rely on you to help us share the best and most accurate information!!


Your Stuck-At-Home Sanity Pack: includes the following:


  • Huffington Post has an excellent list of things you can do while staying at home—including movie and book recommendations. 
  • Our ambassador Inderpreet Kaur Uppal recommends you revisit all your fave comics and graphic novels on this publicly shared Google drive
  • The Cut has a soothing collection of live streams from zoos around the world—including a PandaCam!
  • Artsy lists ten free online courses that help jumpstart your creativity—and they all look super-cool.
  • This comic issued by the health ministry to teach kids all about the virus—without scaring the eff out of them.


Cool stuff we learned online: include the following totally non-virus related reads:


  • Quartz profiles a community of hunters who now help protect the tigers of Ranthambore.
  • Popular Science profiles two brand new species of sharks—with chainsaw noses!—discovered by scientists.
  • Glamour explains why boredom is good for your brain. Hmm, maybe this should have been in our sanity pack.. lol!
  • Vogue has a great story and spread on the new surrealism trend in jewellery. This stuff is fabulously OTT.
  • The Independent has a lovely read on how Britney Spears has emerged as a source of joy and inspiration in the midst of our virus-fuelled panic.
  • OneZero has a fascinating collection of short fiction penned by… an algorithm! The AI-authored collection includes the latest installment set during the pandemic.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • This super-safe and super-sanitising Brazilian mom welcoming her son home after he returns from buying groceries. 
  • The brilliant news that koalas are finally being released back into the wildlife after the devastating Australian wildfires. 
  • The always amazing Patrick Stewart reciting Shakespeare to get our minds off the virus. 
  • These very sexy uniforms of the Spanish army—who are giving a whole new meaning to a deep v-neck.
  • This nifty trick used in Denmark to stop hoarding of hand sanitisers.
  • The winners of the Mammal Photographer of the Year. Who doesn’t love a snowboarding hare?
  • Neil Diamond released a virus-appropriate version of ‘Sweet Caroline’—and we love it!
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