Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Sanity tip of the day

When you fear for yourself, do more for others. The only surefire cure for anxiety is compassion. So we invite you to donate to Zomato’s ‘Feed the Daily Wager’ campaign. Recommended donation amounts range from Rs 500-upwards, but you can also pick your own number. Do it to be kind to others but also yourself. Because every act of giving makes us feel valued and blessed. Also please read: this Indian Express report on the lakhs of workers facing starvation right now. (A big 🙏🏽 to our ambassador Geetika Varshney for flagging this brilliant initiative)

Note: Please hit ‘Reply’ to share other such initiatives to help us all do more in this time of great need.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The 21-day janta curfew

PM Modi addressed the nation for the second time in a week—but this time sent many Indians into a state of instant panic. 


First, the numbers: Total number of cases: 422,915. Number of deaths: 18,915. Cases in India: 562. Death toll: 11.


The speech: Modi announced a nationwide 21-day “curfew” that kicked off today at midnight. The tone was urgent and emphatic, and the message loud and clear: Just stay the eff home. Unfortunately, the PM also made it sound as though the entire nation was going to be locked in their homes. Some examples: 


  • “To save India and every Indian there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes. Every state, every Union Territory, every district, every village and every locality is being put under a lockdown.This is in effect a type of curfew. Beyond Janta Curfew, more stringent than Janta Curfew.” 
  • Also: “Friends, today’s decision of nationwide lockdown has essentially drawn a “Laxman Rekha” on your doors. You must remember that you will invite a grave pandemic like Coronavirus to your homes if you step out.”
  • Read the transcript here, or watch it here.


The panic: Terrified that they won’t be allowed to leave their homes after midnight, Indians across the country rushed out the door to stock up. The result: traffic jams and near stampedes at stores. The PM quickly tweeted what he really ought to have mentioned in his speech: “THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED TO PANIC. Essential commodities, medicines etc. would be available. Centre and various state governments will work in close coordination to ensure this.” Yes, he used all caps. 


The curfew: At least on paper, the announcement doesn’t signify anything new for folks already living under lockdown in places like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata or Bangalore. See this list of essential services and exemptions that will continue as before. But it’s likely to be enforced with even greater vigour. And enforcement is already a big, big problem.


The execution: The problem with a mixed message is that it not only confuses citizens but also those trusted with enforcing it—i.e. the police. And it's the aam aadmi/aurat who bears the brunt of that confusion. There are multiple accounts of the police beating up journalists, delivery personnel and even medical staff. 


  • The News Minute has details from Telangana. 
  • Accounts of media harassment in Delhi and Mumbai here and here
  • Also watch this clip of doctors being assaulted. 
  • And this chilling clip of a cop ‘sanitising’ his lathi.
  • Related news of police overkill: the unnecessary bulldozing of the Shaheen Bagh protest site, and whitewashing anti-CAA graffiti outside Jamia.
  • Silver lining: The Punjab police delivering food to the poor here.  


Not just the police: The virus has also birthed a toxic kind of ‘health policing’. Ordinary citizens are doing their bit to make life harder for those we need most. One example: landlords evicting doctors and nurses out of fear of infection. Another example: bullying and ostracism of airline staff. The Telegraph has the medical personnel angle. Watch this clip of an IndiGo employee who is literally in tears. 


The fallout: All this ‘confusion’ will have very serious consequences for all of us in the days to come. Apart from the well-being of our medical staff, the failure to clearly define exemptions has created an immediate crisis in supply.


  • Goods trains that carry critical commodities are exempt, but no one seems to have shared that memo. One railway official says: “Law enforcement agencies are telling our workers, labourers and others engaged in freight activities that all trains are cancelled so there can be no exemption for any railway worker.”
  • The interstate travel ban has hit freight trucks. “The government has locked everything down. Trucks are not being allowed to ply on roads… If the transport chain breaks, it poses danger to the supply of essential commodities,” says one transport industry official.
  • The other problem: “Scared truck drivers are running away. We are now clearing existing stock from warehouses and have asked farmers to stop harvesting."
  • Also shutting down: the big sabzi mandis that supply the cities. Farmers are afraid to travel. The police are shutting some down, while others are being closed by trade associations. For example: The Vashi market that supplies Mumbai. The story here, shocking photos here.
  • According to official curfew rules, “district authorities may encourage and facilitate home delivery to minimize the movement of individuals outside their homes.” The police are instead locking down warehouses and beating up delivery staff. 
  • Companies like Grofers and Big Basket and 1mg are facing havoc on both ends—blocked supplies and stalled customer deliveries.
  • Mint warns that food prices are set to skyrocket if the government doesn’t step in to issue and execute clear policies.
  • Also read: Business Standard on how transport disruptions are depleting supplies of shampoo and soap at the local kirana stores.
  • In related news: Amazon has stopped the sale of all non-essential goods. The aim: prioritise meeting the most critical consumer needs first. These essentials include: household staples, packaged foods, healthcare, hygiene and personal safety products.

The bottomline: We simply cannot afford another demonetisation hangama rerun—and certainly not in such hazardous times. The good news: it’s early days yet and decisive steps in the right direction may be coming soon.

A small measure of financial relief

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a slew of measures to help citizens cope with the financial fallout of the pandemic. The TLDR: lots of extended deadlines and reduced penalties and fees, but no real bailout.


The deets: are as follows:


  • For taxpayers: All filing deadlines have been pushed from March 31 to June 30. That includes income and GST tax returns and mandatory linking of Aadhar and Pan cards. 
  • The penalty on delayed payment has been reduced from 12% to 9%. And you have until June 30 to invest in that tax-saving scheme.
  • Companies with a turnover of less than Rs 5 crore can file their GST for the months of March through May in the last week of June.
  • For bank account holders: there will be no ATM charges for three months. And the requirement for a minimum balance has been waived.
  • For companies staring at financial ruin: protection from sliding into bankruptcy. Under normal circumstances, a creditor could trigger insolvency if a firm defaulted on a bill of Rs 1 lakh or more. That threshold has been raised to Rs 1 crore until the end of April. 


Offering more financial relief: Airline companies like IndiGo have ruled out pay cuts. The Indian Railways will be paying its contract employees in full. And Reliance plans to pay two salaries a month to staff who make less than Rs 30,000. We like to make fun of Mukesh-bhai but this is pretty awesome!

The bottomline: Sitharaman’s announcement was missing a number of critical elements. One, any big picture thinking on how to avert long-term damage. Two, any attempt to preempt financial panic triggered by the soon-to-be-announced 21-day curfew. Three, relief for the daily wage workers who literally have nothing to eat. 


Your global pandemic update: includes the following:


  • The number of people now under lockdown across the world: 2.6 billion.
  • The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have officially been postponed to the summer of 2021—but the event will still be called Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. The estimated losses due to this one-year delay: $5.8 billion.
  • Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have become role models in the fight against the virus. But all three nations have seen a new wave of cases in recent days. The reason: people have started going back to work, and attending events and gatherings. The response: cracking down on recent foreign arrivals.
  • Italy again saw a huge uptick in the number of deaths: 743 in 24 hours. While the number of confirmed cases is 69,176, government officials now say that the actual count may be 10 times higher. The reason: Italy is only testing those with severe symptoms.
  • The WHO warned that the United States could become the next global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic—citing a "very large acceleration" in cases. President Trump, OTOH, told reporters: "America will, again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon.”
  • If our Prime Minister was overly emphatic about staying home, Boris Johnson has been overly vague—so much so his cabinet minister had to clarify that permitted forms of outdoor exercise did not include golf.
  • The virus is now putting medical staff out of action across Europe—heightening the healthcare crisis. The worst hit is Spain: “Out of Spain’s 40,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, 5,400 — nearly 14 percent — are medical professionals… No other country has reported health care staff accounting for a double-digit percentage of total infections.”


Virus gyaan that made us smarter: includes the following:


  • Scroll explains just how a coronavirus test is conducted. 
  • ProPublica explains the ‘testing paradox’—each test takes time and precious supplies, but aggressive testing is the only proven strategy to fight the disease.  
  • Last week, Yuval Noah Harari’s brilliant op-ed ‘The world after coronavirus’ went viral, but was behind a paywall. Financial Times is now offering the read for free.
  • Science Insider offers an animated guide to what the virus symptoms look like from one day to another.
  • You can now use Google to instantly fact check the information you receive on WhatsApp
  • The Guardian has a great read on how Amazon is poised to emerge as the biggest winner in this pandemic.
  • Quartz explains how China is trying to disassociate itself as the origin of the pandemic—and blame it on Italy! 
  • CNN explains how soap, warm water and alcohol-based sanitizers kill the virus. 
  • Last but not least: A handy video on the correct technique to wash your hands.


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


  • Yes, we’re all stuck at home. We all need to eat. And fresh sabzi may soon be a memory. Vice recommends 20 recipes that use canned or dry ingredients like pasta.
  • CNN has advice on how to save your marriage from the claustrophobia of curfew. 
  • Hating on reality? Our ambassador Khyati Dodhia recommends this list of the 50-best romantic period dramas.
  • Missing live music? Bookmark this constantly updating list of live streaming performances from Billboard.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


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