Friday, March 13, 2020

Message of the day

Warning: This is an all-coronavirus edition. The world seems upside down right now. It’s like we suddenly went careening off script, and now no one knows where this story is headed. And there is news, so much news, coming at us at relentless speed and volume. We may not be able to make perfect sense of this madness, but we’ve done our best to organise it for you.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The virus, the virus, the virus!

Italy’s death count soars, while India records its first fatality. Stock markets around the world experienced the panic in pandemic. And the virus broke the hearts of sports fans everywhere.


First, a global snapshot: Total number of cases: 1,34,679. Total number of deaths: 4,973. Here are the key events of the past 24 hours:


  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is going to self-isolate himself. The reason: his wife has Covid-19. The couple recently returned from a trip to the UK.
  • The death toll in Italy jumped 30%, and the country has totally shut shop. All commercial establishments—including bars, restaurants and beauty salons—have been closed. Public services and factories remain open. The current number of deaths: 1000-plus. (Read our explainer on why Italy has it bad)
  • A must read: The Atlantic reveals the extraordinary and difficult choice Italian doctors now face: whose life do they save? The reason: “They lack machines to ventilate all those gasping for air.” It’s a grim decision many doctors in other parts of the world may soon make.
  • Iran may be hiding a great human tragedy in the making. Satellite images of vast burial pits suggest that its death toll is far higher than the official tally of 429. 
  • UK PM Boris Johnson scared the eff out of his people—and then confused them! He called the pandemic "the worst public health crisis for a generation," saying: "It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time." Then he declared that there was absolutely no reason to shut schools down. 
  • Ireland, however, has shut its schools and colleges. Clearly, they didn’t get the same “scientific advice” as Boris.
  • As you may know, Trump has slapped a ban on all travellers from Europe. But oddly it doesn’t include the two countries where he owns a golf resort: Ireland and the UK. 


An India snapshot: So here’s where we are:


  • We recorded our first coronavirus death: A 76-year-old man from Kalburgi, Karnataka, who recently traveled to Saudi Arabia. We now have 74 confirmed cases. 
  • The government insists that there are no cases of ‘community transmission’ so far—and all current cases are linked to people with a travel history to infected locations. Experts disagree. They point out that India simply hasn’t tested enough people (only 5,000 so far)—and the cases will escalate as screenings increase.
  • Also: Delhi has shut all schools, colleges and movie theatres. 
  • The PM has banned all phoren trips for his cabinet ministers, and told Indians around the world: ghar mat aana, bhai 🙏🏽! For more: Indian Express lists all the steps the government has taken to contain the spread. 
  • A looming worry: a shortage of medicines. Antiretrovirals are used to treat Covid-19 patients. Indian companies currently have stocks to treat 100,000 patients. The only external supplier to India: China—which is now holding back supplies.
  • Also: The government issued elaborate instructions on how to implement a home quarantine. Indian Express explains how it works.
  • How do you trace everyone who has been in contact with a Covid-19 patient in a place as chaotic as India? Meet the ‘virus detectives’ of Kerala. Also, Indian doctors have a new port of call: cremation grounds.


The global economy: Shutting down business may be good for our health—but not that of the economy. Here’s what we know about the pandemic’s potential impact:


  • According to the UN, the global economy will take a $1 trillion hit in 2020 due to the virus. But it warned that governments have to spend big now to avoid even more serious meltdowns in the future. 
  • We’ve already been warned that the global economy is likely to grow by just 2.4% in 2020, down from the 2.9% prediction in November.  And a number of countries—especially in Europe—will go into recession.
  • But that’s if all goes kinda okay. A ‘doomsday scenario’—triggered by a prolonged and devastating pandemic—would inflict a $2 trillion price tag, and halve that growth rate to 1.5%. 
  • The UN director on trade says: “Ultimately, a series of dedicated policy responses and institutional reforms are needed to prevent a localized health scare in a food market in Central China from turning into a global economic meltdown.”
  • BBC News put together eight maps that help explain the impact of the pandemic on the global economy.
  • Unexpected upside: carbon emissions are plummeting around the world. In China alone, it has fallen by 25%. But as Wired points out, this silver lining is unlikely to last. Once the pandemic passes, governments and companies will likely make up for lost time and moolah with a vengeance.


The Indian economy: The news isn’t good for our already slowing economy:


  • Both government revenues and economic growth are set for a sharp decline for next two quarters. Also: According to the UN, India could lose $348 million in trade.  
  • The travel ban is a big blow to the tourism industry that caters to 1 million foreign visitors each year. Tour operators estimate January-March quarter earnings could fall by more than 60% compared to last year. At least 40% of rooms in big hotel chains are now empty.
  • An industry leader says: "If no visas are valid, within next ten days this travel and tourism industry will come to a virtual stop. It would mean that everyone will cut down costs and terminate non-essential staff and stop recruiting additional staff."
  • Total estimated loss due to the one-month ban: Rs 8,500 crore.
  • Domestic travel has fallen sharply as well. Indigo has seen a 15-20% decline in daily bookings. Economic Times has more on the impact on an already fragile aviation industry.
  • Point to note: Travel and tourism accounted for 9.2% of India’s GDP in 2018.
  • Also: people are just staying home. Sales at malls and restaurants dipped by 15-25% over the last two weeks. 


The global stock market: plunged around the world. The reasons:


  • One, oil prices. As you may remember, the price per barrel took a big 30% hit last weekend due to a Saudi-Russia war within OPEC+ (They disagreed on how to deal with the coronavirus). 
  • Then came the Trump ban on travel from Europe—which is not good for an industry that relies heavily on supplying airline fuel. 
  • Also spooking the markets: great uncertainty over if and when the world will return to business as usual. And Trump’s garbled speech to the nation may have tipped investors over the edge.
  • The Dow Jones had its worst one-day loss since ‘Black Monday’ in 1987—plunging 2,353 points. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq both fell more than 9%. And European shares plummeted to a four-year low. 


The Indian stock market: had its worst day since 2008. The trigger: The UN proclamation of a pandemic. The  Sensex crashed by 2,919 points, while Nifty plunged 8.3%. The carnage wiped Rs 11.28 trillion off the Bombay Stock Exchange. The rupee slid by 0.6% to Rs 74.19 against the dollar. It’s so bad that even Reliance stock crashed by 9%—and Mukesh-bhai is now poorer by Rs 1.11 trillion. The Telegraph has the big picture.


The future of sports: does not look bright.


  • Football: the Champions League & Europa League have been suspended. Real Madrid's entire team is in quarantine, and the La Liga has been postponed. Arsenal's game at Manchester City was the first Premier League fixture to be canceled.
  • Cricket: While officials are still hemming and hawing over the IPL, fans poured in to watch the first ODI between India and South Africa—which was supposed to be played in front of an empty stadium. No one knows who is to blame.
  • Basketball: the current season of the NBA has been suspended thanks to this jackass who tested positive for the virus.
  • NDTV has the entire list of sporting events that have been cancelled or postponed.


Stuff that made us smarter: Y’know what they say about opinions and a**holes—everyone has one, especially these days. Well, here are the opinions and analysis we found most useful:


  • Global health expert Alanna Shaikh has the most sane and reasoned take on the pandemic—and how we should make sense of it. Watch her TedX talk. (Courtesy our subscriber Kruthika)
  • ‘Why You Must Act Now’ is an urgent, scary and important read on why immediate social distancing is necessary. (Courtesy our ambassadors Karthika Sivakumar and Ameya Nagarajan)
  • Vox explains the pandemic in 9 highly illuminating charts.
  • New York Times (via Times of India) uses illustrations to explain how the virus hijacks your cells.
  • To settle the great face mask debate, PopSugar (yes, PopSugar) explains when you should or should not wear one. Also read: why face masks are encouraged in Asia but shunned in the US.
  • The least useful thing we’ve read so far: This bit of total drivel in Mint.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: is served with a liberal dose of viral humour, literally so:


  • Worried about Tom Hanks? His son offered a reassuring update on his parents.
  • The outtakes edition: This is Donald before his address to the nation. This is Donald after his address to the nation.
  • Hmm, how can I take social distancing to a supremely absurd level? Problem solved!
  • Coronavirus action figures??? More like coronavirus super villains!
  • Just say ‘namaste’! Since it is the only non-ridiculous alternative to a handshake, world leaders have taken to folding their hands with great gusto. Our fave: Prince Charles. Also in love with the old namaste: Donald.
  • A list of the most jugaadi face masks ever.
  • Why the pandemic is a boon for every Indian woman walking on the street.
  • For the less virally inclined: Would you like some puppy with that cup of coffee
  • Plus: a ridiculous, umm, marine vehicle built like an… orca?
  • This gorgeous 2nd century Indian sculpture of a dancer’s legs.
  • Mama and baby orangutans—tantrums and kisses included!
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