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Tuesday, March 3, 2020
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Tweet of the day

“This Sunday, thinking of giving up my social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube. Will keep you all posted,” tweeted @narendramodi, driving Twitter instantly wild. Many were heart-broken, others not so much. Rahul Gandhi’s contribution to the debate: “Give up hatred, not social media accounts.” Now, why didn’t we think of that...

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EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT...

The biggest news story today, explained.

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New cases of coronavirus in India

There is no respite for the coronavirus-weary. The latest global death toll is 3000-plus, and 88,000 cases have been detected—including two new ones in India. (Read our explainer for a refresher on the virus)

 

First, a global snapshot: Before we get worked up over its spread in India, here’s a reminder of how bad it is in other parts of the world:

  • South Korea is reeling with at least 4,335 cases and 26 have died. More than half the cases have been traced to a single church widely viewed as a cult.
  • The death toll in Iran has risen to 66—the highest outside China.
  • Italy reported a 50% jump in the number of cases over the weekend. That number is now 1,694, and 34 people have died. Italy is the worst-hit nation outside Asia.
  • In the US, there have been six fatalities, with 75 confirmed cases.
  • The UK has 39 recorded cases with zero fatalities thus far.

 

Whoa, what about India? There are now two new cases. What makes them notable is that these are the first to be recorded outside Kerala. The person in Delhi just returned from Italy, while the Telangana man had recently visited Dubai. There is a third suspected case: an Italian national in Rajasthan who has tested positive. In addition, 23 others are being tested for the infection. 

 

That’s not bad! Nope. Even though India is considered ‘high risk’ for a major outbreak, we’ve managed to dodge the bullet so far. However, in places like Italy and Iran, the number of cases skyrocketed almost overnight. Point to note: the virus (SARS-CoV-2) is far less infectious than measles, but about the same as the ordinary flu. (See: handy chart here) Also important: the disease (Covid-19) caused by the virus has less than a 2% fatality rate. For example, the previous three patients—Kerala students from Wuhan—have all been discharged from the hospital.

 

That’s good news, right? Yes, no, maybe not. Because its symptoms are often mild—and easier to dismiss—Covid-19 is also more likely to spread than say a severe illness like the avian flu. So while it kills a smaller percentage of the infected population, the virus is also likely to infect far greater numbers. SARS, for example, killed fewer than a 1000, while the avian flu accounted for 455 deaths. Covid-19 is way ahead right now at 3000-plus.

 

Ugh, so are we virus-ready? Not really. A Mint deep-dive reveals some worrying gaps:

  • For starters, we simply don’t have enough hospitals or beds to handle a widespread outbreak. We only have 23,582 government hospitals with 710,761 beds—and the majority are in cities. OTOH, 70% of India lives in rural areas.
  • Experts are also sceptical as to whether we can quickly and efficiently ramp up beds and hospitals overnight—much as China was forced to do.
  • The other big challenge: poor personal hygiene. As one expert explains: “Factors such as a high rate of migration, low literacy rates, lack of general hygiene awareness and access to clean water and sanitation make India vulnerable to the spread of outbreaks such as the coronavirus."

 

To be fair…: Since December, Indian authorities have screened more than 500,000 people at airports, an additional 12,431 at 77 seaports, and around a million on the borders. So the government isn’t exactly sleeping on the job.

 

The other big worry: The Indian economy. The Indian rupee hit a 15-month low, and could weaken further to Rs 73 a dollar. Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) slashed India’s growth forecast for 2020-21 to 5.1% due to virus-related disruptions. The reason: in 2002-03, India’s total trade with China was only $4.8 billion. It has since grown to $87 billion in 2018-19. We may become victims of an economic pandemic even if we manage to contain the actual virus.

 

Learn more: Here is a lot more virus-related coverage that is worth your time:

  • Mint looks at the impact of the virus on India’s economy.
  • Mint’s comprehensive coverage also includes the virus’ effect on your personal investment choices and decision to travel abroad.
  • Time has a heartbreaking report on pets being abandoned in China due to lockdown conditions and fake news about sources of the disease.
  • BBC News offers an excellent guide to the disease, and how to recognise its symptoms.
  • Sapiens analyses why human beings around the world are hoarding face masks even though they offer very little protection.
  • We are also re-upping this excellent read in The Atlantic that explains the rapid spread of this specific coronavirus around the world.
  • Our explainer offers a refresher on the virus, the outbreak and its origins.


In scarier virus-related news: Swine flu has returned to India and already claimed 14 lives since January. Number of new cases: 884. Also infected: 5 Supreme Court Justices. Business Today explains why we may be obsessing about the wrong virus.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

while guiltily hiding your filthy makeup sponge

Turkey declares war on Syria: While the world is busy fretting over the coronavirus, Syrians are dealing with yet another humanitarian nightmare. Here’s what you need to know about it:

 

  • Turkey and Syria have been involved in a military confrontation for years over the province of Idlib—which is the last stronghold of rebel and jihadist groups that oppose President Basher al-Assad. 
  • Idlib borders Turkey and is a critical ‘buffer zone’. Hence, Istanbul has supported the rebels with both indirect and direct military assistance. 
  • Over recent months, this somewhat proxy war has turned into a direct conflict. Three days ago, the Turkish military suffered its worst losses in a single attack coordinated by Syrian and Russian forces. 
  • In response, Turkey has—for the first time—publicly announced a major counteroffensive against Syria. 
  • Also brewing: another massive Syrian refugee crisis. There are already 3.7 million refugees in Turkey, and that number is going to skyrocket given the state of Idlib. Istanbul is now threatening to open the floodgates to the EU if it doesn’t intervene.
  • New York Times has more details on the Turkish move. This BBC News report explains why Idlib may become "the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century” if this conflict continues.

 

Trump’s peace deal is DOA: As we explained yesterday, the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban—promising the full withdrawal of US forces in exchange for many sweet promises. One of them was a commitment to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the Afghan government. On Monday, a Taliban spokesperson happily announced: "The reduction in violence... has ended now and our operations will continue as normal… As per the (US-Taliban) agreement, our mujahiddin will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces." ‘Intra Afghan’ negotiations are slated to begin in ten days in Oslo. (AFP via NDTV)

 

Your Delhi violence update: includes the following:

 

  • The death toll is now 47. And the capital is on the edge. Rumours of violence continued to spread across the city, sparking distress calls—481 were received from just West Delhi.
  • You may have already read many horror stories, but this Huffington Post report on the death of 23-year-old Faizan is significant. He was seen in a viral clip that showed the Delhi police assaulting bloodied Muslim men, and forcing them to sing the national anthem. This is the story of what happened after the cameras stopped recording. Why does it matter? Because it shows that the police wasn’t just a passive spectator, but also an active participant.
  • The infamous Mr Kapil Mishra has raised over Rs 71 lakh to help victims of the violence… but only if they are Hindu. The Week has the details.
  • The Delhi Assembly’s newly constituted ‘Peace and Harmony’ committee announced that hate-filled messages and fake news shared on WhatsApp or social media will now carry a three-year prison sentence. People who report such messages will receive a reward of Rs 10,000 if their complaint leads to an FIR.
  • The Telegraph has a poignant ground report from Bhagirathi Vihar where neighbours are struggling to make peace with each other in the aftermath.

 

Delhi rape death sentence deferred again: The execution of the four men convicted in the infamous gang rape was scheduled for 6 am today, but has been stayed once again by a Delhi court. The reason: one of them has filed a mercy petition with President Kovind, and it is still pending. The death sentence cannot be carried out until all legal options available to all four are fully exhausted. (Times of India)

 

VPN insult to internet injury to Kashmiris: When the government lifted the internet ban, social media and other sites remained blocked. And Kashmiris desperate to access Insta or make a video call use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to get past the internet wall. But as Quartz reports, many are falling victim to free VPN services that enable data theft—and end up paying a high price.  

 

Extreme heat is bad for pregnant women: According to a new study, longer and hotter heatwaves—the kind likely to become common due to climate change—carry a higher risk of premature births. According to researchers, “We thought that temperature would matter the most, but it turns out that it has more to do with how long you're stuck with the high temperatures rather than how hot it is outside." A separate study underway in Gambia found signs of foetal distress—either a high foetal heart rate or not enough blood going to the baby—in 30% of mothers who work outside in the heat.

 

Things that make you go WTF: The celeb-approved new fashion trend for the summer: nude leggings. Umm, no.  

 

The ‘Keep It Clean’ Pop Up: As in how to stop being lazy and just clean that shit up!

 

  • The Cut tells you how to clean your makeup brushes—and why your skin will be very grateful if you do so. 
  • PopSci offers a very useful guide to cleaning your smartphone properly. 

 

Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following:

 

  • We discovered Kotchakorn Voraakhom—the architect who aims to save Bangkok from rising sea levels—thanks to Economic Times. Then we dug up these eye-popping photos of the 236,000-square-foot rooftop farm she designed.
  • Wired uncovered an eye-opening Airbnb scam that’s taking over London.
  • Fortune explains the ‘circular economy’ and why it is different from just plain old recycling.
  • Quartz explains why time goes by faster as you get older 
  • A British university is creating a database of hands. The aim: to use AI to help catch pedophiles seen in child abuse videos.
  • The unexpected discovery that polar bears sometimes hoard uneaten kills by burying them in snow.
  • The almost equally unexpected discovery that Shashi Tharoor wears a portable air purifier.
  • BBC News explains the Danish trick that shocks your body into happiness.
  • Indian Express has Bangalore’s newest traffic innovation. Forget red lights, residents can now jump entire red poles.

 

Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:

 

  • How does a swan hug? Like this, of course. Need an entire minute’s worth of animal hugs? Here you go.
  • Your first peek at Randeep Hooda in his Hollywood debut with Chris Hemsworth in ‘Extraction’. 
  • Everyone is impressed with Bhagwani Devi’s fluent English. But we’re loving her fierce attitude.
  • We discovered there’s an awesome animal called javelina—which is kinda like a boar, but not really—and it can be found sprinting down the streets of Tucson, Arizona.
  • Looking good in photos is all about the right lighting and angle… even for Mother Nature. Here are 14 gorgeous ‘optical illusions’ that prove the value of taking the right selfie.
  • Is there anything more irresistible than a baby’s first smile? We think not.
  • Oh look! Amazing, absurd and even adorable monsters are taking over New York City!
  • This real-life version of a zany Hindi movie love ishtory that has left two Surat families very unamused. But we think it's kinda funny. 
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