Coronavirus Reads, Digest 31
Crossing 100,000 cases, India's infections are the fastest rising in Asia, while Trump threatens to permanently end funding to the WHO.
It’s Tuesday, May 19th.
As lockdowns relax around the world, here’s a video project I worked on capturing the eerie emptiness in iconic parts of otherwise densely populated cities during the lockdowns over the past two months. The 360 video (which means you’ll get an immersive, panoramic view as you move your phone or mouse around) captures spaces in Berlin, Johannesburg, New York City, Sydney, and Delhi, and our experience seeing the cities in this way.
I contributed the India segment, and filmed parts of central Delhi, from India Gate to Connaught Place and Khan Market, empty intersections around Lodhi and Prithviraj roads.
It was strange to see these places so quiet even during rush hour, and as I say in the video, it felt like something terrible must’ve happened for the city to be left like this.
India has extended its lockdown for another two weeks till May 31st, while significantly relaxing restrictions (with markets and offices opening, and limited public transport allowed) and moving to give more control to individual states to decide on containment zones. However, flights, restaurants, malls, and religious gatherings are all still banned.
However, this lifting of restrictions comes at a time when India’s cases are continuing to rise quickly, having now crossed 100,000. This Bloomberg report notes that India’s coronavirus infections are now rising at the fastest pace in Asia.
The country is also now facing dire economic consequences (why restrictions are starting to be relaxed and relief packages announced), but with labor shortages from migrant workers returning home, and broken supply chains, it’s a particularly uphill task to restart. As the economy is in dire straits, and a lack of containment or flattening of the rate of infection growth, experts are asking if the lockdown has instead been a failure?
Vidya Krishnan quotes members of the govt’s Covid-19 task force in this report, as saying, “the centre had failed “in containing spread to multiple sites in the country, failure on political and administrative front in providing social services to people under lockdown and migrants, failure of risk communication and countering stigma...and delays in contact tracing.”
The public health experts in the story note that the lockdown time should’ve been used to prepare health infrastructure and prepare populations for longer-term behavioral change as the pandemic will last months, not just weeks.
The epidemiologist on the task force added: “The lockdown itself, without other measures and policies to fight the pandemic, “hardly achieves anything.”
This op-ed by Dr. Akshay Baheti argues that the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR)’s --the scientific research organisation leading India’s fight against Covid-19-- refusal to share detailed data on testing numbers, how patients are responding to different drugs, recovery rates, is hindering the medical community’s ability to fight the pandemic and execute effective healthcare. They are instead having to rely on Chinese or Western countries’ data.
Meanwhile the migrant crisis continues despite delayed attempts to organize buses and trains, with heartbreaking images and reports surfacing of the conditions in which thousands of them continue to struggle on roadsides hoping to get home.
This is an informative interview on the big picture of the significance of the crisis and migrants in India, with Irudaya Rajan, faculty at the Center for Development Studies, who’s been “tracking India’s migration trends for 35 years.”
Around the world, the southern Indian state of Kerala is getting a lot of media attention and accolades for its approach to the outbreak and success flattening their curve. Their ability to efficiently test-trace-and isolate has been lauded. In The Guardian, here’s a profile of the Kerala health minister, KK Shailaja, and a look into how the Kerala model has been pulled off.
The coronavirus slayer! How Kerala's rock star health minister helped save it from Covid-19, by Laura Spinney, The Guardian
U.S. and International
In the U.S. President Trump claimed to be taking hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a prophylactic, as experts scrambled to warn that taking the anti-malaria drug could have dire consequences. Trump is also threatening to permanently end funding to the WHO, in an attempt to deflect blame for the mishandling of the pandemic.
Former President Obama gave a virtual commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020, and indirectly criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic. Here are two short excerpts of what he said:
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing.”
“Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think. “Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up. I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others.”
This Vox report looks at how scientists are trying to determine what kind of immunity recovered patients have to the coronavirus, and how long it lasts. They note that if the immunity lasts a few years, Covid-19 “could fade in a few years’ time,” but if the immunity is less than a year, only an effective vaccine will keep it from continued outbreaks.
How long will the Covid-19 pandemic last? We need immunity data to find out, by Brian Resnick, Vox.
Can llamas help? A new scientific study published in Cell magazine has found that antibodies in llamas’ blood could offer protection to humans against the coronavirus. “Llama antibodies have been a fixture in the fight against disease for years, with researchers investigating their potency against HIV and other viruses,” writes Matthew Cantor in The Guardian.
In the Juggernaut, Meghna Rao reports about the South Asian Americans on the frontlines of the pandemic in the U.S. Not surprisingly, 1 in 20 doctors in the US is of Indian origin, but in New York City there are South Asians working as taxi drivers and in food preparation or storefronts as well.
Queens, the worst hit NYC borough, is also home to large concentrations of South Asian immigrants. Certain underlying health conditions, like diabetes are more prevalent in the community, increasingly their vulnerability to Covid-19.
Side Effects of the Pandemic
420,000 New Yorkers have left the city during the pandemic. (Disproportionately wealthier residents, 40% of the neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, Soho and the West Village have emptied out). Where did they go? Here’s an interactive map showing their movement to other parts of the U.S. (The data was gleaned from their mail-forwarding requests!)
Where New Yorkers Moved to Escape Coronavirus, The New York Times
As the coronavirus pandemic seems to stretch into a longer-term reality, real estate agents are noting that New Yorkers with means are leaving the city and buying homes in the suburbs.
And this summer, the Hamptons real estate and rentals is through the roof, (some rentals are going from $450,000 to a few million), in case you were wondering how the 1%-ers are coping. An entertaining read.
As Summer Nears, the Hamptons Face a ‘Feeding Frenzy’, by Marcelle Sussman Fischler
Why are some Americans so resistant to wearing a mask? The mask has become a symbol of political upheaval from the right-wing. In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick writes about the American phenomenon of viewing a public health measure as a curtailing of individual liberties, and a setup of the tension between the individual and concern for the community.
A very interesting reflection on women and beauty standards from a make-up influencer herself in NYTimes Opinion. Ingrid Nelson has barely worn any makeup while in isolation, and is asking herself, who was she really wearing it for?
Coping with the Pandemic
Elaine Welteroth, former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, re-configured her cancelled wedding plans, and held an elegant, socially-distanced wedding on her front stoop in New York City. (Lupita Nyong'o was there, wearing a mask!)
What’s the last “normal” picture on your phone? The BBC asked readers to submit the last picture they have before the pandemic changed our lives, moving us into social isolation. Here are the responses.
Nothing to do with the Pandemic
“Shakespeare lived his entire life in the shadow of the bubonic plague” notes Stephen Greenblatt in the New Yorker. How did this influence his writing? A deep dive from The New Yorker into how Shakespeare delved into the epidemic in his writing. What Shakespeare Actually Wrote About the Plague, The New Yorker
The Mrs Files Project, is a new series of stories from the NYTimes on the honorific “Mrs” and what it has meant for women and their identity.
One of the editors of the project, Amisha Padnani writes about why she explored this issue, in this article: Is Marriage a Prize? An excerpt:
Growing up, my parents — immigrants from India — emphasized school and career before marriage. They wanted me to be ambitious, get good grades and make good money (and stop asking them for some).
“You have to be financially independent,” my mother would say.
American social and pop culture taught me otherwise: Girls were to work toward one goal — getting married. I experienced it on TV shows like “The Nanny” and “Sex and the City,” that ended with the female protagonists married or heading that way; in women’s magazines (remember Glamour’s Engagement Chicken recipe, which was said to secure any man?); and in songs about romance that occupy many a wedding playlist.
That notion pervaded my upbringing, too.