Tag Archives: coronavirus

Viral responses

I’m happy to discover that plenty of people are meeting these “tests of severe circumstances” with humour.

Empty toilet paper rolls and a ‘closed’ sign: Emoji get redesigned for COVID-19Fast Company
“I believe what the world is going through right now is a big moment in history which will have a profound impact on the way people behave, communicate, and perceive their reality,” Lee says. “With this in mind, I thought we needed a new set of emojis which reflected our new reality.” The work is funny in some instances, though also quietly sad.

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Human figures removed from classic paintings by artist José Manuel BallesterColossal
Despite being a couple of years old, José Manuel Ballester’s artworks feel eerily familiar in the time of COVID-19. The Spanish artist recreates classic paintings like Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” Vermeer’s “The Allegory of Painting,” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” except he leaves out one central aspect: humans.

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See famous logos get reimagined for the coronavirus ageFast Company
“I tried to find something in every brand that communicates perfectly in normal circumstances, but is wrong in these difficult times—mermaid without a mask, Nike telling us to simply do it, Mastercard circles overlapping,” Tovrljan explains over email. “If you turn it completely around, it becomes even more powerful.”

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Happy remote Mother’s Day

Boris Johnson urges people to think twice before Mother’s Day visitsMetro Video
Asked about whether people should visit their mothers on Mother’s Day this Sunday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson urges people to ‘think very carefully and follow the medical advice’.

The correct medical advice.

The UK is scrambling to correct its coronavirus strategyMIT Technology Review
A new report issued by a group of experts advising the UK government offers a blistering assessment of the country’s previous “herd immunity” approach to coronavirus, suggesting that as many as 250,000 people could die as a result—and that it would do little to stop health-care facilities from being overwhelmed.

Or, to put it another way.

The British government is massively fucking up its coronavirus responseThe Outline
They only just realized their first plan to simply let people die had some issues.

We need to do the right thing, and keep doing it until next year’s Mother’s Day, at least.

We’re not going back to normalMIT Technology Review
Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever.

School’s out, for summer?

So yesterday, two weeks before the scheduled end of the term, kids across the country had their last school day. An early end to the term. An end to the school year?

Coronavirus: how to help children through isolation and lockdown The Conversation
The UK has become the latest country to close schools in a bid to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. This is a game changer for families, displacing children from friends, learning and their school community. To help them through what could be months of isolation and potentially lockdown, we need to consider how this new world looks and feels to them. […]

Questions about limiting screen time are a little moot, now.

Accept that they will also need to talk with friends and process what is happening around them, so tune into the value of the technology they are glued to, and actively encourage face time and group chats. It is best to talk with teenagers as the near-adults they are, emphasising the positives – the experts are working round the clock.

But what about GCSE and A-levels?

Fears that cancelling exams will hit BAME and poor pupils worstThe Guardian
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, will give more details about what will replace exams on Friday, but it is likely that GCSE and A-level results will be awarded based on predicted grades. He promised an appeal process for pupils who are unhappy with the results they are given, to ensure that the system is as fair as possible. Experts warned that the changes would disadvantage black and minority ethnic, working-class and other marginalised students, who are already under-represented in top universities.

Mock results and predicted grades won’t be used in isolation, though.

Coronavirus: Teacher assessments for GCSEs and A levelsTes
“Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students,” the Department for Education said in a statement.

The DfE have some FAQs, with more detail.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2020GOV.UK
3. How will you address the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have their grades under-predicted?
We are not awarding students their predicted grades. Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator, will develop a fair and robust process that takes into account a broad range of evidence, including teacher assessment and prior attainment. Ofqual will make every effort to ensure that the process agreed does not disadvantage any particular group of students.

Pupils who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance will have the opportunity to sit an exam, as soon as is reasonably possible after schools and colleges open again.

4. Will all students get their predicted grade?
No, we know that simply using predicted grades would not be fair to all students. The calculated grade will take into account teachers’ assessment of the likely grade as well as other factors such as prior attainment, so students’ final grades will not necessarily reflect their predicted grades.

One of our kids is expecting to start university this September…

18. What will young people with university offers do?
The grades awarded to students will have equal validity to the grades awarded in other years and should be treated in this way by universities, colleges and employers. There is no reason for the usual admissions cycle to be disrupted.

We welcome the constructive approach taken by the main university representative body, Universities UK, who have said that universities will be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university.

We can only wait and see.

Getting through it

Photos: Life in the coronavirus eraThe Atlantic
In an all-out effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, health and government officials worldwide have mandated travel restrictions, closed schools and businesses, and set limits on public gatherings. People have also been urged to practice social distancing in public spaces, and to isolate themselves at home as much as possible. This rapid and widespread shift in rules and behavior has left much of the world looking very different than it did a few months ago, with emptied streets, schools, workplaces, and restaurants, and almost everyone staying home.

Rather than the expected shots of empty streets, stadiums and train stations, I find more moving the photos of how this is impacting on individuals, of all ages.

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Lori Spencer visits her mom, Judie Shape, 81, who Spencer said had tested positive for the coronavirus, at Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Seattle-area nursing home at the epicenter of one of the biggest coronavirus outbreaks in the United States, in Kirkland, Washington, on March 11, 2020.

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Caidence Miller, a fourth grader at Cottage Lake Elementary, tries to figure out assignment instructions without working speakers on his laptop as he and his grandmother, Chrissy Brackett, navigate the online-learning system the Northshore School District will use for two weeks because of coronavirus concerns, at Brackett’s home in Woodinville, Washington, on March 11, 2020.

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A woman makes a video call with her smartphone inside her home after the Italian government clamped down on public events, closed bars, restaurants, and schools, imposed travel restrictions, and advised citizens to stay at home in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus on March 15, 2020, in Turin, Italy.

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A man wearing a mask looks up at a couple looking out of a house window on the 15th day of quarantine in San Fiorano, one of the small towns in northern Italy that has been on lockdown since February, in this picture taken by schoolteacher Marzio Toniolo on March 6, 2020.

Featured image: A student attends an online class at home as students’ return to school has been delayed in Fuyang, Anhui province, China, on March 2, 2020.

Sadly, I think there’ll be plenty of time for more of these photos.

Scientists warn we may need to live with social distancing for a year or moreVox
As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales. There are no good options here. Every scenario you can think of playing out has some really hefty downsides. … At the moment, it seems the only way to sustainably reduce transmission are really severe unsustainable measures.”

Get your point across by flattening it

As an example of the power of effective data visualisation, it’s hard to beat. Here’s a little background on the diagram that’s all over the internet.

The story behind the coronavirus ‘flatten the curve’ chartFast Company
The first instance of Flatten the Curve can be found in a paper called Interim pre-pandemic planning guidance: community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation in the United States: early, targeted, layered use of nonpharmaceutical interventions, and no, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Published in 2007 by the CDC, the paper was a preview to a pandemic like COVID-19, and it suggested simple interventions like social distancing and keeping kids home from school in order to slow the spread of a disease so that the healthcare system could keep up. […]

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Pearce breathed new life into the CDC graphic. Then Harris added an anchor, a single line, that articulated its significance. But it was Dr. Siouxsie Wiles who took the final step: She demonstrated the possibility that everyday people really could make a meaningful difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19. To do this, she transformed the graphic into two futures, each caused by a mentality: ignore it or take precautions. Wiles transformed the graphic into the perfect response to the polarized nature of COVID-19 across social media, in which people were either in full prep mode or far too skeptical that the pandemic was even real.

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It’s not the first of its kind, though.

This chart of the 1918 Spanish flu shows why social distancing worksQuartz
The extreme measures—now known as social distancing, which is being called for by global health agencies to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus—kept per capita flu-related deaths in St. Louis to less than half of those in Philadelphia, according to a 2007 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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A vaccine for the infodemic?

The pandemic continues its roll around the globe.

Apple reopens all 42 China stores after virus closuresBloomberg
Since shutting the stores, Apple gradually reopened them and 38 of the 42 stores were operating as of last week. The final four will open their doors on Friday local time, according to Apple’s website.

Amazon asks all employees to work from home, if they canTechCrunch
Amazon employs some 798,000 employees. While some Amazon office workers will be able to work from home, the vast majority of its workforce have jobs that require them to be on site. The company is reliant on tens of thousands of delivery drivers and employees who work at the more than 100 order fulfillment centers.

This morning’s Next Draft newsletter had a raft of scary headlines on the subject. Here are just two. They’re behind paywalls so I can’t go any further, but it’s not a pretty way to start the day.

‘Italy has abandoned us’: People are being trapped at home with their loved ones’ bodies amid coronavirus lockdownThe Washington Post

Coronavirus burial pits so vast they’re visible from spaceThe Washington Post

It’s tempting to switch off from it all, but that would be a mistake—we need to know what’s going on, but not all news reports are created equal.

Coronavirus: why we should keep our eyes and ears open as well as our hands cleanThe Conversation
Instead of the top-down information flow of years past, governments and other figures of authority today find themselves having to react to situations created by non-professional media outlets in a bottom-up fashion. The issue with non-professional reporting versus the traditional media is that the motivations of the content creators are not always obvious: biases are unclear and quality control is largely absent.

With dire consequences.

[C]ookies and social media algorithms help to intensify the echo chamber of fear by showing online readers more of what they’ve already clicked on. The online world suddenly becomes entirely coloured by COVID-19 coverage, and the sheer amount of reporting overshadows the fact that people have a very low chance of catching the virus and if they do, they have a very high chance of a complete recovery.

Yet many people are living in fear for their lives. Entire industries, including tourism, transportation and education are suffering huge losses, companies are going bankrupt, and people are losing their jobs. Fear is being perpetuated by the wearing of masks in public, despite health authorities pleading with people not to do so.

Racism is rearing its ugly head as people begin to judge others’ likely degree of contagion by their appearance. Supermarkets are being stripped of toilet paper, pharmacies of antibacterial liquid. In many places, panic has set in.

So pack it in—you’re probably not using enough of that stuff anyway—and don’t believe everything you read.

Amazon flooded with self-published coronavirus booksThe Guardian
The retailing giant has already been removing “tens of thousands” of listings from “bad actors” attempting to artificially raise prices on items such as face masks and hand sanitiser. Now it is fighting a losing battle against the writers rushing out self-published books to profit from coronavirus fears. Generally shorter than 100 pages, dozens have been published in the last few weeks, promising worried readers ways to prevent or avoid the virus.

We need to stick to the official advice, however weird it looks.

Coronavirus fears have led to a golden age of hand-washing PSAsNPR
The rapid spread of the new coronavirus has health officials scrambling to educate the public on good hygiene and best practices. And the need to communicate those messages has resurrected a classic art form: the public service announcement, or PSA. Because the coronavirus is a global concern, video PSAs are emerging from all corners of the globe, all at once.

Let’s end with a golden oldie.

Coughs, sneezes, and jet-propelled germs: Two public service films by Richard Massingham (1945)The Public Domain Review
The first film featured here, Coughs and Sneezes from 1945, begins with a comic montage of practical jokes. “You may have met a few people who like doing this sort of thing,” the narrator says, as we watch a series of people be bonked on the head, tripped, or knocked head over heels; “they’re a nuisance, I agree — but pretty harmless.” The scene then turns to another kind of nuisance, which isn’t harmless at all: a man who sneezes without covering his mouth. This danger to society is promptly hauled into a room for instruction in proper use of his handkerchief and, in a follow-up film, Don’t Spread Germs (Jet-Propelled Germs) from 1948, further instructed in how to properly clean his handkerchief — in a bowl of disinfectant separate from the family wash.

Cooking through adversity

Amid the news of Italy’s massive quarantine, here’s comicbook artist Krish Raghav’s poignant look at an aspect of China’s.

Quarantine Cooking: Finding Relief from Coronavirus Anxiety in the KitchenThe New Yorker
The question “What and how do you cook under quarantine” is being answered from millions of isolated dorm rooms, apartments, and houses across the country, and a new cuisine, with its own rules, norms, and tastes, is emerging. Call it quarantine cooking.

The post-nineties generation that uses sites like Xiachufang is not one that usually cooks. Their lives are defined by an arduous work culture and precarious careers. They rely on cheap and convenient food-delivery apps for most meals, making only occasional trips to the kitchen. Yet eating with friends and family is central to their idea of a “good life”. When restrictions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak take that away, quarantine cooking is the response, rebuilding that lost social connection with what’s at hand and what’s possible. […]

Sharing its preparation online is as important as the food itself. They are transmissions sent from isolation, like radio diaries from a stranded spacecraft. It’s about re-creating the conviviality of sharing a meal. It’s a response to boredom and a salve for the constant anxiety of following updates on the outbreak. […]

The act of looking for a recipe and reading others’ quarantine diaries has become like a trip to the supermarket. We tend to think of the Chinese internet as just a battleground—activists and censors locked in an endless conflict. But, to many, it is also homey and comforting, parts of it as familiar as a cozy kitchen.

The link seems broken currently, but here’s another, and here’s a screenshot that Joanne McNeil shared in her recent newsletter, when she noticed that Krish had mentioned her work in relation to this.

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Meanwhile.

How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellholeWired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […] These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”

Might a conspiracy theory be behind all this bizarre panic-buying of toilet paper?

‘It isn’t Mad Max’: women charged after fight over toilet paper in SydneyThe Guardian
A video of the incident was shared on social media and showed a small group of women pushing, yelling and fighting over a shopping cart filled with toilet paper. “We just ask that people don’t panic like this when they go out shopping,” the New South Wales police acting inspector Andrew New said. “There is no need for it. It isn’t the Thunderdome, it isn’t Mad Max, we don’t need to do that.

What is going on?

Coronavirus: why people are panic buying loo roll and how to stop itThe Conversation
In research I conducted with marketing professors Charlene Chen and Leonard Lee, we found that consumers compensate for a perceived loss of control by buying products designed to fill a basic need, solve a problem or accomplish a task. This is what we’re seeing as people rush to buy rice, cleaning products and paper goods in illogically large proportions.

Well here’s one possible solution.

Coronavirus: Australian newspaper prints extra pages to help out in toilet paper shortageThe Guardian
On Thursday the NT News, the Darwin-based newspaper with a national reputation for its headlines and antics, printed a special eight-page insert that can be cut into toilet paper. Its editor, Matt Williams, told Guardian Australia the paper was selling well and was “certainly not a crappy edition”. “We are a newspaper known around the world who understands the needs of our readers,” he said. “Territorians … are in great need of toilet paper right now so we had to deliver what they needed.”

Putting Covid-19 into perspective

Here’s another way of visualising the numbers connected with the coronavirus.

Just how contagious is COVID-19? This chart puts it in perspectivePopular Science
One quantity scientists use to measure how a disease spreads through a population is the “basic reproduction number,” otherwise known as R0 (pronounced “R naught,” or, if you hate pirates, “arr not”). This number tells us how many people, on average, each infected person will in turn infect. While it doesn’t tell us how deadly an epidemic is, R0 is a measure of how infectious a new disease is, and helps guide epidemic control strategies implemented by governments and health organizations.

If R0 is less than 1, the disease will typically die out: Each infected person has a low chance of passing the infection along to even one additional individual. An R0 larger than 1 means each sick person infects at least one other person on average, who then could infect others, until the disease spreads through the population. For instance, a typical seasonal flu strain has an R0 of around 1.2, which means for every five infected people, the disease will spread to six new people on average, who pass it along to others.

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Here’s more on that.

What is the coronavirus’s R0 and why does it matter?Life Hacker
R0 is one of the numbers epidemiologists use to describe how an infectious agent spreads through a population. But it’s important to remember that it’s simply a statistic that describes some of the numbers we see. It’s not a rating of how scary a virus is, nor does it dictate how deadly a disease is or how difficult it might be to contain. We need more information for that.

And another way of comparing such things, from 2014.

Visualised: how Ebola compares to other infectious diseasesThe Guardian
Every disease has a basic reproduction number but the numbers are scattered across the literature. We’ve web-crawled and gathered them all here in one graphic, plotting them against the average case fatality rate – the % of infectees who die. This hopefully gives us a data-centric way to understand the most infectious and deadly diseases and contextualise current events.

Too soon?

The coronavirus outbreak continues apace, but has China turned the corner?

With its epidemic slowing, China tries to get back to workThe Economist
So along with reporting the number of new infections every day, officials are now reporting on the number of reopened businesses in their territories. The province of Zhejiang, a manufacturing powerhouse and home to Yiwu, leads the country so far, with 90% of its large industrial enterprises having restarted. But many of these are running at low capacities. Jason Wang is a manager with a clothing company that sells winter coats at Yiwu International Trade City. His factory started up again but only half of his employees have returned. “The government, enterprises, workers—everyone is making a gamble in restarting. But we have no choice, we have to make a living,” he says.

Meanwhile.

China pushes all-out production of face masks in virus fightNikkei Asian Review
Companies ranging from state-owned carmakers to oil producers are installing production lines as the government aims to raise output by at least 70%. But it will not be easy to meet demand from 1.4 billion people desperate for a measure of protection against infection.

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister has tested positive for coronavirusBuzzFeed News
Iraj Harirchi, the head of Iran’s anti-coronavirus task force, tested positive a day after a news conference where he appeared visibly sick. He wasn’t wearing a mask.

Coronavirus has now spread to every continent except AntarcticaCNN
Public health officials warned Wednesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the virus.

Rush Limbaugh: Coronavirus is being ‘weaponized’ by Chinese communists to ‘bring down’ TrumpMediaite
“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” claimed Limbaugh. “I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus…. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

Pianist Yuja Wang issues emotional reply after critics shame her for wearing glasses on stageClassic FM
“Humiliated” after being detained at the airport, Yuja Wang says she delivered the recital in sunglasses to hide her tears.

How the coronavirus revealed authoritarianism’s fatal flawThe Atlantic
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.

Mass coronavirus testing to be launched in Britain to uncover how far disease has spreadThe Telegraph
Thousands of Britons will be tested by GPs for coronavirus, amid fears that the explosion of cases in Europe means there could be far more cases in the UK than are known about.

Facebook is banning ads that promise to cure the coronavirusBusiness Insider
In a statement, a spokesperson told Business Insider: “We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention.”

I’ll just share this here, too.

An authentic 16th century plague doctor mask preserved and on display at the German Museum of Medical HistoryDesign You Trust
The mask had glass openings in the eyes and a curved beak shaped like a bird’s beak with straps that held the beak in front of the doctor’s nose. The mask had two small nose holes and was a type of respirator which contained aromatic items. The beak could hold dried flowers (including roses and carnations), herbs (including mint), spices, camphor, or a vinegar sponge.

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Mapping the outbreak

Here’s a new tool, updated daily, to help us visualise the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

2019-nCoV-tracker
[H]eadlines can be hard to interpret. How fast is the virus spreading? Are efforts to control the disease working? How does the situation compare with previous epidemics? This site is updated daily based on the number of confirmed cases reported by the WHO. By looking beyond the daily headlines, we hope it is possible to get a deeper understanding of this unfolding epidemic.

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You can overlay the data from previous epidemics, too, as this summary from The Conversation explains.

Coronavirus outbreak: a new mapping tool that lets you scroll through timelineThe Conversation
Comparisons with other recent outbreaks are also revealing. At one end of the spectrum, the 2014 Ebola epidemic can be distinguished by its devastating virulence (killing nearly 40% of the 28,600 people infected) but narrow geographic range (the virus was largely confined to three countries in West Africa). On the other hand, the 2009 swine flu pandemic was far less virulent (with an estimated mortality rate of less than 0.1%), but reached every corner of the globe.

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A very useful resource. This is exactly the kind of context our news needs to be providing.

Cases Deaths Countries affected Case fatality rate
2003 SARS 8,096 774 26 9.56%
2009 H1N1 (swine flu) 60,800,000 18,499 214 0.1%
2014 Ebola 28,646 11,323 10 39.53%
2019 nCoV:
12 Feb
45,171 1,115 26 2.5%
2019 nCoV:
2 Mar
88,913 3,043 62 3.4%
2019 nCoV:
13 Mar
125,048 4,613 118 3.7%

Update 13/02/2020

Thanks to China’s fast response, are we about to turn the corner?

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A ray of hope in the coronavirus curveThe Economist
Trying to forecast the trajectory of a new virus is complex, with scant initial information about how infectious it is. Several scientists made valiant attempts based on early data from China. Some warned that it might not peak until May, but that was before China implemented strict containment measures. The more pessimistic ones now look too gloomy. Cheng-Chih Hsu, a chemist at National Taiwan University, plugged different scenarios into a simple model for estimating the spread of epidemics (the incidence of daily infections typically resemble bell curves, with slightly fatter tails as transmissions peter out). The tally of confirmed cases so far closely fits a seemingly optimistic forecast by Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese respiratory expert, who said on January 28th that transmissions would peak within two weeks.

The end can’t come soon enough.

The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic”MIT Technology Review
On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” It’s a distinction that sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks. While SARS, MERS, and Zika all caused global panic, fears around the coronavirus have been especially amplified by social media. It has allowed disinformation to spread and flourish at unprecedented speeds, creating an environment of heightened uncertainty that has fueled anxiety and racism in person and online.

Update 02/03/2020

I’ve updated the figures in the table above, using data from the tracker. Whilst the numbers of new cases in China is slowing down, they’re increasing everywhere else. And so too is the fatality rate, worryingly.

Update 13/03/2020

And still climbing.