Over-promising, under-delivering

We’re expecting news of more lockdown restrictions being eased today; restaurants, cinemas, museums, 2 metre rule etc. But the virus hasn’t gone anywhere, and we’re still without a vaccine, so we’re relying on a rigorous track and trace system, I guess. That works very well in other countries, scarily so sometimes.

The detectives racing to contain the virus in SingaporeBBC News
“It was surreal,” she says, describing the moment an unknown number flashed up on her phone. “They asked ‘were you in a taxi at 18:47 on Wednesday?’ It was very precise. I guess I panicked a bit, I couldn’t think straight.” Melissa eventually remembered that she was in that taxi – and later when she looked at her taxi app realised it was a trip that took just six minutes. To date, she doesn’t know whether it was the driver or another passenger who was infected. All she knows is that it was an officer at Singapore’s health ministry that made the phone call, and told her that she needed to stay at home and be quarantined.

The next day Melissa found out just how serious the officials were. Three people turned up at her door, wearing jackets and surgical masks. “It was a bit like out of a film,” she says. “They gave me a contract – the quarantine order – it says you cannot go outside your home otherwise it’s a fine and jail time. It is a legal document. They make it very clear that you cannot leave the house. And I knew I wouldn’t break it. I know that I live in a place where you do what you’re told.”

It’s a different picture here, however.

England’s ‘world beating’ system to track the virus is anything butThe New York Times
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain unveiled last month a “world beating” operation to track down people who had been exposed to the coronavirus, giving the country a chance to climb out of lockdown without losing sight of where infections were spreading. As with much of the government’s response to the pandemic, however, the results have fallen short of the promises, jeopardizing the reopening of Britain’s hobbled economy and risking a second wave of death in one of the countries most debilitated by the virus.

Can technology come to the rescue?

What Big Tech wants out of the pandemicThe Atlantic
The government has flailed in its response to the pandemic, and Big Tech has presented itself as a beneficent friend, willing to lend a competent hand. As Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, wrote in April, “The challenges we face demand an unprecedented alliance between business and government.”

Also in April, Google and Apple announced that they would suspend their rivalry to work with nations of the world to create a new alert system. They would reconfigure their mobile operating systems, incompatible by design, to notify users if they have stepped within the radius of a device held by a COVID‑19 patient.

Is this the approach others are taking?

Japan rolls out Microsoft-developed COVID-19 contact tracing appThe Verge
Japan’s government today released its coronavirus contact tracing app for iOS and Android. The apps rely on Apple and Google’s co-developed exposure notification platform, using Bluetooth to help determine whether users have come into close contact with others who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Germany says coronavirus tracing app ready to goReuters
After delays to ensure the bluetooth technology would work at the correct distance, the government says the app will be a vital tool to help avoid a second wave of infections.

But we don’t need their help, right?

Britain didn’t want Silicon Valley’s help on a tracing app. Now it does.The New York Times
For months, British authorities have pursued an app that they promised would help ease the country’s coronavirus lockdown, despite growing criticism that it posed privacy risks and would not work well. On Thursday, officials abruptly reversed course, saying Britain will join other countries and design a new contact-tracing app based on software provided by Apple and Google.

So what happened?

Why the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app failedWired UK
Matt Hancock has had another app catastrophe. England’s planned contact tracing app, which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight and downloaded by tens of thousands of people, has been ditched in favour of a system developed by Google and Apple.

The reversal, first reported by the BBC and later confirmed by the government, follows months of delays for the home-brewed app and difficulties surrounding its implementation. It also makes England the latest in a string of countries to ditch a centralised system in favour of a decentralised one supported by two Silicon Valley giants. That club also includes Germany, Italy and Denmark.

UK abandons contact-tracing app for Apple and Google modelThe Guardian
Work started in March as the pandemic unfolded, but despite weeks of work, officials admitted on Thursday that the NHS app only recognised 4% of Apple phones and 75% of Google Android devices during testing on the Isle of Wight. That was because the design of Apple’s iPhone operating system is such that apps quickly go to sleep when they are not being used and cannot be activated by Bluetooth – a point raised by experts and reported by the Guardian in early May.

What went wrong with the UK’s contact tracing app?BBC News
Two days later, with quite a fanfare, Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the plans for the Covid-19 app, promising “all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards, and would only be used for NHS care and research”.

But immediately privacy campaigners, politicians and technology experts raised concerns. “I recognise the overwhelming force of the public health arguments for a centralised system, but I also have 25 years’ experience of the NHS being incompetent at developing systems and repeatedly breaking their privacy promises,” said Cambridge University’s Prof Ross Anderson.[…]

The blame game has already begun. Mr Hancock and some of the scientists working with the NHS believe Apple should have been more cooperative. Technology experts and privacy campaigners say they warned months ago how this story would end.

Now what?

UK virus-tracing app switches to Apple-Google modelBBC News
Baroness Dido Harding – who heads up the wider Test and Trace programme – will only give the green light to actually deploying the Apple-Google technology if she judges it to be fit for purpose, which she does not believe is the case at present. It is possible this may never happen. […]

The NHS has been testing both systems against each other, over the course of the past month. The centralised version trialled on the Isle of Wight worked well at assessing the distance between two users, but was poor at recognising Apple’s iPhones. Specifically, the software registered about 75% of nearby Android handsets but only 4% of iPhones. By contrast, the Apple-Google model logged 99% of both Android mobiles and iPhones. But its distance calculations were weaker.

The Apple-Google model faired better, so that’s the option to take further, in this embarrassing reversal turnaround backtrack ‘next phase’.

Next phase of NHS coronavirus (COVID-19) app announcedGOV.UK
This next phase will bring together the work done so far on the NHS COVID-19 app and the new Google/Apple framework. Following rigorous field testing and a trial on the Isle of Wight, we have identified challenges with both our app and the Google/Apple framework. This is a problem that many countries around the world, like Singapore, are facing and in many cases only discovering them after whole population roll-out. As a result of our work, we will now be taking forward a solution that brings together the work on our app and the Google/Apple solution.

That seemed to take Apple by surprise.

Apple ‘not told’ about UK’s latest app plansBBC News
During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: “Measuring distance is clearly mission critical to any contact-tracing app.” However, speaking to the Times, Apple said: “It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven’t spoken to us.” The firm also pointed out that the tech was already either in use or intended for use in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland.

The tech giant also expressed surprise that the UK was working on a new version of the contact-tracing app which incorporated the Apple-Google software tool. “We’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together,” Mr Hancock said. However, Apple said: “We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven’t spoken to us about it.”

<sigh>

Should we be more pessimistic?New York Times
“[The virus] challenges our presumptions about being able to fully control things, and it raises existential issues about our very ability to relate to the world outside of a human-centric point of view,” said Eugene Thacker, a professor of media studies at the New School and the author of books on pessimism, including “In The Dust of This Planet” and “Infinite Resignation.” “It’s at once awe-inspiring and scary. You have a sense of wonder at something bigger than the human, but also a sense of the ground giving way beneath your feet.”

How to get back to normal

A lot of thought is going into what happens next.

Social distancing: how we overcome fear of one another to embrace a new normalThe Conversation
We mustn’t overlook how we make sense – physically and emotionally – of a world affected by a global virus. My research has examined how our embodied use of space – our proximity, our distance, and the boundaries we create between one another, affects us socially, culturally, economically and even politically. Now we are witnessing how our bodies learn to cope in a new world shaped by a pandemic.

But this isn’t serious, right?

Transition from videocall to real life conversation with the ‘see yourself window’designboom
If throughout the many videocalls during lockdown you’ve been looking more at the little rectangle of yourself than the faces of your friends and family, then perhaps this device created by rana rmeily is for you. The ‘see yourself window’ is a small, lightweight and 3D printed gadget that hooks onto your ear and aims to ease people back into real, physical interaction.

Back in the office yet?

So lockdown’s easing here next week.

What’s reopening on June 15? All of the lockdown restrictions easing on MondayLondon Evening Standard
All non-essential retail shops will be able to reopen from Monday, provided they follow Government guidelines to make them “Covid-secure”, Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed last night. Mr Sharma said the move will “allow high streets up and down the country to spring back to life”. These include clothes and shoe shops, book shops, electronics retailers, tailors, auction houses, photography studios, indoor markets, and shops selling toys.

Things might start to feel a little more normal for some, but for others less so.

Ten Lincolnshire schools report COVID-19 infections since reopeningThe Lincolnite
Years One, Six and Reception classes returned to the classroom last Monday. Since then Lincolnshire County Council said two school staff have been confirmed positive, while two results have come back negative and eight are still waiting.

Plan shelved for all primary pupils to be back in school before summer holidaysSky News
[T]he National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that if the plans were confirmed, it would be “pleased to see the government will not force the impossible”. The body previously said returning all pupils before the end of term would present “unsolvable practical barriers if the hierarchies of control are to be maintained”.

It’s a difficult balancing act, with different parts of the country experiencing different transmission rates.

The UK may need local lockdowns. But can it make them work?Wired UK
Explaining to the public what scientific evidence local rules are based on will be key. “Under local lockdowns it seems very likely that people who live not very far from each other will end up receiving very different policing responses. So it will be important that those most affected understand the basis of those decisions, else they may feel they’re being unreasonably or unfairly dealt with,” says Stuart Lister, professor of policing and criminal justice at University of Leeds.

No change for me next week, though. I’ll still be working from home, logging in from the kitchen table with its view of our little garden and bird feeders. I could get quite used to this.

Remote work’s time has comeCity Journal
[I]t’s important to bear in mind that the pivot to remote work due to Covid-19 is being made under extraordinary conditions, rushed and relatively unplanned. Many will be attempting to work remotely while simultaneously providing child care and dealing with other pandemic-related exigencies. … The sudden expansion of remote work will feel especially socially isolating, since it is occurring amid general social distancing. In short, this is the worst version of modern remote work. It will get better.

Let’s hope so. The question we’re all asking is, when will all this go back to normal, whatever that new normal ends up being?

When 511 epidemiologists expect to fly, hug and do 18 other everyday activities againThe New York Times
Many epidemiologists are already comfortable going to the doctor, socializing with small groups outside or bringing in mail, despite the coronavirus. But unless there’s an effective vaccine or treatment first, it will be more than a year before many say they will be willing to go to concerts, sporting events or religious services. And some may never greet people with hugs or handshakes again.

When will life return to normal? This is the answer of epidemiologists, as embroidered by one of them, Melissa Sharp. Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Patient confidentiality? Don’t count on it

I think, whatever else is happening, there’s always one thing you can rely on to keep going. Data breaches.

Babylon Health data breach: GP app users able to see other people’s consultationsThe Guardian
Babylon allows its members to speak to a doctor, therapist or other health specialist through a video call on a smartphone. It has more than 2.3 million registered users in the UK.

Babylon user Rory Glover told the BBC when he logged onto the app there were about 50 videos in the consultation replays section of the app that did not belong to him. “You don’t expect to see something like that when you’re using a trusted application. It’s shocking to see such a monumental mistake made,” he said.

Glover said he would not use the Babylon app again. “It’s an issue of doctor-patient confidentiality,” he said. “You expect anything you say to be private, not for it to be shared with a stranger.”

Don’t worry, though. The government’s on it.

Matt Hancock clueless about confidentiality breach at his own GP surgeryThe Guardian
Speaking at the virtual CogX festival, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said he was unaware of the data breach, but that it did not affect his views on the value of private partnerships within the NHS. “What I care about is getting results,” Hancock said, “when companies will come and help in the middle of a pandemic. The honest truth is there is no way we would be able to deal with this without the support of the tech companies.”

After the panel had ended, the audio of Hancock’s conversation with his interviewer, the Telegraph’s Harry de Quetteville, continued to broadcast.

“[The] Babylon thing, I should have [known],” Hancock could be heard saying, “especially since they’re my GP.” After De Quetteville told him that the breach meant that someone may have been given access to his medical consultations, Hancock joked: “Honestly, they know more about my bunion than anybody.” The audio of the broadcast then cut off.

Good question

Face masks, then, but

Why are Britons reluctant to wear masks to contain covid-19?The Economist
Future historians looking back on 2020 will be struck by its dystopian imagery: footballers taking to the pitch wearing masks in Brazil; models strutting down the catwalk in couture coverings in France; a head of government being sworn into office, his face shrouded in a surgical guise, in Slovakia. Wearing masks—hitherto an almost exclusively East Asian practice—has gone viral.

And yet one country, it seems, did not get the memo.

On a related matter, it’s good to see the Led By Donkeys folk back at work.

Will we get the future we deserve?

I have to admit this Plandemic conspiracy theory has somewhat passed me by. It sounds bonkers, to say the least.

Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy videoScience
Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick.

Mikovits: Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by sand or soil “sequences.” There is no evidence that microbes in the ocean can heal COVID-19 patients.

It’s worrying how mainstream these ludicrous conspiracies are becoming.

The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook momsWired UK
Across Facebook, the Plandemic video was shared on hundreds of community groups. Its appearance was often incongruous, akin to the conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. turning up uninvited to your village’s summer barbecue and telling everyone that vaccines are going to kill their children. The spread of the conspiracy theory on otherwise banal community groups reveals a perilous new reality: one where the coronavirus pandemic has taken dangerous, fringe views and planted them firmly in the minds of scores of ordinary people. And, as with the anti-vaccination movement, the Plandemic conspiracy theory has resonated particularly strongly amongst women – often young mothers. […]

The unprecedented success of the Plandemic video is part of a growing trend: of conspiracy theorists using the coronavirus pandemic to seek out ever larger audiences. For this to work, they have changed tack. While poorly-produced, hour-long rant videos and clumsy memes still persist, the Plandemic was notable for its higher production values. This added slickness is central to efforts to attract new believers. And it’s working.

The video’s long gone now, taken down in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. But even that’s not straightforward.

[T]he messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it. This created the perfect storm – a Streisand effect that boosted the conspiracy theory still further.

It may feel like a US-only problem, but that’s far from the case, sadly. Here’s another Wired UK article from earlier this year, before our current lockdown had properly begun. Facebook, again.

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. […]

Other Facebook groups keen on coronavirus conspiracies include “We Support Jeremy Corbyn”, “I’M A BREXITEER” and the “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of reactions. 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.”

It’s easy to feel despondent, reading all this — we’re just too stupid to help ourselves, we’re going to get the future we deserve. But it’s important to remember that, however noisy all these scared stupid bigoted idiots people are, and however much attention the media gives them, the vast majority of us are sensible and keeping it together. Right?

Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinkingThe Conversation
Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty.

Keeping yourself occupied?

What to do when you’ve got too much time on your hands? Play a video game? This one looks a little laggy.

Super Mario Rubik’s Cube stop motionBigWendy

Some people are just eating their way through this time of uncertainty.

Pass the pepper: Social distancing is nothing to sneeze AtJoseph’s Machines

Don’t overdo it, though, or you’ll be expanding your vocabulary as well as your waistline.

keeping-yourself-occupied

Do you speak corona? A guide to covid-19 slang1843

Coronaspeck

1. Coronavirus fat (noun)

German workers ordered to stay at home to help the government flatten one sort of curve have found themselves battling the emergence of another, just above the belt. Home workouts sound great, but the days are long and dull and your latest bout of Hamsterkäufe (panic-buying; lit. “hamster-purchase”) has left the fridge gloriously well-stocked. There’s always another variety of Ritter Sport to try, oder? Anyway, what’s a few kilos between socially distanced friends?

Coronaspeck is the helpful German word for the fat deposited by weeks of stay-at-home grazing. Shoppers in Germany may know Speck as a bacon-like foodstuff, perhaps found on a crisp Flammkuchen or inside hearty Swabian Maultaschen. But its broader meaning corresponds to something like the English “flab”.

Perhaps you need some exercise, but what if you can’t think of a routine or a soundtrack? No problem. This website will pair up a random move with a random piece of music.

Random workout generator

keeping-yourself-occupied-1

I’ll pass on that, thanks. But speaking of music…

Plink, Plank, Plunk! virtual performanceChicago Sinfonietta

RPO trombones play Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ over ZoomRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra

Le Boléro de Ravel par l’Orchestre national de France en #confinement #ensembleàlamaisonFrance Musique

That sounds more like it.

And then what?

So here in the UK we’re to have another three weeks of lockdown. I’m not sure what state I’ll be in after that, I’m already starting to fray at the edges. What’s keeping me up all night isn’t so much how we’ll get through these next few weeks, but what comes after?

Our pandemic summerThe Atlantic
The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world. “Everyone wants to know when this will end,” said Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”

Not a clue. We sit around and wait for a vaccine, but until then— what?

After social distancing, a strange purgatory awaitsThe Atlantic
We will get used to seeing temperature-screening stations at public venues. If America’s testing capacity improves and results come back quickly, don’t be surprised to see nose swabs at airports. Airlines may contemplate whether flights can be reserved for different groups of passengers—either high- or low-risk. Mass-transit systems will set new rules; don’t be surprised if they mandate masks too.

Can things just go back to how they were before?

Welcome to our new timelineKottke
I’m wondering — how many people are aware that this is going to be our reality for the next few years? There is no “normal” we’re going back to, only weird uncharted waters.

We’re all struggling with it. I know I am. Thankfully, help is still around.

Stephen Fry’s tips for managing virus-based anxietyBBC News
Stephen Fry has been giving advice on dealing with anxiety and stress whilst self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr “anxiety and stress are almost as virulent as this coronavirus”.

Some people, however, are less than helpful.

Facebook will add anti-misinformation posts to your News Feed if you liked fake coronavirus newsThe Verge
Today’s update follows a scathing report by nonprofit group Avaaz, which called the site an “epicenter of coronavirus misinformation” and cited numerous posts containing dangerous health advice and fake cures. The company pushed back on this accusation, saying it’s removed “hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation” in the past weeks.

Feeling isolated? You’ll be fine

Going a little crazy stuck indoors? Get some advice from the experts.

How Mandela stayed fit: from his ‘matchbox’ Soweto home to a prison cell – The Conversation
He’d begin with running on the spot for 45 minutes, followed by 100 fingertip push-ups, 200 sit-ups, 50 deep knee-bends and calisthenic exercises learnt from his gym training (in those days, and even today, this would include star jumps and ‘burpees’ – where you start upright, move down into a squat position, kick your feet back, return to squat and stand up). Mandela would do this Mondays to Thursdays, and then rest for three days. This continued even during his several spells in solitary confinement.

Jacob Solome survived the Holocaust by hiding in a small basement for two years with up to 15 others.

My cousin Jack survived the unimaginable. Here’s his advice for right now.The Cut
This is my philosophy, and so far it has helped. Because I compare myself to other people who worry all the time, and always when you see them, they are telling you about their tsuris and their problems. Some people are optimistic, but some people are more pessimistic. I am in the first category. Really, that’s the nature of a person. I’m always thinking how worse it was when we were under the German occupation, where every minute, our lives were at risk; literally, being in the ghetto and being in hiding. So if I was able to live through that, what the heck is coronavirus?

For some, it’s a calling.

I’m a nun and I’ve been social distancing for 29 years. Here are tips for staying home amid coronavirus fears.nj.com
People say they want peace and quiet. Then when it is thrown in their lap, they panic. They don’t know how to be alone. They are afraid to confront their “shadow side,” the hard truths about themselves that they don’t like. They fill their lives with noise to run away from their emotions. Life isn’t meant to be rushed. Use this time to get to know yourself.

And from The Economist, advice from a former hostage, a writer with chronic fatigue and an astronaut.

Stories of an extraordinary world – Notes on isolation, from those who know it wellThe Economist
When I was in space, Mission Control scheduled my days to the minute. Every evening the information they sent would come out like a fax machine, a long thin bit of paper telling me exactly what time I should get up, when I should eat, what experiments I should do and when. I didn’t mind – it was efficient – but I did get comfort from the small things that I could control, like what juice I drank and the time after dinner when I really could do whatever I wanted. Now my days are restricted like everyone else – my speaking engagements have been cancelled and my work for Imperial College London is moving online – but I still take pleasure in the small things; deciding my morning run and what path I take. I remember that lesson from space, letting go of what you can’t control and focusing on what you can. We have all been told to stay at home – but we can still decide how we use our time.

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.

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.

working-through-it-1

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.

working-through-it-2

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.

working-through-it-3

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.

working-through-it-4

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. […]

flatten-a-curve-1

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.

flatten-a-curve-3

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.

flatten-a-curve-2

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.

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.

perspective

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.

too-soon-2

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.

mapping-the-outbreak

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.

mapping-the-outbreak-2

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?

mapping-the-outbreak-3

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.

Things are on the up!

Well I, at least, can take a positive spin on this.

The mid-life crisis is real, study suggests, as economist pinpoints age of peak misery as 47.2The Telegraph
“Something very natural is going on here… maybe there’s something in the genes,” he said. “When you have this pattern in 132 countries, the reality is, it was really hard to not find it.”

In his paper entitled: ‘Is happiness U-shaped everywhere?’ and published yesterday by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), Professor Blanchflower said that averaging across 257 individual country estimates from developing countries gives an age minimum of 48.2 for well-being, and doing the same across the 187 country estimates for advanced countries gives a similar minimum of 47.2.

on-the-up

As a 47.8 year old, I’ve officially passed the nadir so can look forward to a continuing surge in happiness levels from now on!

Update 21/01/2020

Just parking this opposing article here, in case I need to refer to it later…

How to stave off depression in later lifePatient
Whether it’s moving from work into retirement or dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s evident that the stresses and feelings of isolation in later life can take their toll. And it may come as little surprise that nearly half of all adults aged 55 and over said they had experienced depression, according to a recent survey by Age UK.

Desk danger!

We all do it. We all know we shouldn’t. But are we at least allowed to read about the perils of eating lunch at our desks, whilst at our desks during lunch?

Why you really shouldn’t be eating lunch at your deskWired UK
“Often meal breaks are a time where you are able to refresh your attention,” says André Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at Cass Business School in London. “If you don’t take a break in which you go away from your actual place where you’re working, you’re not able to get a boost in attention. Meal breaks basically allow us a productivity refresh.” […]

“If you eat at your desk when you’re distracted through working and you’re not giving yourself a proper lunch break, then the food you eat doesn’t fill you up as much,” she says. “You don’t remember that you have eaten in the same way, and you don’t code food in the same way. You’re more likely to feel hungry in the afternoon and then eat more.”

A drop in productivity (heaven forbid!) isn’t the only worry. But help is at hand.

Oh crumbs! Hope of an end to food in keyboardsThe Times
Forget about fingerprint readers, retinal displays or edge-to-edge screens. There is one innovation that computer users have been waiting for since the first office worker decided to eat at their desk, and it could soon be here: crumb-proof keyboards.

Apple patents world’s first crumb-proof keyboardThe Independent
The filing suggests a number of ways in which the problem might be eradicated, discussing the application of gaskets, brushes, wipers and flaps to block gaps, the installation of a membrane beneath each key and even a “bellows” effect in which each key stroke forces air through the board, pushing irksome crumbs out.

Alternatively.

All change?

We can learn new facts, master new skills, grow and develop to become ‘better’, but can we really change? A few people recently have tried to find out.

Glass half-full: how I learned to be an optimist in a weekThe Guardian
Day three: One of the simplest strategies for increasing optimism is avoiding the company of other pessimistic people. I figure that I have a headstart here, in that I already avoid the company of most people.

The doorbell rings. I think: this can’t be good. Then I think: stop that. The man at the door has a package for me. My wife passes through the kitchen as I’m opening it.

“What’s that?” she says.

“It’s my gratitude journal,” I say, holding up a slim notebook with the words “Start with gratitude” written on the cover in a self-helpy calligraphic font.

“Stupid,” my wife says.

“If you’re not going to be positive about my journey,” I say, “then you and I might have to stop hanging out.”

“That can be arranged,” she says.

Ok, so perhaps the Guardian columnist Tim Dowling wasn’t taking the venture too seriously. Let’s see how Jessica Pan, author of Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, gets on over the course of a year, rather than just a week.

Can you fake being an extrovert?Sydney Morning Herald
I had a lot of time to ponder: what did I want from life? I wanted a job, new friends I felt truly connected to, and more confidence. So what were other people out there with jobs and close friends and rich, fulfilling lives doing that I wasn’t? Eventually, and with mounting fear, I realised: they were having new experiences, taking risks, making new connections. I knew what I had to do.

I would talk to new people. I would travel alone and make new friends on the road. I would say yes to social invitations. I would go along to parties and not be the first to leave. It would be like jogging: sweaty and uncomfortable but possibly good for me in the long term. In other words, I would become an extrovert. I gave myself a year.

So how did she get on?

It was fear that if I never changed I would never know what it was like to live a bigger life that propelled me. I’d spent most of my life telling myself I was one kind of person, not believing I could do things that I saw other people doing. Then I spent a year doing all of those things that petrified me. A small part of me thought I’d undertake all these challenges and emerge as a socially savvy, articulate, gregarious social butterfly. Or wind up hiding in a ditch. But I am still who I was at the beginning of this year. Only I know more now.

I feel like co-opting a Stonewall slogan — Some of us are introverts. Get over it!

It’s okay if you’re not resilientElemental
“This story has emerged that if you fail or are struggling, it’s because you lack this characteristic that other people possess,” says Mark Seidenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Not only is this an unhelpful form of “victim blaming,” but it also confuses effect for cause, he says. People don’t fail because they lack resilience; they lack resilience because circumstances have set them up for failure. “Success is very motivating, and failure is discouraging,” Seidenberg explains.

There’s a balance to be had here, though.

While pointing to a lack of resilience as the cause of a person’s problems is both unhelpful and unfair, teaching a person how to be more resilient in certain contexts is beneficial and, according to some research, achievable. “I think both sides of this debate have a point,” Tabibnia says. “Just as we shouldn’t oversell the potential of behavioral and psychosocial strategies for boosting resilience, lest it should lead to further feelings of disappointment and failure, nor should we take a completely passive and helpless approach.”

She says the research so far points to three broad categories of intervention that seem to bolster resilience. The first involves downregulating negative thought patterns through approaches like exposure therapy and cognitive reappraisal. (Basically, these teach your brain to think about sources of stress in new and less-troubling ways.) The second category involves taking steps to improve optimism and social connectedness, both of which encourage positive feelings. And the third involves mindfulness, religious engagement, and other practices that help people “transcend the self,” Tabibnia says.

Update 27/12/2019

On a related note.

Introvert? You may just be bad at recognising facesThe Conversation
We do not yet understand the importance and reason for these findings, however. It may be that extroversion causes superior face recognition or that people who are better at identifying faces become more extroverted as a result.

If so, then a person’s inability to learn and recognise faces may lead them to become more introverted, to avoid potentially embarrassing social situations. Alternatively, introverted people may meet fewer people and therefore never develop good face recognition skills.

It may also work both ways. If you are slightly worse at recognising faces to start with you may end up meeting fewer people, and therefore becoming even worse at it over time. It could also be that both extroversion and face recognition are related to yet another factor that we still don’t know about.

Letting Alexa help

I know we’re supposed to see Amazon as a dangerous, money-grabbing, pernicious, snooping mega-corporation, but might this be a good idea?

Amazon launches medication management features for AlexaTechCrunch
The features, though limited to one regional pharmacy for the time being, offer a view into how Amazon envisions voice-ordering for prescriptions will work for its customer base, and how such a system could be integrated with its own health care program at some later date, perhaps.

“Voice has proven to be beneficial for a variety of use cases because it removes barriers, and simplifies daily tasks. We believe this new Alexa feature will help simplify the way people manage their medication by removing the need to continuously think about what medications they’ve taken that day or what they need to take,” noted Rachel Jiang, Head of Alexa Health & Wellness, in an announcement about the new features.

Could we give this the benefit of the doubt? Something is certainly needed.

Poll shows that almost 50% of people forget to take their medication at least once a monthEpilepsy Research UK

Why people forget to take their medicine, and what can be done about itScience Daily

Medication compliance in the elderlyPubMed

The top 6 reasons elderly people don’t take medicationHometouch

The cost of not taking your medicineThe New York Times

Why do people stop taking their meds? Cost is just one reasonNPR

Forgetting to take tabletsDiabetes.co.uk