Tuesday, May 4 2021

China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O…GET THE F**K OUT. What are you doing to our friendship? You. Not us. We’re trying. You. You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend; not to father a Chinese province…

That’s the foreign minister of Philippines Teddy Locsin Jr tweeting at Beijing, expressing his anger at repeated and illegal incursions by Chinese ships into his nation’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. They have also been harassing Filipino coast guard vessels. When pushed about his language, Locsin said “usual suave diplomatic speak gets nothing done.” As of April 26, Manila has filed 78 diplomatic protests against China’s actions.

Big Story

IPL’s big bio-bubble fail

The TLDR: Two players of Kolkata Knight Riders have tested positive. The team’s match against Royal Challengers Bangalore had to be postponed. And at least three members of the Chennai Super Kings squad have tested positive as well. The Indian Premier League’s bio bubble—carefully secured in the midst of a horrific second wave—looks extremely precarious. But will the consequences be graver than just a disrupted schedule?


Wait, how many Covid cases now?

Here are the cases we know of as of now. Two KKR players—Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier—tested positive. Also positive: two Chennai Super Kings support staff—chief executive Kasi Viswanathan and bowling coach Lakshmipathy Balaji—plus a bus attendant. Though Viswanathan’s second Covid test has come back negative. And five members of the ground staff at the Arun Jaitley stadium in Delhi also have Covid—but none of them were present for the two matches played over the weekend.


Point to note: There is no reason to believe any of them are severe cases. A KKR official said:


“Sandeep, in particular, is doing fine. No temperature, no other symptoms, and is feeling good. Varun is still a little under the weather, but better than yesterday and both of them are in good spirits.”


How did this happen?

It isn’t clear what happened with CSK, but in the case of KKR, the culprit may be a hospital scan. Warrier’s case was traced back to Chakravarthy who left the bio bubble—with permission—to get his injured shoulder scanned at a hospital. But every precaution was taken to secure him as per protocol:


“Under the IPL's ‘green channel’ protocol, a player requiring treatment—usually scans—is taken in a vehicle (which is in the bubble with a driver), clad in PPE, to the hospital. The testing/treatment is done by medical personnel with PPEs and masks and the player returns in the same bubble vehicle.”


We don’t know if there was any breach in protocol. Or if the source of his infection lies elsewhere. A cricket board official said:


“We will look into how players inside the bubble contracted the virus. Varun Chakravarthy might have got himself exposed during the scan, but we don’t want to pinpoint without verifying the details. We will take necessary steps to address the situation.”


So what happens now?

KKR: Both the players are in quarantine, of course. The entire KKR contingent has to self-isolate for at least six days in their hotel rooms in Ahmedabad—starting yesterday. That period will end on May 6, two days before their next match on May 8 against the Delhi Capitals. They will now be tested for Covid every day. And team authorities have started tracing all close and casual contacts.


DC: Delhi Capitals played their last match against KKR on April 29. They too are self-isolating in their hotel rooms. No news on what will happen to Punjab Kings—since Delhi Capitals played them on Sunday. Delhi’s next match is against Rajasthan Royals on Wednesday. That’s still on the schedule for now. 


CSK: The team—which is currently in Delhi—has not made any statement on its quarantine plans. Those infected will need to spend ten days in a designated isolation facility outside the team bubble and will be allowed to return after two negative tests. Point to note: The bowling coach Laxmipathy Balaji was in the dugout during Saturday's match against the Mumbai Indians. And the other person—Kasi Viswanathan is the CEO so… But as of now, their next match against the Rajasthan Royals in Delhi on May 5 is set to go ahead.


SRH vs MI: Sunrisers Hyderabad is slated to take Mumbai Indians tonight in Delhi. Both teams skipped practice yesterday. So read into that what you will. The match has not been cancelled as yet. And DDCA president Rohan Jaitley is confident the match will be played as scheduled.


Will they cancel if it gets worse?

The league and the BCCI are fairly determined to stay on track for now, but it won’t be easy. 


A scheduling problem: As per the bio-bubble protocols, everyone who has come in “close contact” with an infected person has to “isolate for six days” and return “3 negative tests on Day 1, 3 and 6.” Now, all four teams who played against KKR in the past 14 days—Delhi Capitals, Rajasthan Royals, Punjab Kings and Chennai Super Kings—have been told to self-isolate. That poses a big problem for upcoming matches if the protocol is followed to the tee—which may not happen, given the IPL’s tendency to bend rules to keep the show on the road.


A tight window: There is no question of stretching out the season to make room for more quarantine time. The reason: The ICC World Test Championship (WTC) final between India and New Zealand is scheduled to be played at Southampton from June 18-22. The Indian team will need a clear 15-day gap between the IPL and the final to prepare—and quarantine once it reaches England.


Double headers: The easiest way to solve the problem is to arrange for more double headers—two games on the same day. Right now, there are 11 on the schedule—but that number may go up if more matches have to be cancelled.


Single venue? One rumoured plan is to shift all matches to one city—maybe Mumbai which has three stadiums. This may eliminate one of the biggest vulnerabilities within the bio bubble: airport security checks. There’s always an increased risk each time a team has to fly from one city to another.


No cancellations policy: One franchise official told Times of India, “There is no going back now with half of the tournament done.” Another team official said: “Even if you have to pause the tournament, how long can you hold back? The only way is to keep isolating the positive cases and keep playing.”


But, but, but: The team players are not so sure—especially those from overseas who worry about travel bans, and being allowed to return home. But Indian players sound worried as well: 


“There is a lot of anxiety among players. Obviously we are being tested every second day but looking at the situation in the country, you are always scared for what next in case you test positive. We are hanging in there but you cannot just negate the fear factor.”

The bottomline: All six IPL venues—Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata—have witnessed big surges over the past month. That the bubble broke—despite stricter rules—at a time when the virus is spreading uncontrollably is hardly surprising to anyone… except maybe the IPL.

Reading list

Indian Express looks at the potential effect on the IPL schedule. ESPNCricinfo has a must-read on why the IPL 2021 bubble is more vulnerable than the IPL 2020 bubble in Abu Dhabi. Times of India looks at a cricketer’s life within the bubble. Also read: Our explainer on the IPL’s golden bio-bubble—and why it’s making everyone angry.

Sanity Break #1

The Pink Lady Food Photographer Awards honour unique perspectives on what is now an Instagram staple. But instead of staged images of blandly pretty food, we are invited to delight in the living, breathing role it plays in our world. Of this shot titled ‘After Party’, photographer Remko Kraaijeveld says, “Food is the joy of life. No photoshop, made in one shot.”

Headlines that matter

The great pandemic: A longish update

First, the numbers: We added 355,836 new cases and 3,434 deaths. Our total number of cases is now over 2 crores! Our cumulative death toll of 222,381 is the third highest in the world. In better news, all the leading states—Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana etc.—witnessed a decrease in their cases. But we will have to wait and see if this is a typical weekend slump or a long-term trend.


An ongoing Serum drama: First the Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla told The Times UK that he was being threatened by powerful people in India—and that’s why he fled to London. Then he tweeted that he was in London for business, and planned to return home soon. Then he told the Financial Times that he expects the vaccine shortages in India to continue until July, adding:


“Poonawalla said the Serum Institute had been maligned by politicians and critics over the vaccine shortages, pointing out that the government, not the company, was responsible for policy… ‘I’ve been victimised very unfairly and wrongly,’ he said, adding that he had not boosted capacity earlier because ‘there were no orders, we did not think we needed to make more than 1 billion doses a year.’”


Then the government jumped in and insisted that it has indeed placed fresh orders for vaccines. Then Serum tweeted: “We endorse this statement, & the authenticity of the information. We have been working closely with the Government of India for the past year & thank it for its support.” Sigh! 


Point to note: Serum will invest £240 million in the UK to “support clinical trials, research and development and possibly manufacturing of vaccines.” The Hindu has more.


Oxygen shortages: Are oxygen concentrators lying stuck in customs at Delhi airport? Social media images seem to suggest so, but government agencies have since strenuously denied it. Scroll has this story. Meanwhile, Doctors of Indian origin in the US have already raised $2 million to send oxygen concentrators, ventilators, and BiPAP machines—which hopefully won’t be stuck in customs. A good related read: The Atlantic on how Indian Americans are grappling with the guilt and anxiety triggered by the second wave.  


About that Aussie travel ban: Anyone travelling to Australia from India faces both fines and up to five years in prison. A lot of folks are calling this unusually stringent travel plan racist:


"We didn't see differential treatment being extended to... the United States, the UK, and any European country even though the rates of infection were very high and the danger of arrivals from those countries was very high." 


Meanwhile, former cricketer Michael Slater who is now an IPL commentator is furious on behalf of all fellow Australians stranded in India:  


“If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It's a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out quarantine system. I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect.”


Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

  • Japanese nurses are furious at the International Olympics Committee. The reason: The IOC wants 500 nurses to volunteer at the games—at a time when the healthcare system is under stress due to Covid.
  • Wall Street Journal reports that Dubai has emerged as the new Casablanca—a place where international executives fly in to cut deals. All this due to its lax quarantine restrictions: “You can actually sit with someone in person, break bread and close the deals in the way you would have been able to do two years ago.” 
  • Nepal has kept the Everest base camp open to visitors despite the pandemic—and it has resulted inevitably in an outbreak. But the government is trying to keep it quiet: “[R]eports from Everest described a number of evacuations of climbers showing symptoms of Covid-19 even as doctors at base camp complained privately they were not being allowed by the country’s ministry of health to undertake PCR testing.” The Guardian has more. FYI, Nepal has now finally banned all domestic and international air travel. 


Mamata’s election in question

The Bengal Chief Minister lost the election in her Nandigram constituency by a slim margin of 1,956 votes. She asked for a recount—and her request was denied by the Election Commission. She now claims that there was hera-pheri in the counting: “I received an SMS from someone in which the returning officer for Nandigram wrote to someone that if he allowed a recount, his life would be under threat.” Now she plans to take her complaint to the courts. OTOH, the EC insists the returning officer was being threatened by Trinamool, adding, “The EC has asked the West Bengal government to give the officer protection, but it’s up to them to do it”.


An unexpected complication: Even if her Nandigram challenge fails, Banerjee has six months to seek election from the same or another constituency. But now there is a cloud over that option as well. The reason: The EC has indefinitely suspended all by-elections due to Covid. 


Speaking of the EC: Last week, the Madras High Court angrily chastised the commission for not enforcing pandemic protocols during the state elections—saying its officials could be held responsible for “murder.” Soon after, in Kolkata, the wife of a candidate who died of Covid filed a case of culpable homicide against the deputy election commissioner. The EC ran to the Supreme Court to ask it to: a) prohibit such cases; b) prevent High Court judges from making such remarks; and c) prevent the media from reporting such remarks. It lost on all counts. The justices said:


“We will have to maintain the sanctity of judicial order; we will have to also give liberty to the chief justice of the High Court. We also feel that the media should include in its reports everything that has been observed in the court… This is because the discussion in a court of law is equally in public interest. When we are dealing with the superior courts like the high courts, I place this (oral) discussion at the same pedestal as the final order.”


Bill Gates is getting divorced

Bill and Melinda Gates announced the end of their 27-year old marriage on Twitter:


“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the  decision to end our marriage. Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”

Coming next: mad speculation over the divorce settlement. CNN has more context.


Bad news about plastic pollution

A 2017 study concluded that 90% of plastic waste is dumped into the oceans by 10-20 big continental rivers. Turns out it was wrong. A new study found that 80% of the waste comes from over 1000 rivers—and a lot of them are small ones that run through cities:


“Thus, the Yangtze, which traverses 3,915 miles across China and empties into the East China Sea, and was ranked most polluted by plastics, has been displaced by the 16-mile-long Pasig River in the Philippines, which flows through the capital city of Manila, home to 14 million people.”


What this means: The challenge of cleaning up rivers just got a lot bigger: “It’s not very difficult to address one river. It’s very difficult to do ten or one hundred or one thousand.” (National Geographic)


A new design for ‘Gladiator’ fans

Italy has unveiled plans to install a new floor on the Colosseum arena—so visitors can walk across it and enjoy the same view as ancient gladiators. Right now, the underground chambers lie exposed in the middle of the arena, and there is no ‘floor’ as such. Art historians are unhappy:  


“Monuments are not things to be filled…It’s all very ridiculous, it’s Italy seen via Las Vegas…[visitors are privileged to see these underground corridors that are] unique in the world. It will be a shame to cover it.”


New York Times has more on this $18 million renovation. Also, this video gives you a sense of exactly what it will look like:


The world’s longest pedestrian bridge

The Arouca bridge in Portugal is a half-kilometer in length—and is suspended by cables 175 meters (574 feet) above the Paiva River. No one is allowed on the bridge without a guide, and kids below the age of six are banned. Also, it looks like this


This is a very big fish

The US Fish and Wildlife Service caught a massive lake sturgeon weighing 108.8 kilograms (240 pounds) in the Detroit River in Michigan. Based on her girth and ridiculously large size—almost seven feet long!—experts think she might be over a 100 years old! FYI: She was released back into the water after being weighed since sturgeons are an endangered species. So you can enjoy the image below without any guilt:


Sanity Break #2

This ‘Indian Alphabet Song’ made us laugh. It’s sometimes lovely to laugh at oneselves, don’t you think? (h/t founding member Susan George)

Smart & Curious

A list of intriguing things

One: This is the coolest insect ever: The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar! And it looks like this lol!


Two: Believe it or not, there are a number of really cool McDonald’s around the world—housed in spaceships, planes, art deco castles, and even at this beautiful UNESCO heritage building in China. Our favourite is this one in Batumi, Georgia, designed by award-winning architect Giorgi Khmaladze (more photos here). Full list of Big Mac awesomeness around the world here or here.


Three: Can you imagine your favourite ‘Peanuts’ characters with brown or black faces? B Robert Moore is reimaging the all-white world of classic cartoons—including ‘The Jetsons’, ‘Peanuts’ and ‘The Flintstones’—in his series ‘Imagine a World; Brown Like Me’. Check out Variety’s interview with him here, and more of his work on his Insta handle.


Four: Apparently, big “fuzzy bucket hats” are a hot fashion thing. Just saying…


Five: Ok, don’t judge us, but we couldn’t get enough of this time lapse video of mushrooms blooming.


Feel good place

One: Best ever pic of Yuzvendra Chahal and Chris Gayle!


Two: Sheep Alpaca herding.


Three: Wheeee! 


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