The great pandemic: A quick update
- We added 259,951 new cases and 4,209 new deaths on Thursday. The drop in our weekly numbers is significant, but as The Telegraph reports, experts are still worried about a vast reservoir of uncounted infections in rural areas.
- Another reason to worry about testing: The government says RT-PCR tests—which are the most accurate—will account for only 40% of all testing in India starting next month. The rest will rely on Rapid Antigen tests that are far less reliable.
- A good read on the death count: Mint explains why the number of fatalities continues to remain high even as our case tallies drop. The Telegraph has another good piece on why so many more cases are severe in this wave.
- The union government has made the black fungal infection “notifiable”—which means states will have to report both confirmed and suspected cases. Meanwhile, the latest data shows we’ve recorded 5,500 cases—of which 126 have proved fatal. Also worrying: a shortage of liposomal amphotericin B, which is essential to treat these infections.
- Here’s some very good news: Medical authorities in the UK have released data that shows the AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine is 85-90% effective—making it comparable to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
- Also good news: Bharat Biotech announced plans to ramp up production of Covaxin—aiming for a total capacity of nearly a billion doses a year.
- The Guardian has an excellent ground report from Uttar Pradesh that includes a rare interview with a family forced to immerse their relative in the Ganga.
- Business Standard’s Omkar Goswami was mystified as to why UP’s positivity rate—the number of tests turning up positive—was so much lower than other states. He crunched the numbers and found a likely explanation: Authorities simply started junking positive reports to keep the numbers down. The story is paywalled, but you can check out a screenshot here.
- Smarinita Shetty in The Wire flags an important issue: Everyone is so focused on oxygen shortages, very little donor attention is being paid to far bigger problems of hunger, poverty and loss of livelihoods.
- The South China Morning Post has an important read on Nepal’s Covid crisis—which may be worse than that of India. The positivity rate is nearly 50%. And almost 100% of the cases are a result of the double mutant variant brought back by migrant Nepali workers.
- The double mutant variant is also spreading in the UK as the number of confirmed cases rose by 160% in the span of one week. The total number traced to the variant: 3,424. The Guardian has that story.
- Hundreds of people line up every day in Nellore to receive ayurvedic balls—made of Giloy (tinospora codifolio), neem, pepper, ginger and turmeric—that claim to cure Covid. The balls are given for free as this ‘Covid drive’ is funded by philanthropists. Also in the act: The local MLA and district collector who heads a committee of AYUSH officials and doctors which is testing its efficacy.
Say hello to the world's largest iceberg
A massive chunk of ice—80 times the size of Manhattan—has broken off from Antarctica, and is floating in the Weddell Sea: “The iceberg is shaped like a giant ironing board, measuring around 170 kilometers (105 miles) in length and 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) in width.” No, this is not an effect of climate change, but a natural process called ‘calving’—when big blocks of ice break off the ice shelf at regular intervals. (CNN)
Three tech things
One: Want that highly valued blue tick on your Twitter account? The company has finally unveiled an official application process. To apply, a person can click on ‘Request Verification’ which is under ‘Settings and Privacy’. FYI: It is limited to folks who fall into specific categories like activist, entertainer, journalist etc. And it is being rolled out in stages so you may not see it on your profile. Mashable has more details.
Three: Microsoft is dumping Internet Explorer, starting June 2022. The company is now focused on pushing its newer browser Edge—which launched in 2015. If you’re feeling nostalgic, below is the first commercial for IE. (Wall Street Journal)
BBC News mired in Diana scandal
- An inquiry commissioned by the news service has concluded that its reporter Martin Bashir forged documents in order to secure an interview with Princess Diana back in 1995.
- Basically, he got a freelance designer to mock up fake bank statements that made it look as though the royal staff was taking money from tabloids to leak information about her.
- Bashir then showed these documents to Diana’s brother, the Earl of Spencer, to persuade him to help set up the interview.
- The result: A bombshell TV appearance where Diana accused Charles of infidelity, and spoke of her mental health struggles—which in turn marked the end of the royal marriage.
- Why any of this matters: BBC News appears to have swept the entire matter under the carpet, and instead rewarded Bashir who is now a star journalist.
- And that’s why Prince William in his official response took direct aim at the BBC (see below). New York Times has more.
China’s Mars photos are here!
The Martian rover Zhurong has sent back its first images of the red planet—after landing on Sunday. Below is a collage of the rear and front view:
In other news from China: A 957-foot skyscraper suddenly started wobbling for no apparent reason—triggering a panicked exit of its residents. Here’s the odd thing: The weather was just fine and there were no reports of earthquakes, and authorities say there were “no abnormalities in the main structure and surrounding environment of the building.” CNN has more. See the clip below:
The brand new world of LSD
A new study looked at brain scans of people on the psychedelic drug and found that it takes away the prior beliefs that shape how we filter information and make sense of the world.
“In one sense, the drugs rewind the brain’s clock to a time before it learned that walls tend not to move and furniture is rarely threatening. ‘You can imagine you might experience altered perceptions,’ said Amy Kuceyeski, a senior author on the study at Cornell. ‘If your prior belief is that walls don’t move and your prior belief melts, then that wall may appear to move.’”
The Guardian has more on this thought-provoking research—and how it helps people with mental health disorders.
Speaking of psychedelics: You may have heard about Brood X—the millions of cicadas that are now slowly emerging from underground burrows after 17 years in the United States. They will spend the next 4-6 weeks mating, lay eggs and then die. But for a number of them, this will be an especially wild time. The reason: The insects will be infected by a fungus called Massospora that will drive them into a sexual frenzy—even as it takes over their bodies, causing them to lose their lower abdomen and genitals. Like the monster swarm of creepy crawlies wasn’t bad enough… (NPR)
Two ‘woke’ brand things
One: Gillette is embracing pubic hair in the most hilarious way possible. The latest ad for its Venus razor pays tribute to the short and curlies with ‘The Pube Song’. The Drum has more, and check out the cheeky animated ad below.
Two: Lego rolled out a brand new set called ‘Everyone is Awesome’—which features 11 brand new minifigures painted in the colours of the rainbow flag and celebrates the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. Also: None of the figures have been assigned a gender, and are intended to “express individuality, while remaining ambiguous.” One exception: the purple one with a big beehive wig, who “is a clear nod to all the fabulous drag queens out there.” It’s always the purple one… The Guardian has more. Also: It looks like this:
Meet David’s 3D twin
Researchers have created a 3D-printed replica of one of Michelangelo’s greatest works of art: the sculpture of David (of Goliath fame). The ‘twin’, however, is not made of marble but acrylic resin, and will be showcased at the Dubai Expo. CNN has the story or watch The National’s video report below.