A laboratory technician collects vials of patient swabs during coronavirus detection testing at a laboratory
A laboratory technician collects vials of patient swabs during coronavirus detection testing at a laboratory | Photo: Oliver Bunic | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: The novel coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate countries across the world — the latest count is more than 11.7 million cases and more than 5.4 lakh deaths.

The pandemic in the US is not only different from the one in the European Union, it is also much worse. Meanwhile, Chinese chip-makers are raising billions of dollars to achieve self-sufficiency. And can an algorithm help us predict the onset of Covid-19 outbreaks?

Here are some of the most important global stories on the coronavirus pandemic, and why they matter.

An algorithm to predict the pandemic’s next moves

Researchers have developed a model that uses search data and social media content to predict a Covid-19 outbreak much in advance, reports the New York Times.

“In a paper posted on Thursday on arXiv.org, the team, led by Mauricio Santillana and Nicole Kogan of Harvard, presented an algorithm that registered danger 14 days or more before case counts begin to increase. The system uses real-time monitoring of Twitter, Google searches and mobility data from smartphones, among other data streams,” says the report.

“The algorithm, the researchers write, could function ‘as a thermostat, in a cooling or heating system, to guide intermittent activation or relaxation of public health interventions’ — that is, a smoother, safer reopening,” it adds.

US pandemic is totally different than European Union’s

A graphic analysis by G-Zero Media shows how the US’ coronavirus pandemic is not only completely different from the one experienced by the European Union (EU), but is also much worse.

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“The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but the trajectories of their COVID-19 outbreaks have been vastly different,” says the report.

While EU’s daily new cases have been down 82 per cent since its peak in April, the US is still recording more than 50,000 cases every day. A seven-day rolling average of new cases from 1 March to July 5 shows the EU and the US’ numbers to be 3,900 and 48,400, respectively.

“While some politicians in the US have ascribed the difference to discrepancies in testing, a close analysis shows that the United States and the EU are conducting roughly the same number of tests per million people,” it adds.

Global stocks gain as Chinese rally drives optimism

Wall Street stocks saw a steep rise Monday after Chinese markets continued on their bullish run, reports the Financial Times. Chinese stocks are continuing to extend their rallies as most traders there have put aside the fears of coronavirus.

“The S&P 500 rose 1.6 per cent in New York, despite elevated numbers of new coronavirus cases across the US, as trading resumed following a three-day weekend. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 2.2 per cent, extending its rally into a fifth day and setting an intraday record of 10,462 points,” notes the report.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the “regional benchmark Stoxx 600 closed 1.6 per cent higher” and “Stoxx 600 automobiles and parts index rose 2.3 per cent” and “London’s FTSE 100 added 2.1 per cent, where China’s upbeat mood buoyed financial and mining stocks in particular”.

This comes on the back of continued rally in Chinese stocks, during which the state media has encouraged retail traders to buy into the rally.

Southeast Asia and India sink into deep minus growth

The economies of five Southeast Asian countries and India shrunk significantly in the April to June quarter, according to a survey conducted by Japan Center for Economic Research and Nikkei, which is being reported by the Nikkei Asian Review.

The five ASEAN countries include Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. “The growth projection for ASEAN5 for the April-June period is -7.8%, marking a sharp drop of 9.7 points from the previous survey in March. Negative growth rates are forecast for all five countries,” says the report.

Meanwhile, according to the survey, the Indian economy “is estimated to have shrunk by 20.6% in the April-June period”.

China quadruples fundraising to achieve chip self-sufficiency

Amid deteriorating US-China relations during the pandemic, and increasing US sanctions on Chinese tech companies, now Chinese chip-makers have raised more money in the first six months of 2020 than all of 2019, in an effort to quickly achieve manufacturing self-sufficiency, reports the Nikkei Asian Review.

According to data collected by Nikkei, Chinese chip-makers have raised around $20.5 billion in 2020. “While China has emerged as a major player in smartphone production and 5G telecommunications networks, the country produces only around 15% of the chips it uses. The U.S. has pushed to shut China out of the semiconductor market, aiming to head off the country’s dominance in the tech sector,” explains the report.

“The threat of the U.S. cutting off supplies to China — which has already happened and could again — has fueled the stepped-up investment,” it adds.

Virus revives Italy’s age-old shadow safety net: pawnshop

As the pandemic destroyed Italians’ savings and made the banking system scramble to help people in need, the country’s residents are going back to their traditional safety net, the pawnshop, reports the New York Times.

“Banks, laden with debt and wary of taking on toxic loans, are unlikely to extend credit. The government’s aid packages and job security measures that have delivered billions of euros to struggling Italians are set to expire at the end of the summer,” notes the report.

“But the managers of the collateral loan sector — the institutional name for pawnshops — aren’t complaining. Activity increased from 20 to 30 percent immediately after the lockdown, as clients wanted to make sure they met their interest payments but also sought new loans. And with emergency benefits about to wind down, they expect business to surge,” it adds.

Mariachi musicians of Mexico City under threat 

The Mariachi musicians are a major part of Mexico City’s heritage, but the coronavirus pandemic has put their livelihoods in danger, according to a photo essay in The Guardian.

“Normally the plaza (in downtown Mexico City) will have hundreds of tourists and locals present to see them perform. With the new government restrictions in place due to Covid-19, there are hundreds of jobless musicians vying for the work that may allow them to feed themselves and their families that day. Dozens of men wait on the main avenue stepping in front of traffic looking for clients,” notes the report.

“The Mariachi are part of approximately 60% of the Mexican population considered informal workers. In the current crisis, the informal sector represents those most vulnerable to the economic repercussions, with little or no access to government assistance,” it adds.

The boom in lockdown erotica

As millions around the world have been forced to stay at home, there is emerging boom in what is now being called “lockdown erotica” and it also includes an increase in neighbourhood romances to Zoom sex, reports The Guardian.

According to moderators at Literotica, one of the largest erotic fiction websites in the world, a few new types of erotic fiction have developed during the lockdown period. “Disease and death do appear in many of the stories, although each author has a different take on how idyllic or realistic their quarantined world is,” notes the report.

“The isolation of quarantine is a great literary device because it can be … an outside aid thrusting fated lovers together or an obstacle to be overcome that has kept them apart,” says author Kethandra. Others ignore all that: “If I tried to frame everything to WHO guidelines or local restrictions, I’d lose the erotic part of the erotic story,” says author Defluer,” it adds.

What else we are reading:

Evictions are likely to skyrocket this summer as jobs remain scarce. Black renters will be hard hit: Washington Post

Elsa Majimbo, the crisp-eating, straight-talking star of Kenya’s Covid-19 lockdown: The Guardian

US coronavirus hospitalisations climb as cases continue to grow: Financial Times

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