Deaths, economic meltdown and a planet on lockdown: the coronavirus pandemic has brought us waves of bad news, but squint and you might just see a few bright spots.
From better hygiene that has reduced other infectious diseases to people reaching out as they self-isolate, here are some slivers of silver linings during a bleak moment.
WASH YOUR HANDS!
The message from health professionals has been clear from the start of the outbreak: wash your hands.
Everyone from celebrities to politicians has had a go at demonstrating correct technique — including singing Happy Birthday twice through to make sure you scrub long enough, and hand sanitizer has flown off the shelves.
All that extra hygiene appears to be paying off, at least in some countries, including Japan, where the number of flu cases appears to be sharply down.
Japan recorded 7.21 million cases by early March — usually around the peak of the flu season that runs until May. That was far below figures for previous years, including the 21.04 million infections seen during the 2017/18 season.
“We estimate that one of the reasons behind it is that people are now much more aware about the need to wash hands... given the spread of the new coronavirus,” Japanese health ministry official Daisha Inoue said.
Photo: AFP via FREELAND Foundation
Factory shutdowns, travel bans and a squeeze on demand spell economic disaster, but it isn’t all bad news for the environment.
In the four weeks to March 1, China’s CO2 emissions fell 200 million tonnes, or 25 percent, compared to the same period last year, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
That’s a decline equivalent to annual CO2 emissions from Argentina, Egypt or Vietnam.
The slowdown in China also saw coal consumption at power plants there down 36 percent, and the use of oil at refineries drop by nearly as much.
Air travel is also grinding to a virtual halt, achieving at least a short-term drop-off in emissions from a highly polluting industry.
And there have been other environmental benefits, including crystal-clear waters in Venice canals usually choked with tourist-laden boats.
Unfortunately, experts say the cleaner air may be short-lived. Once the health crisis is over, experts expect countries will double down to try to make up for lost time, with climate change concerns likely to be sidelined in a race to recover economic growth.
SAVE THE PANGOLINS
The source of the coronavirus remains in question, but early tracking focused on a market in China’s Wuhan where a variety of live wildlife was on sale for consumption.
A number of animals, including bats and the highly endangered pangolin, have been identified as possible culprits for the virus.
As a result, China last month declared an immediate and “comprehensive” ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals that was welcomed by environmentalists.
Beijing implemented similar measures following the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, but the trade and consumption of wild animals, including bats and snakes, made a comeback.
This time the ban is permanent, raising hopes that it could end the local trade in wildlife.
“I do think the government has seen the toll it takes on national economy and society is much bigger than the benefit that wild-eating business brings,” said Jeff He, China director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Reports linking the virus to the pangolin have also scared off would-be consumers of the scaly mammals elsewhere, with bushmeat vendors in Gabon reporting a plunge in sales.
One of the most difficult aspects of the stringent lockdowns imposed to slow the spread of the virus has been loneliness, with families and friends forced to endure weeks or even months apart.
But some people have found the measures are creating a sense of community spirit, and prompting them to make more of an effort to check in with family and reconnect with friends.
In Colombia, where a nearly three-week period of self-isolation is now in place, 43-year-old Andrea Uribe has organized everything from group exercise classes to family talent shows using video messaging programmes including Zoom.
“I have called my parents more often, I have talked to friends that I usually don’t talk to... I have organized Zoom meetings with friends in multiple countries,” Uribe, who works in development, said.
“It is wonderful to be forced to be there for one another. It has made me more creative. It just shows that we need to be present in people’s lives.”
The Taiwan of yesteryear was dominated in whole or in part by the Dutch, Spanish, Qing Empire and Japanese. But is the Taiwanese name for a popular edible fish derived from the Portuguese language? Cheng Wei-chung (鄭維中), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, says yes. The fish in question is the narrow-barred Spanish mackerel, which was listed in early 18th century Qing local gazetteers as Taiwanese specialities alongside milk fish and mullet, according to Cheng’s paper, “Mullet, narrow-barred Spanish mackerel and milkfish: Multiple contextual developments of three certified seafood specilaities in Taiwan, from the
Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 They called him the “No Problem Doctor” (沒關係醫生) because that’s what he always told his patients when they couldn’t pay up. Operating the only clinic in Changhua County’s Pusin Township (埔心) during the 1950s, Hsu Tsai-chih (許再枝) knew that life was difficult in his remote hometown. “They barely had enough to survive, so it was pointless to chase after them for the money,” an 81-year-old Hsu told the United Daily News in 2002. “I just went with the flow, some offered to pay me back years later but I had already forgotten
I didn’t expect to spend more than three minutes out of my car, yet the sun was so brutal I put on my hat before approaching the seawall. Beimen (北門) is the flattest and most sun-baked part of Tainan. It lacks trees and people. In wintertime, the weather is often delightful. It wasn’t yet mid-morning in the hot season, however, and I felt like a leaf shriveling in the desert. Atop the seawall but facing inland, I could see dozens of the rectangular ponds which account for a significant percentage of Beimen’s “land” area. Some, no doubt, were dug to produce
In the regular drumbeat of arrests of alleged Chinese spies, one case last month stood out. It did not involve the US or another rival of China, but Russia, whose security services accused a prominent arctic scientist of selling classified data on technologies for detecting submarines. Meanwhile a court in Kazakhstan in October convicted the Central Asia nation’s preeminent China specialist of espionage, a move widely interpreted at the time as a warning against increased meddling by the superpower next door. Both men maintain their innocence and if China is spying on Russia, Moscow is surely doing the same. Even so, the fact