Weaponising shopping carts

You know about Denial of Service attacks—malicious actors flooding websites, emails or apps belonging to businesses or institutions using massive volumes of fake visits. Real customers and users are denied service as a result.   DoS attacks, and their scarier cousin, Distributed DoS attacks are threats most large digital businesses have to learn to withstand and survive.   But did you know about Denial of Inventory attacks? I didn’t.
Denial of Inventory is most commonly thought of as taking e-commerce items out of circulation by adding many of them to a cart/basket; the attacker never actually proceeds to checkout to buy them but contributes to a possible stock-out condition. A variation of this automated threat event is making reservations (e.g. hotel rooms, restaurant tables, holiday bookings, flight seats), and/or click-and-collect without payment. But this exhaustion of inventory availability also occurs in other types of web application such as in the assignment of non-goods like service allocations, product rations, availability slots, queue positions, and budget apportionments.
There have been multiple stories about how TikTok users and K-Pop fans used DoI attacks against US President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Legitimate buyers weren’t able to buy tickets.
Others went beyond rally tickets, adding MAGA hats, baseballs, and “Baby Lives Matter” onesies to their shopping carts. And then forgetting about them. It’s not clear yet if that led to store stockouts, though.   Here’s where it gets interesting.   Modern e-commerce stores are wired with digital advertising solutions from the likes of Google and Facebook. Shoppers who abandon items in their carts are automatically “retargeted” across the web with ads and offers on those products. Surely, you’ve noticed that happening to you when, for instance, you’ve searched for an airline ticket or a dress?   You can guess what happens next. The systems start targeting users with ads every opportunity they get. Ads that cost real money.
“If you’ve ever abandoned a cart online, you might recall having seen more ads or emails from that brand, oftentimes with discounts,” he added.   Ergo, by acting like interested potential buyers and then abandoning their carts, these users cost related ad campaigns more money as the brand continues to reach out.   Clayton McLaughlin, senior vice president of media investments at digital marketing agency iCrossing, agreed the concept “could potentially wreak havoc with a digital campaign.”
“Whether it’s an intended retargeting campaign or a positive signal to an optimization algorithm, those users will likely be targeted again,” McLaughlin said. “Plus, other users that share similar traits will start to see the ads as well based on lookalike modeling. Overall, it creates a potentially expensive situation for an advertiser.”
It’s amazing how protestors can weaponise the infrastructure of modern e-commerce and digital advertising. Call it “culture jamming.”
Sometimes, quite inconveniently though, the jammer might turn out to be… a Google bot.
For more than a year, online merchants selling items ranging from kayaks to keychains have puzzled over the mystery shopper with the generic name behind thousands of abandoned carts. Each cart has only one item.
It is more than a nuisance. John Smith’s activity skews analytics that online merchants use to advertise and make other critical business decisions. The shopper also uses a bunch of bogus email addresses, and sellers get warned by their internet service providers for sending follow-up pitches to phantom customers. Some worried the aborted sprees were the work of a competitor or hacker.
Why you can’t leave it be   Seetharaman   Covid-19 has created a problem of plenty. Of unused leave days.   As the lockdown has restricted our movement, there have been few reasons for us to take some time off. Simply because there is nowhere to go.     This is great for companies, right? Think again.
After several challenging months on the job during the coronavirus pandemic, businesses want workers to use their paid time off to stave off burnout and avoid a year-end vacation crunch.   […]   Unused vacation time is logged as an accounting liability on corporate balance sheets, so companies notice when it adds up, says Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. No, really, your boss wants you to take vacation—now, The Wall Street Journal
It’s very likely that once the spread of the virus is under control, there will be a rush to use up leave days. Companies will then have to say no to some of its employees.   And, as a consultant told the UAE’s The National, there is another reason organisations want to avoid this.
“The risk is that staff all want to use their holiday just as we start to come out of this crisis and the economy is picking up. This would lead to workforce pressures and business disruption. Businesses need to take a proactive stance on how to manage their leave.”
Closer home, there have been reports of companies forcing employees to exhaust their leave allotment during the lockdown.   Some organisations do not allow for paid leave days to be carried over from one year to another, or place a limit on the number of days that can be added to the following year’s quota. The UK government in March announced that workers would be able to transfer up to four weeks of leave unused because of the coronavirus to the next two years.   If the lockdown and working from home persist, a lot of us are bound to end the year with fewer days off than usual.
You can check in, but you can never leave   Kay
“Starved of the travel experience during the coronavirus lockdown? One Taiwanese airport has the solution – a fake itinerary where you check in, go through passport control and security and even board the aircraft. You just never leave.” Check in but never leave: Taiwan offers fake flights for travel-starved tourists, Reuters
(Source: Taipei Songshan Airport’s Facebook page)   While this might appear funny to some, the desperation to travel is real. About 7,000 people applied to participate in the fake flight experience; 60 were randomly selected in the first round. The bigger agenda is, of course, for the Taipei Songshan Airport to showcase its newly-refurbished interiors.   Will airports across the world follow suit? It’s not like the grounded aircraft are going anywhere anyway.
The enemy of my enemy…
Savio   Sameer Nigam, founder and CEO of digital payment app PhonePe, made some interesting comments about his rivals and the industry in an interview with ET Now.
ET: How are people going to comply when there is no data protection law?
SN: I think there is an IT Act. The government has said we need FDI, FII money and here I am giving a rare shoutout to Paytm. To say they are a Chinese app because of their shareholding is absurd. They are headquartered in India, have thousands of employees here, people have celebrated the company’s achievements for the last five years and now suddenly they are saying Paytm is not Indian because it has investment from Alibaba, that attitude is not right and inconsistent.
 
ET: You’re speaking up for Paytm, a few days after you spoke up for Google Pay. Both are your rivals, why this sudden change of heart?
SN: I think there are many areas where we disagree but it’s time for the industry to start fending for itself as it’s too easy to get victimised.
“The industry has to start fending for itself?” Against whom?
“It’s too easy to get victimised?” By who?
 
The digital payments industry in India is dominated by a few: Walmart-owned PhonePe, Google Pay, BHIM, and Paytm*. The quartet controls most of the market and has comfortably settled into rankings.
So much so that the digital payments regulator, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), which owns BHIM, recently had to step in and stem rumours that Google Pay was an unauthorised app. So who, then, does Nigam see the industry fending off?
ET: So you are saying that there needs to be a distinction. That one can’t say Paytm must be targeted because Alipay has a stake in it and Alibaba has a stake in Paytm Mall because there is concern about what kind of control these investors exercise?
 
SN: If we are going to celebrate as a country that Jio has raised over Rs 1 lakh crore, then we should be able to celebrate capital coming in too. Do we know if Paytm is giving out data? Did you know that Facebook is giving your data? These can’t be used as reasons to say that Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma or any other employee of that organisation is working against India. These are two completely different topics.
Let’s take that one by one:
 
Jio happens to be India’s top telecom player, owned by conglomerate Reliance Industries, the country’s top company by market value that also happens to have started an e-commerce venture called Jiomart.
 
Facebook happens to have invested Rs 43,574 crore ($5.8 billion) for a 9.99% stake in Reliance’s Jio Platforms. Oh and Facebook also owns WhatApp, whose ambitions to start payments in India has been stymied time and again.
Experts have also said the arrangement among Reliance Retail, Jio Platforms and Facebook-owned WhatsApp to offer consumers the ability to access the nearest kiranas, or grocery stores, which can provide products and services to their homes by transacting with JioMart using WhatsApp has come at a very opportune time.
 
WhatsApp boasts of 400 million users in India. Further, using WhatsApp’s base also allows Reliance Retail to promote its services to users of Jio’s rival telecom players.
 
The deal, now approved by CCI, also marks Facebook’s entry among elite investors in India’s technology space, joining the likes of SoftBank, Amazon and Google that have together poured in billions of dollars in Indian tech startups and their own ventures over the years. CCI approves Facebook’s 9.99% stake buy in Jio Platforms, The Indian Express
It’s quite possible that Nigam is arguing for a fair, rules-based approach for every player. Or maybe this is a preemptive ‘First they came…‘, and his call to arms now will be reciprocated by the enemies of his enemies later.
Last lesson standing
Olina   On Wednesday night, about 175 parents and school children joined an online protest over the blanket ban on online classes in Karnataka. Bengaluru, the capital of this southern Indian state, is the colloquial “Silicon Valley” of India, an irony that wasn’t lost on many of the protesters. In case you can’t see it, the first picture shows each screen with a lit candle in it, which was soon replaced by a common message—to lift the “arbitrary ban” on online schooling.
(Source: Olina Banerji; #righttolearn campaign)   Now India’s education system is just as balkanised as its federal structure. Schools come in various shapes, sizes, and levels of quality. Most private schools, shut due to the pandemic, are trying to reach out to their students digitally, while government schools are wholly reliant on government or civil society actors.   The makeshift arrangements aren’t ideal, especially with schools running out of money to pay teacher salaries. They have to resort to cuts, or worse still, pay by the hour.
“One principal of a school in Bengaluru said that this will come into effect from July. “We have decided to pay teachers based on their salary from the previous academic year. This amount will be divided by the number of working days, and then multiplying it by the number of hours they are teaching. So by this formula, a teacher whose monthly salary is ₹30,000, will get ₹250 per hour. If they take online classes for two hours per day, they will be paid ₹500 per day,” the principal added.” Private schools to pay teachers by the hour, The Hindu
The big Byju’s break-in   Clearly, things are a mess. But where schools lose out on monetising online classes, Byju’s and a plethora of edtech apps can find a way in. So far, they’ve been largely locked out of the school network, partly because there was no need to replace the offline school structure. Neither was it desired.   Parallels between telecom and edtech are hard to miss here. Just like Jio gained an unparalleled advantage—as its rivals bleed by a thousand regulatory cuts—it’s also Byju’s moment to capture a share of the education wallet.   That is, through the decimation of all other online classes except its own. And it’s all going down in Byju’s hometown—Bengaluru. Multi-billion dollar edtechs can create better content, hire good teachers, and massively subsidise the outreach. But they still can’t replace the real thing. Yet.   Education has an outsized share of 18.4% in what an urban household spends. In a tough job market, though, how much are parents willing to shell out for two different types of online classes?   The point wasn’t lost on parents either. This is a transcript of the chat window.
(Source: Olina Banerji; #righttolearn campaign)
Going back to school is… fun?
Olina   Schools across the world are trying to crawl back to normal. But with major tweaks. Like fever guns at entrances. Social distancing norms on the basketball court. Hospital like-cafeterias.   The biggest casualty, though? Passing furtive notes in class.   The picture below is part of an amazing Reuters slideshow on the new look at schools across the world.

Defund the…media?

“Tech Twitter”, the Twitter subset comprising venture capitalists, founders, developers, growth hackers, product managers and journalists, has been consumed by an internecine conflict this past week.

On one side are powerful Silicon Valley VCs, angel investors, and founders. And on the other is, well, largely The New York Times and its tech culture reporter, Taylor Lorenz.

At the heart of the conflict is power. The VCs and founders think tech journalists like Lorenz and newspapers like NYT have too much power. Power that is unfairly used to target them.

And at the heart of the controversy was a leaked hour-long conversation from the invite-only audio social network Clubhouse, reportedly worth $100 million in May with just 1,500 users.
The audio chat had spiraled wildly out of control from a broader conversation earlier in the call about the state of journalism and what VCs should do to receive better coverage. [Balaji] Srinivasan, formerly a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, claimed that “the entire tech press was complicit in covering up the threat of COVID-19,” and claimed that relying on the press is “outsourcing your information supply chain to folks who are disaligned with you,” comparable to the United States having outsourced its medical supply chain. He proposed that the approaches to truth and accountability offered by GitHub, venture capital funding, and cryptocurrency all offer better models for journalism than “the East Coast model of ‘Respect my authori-tay.'” Silicon Valley Elite Discuss Journalists Having Too Much Power in Private App, Vice
Media corporations are not the free press, any more than chain restaurants are good. The New York Times is not the free press, but you, the citizen, are the free press,” Srinivasan said in the conversation.
Tech journalist Kara Swisher, long a vociferous thorn in the sides of powerful Silicon Valley tech executives, called it out for what it was.
Why the NYT unnerves tech power   Why is the NYT the focus of so many attacks? Because it has over 6M subscribers underpinned by a powerful and resilient business model—subscriptions. That affords the NYT the financial independence to take on those in power around the world, whether it be US President Donald Trump, the Chinese government, Apple or Facebook.   But instead of being punished for taking on the powerful, stock market investors have been rewarding the NYT, making it outperform tech giants.
One that’s doing phenomenally well is the New York Times itself. It’s well known that many big tech companies (or at least their shares) are booming amid the Covid crisis. But so far this year, the NYT is doing better than names like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Of the tech megacaps, only Amazon is doing better. If it hasn’t been clear before, it should be obvious to everyone now that the NYT is a tech company and a tech stock. It benefits from network effects and accelerating economies of scale like any other tech company. It’s booming in the podcast space. It’s got popular apps for cooking and games. It’s even rolling out its own proprietary platform for online ad targeting next year, cutting off third-party players. Far from being the “Failing New York Times”, the company is in a rare club of companies and players whose business just keeps getting more dominant and powerful. Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day, Bloomberg
This can be unnerving to those in power. How do you economically attack an institution that simultaneously speaks truth to power, profits from it, and gets even more powerful in the process?
  One way is by trying to turn NYT’s main advantage—subscribers—into its weakness. By exhorting people to “cancel” the NYT and its journalists. 
  In case you’re new to the concept of “cancel culture”, I’ll quote an older NYT piece itself.
“It’s a cultural boycott,” said Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies the intersection of digital media and race, gender and sexuality. “It’s an agreement not to amplify, signal boost, give money to. People talk about the attention economy — when you deprive someone of your attention, you’re depriving them of a livelihood.”

[…]

In a subscription-heavy era where everything is on-demand, and celebrities are packaged and sold as commodities, the language of cancellation is close at hand. The usage is widely understood to have come from Black Twitter, the loose networks of black users active on the site. Everyone is Cancelled, NYT
To do this, you must not only frame the NYT as an enemy of the truth, but also present “better” alternatives that can be funded and controlled by the powerful. A “Github model”, a “VC model” or a “Crypto model” for instance.   (As an aside, what could be more “decentralised” than 6M subscribers funding an organisation to produce the journalism they value?)   Speaking truth to power   What is common about the fall of some of the most storied tech companies from the last few years?    Immensely smart founders. Check. Billions of dollars from the world’s smartest venture investors. Check.   Talented and dogged reporters backed by powerful, subscriber-funded news organisations. Check.   Like Theranos, John Carreyrou and The Wall Street Journal. Or Uber, Mike Isaac and The NYT. Or Wirecard, Dan McCrum and The Financial Times.   In each of these cases, the reporters and their newspapers had the tenacity and financial wherewithal to keep speaking truth to tech power, even in the face of legal and personal threats.   The rise of powerful tech oligarchs isn’t just restricted to the US alone either.   MK Venu is the founding editor of The Wire, a subscriber-funded Indian publication.
If there is a “VC model of truth”, it is not the only truth the world wants. And by seeking to cancel or defund news organisations, you only help entrench those in power.
Indian Railways walks down a well-trodden road
Praveen Gopal Krishnan   Late last week, the Indian Railways made an announcement.
The Railways on Wednesday formally kick started its plans to allow private entities to operate passenger trains on its network by inviting request for qualifications (RFQ) for participation on 109 pairs of routes through 151 modern trains, the national transporter said.   The project would entail a private sector investment of about Rs 30,000 crore, it said. This is the first initiative for private investment for running passenger trains on the Indian Railways network. Indian Railways to allow private players to operate passenger trains, Hindustan Times
The immediate reactions were predictable. Some believe that this move is the first step in the dismemberment and sale of India’s crown jewel of affordable, mass and efficient forms of transport. Others believe that this is a welcome step, and will force Indian Railways to compete and push themselves to greater heights.    As always, the second and third-order effects are much more nuanced and complicated. Privatisation of parts of government-run businesses is hardly new to India. It’s been done with airlines, banking and telecom—three sectors which were all exclusive monopolies of the state. All have yielded mixed results. It’s far too early to judge if this move—which is a privatisation of a small portion of the Indian Railways—is going to work out or not.    But, there are a few factors worth remembering.   A private Railways player will likely make losses for a long, long time.

It’s not easy to make money in Railways. If you are a private player, you may have the demand, but you have limits of differentiation beyond which your pricing starts to get compared against airlines. That’s the ceiling. And you’ll compete against Indian Railways, which will likely undercut you. That’s the floor. A very narrow range exists in the middle.    Private players will have to be sure there isn’t a conflict of interest.

Again, if you are a private player, running private trains, on rails and infrastructure provided by the Government of India, competing against trains run by the Government of India, and regulated by the Government of India, I’d imagine you’d want to be sure that the deck isn’t stacked against you before you enter. Because there will be conflicts.    For the best deep-dive about this, I really recommend Sayantan Bera’s story in Mint, which was published a few months ago.    That being said, this does seem like a sound trial balloon. Disinvestment of publicly owned utilities to bring in private players to add revenue are goals that multiple Indian governments promise… and largely fail to meet. This time, they are doing it with their crown jewel—Indian Railways.    Reliance Jio has lessons for everyone. Even Indian Railways.
Indonesia’s upper-middle-income trap   Nadine   Millions of Indonesians are losing their jobs and are on the cusp of falling back into poverty this year. That reality stands in contrast to a recent World Bank report which, for the first time, elevated Indonesia’s status from “lower-middle income country” to “upper-middle income country” this year.   Indonesia is now in one bracket with neighbours Thailand and Malaysia and many other emerging markets, including Brazil and Mexico. Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, as well as India are still lower-middle income countries.   The classifications are updated each year on 1 July, based on gross national income (GNI) per capita figures.   Moving up from low- to upper-middle income in the World Bank hierarchy doesn’t have a huge immediate impact for Indonesia, although a change in rank can affect the terms and types of loans countries can access.   It does make for good headlines though. In the fineprint however, you’ll notice that Indonesia made it into the new bracket by the tiniest of margins. Indonesia’s reclassification is based on a mere $0.004 GNI per capita difference.
“Southeast Asia’s biggest economy saw its GNI per capita rise to US$4,050 in 2019.. Upper-middle income status categorizes countries with a GNI per capita of $4,046 to $12,535, while lower-middle income status categorizes countries with a GNI per capita of $1,036 to $4,045.” Indonesia now upper middle-income country, World Bank says, The Jakarta Post 
And that’s based on 2019 data. A stalled economy and contracting incomes this year could potentially lower the next score and bump Indonesia right back into the lower-middle income bracket. That would probably lead to fewer headlines though
A Tipping Point?   Rohin   The concept of tipping points originated largely from epidemiology, where researchers tried to model the point at which a disease becomes an epidemic or a pandemic. But it was popularised by author Malcolm Gladwell in his 2000 book of the same name.   In his book, Gladwell lays out 3 key factors that determine whether an idea, product or trend crosses over the tipping point.   The Law Of The Few   Gladwell argues that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” This is the Law of the Few. There are three kinds of people who fit this description: mavens, connectors, and salesmen.   The Stickiness Factor   Another important factor that plays a role in determining whether or not a trend will tip is what Gladwell calls “the stickiness factor.” The stickiness factor is a unique quality that causes the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their behaviour.   The Power Of Context   The third critical aspect that contributes to the tipping point of a trend or phenomenon is what Gladwell terms the “Power of Context.” The Power of Context refers to the environment or historical moment in which the trend is introduced. If the context is not right, it is not likely that the tipping point will take place.   Could India—a country of 1.3 billion people; a democracy; and the world’s fifth largest economy—banning Chinese apps be a global tipping point for how Chinese tech companies and apps are treated?   For countries to do unto China what China does unto them?
China is at the receiving end of something it’s more used to handing out: a ban on popular software. The latest Indian salvo may not wreak much immediate financial havoc, but deals a blow to the overseas ambitions of Chinese internet companies.

[…]

After growing up at home mostly shielded from foreign competition, Chinese internet companies have been trying to venture abroad in recent years. India and Southeast Asia, due to their geographical and cultural proximity, are the clear target markets.
Replacing Chinese cell phones may be tough but apps are another matter. As anti-Chinese sentiment rises among the country’s neighbors, Chinese internet companies will find it even harder to expand abroad—something their foreign rivals, who have tried for years to penetrate the heavily protected Chinese market, are all too familiar with.   Chinese Apps Get the China Treatment in India, WSJ
Cutting all ties   Olina   It’s not just digital India that’s severed ties with Chinese apps and products. In Kolkata, kites have been grounded because the string, or “manja”, that holds them taut against the wind is China-made. Of course, when it comes to bans, everyone wants a piece of the action.   There is another group, however, that will celebrate the ban for reasons non-Chinese. And that is PETA, which has launched numerous protests against “manja”, saying the string is often coated with adhesive and powdered, finely crushed glass, or other materials to make it sharp. And that proves deadly for pigeons, crows, owls, endangered vultures, and other birds that get entangled in the string.
Human foosball in Argentina   Jon    Professional footballers in Europe and other parts of the world have returned to the pitch—albeit without crowds—but already the beautiful game has adapted to Covid times.   Amateur players in football-mad Argentina have devised ‘human foosball’—a mix between 5-a-side matches and table football. Pitches are divided into rectangular grids which players must stay within in order to avoid close contact as part of Argentina’s social distancing rules.    That alters the game considerably. Dribbling past opponents, tackles and physical contact are all out in favour of a focus on passing, movement and precise shooting

Buy from China? No way. Sell to China? No problem

In light of the worst border clash between India and China in decades, it’s hardly surprising to see a virulent anti-China stance by the Indian government, businesses, and citizens. Sajjan Jindal, chairman and managing director of JSW Steel, one of India’s largest steelmakers, had this to say to The Economic Times
The steel industry’s 100% refractories come from China. One approach is to say that war will be fought by our soldiers, and my job is to make steel at a cheaper price by buying from China. But another view is — look at the $100 billion opportunities that Indian companies should tap. There will be some pain in the short run. But see, I respect my country and my army. If they (China) have killed 20 of my soldiers, I’m not going to buy products from them and strengthen their armies more.
Jindal said the company is fine with the additional cost of importing from other countries like Brazil and Turkey. After all, it’s important to stand with your country against China, right? Well, not entirely. In response to a question on JSW’s exports of semi-finished steel to China, he said:
We are not really restricting our exports to China, because that prerogative is with the Chinese to put a stop on Indian imports. But we are prepared if they want to stop Indian imports. As of now, there is no sign of that.
At a time when the lockdown has led to a decline in local demand for steel, China is a silver lining for Indian steel manufacturers.
In April and May, while India was under curbs to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, China emerged as the most important export destination for steel companies, accounting for about 48 per cent of total steel exports.   China top buyer of Indian steel under lockdown…, Business Standard
It’s not just steel companies that don’t want to say no to Chinese buyers.
“Border tensions between the two countries have not affected exports of tea to China,” said Mohit Agarwal, director, Asian Tea and a leading exporter to China and Iran. “The Chinese are buying both CTC and orthodox black teas.”
 
In 2019, India had overtaken Sri Lanka in exports of tea to China riding on the rising demand for the Indian variety of black tea among Chinese millennials. India had exported 13.45 million kg of teas to China, whereas Sri Lanka, which had always been the leader in exports to China, was able to export 10 million kgs to the country. India exporting tea to China and Iran…, The Economic Times
China’s share in India’s total exports rose marginally to 5.3% in 2019-20 from 5.1% in the previous year. Moreover, a smaller decline in India’s exports in June than in its imports could help it see its first monthly trade surplus in nearly two decades.    Clearly, not all knee-jerk responses are without some thought to the consequences. Why should your hate for China stop you from making some money off them?
Setting the economic clock back   Arundhati   First came Demonetisation. Then came India’s new way of levying indirect tax with Goods and Services Tax. Both held back India’s economic growth. Just as India was looking to put those headwinds behind it, the Covid- induced lockdown along with a trade war with China “could end up setting India’s economic growth back several years,” former Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya said in an audio interview to The Wire.
“Even before COVID-19, our growth was only about 4.2% compared to 7% in previous years. We were slowly getting out of the slowdown when COVID[-19 pandemic] happened,” he said.
 
Panagariya contended that the shock to the economy due to COVID-19 and the lockdown is unprecedented. “Nothing like this has happened in the past and may not happen in the future. If we impose another shock through trade now, then to bring the economy back to 7% and 7.5% growth I don’t think that will remain possible.”
India is raring to fight national security issues with China with import sanctions. The economist believes mixing the two up could have serious repercussions.
Quote “I challenge you to tell me one example of any country which has benefited from increased protectionism. There is not a single one. It is illusionary to believe that import substitution will help any economy.”
It is not like this is a new idea anyway. When India tried it before, it failed spectacularly.
“Our policy of import substitution led to a growth of only 3.7% and 3.8% between 1951 and 1981. Our population grew at around 2.3%. So, per capita income growth was only around 1.5%. My generation did not see any perceptible change in living standard in that period. So if import substitution was such a good policy why did this happen?” he asked rhetorically.
As for resolving border issues with China, Panagriya says an economically resurgent India is much more threatening.
“We need to keep strategic patience with China because trade war can cause damage to India. See, we have to continuously deal with the threat from China because we have a very long common border. We have to live with these tensions. It is important for us to ensure that our economy is strong. We should focus on becoming a 10 trillion dollar economy. China is currently at 14 trillion dollars. If our economy is strong, China will be quiet at the borders,” Panagariya said.
“Modi needs to send Ambani a thank-you note”   Rohin   One of the many issues that propelled Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi into his first term was a promise to strengthen the Indian Rupee against the US Dollar.    This was him, back in July 2013, when the Indian Rupee was around Rs 60 for each US$.
Source: Twitter

Mr Modi was sworn in to his first term as Prime Minister less than a year later, in May 2014. “The rupee reflects the strength of the Indian economy and a declining rupee only showcases the fact that we as a nation are living beyond our means,” reported The Times of India, citing unnamed sources, as “the new PM’s belief”.   This is a chart of the Indian Rupee to the US Dollar over a 10-year-period, based on data from XE.com, a currency exchange and money transfer platform.
This is the two currencies over a one-year-period.
This is them over a one-month-period.
Something has arrested the Rupee’s depreciation against the dollar. What might it be?
Or perhaps, who might it be?
That was a headline yesterday from the home page of The Economic Times, India’s largest business newspaper. The Ambani in the headline is Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man and the chairman of Reliance Industries. Over the last 11 weeks, he has raised 12 rounds of funding adding up to over $15 billion for Jio Platforms, the entity that owns Reliance’s telecom, software, and services units.   The Indian Rupee was finally appreciating in anticipation of Reliance’s $15 billion coming into the country, said The Economic Times.   A classic case of second-order effects, wouldn’t you say?
What past pandemics tell us about wealth distribution   Nadine   Humankind survived the Black Death. So now we stand a chance to look back at the incident that wiped out 25 million people, in search of clues that could help make sense of our current situation.   There’s one effect of the plague that historians and economists believe the ongoing pandemic will mirror: a further concentration of wealth in the hands of the already rich.   In an article in The Conversation republished by the BBC recently, two scholars describe two significant shifts with regards to wealth distribution in that era. The first was in the way wealthy families thought about their legacy:
“The sudden loss of at least a third of Europe’s population didn’t lead to an even redistribution of wealth for everyone else. Instead, people responded to the devastation by keeping money within the family. Wills became highly specific and wealthy businessmen, in particular, went to great lengths to ensure that their patrimony was no longer divided up after death, replacing the previous tendency to leave a third of all their resources to charity. Their descendants benefited from a continued concentration of capital into a smaller and smaller number of hands.”
In other words, the devastation of the plague caused rich families to go into survival mode, putting their clan above larger societal interests.    The second shift the authors describe already reads as if it’s about Covid-19, not the 17th century:
“…Another less often remarked consequence of the Black Death was the rise of wealthy entrepreneurs and business-government links. Although the Black Death caused short-term losses for Europe’s largest companies, in the long term, they concentrated their assets and gained a greater share of the market and influence with governments.” How the Black Death made the rich richer, BBC
Breaking out of a catch-22   Arundhati   Of the many dilemmas that the pandemic has unleashed, the one in financial services is who you save first: A. the bank B. the borrower.    Most lenders picked B. By picking B, they were also saving the bank indirectly. Because if more borrowers are under moratorium (temporary suspension on repayments), you can avoid the bad assets problem for that period.     Not HDFC Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. It went straight for option A.    HDFC Bank was among those for whom the proportion of loans under moratorium was low. For instance, for ICICI Bank, another large private lender, 30% of its loans were under moratorium as of April-end. In comparison, HDFC Bank said its loans under moratorium were in low single digits.    HDFC Bank’s low moratorium is reflective of the borrower base it had. Its borrowers were mostly professional workers where the job-loss was not as acute as with factory workers. It also cherry picks borrowers by mostly lending only to those who have parked their savings deposits with the bank. A mix of this saw fewer borrowers opting in for suspending their repayments.    This moratorium outcome is reflected in the bank’s quarterly results.    HDFC Bank saw its loan book grow by 1.09% sequentially, in the lockdown quarter, else regularly known as the June quarter for the financial year 2021. This, when data from the Reserve Bank of India showed that India’s lenders saw their loan book shrink by 1.08% between 1 April and 19 June.    The fact that fewer loans were under moratorium for HDFC Bank not only means that the quality of its current loan book will stand the test of Covid times. But also that during these times, good borrowers especially stand out. As other lenders’ credit disbursal seized up with some part of the capital locked up in moratoriums, HDFC Bank seems to have doubled down on any remaining opportunity.    Now as there is talk of the moratorium extending till December…
The original moratorium was for the period of March to May, and then there was another extension that would end in August. But senior bankers say the economy remains almost in deep freeze and the central bank and the government will have no option but to offer another extension to the moratorium.   A chief executive of a private bank, on the condition of anonymity, said there would be a sharp rise in bad loans after this moratorium period comes to an end. “The current situation is feeble. There is no choice but to extend the moratorium till November-December,” he said. Extension of moratorium till Dec is the only viable option left: Bankers, Business Standard
…it is anybody’s guess where this will lead HDFC Bank.
Small town bliss as-a-service
Nadine   Many resorts and hotels are offering “workation” packages to capture the new cohort of remote workers born out of the pandemic. We wrote about some of those deals in BFO #64.   They’re just the tip of the iceberg of a budding remote work movement. A town in Japan called Matsue–blessed with natural hot springs and not too far from Osaka, Japan’s second-largest metropolitan area–shows how far this can go.   Matsue offers a three-night deal including food, yoga courses, and other amenities as a joint effort between the city, several businesses, and a university. It will even conduct a study with its participants about stress levels during and after the stay.    Smaller communities within reach of metropolises should reposition themselves as a workation paradise. Leaving it up to hotels and resorts to get these customers is one thing; creating programmes and policies at the city-level is another.
Robots, please take over
Jum   In 2017, SoftBank chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son declared that robots would outnumber humans in 30 years. Well, that prediction came early for Sony’s PlayStation 4 factory in Tokyo. It already operates with a high degree of automation.   Four humans versus 32 robots. That’s the makeup of the workforce churning out a new PS4 console every 30 seconds at Sony’s Kisarazu plant in the Japanese capital. It’s a blend that was “painstakingly optimised” to give the best investment return.   The robots are certainly matching up to the tasks—even those you’d think are best left to the humans.
“Attaching the flexible flat cable—a tape-like electrical cord—requires one robot arm to hold up the cable and another to twist it. The cable then needs to be attached in a specific direction using just the right pressure, which may seem simple for a human but is an extremely complex maneuver for a robot.” PlayStation’s secret weapon: a nearly all-automated factory, Nikkei Asian Review
Automation has gradually been replacing work traditionally done by humans in a range of industries, from manufacturing to call centres, as companies looked to cut costs. Sony, which is set to release the next generation of PlayStations at the end of the year, is at the forefront.   With the coronavirus pandemic, automation has definitely accelerated, says research firm Forrester. Even as lockdown restrictions ease up across the globe, companies are set to invest more in automation than rehiring the jobs that were lost.   If there was anxiety about robots replacing human jobs earlier, it’s no longer the case. Society now sees the need to incorporate social distancing in workplaces. Robots, you’re welcome.

The cost of a Covid-19 vaccine

Last week, India “strictly advised” its vaccine makers to get a Covid-19 vaccine ready in just six weeks (with “non-compliance” to be “viewed very seriously”). While that deadline may be unrealistic (it’s meant to coincide with India’s Independence Day, on 15 August), could the costs be too?   What should be the cost of a vaccine that will not just protect people from a disease, but possibly restore societies and economies?   Since there is no officially-approved vaccine yet, one surrogate could be the price of Gilead’s Remdesivir, the closest medicine the world has to treat the coronavirus.   Its pricing in the US varies from US$390-520 per vial, or US$2,340-3,120 per treatment course, depending on whether the patients being treated have private insurance, government-sponsored insurance, or come from countries with national health care systems.   In India, the generic version of Remdesivir will cost Rs 4,800 (US$64).   But what about the actual vaccines? Doctor, author and former New York Times journalist Elisabeth Rosenthal tried to ask and answer this question.
If a Covid-19 vaccine yields a price of, say, $500 a course, vaccinating the entire population would bring a company over $150 billion, almost all of it profit.
Kevin Schulman, a physician-economist at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, called that amount “staggering.” But Katherine Baicker, dean of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, said that from society’s perspective “$150 billion might not be an unreasonable sum” to pay to tame an epidemic that has left millions unemployed and cost the economy trillions. How a Covid-19 Vaccine Could Cost Americans Dearly, New York Times
US$500 per person for a vaccine might not sound like a lot for saving the world, but what if you have to take it each year? Dr Rosenthal makes the point that many drug companies are offering “not for profit” pricing for Covid-19 vaccines for “emergency pandemic use”. 
Meaning, the prices may be different when there is no pandemic and it’s only a routine annual vaccination.
It pays … dividends
 
Savio
 
While India Inc’s fourth-quarter results may not be anything to write home about, investors who held on to their shares have enjoyed a bonanza in the form of dividends. As is traditional, the defensive sectors, such as consumer and software services, led the charge.  
The combined dividend payout by India’s top listed companies, which are part of the BSE500 Index, for FY20 was up 6.5 per cent, the fastest growth in the past three years. And, equity investors should thank cash-rich biggies such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), ITC, Hindustan Unilever, Nestlé, and Bajaj Auto for this.
 
[…]
 
This is the first dividend season since shareholders have been mandated to pay tax on their dividend income against the earlier rule of companies paying 20.56 per cent dividend distribution tax (DDT) on their payout.
 
Experts attribute the higher payout to the change in dividend law and cut in corporate income tax. “Now that dividend is taxed in the hands of shareholders, many companies pass on the savings on DDT to shareholders in the form of higher dividends per share,” said U R Bhat, director Dalton Capital Advisors. Despite poor show in Q4, India Inc’s combined dividend payout rises 6.5%, Business Standard
Source: Business Standard
However, the change in the dividend law earlier this year means that companies have to deduct the tax at source before distributing. That’s easy peasy when it comes to retail and domestic investors. But it has been a nightmare when it comes to cutting taxes on the dividend due to overseas funds before the payout. That is because the tax rate depends on where the fund is based, the dividend earned, and if the fund is structured as a trust. Companies have just not made such distinctions, which has also left custodians who handle the back-end work of foreign investors in a bind.
Most companies have applied a uniform rate to cut taxes on dividends and passed them on to the custodians as lumpsum. Now, custodians, which are clueless on how much companies have deducted for each investor, are unable to pass on the dividends to the foreign clients. Domestic mutual funds too find themselves in a sticky situation as some of the companies went ahead and deducted taxes though the law exempts them from paying any tax on dividends. Companies, custodians struggle with dividend payments, The Economic Times
The great dividend festival could also be coming to an end for retail investors. As the Business Standard article goes on to say:
The changes in dividend tax law also saw many companies advancing dividend payout for FY20 to February and March to avoid higher taxes that came into effect from April 1. All this could translate into significantly lower dividend income for shareholders in FY21.
Your friendly neighbourhood tax avoider   Arundhati   18% tax on a haircut! Every time you get the bill, that number hurts.    But what if there was simply no bill? With a gentleman’s agreement, you agree to not insist on a bill and the 18% Good and Services Tax (GST) disappears.    A reader wrote to us about how tax avoidance among neighbourhood services like yoga/gym trainers and beauticians is becoming a common practice. And how they are reluctant to give the sales invoice that carries a GST of 18%.    At the surface, the simple second-order effect here is that higher the tax, greater the avoidance. After all, the taxes on services have gone up since the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. What was 12.36% in 2014 is now 18% under GST. (It should, however, be said the taxes on buying goods have gone down.)    But, actually, there is no reason for these service providers to avoid GST. Many of them would not even be GST-registered businesses as they may not meet the threshold of Rs 20 lakh annual turnover, above which businesses need to pay  GST.    The real reason why these solopreneurs and small businesses don’t issue an invoice is more for income tax avoidance.    At a broad level, the government collects more money via indirect taxes (GST) than direct taxes (income tax)—Rs 12.2 trillion vs Rs 10.5 trillion (numbers for the financial year that ended in March 2020). But at an individual level (which includes these solopreneurs), one would pay more income tax than GST, reckons a Nagpur-based small business owner The Ken spoke to.    And sales invoices are direct proof of income, making it a rather inconvenient piece of evidence.    In fact, when GST was rolled out in 2017 after years of stalling, the idea was that more people will end up paying income tax as a result of it. This is from a 2018 Economic Times article:
When the tax base of GST increases, more taxpayers are also added within the ambit of direct taxes. Before GST implementation, taxpayers used to report different turnover for the purpose of sales tax and income tax so as to avoid the tax liability under the Income Tax Act.
 
According to the Economic Survey 2017-18, the base of indirect taxpayer has increased substantially by more than 50% after the implementation of GST, thus, it can be said that GST has transformed the business environment in India in a singular manner.
 
Though GST is an indirect tax, yet it has significantly impacted the contribution of direct taxes too in the overall tax revenue of the government. As per the CBDT statement dated April 2, 2018, the provisional direct tax collections for the financial year 2017-18 is Rs. 9.95 lakh crore which is 17.1 percent higher than the net collections for FY 2016-17. Higher direct tax collections: GST impact? The Economic Times
The number of income tax returns filed has gone up nearly 50% from 2014 to now. While the expectation was that income tax payers will rise significantly over the years, still only 15 million pay income tax out of a 1.3 billion population.
Quitting China for Southeast Asia
Jum
 
Southeast Asian countries are in a war… for foreign investments leaving China.
 
From Indonesia to Myanmar, countries have stepped up efforts to attract foreign manufacturers fleeing China. The country saw major supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic, exacerbating rising tariff costs from a trade fight with the US.
 
Here’s what each country is doing:
  Indonesia is setting up industrial parks and offering land for cheap. It’s also cutting the corporate income tax (CIT) rate to 22% from 25% this year, then to 20% by 2022; Thailand has dangled incentives, including a 50% tax cut, for firms relocating production from China; Malaysia has offered a 15-year tax exemption for manufacturers; The Philippines is pushing for a bill that will bring its CIT from 30%—the highest in Southeast Asia—to 25% this year, then to 20% by 2027.  
Among these countries, Vietnam is said to have the biggest edge with its low-cost labour, free-trade agreements globally, and its close proximity to China.
 
In fact, a steady stream of manufacturing businesses have already moved operations to Vietnam, like US-based Dell, South Korea’s Samsung and Japan’s Nintendo.
 
Since last year, Vietnam’s exports to the US have been growing, making the latter the top importer of Vietnamese goods. 
 
However, Vietnam has run into labour shortages, given that its population is less than one-tenth of China’s. This is where neighbouring Southeast Asian markets see an opening. No matter how competitive the battle becomes, ultimately the region wins.
59 degrees of communication gaps
Savio
 
India’s sudden decision to ban 59 Chinese apps overnight was heralded as an opportunity for domestic players to fill that space. Now, keep in mind that China itself has a ban on the more popular apps and websites like WhatsApp and Google.
 
So what happens to trade when each party has access to one set of apps that is banned in the other party’s country?
Traders use WeChat, Mi Video and QQ Mail, which figure in India’s negative list, to do business with China. Translated texts, pictures and videos shared through these apps helped traders from both the countries share documents, send pictures of consignments and overcome language barriers.
 
“The sudden ban on the mobile apps is going to impact the cotton and cotton yarn export business in the short term. WeChat and QQ have become the lifeline for both Indian and Chinese businessmen to connect,” said Vivek Kaushal, senior general manager (marketing and purchase), DCM Nouvelle Limited. “No one has the time to write a mail in English, so the entire business transaction from taking orders, transferring letters of credit to even addressing complaints was on the mobile app.”
He said the app also translated English text messages in Chinese and vice versa. Chinese app ban may hinder business communication, The Economic Times
Singapore students: to go or not to go   Ben   Singaporean students with spots in overseas universities are facing a conundrum in this pandemic: should they defer their studies or cancel them altogether? Seeing the opportunity, universities in the city-state opened up an additional 2,000 slots for enrolment this year, with the hope of attracting those marooned students.    Some of those new slots are specifically for Singaporeans, who were forced to put their overseas study plans on hold, or who had planned to join the workforce but decided to study instead. Those whose overseas studies were disrupted halfway could also write in to transfer to a local university.   Choosing to stay local, however, brings some opportunity costs. Other countries may provide better opportunities in terms of internships and jobs down the line, especially in specialist fields like computer science. Then, there is the question of standards given the expanded local student count, although Singapore’s Ministry of Education has assured that education quality will be maintained.   But some students have preferred to wait the pandemic out and still pursue their plans to study abroad. “I am hoping that things will turn around by September and I can head back (to the US) to continue with my studies,” one student told The Straits Times.   There are some 23,715 Singaporeans studying overseas, according to data from UNESCO. Popular study destinations include the US, UK and Australia.
US woes for international students   Jon   First, colleges are adopting online learning courses that, while ideal for pandemic times, still come with eye-watering prices. Harvard, for example, is going fully digital for its next academic year, but undergraduate tuition remains priced at US$49,653.   That’s coupled with news that international students enrolled at US colleges and schools that run courses online will not be eligible for visas to remain in the country, as Al Jazeera notes.
The “Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States”, ICE’s highly anticipated new rules said.   Students already in the US whose programmes have switched to online-only instruction must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status”, the rules continued.   “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.” US says international students must leave if classes are online, Al Jazeera
A number of high-profile figures, including the Taiwan-born creator of the N95 mask that protects against Covid-19 infection, initially came to the US as international students before settling down and becoming naturalised citizens. There’s widespread concern that these two decisions, made together, will limit the arrival of talent from overseas and impact the US’ growth potential.

The domino effect of cancelled exams

Unprecedented times call for drastic measures. This week, India’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) took a crucial decision—it chopped off 30% of the syllabus for grades nine through 12.   This doesn’t come as a total surprise. Online classes can’t be as efficient as physical ones, and Indian schools have a unique talent for cramming as much content as possible into one semester. Those of us who attended school in the 90s are well acquainted with the dreaded “extra class”.   It would serve us well, though, to figure out why completing the syllabus on time is such a big deal. And why the CBSE specified that the cancelled chapters won’t be part of any assessments. Because the whole Indian education system, from start to finish, is a race to the end goal—exams. It’s really not that much, or at all, about learning.   Now, exams have a hierarchy too. In the senior grades, internal assessments by schools are far less important than the national Board Exams. Boards are gatekeepers; what marks you score decide the subjects you study, the college you get into, and in some cases, the jobs you land up with. The Gaokao in China is a handy parallel here.    That’s why in the seminal “board years”— grades 10 and 12—there is no incentive to do well in internal school assessments. In a pre-Covid world, they’re just a layer of bureaucracy to get through. But the pandemic, by cancelling board exams, has disrupted a decades-long hierarchy. And the panic is palpable.
“Rahul Gupta, a student of Mamta Modern School Vikaspuri, said, “I had fallen sick during my pre-board exams and missed some papers. I had two board papers left — Business Studies and Informatics Practices. As a student, I have been left in the lurch about my future. How will the CBSE work out a formula for those students who missed their internal assessment or pre-Boards?” Exams cancelled, students’ questions remain unanswered, Financial Express
On the flip side, now is as good a time as any to shift the goalposts from marks to learning. Schools could re-invent their own exams, fight for a share of final “board” marks or do more continuous assessment through the year. 2020 could also be the year we realise that the value of a 90% score in board exams is a relic of the pre-Covid era.   An ode to fallen chapters   It’s interesting what parts of the syllabus the Ministry of Human Resource Development decided to cut. Some are random cuts, like “Ray Optics” from grade 12. Others seem more deliberate. And opportune.   It’s a shot fired without wasting a bullet.
Source: Scroll
Vanishing into thin air   Seetharaman   The pandemic has turned 2020 into the worst year ever for airlines. Their revenues are expected to halve from last year and their losses could total $84 billion.    As carriers navigate this existential crisis, irate fliers are adding to their woes—and justifiably so. As of early April, airlines owed $35 billion in refunds for cancelled flights, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). This is what Alexandra de Juniac, director general of IATA, wrote on its website three months ago. 
Passengers have the right to get their money. They paid for a service that cannot be delivered. And in normal circumstances, repayment would not be an issue. But these are not normal circumstances. If airlines refund the $35 billion immediately, that will be the end of many airlines. And with that an enormous number of jobs will also disappear.
He proposed issuing vouchers for future travel, called a credit shell, or a refund at a later day as alternatives. That is something airlines, including those in India, have done. But the surge in demand for refunds has put carriers, governments, and passengers in a bind.
If the airline goes bust and shuts down for good, the voucher likely dies with it. Passengers are stuck with billions of dollars’ worth of what are essentially loans to airlines. On the other hand, unlimited refunds could push an airline with weak cash reserves and few prospects for government aid or new borrowing or equity into insolvency. The 19 airlines making refunds a headache, The Wall Street Journal
Indian carriers have been taken to court for refusing refunds. As of early May, they had to pay $500 million in refunds, according to CAPA Centre for Aviation, a consulting and research firm.
A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court in late April against airlines’ decision to offer a credit shell instead of refunds, to passengers whose flights were cancelled because of the lockdown. Though passengers could use the credit shell over the next year, there are conditions attached to it.
Even though the government later asked airlines to refund the tickets, these were limited to bookings done during the lockdown period. Refunds could cost airlines $500 million, says CAPA India, Moneycontrol.com
Elsewhere, class-action suits have been filed against British Airways and American Airlines, which are now getting wiser.
More and more carriers are adding clauses that require passengers to settle disputes with the airline in private arbitration, rather than in court, and bar passengers from starting or joining class-action lawsuits.
In early April, American Airlines updated its contract of carriage, a standard industry document that outlines the legal responsibilities of a ticket holder and an airline, with a class-action waiver. British Airways followed in late May, adding a class-action waiver and binding arbitration agreement in the terms and conditions of Executive Club, its loyalty program, for residents of the United States and Canada. In fine print, airlines make it harder to Fight for Passenger Rights, The New York Times
Hoping for speedy refunds is increasingly as unrealistic as expecting the baby across the aisle on the flight not to cry even once during the journey.
Predicting outbreaks two weeks in advance   Rohin   One of the fascinating aspects of modern algorithm development is how you can go back to the event you’re studying, and see if you could have predicted it with your new model, had it been there earlier.   An international team of scientists has released a paper in which they present a model that could predict outbreaks two weeks before they occur.
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.
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.
The list of Google search phrases the team relied on is interesting. They used it to understand the different ways in which human beings search for:
“anosmia, chest pain, chest tightness, cold, cold symptoms, cold with fever, conta-gious flu, cough, cough and fever, cough fever, covid, covid nhs, covid symptoms,covid-19, covid-19 who, dry cough, feeling exhausted, feeling tired, fever, fever cough,flu and bronchitis, flu complications, how long are you contagious, how long does covid last, how to get over the flu, how to get rid of flu, how to get rid of the flu,how to reduce fever, influenza, influenza b symptoms, isolation, joints aching, loss of smell,  loss smell,  loss taste,  nose bleed,  oseltamivir,  painful cough,  pneumonia,pneumonia, pregnant and have the flu, quarantine, remedies for the flu, respiratory flu, robitussin, robitussin cf, robitussin cough, rsv, runny nose, sars-cov 2, sars-cov-2 , sore throat, stay home, strep, strep throat, symptoms of bronchitis, symptoms of flu,  symptoms of influenza,  symptoms of influenza b,  symptoms of pneumonia, symptoms of rsv, tamiflu dosage, tamiflu dose, tamiflu drug, tamiflu generic, tamiflu side effects, tamiflu suspension, tamiflu while pregnant, tamiflu wiki, tessalon”
The first rule of community transmission is…   Rohin   A new epidemiological model (which has not been peer-reviewed yet) developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management has some sobering Covid-19 statistics for the next 12 months, if the world does not get vaccines or treatments.   By Spring 2021, the 84 countries in the model might see 249 (186-586) million cases and 1.75 (1.40-3.67) million deaths. The model predicts “a very large burden of new cases in the fall of 2020, with hundreds of millions of cases concentrated in a few countries estimated to have insufficient responses given perceived risks (primarily India, but also Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the USA).” By Winter 2021, the top ten countries by projected daily infection rates were India (287,000 infections per day), USA (95.4), South Africa (20.6), Iran (17.0), Indonesia (13.2), UK (4.2), Nigeria (4.0), Turkey (4.0), France  (3.3), and Germany (3.0). The closest a country was to herd immunity (where enough people have caught and recovered from the coronavirus to stop its transmission) was Chile, whose estimated infection rate was 15.5%. The researchers assume that 80% is the herd immunity level.   Sans vaccines and treatments, the model’s authors say “future outcomes are less dependent on testing and more contingent on the willingness of communities and governments to reduce transmission.” (emphasis added)   India, currently the world’s third-most infected country, is yet to even acknowledge the existence of community transmission. This tweet yesterday from Shreya Raman, a journalist, captures India’s current state poignantly.
Dishwashers, domestic workers, and the law of inequality   Savio   Guess what is flying off the virtual shelves in India? Dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and clothes dryers. All labour-saving products that middle class and upper middle class Indians never needed since they always had domestic workers. The lockdowns changed that. The June quarter saw a surge in sales for these products, The Economic Times reports. A 500% surge in sales of dishwashers, while clothes dryer sales doubled.   It’s not just an Indian phenomenon. Even iRobot, the maker of Roomba vacuum cleaners, was caught off guard. “Our anticipated second-quarter 2020 financial performance will be substantially better than we originally expected,” its CEO said recently.   All well and good for them and the likes of LG, Bosch, etc. But as households become self-sufficient, what happens to the taken-for-granted workforce these products replace? It’s interesting to see that when the lockdowns first started, there were plenty of debates on whether to allow domestic workers to enter or not, and on whether to cut their salary if they couldn’t come to work. That seems to be changing now.   The pandemic is already well on its way to creating income inequality. Only this time, a section of the society that was largely indispensable earlier will get dragged into the net. How large? About 3.9 million, according to the government’s last count. A section of the society that does not even have the law on its side.
The National Commission for Women drafted the Domestic Workers (Registration Social Security and welfare) Act in 2008, which has not been notified by the central government. Some state governments did indeed take the lead in framing laws on this subject. In 2018, it was said the central government was working on bringing out a national policy to protect the interests of domestic workers ‘which has been pending for almost three years now’. Bill no. 92 of 2017 was introduced in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian parliament), which was titled The Domestic Workers (Regulation of Work and Social Security) Bill 2017 but going by the recent communique of the labour and employment ministry, the process of formulating a national policy is still in ‘draft stage’. Between Welfare and Criminalisation: Were Domestic Servants Always Informal?, The Wire
Maybe it will take record-breaking sales of dishwashers and vacuum cleaners for the government to pass an all-India Act to regulate domestic workers. Or maybe there is another level before we get there.
Travel bubbles are delicate   Jon   We’ve written about travel bubbles—agreements to allow travel between countries during the pandemic—which are seen as crucial to tourism, aviation, and regional business in Southeast Asia. But they are just as delicate as actual bubbles, we’re learning.   Thailand has coped with Covid-19 better than most countries and it was in talks to open a travel bubble with China, Japan, and Korea, the three countries that regularly funnel tourists to its shores and account for a significant chunk of foreign investment.    That bubble has popped, however, in response to surging Covid-19 infections in the three countries.   These relationships are complicated and multi-layered; China recently surpassed Japan as Thailand’s top source of foreign investment. There’s also a lot of significance attached to being positively represented within national travel policies, as global reaction to the UK’s list of nationals who must quarantine on arrival shows.    Yet, unswayed by the politics, Thailand has taken the cautious option to put its plans with China, Japan, and Korea on ice. 
At the same time, it is advancing talks with a B-team player, New Zealand, which won’t supply anything like the same number of tourists but has a firmer grip on the outbreak. But beyond tourism, the partnership may involve cooperation within agricultural sectors, Thailand’s industry minister said.
Time flies,… or crawls?   Savio   I’m sure you have experienced one or both over the past few months. For some, the time would have whizzed by, and for others, it would have been agonisingly slow. Either way, it’s sure our perception of time has likely been distorted even more than usual this year.
According to neuroscientists, there is not a single organ or system in the body responsible for timekeeping. In fact, psychologists have identified many factors that affect our sense of time, some of which explain our heightened awareness of it this year.
That is from a Reuters report, which has a set of perception tests that show how certain factors can distort our sense of time. Go ahead, take the test.