Hikvision and the wait for the next Chinese shoe to drop

India, as you of course know, is on a China-purge these days. It’s crazy. The image below from a recent made-for-camera protest offers a tremendous window.
People who could not be bothered with social distancing or masks have taken great care to ensure that Chinese President Xi’s effigy is wearing a tie. The use of some of China’s most popular smartphone and internet brands is overlaid on a map of… the US.
Like I said, it’s crazy.   Each day brings up a new instance of a product category dominated by China, which must now be boycotted or indigenised. Smartphones, apps, automobiles, engineering equipment, televisions, toys… the list is only limited by a lack of knowledge of how globalisation works.   Which is why the bullet-proof jackets worn by members of India’s armed forces were next.   Dr. V.K Saraswat, the former chief of India’s military research organisation, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, and a member of India’s leading government policy think tank, the Niti Aayog, had this to say to The Indian Express.
“A year ago, we discouraged import of Chinese raw materials for critical items such as bullet-resistant jackets for their doubtful quality. We had even called the company which had the existing Army contract and told them to ensure testing of all imported raw materials at their end. Now I feel there should be a clear re-look at all such imports which are made from China just because of the price differential. We should not encourage import of Chinese raw material for strategic sectors like telecom and protective gear including bullet resistant jackets worn by our troops.”
If this is the paranoia surrounding Chinese companies that have no ostensible connection to the Chinese state, imagine what will happen when India discovers companies that might.   Imagine, for instance, a company whose Internet-connected surveillance equipment sits inside hundreds of thousands of Indian schools, colleges, homes, offices, traffic intersections and security installations.     A company whose millions of cameras monitor traffic violations, recognise “VIPs”, maps vehicle numbers, and even does behaviour analysis [1] on the faces it sees. A company, whose facial recognition cameras can recognise people in less than half a second, in a crowd of 40 persons per minute. [2] A company that sells close to a million surveillance cameras each month. [3] A company that wants to embed its products in India’s most ambitious digital infrastructure projects, like smart cities, smart transportation, ports, and railways. [4] A company that controls over 35% of the Indian market [5] and is in talks with various Indian police and paramilitary forces to sell its body-worn cameras.   Imagine if such a company turned out to be the majority-owned Indian joint venture of Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, a Chinese company that the US yesterday put on a list of 20 companies it said were owned and controlled by the Chinese military.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has determined that top Chinese firms, including telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies and video surveillance company Hikvision, are owned or controlled by the Chinese military, laying the groundwork for new U.S. financial sanctions, according to a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
[…]   Washington lists 20 companies that it claims are backed by the Chinese military and operate in the United States. It also includes China Mobile Communications Group and China Telecommunications Corp. as well as aircraft manufacturer Aviation Industry Corp. of China.
Now, what would Niti Aayog’s Dr. V.K Saraswat, who objected to the presence of Chinese raw materials in bullet-proof jackets say?
Here he is, inaugurating “India’s first and largest integrated world-class security & surveillance facility”, just eight months ago.   A Hikvision factory.
The biggest, buggiest test of them all
Olina   Exams are one of the modern world’s oldest feedback loops. In some cases, they mark the entry into a new grade or level. In other cases, they could decide the entire course of one’s life. (FIITJEE entrances anyone?)   Entire cottage industries—of tutorial schools—have sprung up over the last few decades in both India and China, where education is often synonymous with studying for a final exam. Covid-19 has now broken this old, old feedback loop in one swift blow. Never before in modern history, have exams—both seminal and trivial—been cancelled or forced to change so drastically. Which brings us to the question: How will these exams happen?   In India, for instance, there’s been a protracted debate about whether the CBSE, ICSE, and engineering entrance exams should be cancelled. Parents, concerned about sending their children to a common exam centre, have been lobbying for this cancellation. Postponing them, when infection count is rising, isn’t enough.   Cancellation is one way to go. But it thoroughly upsets an entrenched system of sorting out school-leaving students into college courses.
 
Government jobs, whose applicant to position ratio is heavily skewed, have no choice but to rely on physical exams once things normalise. Indian Railways, for instance, has 1.26 crore applicants for ~35,000 vacancies.
“The number of candidates in each examination centre need to be reduced to maintain social distancing norms…The sanitation of examinations centres after each shift is necessary… Covering face with a mask has become a new normal. However, it will pose a challenge of tackling impersonation for Indian Railways,” the railways ministry said.” How recruitment exams will be conducted for 1.25 crore applicants, Mint
Now Indian institutions, which can’t afford to cancel exams, are resorting to more objective question papers and take-home exams. Like the Trinity School of Music, that’s inviting filmed performances in place of practicals.
 
Or what the International School of Taekwondo in New Jersey’s trying out—virtual belt tests via Zoom:
(Source: Centraljersey.com)   For most students in India, though, issues of connectivity and bandwidth are going to pose a considerable challenge. Plus, can’t pre-filmed, open-book exams be fudged easily?
 
That’s probably why it’s boom time for online assessment agencies then, that proctor giant online exams remotely for institutions.
(Source: Merittrac website)   The exam feedback loop will, in a post-Covid world, lose all its trappings of physical time and place. The pandemic has forced institutions to devise new ways. It’s not going to go away in a hurry.
Running short of ________
Savio   First, it was hand sanitisers   Followed by masks   And toilet paper (looking at you, western world)   Then it was PPE   And intensive care units   And ventilators   Then hospital beds   And now…
The world faces a shortage of oxygen concentrators as the number of worldwide cases of coronavirus infection nears the 10 million mark, the World Health Organization head said on Wednesday.   […]   The new coronavirus has hit 9.3 million people and killed more than 480,000 so far and is rising by about 1 million cases per week. This has pushed oxygen demand to 88,000 large cylinders per day, or 620,000 cubic metres of oxygen, Tedros said. WHO warns of oxygen shortage as COVID cases set to top 10 million, Reuters
Which inevitably leads to hoarding, price hikes, and more shortages. It’s a vicious cycle. Like in some top Indian metros, especially Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai after the government’s emphasis on checking oxygen saturation in home isolation patients. The price of a 10-litre oxygen cylinder unit with complete rotameter regulator mask was Rs 6,500 ($86) at the beginning of the pandemic. It is not available even at Rs 8,000 ($106) now.   What’s next? Vaccines? Or vials for vaccines?
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global organization funding vaccine development, is the latest to announce such a pact, paying 19.7 million euros, or $22.2 million, to Stevanato Group, an Italian manufacturer of pharmaceutical containers, for 100 million glass vials that can hold up to 2 billion vaccine doses.   […]   Oslo-based CEPI has poured $829 million in nine different experimental coronavirus inoculations. Now, it’s also seeking to invest in production of simple but critical supplies such as solutions, rubber stoppers, syringes and glass vials. Covid vaccines: Fear of glass vial shortage prompts flurry of deals, Bloomberg
We have been playing catch up through this pandemic, failing to spot the second-order effects. But here’s a chance to take control of the situation.
Strange brew
Arundhati   If you are a premium coffee addict, how are you getting your daily fix? Takeaway or are you brave enough to step into a café?   The café experience is changing.   Starbucks, which straddled the living space between home and work, is among the worst hit in the age of social distancing. It expects a US$3.2 billion hit to its revenue in the current third quarter. In the US, Starbucks is shuttering close to 400 of its traditional stores and replacing some of them with smaller format stores suited for takeaways. Around 80% of customers already do takeaways. So it won’t be a drastic shift for the company.   This should ideally reduce the price of a coffee. The experience and real estate cost makes up for 40% of the price, says Matt Chitharanjan, founder, Blue Tokai, a premium coffee chain with 29 stores in five cities. But the fall in price is unlikely to be made up by more coffee consumption. Moreover, a cappuccino simply does not taste the same when you rely on delivery. “Cafés will need to focus on better delivery experience,” says Chitharanjan. The experience of drinking a takeaway coffee is only about 80% of what it can be when compared to an in-café experience, he says.   There isn’t much of a takeaway culture in India, to begin with. So smaller store formats don’t make sense except in micro markets like malls. But Indian premium coffee chains have found a new lifeline. Homebrews.
“Coffee (beans and powder) and equipment was 12-15% of café sales pre-Covid. In April, it jumped to just under 60%, May was around 40%, and it’s now at 30%,” said Chitharanjan.   It’s a good thing caffeine is addictive.
Between foes and friends
Olina   The auto sector was just coming off an 18-year sales low when Covid-19 shuttered demand and production cycles. Even though lockdowns have now eased, problems of inventory, older models, and taxation have dampened the prospect of any cheer. Maybe, just maybe, thought auto companies, they can ride out this wave by leasing, renting, opening digital dealerships.   Till the clash with China—and the subsequent calls for banning Chinese products—put another nail in its coffin.
India’s $120 billion auto industry sources 8-20 percent of its annual requirement from China, according to industry estimates.
China offers competitive advantage in terms of speed and costs,” said Rajiv Bajaj, managing director at Bajaj Auto. While it is possible to find alternatives and concurrently also produce locally, it will be a long drawn strategy and cannot be done overnight, said Bajaj.” Finding alternatives to China not easy, caution auto manufacturers, Business Standard
Auto manufacturers, scared that this knee-jerk reaction against Chinese products will impact their supply chains, are now looking at a “China+1” strategy.
Basically, overnight, create a domestic supply chain for all the nuts and bolts China currently supplies. At the same cost. To supply to a domestic AND global market. This is hard to do, and top bosses in auto companies are fairly confident that nationalistic fervour can’t outstrip business imperatives.   There is a twist in the tale, though. The larger auto sector is being pushed now to localise. The fledgeling electric vehicle sector has had this albatross around its neck for a while now. (check out The Ken’s story on localisation).   “I don’t understand how an EV company is operating if they haven’t localised. Other than the [lithium-ion] battery, all supply chains have to be local by 2021,” says Tarun Mehta, co-founder of EV scooter company Ather Energy. Mehta is a clear proponent of a “make in India” strategy, and Ather’s spent big bucks doing it.   It’s too early to tell if the auto industry’s loss is the EV industry’s gain. But what seemed like a drag to EV makers just earlier this year has quickly turned to a potential leg-up.
From staycation to workation
Jaideep   Are you bored working from home for the last three months? Fancy a change of setting? Well, while your office may still be shut, Indian hotels, resorts, homestays, and even backpacker hostels have come up with a unique offering—a workation.   On offer are uninterrupted WiFi, work stations, and pre-set meals.   All you have to do is carry your laptop, smartphone, and a Covid test report. The background of your next Zoom call could be an actual hill station.
Source: KSTDC/Twitter
Give back to nature   Savio   On 22 June, the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house in Barcelona reopened its doors after a weeks-long shutdown, but for an unusual audience.
Source: Gran Teatre del Liceu

1979-80 to 2019-20: A four-decade cycle

A bureaucracy that had grown by nearly 50% over the last decade, as the state kept getting bigger and bigger. A central government that resorted to increasing taxes on anything in order to fund its ballooning expenditure bill. Stagnating real incomes and growing unemployment for the average citizen. And fuel prices that kept on rising, even as a few family-owned business houses continued to strengthen their domination over the economy and vast swathes of industry.
All leading up to an economy whose annual growth would finally plummet to -5.2%.
That was India in 1979-80. It was exactly four decades ago that the Indian economy last saw negative growth.
And if minus 5.2% sounds catastrophic, brace yourself. Because minus 5.3% is how much ratings firm India Ratings expects India’s economy to contract this year.
Moody’s estimate is -3.1%. The World Bank’s -3.2%. The IMF thinks it might be -4.5%.
“India is in the midst of a growth recession, with significant distress in rural areas,” said Raghuram Rajan, the former governor of the country’s central bank and the former chief economist of the IMF.
“Moody’s just sounded the alarm on India’s credit rating. Given that in late 2017, even after the economically ill-advised demonetisation and the poorly implemented roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Moody’s had upgraded India’s sovereign rating, it can hardly be accused of bias. Repeated government allusions to a $5 trillion economy by 2024, which would necessitate steady real growth of at least 8-9 per cent per year starting now, seem increasingly unrealistic. What is going wrong, and how do we fix it?” Exclusive: Raghuram Rajan explains how to fix the economy, India Today
A few months back, Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s finance minister, had ruled out a recession, “Looking at the economy in discerning view, you see that growth may have come down but it is not recession yet; it won’t be recession ever.”
That was in November 2019.
India has not seen a recession for four decades. But it’s here now. Sadly, instead of learning how to avoid it, India seems to be walking faster towards it.
Rajan’s unsolicited, but eminently sensible, advice to the Indian government is as relevant in June 2020 as it was in November 2019, when he wrote it.
The Make in India initiative — which presumably is also meant to draw foreign direct investment (FDI) and global supply chains to India — is undercut by constant fiddling with tariffs and taxes, as well as rule changes intended to favour domestic incumbents. A case in point is the RCEP trade pact, where India’s refusal to participate seemed a sudden decision. If India does not participate (though it still might), it risks becoming an even less attractive investment destination. Foreign investors have not exactly been surging to invest in India — FDI today is not much higher in dollar terms than in 2007-2008, even though the economy is much bigger [see graphic: FDI]. Unfortunately, domestic businesses have not been investing either, and the stagnation in investment is the strongest sign that something is deeply wrong. Exclusive: Raghuram Rajan explains how to fix the economy, India Today
Sadly, the Indian government is increasingly shutting its economy off from international trade pacts and supply chains, all in the name of self-sufficiency. Its imposing tariffs, customs checks, and regulatory hoops for global goods and services, ostensibly to protect India’s economy.
Instead, its economy is going to get even less competitive and innovative.
India needs to increase internal competition steadily by reducing tariffs and joining free trade agreements judiciously. Exports today are import intensive, and India cannot make more in India if trade barriers are high. Indeed, one of the surest ways to take India back to the Hindu rate of growth is to reverse the steady trade and investment liberalisation begun in the 1990s. To those who argue that India is uncompetitive, its history should suggest that keeping barriers to competition high is the surest way to ensure it remains uncompetitive. As India brings down barriers, its business sector will cope, innovate and reinvent itself. This is not economic theology, it has been India’s own experience. Exclusive: Raghuram Rajan explains how to fix the economy, India Today
The scary aspect about India’s recession is not that it is happening because of Covid-19. But that it was in the works for much longer. Sanjiv Bhatia, a former investment banker and hedge fund manager, captured the Indian recession predicament in depth in September 2019.
With recent data showing deep contraction in several vital sectors India could be at the inflexion point down the slippery slope. Automobile sales have dropped by almost 35 percent from the previous year, real estate sales are down 18 percent and even inexpensive consumer goods such as clothing, biscuits, etc. have seen dropping sales.
The next round could see large labour layoffs, followed by bankruptcies along the supply chain, including automobile dealerships, parts manufacturers, construction companies and real estate developers. This will result in further decline in consumption as unemployed people tighten their belts and loans and EMIs go unpaid. The vicious cycle of fear, uncertainty and loss of confidence will cause consumers and businesses to retrench and reduce consumption and investment and banks to stop lending. And eventually, through the multiplier effect, there could be a recession.
The last time India had negative growth was in 1979, so it is rare for a developing economy with a large and growing population to suffer a contraction. Each year in India, more people join the workforce, there are more mouths to feed, and there is an improvement in technology and innovation, which increases productivity. So, in its natural state, India will likely have an increase in production and, therefore, a positive GDP. Even in the period before 1991, a socialist “license-raj” Indian economy grew at around 3.5 percent a year because of an increasing population. This was at par with the growth of less-populated, but developed, free-market economies like the US. IS INDIA HEADED FOR A RECESSION, Contract With India​
The only silver lining will be for a handful of large corporations, Indian and American, as Saurabh Mukherjea and Harsh Shah of investment firm Marcellus pointed out earlier.
The 20 most profitable firms in India now generate 70% of the country’s profits, up from 14% thirty years ago. The rise of India’s networked economy (highways, cheap flights, broadband, GST) has allowed large, efficient firms to use superior technology & better access to capital to squash smaller competitors. In line with what is being seen in the US, the growing dominance of a handful of very large companies in India is changing the template of capitalism in India. Behold The Leviathan: The Remaking of Indian Capitalism, Marcellus
Burying the lede
Arundhati   Does it make a difference when you label something for what it isn’t instead of what it is?   Google found out the nuance of this difference the hard way when it became the victim of fake news. Last Friday, this was the top trend on Indian Twitter.
Allegations about Google Pay being illegal were backed by conspiracy theories fanned on WhatsApp, as well. (Incidentally, there is a public interest litigation (PIL) against WhatsApp’s payments services, too)
The reason for this was the selective reading of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) judgement.   It all began with a PIL, which alleged that Google Pay was acting as a payments system provider in violation of the Payments and Settlements Act as it has no valid authorisation from the central bank of the country to carry out such functions. The petition also said that Google Pay does not figure in the National Payment Corporation of India’s (NPCI) list of authorised ”payment systems operators” released on 20 March, 2019.   Google Pay, which runs on top of India’s Unified Payments System, has emerged as the top payments app in the country, with 75 million-plus transacting users, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million, and Paytm’s* 30 million, said TechCrunch.   In response to this petition, (RBI) told the Delhi High Court last week that Google Pay is a third-party app provider (TPAP) and does not operate any payment systems. The headlines the next day were all about how Google Pay is not a payments system operator. 
Social media caught on to the  “cannot operate a payment system” and missed out on what it can do, fanning the call for a ban.
That prompted NPCI to come out and explicitly say that RBI has not banned Google Pay.
RBI has authorised NPCI as a Payment System Operator (PSO) of UPI and NPCI in its capacity as PSO authorises all UPI participants. We would like to clarify that Google Pay is classified as Third Party App Provider (TPAP) that also provides UPI payment services like many others, working through banking partners and operating under the UPI framework of NPCI. All authorised TPAPs are listed on the NPCI Website,” the NPCI said Google Pay is not banned, clarifies NPCI, The Week​
Now, if only RBI said this in the first place.    As for the fake news, usually, these kinds of “Twitter trends” don’t emerge entirely organically… or do they?   *Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma is an investor in The Ken.
For Singapore Airlines, a silver lining
Jum   The pandemic brought an unexpected opportunity for Singapore Airlines. The carrier now looks set to grab a bigger share of the lucrative Indian market through local unit Vistara, as it expects people to prefer booking direct flights for long-haul overseas trips. Understandable, since stopovers increase the risk of exposure to Covid-19.   You see, India doesn’t allow foreign airlines to fly passengers from the South Asian nation to, say, Europe without those airlines touching down in their home countries. For instance, Emirates and Etihad Airways, which currently dominate the traffic for the India-Europe route, have connecting flights in their hubs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, respectively.   Those travellers who prefer to fly India-Europe direct will have to opt for a local airline. That’s music to the ears of Singapore Airlines. Its Indian unit Vistara—a joint venture with India’s Tata Group—is ready to scoop those passengers away from Emirates and Etihad. Following Jet Airways India’s collapse last year, only Vistara and state-run Air India have wide body aircraft in their fleets that can fly non-stop to Europe and the US, reports South China Morning Post.    Being the world’s third-largest travel market, India could provide a crucial boost for Singapore Airlines, which has been hammered by both budget and premium carriers in Asia over the past years.
A potential India-US Covid bubble   Jaideep   The pandemic season is all about bubbles. Travel bubbles (which we’ve written about), sports bubbles, and social bubbles.    India hasn’t created any yet, but that could change soon. The Indian civil aviation ministry is considering establishing “individual bilateral bubbles” with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. It would allow airlines of these countries to operate international passenger flights.    There’s just one big problem. When it comes to the proposed US-India bubble: the countries are ranked No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, in terms of the number of Covid cases.    Travel bubbles, by definition, mean that there will be fewer restrictions such as quarantining and testing of passengers on arrival. The conditions of this proposed India-US travel bubble haven’t been revealed, but this passage from a Business Standard story is, well, deeply concerning.
While such corridors are being created by countries that have successfully curbed the growth of cases, officials indicated that India and the US would not wait for cases to fall to zero before creating the corridor. “A travel bubble can also be between two countries which have similar number of cases and respond in the same way to the pandemic,” one of the officials said. In such a scenario, neither country needs to close the border to protect citizens. US-India to create green corridor for resumption of international flights, Business Standard
The trigger to set this plan in motion was actually a complaint by the US Department of Transport (DOT). DOT has accused India’s national carrier Air India of  “discriminatory practices” while operating chartered repatriation flights. The airline is selling tickets to passengers directly, rather than via a broker, like the government.
At issue is India banning regularly scheduled international flights but allowing charter repatriation flying under the “Vande Bharat” program. Charters are supposed to be limited in frequency and duration; even Lufthansa’s large-scale charters wrapped up in May. But Air India’s proposition is extensive.   Air India is planning 59 flights between June 10 and July 3, representing 53% of its pre-coronavirus schedule that had 34 weekly roundtrip U.S. flights, according to DOT. That pushes the boundary of what is a special charter versus slimmed-down normal offering.   “It appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the Government of India-imposed prohibition of all scheduled” flights, DOT said. US…Accuses Air India Of Evading Coronavirus Restrictions, Forbes
The US barred Air India from operating chartered flights between the two countries from 22 July.    Air India currently has a monopoly on the US-India route. Because of restrictions imposed by the Indian government, foreign airlines are forced to fly empty one-way. US airlines such as Delta have so far been denied permission by India to operate flights to the country. This has resulted in a “competitive imbalance,” said the DOT.    To smooth things over, while European countries are preparing to block Americans from entering, India is looking in the other direction. India can’t afford to strain relations with the US right now, what with tensions running high along its border with China.
Consensual colleagues
  Arundhati
Clarification: In edition #64 of BFO, Matt Chitharanjan, founder of Blue Tokai, was misquoted as saying, “Starbucks should reduce the price of a coffee because the experience and real estate cost makes up for 40% of the price.”

He had originally said, “The experience and real estate cost makes up for 40% of the price.”
The misattribution has been corrected. The error is regretted.

TikTok ban and a government-given equaliser

Something big happened last night. India banned a host of popular apps in India because they were Chinese and ‘threatened the sovereignty and security’ of Indian citizens. It decided to make this “emergency move” as the Home Ministry and the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre were concerned about the security of data.    Here’s the complete list:
It is not clear how this ban will be implemented. It could always ask Apple and Google to remove the apps from their respective app stores in a case of grand scale of overreach. And companies like Google may just comply. For Google, India is much more important than China.    Assuming they do it, the immediate ripples of this would first be felt by consumers. Most of the apps banned are used by those with low-end smartphones. For instance, peer to peer file sharing app SHAREit is how people in tier two and three markets share apps without using the internet. Most of these apps come pre-installed on those smartphones, which also subsidises the cost of the mobile device.    Without these popular apps, it is fair to expect a price increase of the device itself. The absence of apps like TikTok, SHAREit, means these users are up for grabs. Will it be Facebook-owned Instagram or the more local alternative ShareChat (which lay in the shadow of TikTok) that draws all those users? In how many ways will the user pie get divvied up? Or to put it the way my colleague Praveen did on our Slack channel when we were discussing this: “This is like when Alexander the Great died and all his generals fought and divided up his Empire.”   Among those who suffer would be influencers who have fashioned careers out of these platforms and for whom this was a means of steady earning, not to mention the employees of these companies.    The ban is a hard reset in the Indian video content ecosystem. It could be the best of times and the worst of times. 
The Un-Bengaluru model    Arundhati
The weekend saw Indian state Karnataka succumbing to widespread transmission as it witnessed the highest single-day spike in Covid-19 cases. 918 cases in a single day, with Bengaluru accounting for 596 of those. And to think until 18 June, the city had 827 confirmed cases and 43 deaths, lower than any other city with a population of over 10 million.   The famed Bengaluru model to battle Covid-19 is now being put under an enormous pressure test. If you think about what helped Bengaluru keep a lid on the virus is contact tracing. It followed a flowchart model of tracing, where it traced all the movement of a COVID-19 patient, and this was then released in public to help them triangulate if anyone came in contact. In the absence of mass testing, this model made sense.   “If I have to summarise the Bengaluru model in one sentence, it is the retrospective tracing of contacts,” said Dr Giridhar R Babu, member of the ICMR National Task Force for Covid-19, to Financial Express.    So in the thick of Covid-19 spread, when it came to contact tracing, Bengaluru decided to pull the plug on sharing travel history.
Contact tracing for the city became a challenge because of the way people were reacting to their test results. 
Most people are shocked when told they have tested positive and go into a cocoon. At first, they refuse to divulge if they met any person with Covid-like symptoms and also do not reveal the names of all the people whom they met. This delay in revealing names is making contact tracing difficult. Some give false information to protect their families and friends, without realizing they are causing bigger damage. Karnataka’s much-lauded contact tracing model falters in Bengaluru, The Times of India
To circumvent this, the government banned labs from sharing results with patients and demanded all information be routed through the district administration.    And to deal with hospitals that raised the point of being overwhelmed with the increasing caseload, the government asked, ‘what would be the ideal incentive to get hospitals to take on more patients?’   It zeroed in on water and electricity.    Bengaluru’s water board and electricity officials visited private hospitals and asked them to share 50% of their beds with the government, else it said it would cut water and power supplies to the hospitals. 
“If private hospitals don’t fall in line, they will face action.”  Private hospitals in Bengaluru told to spare beds or face power, water cuts, The Times of India
In the face of growing adversity, the state government is dumping the approach that worked for it when the numbers were manageable. It’s now relying on what it knows best in times of crisis—punishment, penalties and parsimony with information. 
Ghost issuer and ghost ratings
Rohin   Even in the best of times, credit rating agencies are known for their conflicts of interest. Most operate around the “issuer pays” model, whereby the very companies whose creditworthiness they rate are the ones who pay their fees.   And these aren’t the best of times. Credit agencies are getting ghosted by nearly 25% of all Indian issuers, reports the The Economic Times.
Credit rating agencies have approached financial market regulators for withdrawing ratings to more than 10,000 companies that are refusing to share information.
[…]   “A company which was unwilling to disclose information before the lockdown, is likely to be even more disinclined post Covid-19 as earnings and cash-flow drop,” a senior official of a rating agency told ET.
One would assume that if an issuer refuses to provide vital company information—like sales, cash-flows, operational data or management changes—then a credit rating agency has no option but to stop rating the issuer’s creditworthiness.
But no. In order to stop or remove a rating, agencies need one of the most quintessential of Indian bureaucratic documents—an NOC, or “No Objection Certificate”—from the banks that have lent money to it.   Of course no bank wants to provide such an NOC, because that would mean the money it had lent to a previously creditworthy issuer might now need to be classified as high risk, since it will be to an unrated or low rated issuer.
According to an industry officer, some of the bankers may also fear that allowing a withdrawal of rating may not go down well if fraud or other irregularities are detected later. In many cases, companies have not revealed information for more than a year. Agencies keen to withdraw ratings of over 10,000 companies not sharing info, The Economic Times
So, banks are incentivised to hold on to old and outdated ratings, to preserve the illusion of due diligence. 
Between issuers who refuse to provide information and banks who refuse to provide NOCs lie ratings that are dead and meaningless. Ghost ratings.
Beijing’s long shadow
Nadine   With all that’s happening in Hong Kong, you’d expect companies to start packing and looking for alternatives. Like jurisdictions that are similarly strategically located and offer comparably low tax rates. Singapore is an obvious candidate. The city-state would surely welcome a new era with it at the heart of Asia’s finance sector. But so far there hasn’t been an exodus of bankers from Hong Kong to Singapore. Both sides are in wait-and-see mode. There is the fact that moving a business is a long, tedious process. But, in part, both sides are cautious because they’re scared of confronting China.
“It is a delicate issue and I cannot imagine a government in Asia making a strong public announcement to lure firms into their country. Not sure China would see this as wise,” Antonio Fatas, economics professor at INSEAD told SCMP. Could Singapore take Hong Kong’s finance crown?, South China Morning Post
On the Hong Kong side, companies are treading lightly. While wealthy individuals may have quietly moved their money out of Hong Kong, companies aren’t yet shuttering their offices or relocating headquarters.
“Businesses would be mindful that moves to or talk of relocating could be perceived by Beijing as the brand being “unsupportive” of its policies on Hong Kong,” a banker, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak on behalf of his organisation, told SCMP.
Japan, on the other hand, has been more vocal about opening the door to Hong Kong’s finance workers. It has launched a campaign that includes visa waivers, tax advice, and free office space for asset managers, traders and bankers from Hong Kong. 
The new snake oil
Arundhati   Who needs a formal white shirt anymore? So clothing brand Zodiac has given up on trying to lure the fashion-forward.    Instead, it’s now advertising to the Covid-conscious.
The delivery drag for food aggregators   Seetharaman   What if online food delivery platforms’ future is in, well, not delivering? That’s Dutch company Just Eat Takeaway.com’s bet as it buys its American peer Grubhub for US$7.3 billion.
“We don’t put people on bikes,” said Jitse Groen, who founded Takeaway.com in 2000 and took it public in 2016. Last year, it recorded its first annual profit since its initial public offering, crediting its “marketplace” model.   Mr. Groen, 42 years old, who would become chief executive of the combination with Grubhub, describes the approach as simply facilitating messages between restaurants and customers. “As long as we send messages, we make money,” he said. “That’s why marketplace is just a superior business model.” Strategy behind blockbuster Grubhub deal: Don’t deliver, The Wall Street Journal
Over 75% of Just Eat’s orders and around 50% of Grubhub’s orders are fulfilled by the restaurants themselves, according to the article.
Delivery can be the largest expense in an online food order, amounting to around 25% of an order’s overall cost, Grubhub says. When an online service does the delivery, it passes along the expense. However, restaurant contributions don’t always cover the cost, especially in the case of big chains, which are able to negotiate lower rates for themselves.
This is hardly a US-specific phenomenon. In October 2019, we wrote about how the shift from relying on restaurants for fulfilment to doing the deliveries itself was a key factor behind Zomato’s ballooning losses. Zomato lost Rs 25 (US$0.3) per delivery in 2018-19. In the same year, Zomato and its rival Swiggy posted losses of around US$300 million each.    Could such platforms emulate Just Eat and just focus on restaurant discovery and food ordering in the coming years? If that’s the case, they sure wouldn’t need to raise—and spend—gobs of cash. Zomato and Swiggy have raised nearly US$2.9 billion between them. At a time when Covid has caused online food orders to crater, Amazon, too, has entered the space in India. 
The pandemic has also made restaurants consider having their own platform as an alternative to Zomato and Swiggy. But that’s much easier said than done. And in Malaysia, local food delivery players are charging a lower commission than the likes of GrabFood to attract restaurants.   But from the customer’s point of view, trusting a Zomato or Swiggy with their food order is a lot easier than depending on a different restaurant every single time. There’s so much more that could go wrong there.   
The price is (not) right
Kay   In order to curb the spiking unemployment rate of 5%, the Malaysian government announced that it will freeze the hiring of migrant workers till year-end and prioritise filling the gaps with locals.   Malaysia has always sought to reduce its reliance on foreign workers and Covid seems to be giving the country an opportunity to reinvent its labour market. But are employers ready to accept the potential new norm?    For one, it’s becoming abundantly clear employers have been short-changing migrant workers. They haven’t even been paying minimum wage.
“MTUC (Malaysian Trade Union Congress) finds that many employers are reluctant even to offer the minimum wage of RM1,200 (US$279.6) to foreign workers to keep their costs low and bottom line healthy. This is an area that the MoHR (Ministry of Human Resources) must tackle earnestly and honestly if it is serious in getting locals take over from migrant workers,” said MTUC secretary general J. Solomon. MTUC to Home and HR ministries: Address foreign workers issue together, New Straits Times
The palm oil industry, for instance, is already feeling the pinch of labour shortage even before the hiring freeze. The Malaysian plantation industry alone is short of 500,000 workers—a gap that is unlikely to be filled by 778,800 unemployed Malaysians if it pays so poorly.   Companies will have to fork out more money to hire locals. That’s a tough ask during the best of times. As economies slow during the pandemic, employers would prefer migrant workers more because they can get away with paying them less.   It’s said “beggars can’t be choosers”, but in the case of unemployed Malaysians, they actually can choose. Instead of toiling on plantations for less than minimum wage, they can choose to be gig workers until a better job opportunity turns up. Many unemployed/furloughed Malaysians have opted to become delivery riders, with some of them earning double during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.   Moreover, the Malaysian government has begun to seriously look into providing a social safety net for gig workers, starting with a regulatory framework and a RM75 million (US$17.5 million) budget to 1) incentivise gig workers to make voluntary contributions to their pension scheme through matching grants, 2) upskill freelancers.   Migrant workers aren’t allowed to take gig work. Their employment passes are tied to a specific role or sector. If unemployed Malaysians deliver food and migrant workers aren’t allowed in, who’s left to do the cheap manual labour?

TikTok and the Digital Diadochi Wars

In June 323 BCE, as Alexander the Great lay on his deathbed, surrounded by his anxious generals, his Eurasian empire stretched from Greece’s Mediterranean Ocean all the way to India’s Indus River Valley. They asked him to whom should they bequeath his empire?   Many versions exist of what he might or might not have said, but one of them is “Krat’eroi” (“to the strongest”). Some think it might have been “Krater’oi” (“to Creterus”, one of his senior-most generals).   But such was the absolute and unquestioned leadership of Alexander that there was no one who was a clear successor or heir. So, the generals, known as the Diadochi, fought each other. For nearly three decades and across continents.    The wars were known as the Wars of Succession or the Wars of the Diadochi. By the end of the wars, Alexander’s massive empire was divided roughly into three parts, in Europe, Egypt, and Asia.
Wikimedia Commons
TikTok, the Alexander the Great of “middle India” with over 200 million users, died unexpectedly in its prime on Monday. The Indian government banned it, along with 58 other apps of Chinese origin.  And this was an official press release sent out yesterday by Roposo, an Indian short video sharing app.
ROPOSO IS INDIA’S NO.1 SHORT VIDEO APP AFTER TIKTOK BAN   With the Indian government on Monday banning 59 Chinese apps over concerns that these apps were engaging in activities that threatened “national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India”, Byte Dance’s TikTok has had to say goodbye to India.    Roposo, the leading Made In India short video app with more than 65 million downloads has become the undisputed leader of social video apps in India. The app has been the number one social app on the Google Play Store in recent times. Many leading personalities such as Sonam Wangchuk had earlier come out in support of Roposo on social media.    TikTok users, including influencers with huge fan followings, have started switching to Roposo in large numbers after the ban. Influencers who have switched to Roposo include Prem Vats and Noor Afshan who had fan followings of 9.5 million and 9 million respectively on TikTok. MyGov, the citizen engagement platform founded by the Government of India has already been present on Roposo.   With Roposo, users finally have a way to enjoy responsible entertainment while showcasing their talent. Roposo is available in 12 Indian languages and has more than 14 million video creators and 80 million videos created monthly
And here’s one from Trell, an app I hadn’t ever heard of.
Lifestyle Community Commerce Platform, Trell has witnessed more than 1 million downloads after India banned 59 Chinese apps   India’s fastest-growing Lifestyle community-commerce platform Trell has witnessed a huge upsurge in the app downloads with more than 1 million downloads so far, just after the bold decision made by India to promote Atmanirbhar Bharat.   […]   Commenting on the new initiative, Pulkit Agarwal, Co-Founder – Trell said, “We thank and congratulate Narendra Modi Sir for taking this bold step. We welcome all the Tiktok and Chinese Apps content creators with open arms to come and engage on Trell which is 100% Indian App. As the largest Indian Lifestyle Social App we will continue to ensure that the privacy and data of users will be protected and will remain within the boundaries of our nation. Jai Hind!”.
The Diadochi Wars for Indian users have begun. When they do end, will they end like the original wars?
Whilst none of the Diadochi, nor their successors were ever able to unite Alexander’s Empire, domestically Greek Culture flourished. The Diadochi rulers prudently promoted the intermingling of Greeks with the local peoples in their Kingdoms, leading to a fusion of East with West. Many Greeks settled in the Near East and Egypt, and Greek became the Lingua Franca of the Eastern Mediterranean. The city of Alexandria in Egypt, with its Great Library, became the world center of learning. This period of Greek cultural expansion is known as the Hellenistic Age.
Hobson’s Choice   Arundhati   Break your retirement fund for solving short-term stress, or dilute your retirement savings in the long-run?    It’s a hard choice many Indians had to make until yesterday. Retirement fund body Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), in March, allowed its 60 million members to make a one-time premature withdrawal from their nest egg to meet coronavirus-related financial emergencies.    The retirement fund settled more than 80,000 claims every working day worth around Rs 270 crore (US$35.7 million). In April and May alone, the EPFO settled 3.6 million claims worth Rs 11,540 crore (US$1.5 billion), the retirement fund body said early June. And in the 20 days of June, two million more Indians broke their savings.    The people making this hard choice of putting their present needs ahead of their future is telling.    74% of the claimants were those who earned less than Rs 15,000 (US$200) per month. With most job cuts impacting this section, this is hardly news. About 24% of the claims were from those who earned between Rs 15,000 and Rs 50,000 (US$662). Only 2% of the claims came from the section that earned more than Rs 50,000.    To top this, these withdrawals will also reduce the ability of the EPFO to eventually pay the promised interest rates to the members. There’s already talk of lowering the declared interest rate of 8.5% on these schemes for the current financial year.    This is the case world over, though.
In 2017, the World Economic Forum warned the retirement savings gap — or shortfall between what people currently save and what they need for an adequate standard of living when they retire — would balloon from $70tn to $400tn in 2050, in just eight countries. That gap has only got larger as a result of the pandemic.   Allowing people to access their retirement savings early seems like an easy solution to the Covid crisis, but it places pressure on people doing it by forcing them to choose between their present and their future,” says Kirstin Hunter, who runs Future Super, one of Australia’s leading pension funds. Raiding the pot: Pandemic deepens pensions crisis, Financial Times
And it is not like these people can simply choose to work for longer, as there is a growing bias towards the younger working population. This is most likely to impact healthcare spending in the future.    The pandemic has likely sealed all exits.
Singapore’s loss of foreign talent   Ben   Singapore’s expatriate community has been hit hard by job cuts, as the city-state moves to safeguard local jobs. Singapore’s government announced wage support for local workers, paying up to 75% of their wage for three months.   This has left expats out in the cold, as companies started to pare down on foreign workers, cutting their pay, moving them back to their western offices or laying them off.    The brain drain could lead to the business hub being less competitive. Already, Singapore has lost the crown of being the best place for expats to live.    As populism calls for saving locals’ jobs, there is a case for foreign talent making the island republic better off economically:
Quote Imagine that, back in 1965, if we were to adopt a policy of not appointing foreign applicants, then by now in 2018, we would have virtually all of our top jobs occupied by Singaporeans only.   However, we would almost certainly be a much more backward country with all, including top jobs, paying much less than half those of the current levels.   This would be the case if, for instance, we lose 1.5 percent of GDP growth each year over 53 years – a back-of-the-envelope estimate which is not unreasonable when you consider that the real GDP per capita of Singapore since independence grew at an average annual compounded rate of about 5 percent.   Almost certainly, if a no-foreign-talent policy were pursued instead, Singapore’s average growth rate would be less than half of this. Ng Yew Kwang, Professor of Economics at the Nanyang Technological University
Gambling on the future   Seetharaman   The pandemic may have ravaged its finances, but Andhra Pradesh, the southern Indian state, is sticking to its plan of gradually closing its liquor stores. The government has shut nearly a third of the state’s outlets since last October.    Excise duty on alcohol accounts for 10-15% of states’ tax revenue. At a time when tax collections are badly hit, alcohol offers a slim ray of hope for states, which have imposed levies on it to make up for the revenue shortfall during the lockdown.    But prohibition is a key poll promise of the ruling party in Andhra, so it cannot afford to reverse that. How does it plug the hole left by the declining alcohol sales and an eventual ban? Tap another contentious product, lottery tickets, which account for 5.5% of states’ non-tax revenue.    Lotteries are legal only in 10 states and Andhra is not one of them. Now, the state is exploring allowing them. It has been left with little choice but to take a gamble on this.
India’s first plasma bank has a tough test   Savio   India’s first plasma bank to help Covid-19 patients will be set up in the national capital, Delhi. Plasma from the blood of a recently recovered patient is believed to be rich in virus antibodies, which boosts the immune system’s response to the disease. Delhi’s clinical trials of plasma therapy have shown encouraging results.   There are, of course, guidelines, the most important of which is that only a doctor can recommend plasma therapy. The government also said it would make it easier for donors by setting up a helpline soon and paying for their conveyance.   The biggest hurdle has been getting donors, though, even for state officials conducting trials. Imagine how tough it would be for patients. One patient’s daughter said she contacted 300 leads, but most turned her down.   Publicly outing oneself as a Covid-19 patient (or even a recovered case) has led to social stigma. A lack of awareness and the morbid fear of the disease has led to many cases of neighbours and locality residents threatening patients and their families.   So, what are the ramifications of this supply and demand imbalance, if left uncontrolled?
The hospitals are not involved but I have seen deals happen in front of me,” said a doctor at a government hospital in Islamabad, who asked not to be named. “Usually a patient’s attendants or family will approach someone who has recovered, asking them to donate blood. When a certain amount is agreed as payment, usually between 200,000 and 800,000 rupees (£950-£3,800), they go to a private lab and extract the plasma, which is then ‘donated’ to the patients. Pakistan Covid-19 doctors witness black market deals in blood plasma, The Guardian
It’s happening in other countries too, like Egypt.   There is already a thriving darknet in India for buyers and sellers of Covid-19 drugs. But the demand for blood plasma is much lower given only select hospitals can conduct trials. As more plasma banks open, let’s hope Pandora’s box stays shut.
Ready, set, copy   Olina   On the first day of July, it’s out with the old, in with new. ish.   Yesterday, social media and news outlets were rife with indulgent platitudes. “Indian” app makers are finally having their moment. Chinese apps, like TikTok, have already made a swift exit from our online ecosystems.   All this anti-China frenzy means we’re going to need new apps—to communicate, to entertain and send annoying texts to our family WhatsApp groups. What struck me, though, is that we’re simply replacing the medium, not the message.   A few academics I follow on Twitter and Linkedin reinforced this growing belief.   Both called upon Indians to build and use “replacement” apps.
But the Indian app ecosystem doesn’t need to wait for academics, to tell them what to do…
Welcome to the “Replacement Economy”. Leave your creativity at the door.
Africa’s zombie plague   Savio   A plague of zombie appliances, that is. (You didn’t think of actual zombies, did you?)   Each year, hundreds of thousands of discarded air conditioners and refrigerators, mainly from Europe, land up on African shores to meet growing demand as temperatures soar. But the continent is not so hot on the trade anymore, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.
“They come in branded as new, but when they’re off-loaded it’s mostly near-end-of-life e-waste,” said Leslie Adogame, executive director of SRADev, a Nigerian nonprofit environmental health research group.   “They’re certainly cheaper to buy, but they use a lot more energy, don’t meet environmental standards and usually have a very short shelf life,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation
So, why not just stop it, especially since there are laws against exporting or dumping non-working electronic products? Well, you scratch my back …
Europeans say “Oh my God, it’s going to cost so much to recycle the refrigerants and refrigerators,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network.   Africans, meanwhile, want affordable devices to keep cool

The show must go on

When India imposed its nationwide lockdown on 25 March, cinemas were shut and concerts and comedy shows were cancelled. That forced BookMyShow (BMS), India’s largest online ticketing platform, to carry links to TikTok videos and movies on Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar.   Three months later, movie halls have still not reopened and musicians and comics are not getting up on stage anytime soon. A bunch of films have skipped their theatrical release to premiere directly on streaming sites.   What does BMS do now? Become a streaming service itself. 
Sunburn Home Festival, the virtual edition of Asia’s biggest electronic dance music festival, is among the first events (BMS) will stream live on July 10-11. You can pay Rs 99 for a day or Rs 199 for both days.   […]   Other upcoming events include the India shows of Doncaster (South Yorkshire) band Bang Bang Romeo and London-based band Electric Enemy. There are theatre workshops with veterans like Puneet Issar, Rohini Hattangadi, Rakesh Bedi, and Anant Mahadevan. These are among the first of many concerts, events, and workshops lined up by India’s largest ticketing portal in its bid to ride out the pandemic storm. BookMyShow checks in to India’s crowded streaming party with live events, Business Standard
BMS cannot compete with the likes of Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar to snag the digital rights of films. So its next best bet is virtual events, which the company’s chief operating officer, Albert Almeida, told the newspaper would help BMS reach a wide audience.
“We are working with theatres to digitise plays. We are collaborating with live event firms to put together events. The content is coming from those partners,” says Almeida.
BMS is also selling tickets to events that will be streamed elsewhere, like masterclasses with actors on Zoom.
BMS’s competitor Paytm* Insider is getting even more creative. 
The lockdown has wreaked havoc on several of our habits, including stepping out for the weekend movie or play. Streaming platforms have a lot to gain in this scenario, as we look for ways to keep ourselves entertained.
 
But paying for a single movie or event online is not quite as appealing as spending on a subscription that comes with countless films and TV shows. That’s the challenge BMS—which has laid off or furloughed 270 employees—and Paytm Insider are up against. Moreover, what’s the point of watching a play if you are not in the same space as the actors? And an online concert is not the same without a crowd of fans united by their love for the band.
  
But it’s not just events that BMS is hawking. The company knows how badly you need a haircut so it’s even letting you make a salon reservation.
If you needed any more proof that we are living in strange times, this is it. 
You get Damocles’ Sword! And you! You, too!
Rohin
Everyone gets one!
On 29 June, the Indian government blocked 59 apps that were “engaged in activities…prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.” 
We wrote yesterday that the blocking had led to the Digital Diadochi Wars as smaller players rushed in to stake their claims on the orphaned users of these 59 apps. Between themselves, they had nearly 5 billion downloads in India since January 2014, and 750 million just this year.
But the opaque and questionable manner in which India decided to block these apps—via a simple press release—has left the Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of many other digital services.
Damocles was believed to be a flattering courtier in the court of Dionysius II, a tyrannical Sicilian king from 4thcentury BCE. 
As Cicero tells it, the king’s dissatisfaction came to a head one day after a court flatterer named Damocles showered him with compliments and remarked how blissful his life must be. “Since this life delights you,” an annoyed Dionysius replied, “do you wish to taste it yourself and make a trial of my good fortune?” When Damocles agreed, Dionysius seated him on a golden couch and ordered a host of servants wait on him. He was treated to succulent cuts of meat and lavished with scented perfumes and ointments. Damocles couldn’t believe his luck, but just as he was starting to enjoy the life of a king, he noticed that Dionysius had also hung a razor-sharp sword from the ceiling. It was positioned over Damocles’ head, suspended only by a single strand of horsehair. From then on, the courtier’s fear for his life made it impossible for him to savor the opulence of the feast or enjoy the servants. After casting several nervous glances at the blade dangling above him, he asked to be excused, saying he no longer wished to be so fortunate.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Obliterating apps overnight using a simple press release is India’s version of the sword hanging by a horsehair. No one knows who’s next   Could it be Aliexpress, Alibaba’s global e-commerce site? Perhaps.
AliExpress, one of the oldest and largest e-commerce platforms that ships products to India, has managed to evade the latest ban on 59 Chinese apps, a list that includes three peers Shein, Club Factory and Romwe. Chinese App Ban: AliExpress escapes the axe, The Economic Times
Could it be Hikvision India, the local subsidiary of one of the world’s largest video surveillance companies? A company that the US government alleges is directly controlled by the Chinese military? Who knows.
Of the 59 Chinese apps banned by the Narendra Modi government, all the buzz has been over TikTok. But there is one Chinese company that dominates India’s CCTV market that never made it into the list. It is named Hikvision, which has cleverly projected itself as part of the prime minister’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. China’s Hikvision controls India’s surveillance market. Modi needs to do more than ban apps, The Print
Sometimes the swords are of a different nature. As with Vodafone-Idea, India’s third-largest mobile operator. It’s depending on a favourable judgement from India’s top court to survive.
Vodafone Idea has said that its ability to continue as a going concern depends on the Supreme Court giving it a favourable verdict in the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) matter. Vodafone Idea loss grows to Rs 11,742 cr, says survival depends on SC order, Business Standard
Sometimes companies don’t even know there was a sword, till they’re decapitated. Like DuckDuckGo, the privacy-conscious search engine alternative to Google.
Source: Twitter
Is DDG even banned? We don’t know. Can India’s ISPs or telcos disclose if they are indeed blocking DDG? No. Will the government? No.
Website blocking is a complex issue which seems to be growing in severity only with time. Ordinary Indians who access the internet — which is a public resource — still do not know the reason why a specific website is blocked. Sometimes, even the persons who run these websites do not have knowledge as to the reasons and the legal authority which has directed the blocking of websites. Whistleblower provides blocking orders for over 4000 websites #WhatTheBlock, Internet Freedom Foundation
Mind your language
Savio   The Black Lives Matter movement has forced a change in language. Not by introducing new words, but by forcing society to be cognizant of the prejudice inherent in the use of certain words. Already beauty product makers L’Oreal and Unilever plan to replace “white” or “fair” with “glow” or “even” on some skin products.   A study by Danish research firm RunRepeat found that racial bias is a significant problem in commentary in Europe’s top four football leagues – the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1. The study found players with lighter skin are regularly and overwhelmingly praised for intelligence, work ethic and quality, while those with darker skin are reduced to their physical and athletic attributes. Consider this:   86.76% of all positive comments about power were aimed at darker skin tone players, with 84.17% for speed 62.6% of ‘intelligence’ praise goes to players with light skin tone, while 63.33% of ‘intelligence’ criticism was aimed at darker skin tone players 66% of all comments on the quality of play were about lighter skin tone players, with 67.57% of negative comments about darker skin tone players   The study, which received the backing of the Professional Footballers’ Association, was based on the 20 skin tones as marked out by the popular computer game, Football Manager 2020. But, ironically, the computer game itself has been accused of bias.   A Quartz analysis of Football Manager’s data in 2019 found that newgens (young, fictional players created by the game engine) with a darker skin tone figure were more likely to rank poorly for professionalism, loyalty and sportsmanship. Sports Interactive, which created Football Manager, has refuted those claims. But, inews reports Football Manager has recently changed the process by which personality attributes of newgen players are created. All to reinforce a message of equality.   Which sports are next – athletics? swimming? gymnastics? Or is it only team sports? Is that why RunRepeat’s next study is planned on American football?
As Thailand reopens, medical tourists get prioritised   Jon   Thailand hasn’t seen a local Covid-19 transmission for over one month, and now it is moving to open its borders for tourists once again. But there’s a twist. Visitors seeking cosmetic surgery, fertility treatment and other medical tourism services will be among the first tourists permitted, as SCMP reports:
Thailand has banned international flights since April but intends to permit 50,000 foreigners, including those with work permits, residency and families in the country, through its borders under a scheme that would include 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival.   About 30,000 of these foreigners would be medical and wellness tourists such as those seeking cosmetic surgery or fertility treatment, said Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration. Thailand looks to allow entry to some foreigners, including medical tourists from China, South China Morning Post
Hospitals are already preparing quarantine facilities for medical tourists, who must test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of their arrival. They will then be tested before, during and after their treatment.   There will be special dispensation for arrivals from within “travel bubbles,” according to SCMP.
Business visitors from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, mainland China and Hong Kong could also be exempted from a two-week quarantine period under a fast track entry if they have certificates to show they were free from Covid-19 and were tested upon arrival.
Full details of the policy will be confirmed this week.   Medical tourism is a huge business for the nation. Thailand ranks fourth worldwide with US$589 million in annual medical tourism revenue, according to a November 2019 report from the World Travel & Tourism Council.
The reopening can’t come soon enough for Thailand’s private hospitals, which have seen revenues flatline. Indeed, a US$2 billion M&A deal involving two major hospitals fell through this month as share prices crashed in response to the pandemic. Bumrungrad International Hospital, the acquisition target, is down 20% since 1 January.
Big EV topples Big Oil … and Big Auto   Savio   Remember when oil prices fell below 0 and shook the commodities market? Well, something just as monumental happened in the stock market on Tuesday. Tesla Inc’s market value surpassed that of Exxon Mobil. Then on Wednesday, Tesla displaced Toyota as the world’s most valuable automaker.   Another way to look at it is clean energy has overtaken fossil fuels. Ok, it hasn’t really, but Tesla’s surge this year—its stock has more than doubled in 2020—is symbolic of investor enthusiasm for a company trying to transform an industry that’s relied on internal combustion engines for more than 130 years.   Tuesday:
On Wednesday:
Shifting eras   Olina   Since the first outbreak discovered in Wuhan, China, the pandemic has reset the clock several times. It’s been one step forward, ten backwards. But one thing is for sure—at one point, it brought the whole world to an epoch-defining pause.   Researchers have a new name for it too. We’re now officially in the “Anthropause” age. It’s not human behaviour they want to study though.
In their outline, researchers mention how the scientific community can use these “extraordinary circumstance” provided by global lockdowns to understand how human activity affects wildlife. They maintain that as a result of the lockdown, nature appears to have changed, especially in urban environments, since not only are there now more animals, but also some “unexpected visitors.” Anthropause, the period UK researchers are set to study, Indian Express
The Anthropause era has been kinder to some animals. The reduced human activity has brought forth pumas in Chile and jackals in Tel Aviv. But city dwellers like rats, gulls and monkeys, who depend on humans for discarded bits of food, aren’t doing so great.   Studying the Anthropause, researchers hope, will give clues that maybe useful “in preserving global biodiversity, maintaining the integrity of ecosystems and predicting global zoonoses and environmental changes.”