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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Social distancing ! - Covid 19 .......... potato and more

Cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin set  off a debate on Twitter after posting a comment about the coronavirus outbreak and the need for 'social distancing' in Chennai.  In his tweet, Ashwin posted: 'Let me rephrase it, social distancing doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of the people in Chennai yet. The only reason could be their belief in the summer to curtail it or just faith that nothing will happen. #Coronaindia'

As the number of coronavirus cases grows in the U.S., we're hearing a lot about how social distancing, self-monitoring and even quarantine play into containment efforts. In the U.S., testing got off to a slow start, limiting efforts to isolate those with the COVID-19 disease. Public health experts now say the most important goal is to slow the spread of the coronavirus so that the number of people who require medical attention doesn't overwhelm hospitals. If evidence holds from experiences to date in countries further along in the outbreak, most people who contract this virus will have mild cases. Still, the data from abroad indicate that 10% to 20% could end up in a more serious condition. That means if tens of millions of Americans come down with COVID-19, potentially hundreds of thousands may need hospital care. 

No one wants that to happen ~ they say they are trying  to avoid becoming like Italy. In Italy, the number of cases rapidly skyrocketed from a handful a few weeks ago to now more than 27,000 cases and over 2,100 deaths. The rapid escalation may be partly attributed to aggressive testing, but hospitals in the northern part of the country are running out of beds in intensive care units.

Social distancing is a set of nonpharmaceutical infection control actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease. The objective of social distancing is to reduce the probability of contact between persons carrying an infection, and others who are not infected, so as to minimize disease transmission, morbidity and ultimately, mortality.  Social distancing is most effective when the infection can be transmitted via droplet contact (coughing or sneezing); direct physical contact, including sexual contact; indirect physical contact (e.g. by touching a contaminated surface such as a fomite); or airborne transmission (if the microorganism can survive in the air for long periods).

Most of us are fond of potato, a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial nightshade Solanum tuberosum L.  The word "potato" may refer either to the plant itself or the edible tuber. It is the world's fourth-largest food crop, following maize, wheat, and rice. 
World over, Sweden’s government has advised all high schools (for students aged over 16) and universities to close from Wednesday, with teachers urged to arrange online lessons so that students can keep up with their work. Bus passengers in Stockholm have been advised by the city’s transport operator to get on board using side doors, rather than at the front, to reduce contact between the public and drivers. From Spain to the US, governments are taking action to try to reduce the spread of the virus. As well as limiting international travel, some countries are also trying to restrict movement within their own borders and stopping people mixing in public. Health policy and human rights experts warn countries face a difficult balance between protecting public health and infringing on personal freedoms.

EU is planning to ban all non-essential travel through the Schengen free-travel zone. In France, people are getting used to the toughest measures in Europe - they'll be hit with a fine if they are outside without good reason. Fifteen Polish government ministers are in quarantine following the announcement that the 29-year-old environment minister Michal Wos tested positive for coronavirus, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Michal Dworczyk, has said.

Back home, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray would today decide on  whether to suspend Mumbai local train services to prevent the further spread of  coronavirus. The state cabinet will discuss the matter in the meeting today. The government does not want to allow the outbreak to go from 'Phase II to Phase III'. The decision could also affect other public modes of transport like Mumbai Metro, Monorail, which could bring the entire city to a pause. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said, "There are options -- like fumigating all train coaches, limiting the number of commuters to the seats available in each bogey to avoid crowding -- being considered other than completely stopping the local train services." The Metro local trains ferry a total of 8.5 million commuters on a daily basis between Mumbai, Thane, Palghar and Raigad districts. It sprawls across Central Railway plus its Harbour line and Western Railway.

In South Korea, it has become so popular that the trending hashtag is PTS, a reference to the world famous South Korean boy band BTS. The craze began after farmers in Gangwon province, on the country’s rural east coast were struggling to sell their crops as restaurants closed their doors to encourage "social distancing" during the outbreak. To try to help, the regional government office started a social media campaign to sell the potatoes to consumers online. It worked. On the first day the website crashed with surging demand as buyers tried to get hold of one of the 8,000 bags of potatoes on offer.

            On social media, buyers posted that they didn’t necessarily need so many potatoes, they just wanted to help the farmers. Some people outside of South Korea may remember Gangwon province, located some 50 miles from North Korea, as the location of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. To locals, however, the cool and mountainous region is known for its firm, large potatoes that are used to produce delicacies such as dumplings and pancakes. Demand for Gangwon’s famed potatoes, however, came crashing down this year with the coronavirus outbreak, as restaurants and school canteens around the country closed down, sapping demand for the crop. According to an agricultural official in the provincial government who didn’t want to be named, some 11,000 tons (9,980 metric tons) of potatoes from last year’s harvest are in storage and risk rotting away if they don’t reach consumers before April. Farmers say  prices have fallen to a level that allows them to make only razor-thin margins.

Provincial governor Choi Moon-soon spurred to action and put out a call on Twitter on March 11 for people to support Gangwon’s potato farmers. In partnership with the local farmers’ guild, the government launched a heavily discounted campaign online  for Gangwon potatoes, offering 10 kilograms (22 lbs) of potatoes for just 5,000 won ($4), with shipping costs covered by the province. The price is less than a third of retail prices at grocery stores.

“Let’s eat clean potatoes and knock out the coronavirus! Press the link no matter what!” Choi exhorted in the tweet. The campaign also featured a promotional video of Gangwon’s new mascots—a white tiger and a black bear who are supposedly the offspring of the Winter Olympic mascots Soohorang and Bandabi—picking and boxing potatoes for the online sales. Choi even created  an abbreviated term for the word potatoes, “PTS,” as part of his social media campaign, a reference to K-pop supergroup BTS. He wrote in a tweet that the “similarity” between BTS and PTS is that the former is a group loved all over the world, while PTS is a vegetable found all over the world.

Choi’s campaign worked. The website’s server crashed on the first day the site went live on March 11, according to local media reports. The online shop later increased its maximum order capacity from 1,400 to 8,000 boxes of potatoes a day, with the goods quickly selling out again the next morning. The potato frenzy has even spawned a new term—“pocketing,” or “potato ticketing,” referring to the competitive ordering process. South Korea has over 8,000 reported cases of Covid-19, though new cases have started to slow in the past week. On Feb. 28, the government announced it would inject over $13 billion to bolster spending and provide tax breaks, especially for small businesses. President Moon Jae-in promised further stimulus and safety net measures in a cabinet meeting today, calling the current situation “worse than the 2008 global financial crisis.” Schools in Korea remain closed until April 6 at the earliest.

Gangwon isn’t the only Korean province launching promotions to help its embattled farmers. Gyeonggi province, which surrounds Seoul, sold 7,200 vegetable baskets (link in Korean) from eco-friendly farms originally contracted to supply school canteens in under two hours online.

Clearly Corona has shaken people of all walks of life !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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