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International Briefs

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Reel Life

In 2011, Contagion, a medical action thriller movie directed by Steven Soderbergh, released to critical acclaim and thanks to its ensemble cast—Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet—became what Bollywood calls a “superhit.” Now, nine years later, the movie has reached the top 10 on iTunes rentals and is already Warner Bros’ second most watched film of 2020. The reason is that the plot bears an uncanny resemblance to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, and attempts to contain its spread.

In Contagion, the spread of a virus leads to a frantic race by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease. It also details the loss of social order during a pandemic. It is possible that the sudden rush to revisit the movie is to see how a cure is found, and how soon. As producer Michael Shamberg told Buzzfeed, following the film’s resurgence: “It was very deliberately designed to be a cautionary film. We got the science right.”

No Cash for Mona Lisa

The world’s most famous museum, the Louvre in Paris, is facing major problems because of the coronavirus outbreak. First, the museum shut down after its workers refused to work because of fears of the virus spreading from visitors from around the world, and now, the world’s most-visited museum is shifting to card-only payments as part of new measures to help protect employees including those who guard Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and other masterpieces. The Louvre’s move, however, could be challenged under a Bank of France ruling which decrees that refusing cash is illegal. The workers fear that banknotes might be vectors of disease and there are additional fears that even handling tickets could be dangerous. The museum attracts thousands of visitors each day and refusing to accept cash will be a huge setback. “There is no proof that the coronavirus has been spread by euro banknotes,” the bank said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Baby Boom in Bust

Venezuela’s economic crisis has resulted in some 4.5 million fleeing the country since 2015. According to the Uni­ted Nations, its socialist president, Nicolás Maduro, wants Vene­zu­elan women to have at least six children each to fill the gap. In a bizarre exhortation, he said: “To give birth, then, to give birth, all women to have six children, all. Let the homeland grow!” His comments drew criticism from human rights activists and local Venezuelans who face a daily struggle to provide food and health care for their families. The country’s economic collapse means that 9.3 million people—nearly one-third of Venezuela’s population—are unable to meet their basic dietary needs. A report by Hu­man Rights Watch in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloom­berg School of Public Health concluded last year that the health system in Venezuela has “totally collapsed”.  Among other problems, it cited rising levels of maternal and child mortality. In the face of all that, for the country’s president to exhort wo­men to have six babies is not just bizarre but an act of cruelty.

Coffee Break

There’s one thing coffee drinkers hate about that coffee break: once the level drops, the hot beverage turns lukewarm, and, by the time it reaches the bottom, it’s almost cold. There are insulated travel mugs or flasks but for coffee drinkers using a normal cup or mug while in office or at home, the change in temperature can be hugely irritating. Now, there’s hope thanks to the Ember, a self-heating, battery-powered, app-controlled mug designed to keep beverages at a consistent temperature (up to 145 degrees). Its charging base is cleverly shaped just like a saucer. It also has an LCD readout and adjustable temperature setting. It may be a bit pricey, but for genuine coffee lovers who like a consistent temperature and the aroma, the Ember seems like the answer to many a prayer.

Hard Lessons

Thanks to the novel coronavirus, 22 countries in three different continents have announced or implemented school closures. Just two weeks ago, China was the only country mandating closures. Since then, 13 co­un­­tries have shut schools, im­pacting 290.5 million children and youth who would normally attend pre-primary to upper-secondary classes. A further nine countries have implemented lo­calised school closures to prevent or contain COVID-19. Should these countries also order nationwide school closures, it wo­uld prevent an additional 180 million children and youth from attending school.

These figures were relea­sed by UNESCO which is supp­orting the implementation of large-scale distance learning programmes and recommending open educational applications and platforms that schools and tea­chers can use to reach learners remotely.

School closures, even if temporary, are problematic for several reasons—reduction in instructional time and educational performance, inconvenience caused to families and dec­reased economic productivity. School closures disrupting the education of 290.5 million students globally are un­precedented. The wor­ld is learning some hard lessons.

 

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