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Mobile data shows which European countries took lockdown seriously

A substantial part of humanity is slowly emerging from weeks of lockdown. What we have experienced is truly rare: a real global threat, menacing to all wherever we lived. But how did humanity respond to this pandemic? Did people consistently stay at home as most governments asked them to? And if they didn’t, where did they go?

We can answer these questions thanks to Google. It has released data on people’s movements gathered from millions of mobile devices that use its software (Android, Google Maps and so on). Never before has this level of detail been available. For infamous pandemics in history even basic facts are disputed (for example the number of deaths from the Black Death). The Google dataset seems to be of such quality that several scientific questions can finally be resolved.

Across Europe, the picture the data paints is varied. Some of the difference can be attributed to the lockdown strategies of different countries. But some, seemingly, cannot. This may be useful when considering future lockdowns.

How the data reveals behaviour

Google first divided where people spent their time into six location categories: homes; workplaces; parks; public transport stations; grocery shops and pharmacies; and retail and recreational locations.

It then released aggregated data on time spent at each of the six location types for the past several months, compared to a baseline: the five-week period between January 3 and February 6 2020. To the extent that no special events happened during this time, the change from the baseline after this reflects people’s collective response to the pandemic and the lockdowns.

Using the Google data, we then created the following graphs, comparing the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Greece between mid-February and early May. To get a smoother image, we calculated a seven-day moving average. Countries are also ranked and coloured in the graph legends according to their average reaction over the whole period (meaning a country’s colour can differ between graphs).

What were the differences between countries?

Let’s start with people staying at home.

For a good part of April, all these countries except for Sweden were officially in some form of lockdown, with measures in place banning non-essential movement. However, behaviour varied substantially.

Author provided

In Spain, Italy and France, time spent at home rose early in the pandemic by 30-35%. Even the most outdoorsy people must have stayed home for at least 10-12 hours before the lockdown, so this means at least three-to-five extra hours were spent at home per person – for most even more. This reflects these countries’ strict lockdowns: they banned all events, limited outdoor exercise, and in France’s case, required documentation to go outside.

Germany and Denmark were more relaxed; the rise in staying home was about 15%, reflecting their partial lockdowns. Sweden’s increase was even lower at 8-10%.

The UK was somewhere in between, reacting late but then strongly, with a rise of about 20-25%. The delay reflects its lockdown beginning later – on March 23 – though it is interesting that some people were already staying home before its lockdown began.

Greece is an interesting case, as it reacted relatively early and strongly, but started relaxing in late March, with a strong effect by mid-April, long before its non-essential movement measures were lifted on May 3. This might indicate that compliance is a matter of perceived risk. Greece kept its COVID-19 cases and deaths remarkably low, which may have caused people to relax.

The mix of how people spent their outdoor time also differed. For example, the next graph presents the park visit data.

Author provided

For most of April, Sweden, Denmark and Germany saw a rise in the time people spent in parks (including national and local parks, public gardens and beaches). At the same time, Italy and Spain saw 80% drops. Greece and the UK are again somewhere in the middle, seeing a drop initially but coming back to the benchmark in early May. In Greece’s case we actually see a rise of almost 50% lately compared to the benchmark – again suggesting that fatigue may have set in, in combination with good weather and a lack of perceived risk.

Germany’s park visit data is further evidence that lockdown measures do not fully determine behaviour, and that people have their own motives. Its graph line is somewhat similar to Denmark’s and Sweden’s, countries with less strict official policies; the country with the most similar policy on going outdoors was the UK, whose line shows a decrease instead of an increase.

Author provided

Lastly, let us look at time spent at workplaces. Again, in some countries people were going to work almost as much as before, while in others there were drops of 70-80%. Spain and Italy banned all non-essential work – a measure that went beyond the restrictions of all other countries – so it is not a surprise to see these at the bottom of the graph. We can see, though, the effect of Spain allowing some sectors to open up again on April 14.

What should we do with this data?

Behavioural fatigue, a much-maligned term during the UK government’s handling of the crisis, is now an issue that can be discussed properly. While lockdown measures were still in place, people around Europe started leaving their homes more. It’s clear that adherence to lockdown decreased over time.

Governments now need to investigate whether this affected the spread of disease. Is staying at home a solution? And if people do not stay at home, does it matter where they go? Answering these questions might allow governments to design an optimal lockdown policy mix that, say, allows people to go to parks, but not mingle in shops and railway stations.

As the threat of the virus is not eliminated, and second waves are expected around the world, gaining these answers will be very important.

Sotiris Georganas, Reader in Behavioural Economics, City, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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‘Pharming’ for a vaccine: the answer to coronavirus may be in tobacco plants

We don’t know how long it will take to find a vaccine for COVID-19, but we do know this: if and when we find one, there will be unprecedented demand for the molecules that go into it.

Several different types of vaccine are currently being researched. These include those that use inactivated forms of the virus itself and molecules that look like the virus. The body recognises these molecules when they are injected and produces proteins called antibodies that protect us from threats like viruses. It may also be possible to treat COVID-19 patients with antibodies directly.

All of these approaches will require us to mass-produce active molecules, and quickly. But how do we do that? The question predates our current pandemic.

Last year, the search for an answer took us to the tobacco fields of Spain and Italy because, as strange as it sounds, the tobacco plant might provide a novel way to meet this huge demand.

Big farmer meets big pharma

Today, the basic components of vaccines are produced using mammal, bacteria and yeast cell cultures in containers called bioreactors. These basic components are produced in controlled environments to strict specifications.

For a number of years, however, researchers have demonstrated that plants can act as bioreactors just like cell cultures. Plants have been a rich source of pharmacologically important compounds throughout history, but it has only recently become possible – thanks to biotechnology – to modify plants to grow important compounds in a targeted way. This is known as “pharming”.

Not only might this be a cheaper way to produce in-demand molecules, but, potentially, vastly more scaleable.

Using plants for a coronavirus vaccine could be a cheaper alternative to using cell cultures. from www.shutterstock.com

If plants can be harnessed for this purpose, it could lead to new industries and alternatives for pharmaceutical companies. Lower and middle income countries could particularly benefit from this low-tech option, because cell culture alternatives require greater upfront investment. To this end, dedicated pharming facilities have recently opened in Brazil and South Africa.

Pharming for molecules is not restricted to medical applications, either. It’s also possible to grow nutritional, cosmetic and industrial molecules in plants.

The lab mouse of the plant world

It may seem counter-intuitive that the answer to a global pandemic could be produced in the leaves of one of the world’s most deadly plants. But there are good reasons why the tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum, and its relative N. benthamiana are common plants for pharming.

Both are easily modified and together they have become known as the lab mice of the plant science world, in part due to tobacco’s economic importance.

Tobacco has all the properties we need when selecting a pharming platform: it is quick-growing, leafy and there are people familiar with growing it all over the world. Several laboratories have already seen success in using it to grow antibodies for the treatment of HIV and the Ebola virus.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that British American Tobacco recently announced its ambition to produce between one to three million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine using tobacco.

Spain is one of the largest tobacco producers in Europe. from www.shutterstock.com

These efforts rely on contained, indoor production. But to produce at scale, we would need to pharm outdoors. That’s why we visited Spain and Italy – two of Europe’s largest producers of tobacco – last year, in order to speak with farmers and their cooperatives to see if they would be interested in becoming pharmers. The response, which will be published in a forthcoming research paper, was largely positive. Tobacco farmers saw this as an opportunity to increase profit in a shrinking European market and de-stigmatise a crop they want to keep growing.

Don’t bet the pharm yet

Pharming is not without its problems, some of which go beyond the technical.

It has been a long road since the first plant was used a vehicle for pharming, partially because of the need to demonstrate that plant-derived molecules are as safe and reliable as those that come from cell cultures, which we understand far better and are already the preferred platform for pharmaceutical companies.

But it is also because pharming requires genetic modification, a famously controversial issue with the public. (Concern over genetic modification does not appear to extend to cell culture technologies, which also often rely on modified microorganisms.)

European legislation is a huge barrier. This means pharming is currently confined to heavily controlled spaces such as laboratories and has limited one of pharming’s greatest assets: the fact that it could be done at large scale in open fields.

The strict rules around pharmaceutical production also pose a big challenge for outdoor pharming, despite the fact that at least one US-based company has demonstrated that it is possible to produce therapeutic molecules in the field.

Combining biotechnology with a crop surrounded by considerable controversy for understandable reasons could prove equally challenging, especially if Big Tobacco companies are involved.

But the potential is there for us to produce vaccines and therapeutics safely and at scale, using the tobacco plant for good instead of harming people’s health. And as COVID-19 sweeps the globe, there’s never been more of a need to do so.

Jonathan Menary, Senior Research Associate, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University; Julian Ma, Hotung Chair of Molecular Immunology, St George’s, University of London, and Pascal M.W. Drake, Lecturer in the Institute for Infection and Immunity, St George’s, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Working from home: Twitter reveals why we’re embracing it.

The effects of coronavirus on the economy already appear bleak. Unemployment and government borrowing are soaring and a recession seems inevitable.

Yet amid these worrying developments there are positive elements to be found. Many of those who have kept their jobs have found they can keep working without the need for a daily commute. Recent research suggests that up to half of UK workers can do their jobs remotely.

And it’s not just office workers. Teachers, GPs, politicians and judges have all swiftly adapted to professional isolation. In just a few weeks, the traditional workplace has been transformed.

Recent tweets – Working from home

Suddenly fears that technology will destroy job have given way to relief that it can help save them. (Although the prospect of robot doctors treating patients, drones transporting vaccines and 3D printers producing face masks does not seem like a bad idea all of a sudden.)

Of course, working from home (WFH) requires considerable levels of adjustment. But data from our ongoing research shows that, on the whole, people seem seem quite positive about this aspect of their restricted lives.


Read more: Working from home? Why detachment is crucial for mental health


In the middle of March 2020, we collected tweets using the hashtags #Coronavirus and #COVID-19 to observe how people were reacting on social networks to the pandemic. After processing 60 million tweets and removing the retweets, we focused on 6,500 messages from March 14 to April 6 that contained the hastag #WFH.

The idea was to assess how people were feeling about working from home. Overall, we found that 70.6% of the tweets reflected a positive sentiment towards the idea. The tweets that came from UK users after the lockdown on March 23 saw a rise in the positive feedback sentiment to 78.6%.

We used something called “sentiment analysis” to assess the tweets. For our purposes this was a lexicon-based approach where every tweet is represented as a group of words, which are each scored on a scale from negative to positive. A mathematical algorithm is then applied in order to a make a final assessment of the tweet’s overall sentiment.

Overall sentiment before lockdown, limited to #WFH.
Overall sentiment after lockdown, limited to #WFH.

We were also curious about the topics people were talking about. One of the more popular methods to extract themes from text is called “topic modelling”, which is essentially a way of processing large amounts of data – in this case tweets – to find out what words and phrases are being used the most.

Word power

Words such as “respect”, “inspire” and “proactive” appeared between 1,000 and 3,000 times in the #WFH tweets, indicating a positive response to the concept of working from home over the course of the pandemic.

Generating a word-cloud to observe the frequency of the words appearing in the tweets during this period, we also found the overall sentiment of the social media response to #WFH to be positive. There is a clear sense of productivity, with words such as “team”, “tips”, “satisfaction”, “service”, “remote”, “support” and “good” among the most prominent.

Word-cloud for tweets from 27th to 30th of March 2020 #WFH.

To build a deeper understanding of these positive feelings, we then mapped the sentiment generated from the tweets per day before the lockdown in the UK.

As the effects of coronavirus and lockdown intensified, so too did the mentions of working from home on Twitter. But there were dips too, most noticeably at the end of March 27, where there was a steep drop in #wfh references of nearly 50% which lasted for three days. We believe this could align with media reports highlighting concerns about children’s wellbeing during lockdown and widely expressed worries about the security of online meeting software, which were also expressed in some of the tweets.

There were negative experiences recorded too. For workers with children to look after, the changed dynamic of domestic life created new and widespread challenges. Yet this also inspired moments of gratitude and offers of help. The tweets we looked at showed evidence of small online communities forming, with people very happy to share #WFH tips and ideas.

Of course, working from home is not a new concept. But coronavirus has, in a very short space of time, forced it to become a normality for much wider sectors of the workforce. And overall, our research shows that the response to this has been positive.

This raises a new quandary about what will happen after the lockdown is lifted. Will businesses start to widen the practice to allow more flexibility to their employees? And if they don’t, how will employees feel about a return to the “old” ways of doing things? No doubt the response on social media will give us some clues.

Fiona Carroll, Senior Lecturer in Computing and Information Systems, Cardiff Metropolitan University; Mohamed Mostafa, Senior Lecturer in Data Science, Cardiff Metropolitan University, and Simon Thorne, Senior Lecturer in Computing and ​Information Systems, Cardiff Metropolitan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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ACE2: The Molecule that helps Coronavirus invade your cells

shutterstock. from www.shutterstock.com

David C Gaze, University of Westminster

ACE2

The more we learn about the science behind COVID-19, the more we are beginning to understand the vital role a single molecule in our bodies plays in how we contract the disease.

That molecule, Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2, or ACE2, essentially acts as a port of entry that allows the coronavirus to invade our cells and replicate. It occurs in our lungs, but also in our heart, intestines, blood vessels and muscles.

And it may be behind the vastly different death rates we are seeing between men and women.

What is ACE2?

ACE2 is an enzyme molecule that connects the inside of our cells to the outside via the cell membrane.

In normal physiology, another enzyme called ACE alters a chemical, Angiotensin I, and converts it into Angiotensin II, which causes blood vessels to constrict. The tightening of the blood vessels leads to an increase in blood pressure.

That’s when the ACE2 molecule comes in: to counteract the effects of ACE, causing blood vessels to dilate and lowering blood pressure.

The spikes that make up the ‘crown’ of coronavirus bind to ACE2 enzymes to get into our cells. from www.shutterstock.com

You may have seen illustrations of the virus that show distinct spikes around the surface of the virus, which form part of the “crown” or “corona” that gives the virus its name. These spikes are called S1 proteins, and they are what binds to the ACE2 molecule on our cells.

The virus is then able to invade the cell by a process called endocytosis – where the cell membrane engulfs the virus and internalises it within a bubble called an endosome.

Once inside the cell, the virus interacts with the host cells’ genetic machinery, taking advantage of the existing structure to replicate extensively.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, has a high binding capacity for ACE2 – between ten and 20 times more that of the original SARS virus. This means it is much easier for SARS-CoV-2 to get into human cells compared to the original coronavirus, making it more infectious overall.

ACE2 and COVID-19

But there is still conflicting evidence on the precise role ACE2 plays in coronavirus infections.

In some cases, it can actually be of benefit: ACE2 has been shown to reduce injury to the lung tissue in cases of the original SARS virus in mice by doing its job and causing blood vessels to dilate.

In another mouse study, however, the binding of the SARS spike protein to ACE2 was shown to contribute to lung damage.

When it comes to the current coronavirus, early studies have shown that the introduction of a human-made form of ACE2 to human cells can block the early stages of infection by binding the spike protein, preventing it from entering the cells. ACE2 thus acts both as an entry port to cells but also as a mechanism to protect the lung from injury.

The structure of the ACE2 molecule. Emw, CC BY-SA

ACE2 and the male death toll

It’s well established that COVID-19 affects men and women differently. Out of a representative sample of 1,099 patients in China, 58% were men and 42% were women. Data from China has also shown that men die of COVID-19 at a rate two and a half times that of women.

Similar figures have been observed in the US and 60% of deaths in Europe have been men.

We don’t yet fully understand why men die of COVID-19 in higher numbers than women, but it’s possible ACE2 plays a role.

A large study of two independent populations of heart failure patients was recently published in which ACE2 concentrations were found to be significantly higher in men than in women. This could explain why men may be more at risk than women of COVID-19 infection and of dying from the disease.

ACE2 and other conditions

The other important factor in the outcome of patients is the presence of underlying health problems.

Recently, ACE2 has been identified in different cells of the heart. There are a greater number of ACE2 receptors on the surface of cells in the heart muscle in people with established cardiovascular disease compared to those without disease.

This may result in a greater number of virus particles entering the heart cells in COVID-19 patients with established heart diseases.

Given the role ACE2 plays in regulating blood pressure, there are also concerns about how it affects COVID-19 patients with hypertension. Men are more likely to have hypertension than women, especially under the age of 50.

Two particular drugs to reduce hypertension also affect ACE and ACE2. These are Angiotensin Converting Enzyme inhibitors, or ACEi, and angiotensin receptor blockers, known as ARBs. In animal studies, both of these drug types increase the production of the ACE2 enzyme and so may increase the severity of COVID-19 infection.

Small independent studies have examined the effect of these treatments on COVID-19 with conflicting results. However a recent study on the subject has demonstrated that COVID-19 patients with untreated hypertension have a higher risk of death compared to those being treated with ACEi or ARBs.

That’s why many professional societies are advising people with high blood pressure to continue using their medicines during the crisis.

The role that ACE2 plays in COVID-19 is important in our understanding of the disease and could be used as a target for therapy. Drugs could be designed to block the receptor function of ACE2, but also there is promise in using the molecule itself in preventing entry of the virus into cells.

This would protect organs such as the lung, heart, kidney and intestine from extensive damage, and hopefully reduce mortality.

David C Gaze, Lecturer in Clinical Biochemistry, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Coronavirus: In Ireland hundreds of thousands have applied for government support – But is it enough?

Ireland, like many countries, has seen hugely increased levels of unemployment as a result of the measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. Figures released for March 2020 show that unemployment rates have risen from a modest rate of 5.4% to 16.5% when adjusted to take account of those who have become unemployed as a result of the crisis:

Screenshot. CSO

This rate is likely to have risen again since these figures were released. The recently published government draft stability programme is predicating a peak rate of 22% unemployment; peaking in the second quarter of the year, before gradually reducing as containment measures are eased. Of course, this is an employment forecast made in a very uncertain political and economic climate and just how this will actually play out in respect to the Irish labour market is very difficult to accurately predict.

The Irish government’s immediate response has been to introduce three key payment schemes; the COVID-19 pandemic unemployment payment, the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the short time work support, the latter of which is available to those who continue to work but who are working reduced hours because of the crisis.

The pandemic unemployment payment is a wage replacement payment, paid at a rate of €350 (£308) per week. The payment was initially established at a rate of €203, which mirrored the basic adult rate of payment for Irish welfare recipients across already existing payments. However, it was quickly increased to the current €350.

It is available to anyone who has lost their employment or who has been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19, including part-time workers. It is also available to those who were self-employed but who have had to cease working due to COVID-19, and to certain categories of welfare recipients who may also have been working.

This support is expected to be a time-limited payment, lasting for a period of 12 weeks. But it has, in essence, created a two-tier welfare system in Ireland, at least in the short term. One group of welfare recipients is being paid far above what another group receives, raising questions of who is seen to deserve support.

The temporary wage subsidy scheme functions a little differently. It is targeted at employers in a bid to keep employees linked to their places of employment where possible. In effect, it allows employers to pay their employees during the crisis by offering them a government subsidy for wages. Since April 15 subsidies have been offered on a tiered basis of up to 85% of earnings, depending on how much employees are normally paid. The scheme has not been as highly subscribed to as the pandemic unemployment payment. It is also expected to last 12 weeks.

Looking again at the March figures, it is clear that a sizable number of people are currently reliant on both payment types. At the time, more than 513,000 people were registered for support. These figures have very likely increased since the most recent reports. The government draft stability programme reported on April 20 that 584,000 people had registered.

Screenshot. CSO

Radical thinking needed

Yet the policies these figures represent are in effect only temporary solutions to what, in the absence of definitive treatments or a vaccine for COVID-19, is likely to be a much longer-term problem. It is also worth noting that in a world where movement is greatly restricted, the usual safety valve of relieving pressure through high levels of economic migration is unlikely to be an option. Therefore, longer term and arguably radical solutions will be required.

One policy option that has arguably gained more traction as a result of COVID is universal basic income. Pre-COVID survey data from Ireland suggests that this might be something people could support in a post-COVID future.

The European Social Survey indicated before the outbreak that when respondents in Ireland were asked if they would welcome the idea of a basic income, 46.2% were in favour and 9.5% were strongly in favour. With no guarantee of a stable labour market for some time to come, it is certainly worth considering whether this is a way to help people over the longer term.

A further possibility might be the adoption of a jobs-sharing initiative through a reduced working week. If everybody works fewer hours, there are potentially more jobs to go round. Whatever choices are made, it would be a mistake to think we can just return to “normal”. Frankly in an Ireland where, in 2019, 122,800 workers were scraping by on a minimum wage of €9.80 per hour or less and where the “at risk of poverty” rate stood at 14%, it is hard to know why anyone would want to.

Joe Whelan, Lecturer, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Five Workplace Trends Will Shape Life After Lockdown

Shutterstock

Dave Cook, UCL

We are experiencing the biggest remote work experiment in history – but many are beginning to imagine life after lockdown. Amid unprecedented global job losses, concerns about transport infrastructure and the continuing need for workplace social distancing, governments are launching back-to-work plans.

Meanwhile, the latest US research reveals that 74% of businesses want some workers to permanently work remotely and business leaders are actively shedding leased office space – hinting that not everyone will go back to the office.

Here are five key trends that will shape the future of how we work.

1. Commuting will change forever

We might miss the social interaction of the office, but most don’t miss commuting. This was one of the key findings in my four-year remote work study.

Before lockdown, US commute times reached record levels and most UK workers spent more than a year of their lives travelling to and from work. People tell me that a hybrid strategy of working from home two days a week, is one ideal scenario.

Nobody misses this. Shutterstock

Those eager to go back to the office will have to wait. Many will need to work from home for weeks or months to come. The situation is fluid, but governments are drawing up plans for workers to stagger working times, so public transport is not overwhelmed.

The genie is out of the bottle, and commuting is not going back to how it was.

2. Bad email etiquette won’t be tolerated

Workplace communication is rapidly transforming and email is a case in point. More than ever, creating a clear separation between work and leisure time is vital.

Research repeatedly shows that sending out-of-hours emails is not only bad etiquette – but creates a coercive work culture that requires people to be available 24/7. Social scientists argue this turns us into worker/smartphone hybrids and causes stress and burnout. Expecting quick answers to email is increasingly seen as bullying.

Many now realise that colleagues might need to work flexibly due to caring responsibilities. Lockdown has encouraged a new acceptance of flexibility. But this shouldn’t extend to having a culture that expects people to be available all the time.

3. Video calls will be limited

Zoom calls will remain part of our lives – but we will change and adapt how we use them. Research shows that video calls are more draining and tiring than in-person meetings.

Smile for the camera. Shutterstock

While video calls are appropriate for some meetings, we don’t need to use them for all our communication. Research suggests many are shifting back to phone calls – which as one manager explained to me “feels more spontaneous and flows better”.

4. More co-working spaces will emerge

Workers forced to continue working from cramped living spaces are desperate for alternatives. When lockdown lifts they will turn to the cafes and co-working spaces that are still in business. Before COVID-19 hit, co-working spaces were projected to increase more than 40% worldwide.

The paradox of remote working is that people crave the flexibility but know that being around others boosts productivity. My research shows that over time remote workers crave the physical closeness that comes with just being alongside other people. It’s exactly why in 2017 IBM pulled many employees back into the office, despite having previously published a 2014 white paper in support of remote working.

Coming soon to a high street near you. Shutterstock

Local co-working spaces, as opposed to big investor-funded brands such as WeWork, will do well. Independent co-working spaces in some areas were thriving before COVID-19 – they may become more mainstream if they survive lockdown.

5. Could we become part-time digital nomads?

Digital nomads are extreme remote workers that post Instagram stories from exotic locations. Right now, that lifestyle seems unrelatable, impossible and to many unethical.

Nonetheless, many decently paid workers in New York, London and Paris are stuck in uncomfortably small flats, dreaming of escape from lockdown. As a housing manager recently confided to me: “London living without nightlife and culture, isn’t fun. Everyone wants to escape to somewhere outdoorsy when allowed. I’m not sure I approve but it’s understandable.”

For now, remote working from different locations is not allowed. But the allure of relocating to a picturesque location remains – and Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBnB, is banking on it. He sees COVID-19 as a business opportunity and told Bloomberg: “People are realising they can work remote … that’s a huge opportunity.”

Not all will agree – it could cause long-term sustainability issues – and many will not have this privilege. But when lockdown fully lifts, who’s to say more people will not work remotely from different parts of the world, beyond their living rooms.

Dave Cook, PhD Researcher, Anthropology, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How oil prices got wrapped up in the Coronavirus outbreak

A novel coronavirus is affecting countries in every habitable continent, with recent shocks to oil prices only the latest wrinkle in the unfolding outbreak.

During trading on March 9, crude oil prices dropped to half what they were in January. This is an example of an oil shock. A shock is a massive change — in this case, in the price of a commodity that powers the global economy.

U.S. stock markets were down well over 5% by midday, with trading briefly halted and crude oil stocks hit particularly hard. Crude oil is used to make vehicle gasoline, jet fuel, heating fuel and to produce energy.

“My view is the downturn in the market is due to the virus,” says University of Oregon associate professor of finance Rob Ready, author of “Oil Prices and the Stock Market,” a February 2018 paper in the Review of Finance. “The oil prices are a sideshow.”

The oil shock, Ready says, is still adding uncertainty to equities markets already rattled by the new coronavirus. Oil stocks are down and airline stocks continue to fall, too. Still, he says it’s difficult to draw a stark line between this particular oil shock and recent ongoing stock market losses — considering the context that the volatility is happening alongside a global coronavirus outbreak.

“But that becomes a much more subtle story,” Ready says.

Here’s how oil prices became wrapped up in the novel coronavirus outbreak, and what the research says about how oil market volatility and stock prices usually interact.

Less demand — more supply?

The plunging price-per-barrel for crude oil comes down to simple supply-and-demand economics.

The novel coronavirus has hurt demand for travel and, as a result, has lowered demand for oil. Some companies in China, where the novel coronavirus originated, have mandated that employees telework. The European Parliament has told employees with health conditions to work from home, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management wants federal agencies to be ready to have employees telework.

Amazon, Google and other major U.S. companies have halted or restricted international travel. Usually well-attended conferences and events have been canceled, like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Cities in hard-hit regions, like northern Italy, are turning into ghost towns without tourists.

The result is less travel, less gasoline and jet fuel being used, and less crude oil demand. And it’s not just consumers, airlines and conference organizers being affected. With supply chains from China disrupted for weeks, U.S. transportation companies of all stripes are facing uncertainty.

“The trucking industry is very concerned,” says Steven Polunksy, director of the Alabama Transportation Policy Research Center at the University of Alabama and recent author of a primer on how the novel coronavirus is slowing transportation industries. “They don’t know if the impact will be a shortage of truckers because of illness, or if it’s how truckload shipments will be affected. Our shipping ports are very concerned and seeing impacts already. The question is, how long is this bubble [of uncertainty] going to last?”

Polunksy also notes that more people staying home could lead to more shipments by van and small trucks, due to people ordering groceries and other essentials online.

Amid lower demand for oil, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries — OPEC — responded with a plan to cut production. OPEC is an international organization with 14 member nations that influence global oil prices by managing the amount of oil they produce. Collectively OPEC controls some 80% of the world’s oil reserves. Supply from OPEC nations is a key driver of oil prices, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Major oil producers Russia and the U.S. are not members, but Russia has closely aligned with OPEC since 2017 — until now. Russia refused to go along with OPEC’s production cuts. Saudi Arabia, a powerful OPEC-member country, responded by cutting prices and raising their own production.

The situation now is this: a novel coronavirus is reducing oil demand. Major oil producers are increasing supply. There is much more oil than there is demand, and that, coupled with direct price cuts from Saudi Arabia, is why per-barrel prices are low.

Usually, stock prices reflect oil fluctuations

Under normal circumstances, when there isn’t a global outbreak of a new virus, research shows oil shocks and stock prices are closely linked. It’s been that way since the Great Recession, though before the late-2000s there was little relationship between the two, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Since then, a growing body of research has established that linkage.

For example, research from October 2018 in Energy Economics finds “a greater degree of interconnectedness across crude oil and financial markets” since the recession. Likewise, from a November 2018 paper in the Review of Financial Economics: “There is strong evidence that changes in oil prices have a significant effect on the financial markets and the overall economy.”

Research from February 2016 in Energy Economics finds that stock markets react poorly in the short-term, up to five days, when oil prices are volatile. Similarly, high volatility in oil prices can reduce global industrial production by .3%, according to research from August 2014 in the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking. Yet more research, published in June 2018 in the Journal of Empirical Finance, finds volatility in oil trading can forecast short-term stock fluctuations.

The reason for the typically robust link between oil and stock prices isn’t yet fully understood.

“In the financial crisis you had this giant shock to economic activity in the stock market, and oil prices went down a lot,” Ready says. “My view is people realized they were more closely linked, but there are lots of different theories. I haven’t seen one explanation everyone accepts.”

Roman Ferrer, an economist at the University of Valencia in Spain and co-author of the October 2018 Energy Economics paper, agrees that prior to the financial crisis the risk of real losses in energy and financial markets, and the inter-connectedness of those markets, had been been underestimated.

“If the world economy is working well, the aggregate demand rises and the oil and stocks increase in unison,” Ferrer explained in an email. “If the world economy is slowing down, oil and stock markets fall together.”

For more JR coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, check out these 5 tips for covering the outbreak and what the research says so far about how the virus is infecting the economy.

This article first appeared on Journalist’s Resource and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Apple’s Made It Less Annoying To Unlock Your Phone When Wearing A Mask

Currently, when an iPhone owner swipes to unlock their device – It will try to scan their face if Face ID is enabled on the device. If they are wearing a mask though, You need to tap the Face ID prompt or wait for the scan to fail before you can unlock your phone by typing in your passcode on a second screen prompt.

This latest update simply removes the wait for the Face ID unlock to fail.

When you first swipe to unlock, the device will attempt to scan their face while also offering a passcode input option on the same screen (Why this wasn’t done in the first place I’ll never know)

It only asks you to enter a passcode if the device detects that your mouth is covered though (Maybe this will work with an unruly beard which I’m sure some of you have right now!). If you’re not wearing a mask, Face ID will work as normal. 


Unfortunately this iOS Beta isn’t available to the public as of yet.

You currently have two options to sort out this issue

You can shut off Face ID completely in the settings of your device and just type your passcode eavery time you want to unlock your device.

Or you can also try to make use of a workaround that involves taking a new Face ID scan with a mask covering half of your mouth.

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Burglar Steals VAN GOGH in Dutch Museum During Coronavirus Lockdown

van gogh

The security footage shows a thief smashed the doors of Singer Laren museum using a sledgehammer to steal the Vincent van Gogh painting “Lentetuin” or “Spring Garden” worth €2.97 million. The museum is currently shut down due to coronavirus pandemic.

The Singer Laren Museum in Laren, Netherlands.

The footage originated on Dutch TV in the hopes of catching the unidentified suspect. Some clips of the footage have been held by Police in the hopes of aiding the investigation.

The recently stolen “Spring Garden” by Vincent Van Gogh

As per the CCTV film, at 3:15 a.m. March 30th, the thief showed up outside the Museum riding a motorbike – alone. In the following seconds, he crushed the tempered glass doors of the Singer Laren gallery and made his way inside.

The museums doors at that point had been shut since Mar. 12 after the Dutch government prohibited events of in excess of 100 individuals due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He entered the exhibition hall through the gift shop. At that point, with a couple of hits to another glass entryway, he got entry to the main Gallery before leaving with the fine piece of art tucked under his arm and a sledgehammer in the other.

The burglar leaving with the Van Gogh in one hand, sledgehammer in other.
Source: Korps Nationale Politie

While the burglary had set off the alarm systems, the thief was well gone when the police showed up.

In a press briefing, Singer Laren’s Managing Director ‘Evert van Os’ defended the museum’s security. 

The burglar broke through some doors and several layers of security that had been approved by security experts

Well… clearly.

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Covid19 – Coronavirus Cases Ireland & Globally

Dashboard

[cvct title=”Coronavirus Ireland” country-code=”IE” label-total=”Total Cases” label-deaths=”Death Cases” label-recovered=”Recovered Cases” bg-color=”#23282D” font-color=”#fff”]

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths

Daily deaths (Per Million People)


Daily Confirmed Deaths Compared

Country comparison of daily deaths (Rolling 3 day average)

Global Confirmed Cases

Global Top Countries


Interactive Map