Friday, 20 March 2020

#Covid19 Responses: Isn't human ingenuity amazing! [update 2]

Never in the field of modern human history has the need for relevant cliches been so important! So ... when you get coronavirus lemons, let's make lemonade.

People are.

Isn't human ingenuity amazing!

LOCKED INSIDE YOUR HOMES (as many of you now are) we're seeing meetings, concerts, gigs training sessions and conferences have been going online -- conferences have suddenlybecome webinars; gigs have become impromptu webcasts or organised livestreams (don't miss the APO's Beethoven 250 Livestream coming up!) -- and with the gigs and conferences I've already caught, there've been way more 'attendees' online than would have ever been there on the ground! The thirst for learning and entertainment and social interaction hasn't gone away, and we need to feed it now more than ever. (And shareholders in Zoom, Blackboard, Crowdcast et al will be smiling...) [UPDATE 1: See below too for some great online economic, social and philosophical perspective on the pandemic and economic crash.]

Folk are loading up on movies while they're sitting at home -- or watching some of the few ball sports on the planet still being played -- and talking to each other online about them as they go. (Who wasn't #wearewatching last night, as Richmond faced off against Carlton at an otherwise empty MCG -- Carlton defenders staying the regulation 1.5m away from their opposition as the hashtag #AFLTigersBlues began trending worldwide even in New Zealand!]

Museums and art galleries have added to their already stunning digital resources and put online tours, pictures, paintings, artefacts and interviews. (Here's a list of 2,500 you can visit right now! Feel free to add your favourites in the comments.) [UPDATE 2: Here's another huuuge list of online educational resources, recommended by a leading Montessori blogger.]

The possibilities are huge! Lots of ad-hoc remote collaboration is going to be happening. Let's embrace it all.

(And if it's reading you're wanting, what could be better than Five Books About Plagues and Pandemics and Five Books to Make You Feel Better ... )

AND ENTREPRENEURS ARE SPOTTING opportunity and shifting focus:

Restaurants, cafes and bars are already struggling. So entrepreneuers have been helping people "direct money to their favourite places to help them get through:, for example, with support from Enterprise Nation, have allowed the use of their platform for supporting affected UK businesses entirely for free. Likewise, in San Francisco, married couple Kaitlyn Trigger and Mike Krieger spent a weekend setting up SaveOurFaves, a platform for restaurants to be able to sell gift cards, getting some up-front cash to enable them to reopen when the crisis is over. Similar initiatives seem to be popping up all over the world.
Shops are running out of hand sanitiser at the same time as demand in bars for alcoholic drinks is going down -- so several gin and whiskey distillers have begun producing and supplying truckloads of hand sanitiser based on the pure ethanol they distil and the gel recommended by the W.H.O. (And in France, perfume makers have shifted to making the gel.)

The whole world is going to be short of medical ventilators, at the same time that fewer people will be buying cars. In the UK, car and auto-parts makers have been retooling to urgently make more ventilators. In Italy, when a hospital in Brescia desperately needed new valves for its machines, and the manufacturer was unable to supply replacements, they turned to a number of local 3D-printing companies to manufacture the part. And nerds everywhere are open-sourcing files for 3d-printed ventilators.

Not to mention all those entrepreneurs who produced all the social media and online webcast tools that we're just as happy to take for granted as we are to keep using to keep talking (thanks Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg et al), who invested in and are running all the massive server farms that make all our conversations and meet-ups work (thanks Jeff Bezos, Sergey Prin et al), and who are growing, making supplying, restocking and delivering groceries as fast as they can organise trucks and shelf-stockers (thanks to every single owner, investor and manager of every supermarket in the country -- and every grower, maker and producer who are going to extra lengths to keep us fed, clothed and fully stocked with goodies).

And that's just how we're coping!

RESEARCHERS HAVE ALREADY CLOCKED up many hours in examing, learning about and analysing this bastard that's killing people, and were damned quick to get started. With days, using AI, they had sequenced the genome. Researchers in South Korea were working on a test for the virus before it had even escaped China -- so successfully that South Korea is the only country doing thorough testing (which means it's the only place with anything close to reliable figures on contagion and fatality rates).
It used artificial intelligence to rapidly identify the chemicals needed for the test – a thought-saving invention that allowed them to complete the process in just a matter of days, rather than the usual months. The test was ready and approved by the authorities within a matter of weeks. And due to South Korea’s widespread use of robots, the tests themselves can be undertaken extremely rapidly. Robotic arms test 94 patient samples at once, returning results in only 4 hours – significantly faster and less prone to error than doing so by hand. As a result, the country has conducted over a quarter of a million tests for the virus – almost five times as many as the UK, despite having similarly sized populations. South Korea continues to test as many people as possible, while the UK has apparently scaled back its testing of mild cases, presumably due to a lack of testing capacity. In the US, due to a severe lack of testing kits, some biologists in San Francisco have organised a volunteer effort to manufacture them.
Teams of scientists around the world are applying similar ingenuity to researching and testing vaccines.
The Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, in Seattle, has just begun a 6-week trial of a prospective vaccine, mRNA-1273, in healthy adult volunteers. It has shown promising results in animals, but the human test will be the clincher. This is not just a matter of determining its effectiveness and safety, but about working out the most effective dosage – those brave volunteers, for example, are testing doses of 25, 100, and 250 micrograms. Likewise, scientists at Russia’s Vector Institute have begun vaccine tests in animals, and researchers at China’s Academy of Military Sciences are beginning human trials too. Israel’s Institute for Biological Research is also about to begin its own trials.
And onwards to treatments! (And just this once the FDA might get out of the way so scientists, investors and entrepreneurs can do their stuff.)

Even low-tech research is going great guns: even as we speak, researchers are testing old cheap drugs, like malaria tablets, which seem to show promise against either symptoms or cause of the virus.
One of the top candidates is remdesivir, which was apparently successful when used to treat the US’s first patient. The drug now needs to be properly compared with placebos, though fortunately its general safety for humans is already well-established. It had already been tested as a candidate for treating ebola and MERS. Remdesivir is now the subject of a few randomised controlled trials, some of which should be reporting soon, and the manufacturer is already ramping up production just in case.
Chinese officials have also reported success using favipiravir, after trialling it in hundreds of patients, though Japanese trials (it is a Japanese-made drug) so far suggest it only works in milder cases and there are concerns there about potentially serious side-effects. Physicians in various countries have also reported success with drugs like Kaletra (a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir), typically used to treat HIV, as well as chloroquine, which has been used to treat malaria for decades (as well as a variant, hydroxochloroquine). As with remdesivir, however, we’re still waiting for their efficacy to be fully confirmed in randomised controlled trials.
THE WORLD HAS CHANGED since last week.

Hell, it's changed just since this Monday!

And people everywhere are hunkering down and seeing how they can put their skills to use in other ways.

Britain is enlisting a volunteer army. Students in Wellington have re-started the student help scheme.
A number of apps have been developed seemingly overnight, to link up healthy people with those who may need deliveries of essential supplies while they are self-isolating. [In Britain], the Entrepreneurs Network has partnered with a scheme covering London, called Dare to Care Packages.
And as folk get warier down the line and schools and childcare centres close, even as health workers need childcare, apps are already there to put them together with babysitters.
Companies like Bubble in the UK, for example, are supporting hospital staff and other key workers to find vetted babysitters while they go to work (though the government should probably look at adapting its tax-free childcare policy to such solutions, as the system is not yet set up to account for digital platforms).
Me? (Thanks for asking.) Since people could be working from home for a while, and the need for a good work environment never changes, among other things I'll be helping folk to set up productive, ergonomic and attractive home office arrangements that don't break the bank. ("What did you do during the plague, grandad?" "I rearranged people's desks, youngster.") Need help with this? Let me know.

There's always something everyone can be doing. No matter how trivial it seems.

What are you going to get up to during the shit storm? Let us all know in the comments ...

[NB: Thanks to Dr Anton Howes from The Entreprenuers Network (TEN) for many of these examples. Follow him on Twitter at @antonhowes]


Just some of the smart folk around who are offering some well-reasoned much-needed perspective...

  • How are you satisfying your urge to connect in these strange new times in which we find ourselves? What are you worried about? What will be the economic impact of the coronavirus? The social and cultural impact? These questions and more were the core of a special conversation between EconTalk host Russ Robert and Tyler Cowen in this bonus episode of ECON TALK.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the responses to it from both business and government are now dominating the headlines and overwhelming our lives. As we all begin to grapple with the wide-ranging effects of both the disease and the steps being taken to fight it, there’s a need to take a step back and survey the situation with a philosophic eye. Watch this special episode of Philosophy for Living on Earth. Onkar Ghate and Greg Salmieri discuss how philosophy can help guide our thinking about the impact of the pandemic on our lives, our economy, and about our government’s response to it:


1 comment:

  1. Books about pandemic that might also make you feel better: the novel Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger starts with a young, naked man washing up on a beach in Cornwall, there's a global financial meltdown and then a pandemic.


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