Sunday 26 April, 2020

Quote of the Day

We need a president who is a cross between F.D.R., Justice Brandeis and Jonas Salk. We got a president who is a cross between Dr. Phil, Dr. Strangelove and Dr. Seuss.

The New Yorker has had some wonderful cover illustrations during the crisis. This is one of them.

Contact apps won’t end lockdown. But they might kill off democracy

This morning’s Observer column

I could go on but you get the point. The problem with magic bullets is that they sometimes miss their target. The biggest issue of all with smartphone contact-tracing, though, is that it would mark a step-change in state surveillance capabilities. Such a momentous decision cannot be left to Matt Hancock and his colleagues in their Downing Street bunker. This is a central point in a landmark review of the issue conducted by UK research group the Ada Lovelace Institute. A decision to deploy mandatory proximity-sensing technology, says the institute, is too important to be left to technocrats. There has to be proper parliamentary scrutiny and primary legislation with real sunset clauses. No fudging with orders in council by frightened ministers. I agree. If we get this wrong, not only will we not succeed in easing the lockdown, but we might also be kissing goodbye to the shrivelled democracy we still possess. There’s no lockdown exit through the App Store.

Do read the whole piece

Contact-tracing, Singapore-style

It was one of those calls on a sunny Saturday afternoon during a barbecue that led to Singapore-based British yoga teacher Melissa (not her real name) learning she was at risk of contracting the virus.

“It was surreal,” she says, describing the moment an unknown number flashed up on her phone.

“They asked ‘were you in a taxi at 18:47 on Wednesday?’ It was very precise. I guess I panicked a bit, I couldn’t think straight.”

Melissa eventually remembered that she was in that taxi – and later when she looked at her taxi app realised it was a trip that took just six minutes.

To date, she doesn’t know whether it was the driver or another passenger who was infected.

All she knows is that it was an officer at Singapore’s health ministry that made the phone call, and told her that she needed to stay at home and be quarantined.

The next day Melissa found out just how serious the officials were. Three people turned up at her door, wearing jackets and surgical masks.

“It was a bit like out of a film,” she says. “They gave me a contract – the quarantine order – it says you cannot go outside your home otherwise it’s a fine and jail time. It is a legal document.

“They make it very clear that you cannot leave the house. And I knew I wouldn’t break it. I know that I live in a place where you do what you’re told.”

Two weeks later, Melissa had shown no symptoms of Covid-19 and could leave her house.


“Beware of over-hyping contact tracing apps in coronavirus fight”

Very good OpEd piece in Nikkei Asian Review by James Crabtree, who is based in Singapore.

Quarantine diary — Day 36


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