Monday 31 August 2020

Researchers achieve fastest-ever internet speed that could download all of Netflix in one second

Increased speeds required to match growing amounts of data, researchers note

Researchers have created the fastest-ever internet connection, much quicker than any ever successfully tried before.

The team behind the breakthrough, from University College London, were able to transmit data at 178 terabits per second. The speed is double the capacity of any system currently used in the world, and a fifth faster than the previous record.

The connection is so fast that it would be able to download the entire Netflix library in just one second.

It is also getting close to the theoretical limit of data transmission, first proposed by American mathematician Claude Shannon in 1949.

The increased speed is possible because the researchers were able to transmit data through a much wider range of colours than normally used in optical fibre. By combining different amplfiier technologies, they could make the best use of the properties of light that transmitted the data, allowing them to specifically manipulate each individual wavelength.

It remains at the level of proof of concept: home broadband customers are unlikely to find their internet connections speeding up to those levels any time soon.

But the researchers who created it note that it would be relatively easy to use the technology on existing infrastructure, and that it would be reasonably cost effective to do so. All that is needed is to upgrade the amplifiers that are used on optical fibre routes – adding new amplifiers would cost £16,000, compared to the £450,000 per kilometre that it can cost to install new fibres.

Such increases in speed will be required in the future as the amount of data used and transmitted increases, the researchers note. As it becomes easier to create and store information, it will also become more important to be able to meet demands for data transfer rates, they note – and it is likely that such speeds will also be required for "as yet unthought-of applications that will transform people’s lives", said UCL's Lidia Galdino, lead author on the new paper.

The breakthrough is reported in IEEE Photonics Technology Letters, under the title 'Optical Fibre Capacity Optimisation via Continuous Bandwidth Amplification and Geometric Shaping'.

(Source: The Independent)

Olympic sleuthing finds Japan's 'first medal' is not what it seems

An Olympic medal held by a Tokyo museum and thought to be the first won by a Japanese athlete was recently discovered to be from a different event at the same games, meaning the location of Japan’s first medal, won by tennis player Ichiya Kumagai, is unknown.

The Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum and Library has concluded that the silver medal from the 1920 Games in its collection is not Kumagai’s won in the men’s singles, rather it is that of Kumagai’s doubles partner Seiichiro Kashio, museum officials said.
Ichiya Kumagai (front) competes in the men's singles tennis tournament at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. | JAPAN TENNIS ASSOCIATION / VIA KYODO

The pair won the silver in the doubles event at the same games, but after Kumagai claimed the singles medal, the museum said.

The museum’s investigation found that Kumagai’s singles medal won on Aug. 23, 1920, at the games in Antwerp, Belgium, is likely long-missing.

It has amended information on its website to reflect the discovery, now noting the medal in its collection is from the men’s doubles.

The discovery came after the Japan Tennis Association inquired about how the museum came to possess the medal.
Records at the museum showed that the silver medal was donated in 1966 by Kashio’s younger brother and Kumagai. Kashio died in 1962.

A silver medal from the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, long believed to have been that of tennis player Ichiya Kumagai, has been determined to have belonged to Kumagai’s doubles partner Seiichiro Kashio. | KYODO

The museum at the time expressed its appreciation to Kashio’s sibling for the donation of the medal, suggesting that it was not the one awarded to Kumagai in the singles competition, the officials said.

The museum also found a newspaper article from 1964 saying one of Kumagai’s two silver medals was lost while he was returning from Belgium and the other was loaned to someone who never returned it.

The newspaper wrote that Kashio’s doubles medal had been misplaced but was found in 1963 at the home of his parents and was then given to Kumagai, the officials said.

According to the Japan Tennis Association, Kumagai’s son Kazuo, 92, said his father had expressed regret about the loss of the medal that was loaned to someone.

(Source: JT)

Sunday 30 August 2020

Why do Covid fatalities remain low when infection numbers are rising?

While some scientists believe the virus has become less deadly, others look at the factors that suggest otherwise

Are Covid-19 death rates decreasing?
Most statistics indicate that although cases of Covid-19 are rising in many parts of Europe and the United States, the number of deaths and cases of severe complications remain relatively low. For example, patients on ventilators have dropped from 3,000 at the epidemic’s peak in Britain to 70. At the same time, the number of cases in the UK have begun to rise in many areas.

What lies behind this trend?
Doctors are unsure exactly what is going on. Some suggest that medical interventions are more successful at treating those who suffer complications from the disease. For example, the drug dexamethasone was recently shown to improve survival rates among patients requiring ventilation. Others argue that different factors are involved. One suggestion is that Covid-19 is now becoming a disease of younger people who are less likely to die or suffer serious complications.

Some researchers believe that social distancing has led to smaller amounts of the virus being transmitted. Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA

Does that indicate that the worst may be over?
No. Other researchers point to the situation in the US where there was a recent spike in cases among people in their 20s and 30s – but which was then followed by a spike in cases in older people who picked up the disease from younger people. As a result, there has been a jump in deaths. A similar pattern could occur in Europe and in the UK, possibly in a couple of weeks, some scientists warn.

Is the Covid-19 virus becoming less deadly?
This idea is supported by some scientists. They point to the fact that most viruses tend to lose their most lethal attributes because they gain nothing from killing off their hosts. This could be happening with the Covid-19 virus, they say. Other researchers disagree, saying such a process is unlikely to be happening this quickly. One alternative suggestion is that infectious doses of the Covid-19 virus, transmitted from one person to another, may be getting smaller thanks to social distancing. Lower doses would then be easier for our immune systems to tackle, so death rates would drop.

In the end, these issues remain unresolved and will require many more months, if not years of research, to work out, scientists warn.

(Source: The Guardian)

International Booker Prize: Read this year’s winning novel and the previous top titles

A look back at the victors from the past four years, all of which showcase the wonders of the written word

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has become the youngest author to ever win the International Booker Prize, taking the award of their debut novel The Discomfort of Evening.

The winner of the International Booker Prize (formerly known as the Man Booker International Prize), was due to be announced on 19 May, however, due to the impact of coronavirus, this was postponed until 26 August.

Chair of judges for the prize, Ted Hodgkinson, said: "This book astounded us all when we first encountered it early in the judging process, and our fascination has only deepened on a second and third rereading."

Describing the book as a "tender and visceral evocation of the strangeness of a childhood caught between shame and salvation," Hodgkinson added that the novel is an "undeniable force by a writer of thrilling talent and ability."

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld beat five other finalists spanning from North and South America, the Middle East, South East Asia, and Europe. Each of these brilliant shortlisted novels shares common themes of trauma, loss, and illness.

The award was open to any work of fiction, written in any language, and published over the past year in English in the UK or Ireland.

It honours the best fiction from around the world, with previous winners including Korean author Han Kang, as well as Polish laureate Olga Tokarczuk.

The prize acts as an important reminder that storytelling transcends languages, cultures, and ways of experiencing the world, and gives us access to different places and characters.

In honour of the International Booker Prize announcement, we take a look at this year's winning novel and the previous four top titles that have preceded it, all of which showcase the wonders of the written word.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

2020 winner: 'The Discomfort of Evening' by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld translated by Michele Hutchison, published by Faber & Faber: £10.59, Blackwell's

Intensely lyrical, raw, and gritty, The Discomfort of Evening explores what life is like within a devout Christian family in the Netherlands. It's told from the perspective of 10-year-old Jas, whose brother dies in a sudden accident after she wishes him dead instead of her pet rabbit. It’s a dark portrait of childhood and is awash with compelling imagery of a family dislocated and destroyed, not just by grief, but by a failure to acknowledge and articulate it. Rijneveld's debut carries heavy themes with confidence through wildly pervasive prose.

2019 winner: ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth, published by Sandstone Press: £6.69, Amazon

While this is the second novel written by Alharthi, it's a first for many other literary reasons – it’s the first novel written in Arabic to win the International Booker Prize, and the first novel written by a woman from Oman to be translated into English. Celestial Bodies paints a vivid picture of the rapidly changing Omani culture – set between the 19th century slavery period to its 20th-century abolition and beyond. By telling the story of three sisters, Mayya, Asma, and Khawala, it exposes marriage and its miseries, passion, conflict, love, and loss. It provides a cross-generational glimpse into all degrees of society – from the poor local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth. Breaking free of narration that is commonly associated with Western fictional literature, it’s poetic and song-like. A cultural kaleidoscope you will devour.

2018 winner: 'Flights' by Olga Tokarczuk translated by Jennifer Croft, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions: £8.76, Blackwell's

This novel explores what it means to be a traveller, a wanderer, and a body in motion, not only through space but also time – from the 17th century through to the 19th century. Interweaving notions of the human body, life, death, motion, and migration, Flights analyses travel and human connection in a polarised world. Made up of a series of short observations sandwiched within a number of longer essays, this is a category-defying piece of work. Through its use of brilliantly imagined characters and narratives, it is a masterpiece in storytelling.

2017 winner: 'A Horse Walks Into a Bar' by David Grossman translated by Jessica Cohen, published by Vintage Publishing: £8.99, Waterstones

Set in a 1990s comedy club in a small city in Israel, Dovaleh Greenstein, a comedian a bit past his time, is doing a stand-up night. But, it doesn't go to plan. The audience members act as a cross-section of the country's society (a group of off-duty soldiers, local kids, a lonely single or two, and young and old couples) and watch as the comedian falls apart on stage, crumbling before their very eyes. Over the course of his two-hour set, Dovaleh gradually unspools, releasing demon after demon. The narrative exposes his deep pain, grief, and loss, as well as an exploration into how the country has lost its ways. While a short book, it still manages to encapsulate major themes of humanity, relationships, politics, and trauma in an all-consuming way. A must-read.

2016 winner: 'The Vegetarian' by Han Kang translated by Deborah Smith, published by Portobello Books: £6.95, Amazon

A taut novel that tells the story of two sisters, Yeong-hye and In-hye, and their marriages. Split into three sections, from three points of view, each acts as a novella in its own right. The first section begins with the painful conflicts between Yeong-hye and her husband as she breaks cultural norms and declares herself a vegetarian following a vicious dream that repels her from eating meat. It ends with a haunting family scene that escalates into an act of abuse that permeates the following two parts. Written in a poetic, but matter of fact way, The Vegetarian touches on shame, desire, and faltering attempts to understand one another. It is at once disturbing and beautiful.

(Source: The Independent)

Saturday 29 August 2020

Coronavirus: Bali closed to foreign tourists until end of 2020

The Indonesian island of Bali will not open to foreign tourists again this year, due to coronavirus concerns.

Authorities of the popular holiday destination had earlier said foreign visitors would be allowed to return from next month.

But the plan has been scrapped over concerns about Indonesia's mounting Covid-19 cases.

The move has renewed worries about the impact on residents in an economy heavily dependent on tourism.

Millions of foreigners fly to Bali each year in search of deserted beaches, terraced rice fields and sprawling Hindu temples.


But their numbers have dropped sharply since Indonesia closed its borders to non-residents, like other countries battling with the pandemic.

Since the end of July the island has turned to domestic visitors to help its ravaged tourism industry, the heart of the local economy, reopening beaches, temples and other landmarks to local travellers.

But hotels and restaurants have been struggling to survive, with many resort workers returning home to villages and small towns to earn an income.

"The situation in Indonesia is not conducive to allow international tourists to visit the country, including Bali," said the island's governor, Wayan Koster, in a recent statement.

The statement did not specify when Bali would reopen to foreign travellers but said Indonesia would not be open to international tourists "until end of 2020".

The governor said reopening would require "prudency" and careful preparation, because failure could damage the island's recovery and reputation.

Bali had reported 4,576 coronavirus infections and 52 deaths as of Monday.

Nationwide, Indonesia has reported more than 155,000 coronavirus infections and at least 6,759 deaths - the highest number of fatalities in South East Asia. Experts believe the numbers would be higher if there was more testing.

'First passenger in five months'
Resty Woro Yuniar, BBC News, Jakarta
The decision by Bali's governor is the latest blow to millions of Balinese, whose livelihood has been battered by the pandemic since March.

Tourism contributes about 80% to the province's economy. More than six million foreigners visited the island last year.

On a recent vacation to Bali, I saw firsthand the economic downturn. Kadek, a cheerful rental car driver who picked me up from the airport, told me I was his "first passenger in five months".

Many shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels are closed, including the ones in popular tourist areas of Seminyak and Kuta, which normally bustle with Australian, British, and European tourists in summer months like August.

Diving shops and yoga studios are also largely closed or empty, as well as fancy resorts alongside Nusa Dua beach.

Tour guide I Made Subrana told me: "I'm very concerned about this, international tourism has been the locomotive of Balinese economy. My income has declined because of the pandemic. Usually this is 'European season', from May till October."

Tourism hit hard
I Putu Gede Budiarta, general manager of a hotel in the city of Denpasar, Bali's capital, said the coronavirus outbreak and travel restrictions were having a "serious impact" on the tourism sector.

"Most of us work in hospitality and most of our travellers come from abroad. It's a difficult time, it is affecting incomes," he told the BBC.

The hotel where he works is less than half full as it tries to attract domestic travellers. But a separate guesthouse the manager runs in the countryside has stood empty for months.

In March hundreds of British tourists reported being stranded on Bali by a rush to book flights home, as the UK government urged nationals to return and countries worldwide went into lockdown.

Activity has slowed down on the Facebook groups that arose to help travellers swap information on flights but tourists still share details, reporting it is easier to fly home on flights via the capital, Jakarta.

(Source: BBC)

A Collision with the Divine

The deer drift in and out of the trees like breathing. They appear unexpectedly delicate and cold, as if chill air is pouring from them to the ground to pool into the mist that half obscures their legs and turning flanks. They aren’t tame: I can’t get closer than a hundred yards before they slip into the gloom. I’ve been told these particular beasts are fallow deer of the menil variety, which means their usual darker tones have been leached by genetics to soft cuttlefish and ivory, and they’re the descendants of a herd brought here in the sixteenth century as beasts of venery, creatures to be pursued and caught and cooked. The look of the estate hasn’t changed much since then. It’s still an extensive patchwork of pasture and forest—except now the M25 runs through it, six lanes of fast-moving traffic behind chain-link fence threaded with stripling trees. The mist thickens, the light falls, the deer appear and disappear, and the deep roar of the motorway burns inside my chest as I walk on to the bridge that spans it. This bridge is grassed along its length, and at dusk and dawn, I’ve been told, the deer use it as a thoroughfare from one side of the estate to the other. I know my presence will dissuade them from crossing so I don’t want to stay too long, but I linger a little while to watch the torrent of lights beneath me. For a while the road doesn’t seem real. Then it does, almost violently so, and at that moment the bridge and the woods behind me do not. I can’t hold both in the same world at once. Deer and forest, mist, speed, a drift of wet leaves, white noise, scrap-metal trucks, a convoy of eighteen-wheelers, beads of water on the toes of my boots, and the scald of my hands on the cold metal rail.


Deer occupy a unique place in my personal pantheon of animals. There are many creatures I know very little about, but the difference with deer is that I’ve never had any desire to find out more. They’re like a distant country I’ve never wanted to visit. I know the names of different deer species, and can identify the commonest ones by sight, but I’ve always resisted the almost negligible effort it would take to discover when they give birth, how they grow and shed their antlers, what they eat, where and how they live. Standing on the bridge I’m wondering why that is.

Perhaps my feelings about deer might partly be down to their place in British culture. About five years ago, their images started appearing on soft furnishings and homeware. Deer candles, deer drinking glasses, stag’s-head wallpaper, prints of antlers on curtains and cushions, mock trophy heads stitched out of patchwork tartan. I was used to reindeer motifs all over Christmas, but this cervine proliferation was new. At the time, one design spokesman ascribed it to the British public’s love of cozy country hotels and log fires in winter. But I suspect there was more to it than a yen for seasonal hotel atmospherics. The years following the financial crash of 2008 were marked by a growing glorification of myths of Englishness, ranging from a flourishing of books on the countryside and rural life to “Keep Calm and Carry On” World War II posters and chintz-printed aprons—and a strong shift toward political populism. When a country is hurting it so often grasps for ideas of itself in a longed-for past, and a simple motif like a stag’s head can function like an upholstery button to pleat together a whole slew of useful meanings.

Deer tend to signify a conservative view of the world. I learned that in my twenties, at a time when I was spending a lot of time with hunters, mostly men, many of whom expressed a sneaking admiration for the antics of powerful stags who battled each other to take possession of harems of docile hinds. And it was around that time that I spent a rainy afternoon wandering around an exhibition of paintings by Edwin Landseer in a London gallery. The walls were hung with sad dogs, gleaming horses, various British game animals being torn to pieces, and numerous portraits of red deer stags that seemed the very type of elite Victorian manhood. These stags were grand and harried and very good at striking poses, Monarchs of the Glen whose fragile rule was perpetually threatened by upstarts, whose crowned heads were always lit perfectly by mountain sunlight, paragons of strength bound entire into unshakable courses of action by virtue of being what they were.


The wash of traffic noise subsides as I leave the bridge to regain the path. It’s too dark now to see the deer but I can hear the hollow thump of hooves trotting on sward and when I look behind me the motorway casts the palest, faintest glow behind the trees. Something about this place, I think, will solve the puzzle of my attitude to deer, and I’m beginning to understand that this puzzle isn’t just about a type of mammal. It’s about animals more generally, and what it might mean to not want to know more about them: a much bigger why.

I trudge back to the car, wondering whether motorists passing this place sometimes glance up and see a procession of antlers against the sky, a slow parade of ancient beasts walking across modern infrastructure. The thought brings to mind much older notions of deer, like the white stags that were Celtic emissaries from the underworld, or creatures in medieval romances whose appearances portended the beginning of a quest or great adventure. In this tradition they’re slippery, spooky beings in possession of the deepest spiritual significance and their visitations are always a surprise. I think of one quiet, cold afternoon nearly twenty years ago when I was glumly traipsing through a small wood near my parents’ house musing on the shape of my life and finding it sorely wanting. As I approached a tangle of briars growing over a fallen tree I saw a small, slow curl of smoke rising from behind it, glowing palely on its ascent through rays of winter sunlight. It was exceptionally unsettling. I moved closer and was treated to more incomprehensibility; a sweeping arc of something like upraised bone, something skeletal behind the leaves, and then the resting fallow buck whose rising breath I had been watching leaped up and crashed away into the trees. My heart kicked and raced and for a long while afterward the wood seemed made anew, fretted with rich possibility, and for a long while after that my life also.

Not knowing very much about deer has made my encounters with them less like encounters with real animals and more like tableaux of happenstance, symbolism, and emotion. My ignorance, I think, has been purposive. It has been me saying: I wish there was more magic in the world. And then the deer have appeared to say, Here it is. This is what deer are for me. They stand for the natural world’s capacity to surprise and derail my expectations. And I have wanted them to do that more than I have wanted them to be anything else.

Driving home in the dark I know I’ve reached this understanding because of the geography of the place I’ve just visited, its conjunction of asphalt and trucks and deer. For the capacity of deer to surprise, to hijack the quotidian, is not merely a matter of legend or of remote and ethereal speculation. It is a blunt fact, bloody and frequently deadly, and it happens so often there’s an acronym for it: DVC, which stands for deer–vehicle collision. Thankfully, it has only ever been an almost, for me.

A few years ago, driving a downhill curve at night, I saw a deer in the road in front of me, stark and tense with shock, and then the deer lofted itself into the air, bright and somehow motionless, like the etiolated horses with outstretched legs in eighteenth-century hunting prints. A blooming scald spread under my skin and the car felt as light as if it were sliding on water, even before I braked. What I remember most about that endless moment, apart from the blind heat of it, was the angular neatness of hind hocks and ankles, and the deer’s hard landing against the hedge, the way it shoved itself into that cross-hatched, thorny difficulty before disappearing. And all the rest of that journey I saw nothing but deer crossing the road where there were no deer at all.

Deer are dangerous animals. In America around two hundred people die every year after their vehicles collide with them, and while official figures put the number of DVCs at about one and a half million, it’s likely much higher, for many go unrecorded. The correct advice for drivers encountering a deer in the road is never to swerve, for most human deaths occur when people wrench the wheel away, hit trees, rocks, fences, other cars. But how can you not? There it is, right in front of you, cut out of black and surrounded by a suffused halo of reflected light, a beating heart the size of a fist in a hundred, a hundred and fifty pounds of pearl and terror. It’s coming toward you at fifty, sixty miles an hour. How can you do anything else?

If you live in places prone to DVCs you can buy deer alerts: small whistles for the exterior of your vehicle that are supposed to warn deer of your impending arrival. Some drivers swear by them, but it might just be that knowing the alert is there makes you drive differently, perhaps a little more slowly, a little more defensively, a little readier to expect a deer to appear in your path, because I’ve read that there’s no statistical proof that they have any effect and deer may not be able to hear them at all. They’re tech solutions that work like nazar, those dangling blue and white glass charms against the curse of the evil eye.

It happened to my friend Isabella. She is an artist, and a truly excellent one. When I first met her she was gilding pieces of fresh fruit to make art of their slow collapse over the coming months into corrugated, shining nuggets. I asked her, “You hit a deer. What was that like?” She drew her eyebrows together, just a little. “It was like a collision with the divine,” she said. “You’ve read Euripides, right?” I said, “Yes. I have.” She said, again, “Well. It was a collision with the divine.” Turning on to a fast road at night, lights shone in her eyes from a car in the wrong place. That car had already hit a red deer she couldn’t see. It was lying right across the carriageway. “I drove over it,” she said, shivering with the recollection of the rise and sink of the car’s traverse, feeling the give of flesh and the cracking architecture of ribs. The deer may already have been dead, or perhaps was only stunned, but it was opened up by the weight of her car, which sent a wave of blood across the wet road. Her headlights shone on it. “There was so much blood,” she said. She leaned forward when she told me this, her eyes on mine. “So. Much. Blood.” She told me she could smell the terror of her daughter sitting in the seat next to her. The air around the car that night was foggy, yellow with sodium street lamps, and there was, there was this sheet of blood running in front of the car for what seemed for ever.

“Was it like The Shining?” I asked.

She looked at me levelly, as if I’d not heard a word she’d told me.

“It was much worse.”


Roads belong to us. We don’t expect things that aren’t us to interact with them, to cross from their territory into our own, and with such brute physicality. Even if you escape unscathed, the effect of a DVC can be life-changing. You can see something of that in the way they are handled in the movies, where they’re scripted narrative shocks, horror-movie jumps, choice dei ex machina that derail narratives as they total cars. Sometimes the deer breaks through the windscreen. 

There’ll be blood, antlers that fill the car like candelabras, and the dying stag will have its eyes fixed on the character to whom this event has the deepest significance. Sometimes, in movies, the deer lies on the road in the aftermath of the DVC. If the deer is on the road, and the deer is not dead—and it is not very often dead in Hollywood—there’s the matter of how to deal with this. Often it will be making noises that dying deer don’t make. It will be an animatronic deer, for there are companies in Hollywood who will take a dead deer, skin it, flense it of fat, cure it, lay it over a form that contains a mechanism that, once covered with skin, will mimic the slow in and out of breath. DVCs on screen cast a fierce, traumatic light on the innermost hearts of the characters with the bad luck to experience them. And that is often what they do in reality, too.


All of us know at heart that driving is always challenging fate. We are just very good at pretending it isn’t. A deer in the road is part of the wager we all make and do our best to forget when we drive, as we make our way through life. DVC survivors often maintain that everything changed after the accident, that their life felt recast into something more precious and precarious than before. The deepest ramifications of the DVC are tied intimately to their sense of who they are; they speak of the collision as an event that does not admit the secular, the random, the rational. Often they will not speak of it at all. “The car was destroyed,” they’ll say, or, “The windscreen was smashed,” as if mentioning the other participant in the collision was taboo. And that one line, over and over again: “It came out of nowhere.” Fate comes up out of nowhere in the headlights glowing like a goddamned unicorn, and whatever meaning drivers choose to take from the collision falls upon them as inescapably as any medieval allegory. Look at yourself, says the DVC, cutting through all that is quotidian, cutting it all away. Look at yourself. Here you really are. The old dramatists called that moment of self-understanding anagnorisis.

Most DVCs occur between nightfall and midnight, and again in the small hours before dawn. That’s when deer are moving, but also when we are most prone to oneiric states of mind. Driving in dusk and darkness is a perfect dream of solipsism. Headlights unspool into rises and curves and bulks of fences and passing houses; you call these things into momentary existence, smear them with light and mass before they are gone. And because everything you see is ceaselessly pulled toward and under you, it’s easy to fall prey to the illusion that you are stationary and the world is flowing into you. The fractional somatic forces the terrain exerts, the ghostly burr of the road surface, the small forces of corners and hills are things you feel in your physical frame and the liquids of your ears. And this all means that if a deer appears in front of you, it can feel more than a surprise; it can seem as if some part of you called it into existence, as if it were fashioned by your subconscious mind.
Since returning from the deer forest, my own subconscious mind is full of DVCs. I have tightened my hands on the wheel in anxious anticipation of disaster as I drive through rural woods. At night I’ve dreamed of roads, of mist, of slicks of oil printed with hoofmarks, windscreens crazed by impacts, herds of running deer. I mention this strange new preoccupation to a friend in an email. “Are you OK?” they reply. “Is something bad happening in your life?” I write back and say, “I’m fine; I think I want to write about deer collisions, is all.” They have a suggestion: “Have you checked YouTube? You know there are actual supercuts?” Of course there are. I don’t want to watch them, just as I don’t want to watch videos of other traumatic events that are clickable currency on the internet, things far worse than the accidental coincidence of a deer with an offside fender. But I sit down, find one of the videos, and press play.

The video is made of dashcam footage from many different vehicles edited into a long montage of DVCs. The first thing it makes me think of is first-person-shooter video gameplay, with deer bursting into view so unexpectedly they seem ghostly artifacts on the screen—until they hit metal. It happens again. Another hit. Another cut. Now dusk, the lights of a gas station, the murmur of talk radio. A roe deer colliding with the car, turning over and over in the air before it lands deadweight on the grassy verge. The car slows and halts. A woman gets out. She wears a blue fringed top and a woolen shrug pulled over her shoulders. She walks to where the deer lies, looks down, looks back at the driver, raises both hands, palms up, in a gesture of helplessness. The driver gets out, shoulders set, ignores the deer, and leans down to examine the front of his car. Another vehicle, another overheard conversation, another collision, another dashcam dislodged from the dashboard to point upward at stricken faces. I pause the video, get up, pace about the kitchen. I sit back down, watch some more, stop again. It’s getting harder to continue. Sometimes the deer leaps high over the hood of the car and escapes all harm; most often it does not, and it will fall lengthways onto the bonnet and slide down, or smash the windscreen, or spin balletically away in parabolae of antlers and flesh and bone. I see the puff of fur as a fender makes contact, hear the click of hooves hitting steel. What most surprises me as I watch this repeated, terrible carnage is how high the deer are thrown in the air. Ten, twelve, twenty feet, tumbling end over end, limp and pathetic. 

Toward the end of the video I start reading the comments beneath it. I expect them to be grim and they are. “Cool ragdoll physics,” says one. Another suggests that deer have very low IQs. Another thinks deer are suicidal. “Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny when they B O U N C E off of the cars?” The answer is no. “Oh man,” writes another, “I haven’t laughed this hard at a compilation in a long time, great job seriously.”

I don’t laugh. I sit very still. It takes me a long while to work out how upset I am. My pet parrot understands what I’m feeling faster than I do; he jumps from his perch on the back of a chair, runs along the tabletop, and snuggles against my forearm, extending his soft feathery neck to nibble gently at the back of my hand.

I’ve witnessed a series of extremely violent deaths, and the bodies of deer are sufficiently large that they can’t help but remind us of our own. But I don’t think that’s the reason for my upset, not entirely. The tone of the comments is perturbing, but pretty much par for the course on the internet. Besides, inappropriate laughter is not an unusual response to emotional difficulty. No, my upset is more about how the commentators view the deer as obstacles to progress like the random antagonists in video games; things that have consequential presence but no meaningful existence in and of themselves. And that’s when I realize that most of my upset is directed at myself.

I’ve valued deer for their capacity to surprise and delight me, which is why I’ve resisted learning more about them. The more you know about something, the less it can surprise you. But it’s hard to feel sympathy with a thing whose reality you have chosen to ignore, which makes my attitude not so very different from those who would write approvingly of the physics of a dying deer, or how the best thing about a deer collision is how funny it can be. Deer–vehicle collisions have gripped me so tightly because they are my own attitude to deer writ large and covered in blood and tattered fur and broken glass: everything about them is made of deer being surprising, deer derailing our expectations of the world. I sit at the table and think of deer that die because they have no conception of the nature of roads. Deer that die because they are creatures with their own lives, their own haunts and paths and thoughts and needs. I don’t think I could ever laugh at the sight of a deer being hit by a car. But I have not been innocent. I close the YouTube window, go to a website that sells secondhand natural history books. I buy a book called Understanding Deer.

Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, and naturalist, and an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the best-selling H Is for Hawk, as well as a cultural history of falcons, titled Falcon, and three collections of poetry, including Shaler’s Fish. Macdonald was a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, has worked as a professional falconer, and has assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia. She now writes for The New York Times Magazine.

Friday 28 August 2020

Coronavirus: Missing school is worse than virus for children - Whitty

Children are more likely to be harmed by not returning to school next month than if they catch coronavirus, the UK's chief medical adviser says.

Prof Chris Whitty said "the chances of children dying from Covid-19 are incredibly small" - but missing lessons "damages children in the long run".

Millions of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to return to school within weeks.

Prof Whitty also said Covid-19 would be a challenge for at least nine months.

He said it was unlikely there would be a vaccine in 2020 but there was a "reasonable chance" of a successful jab being ready for the following winter in 2021-22.

Protective measures like distancing, hand washing and cleaning can reduce risks, Prof Whitty said. Reuters

The government has said all pupils, in all year groups, in England will be expected to return to class full-time in September. Schools have already reopened in Scotland.

Prof Whitty, who is also England's chief medical officer, said "many more [children] were likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going" to school.

"There's also very clear evidence from the UK and around the world that children much less commonly get a severe illness and end up having to be hospitalised if they get symptomatic Covid," he added.

His interview came as chief and deputy chief medical officers for all four UK nations said there were "no risk-free options" and it was important for parents and teachers to understand both the risks and benefits as schools reopen.

Labour MP Lucy Powell told BBC Breakfast her party was concerned that the "chaos" brought on by a heavily criticised grading system for A-level and GCSE results had led schools to lose "two valuable weeks that could have been spent preparing" for the safe return to the classroom.

The shadow business minister said schools could open with greater confidence if the Department for Education provided "more clarity" for parents and teachers, improved the coronavirus contact tracing programme, and offered more widespread testing - such as to people without symptoms.

What's the message for parents?
Prof Whitty used his interview to highlight "overwhelming" evidence that in not going to school, children are more likely to have "mental and physical ill health in the long run".

He added that the vast majority of children who died with the virus had "very serious" pre-existing health conditions.
According to the Office for National Statistics' latest data on ages, there were 10 deaths recorded as "due to Covid-19" among those aged 19 and under in England and Wales between March and June - and 46,725 deaths among those aged 20 and over.

Of the more than one million children who attended pre-school and primary schools in England in June, 70 children and 128 staff were infected in outbreaks of the virus, according to a Public Health England study published on Sunday.

It said most of the 30 outbreaks detected in that time had likely been caused by staff members infecting other staff or students, with only two outbreaks thought to involve students infecting other students.

The study also suggested children who went to school during June were more likely to catch coronavirus at home than at school.

Analysis by Hugh Pym, health editor
Prof Chris Whitty was speaking officially on behalf of all the chief medical officers of the UK's nations. But this rare interview reveals a lot more about his own views on how the virus is developing.

More parents going back to work with schools reopening will probably, he believes, increase virus transmission and that may require restrictions in other areas.

He says people need to accept that, with autumn and winter, the pressures will increase.

He refers to "an incredibly narrow path" to be walked to protect people from the virus without further damage to the economy, meaning there is "not very much room for manoeuvre".

If the virus picks up among younger adults, he argues, that can spread to older and more vulnerable age groups. His conclusion is that there is a really serious challenge for at least another nine months.

This is a chief medical officer who seems unlikely to back further easing of restrictions and to be ready to propose tightening if that is the price which has to be paid for the vitally important goal of getting children back to school.

Will children spread the virus to grandparents?
Prof Whitty said it looked as if "there is much less transmission from children to adults than adults to adults".

He said reopening schools would connect households in other ways - for example by parents meeting at school gates, or mixing with others as a result of being able to return to work.

"The fact of schools being open will probably lead to some increase in transmission but much of that is indirect," he said.

Are school staff at risk?
Data shows that staff spreading the virus to other members of staff is "maybe actually more important than staff members catching it from pupils", Prof Whitty said.

He said that - much like other workplaces - "it is staff coming together and spreading it to one another" that can drive infections.

"Even with the best actions, you cannot take that [risk of transmission] down to zero and we're really clear about that and we don't want to pretend otherwise."

Epidemiologist Prof Sian Griffiths told BBC Breakfast that returning school staff - and parents who can therefore go back to their workplace - should remember the "simple messages" around hygiene, such as washing hands regularly and covering sneezes.

"Some of the times when people forget about transmission are for example in the staff room, or in the work canteen or in the coffee room at work... that's how the disease is spread in situations outside homes," she said.

Can schools ever be completely safe?
Prof Whitty said the risks could be minimised by having hygiene and cleaning measures in place, but warned that as with any workplace, "we cannot say the risk will be taken down to zero".

The NASUWT teachers' union said the "critical importance" of social distancing and hygiene had been reinforced by the chief medical officers' statement.

The National Education Union accused the government of letting down pupils and teachers by lacking a "Plan B" if there is a spike in infections.

It said the government should be seeking extra space, as well as mobilising supply staff, to allow classes to continue safely if infections rise.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said ministers had been doing "everything we can" to help schools get ready to reopen.

Writing in the Sunday Times, he said he wanted to reassure every parent and pupil that schools "are ready for them", and the autumn return to schools was "more important than ever" this year.

Meanwhile, Mr Williamson defended his decision to visit Scarborough days before the release of A-level results in England, up to 40% of which are being changed after the initial grading system was scrapped.

Mr Williamson said in a tweet that, while he visited family in Scarborough, he was in "constant communication" with the Department for Education.

Social media pictures show pupils sitting close to each other at schools in Scotland

Helen Carter, deputy head teacher at Burnage Academy for Boys in Manchester, told BBC Breakfast that school would look "very different" for her pupils.

She said the school will have five separate entrances for each of its "year group bubbles", and that children will only move to different classrooms for specific subjects such as PE and design and technology.

Ms Carter said she expected to have to persuade some parents that the site "is as secure as we can make it, and children do need to come back to school".

"It's been a long time, they need to re-engage with their learning - and it's also the issue of mental health. Children need to be back in the classroom where teachers are best placed to look after them and help them make the progress they need for their learning," she said.

Should face coverings be worn in schools?
In Scotland, where pupils returned to classrooms this month, there has been criticism from pupils and parents about safety measures and the ability to maintain social distancing.

And a school in Edinburgh has told pupils and staff to wear face coverings while moving around between lessons.
The World Health Organization has said children aged 12 and over should wear masks in line with national recommendations, citing evidence suggesting teenagers can infect others in the same way as adults.

Children's minister Vicky Ford told Times Radio that children "should not normally need to wear face masks" at school because if they form small bubbles with other children, it is clear who their close contacts are.

"That's very different than for example if you were on public transport or if you were out in a shopping place, where you don't know who you are mixing with," she said.

"In the school setting, the children and young people will be kept in their consistent groups - and that means if there was an outbreak, it can be very quickly managed."

What about the R number and a vaccine?
The latest government estimate saw the R number - the rate at which an infected person passes on the virus to someone else - rise to 0.9-1.1, meaning infections may be growing.

Prof Whitty said he would be "quite surprised if we had a highly effective vaccine ready for mass use in a large percentage of the population before the end of winter, certainly before this side of Christmas".

He said while people were developing a vaccine at extraordinarily fast speed", the virus would continue to pose a "really serious challenge" for at least the next nine months.

(Source: BBC)