DL

Daniel Lapidus

2 apr. 2020

Beating Covid-19 – a personal reflection and favourite bookmarks

In a time when philosophers and PPE – personal protective equipment – are in high demand, Daniel Lapidus reflects on macro strategies and civic tech employed in beating Covid-19.

One of my first courses at university was Medical ethics. We were a group of perhaps 20 students, and given morally challenging scenarios, we reflected on who should live, and who should die.

A subset of philosophers spend their whole lives devoted to such questions, so that we, as a society, have a book of rules – or at least guidelines – when the situation demands.

My teachers and their colleagues are such philosophers. Usually they would be confined to pious life in academic hallways, but since recently their calm, yet disquieting voices are heard far beyond – on websites like the New York Times and on national radio.

This is because the threat of Covid-19 is real. Researchers have warned of a respiratory virus pandemic for years, and countries have been preparing more or less successfully.

Exponentiality works both ways

To bridge the gap between our governments' preparations and the exponential spread of the virus, time is key. As citizens, we need to do our very best to stop spreading the virus, so that it withdraws as quickly as it surfaced. Exponentiality fortunately works both ways – growth vs decay – and if we can minimise the spread below one person infecting another person, we will rapidly lower the burden on our healthcare systems.

But whereas the virus has mostly the same composition everywhere (until it mutates into something more or less harmful), our regional and local contexts differ vastly. A measure that flattens the curve in one country could bend it upward in another, or have other unintended consequences. It is important to understand that only with testing, and epidemiological modelling and research, can we devise sound and contextual counter-strategies.

As citizens we have a role to play here in trying to understand why different governments enact different policies, and hold them to account when their actions are contrary to the best scientific models and predictions.

Locking up the book of rules

At Datastory, we are preoccupied with building a platform that can bring such models and data together, so that everyone has equal access to key information. Not particularly in times of crisis, but perhaps more so in-between. Hans Rosling used to emphasise that what shapes our societies is primarily the slow and steady progress between larger crises, and that's in part what motivates us to work proactively to educate on a global scale.

But the Covid-19 pandemic – just like the war in Syria, hunger crisis in Yemen or the risks of climate change – makes you want to change your focus immediately. Despite our respect for the medical ethicists' work – you remember the philosophers that are now on TV – we all detest the idea of having to apply their calibrated valuations of human lives at the frontlines of our medical system.

The good news is that we can all contribute to keeping the book of rules locked up in its cabinet. We can all contribute to a more nuanced understanding of this pandemic, and therefore to a better defence.

At a cost to society – and in part due to a lack of planning – we need to take more precautions and rapidly find new ways to collaborate on a global scale. The same way New York's mayor is now asking public and private hospitals to share information, supplies, staff and patients, countries need to ship adequate resources to where lives can be saved.

It starts with understanding

Below you find some of my personal bookmarks. They are in no way conclusive, but they provide interesting perspectives on what the Covid-19 pandemic is, what is being done to prevent loss of lives and how it might shape our future societies.

The basics

  1. Peter Piot, a leading microbiologist known for his research into Ebola and AIDS, answers 100 questions.
  2. Bill Gates warned about a new pandemic in his TEDTalk, and recently followed up with an interesting interview from his home:

The medicine

The debate

4. Can the tech platforms help us in a time of crisis?

5. Some interesting macro perspectives:

6. Yuval Noah Harari on "the world after coronavirus":

The civic tech

7. Here in Sweden we have some interesting initiatives such as Tellcorona and Hack the Crisis.

8. Lastly, here's a website where makers unite. The helpwithcovid.com website lists projects seeking volunteers for various Covid-19 related projects such as 3D-printed face shields:


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