After months of accusations from President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the covid-19 virus originated in a laboratory in China, a WHO team has started discussions with scientists in Wuhan where the outbreak was first detected. China has denied US accusations. The three-week advance mission comprises two specialists in animal health and epidemiology. A larger team of Chinese and international experts will follow to discover how the virus that causes COVID-19 jumped the species barrier from animals to humans.
How Apple overtook Aramco
Apple may have been in the hotseat last week at the US congressional antitrust hearing, but this week it’s in striking distance of a market cap of $2 trillion, aided by the pandemic and oil price crash. Apple shares rose 10% to a record high on Friday after blockbuster quarterly results, which helped the tech company to overtake Saudi Aramco and become the world’s most valuable publicly listed firm. Its stock rose another 2.5% on Monday in the US to $435.75, giving Apple a valuation of $1.86 trillion. Saudi Aramco is worth $1.76 trillion. Before the oil price crash, it was worth over $2 trillion. Despite the pandemic, Apple announced revenue of $59.7 billion in April-June 2020, up 11% from the same period last year. Analysts say companies declaring profits despite a low-growth environment will continue to gain. Apple, meanwhile, has reportedly asked its retail store landlords in UK to slash rent 50% due to covid-19.
Virus affects 1 billion students
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the pandemic has led to the largest disruption of education in history, with schools closed in over 160 countries in mid-July, and more than one billion students affected. Calling it “a generational catastrophe”, he said at least 40 million children have missed out on education “in their critical preschool year.” A projection covering 180 nations by Unesco shows 23.8 million additional children and youth from pre-primary school to university level are at risk of dropping out or not having access to school next year due to covid-19’s economic impact. The crisis has deepened digital, social and gender inequalities, with girls, refugees, disabled and youngsters in rural areas the most vulnerable and facing limited opportunities to continue education. Before the pandemic, low- and middle-income countries faced an education funding gap of $1.5 trillion annually, he said.
Coal’s no longer hot
Global coal-fired power capacity fell for the first time in the first half of 2020 as the pandemic has put projects on hold and accelerated the closing of coal plants, especially in the US and Europe. Coal-based power generation has fallen 2.9 GW, which may seem little as it’s just over 0.1% of the world’s coal generation capacity, but it marks a turning point in the burning of fossil fuel to produce electricity, according to Global Energy Monitor and Bloomberg (chart). Many countries are moving to cleaner energy, and so mining companies are looking to Asia to shore up demand, but here too, the shift is away from coal. India’s coal imports for power generation, for instance, dropped to their lowest in seven years, and producers are buying more natural gas for electricity as prices fall.
Now, a flight to nowhere
We’re all feeling the effect of not being able to plan vacations, but Taiwan’s trying to counter it. One of its biggest carriers Eva Air is offering a flight to nowhere. On 8 August, Father’s Day in Taiwan, a plane decorated in Hello Kitty livery will take off from Taipei Taoyuan Airport and return to the same location three hours later. Passengers can get a glimpse of Guishan Island and the scenic Huadong coast. Eva Air calls it an “alternative travel experience” to satisfy grounded travellers, who will be served a Michelin-starred meal and have free WiFi and inflight entertainment. Economy seats are $180 each, and business $214. In July, Taipei Songshan Airport offered a “pretend to go abroad” airport tour. People starved of travel could check in, go through passport control and security, and even board the aircraft. They just never took off. Taiwan locked down its borders in March as the pandemic began to peak.
‘Star Wars’ inspires e-skin
Scientists in Singapore have developed “electronic skin” capable of recreating a sense of touch, which they hope will allow people with prosthetic limbs to touch objects as well as feel texture, temperature and pain. It’s called ACES, or Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin, and is made up of 100 small sensors. The network of flexible sensors processes information much like the human nervous system but at a faster pace, and sends it to the brain. The research team at the National University of Singapore say the “electronic skin” is able to recognize 20-30 textures and can read Braille letters with more than 90% accuracy. People with prosthetics often sorely miss their lost sense of touch. The researchers said they were inspired by a scene from the Star Wars film trilogy in which Luke Skywalker loses his right hand and it is replaced by a robotic one that can experience touch again.
Curated by Shalini Umachandran. Have something to share with us? Write to us at [email protected] or tweet to @shalinimb