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Coronavirus Has a Deadly Weapon That You Did Not Know About: The Super Spreaders

Coronavirus now has a name. COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained, “co” stood for “corona”, “vi” for “virus” and “d” for “disease”. The official death toll from Coronavirus, or COVID-19 and also known as 2019-nCoV is now more than 1000 globally, and the worldwide spread of the disease continues and China remains the worst hit. Perhaps the official statistic that there are more than 42,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus hits home the fact that this is now very much a global problem.

The Coronavirus has a secret weapon, much like SARS before it. The super spreader. But what is a super spreader? While there is no strict medical definition for this term, this usually refers to the person who is infected by a particular virus or disease and subsequently spreads the infection to significantly more people than someone else also infected by the same virus or disease. Reports out of Hong Kong suggest that a super spreader at the high-rise tower called Hong Mei House in north-western Hong Kong’s Tsing Yi has put more than 3000 residents at risk, after the Coronavirus appeared to have spread inside the complex via pipes and ducts.

A typical infection spreader follows the traditional steps. He or she catches a virus but may not know about it at this point. Then as carriers, they each infect people in close proximity. Science is at a consensus that this spread is usually 2.6 people per person, on an average. Subsequently, the carrier and ones the infection was spread to show the symptoms and are taken into quarantine for treatment. But a super-spreader works a bit differently. A super-spreader also catches the virus or infection much like everyone else, but unknowingly spreads it to 8 people on an average immediately, as against 2.6 people that someone else would. If like the Coronavirus, the infection stays in the body for up to 14 days before showing symptoms, the spread can continue further.

But this isn’t the first case.

According to a study published in JAMA on February 7 which analysed as many as 138 confirmed Coronavirus cases in Wuhan confirms that some people may pass on the virus more readily than the average person. “One reason for the rapid spread may be related to the atypical symptoms in the early stage in some patients infected with nCoV,” says the research.

Briton Steve Walsh is perhaps the most high profile among the Coronavirus super spreaders thus far. It is believed that Walsh caught the virus, at that point unknown to him, in Singapore. He then made a long journey home, via a ski resort in The Alps, and ended up infecting as many as 11 people along the way. He has since recovered, but the weight of being the reason for 11 other people catching Coronavirus because of him, is clearly weighing heavily.

There is no scientific explanation for how some infected people become super spreaders. But the virus uses some human carriers in a way that the infection spreads to more people than the average.

“In most outbreaks you’ll find super spreaders but we don’t really understand the mechanism. What we often think is these people are producing lots of virus, and that generally translates to lots of transmission potential. But why do certain people produce lots of virus? We’re unsure,” Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said to The Telegraph.

The main signs of the Coronavirus infection are high fever, cough, cold and a shortness of breath. In short, typical flu symptoms at first. Doctors suggest that frequently washing your hands with soap, using hand sanitizers regularly, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and avoiding contact with a potentially infected human can reduce the chances of the spread of infection.

According to the constantly updated data from The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China as well as information shared by local governments, there are now more than 33,000 confirmed cases in China, more than 135 in Japan if we also include those cases on the Diamond Princes cruise ship now quarantined, 47 in Singapore, 28 in South Korea, 33 in Thailand, 13 in the United States of America, 8 in Britain, 16 in Germany and 3 in India, to list out a few. By the time you read this, the stats would have changed.

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Equifax Hack Alleges Chinese Military Caught Stealing Millions of Americans' Data

Four members of the Chinese military have been charged with breaking into the computer networks of the Equifax credit reporting agency and stealing the personal information of tens of millions of Americans, the Justice Department said Monday, blaming Beijing for one of the largest hacks in history to target consumer data. The hackers in the 2017 breach stole the personal information of roughly 145 million Americans, collecting names, addresses, Social Security and driver’s license numbers and other data stored in the company’s databases. The intrusion damaged the company’s reputation and underscored China’s increasingly aggressive and sophisticated intelligence-gathering methods.

“The scale of the theft was staggering,” Attorney General William Barr said Monday in announcing the indictment. “This theft not only caused significant financial damage to Equifax, but invaded the privacy of many millions of Americans, and imposed substantial costs and burdens on them as they have had to take measures to protect against identity theft.” The case is the latest U.S. accusation against Chinese hackers suspected of breaching networks of American corporations, including steel manufacturers, a hotel chain and a health insurer. It comes as the Trump administration has warned against what it sees as the growing political and economic influence of China, and efforts by Beijing to collect data for financial and intelligence purposes and to steal research and innovation.

The indictment arrives at a delicate time in relations between Washington and Beijing. Even as President Donald Trump points to a preliminary trade pact with China as evidence of his ability to work with the Communist government, other members of his administration have been warning against cybersecurity and surveillance risks posed by China, especially as the tech giant Huawei seeks to become part of new, high-speed 5G wireless networks across the globe. Experts and U.S. officials say the Equifax theft is consistent with the Chinese government’s interest in accumulating as much information about Americans as possible. The data can be used by China to target U.S. government officials and ordinary citizens, including possible spies, and to find weaknesses and vulnerabilities that can be exploited — such as for purposes of blackmail. The FBI has not seen that happen yet in this case, said Deputy Director David Bowdich, though he said it “doesn’t mean it will or will not happen in the future.”

“We have to be able to recognize that as a counterintelligence issue, not a cyber issue,” Bill Evanina, the U.S. government’s top counterintelligence official, said of the Equifax case. The four accused hackers are suspected members of the People’s Liberation Army, an arm of the Chinese military that was blamed in 2014 for a series of intrusions into American corporations. Prosecutors say they exploited a software vulnerability to gain access to Equifax’s computers, obtaining log-in credentials that they used to navigate databases and review records. They also took steps to cover their tracks, the indictment says, wiping log files on a daily basis and routing traffic through about three dozen servers in nearly 20 countries. Besides stealing personal information, the hackers also made off with some of the company’s sensitive trade secrets, including database designs, law enforcement officials said.

Equifax, headquartered in Atlanta, maintains a massive repository of consumer information that it sells to businesses looking to verify identities or assess creditworthiness. All told, the indictment says, the company holds information on hundreds of millions of people in America and abroad. None of the accused hackers is in U.S. custody. But officials nonetheless hope criminal charges can be a deterrent to foreign hackers and a warning to other countries that American law enforcement has the capability to pinpoint individual culprits. Even so, while China and the U.S. committed in 2015 to halt acts of cyber espionage against each other, the Equifax intrusion and others like it make clear that Beijing has continued its operations. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not return an email seeking comment Monday.

The case resembles a 2014 indictment that accused five members of the PLA of hacking into American corporations to steal trade secrets. U.S. authorities also suspect China in the 2015 breach of the federal Office of Personnel Management and of intrusions into the Marriott hotel chain and health insurer Anthem. Such hacks “seem to deliberately cast a wide net” so that Chinese intelligence analysts can get deep insight into the lives of Americans, said Ben Buchanan, a Georgetown University scholar and author of the upcoming book “The Hacker and the State.” “This could be especially useful for counterintelligence purposes, like tracking American spies posted to Beijing,” Buchanan said.

Barr, who at an event last week warned of Beijing’s aspirations of economic dominance, said Monday the U.S. has long “witnessed China’s voracious appetite for the personal data of Americans.” “This kind of attack on American industry is of a piece with other Chinese illegal acquisitions of sensitive personal data,” Barr said. The criminal charges, which include conspiracy to commit computer fraud and conspiracy to commit economic espionage, were filed in federal court in Atlanta. Equifax last year reached a $700 million settlement over the data breach, with the bulk of the funds intended for consumers affected by it.

Equifax officials told the Government Accountability Office the company made many mistakes, including having an outdated list of computer systems administrators. The company didn’t notice the intruders targeting its databases for more than six weeks. Hackers exploited a known security vulnerability that Equifax hadn’t fixed. While company stock has recovered, Equifax’s reputation has not fully. The company was dragged in front of Congress no less than four times to explain what happened. The company is about to start paying out claims on its $700 million settlement, of which more claimants have opted in to getting a cash settlement than accept credit counseling. So many claims have been made for the cash that the lawyers suing Equifax and the Federal Trade Commission have warned claimants that the chance of getting the full cash value of the settlement was unlikely.

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Coronavirus Outbreak Causing Unexpected Growth in Games, Video App Downloads in China

Illustrative image of Plague Inc, a strategy simulation game that lets players infect the world . (Photo: Reuters)

Illustrative image of Plague Inc, a strategy simulation game that lets players infect the world . (Photo: Reuters)

The prospect of being stuck in quarantine is leading to games and video streaming apps being one of the very few to benefit from Coronavirus, as per Reuters.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: February 4, 2020, 4:07 PM IST

Online games and short video apps have been among the few beneficiaries of China’s virus outbreak, raking in millions of views and downloads as people stuck in self-quarantine at home seek entertainment and ways to beguile their time. The shift has even drawn companies more used to doing business in showrooms, such as carmakers Tesla and Mercedes-Benz, to promote products heavily online during the week.

Chinese travel and gather with family and friends during the traditional Lunar New Year holiday, but many postponed or cancelled their plans over concerns sparked in mid-January about the spread of a new virus that has killed 420. “I only use my mobile phone for three hours a day at work, but at least eight hours every day during the Spring Festival, because it’s so boring,” Lu Zhang, a junior high school teacher in eastern Shandong province, said of the enforced holiday.

Investors have seized on the trend, with shares of Chinese game publishers, such as Tencent, rising 2% in Hong Kong on Tuesday, outstripping a rise of 1% in the benchmark, while in New York, NetEase rose nearly 3%. U.S.-listed shares in Chinese video platform Bilibili rose almost 7%, while shares of search engine Baidu and e-commerce giant Alibaba also rose. Five mobile game developers, including Ourpalm, surged by the maximum allowed 10% on Tuesday.

Weekly downloads jumped 77% on ByteDance’s Xigua video app from Jan. 20 to Jan. 26, after it announced plans to stream the premiere of a movie, “Lost in Russia” for free, data from performance tracker App Annie showed. “My screen time yesterday exceeded 10 hours,” one Shanghai resident, identified only as Wang, said in a social media post, adding, “What do you all suggest I do other than look at my cellphone?” Also popular are health and fitness apps, such as Keep, which livestreams fitness classes. Its revenue surged 15% for the week, while healthcare app Pingan Good Doctor saw downloads jump 1,186%.

“We believe that China internet and logistics companies are somewhat sheltered,” from the impact of the virus outbreak, analysts from Bernstein Research wrote in a Monday note, amid a growing trend for all products and services to move online. Tencent’s blockbuster mobile game, “Honour of Kings” made up to 2 billion yuan ($286 million) on the Jan. 24 eve of the holiday, estimated Pei Pei, an analyst with Sinolink Securities Co, exceeding all the Chinese mobile games on Apple’s app store during the entire week-long break in 2018. Tencent declined to comment.

Strategy simulation app “Plague Inc.”, which jumped to the top of the charts in Apple’s app store, retained its popularity. The game, which allows users to create and evolve a pathogen to destroy the world, generated 78,000 downloads in January, up from 16,000 in December, according to Sensor Tower. “Many students play games during the Spring Festival,” said the junior high teacher, Lu, adding that she spent more than five hours each day playing poker, among other games. “Sometimes they invite me to join when they see me online.” U.S. electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc, which started delivery in December of cars built at its $2-billion Shanghai plant, stepped up daily livestreamed sales events on video app Douyin to highlight features of its vehicles.

Several sales dealers for Mercedes Benz also took to the WeChat app with a link to a 360-degree interior view of its GLB compact SUV, simulating the passenger experience and offering close-ups of the seats’ leather stitching details and dashboard. “Not leaving home, so use virtual reality to look at cars!” one of the representatives exhorted viewers.

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Tech

Coronavirus Affects Tech Supply Chains as Korea Feels the Heat

The new coronavirus-triggered angst appears to be spilling over to the Korean corporate realm as the global supply chain is feared to face some disruptions, industry watchers said Sunday. With the new coronavirus killing more than 300 people in China so far, Beijing recently decided to extend its Lunar New Year’s holiday in some areas of the country in what could be a move that can disturb the normal operations of South Korean firms with manufacturing bases there, Yonhap news agency reported.

The extension of the holiday that originally started January 25 was earlier announced only in Hubei province in central China, where Wuhan, the epicentre of the new virus, is located but was later expanded to other areas as the number of patients skyrocketed at an alarming pace. South Korea’s exports are poised to face a setback should the spread of the virus not be contained soon, industry watchers said, as local firms with production facilities in China have been suspending or scaling back their operations in the world’s No. 2 economy.

South Korea’s top tech giant Samsung Electronics Co. decided to shut down the operations of its home appliances production line in Suzhou, eastern China, until next week in tune with the extended holiday. LG Electronics Inc. and SK Innovation Co. also plan to put off the reopening of their Chinese production line until the end of next week. LG Chem Ltd. said it has sharply lowered the operational level of its battery line in China as well. Korean chipmakers and display makers, on the other hand, have been maintaining the routine operation over the holiday, although LG Display Co. said it is considering closing down its facilities depending on the development of the issue.

“We already secured enough inventory in preparation for the Chinese New Year’s holiday, but it is inevitable for us to face troubles if the situation is drawn out over a long period,” a SK Innovation official said. Chipmaker SK hynix Inc. said South Korean firms will eventually face some disruptions in their operations and production if the issue is protracted. Industry watchers said the rapid spread of the new coronavirus has already prodded South Korean carmakers to scale down their production as the supply of some auto parts has been disrupted by the spread of the new virus.

SsangYong Motor Co. earlier said it will suspend the production of its plant in South Korea through February 12 amid a delay in the supply of wiring harnesses, a part used to supply power in an automobile. South Korean carmakers depend heavily on China for the supply of parts. “As many auto parts makers have relocated to China to cut costs, it will not be easy for them to return home,” said Lee Hang-koo, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade.

Numerous South Korean firms, including Samsung Electronics, have kicked off task force teams, but the companies are likely to continue to face uncertainties as the new coronavirus situation is changing every minute, industry watchers added.

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Huawei Set to Face 'Strict' 5G Rules in Europe, States EU Official

Huawei has been facing stiff opposition from USA, which is urging its allies to not conduct business with the Chinese electronics and technology behemoth

Representative image of Huawei's logo, in front of one of its facilities. (Photo: Reuters)
Representative image of Huawei’s logo, in front of one of its facilities. (Photo: Reuters)
The EU will not ban Chinese telecom giant Huawei or any other company in Europe, a top official said on Tuesday, despite intense pressure from Washington to shun the firm over spying fears. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will officially unveil recommendations to member states on Wednesday, but commissioner Thierry Breton told MEPs that Brussels will choose tight scrutiny over any blanket ban.

“It is not a question of discrimination, it is a question of laying down rules. They will be strict, they will be demanding and of course we will welcome in Europe all operators who are willing to apply them,” he said. The EU, while never explicitly naming the Chinese giant, is struggling to find a middle way to balance Huawei’s huge dominance in the 5G sector with security concerns pressed by Washington.

The proposal is part of a so-called “toolbox” of recommendations that will guide the EU’s 27 post-Brexit member states as they build crucial 5G networks. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also expected on Tuesday to risk Washington’s anger with a similar decision to trust strict rules instead of a ban on Huawei. A ban on Huawei would ultimately be up to an individual member state, but the commission’s middle road recommendation gives cover to European capitals to resist pleas from Washington.

Huawei is one of the world’s leading network technology suppliers, and one of the few — along with European telecom companies Nokia and Ericsson — capable of building 5G networks. The United States sees the company as a potential threat to cybersecurity and fears it would facilitate cyber espionage by the Chinese government, to which it is said to have close links.

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This City Uses CCTV Cameras And AI to Shame People Wearing Pyjamas in Public

The Chinese city official has since apologised, the way anyone in the Chinese authority is perhaps expected to.

This City Uses CCTV Cameras And AI to Shame People Wearing Pyjamas in Public
It is expected that China will add 400 million more surveillance cameras across its cities by the end of the year, in addition to the 170 million or so that are already in place. (Images: Twitter and Reuters)

This city in China thinks wearing pyjamas outdoors is “uncivilized behavior”. And this is the city of Suzhou in China. The Government officials in Suzhou in the Anhui province released pictures of seven citizens wearing their nightwear outdoors, on a WeChat account run by the local government and categorized it as uncivilized behavior. The pictures were captured by surveillance cameras installed in the city. And it wasn’t just photos. These were accompanied by details such as the person’s name and ID card numbers. Later, a city official apologized for this uncalled-for naming and shaming in public and on online platforms. As it turns out, Suzhou city is taking part in a national “civilised city” competition, and that residents were banned from wearing pyjamas in public which apparently pull down the ranking of the city.

In a tweet by Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says, “People publicly shamed in China for going out in their PJs. Their surname, picture, and partial ID number made public. Local govt asked people to submit more “uncivilized” PJ photos – 10 bucks for each picture verified.” The officials had a justification for this—and this is the closest one should come to expecting an apology from the Chinese, if at all . “We wanted to put an end to uncivilised behaviour, but of course we should protect residents’ privacy,” said the officials said in a statement reported by the BBC.

But if you think this is going to stop, think again. The officials say that they will now blur out the person’s face in the images instead.

It is expected that China will add 400 million more surveillance cameras across its cities by the end of the year, in addition to the 170 million or so that are already in place. Many of these cameras are artificially intelligence, tapping into the massive database that the Chinese authorities have in place to identify citizens using facial recognition.

The scientists at Fudan University working with the Changchun Institute of Optics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have already developed a 500-megapixel surveillance camera that can identify one person in a crowd of thousands.

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One in Every Five Mid-range Phones in China to be 5G Enabled: Report

Companies such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo are expected to lead the 5G smartphone charge in China this year.

Representative image. (Illustration: CC0 Public Domain)
Representative image. (Illustration: CC0 Public Domain)

Chinese local research agencies suggests that 20 per cent of all mid range smartphones will support 5G, thanks to the expansion of the network in the country. An estimated 5 million 5G capable smartphones were sold in December 2019 alone, and it is expected that more than 20 per cent of the smartphones under $290 will be 5G enabled this year, news portal GSMArena reported on Tuesday. By 2021, the same statistics are expected to be applicable across the globe.

Xiaomi co-founder Lei Jun recently announced the company is planning to pump $7 billion in 5G, AI and IoT over the next five years. Lei said: “We need to turn our continuous advantage we have in a combination of AI, internet technologies and intelligent life into absolute victory in the intelligent scene, and completely cement our king status in the smart era.” Earlier, Lei had also revealed that the company is planning to release more than 10 5G phones this year.

Additionally, US based investment banking and financial service company Goldman Sachs forecasted a hefty 200 million 5G smartphone shipments globally this year. The new predicted value is about 20 times more than the sales figure of 2019. According to estimates, there will be about 1 million new 5G base stations in China this year. This is higher than the original 600,000 prediction by Goldman Sachs.