World Half Full
Amid the lockdown, we are rising up
From grocery shopping for the elderly to delivering meals to offering free classes online to giving food away to hosting virtual story times for bored kids to artists performing in couch choirs and virtual concerts to helping those same artists affected by cancellations to offering free emergency dental care, acts of kindness during the lockdown are providing uplifting moments of joy in a world beset by anxiety and fear. With the mainstream media awash with coronavirus doom porn, here are just a few of the many thousands of examples that show we can and do rise to the occasion.
Easy meals for those without a kitchen
The coronavirus has caused a noticeable increase in rough sleeping in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, say homeless advocates. To help, Australian food rescue organisation, OzHarvest, is handing out hampers to rough sleepers. With Australia in lockdown and many businesses closed, OzHarvest found itself inundated with produce. “We collected nine tonnes of fresh food from The Star in Sydney and the Gold Coast, three tonnes of food from Virgin Airlines as they shut,” said OzHarvest founder Ronnie Khan. To ensure the food didn’t spoil, OzHarvest turned the ingredients into minestrone and other dishes that can be frozen. In the process, the charity has been generating more than 5,000 meals a week. Travis Harvey, OzHarvest’s executive chef, told SBS News: “They're individually portioned and easy to freeze: an easy meal to help those without access to a kitchen.” Since the lockdown, the demand for OzHarvest’s services has risen by 50 percent.
Meanwhile, in California, residents of Vacaville in the state’s north have banded together to ensure that the community’s most vulnerable families avoid homelessness or hunger during the pandemic. “We’re trying to help them so they don’t have to decide between their rent and their food,” Mark Lillis of non-profit The Leaven told The Reporter. “We’re providing a box of canned food items and staples to each door.” Lillis said it was media images of long lines at food banks that brought people’s plight close to home. Since he took action, other local organisations have come on board to donate goods and services. Lillis said he’s grateful to anyone willing to help. “It’s a good way to connect with and care for people — and love them.”
LEGO builds visors, other corporates chip in
LEGO’s Billund-based factory in Denmark has reworked some of its machinery to make more than 13,000 plastic visors a day to be distributed to hospitals and medical centres across the country. Although these visors do not offer the same protection as N95 masks, individuals (here and here) and businesses (here and here) around the world have been producing plastic shields — as well as homemade cloth masks — for medical workers to use as extra protection in high-risk areas. Staff “worked around the clock to create designs and make moulds,” according to the company. LEGO also announced it would donate 500,000 brick sets to children in need during the lockdown.
Other corporate shoutouts include IKEA staffers who donated 50,000 N95 masks to a Swedish hospital after it was discovered the coveted masks were collecting dust in a warehouse. Chinese consumer technology company Xiaomi sent tens of thousands of masks to Italian hospitals in March and to Romania in April. Apple has donated ten million masks in the US and “millions” more to Europe. Facebook will donate 720,000 masks it had purchased as a protective measure against the California wildfires and plans to source millions more. Tesla’s Elon Musk is donating at least 250,000 N95 masks. (Doctors in at least two hospitals in New York City had been told to reuse their masks to preserve supplies, it was reported in March.)
Fashion calls to arms
Meanwhile, in London, a British designer concerned at the lack of availability of face masks for frontline workers began researching how to make them. With the information at hand, Phoebe English then enlisted her fashionista friends to help with production. “At first, we started cold-emailing large organisations,” English told Vogue.com. “We didn’t get any responses. So I thought I’d try social media. We were immediately flooded with advice, tons and tons of people offering to help from their sewing machines at home; people from Hong Kong sharing videos of how to make DIY masks, people sending charts on the breathability of different household textiles.” Following English’s lead, the British Fashion Council called the industry to arms. Before long, fashion outlets across the UK joined the effort to produce face masks. Speaking to the Financial Times, English said the production process is much more complex than just plonking down in front of a sewing machine. “Masks need to be certified, they need to be produced in sterile environments. The materials need to be treated. It’s a completely different, new vocabulary,” she said. Once the Covid crisis is over, English intends to carry on creating emergency designer wear — “so if a need arises, we have the skills”.
Open source ventilator ready
An Irish project to develop an easy-to-assemble mechanically operated ventilator that can be made using 3D printers and off-the-shelf components to treat patients with Covid-19 is at the prototype stage. The Open Source Ventilator (OSV) project is the brainchild of Colin Keogh, a 3D printing developer from University College Dublin’s school of engineering. Keogh said he thought it would be used in emergencies and in countries that don’t have as many resources. “We’re confident it won’t be needed [in Ireland], but if we get terribly unlucky then it would be good to have something ready to go that has parts that are either 3D-printable or use components that are easily available and even already used in other devices,” he added. “We want to have something ready rather than be starting from scratch. It is very much a better-safe-than-sorry scenario.”
But not all developed countries are prepared. The American Hospital Association, for example, has estimated there are not enough ventilators currently available in the US to meet the demand for breathing support for patients.
The idea for the OSV arose after Gui Cavalcanti, co-founder and CEO of Breeze Automation, posted on social media asking for experts to collaborate to develop much-needed medical equipment that could be built quickly and cheaply. Some 300 computer engineers, scientists, doctors and researchers are now involved in such projects worldwide.
Dogs doing diagnosis
Man’s best friend may soon be helping us fight Covid-19. Medical detection dogs could be used at UK airports to sniff out the virus in passengers arriving from overseas. The dogs — more commonly used to detect medical conditions such as cancer and malaria — can sniff test up to 750 people an hour. Speaking to the BBC, Dr Claire Guest of Medical Detection Dogs, said, “A dog is sniffing each person in turn — it takes half a second, the dog quickly identifies which people need a test and need to go straight into isolation to prevent the further spread around the UK.” Initially, six dogs — Norman, Digby, Storm, Star, Jasper and Asher — will be assessed to work on the Covid detection project; their noses could pick up its scent in as little as six to eight weeks. The dogs may also be able to detect subtle changes in skin temperature. If successfully trained, the dogs will help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis in travellers entering the country.
Jokes, stories just a call away
As a way to entertain isolated people during the coronavirus lockdown, a team of Canadian high school students has created a telephone hotline that plays pre-recorded positive messages, including jokes, stories, guided mediations and educational pointers. The Joy4All project was launched by students from the Ever Active Schools recreational leadership program run by the Calgary Board of Education. The students say they created the free hotline as a means of comforting quarantined seniors across North America. However, it’s open to anyone.
#ViralKindness is a series of community care groups across Australia that support neighbours in need or isolation during the lockdown. Anyone can start or join a local group. People in isolation and need of help can ask for help with essential tasks such as shopping for food, picking up medicine, a regular check-in call. People can also offer help. “Because even when we’re apart, there are lots of ways we can help each other,” is the initiative’s message. The website lists the steps to forming a group and the ways people can help.
ABOVE Surgical masks being made at a leather workshop in Italy
PHOTO Miguel Medina/AFP