Kathriona Devereux: Zoom boom and chitting: Virus cloud has silver lining for some

In March there was a 535% rise in daily traffic to the Zoom website, as people flock to the App, as well as Skype and Houseparty to stay in touch with colleagues and friends during Covid-19, writes KATHRIONA DEVEREUX
Kathriona Devereux: Zoom boom and chitting: Virus cloud has silver lining for some

KEEPING IN TOUCH, WHILE KEEPING YOUR DISTANCE: Members of the Welsh Assembly on a Zoom call last week

I’LL be honest, I’m seeing my friends more than ever before.

At the weekend, I caught up with ten close friends over a glass of wine. We laughed, we cried, there was almost a sing song.

Before Covid-19, it was a rare occurrence that we’d manage to sync our calendars and babysitters for a social outing but since the ‘lockdown’ we know where everyone is. At home.

Coordinating a ‘night out’ is suddenly much easier — couch, laptop, beverage of choice, video conferencing app and off we go.

And we’re not alone. Zoom, Skype, Houseparty and apps are experiencing a boon in users worldwide. Millions are flocking to technology to help them stay in touch with work, school, church, friends and family.

In March, there was a 535% rise in daily traffic to the Zoom website. The company’s share price has increased by more than 80% compared to last year, as investors realise how masses are relying on the platform to conduct business and maintain social contact.

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan has joined the Forbes billionaire list for the first time with a fortune of $5.5 billion. Zoom has become a verb like “to Google” and a part of national infrastructure, facilitating government, education and sadly, funerals.

But Zoom and Houseparty have faced strong criticism for weak security. There are reports of calls being hacked — so called “Zoom-bombing” — and user data being inappropriately and unknowingly gathered and shared with companies like Facebook.

Zoom has announced it will shift all engineering resources to fixing the security and safety issues that have been called to attention and will suspend new feature development while it works at shoring up security holes.

“I’m chitting,” one friend announced on our virtual Saturday ‘night out’. I thought it was a bad internet connection and was about to sympathise with her for her anxiety- related ailment, before she clarified that chitting is part of the process of growing your own potatoes.

Another, contrasting, boon has been in the GIY — Grow It Yourself — movement. Seed sellers have seen unprecedented demand since restrictions came in.

I heard one man on the radio say he did six months of business in the month of March!

We are all rushing to grow our own vegetables. I have tomato, courgette, cucumber and rocket seeds ready to go. Is it because we suddenly have the time to dedicate, because it’ll soak up a bit of the day with the kids, or because we are starting to think about food supply chains and feel vulnerably reliant on supermarkets?

Retailers assure us about food supply chains, but are we collectively realising that Ireland exports huge quantities of beef and dairy products and imports much of the food we actually eat?

Even though we won’t survive on our modest crop of courgettes, perhaps growing a few vegetables at home is a way of relieving our food security anxieties.

Zoom and homegrown potatoes are trifling distractions for many who are struggling with difficult home environments, unemployment, sickness, bereavement, or any of the other negative repercussions of the crisis.

For those of us who don’t work in healthcare, are relatively healthy, can work from home and ride out a few months of isolation, guilty feelings that this crisis hasn’t brought real hardship to our door makes it even more important for us to play our tiny part in solving the problem by staying at home.

Vaccine Update

A major development in the race to defend ourselves from Covid 19 has been the recognition that the BCG vaccine, which protects against tuberculosis, may be having a protective effect on populations where the it has been routinely given.

Researchers noticed that Italy and Spain are countries where the death rate from Covid 19 is high relative to other countries. They compared the BCG vaccination rates and Italy and Spain have not routinely vaccinated their populations against tuberculosis.

It’s well established that the BCG vaccine has broader benefits beyond TB. It has been shown to reduce infant deaths from a variety of causes and is used to treat bladder cancer by reducing tumour size and reoccurrence.

Scientists think that these extra benefits are the result of the vaccine ‘training’ the immune system to fight infection more efficiently.

Science is starting to investigate if people who are vaccinated with BCG are able to fight the Covid 19 virus better.

In Ireland, the BCG vaccine was administered as part of the immunisation programme from 1937 to 2015. A worldwide shortage of it was one of the factors for discontinuing its routine administration.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee has recommended that the BCG vaccine does not need to be given routinely to all children in Ireland, but perhaps if new science emerges about BCG’s protective powers against Covid 19, that might change.

Researchers have just started 3-6 month clinical trials with the BCG vaccine on thousands of Australian and Dutch healthcare workers. Healthcare worker workers are a high risk group and are doing all they can to protect themselves with PPE, but if they do contract Covid 19, will the BCG vaccine protect them from severe illness or death?

While the world waits at least a year for a working Covid-19 vaccine, will we gain some protection from a vaccine workhorse like BCG? Science is checking. Time will tell.

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