(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Virus Watch today looks at the boom in tech thanks to COVID-19, the government dicking over unis (yet again) and worship in the time of coronavirus.

Your nose can run but you can’t hide

According to our Health Minister Greg Hunt, 1 million Australians had downloaded the COVIDSafe app within five hours. While privacy concerns remain, South Korea offers an example of the lengths a state might go to — and what a population might put up with — to rid themselves of the virus.

“All our administrative power is concentrated on COVID-19,” government public relations deputy head Song In-su told The New Yorker earlier this month. “You don’t even see any mention of ‘Parasite’ in the news anymore.”

The country — the second hotspot for the outbreak after China — has used sweeping state surveillance to track the disease:

Under South Korea’s Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, health authorities, with the approval of the police and other supervising agencies, can make use of cell-phone G.P.S. data, credit-card payment information, and travel and medical records. As of March 26th, the government has also officially launched the Epidemic Investigation Support System, a data-analysis platform that automates the process, allowing investigators to get clearance and pull up patient trajectories in under a minute.

Even a pandemic has its winners

Of course, it’s an extremely good time to be in the nebulous world of “tech” — provided no one decides your tech is a conspiracy by the Chinese government to spread coronavirus via phone masts.

McKinsey digital notes that COVID-19 has acted as an accelerator for the existing trend of automation and the movement of services online: “Asian banks have swiftly migrated physical channels online, healthcare providers have moved rapidly into telehealth, insurers into self-service claims assessment, and retailers into contactless shopping and delivery

Video-calling app Zoom has jumped in value by $4 billion this year alone, and is now believed to be worth around $42 billion.

And while the proposition that Bitcoin may act as a hedge against the kind of international economic turmoil we are currently seeing hasn’t quite worked out (yet), last week it surged to its highest level in more than a month.

Amazon (who will be running the governments COVIDSafe app) announced in March they would be hiring 100, 000 warehouse and delivery workers amid a surge in online orders — great news for Amazon and terrible news for the 100,000 people who are soon to be subject to their working conditions.

Well, if America jumped off a cliff…

You can almost set your watch to it — just as right-wing talking points migrate from America with metronomic consistency, so too their impacts. After weeks of News Corp turning its denialism dial to the COVID-19 lockdown (just as it has in the US), people have taken to the streets calling for an end to the lockdown (just as they did in the US).

Dozens of people in the West Gippsland town of Trafalgar — led by “Libertarian” Topher Field — gathered on Anzac Day to protest against the coronavirus lockdown. Police did not break up the protest, but said the organisers would be fined.

JobKeeper woes for universities

It was no surprise — given the Liberals’ long standing antipathy towards the university sector in Australia, and that News Corp was seemingly amping up for a Holy War on the subject — but the weekend brought news that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was “clarifiying” the JobKeeper wage subsidy to specifically exclude universities.

LA Trobe’s Vice-Chancellor John Dewar emailed his colleagues yesterday to not this wasn’t the first time:

This is the second time that the Government has ‘clarified’ the rules of JobKeeper deliberately to exclude universities. The first was when the Government announced that a lower revenue downturn threshold of 15 per cent would apply to registered charities. Since universities are registered charities, it was assumed that the lower threshold would also apply to universities. However, within 24 hours of that announcement, the Government ‘clarified’ that universities were still subject to the standard tests of 30 or 50 per cent.

In Friday’s statement, the Treasurer also announced that charities which receive government assistance (excluding universities) will be allowed to exclude government revenue from the calculation of their income for the purposes of eligibility. The reason given was that these charities perform ‘significant services’ on behalf of government…

Worship in the time of social distancing

April 24 this year marked the beginning of Ramadan, the holy month observed by some 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide. The New York Times has a striking visual essay on what this observation looks like in the era of COVID-19.