Hafta letters: A physician's experience in a US hospital, Canada and Taiwan's responses to Covid-19

NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

WrittenBy:NL Team
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Hello Team NL,

This is Pratyay. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Mechanical Engineering from Panjab University, Chandigarh. I subscribed Newslaundry last month but have been following it for the last one year via YouTube.

Manishaji's Newsance episodes are an absolute delight to watch and so are the Haftas...

Just one small request. Retain Manishaji into Newslaundry even if she wants to leave it in future for the hope of getting greener pastures. She is an excellent journalist who has a very balanced point of view. I have been listening to all the old Haftas after subscribing to Newslaundry and have found it to be pure gold.

Looking forward to much more awesome content from Newslaundry. Keep up the good work !

Pratyay Choudhury


Hey there Abhinandan,

I just listened to the latest Chhota Hafta, more because of time constraints, way too much content to get through. So maybe you addressed some of this in the proper Hafta episode. But just quickly.

1. In case Shaswati (sp.?) does not follow up with a comparison re Singapore and Taiwan, or indeed if you want to just add to the fact-check, there actually have been quite a few piece (clearly not in Indian media) on how Taiwan dealt with this. I suppose we are aware of this in Canada because we also had a huge SARS scare. See here, here, here and here.

2. I can understand the frustration one might feel regarding ignoring the economic fallout of the pandemic. However, the US isn't the best for comparison. Despite his very public gaffe while visiting India, and less shiny image right now, please consider the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and the measures being brought in Canada. Unlike Trump's bewildering daily pressers (that media watchers are saying should be ignored), Trudeau has been giving Canadians assurances of their well-being, while also being a voice of reason, even if he loses patience sometimes — all while being a single parent as his wife went through quarantine after being tested positive for Covid-19.

We have been physical distancing in many places in Canada since mid-March. And there are some speculations that we may well have to continue for 12 weeks, although that is a worst-case scenario. Schools are closed until May in Ontario; in Alberta, they have been closed indefinitely. We are going on with a sense of "we are not sure when things will open again".

In light of the economic slump, Canada has announced various measures, including personal financial benefits. Canadians who cannot find work due to Coronavirus impact or because they need to stay home and take care of childcare are eligible for a monthly stipend of up to $2,000 until June. Small businesses can get a year-long interest-free loan of up to $40,000.

Of course, this is not comparable to what, say, Denmark is doing. But compared to the circus down south, I think Canada offers a much better model to draw comparisons to, no?

3. Talking about China: Check out this opinion piece re the origin of coronavirus.

May I suggest a more fact-checked approach to talking about how the virus started and spread. It's bad enough with Trump calling it the Chinese virus and attacks against Asians. I am not on WhatsApp, and even I saw some of the forwards going on amongst South Asians and its diaspora about the Chinese and their strange (eating) habits. It's not helpful.

Thanks for your time,

Aparita Bhandari


Hi guys,

Hope you are all doing well and physically distancing as much as possible!

The last time I wrote to you guys, it was to bemoan how healthcare was being neglected by Newslaundry in the aftermath of the assault on doctors in India. Cut to today: more than 150 episodes later, five episodes of Hafta have focused predominantly on healthcare and the politics surrounding it! So, well done and kudos to you!

Hard to not point out, though, that the fact that it takes a pandemic for healthcare to get the spotlight in public discourse is the reason that we not only have a pandemic at our hands, but are losing this war so miserably worldwide. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions so hopefully, this changes after the pandemic.

As an internal medicine physician at a large teaching hospital in Washington DC, I have been caring for Covid-19 patients for the last couple of weeks and have noticed a steady increase in the number of patients being admitted. I have to say, if anybody, including physicians and scientists, has ever had a God complex because of the work they do, this virus will destroy it completely. Hard to put into words the helplessness I feel as these patients rapidly deteriorate and sometimes die within hours while we throw all possible medications at them, none of which have been proven to have significant benefit.

In these times of sadness and chaos, it is but natural that people look for hope, even where none exists. Many are elevating doctors and nurses to "warriors at the front line”. My unpopular opinion: none of us signed up to be heroes. We are in this field to practise medicine and save lives the best we can, but not when politicians and hospital administrators so casually ask us to risk our own lives by not providing us with the required protective equipment. (Not referring to my own hospital here, which has luckily had a stellar response.)

We go to work everyday, hoping to save every life we can, all the time being terrified — for our patients, ourselves and our families. The physical and emotional toll of this pandemic is already exhausting and here in DC, we are nowhere close to the peak yet.

During such desperately dark days, thank you for bringing joy into my life with your podcasts, especially Hafta and A & A!

Stay safe,

Shaunak Kulkarni

PS: I reread this email before hitting the send button. It sounds terribly depressing, but I happened to write on a sad day, work-wise. Life is pretty good overall and, God willing, we will all make it through this shitshow of a world. Cheers!


Hi all,

I would suggest you guys listen to this podcast with Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who spoke about what’s happening with Covid-19 research and manufacturing in India.

Hopefully you will hear Shaw saying all that India is trying to get done.

The reason why Germany was so good at testing is because their scientists were ready with testing kits before it became a pandemic in Germany.

Solutions: 60 solutions being tried to get a cure / vaccine.

Being cynical is good, I am too. I am a sceptic too, I question everything. But how is it that you all forgot the Wuhan evacuation by Air India before lockdown? How is it that you forgot that India responded with lockdowns way before the US or UK? Hell, in the US even now, it’s states going into lockdown, not the entire country.

Yes, there was the migrant worker tragedy. And the Tabligh tragedy.

If you listen to 981 of NPR Planet Money, you will hear the Americans bungled their first tests. But you are going to give the Americans the benefit of the doubt, aren’t you?

My partner who is a nurse here in UK tells me, "Why can’t the media also talk about the number of recovered patients every day. If not for anything at least to give hope." Try getting Pavan Srinath of the Pragathi Podcast. He has brilliant podcasts on public health, policy planning, etc. I am sure he will be a joy to NL listeners.

Anyway, keep up the good work. I know my email would have meant that I only heard the rants nothing else. This is something i was meaning to point out in the last 3 podcasts.

Special mention of Mehraj, thought he was another one from the Left, his explanation of Tablighi and the two interviews convinced me otherwise. His opinions are his as long as his journalism is factual and accurate.

After all, jo na jaane haq ki taaqat...rab ne devey usko himmat. You know the song, Abhinandan...

Best regards,



Hi Hafta team,

While there is hardly anyone who can say for sure what goes on inside China, but I wanted to add on to the discussion around wet markets in China. A virus jumping from wildlife to another animal or a human while possible is not very easy. A virus RNA is generally very tailored to the conditions the host must have for it to survive and replicate. The jump from wildlife to a human required that the virus must have mutated to survive in human hosts. There are different factors in the spread of an infection

- Can the virus survive in humans as a host?

- Can the virus spread from human to human contact?

- Can the virus replicate within the human host?

And many more.

The SARS-Cov-1 (original SARS) virus was also started from a China wet market, and they had re-opened the markets after a few months. It would be hard to say if enough animals have this mutated strand of coronavirus, or was it one mutation on that day that jumped to a human and survived. So without the world pressure, China is bound to open its wildlife market, given it is a $180 billion market. To give context, this is more than the total dairy market in India, which would be around $140-150 billion.

If you are looking to get a deeper understanding, sharing below two detailed posts around the disease, tests, cures, and vaccines.



Stay safe,



Dear NL team,

I’m an NL subscriber since the Clothesline days (2014 maybe?). Came here for Madhu and Abhinandan; stayed for Mehraj, Raman and Atul.

Manisha, TV Newsance is so funny that it is sad you have so much source material!

I’m a PhD candidate in molecular and cell biology in Taipei, Taiwan, and I completely agree with Shashwati’s mail about Taiwan’s efficient management of COVID-19. I have lived in Taiwan for three-and-a-half years. Currently, there is no other place I’d rather be in. I recently wrote a piece on this for GeneOnline.

There are a few reasons for Taiwan’s success: some political, some because of its democratic government, and a large player is the citizen’s involvement and their sense of responsibility.

My husband travels around Pacific Asia for work and came back from China on Jan 20 with the flu (not Covid-19, thankfully). The speed with which he was tested, monitoring by the immigration agency, and precautionary measures at my government-funded research institute reassures me that Taiwan really knows what it’s doing.

We do not have a lockdown. In fact, last weekend was a long holiday weekend when people traveled inside the island quite robustly. Of course, they are being asked to self-monitor.

If you’d like me to share my experience of Covid-19 in Taiwan, I’d be happy to record an audio byte. Let me know if you’d be interested.

Keep up the good work,


Sahana Shankar

P.S. Abhinandan and Rajyasree, Of course, we are listening to the A & A. R’s cackling and A’s poor jokes make my mundane chores more bearable. A quick correction about Contagion: it is not a prediction. The movie derives all its accuracy from previous outbreaks: SARS in 2003 and the swine flu in 2009. The scene about the bats and pigs is inspired from the trajectory of Nipah virus in 1997.


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