I Had a Dream About COVID19

Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

Is fact stranger than fiction or the other way around? For the last few years I have felt like an extra in a science fiction movie. One of the bit actors that don’t appear on the credits, isn’t really seen, but is part of the macrocosm. It’s a surreal piece about climate change, politics, smart technology, transport and people. The latest chapter in the movie is the emergence of COVID19.

I live in New Zealand and we have one of the lowest rates of COVID19 in the world, low deaths and so far no significant community transmission. I am so proud to live in this country where the majority of the people do the right thing. Sure, we had people stock up on so many toilet rolls and bottles of sanitiser that they probably won’t have to buy any more for the rest of the year.

Fundamentally we did what we had to do in lockdown, we supported each other, we were mostly kind and considerate, supported local businesses and looked out for our neighbours.

Many companies pivoted and did what they could, for example investing in R&D to build medical equipment needed to care for COVID19 patients. Companies like Fisher & Paykel Healthcare are an example.

Another is a University of Canterbury project which is a collaboration with other countries, including Belgium and Malaysia, creating a solution which allows two people to be supported by one ventilator, supported by a New Zealand MBIE COVID19 development fund.

Is it random that New Zealand is doing well? Is it because we have a woman Prime Minister? Is it because it is election year? Is it because we are so remote from most of the world, basically a few islands. Those things help, but I think a lot of it is about what Prime Minister Adern calls the Team of Five Million. I don’t know if she coined the phrase, but if the shoe fits…

Despite being election year, most Kiwi politicians have agreed that the safety and well being of our nation must transcend politics. We all have to do the right thing and focus on the ecosystem rather than the ego system. We have exceptions, we’re human, but most of us are on the same page and it shows.

Flip to other parts of the world where we see politicians playing the same games we laughed and sneered at when we watched Jaws.

Do you remember when the Police Chief demanded that the beaches closed down, but the Mayor overruled him because of the potential loss to the tourism industry.

The scary thing was of course that we knew this wasn’t just a work of fiction. This is how many parts of the world work. I’m not going to point fingers, you all know who the players are and how they work. Some are better than others. Here are some of the plots and subplots in our movie.

  • It’s no worse than the flu, lockdown is a waste of time.
  • Let’s have a COVID19 party.
  • It’s summer break, noone is going to stop me from having fun at the beach.
  • Herd immunity is the way to go
  • It’s all the fault of the (insert your favourite ethnicity to pin it on)
  • I want to fund research into a vaccine, but then I want exclusivity for my country.
  • Why bother collaborating when we can simply spy on other countries and steal their vaccine research?
  • Every day sees a record increase of people testing positive.
  • Hospitals are close to full.
  • Mass graves are becoming more common
  • Cruise Ships offer their liners as makeshift hospitals or quarantine sites
  • Some drug companies lock their doors while others others agree to open source.

Here’s what I am not seeing. All the superpowers collaborating openly, to get the best minds on this problem. All parties in countries putting aside petty politics and focusing on survival, solutions based on fighting a common enemy. A virus.

As a parent, how would you explain what is happening in the world right now to your children? Tell them why the world can’t get together as one, saving lives, saving economies, fighting for a better planet?

How will this movie end? I continue to be so happy to live in New Zealand. We aren’t perfect. We have our share of people who are corrupt, racist, criminals, tall poppies, and lowlifes, but I believe the majority of us are good, kind people who care more about their country and people than politics. I think we will do well out of this in the long run, including a new focus on self sufficiency.

However, we care about the whole world. We are all immigrants or descended from immigrants. We love the world, we love to travel, we have family and friends all over the world. We watch many countries behaviour with disbelief. Maybe we are the children.

When the history books look back at the COVD19 pandemic, what will the learnings be?

COVID Finally Crushed by Disney Augmented Reality Game

Mice

After COVID19 several countries in Europe, as well as the USA, started relaxing their lockdown requirements. More people went back to work, and there was an explosion of activity in the hospitality and entertainment industries.

From bars and clubs to restaurants and of course the beaches, people flocked in droves, reuniting with friends and family. They went to the parks. Football and other sports held field days and played demonstration matches because the leagues and tournaments had been cancelled.

Three weeks later COVID20 emerged. It was even more virulent than COVID19 and hit hard. Worst hit were young people in the 16-30 age bracket. It was believed the reason was that they were the group who had felt the isolation the most and therefore binged the most on the return to society.

Despite the numbers of those affected growing exponentially within weeks, teenagers and young adults resisted going back into isolation lockdown and once again the ICU’s were full.  Sadly these were mostly young people, not the older people with additional health complaints that made them less able to resist the previous coronavirus strain.

Then the mobile games division of Disney came up with an idea based on concepts of Game Designer Jane McGonigal. They modified an augmented reality location-based game that had already been in the making. McGonigal explained, “We needed to positively reinforce the behaviour that would incentivise players to stay close to home within the lockdown requirements, but not stifle them so much that they would go stir crazy.”

The game, called Lockdown, like Pokemon, was based around capturing Disney characters. It only worked within a three-mile radius of the home location of each player. Characters were more interesting and had greater value, the closer to home and the farther away they were from people, not part of their bubble.

If players went within 4 meters of a player, who were not members of their bubble, (which the game worked out using AI) captured characters would escape at the rate of 50% per minute that people stayed within vicinity of those people. The other people didn’t even have to be playing the game. As long as they had any form of mobile device on their person, characters were lost.

Miraculously, like the happy ending of a Disney movie, 4 weeks after the game was launched, the peak died down and, well the rest is history. So many lives had been lost, but the world settled down to a new state of normal over the final months of 2020.

The president hailed McGonigal as a great, great person, who triumphed over adversity as he predicted someone would. “Of course, it was no coincidence”, he explained, “that it was Disney, an institution as American as apple pie, that came up with the solution to this second horrible, horrible pandemic.”

McGonigal said, “This was a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the power of games to influence people to want to do the thing that needed to be done, by positively reinforcing the correct behaviour. I was lucky that Disney believed in me because everyone else was focused on punitive measures and of course dealing with the health crisis.”

And the rest folks is history.

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