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The Download: How a Zambian morgue is exposing the real covid toll in Africa

Plus: How a new study could change everything we know about particle physics

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

How a Zambian morgue is exposing the real covid toll in Africa

The morgue at Lusaka’s University Teaching Hospital (UTH), near the center of Zambia’s capital, is not the most pleasant place to carry out a clinical study. Inside the cavernous interior, newly arrived bodies linger unattended. Others lie stacked on open-air racks, where some stay unclaimed for months. The stench is overwhelming.

But it is here, among the cadavers at Zambia’s largest hospital, that researchers are finally close to solving one of the pandemic’s enduring mysteries: why Africa appeared to have been spared the brunt of the covid death toll experienced elsewhere. The truth, it increasingly appears, is that it wasn’t.

That’s the claim made by a new study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, based on tests of corpses carried out by staff equipped with nasal swabs and a heavy tolerance for the macabre. It constitutes perhaps the strongest clinical evidence yet that covid-19 deaths in Lusaka, and likely much of Africa, have been vastly undercounted. Read the full story.

Jonathan W. Rosen

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 A new study upends everything we know about particle physics
A particle called the W boson is much heavier than previously thought. (Quanta)
Physicists are stressed out by it. (CNET)

2 The war in Ukraine has spread to Google Maps
After Putin invaded, some mapmakers changed Crimea from a disputed territory to part of Ukraine. (Slate $)
Hackers tried to infiltrate Ukrainian military personnel’s Facebook accounts. (The Verge)
+ Holding Russia to account for war crimes won’t be easy. (The New Yorker $)

3 China wants to stop web giants abusing their algorithms
By asking the likes of ByteDance to disclose how they work. (Bloomberg $)

4 Gig drivers are being murdered while they’re working  
Why isn’t more being done to protect them? (The Markup)

5 We don’t actually know how many billionaires there are 💰
Mainly because they don’t want to be identified. (NYT $)

6 Can Twitter’s edit button really be a force for good?
Editing typos is fine but altering entire tweets would be Extremely Bad Indeed. (Wired $)
Maybe the company should focus on combating abuse instead? (FT $)
Elon Musk is holding an AMA session to set anxious employees’ minds at ease. (WP $)
Twitter will now let you excuse yourself from tweets you don’t want to be tagged in. (CNET)

7 How do you live with a mental disorder that doesn’t officially exist?
The nature of complex trauma makes identifying triggers uniquely difficult. (Slate $)
Ukraine’s children are deeply scarred by the war. (Wired $)

8 Brands are sinking serious cash into the metaverse
But virtual spaces are still attracting few visitors. (Rest of World)
The metaverse’s main problem? A lack of mainstream uses. (FT $)
Virtual reality was kickstarted by a parachute accident in the 90s. (IEEE Spectrum)
Lego wants to make the metaverse child-friendly. (WP $)

9 If you recently received a text message from yourself, you’re not alone
It’s part of a huge wave of spam. (NYT $)

10 Are people quitting YouTube?
Subscriber numbers are swelling, but creators say their view counts are falling. (OneZero)
This conservator’s art restoration videos are having no trouble attracting viewers. (Artnet)

Quote of the day

“We have significant losses of troops. And it’s a huge tragedy for us.”

—Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, admits to Sky News that Russia’s forces have suffered heavy losses during the war in Ukraine.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ An oral history of perennial disco classic, Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.
+ This sweet little guy has got the right idea.
+ Orville Peck is back, with a brand new album and even more horse metaphors.
+ I really enjoyed this lil ode to friendship (thanks Robbie!)
+ Have you ever seen a bird wheeze? Oh yeah, and whistle the Harry Potter theme tune.
+ Just watching this vigorous balloon-popping race makes me feel tired.
+ Movies based on video games are largely garbage. Are these the only good ones?

Deep Dive

Humans and technology

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

I just watched Biggie Smalls perform ‘live’ in the metaverse

An avatar of the singer, who died in 1997, performed with live rappers on Meta’s Horizon Worlds.

How Twitter’s “Teacher Li” became the central hub of China protest information

In his own words, the Chinese painter shares how he became a one-person newsroom during a week of intense protests against China's zero-covid policy.

Why my bittersweet relationship with Shein had to end

Reflecting on my desire for Chinese-style e-commerce platforms.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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