Archive for the ‘Sweden’ category


Beware AI; the dangers of Google ads; and the beauty of Radio.garden

03.01.2023

Hat tip to Stefan Engeseth on this one: an excellent podcast with author, historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari.

Among the topics he covers, as detailed in the summary in Linkedin’s The Next Big Idea:

• AI is the first technology that can take power away from us
• if we are not careful, AI and bioengineering will be used to create the worst totalitarian regimes in history
• Be skeptical of technological determinism

We should be wary now—not after these technologies have been fully realized.

I also checked into Business Ethics today, a site linked from the Jack Yan & Associates links’ section (which dates back to the 1990s). The lead item, syndicated from ProPublica, is entitled, ‘Porn, Privacy Fraud: What Lurks Inside Google’s Black Box Ad Empire’, subtitled, ‘Google’s ad business hides nearly all publishers it works with and where billions of ad dollars flow. We uncovered a network containing manga piracy, porn, fraud and disinformation.’

This should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog; indeed, this should be no surprise to anyone who has had their eyes open and breathes. This opaque black box is full of abuse, funds disinformation, endangers democracy, and exposes personal data to dodgy parties. As I outlined earlier, someone in the legal profession with cojones and a ton of funding and time could demonstrate that Google’s entire business should be subject to a massive negligence lawsuit. The authors of the article present more evidence that Google is being up to no good.

An excerpt, without revealing too much:

Last year, a marketer working for a Fortune 500 company launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign …

Over the next few months, Google placed more than 1.3 trillion of the company’s ads on over 150,000 different websites and apps. The biggest recipient of ads — more than 49 million — was a website called PapayAds. The company was registered in Bulgaria less than two years ago and lists one employee, CEO Andrea De Donatis, on LinkedIn …

It seems impossible that 49 million ads were legitimately placed and viewed on PapayAds’ site over the span of several months … “I don’t have an explanation for this,” he said, adding that he does not recall receiving payment for such a large volume of ads.

I doubt this is isolated, and the story elaborates on how the scheme worked. And when Google realized its ads were winding up on inappropriate websites, the action it took was to keep doing it.
 

 

On a more positive note, I found out about Radio.garden in December on Mastodon (thank goodness for all the posts there these days, a far cry from when I joined in 2017) and have since been tuning in to RTHK Radio 1 in Hong Kong. I had no idea they even gave NZ dollar–US dollar exchange rates as part of their business news! The interface is wonderful: just rotate the planet and place the city of your choice within the circular pointer. It works equally well on a cellphone, though only in portrait mode there. You’d be amazed at what you can find, and I even listened to one of the pop stations in Jeddah.

My usual suspects are “favourited”: KCSM in San Mateo, Sveriges Radio P1, and RNZ National here. I might add Rix FM from Stockholm but I seem to have grown up a little since the days when its music was targeted to me.

It’s now been added to our company link list. Sadly, a few dead ones have had to be culled today. But I must say Radio.garden has been one of the best finds of 2022. Almost makes you want to surf to random sites again like we did in the 1990s.


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Posted in business, culture, design, globalization, Hong Kong, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, Sweden, technology, USA | No Comments »


The expectation of invisibility

03.01.2023

I rewatched Princess of Chaos, the TV drama centred around my friend, Bevan Chuang. I’m proud to have stood by her at the time, because, well, that’s what you do for your friends.

I’m not here to revisit any of the happenings that the TV movie deals with—Bevan says it brings her closure so that is that—but to examine one scene where her character laments being Asian and being ‘invisible’. How hard we work yet we aren’t seen. The model minority. Expected to be meek and silent and put up with stuff.

Who in our community hasn’t felt this?

While the younger generations of the majority are far, far better than their forebears, the expectation of invisibility was something that’s been a double-edged sword when I look back over my life.

The expectation of invisibility was never going to sit well with me.

I revelled in being different, and I had a family who was supportive and wise enough to guide me through being different in our new home of Aotearoa New Zealand.

My father frequently said, when speaking of the banana Chinese—those who proclaim themselves yellow on the outside and white on the inside—that they can behave as white as they want, but there’ll always be people who’ll see the yellow skin and treat them differently. And in some cases, unfairly.

He had reason to believe this. My mother was underpaid by the Wellington Hospital Board for a considerable time despite her England and Wales nursing qualification. A lot of correspondence ensued—I still remember Dad typing formal letters on his Underwood 18, of which we probably still have carbons. Dad felt pressured—maybe even bullied to use today’s parlance—by a dickhead manager at his workplace.

Fortunately, even in the 1970s, good, decent, right-thinking Kiwis outnumbered the difficult ones, though the difficult ones could get away with a lot, lot more, from slant-eye gestures to telling us to go back to where we came from openly. I mean, February 6 was called New Zealand Day! Go back another generation to a great-uncle who came in the 1950s, and he recalls white kids literally throwing stones at Chinese immigrants.

So there was no way I would become a banana, and give up my culture in a quest to integrate. The parents of some of my contemporaries reasoned differently, as they had been in the country for longer, and hoped to spare their children the physical harm they endured. They discouraged their children from speaking their own language, in the hope they could achieve more.

As a St Mark’s pupil, I was at the perfect school when it came to being around international classmates, and teachers who rewarded academic excellence regardless of one’s colour. All of this bolstered my belief that being different was a good thing. I wasn’t invisible at my school. I did really well. I was dux.

It was a shock when I headed to Rongotai College as most of the white boys were all about conforming. The teachers did their best, but so much of my class, at least, wanted to replicate what they thought was normal society in the classroom, and a guy like me—Chinese, individualistic, with a sense of self—was never going to fit in. It was a no-brainer to go to Scots College when a half-scholarship was offered, and I was around the sort of supportive school environment that I had known in my primary and intermediate years, with none of the other boys keen to pigeonhole you. Everyone could be themselves. Thank goodness.

But there were always appearances from the conformist attitudes in society. As I headed to university and announced I would do law and commerce, there was an automatic assumption that the latter degree would be in accounting. I would not be visible doing accounting, in a back room doing sums. For years (indeed, until very recently) the local branch of the Fairfax Press had Asian employees but that was where they were, not in the newsroom. We wouldn’t want to offend its readers, would we?

My choice of these degrees was probably driven, subconsciously, by the desire to be visible and to give society a middle finger. I wasn’t going to be invisible. I was going to pursue the interests that I had, and to heck with societal expectations based along racial lines. I had seen my contemporaries at college do their best to conform: either put your head down or play sport. There was no other role. If you had your head up and didn’t play sport at Rongotai, there was something wrong with you. Maybe you were a ‘faggot’ or ‘poofter’ or some other slur that was bandied about, I dare say by boys who had uncertainties about their own sexuality and believed homophobia helped them.

I loved design. I loved cars. Nothing was going to change that. So I pursued a design career whilst doing my degrees. I could see how law, marketing and management would play a role in what I wanted to do in life. When I launched Lucire, it was “against type” on so many fronts. I was doing it online, that was new. I was Chinese, and a cis het guy. And it was a very public role: as publisher I would attend fashion shows, doing my job. In the early days, I would be the only Chinese person amongst the press.

And I courted colleagues in the press, because I was offering something new. That was also intentional: to blaze a trail for anyone like me, a Chinese New Zealander in the creative field who dared to do something different. I wasn’t the first, of course: Raybon Kan comes to mind (as a fellow St Mark’s dux) with his television reviews in 1990 that showed up almost all who had gone before with his undeniable wit; and Lynda Chanwai-Earle whose poetry was getting very noticed around this time. Clearly we needed more of us in these ranks if we were going to make any impact and have people rethink just who we were and just what we were capable of. And it wasn’t in the accounts’ department, or being a market gardener, serving you at a grocery store or takeaway, as noble as those professions also are. I have family in all those professions. But I was out on a quest to break the conformity that Aotearoa clung to—and that drove everything from typeface design to taking Lucire into print around the world and running for mayor of Wellington. It might not have been the primary motive, but it was always there, lingering.

This career shaped me, made me less boring as an individual, and probably taught me what to value in a partner, too. And thank goodness I found someone who also isn’t a conformist.

When we first met, Amanda did ask me why I had so many friends from the LGBTQIA+ community. I hadn’t really realized it, but on reflection, the answer was pretty simple: they, too, had to fight conformist attitudes, to find their happy places. No wonder I got along with so many. All my friends had stood out one way or another, whether because of their interests, their sexuality, how they liked to be identified, their race, their way of thinking, or something else. These are the people who shape the world, advance it, and make it interesting. They—we—weren’t going to be pigeonholed.
 

With fellow nonconformist Stefan Engeseth in Stockholm, 2010


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Posted in cars, culture, design, interests, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, TV, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Farewell, Sergei Mitrofanov

05.08.2022

Farewell, my dear friend Sergei. Taken far too soon.
 

Sergei trying to corral us for a photograph in London in 2015.
 

I’m pretty upset by this so rather than write a fresh tribute (which I will have to do in time in an official capacity), I’m going to quote from what I wrote to his widow, Ekaterina, with appropriate edits: ‘I am so deeply saddened by this terrible news since I found out on Wednesday night. Sergei was a great friend, colleague and ally. We have known each other since 2006 and I have always found him warm, helpful, and kind. Outside of Medinge Group he even helped another colleague of mine with navigating Russia’s complex tourist visas! Even today I was looking for the name of a computer program in order to read some messages and realized that Sergei was the one who put me on to it! What will we do without Sergei’s social media posts hashtagging #Medinge to keep us all informed?

‘Since I have further to travel to visit friends in Europe, the last time I saw Sergei in person was in 2015 and I truly wish that that was not the final time.

‘… Please know Sergei was loved the world over and it was a blessing to have known him.’

He is survived by his wife and their two daughters.


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Facebook saves private medical information despite saying it gets scrubbed

02.07.2022

As embedding from Mastodon is not working tonight, I’ll copy and paste Per Axbom’s post:

Nice bit of reporting from Swedish Radio. They built an online fake pharmacy and activated Facebook advertising tools. Thousands of simulated visits to the pharmacy were made each day, and the reporters could see all the sensitive, personal information being stored by Facebook.

Facebook sent no warnings to the pharmacy, despite saying they have tools in place to prevent this from happening.

A few weeks ago they revealed how this was happening with real pharmacies.

He links this article from Sveriges Radio.

So, how long has it been since Cambridge Analytica? We can safely conclude that this is all by design, as it has been from the start.


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Here’s the latest book I worked on: Panos: My Life, My Odyssey out May 26

17.05.2022


 
[Originally posted in Lucire] Toward the end of next week, Panos Papadopoulos’s autobiography, Panos: My Life, My Odyssey, comes out in London, with an event in Stockholm following. This is an intimate memoir about Panos’s rise, from childhood poverty in Greece to the ‘king of swimwear’ in Scandinavia. Not only do I have an advance copy, I collaborated with Panos on it.

I’m fascinated by autobiographies. When I was a teenager, I read Lee Iacocca’s one, written with William Novak. I presume Novak interviewed Iacocca, or he worked with some additional notes, and ghosted for him. Whatever the case, it remains an engaging read, and I replaced my well worn paperback with a hardcover one a few years ago, when I spotted it at a charity fair. More recently I bought Don Black’s autobiography, The Sanest Guy in the Room, and enjoyed that thoroughly.

Panos and I probably had a similar arrangement to Iacocca and Novak, whereby I interviewed and prompted him for some stories, and I wrote from copious notes that he gave me. There’s an entire chapter in there that’s based on his reflections about the time he bought into a football team in Sweden, that he wrote in great detail himself soon after the events took place. Somehow over 10 months of 2021—though the idea has been floating around for many years before—Panos and I created this eminently readable tale, the sort of autobiography I would like to read.

Of course we start in Greece in 1958, and how a young lad, who begins working at age five alongside his mother as she cleaned an office, finds poverty a torment, and vows to get himself out of it. He also cannot tolerate injustice, and attempts to expose pollution, workplace accidents, and corruption—only to find himself and his parents harassed. By his late teens, after taking an interrail journey to northern Europe, he finds an opportunity to study in Sweden.

It’s not “the rest is history”, as Panos works in kitchens, washing dishes and peeling potatoes. He also finds gigs as a prison guard, a parole officer, a rest home carer, and a substitute teacher.

His first taste of fame is for a postgraduate sociology paper, where he examines the importance of clothing in nighttime disco settings, which captures the imagination of major newspapers and TV networks.

Finding dissatisfaction and frustration working in health care for the city of Göteborg, he seized upon an idea one day when spying just how drab the beaches were in Sweden: beautiful bodies covered in monochrome swimwear.

Injecting colour on to the beaches through his Panos Emporio swimwear label wasn’t an overnight success, and Panos elaborates on his story with the sort of passion you would expect from a Greek native, capturing your attention and leaving you wanting more.

He reveals his secrets about how he lifted himself out of poverty, creating a company given a platinum rating in Sweden, an honour reserved only for the top 450, out of half a million limited-liability companies there.

Read about how he managed his first sales despite doubts from the entire industry, how he secured Jannike Björling—then Sweden’s most sought-after woman, photographed constantly by the paparazzi—as Panos Emporio’s model, and how he followed up with securing Victoria Silvstedt, just as she was about to become world-famous posing for Playboy.

By 1996, 10 years into his label’s journey, and with the release of the Paillot (still offered in the Panos Emporio range today), the press dubbed him ‘the king of swimwear’, but he wasn’t done yet.

More high-profile models followed, and there’s even an encounter with Whitney Houston, revealed for the first time in the book. There are royal encounters, with former King Constantine II, and Sweden’s HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and HM Queen Sofia. HSH Princess Stéphanie almost makes it into the book.

There are touching moments, too, such as his heartfelt recollection of his friendship with Jean-Louis Dumas, the chairman of Hermès, and his wife Rena.

We’ve known each other for over 20 years, and from the start he complimented me on my writing, so I have a feeling he wanted me for this task for some time. We’ve both had to start businesses from scratch, and we did them away from our countries of birth. Additionally, he knew I grew up amongst Greeks so I had more than an average insight into his culture. We’ve talked about it numerous times, maybe as far back as 2016, when Panos Emporio celebrated its 30th anniversary. I’m very grateful for that. There were obviously stories I knew, since I interviewed him about them over the years, but plenty I did not, and they form the bulk of this 320 pp. book, published by LID Publishing of London, and released on May 26. A party in Stockholm follows on May 31.
 
Technically, the process was an easy collaboration as Panos and I shared notes and written manuscripts back and forth, and I had the privilege to lay it out and edit the photos as well. The whole book was typed out on WordPerfect, which gave an almost perfect re-creation of how the copyfitting would go in InDesign, unlike Word—for a while others doubted I could fit the contents into the agreed page length, since they couldn’t see it in the same format that I did. Martin Majoor’s FF Nexus Serif is used for the body text. And, while hardly anyone probably cares about such things, I managed to deliver it so the printer could do the book without wasting paper with the right page impositions. I know what it’s like to have printing bills.

My Life, My Odyssey was the working title, but it seems LID liked it enough to retain it for the final product. I wanted to retitle it Panos: Who Designs Wins, but the experts in charge of sales preferred the working title. ‘Who designs wins’ appears on the back cover, so it’s still getting out there!

Caroline Li, LID’s designer, did the cover, and I followed her lead with the headline typeface choice; and Martin Liu, who I’ve known from Stefan Engeseth’s many books, published and coordinated. I’m grateful to the watchful eye and coordination of Aiyana Curtis, who oversaw the production stage and did the first edit; she also engaged the copy editor and proofreader, who turned my stubborn Hart’s Rules-compliant text into LID’s house style.

I see from her résumé that Aiyana had done some work here in Aotearoa, and Caroline and Martin, like me, have Hong Kong roots, so we all probably had some things in common that made the process easier. It was particularly easy to understand Caroline’s design approach, and as someone who had done mock covers while we were trying out potential photos, I will say hers is infinitely superior to mine. Similarly, I understood Martin’s business approach from day one.

The final manuscript was done in October 2021 and we’ve spent the last few months doing production, shooting the cover, and preparing for the launch, where LID’s Teya Ucherdzhieva has ably been working on a marketing plan. Panos himself, never one to do things by halves, has thrown himself into doing the launch, and it promises to be an excellent event.
 
For those who’d like to get their hands on a copy, Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble are retailing Panos: My Life, My Odyssey, and a US launch is slated for October (Amazon and other retailers will have it in their catalogues).


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Stefan Engeseth gives away his book, One, in the interests of peace

13.04.2022

I always thought One: a Consumer Revolution for Business was one of Stefan Engeseth’s best books, if not the best.

He recently posted on Linkedin: ‘readers have told me that the book can lead to a better understanding of people and society (which can end wars).’ In the interests of peace, he thought he’d give away his book for free, as a PDF, subtly retitled One: a Consumer Revolution for Peace.

‘I originally wrote the book to start a consumer revolution,’ he says. ‘And today it is consumers, through social media, who are demanding nations to end wars. I have thought about updating the book, but now I realize that the content could be the DNA for change and to build a better future on.’

Here’s his original Linkedin post, and you can grab your copy of this excellent book here.


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To Scotland with love

10.11.2020


Danjaq LLC/United Artists

Time for another podcast, this time with a Scottish theme. I touch upon how fortunate we are here in Aotearoa to be able to go to the ballet or expos, and, of course, on the US elections (thanks to those who checked out my last podcast entry, which had a record 31 plays—sure beats the single digits!). That leads on to a discussion about A. G. Barr, Richard Madden, and Sir Sean Connery, who never said, ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond.’


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Medinge Group at Dutch Design Week: the contribution from Aotearoa New Zealand

19.10.2020

My partner Amanda and I are part of Medinge’s presence at Dutch Design Week this year.
   Since Medinge couldn’t celebrate our 20th anniversary due to COVID-19, some of our Dutch members, helped by many others, took the opportunity to get us into the event, which is virtual this year.
   We had done a lot of work on Generation Co earlier in 2020, thanks to a load of Zoom meetings and emails. This takes things even further, but builds on it.
   The programme can be found here, and is titled ‘Putting the Planet First: a New Orientation’.
   The description: ‘Instead of thinking about the 3Ps—your challenge is to adopt a new perspective. Always put Planet first. Then people. Then profit.’
   After signing up for free, you can head into our virtual rooms.
   From the page: ‘Only 21/10/2020, 10:00–13:00 lectures and livestreams from members of the Medinge Think Tank: a group of brand experts and visionaries from around the world whose purpose is to influence business to become more humane and conscious in order to help humanity progress and prosper. With international speakers who have worked on these rights and bring in the perspective from indigenous people who co-exist with the rivers.’
   On Tuesday the 21st at 10 a.m. CET is Amanda’s presentation on the Whanganui River, which was given the rights of a legal person in legislation enacted in March 2017.
   Amanda worked at the Office of Treaty Settlements at the time, so this is really her talk. I just set the laptop on the table, with a microphone generously lent to me by my friend Brenda Wallace. Then I edited it in video-editing software with all the skill of an amateur.
   But that’s the year of COVID-19 for you.
   The way the talk came about was in discussion in 2019 with my colleagues at Medinge Group. The concept of legal rights on natural resources and indigenous rights came up, as did the case of the Whanganui River, which is known beyond our shores.
   They had no idea Amanda worked on it, and proudly I mentioned her role.
   From then on she was part of the programme, and it all came together last Friday.
   In the talk, you’ll see me on a much lower chair than her, propped up by a bag of rice that slowly sags as the recording wears on.
   There’s only so much furniture at her Dad’s studio but it was the most comfortable place we could think of for the filming.
   More important are the contents of her talk, which I thoroughly recommend. She worked really hard on the responses over a few weeks to make sure it was thoroughly rigorous.
   It’s followed by a talk from my good friend and colleague Sudhir John Horo. Pop over, it’s going to be a really eventful day in virtual Eindhoven.


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More things that don’t work: Google knowledge panels, and typing in te reo Māori in Facebook

06.09.2020

A guide to emojis for 2020.

At least Twitter works. Google, as usual, doesn’t.
   I had a check to see how Lucire was performing in a Google search yesterday and noticed there was a Wikipedia box to the right, and a message saying that if it was about us, I could ‘claim’ the box. I clicked on the link, and as Google knows my email address is associated with Lucire through its search console, it verified me. ‘Congratulations, you’ve been verified’, according to the Google website, and I could ‘Add or change info’, with a ‘Review info’ box that I could click on.

   Actually, it’s just a coloured rectangle. Clicking on it does nothing.
   Maybe it’s my privacy settings, so I used my fresh, unblocked, Google-can-plant-what-it-likes Chromium browser. I log in as me on Google. And here’s what I get.

   Another variant is the below:

   ‘This account doesn’t have permission to publish on Google Search.’ Um, it does. You just told me I did.
   The box remains claimed but there’s not a damned thing I can do.

Long-time readers will remember my pointing out many years ago how the Google Dashboard isn’t accurate, especially when it comes to arithmetic. Nothing has changed.
   Google says I have one task. Well, I can’t, since I’ve never used it. Click through: I have none, and Google returns a ‘Get started’ page. Google says I have two albums. Again, impossible. Click through: I have none. It says I belong to one group. Click through: zero. I’m honestly astonished at how bad they are. If you can’t do maths, you probably shouldn’t be working with computers.




Finally, I see Facebook has forced a lot of people to change to its new template. I actually don’t care what the UI looks like, as I’m not there sufficiently to care. And I bet that if you were Māori, you’d want to have the old template back, since you can’t type macronized vowels. The macron just winds up on the baseline on any Chromium browser.

   One friend tried to replicate this on Windows and couldn’t, so this might not be a universal issue.
   The font being called by the stylesheet is Segoe UI Historic. I have it installed, and it’s not something I’ve ever edited. I will point that that, according to Character Map, no macronized vowels are visible in the relevant Unicode range, though I haven’t opened it in Fontlab to confirm. If the browser has to substitute, that’s fine. But what font (indeed, which of the Segoe fonts) has macrons on the baseline? It appears to be Microsoft’s Segoe, so if it’s not a Facebook linked font (the code inspector suggests it isn’t), then we can point the finger at Microsoft for a buggy font on a standard Windows 10 computer. Either way, someone in a Big Tech outfit goofed.

I had bookmarked this on my cellphone but because it’s my cellphone, it takes a long time to get it on this blog. I have to remember to grab the phone, then look up the post. But it’s your regular reminder that Facebook usually does nothing, despite saying it actively takes down hateful content. As I noted on The Panel in late August, eight copies (I believe in part) of the Christchurch massacre still exited on the platform as of March 15, 2020. The lies are laid bare once more.

   As a company, they also take their sweet time in removing bots. Here’s Instagram in a message to me on August 27 (it’s not the only 2018 report they responded to that week):

Same old, same old.


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Crunching the COVID-19 numbers for June 15

15.06.2020

I hadn’t done one of these for a long time: take the number of COVID-19 cases and divide them by tests done. For most countries, the percentage is trending down, though there has been little movement in Sweden. I hadn’t included Brazil, Russia and India before, but as they are in the top part of the table, I’ve included them for the first time for context. That does leave the C of the BRIC countries out, but as China does not disclose its testing numbers, I can’t work out a figure for them. Given the news, it is no surprise that Brazil has the worst percentage I have seen since I began crunching these numbers: more than half of the tests done result in a positive. The source is Worldometers.

Brazil 867,882 of 1,604,784 = 54·08%
Sweden 51,614 of 325,000 = 15·88%
France 157,220 of 1,384,633 = 11·35%
KSA 127,541 of 1,106,398 = 10·99%
USA 2,162,261 of 24,795,407 = 8·72%
Singapore 40,818 of 488,695 = 8·35%
Switzerland 31,131 of 461,128 = 6·75%
Spain 291,008 of 4,826,516 = 6·03%
India 333,255 of 5,774,133 = 5·77%
Italy 236,989 of 4,620,718 = 5·13%
UK 295,889 of 6,772,602 = 4·37%
Germany 187,671 of 4,694,147 = 4·00%
Russia 537,210 of 15,161,152 = 3·54%
South Korea 12,121 of 1,105,719 = 1·10%
Taiwan 445 of 74,409 = 0·60%
New Zealand 1,504 of 311,121 = 0·48%
Australia 7,335 of 1,830,665 = 0·40%
Hong Kong 1,113 of 275,293 = 0·40%

   It shows that COVID-19 is far from over, something that we here in New Zealand need to be reminded of as we begin to rebuild. Still, nearby Fiji is also COVID-19-free, so perhaps we can begin having some travel with them?


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