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India’s confirmed covid-19 toll crossed 7 million on Sunday. Daily new infections have dropped from a high of over 90,000 to 74,383 on Sunday, but experts are worried people are not taking precautions. India is expected to be the worst-hit country in coming weeks, surpassing the US, where over 7.7 million infections have been reported. In Brazil, the third worst affected, deaths crossed 150,000 on Saturday, despite signs that the virus is slowly retreating. Over the last month and a half, the viral curve has dropped in Brazil. India has reported more than 100,000 deaths. For more updates, here’s Mint Lite.

Digital payments up 55% every year

In the last four years, the volume of digital payments has grown nearly 55% every year
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In the last four years, the volume of digital payments has grown nearly 55% every year

In the last four years, the volume of digital payments has grown nearly 55% every year, from 593.6 crore transactions in the year ending March 2016 to 3,434.5 crore in the year to March 2020, according to new data from the RBI. This is also the period, soon after demonetization of 500 and 1000 notes, when the Reserve Bank doubled down on its efforts to move to a less-cash-driven economy by pushing digital payments. In terms of absolute value, it’s grown from 920.38 lakh crore in 2016 to 1,623.05 lakh crore in 2020, an annual compounded rate of 15.2%, the data shows. From 2018-19, the value and volume of transactions climbed faster, but in FY2020, the volume spike though the value of transactions slipped. This is attributed to the steep fall in the overall economy and the massive job losses, forcing people to spend less and preserve more cash.

Public ire forces rich French to give?

Of the world’s billionaires, with the exception China, the French have enjoyed the most lucrative decade, going by a UBS-PwC study
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Of the world’s billionaires, with the exception China, the French have enjoyed the most lucrative decade, going by a UBS-PwC study

Of the world’s billionaires, with the exception China, the French have enjoyed the most lucrative decade, going by a UBS-PwC study. LVMH boss Bernard Arnault and his ilk saw their wealth rise fivefold to $443b between 2009 and 2020, fuelled by an Asian hunger for French luxury and a global realty boom, Bloomberg reports. But, the pandemic had its impact. Arnault’s fortune year-to-date has fallen $19 billion as tourism and shopping take a beating, though he is the world’s fifth-richest man. L’Oreal’s Francoise Bettencourt Meyers (pic) may lose her title as world’s richest woman to Mackenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife. The covid crisis and public ire have woken the ultra-rich up to the need to give: Hermes donated $24m to Paris’ hospital association in May; LVMH gave ventilators and made masks. Public opinion can’t be ignored as the backlash over billionaires being slow to make donations to rebuild Notre-Dame last year showed.

WFH may not save that much

Workplace mobility is gradually recovering, but most companies in India have institutionalized working from home to ensure business continuity
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Workplace mobility is gradually recovering, but most companies in India have institutionalized working from home to ensure business continuity

Workplace mobility is gradually recovering, but most companies in India have institutionalized working from home to ensure business continuity. Whether we will ever return to the physical office as we knew it remains a question, but real estate office transactions offer a glimmer of hope. Between April and June, the worst of the lockdown months, transactions for office space fell 84% and completion of new office buildings 87% compared to the quarter ended March, according to real estate consultancy Knight Frank (see chart). From July to September, net absorption of office space increased 64% over the previous quarter, according to Jones Lang Lasalle. In the long run, working from home may not really save organizations money. A calculation done by Knight Frank for 119 IT companies shows that even if they moved half their employees permanently to a work-from-home arrangement, the net cost saving would only be 0.7% of operating income. It points to data vulnerabilities, loss of tax benefits for organisations in special economic zones (SEZs), and work culture as disincentives to working from home over the longer term. For more, see Plain Facts.

Belgium’s giant vacuum cleaner to eat plastic

Belgium’s Galgeschoor nature reserve has started testing a purpose-built, giant ‘vacuum cleaner’ to suck up particles of plastic that are too small to pick by hand
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Belgium’s Galgeschoor nature reserve has started testing a purpose-built, giant ‘vacuum cleaner’ to suck up particles of plastic that are too small to pick by hand

Belgium’s Galgeschoor nature reserve has started testing a purpose-built, giant ‘vacuum cleaner’ to suck up particles of plastic that are too small to pick by hand. Every year, the Antwerp port organizes a clean-up at the 100-hectare mud-flat reserve with close to 500 volunteers clearing nearly eight tonnes of plastic, but many particles are too small to pick. These microplastics, smaller than 5mm, are transported by the 350km Scheldt river and wash up at the reserve. The industrial plastic pellets accumulate in mud and salt marshes. Last year, the port launched a competition to find a solution, and the winner is a giant vacuum cleaner, Nul-o-Plastic, developed by environmental firm Envisan. The machine’s rubber tyres limit soil disruption, and its suction mechanism is designed to avoid damaging plants. The aim is to suck 7.5 tonnes of plastic pellets out of the reserve. The first test concludes later this month.

A start to end flooding in Venice

Venice has had seasonal floods, or acqua alta, from October to March since the 5th century, but in the last decade it’s a real threat due to rising sea levels caused by climate change
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Venice has had seasonal floods, or acqua alta, from October to March since the 5th century, but in the last decade it’s a real threat due to rising sea levels caused by climate change

Venice has had seasonal floods, or acqua alta, from October to March since the 5th century, but in the last decade it’s a real threat due to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Last November, the worst floods in more than 50 years left St Mark’s Square (in pic) submerged under a metre of water. Mose—a solution delayed 17 years by bureau-cracy and corruption—passed a test earlier this month, giving Venetians hope that their city may not be “unliveable by the end of the century". A network of 78 bright yellow remote-control-led barriers at the entrance to the Venetian lagoon lifted from the sea bed to stop high tides from entering and flooding the city. St Mark’s Square, which would have been knee-deep in water from the 135cm high tide, just had puddles. Right now, the barriers are raised when tides cross 130cm, but many parts of Venice, including St Mark’s Square, flood at 90cm—and residents are fighting to have the barriers raised earlier.

Curated by Shalini Umachandran. Have something to share with us? Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com or tweet to @shalinimb

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