BBC
The BBC is the British public service broadcaster, and the world's oldest national broadcasting organization. It broadcasts in up to 28 different languages.
Future
Emma Flacard

Good And Evil Uses Of Facial Recognition Around The Globe

Much has been said about China's use of biometric technology for mass civilian surveillance. But facial recognition is being used elsewhere too, and not always as a tool for crime prevention.

Leo Colombo Viña had just hopped onto a Buenos Aires subway when he was approached by a police officer and taken in for questioning over a robbery he'd supposedly committed 17 years prior.

The computer science professor and software company founder had done no such thing. It was a case of mistaken identity, one that was triggered, ironically, by the latest in digital technology: a facial recognition system. But as civil rights activist Eduardo Ferreyra explains in a recent op-ed piece in the Argentine daily Clarín, it didn't stop the Colombo Viña from having to spend six days in jail.

"They surrounded him, told him he had to accompany them to a police station, handcuffed him in front of his family," Ferreyra writes of the incident, which took place in 2019.

For some time now, debates over facial recognition tend to focus on places like China, where the technology is being used for social control, or perhaps India, notorious for its use of facial recognition to identify anti-government protesters.

But as Colombo Viña's case shows, the technology is gaining a foothold far and wide, including in Argentina, where starting two years ago — much to the chagrin of groups like Human Rights Watch — it's even being used to target juvenile suspects.

Biometric technology raises obvious concerns about mass surveillance.

Here is an overview of several of the controversies (and sometimes, pleasant surprises!) surrounding the use of facial recognition tech around the world:

Missing the mark

Biometric technology raises obvious concerns about mass surveillance and the extensive gathering of private information. It's also proven to be racially biased: The programs have more difficulties distinguishing among dark-skinned people, inevitably leading to false arrests.

In the United States, a 2019 case saw an innocent Black man arrested after a false facial recognition match was used as evidence to detain him, CNN reports. The 31-year-old New Jersey resident spent 11 days behind bars before he was finally released, and even then, it took a year for the charges, including unlawful possession of weapons, to be dropped.

A face recognition system at the Narita International airport in Narita, suburban Tokyo — Photo: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO via ZUMA Press

In China, where facial recognition technology has been used for many years now, and especially in provinces that are said to house separatists, the BBC has just revealed that artificial intelligence and facial recognition intended to reveal states of emotion has been tested on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. According to an anonymous software engineer, Uyghurs have been used as test subjects for emotion detection cameras.

Tracking political opponents

Thousands of kilometers away, in the middle of the African continent, the Chinese influence on biometric technology is still prevalent. In 2019, the Chinese company Huawei sold an invasive surveillance system to the Uganda government to track down, arrest and torture political opponents, Quartz Africa reports.

During anti-government protests in November 2020 that led to the death of 50 people, the Uganda police reportedly used Huawei's facial recognition tech to track down and arrest suspects.

Others see facial recognition as Big Brother.

The technology is being put to use in Europe too. In southeastern France, the seaside city of Nice has also become a testing ground for high-tech surveillance tools. Starting a dozen years ago, the then mayor, right-winger Christian Lestrosi, implemented a vast surveillance system that has gotten increasingly high-tech as times goes on. More recently, starting in 2018, Nice began experimenting with facial recognition and has even tested biometric technology in high schools.

Just say cheese

Elsewhere, though, the technology is being used not to fight crime, but to keep people healthy. In East Africa's Tanzania, developers are employing it to fight against rabies, with an application that can determine immediately — with just a cellphone camera image — whether a dog has been vaccinated against the illness.

Facial recognition technology also has the advantage of being hands-free, and can thus be a tool in the fight against COVID-19. In the main airport of the Bahamas, biometric technology allows passengers to travel without having to physically present their (potentially germy) documents, The Bahamas Tribune reports.

Across the planet, in Australia, lawmakers are considering an entirely different use of facial scanning: as a requirement for internet users to access online pornography.

For proponents of such programs, facial recognition tech can help keep us safer. Others see it as Big Brother, and warn that by allowing its increasing use, we're progressively transforming public spaces into spheres of oppression. As Eduardo Ferreyra urges in his Clarín piece: "It is the responsibility of all of us to commit ourselves and work to prevent this from happening."

Economy
Rozena Crossman

Work → In Progress: Redefining Our Work-Life Balance

Telework, telework, telework … The concept may seem like old hat at this point. And yet, there are also new elements to the phenomenon that keep cropping up — new words, shifting workplace relationships, evolving office spaces — as society continues to morph around this shifting reality.

Fascinating innovations around our new work-life balance are still blossoming, in other words — and negative repercussions are still taking us by surprise. This edition of Work → In Progress stays ahead of the game, pinpointing the problems and solutions that will be on our minds even in a fully-vaccinated future.

LET'S GET PHYGITAL The hybrid system of working from both home and the office is now so common that France has come up with a new word to describe it: "phygital." A combination of the words physique (physical) and digital, the concept is so ingrained into modern work life that jobs ads for "chief phygital officer" are starting to pop up, and the French daily Le Figaro reports that many of the country's largest corporations are gearing up for a post-pandemic phygital workplace.

WORK FROM WHERE? While some may be moving their home office to a new room, one Scottish call-center consultant suspended his new workspace from a cliff in Wales. Armed with nothing but his laptop, a mobile internet connection and a hanging tent, Jason Griffin spent a day juggling client calls while dangling above the sea. He's already planning his next home office adventure on the western coast of Scotland. Perhaps his stunts will inspire an x-treme teleworking trend.

THE NEW ABNORMAL Workplace abuse is back on the rise in Brazil. According to the financial paper Valor Econômico, social distancing and the shift to remote work in the early months of the pandemic caused reports of harassment, sexual and otherwise, during working hours to fall by as much 22.7%, leading to a wave of optimism. But the change was short-lived: According to a new survey by Valor, these old problems have found new ways to sneak back into the country's companies, regaining pre-pandemic levels and then rising by an additional 6.2%. For example, sexual harassment now takes place through webcams, where "the internet gives people a sense of impunity." It seems that perpetrators, too, have adapted to the so-called new normal.

THE ODD JOB

BUTT OUT, BOSS Hiding a screaming child from a company Zoom meeting is no easy feat. As offices and schools shut down around the UK at the beginning of the pandemic, employees found themselves explaining their difficult situations to their superiors in an attempt to adapt their new work-life balance as best they could. But the Forward Institute, a non-profit that analyses leadership within companies, found a "fundamental shift in what employers know, and need to know, about their employees' personal circumstances." While some fear this new information sharing may lead to discrimination, the director of PurpleSpace, a company that provides support for disabled employees, told the BBC that company leaders are becoming "more human."

SWAPPING SPACES As Laura, a young Parisian professional explained in recent interview with France Bleu, work used to end as soon as she got onto the metro heading home. But since the lockdown periods began, she now finds herself answering e-mails well into the evening. And that's only one of her gripes with remote working. The other big problem is the lack of home-office space, which is why Laura and her boyfriend are part of a growing number of professionals leaving cities not for sanitary or social reasons — or even to be closer to nature — but to gain a bit more elbow room, so to speak. Adequate work space at home has become so important that, as the Wall Street Journal reports, landlords are now looking to rent out rooms and retail spaces in suburban areas, blurring "the distinction between residential and commercial neighborhoods."

STAT DU JOUR

TECH GLITCH When it comes to the future of the African market, organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, the African Union and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development have been clear about one thing: The digital revolution will electrify the continent's economy. And yet, as the pan-African news website Jeune Afrique reports, some economists feel the tech boom will do nothing to solve the massive unemployment plaguing the Sub-Saharan region. One argument purports that in the manufacturing sector, African companies can either create jobs or become more competitive, but the machine-driven nature of our world today does not allow for both. Much of African job creation currently takes place within the agricultural industry and much of the work is informal. Perhaps actors looking to boost employment in Africa should put the same emphasis on farming as they do on tech.

Geopolitics

The Latest: Taiwan’s Vaccine Question, Germany’s Second Genocide, Backwards Fugitive

Welcome to Friday, where COVID spikes in Asia, Germany formally recognizes its second 20th-century genocide and a fugitive in New Zealand went the wrong way in a helicopter. Berlin daily Die Welt introduces us to an openly gay Catholic priest, whose Sunday Mass is always full.

• UN to investigate war crimes over Israeli-Hamas conflict: The UN Human Rights Council has voted to investigate violence in the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. The United States worries this decision would threaten the progress of bringing calm to the region.

• Syria's Assad wins fourth term: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term in office with 95% of the votes in an election criticized by Western countries as not free or open. The country has been devastated by a ten-year conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million people — about half the population — from their homes.

• Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai sentenced: Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 14 months in prison over his participation in a pro-democracy rally last year.

• Germany recognizes colonial crimes in Namibia as genocide: Germany has officially recognized that it committed genocide in Namibia, apologizing for its role in slaughter of Herero and Nama tribespeople between 1904-1908.

• COVID-19 spreading in Asia: South Asia has crossed 30 million COVID-19 cases on Friday. Japan says it will consider sharing some of its vaccine doses with Taiwan, which has seen a sudden spike in cases and only has 1% of its population inoculated. In Australia, the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus has forced the city of Melbourne to enter its fourth lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic.

• Nike split with Neymar over sexual assault investigation: U.S. sportswear giant Nike announced that it will stop working with Neymar over his failure to cooperate with an internal investigation of sexual assault charges alleged in 2016 by an employee of the company. Neymar denies the charges, and the investigation was inconclusive.

• New Zealand fugitive rents helicopter to surrender: A fugitive New Zealand resident facing assault charges hired a helicopter to fly to a police station to turn himself in.

Watch Video Show less
Weird
Bertrand Hauger

Austrian Man Makes Case For Lower Fine After “Deliberately” Farting At Police

In Austria, they call it Darmwind — literally "bowel wind."

In June 2020, a man was fined 500 euros for intentionally letting one such Darwmind go at police officers approaching him for an identity check as he sat on a bench in a Viennese park. The Vienna Regional Administrative Court has now reduced the fine to 100 euros.

As Austrian daily Der Standard recalls, the deliberate flatulence — and the hefty fine that ensued — had made serious headlines last year, with international media catching wind of the affair. Police at the time had justified the inflated penalty by saying the suspect "had already behaved in a provocative and uncooperative manner" before letting her rip.

The individual had appealed the fine, arguing that the incriminated gas was merely a "biological process' that had escaped him. The suspect also argued that the targeted fart should be considered public criticism of police forces, `and thus within "freedom of expression" rights.

Unconvinced by such a line of defense, the court responded that to fall within freedom of expression purview, a statement still had to convey certain "communicative content" — which, in the case of this "pure body stimuli," was not the case.

Ultimately, considering this was the man's first offense (as offensive as it may have been), the court decided to reduce the fine to 100 euros. So it seems that this singular story, as Swiss daily Le Matin concludes, is gone with the wind ...

Society
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Britney Spears To Princess Latifa: Hashtags And The Patriarchy

The new documentary "Framing Britney Spears' explores how both tabloid and mainstream media outlets first framed the American megastar as a hypersexualized Lolita, then a bad role model and finally an unstable mother. The film, produced by The New York Times, explores how the news coverage may have led to Spears being placed under a legal conservatorship in 2008 — giving her father Jamie Spears control over her fortune.

The filmmakers follow the #FreeBritney movement, an online protest of fans and supporters pushing to give back control to Spears of her approximately $60 million in net worth. Many in the movement have called out supposed encrypted cries for help in posts on the now 39-year-old pop star's Instagram feed, one of her few seemingly uncensored outlets for expression. Since the documentary's release, the movement had a significant victory when a judge allowed the establishment of Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator, taking some power away from her dad.

The Princess has accused her father of holding her hostage — Photo: FreeLatifa Instagram page

As much as this reads like a very American show biz tale, across the world in the United Arab Emirates, a rather more extreme version of the same father-daughter dynamic is also playing out across social media. The BBC has published videos that Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai's ruler, secretly recorded from a locked bathroom in which she says she fears for her life.

The Princess, 35, has accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of holding her hostage in Dubai since she tried to flee the UAE city in 2018. Amidst global outrage (including by the campaign #FreeLatifa), the United Nations said it will question the UAE about her situation.

While Dubai has become a rich, global capital under Sheikh Mohammed's rule, many women still face harsh restrictions on their personal liberties. And the Sheikh himself is said to have "at least" six wives, including one, Princess Haya, who also fled in 2019, going to London after hearing about Latifa's abduction.

A decade ago, social media was hailed as a new tool to lead pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and give voice to those traditionally shut off from the public sphere. But lately Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have been seen more and more as a toxic public square of fake news, violence and a threat to democracy.

The coinciding hashtag campaigns on behalf of #Britney and #Latifa show that the internet still has the power to move events in a positive direction. But the stories of these two very different princesses are also a reminder that the patriarchy is still firmly in control just about everywhere in the real world.

Work In Progress
Rozena Crossman

Work → In Progress: The Freelancing Changes Afoot

Vaccines are slowly arriving, but many of the shifts COVID has created will be lasting. These reverberations are much deeper than just working from home or increased digitization — society's priorities have evolved. Thanks to the pandemic, people all over the world are completely rewiring their lives. They're leaving once-vibrant cultural metropolises for serene greenery and fresh air, turning away from foreign exports to support their local communities and embracing vacation time as an important tool for productivity.

This edition of Work → In Progress explores how these changes in ethos are manifesting in business and labor. In a world rethinking everything from agricultural models to freelance contracts, here are some of the latest trends in the workplace:


ENTREPRECARIOUS From Italy to South Korea, we've seen how the pandemic has fueled a freelance boom. But people may also be turning into entrepreneurs against their will. Silvio Lorusso, author of the book Entreprecariat, noted in an interview with French media Welcome To The Jungle that in Europe, many employees have been pushed to continue working as freelancers so companies can cut costs. He wonders if the post-COVID self-employment boom is really entrepreneurship, or just more "uberisation" of the workplace. He also warns that the "roll up your sleeves' attitude towards the crisis propagated by governments and companies is implicitly asking workers to do more labor for less pay, as their suggestions for adapting to the "new normal" have included mastering new digital tools, organizing their home office, coordinating modified hours with coworkers ... all activities that are seldom recognized as work.

AFRICA RISING If African nations were poised to become an investing hotspot before, the past year has only accelerated their potential. For starters, the pandemic seems to have had much less of an impact there than on other regions of the world, due to factors like a younger population and high public support for safety measures. An even more important factor, however, is the innovation currently taking place. According to the professional services network Ernst & Young, "A surplus of workers, more stability and technology are transforming Africa's economies, making it less dependent on extractive industries." Examples of African entrepreneurship include developing facial recognition technology for African populations, harboring the largest African genome bank in the world and, since COVID, a boost in locally-made pharmaceutics, the pan-African francophone media Jeune Afrique reports.

THE ODD JOB

AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION Agriculture in India, which accounts for about 58% of the population's livelihood, is in distress. Farmers in the subcontinent have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, a symptom of conditions of extreme poverty. An op-ed in the Delhi-based news outlet The Wire argues that in order to improve the agricultural sector, governmental policies should "have a clear vision of what our future villages should be" and plan accordingly to ensure the stability of local populations. It's an idea that could ensure employment for farmers around the world, as many Europeans have been calling for the EU's Common Agricultural Policy to align with their Green Deal's Farm To Fork strategy, which aims to put small farmers at the heart of the food distribution system.

FROM STATIC TO AGILE In times of uncertainty and unpredictability, companies will accelerate the transition from static vertical structures to agile, self-managed teams. According to America Economia, the pandemic and the rise in remote work made companies realize the drawbacks of the traditional style of leadership, which sometimes verged on micromanagement. Throughout 2021, companies will seek to put in place new processes and structures, giving teams more independence and clearer fields of action. Leaders will be expected to create a safe space within a team, setting clear goals, roles and responsibilities and then limiting themselves to motivating and empowering autonomous workers, leaving them free to do the rest.

REMOTE VS. 5-DAY WORKWEEK Old habits die hard, and that includes the five-day work week and daily 9-to-5 grind. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, Fast Company argues, it's that standard practice isn't necessarily the best practice. For one thing, worker engagement and performance tends to start strong on Mondays but gradually drop during the week. Also, remote work and digital technologies mean we hardly stop checking our screens at 5 p.m. — and people relinquish hours of unaccounted work in the hope of some downtime in the weekend. What if companies instead allowed employees to get the work done "whenever they can," logging their hours when they'd like — including early mornings, late, nights, weekends? If done right, that would allow workers to live their lives not only a couple of days a week but every day.

A NEAT TWEET

URBAN ARRIVEDERCI An increasing number of young Italians are leaving cities and offices to rediscover a love for the countryside. The biggest farmer's association in Italy reports a 14% rise in the number of young farmers over the last five year. The group said the rise was partly propelled by the coronavirus crisis. Many of these young farmers came from different professional backgrounds, allegedly looking to reconnect with nature and a more genuine lifestyle.

PRODUCTION VALUE The way we think about productivity is changing, with more managers, workers and employers considering meditation, family time and vacation elements that boost productivity rather than a waste of time. While our society's decades-old obsession with productivity has seemingly worsened during the pandemic and remote working, the Brazilian weekly Epoca Negocios reports that it also taught some people about the importance of a more holistic approach to getting things done — boosting professionals' well-being and time spent off work, emails, and screens.

Coronavirus

COVID Death Toll At 1.5 Million: A World United By Those We Lost

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached every corner of the planet, and we remember those we lost from more than 20 different countries.

PARIS — It's a staggering number, one that in the early days of the pandemic, few would have even dared to imagine. And yet, here we are: The worldwide COVID-19 death toll is now set to pass 1.5 million.

Those we've lost include some of the biggest and most advanced countries, including the United States, which has registered the most deaths (271,000+), followed by Brazil (174,000+) and India (138,000+). But this pandemic, the first of this amplitude in the era of airline travel and full-throttle globalization has reached virtually every corner of the world. That means 27 have also died in Iceland and 29 in Singapore, alongside the more than 39,000 in Argentina, 57,000 in Italy and 49,000 in Iran. And so on ... sadly.

Even with a vaccine on its way, current forecasting models say it is likely that the final toll will include an additional one million lives taken by the coronavirus.

The impact of all of this death — on nations, cities and neighborhoods, on governments and economies — is immeasurable. But nowhere, of course, is the absence of all those lost lives felt more acutely than among the families and friends of those we've lost. National and local media have spent the past nine months chronicling their departed citizens and neighbors. Now, as a reminder of how this pandemic has connected the whole world in grief, here is just a small sample of COVID-19 victims from different countries and different backgrounds, from an aging bodybuilder in China to a Brazilian mother who died while seven months pregnant to a Congolese-born star student in Quebec.

CANADA (12,000+ deaths)

Don Béni Kabangu Nsapu, 19

Montreal

Don Béni Kabangu Nsapu, just 19, became Quebec's youngest coronavirus victim when he died on Aug. 16 from complications due to COVID-19. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he lived in the Montreal area where he received last year's award for the high school student who demonstrated the most academic and athletic perseverance.

He was first brought to hospital when he contracted a fever. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 and sent home to quarantine.

Three weeks later, his state of health deteriorated, explained his father, Alain Lukinda Nsapu: "It was at the end of the third week that it got worse," he said. "We took him to the hospital. Nine days later he died."

This young death shocked the local community. Stéphane Kalonga, the teenager's former soccer coach at École secondaire de la Pointe-Aux-Trembles, described him as "an exemplary boy, very polite and very courteous. He had a lot of dreams and then it was all over just like that."

U.S.A (274,000+ deaths)

Bethany Nesbitt, 20

Winona Lake, Indiana

Image

Bethany Nesbitt had hoped to pursue a career as a child health specialist, "helping children and families navigate the process of illness, injury, disability, trauma, or hospitalization," according to the Grace College website in Winona Lake, Indiana. The youngest of nine siblings, Nesbitt was expected to graduate next spring.

This Grace College student died on October 29 in her dormitory room. She had been isolating there for ten days after her COVID-19 diagnoses, said her brother, Stephen Nesbitt, a journalist with The Atlantic.

He tweeted that "the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism—the result of a blood clot—widely recognized as a common cause of death in COVID-19 patients."

She began showing symptoms and was tested for the virus. She also monitored her oxygen saturation levels, as she was asthmatic. When her oxygen levels dropped, she went to the emergency room, but doctors said she did not have a severe case of the virus and seemed to be recovering, so they sent her back to her dorm. Her oxygen levels stabilised and she was fever-free on October 28. She felt the worst was past. On October 29, she watched Netflix and went to bed. She was found dead the next morning.

"Bethany was a selfless and loving friend, a source of constant encouragement to all those around her," said her family in a statement. "She had a passion for helping others, especially children, and her sassy sense of humor and wonderful laugh put them at ease."

MEXICO (107,000+ deaths)

Jesús Ricardo Ríos Rivera, 50

Atizapán

By the time Jesús Ricardo Ríos Rivera finally got his test results, on April 8, it was too late. The 50-year-old pediatrician in Atizapán, just outside of Mexico City, had been feverish and struggling to breathe. Just two days after being admitted to hospital, the father of two was gone.

His widow, Ivonne Santana Olguín, never had a chance to say goodbye. She only saw his corpse from a distance as he was taken in a body bag to be cremated, Mexican daily La Silla Rota reported.

To date, the pandemic has taken more than 100,000 lives in Mexico. Ríos Rivera was one of the early victims. At the time, the protective gear provided to health workers was minimal, and there weren't many testing kits on hand at the hospital where he worked.

Even though the pediatrician hadn't been treating COVID-19 patients, all practicing doctors are at higher risk than most. And back in March, when Ríos Rivera was feeling sick and suspected that he'd been in contact with an infected person, colleagues twice declined his request to be tested because of a shortage of tests. "Unfortunately, my husband's isn't the only such case," Santana Olguín later said. "A lot of people complain that they're not given the test because they don't have all the symptoms, and that's not good."

BRAZIL (174,000+ deaths)

Celma Castro, 39

Venda Nova do Imigrante

foto de Celma Castro

Celma Castro had always dreamed of having two children. After giving birth a year earlier to a boy, the native of the coastal Brazilian town of Venda Nova do Imigrante got the good news from the doctors: "She was ecstatic about the arrival of the girl," Rosi Cruz, a longtime friend told Folha de S. Paulo daily.

On May 18, seven months into her pregnancy, Castro tested positive for COVID-19. Three days later, with her condition deteriorating, she was taken to the hospital and intubated.

Marcela was born the day after by caesarean section. The mother of two died on June 7, having never recovered consciousness, unable to say goodbye to her loved ones — or meet her newborn daughter, who tested negative for COVID.

ECUADOR (13,000 deaths)

Giovanni José Coppiano Campoverde, 54

Guayaquil

Giovanni José Coppiano Campoverde was an Ecuadorian radiologist, a serious job. But it was as Copito the clown that most people remember him.

A pioneer in children's entertainment nationwide, Coppiano studied radiology and later earned a master's in Management of Health Services After beginning to work in a children's hospital in Guayaquil in the 1990s, he wanted to entertain sick children and, more importantly, lift their spirits — so he started doing small gags and telling jokes. In doing so, he discovered his calling. Coppiano became famous across Ecuador as the "payaso Copito," a chubby clown who wore bright-colored suits, white gloves, and a painted face.

Copito organized shows with assistants, magicians and animated birthdays, children's parties and other celebrations. People who knew him say he was very proud of his work as a clown. "Every child is unique, every family different and every party special," he wrote about his passion on his website.

Coppiano contracted COVID-19 right as the illness began to overwhelm Ecuador's fragile health system. He died on April 5, aged 54, one of too many people for the hospital to handle all at once.

U.K. (60,000+ deaths)

Rachael Yates, 33

Monmouthshire, Wales

Image

Rachael Yates worked as a prison officer at Usk prison in Monmouthshire when she passed away, this past April. Before taking her role at the category C prison, she had worked at the town's post office. She is the fourth prison employee known to have died in the UK after falling ill with COVID-19.

A Facebook post from from the Usk town council said: "Many of you will remember Rachael and her cheery nature working alongside Jane behind the counter at the old post office in Bridge Street — often in Victorian costume — and some of you may have seen her recently around Usk, where she had been working at Usk prison."

A prison service spokeswoman said: "An officer at HMP Usk sadly passed away on 21 April and our deepest sympathies are with her loved ones and colleagues at this difficult time."

Like so with so many victims of the virus, Yates's family never had a chance to say goodbye. That was "the worst thing of all," said her mother, Julie Jacques.

"I just want people to be aware that this can happen to anybody, and they must remember social distancing. We should never be having these problems in our world in 2020," she said.

IRELAND

Helen Dillon, 87, and Brendan Dillon, 91

Dublin

Helen and Brendan Dillon lived all their married life in Clontarf.

Helen and Brendan Dillon grew up less than a mile from each other in Dublin's north inner city. They were married for 61 years and died within two weeks of each other. They now lie together in Glasnevin Cemetery. She was 87 and he was just three weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.

Helan and Brendan met in their 20s when both worked for then State agency the Land Commission. They married in 1958 and Brendan moved to the department of social welfare. Helen, because of the traditional ban on women working after marriage, had to give up her job. She stayed home to mind their five children but got involved in business again when her husband started a company creating form sheets for horse racing.

Always active, Helen and Brendan had different but complementary interests. Brendan played a bit of cricket in his younger days and greatly enjoyed pitch and putt. But his favourite pastime was classical music, about which he was a true expert.

Brendan was always a walker who up to the age of 89 walked 10-12 miles a day. Helen's favourite pastime was watching westerns.

One evening Brendan went for his usual walk, came home for dinner and enjoyed a glass of wine. The next day he was in the Mater hospital where he died five days later, on April 21.

Helen could not attend the funeral and her last sight of her husband was looking out the window and waving at his coffin as the hearse passed their Castle Grove home where so many of their neighbors stood and applauded in tribute.

Some days later Helen began to display symptoms and was admitted to hospital, where she died on May 3, five hours before the birth of her great-granddaughter Ruby.

SWEDEN (7,000+ deaths)

Hanna Altinsu, 81

Södertälje

Image may contain: 1 person, phone

In the Altinsu family home north of Stockholm, Hanna spent all of his later days caring for his sick wife Fehime, starting long before the pandemic struck. So when Fehime's condition deteriorated in March, and she suddenly stopped eating, the family had no idea it was COVID-19.

When Hanna soon fell ill too, the customary Sunday dinners with the couple's two sons, Gabriel and Daniel, turned into hospital visits. Three weeks after Fehime died from complications connected with the virus, Hanna followed her on April 9.

"Their fate was to never part, they were always together," their son Gabriel said.

ITALY (57,000+ deaths)

Federico Castellin, 34

Milan

When he died last March, Federico Castellin claimed two grim titles: he became Italy's 10,000th COVID-19 victim, but also, at the age of just 34, the country's youngest.

Castellin was particularly well known in the town of Cinisello Balsamo, located about 10 kilometers northeast of Milan, in Lombardy, the Italian region hit hardest by the pandemic.

Castellin started life helping behind the counter of his father's tobacco shop in the Borgomisto district. He took over the running of the Zen bar in Piazza Gramsci a year and a half ago, with the aim of restoring the town's most historic bar to its former glory. But then, with frightening speed, he succumbed to the coronavirus, dying on March 27.

Castellin left behind his wife, Anna, and a one-year-old son.

"A sunny and kind young man." That's how Paolo Tamborini, president of the Cinisello town council, remembers him. "He was a beautiful person. Always ready to give himself generously to others."

GREECE (2,600+ deaths)

Bishop Ioannis, 62

Lagadas

Serbia Mourns Aged Patriarch

Bishop Ioannis of Lagadas, a senior clergyman in Greek's Orthodox Church, was an outspoken advocate of maintaining communion during the pandemic. He argued that there's no risk of transmission in the ceremony, in which worshippers are personally handed bread and wine with a shared spoon.

He died on Nov. 15 after contracting the coronavirus and was buried a day later.

Critics were quick to highlight the bishop's stance on the communion issue. But the church's governing body, the Holy Synod, continues to defend him.

"Certain aspiring leaders of public opinion are insisting in a neurotic manner on concentrating exclusively on Holy Communion," a statement from the Synod said. "They cite unscientific correlations with the spread of the coronavirus, in defiance of epidemiological evidence."

Greek health experts have mostly avoided commenting on church practices but have noted that World Health Organization guidelines list saliva droplets as a leading means of contamination. The town of Lagadas, outside Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki, is a northern region experiencing the highest rate of infection in the country.

GERMANY (17,700+ deaths)

Metin Aslan, 63

Braunschweig

BTEU / Avrupalı-Türk İşadamları/kadınları Birliği - Posts | Facebook

When Metin Aslan arrived in Germany from Turkey with his father at age 15, he spoke hardly any German and struggled to integrate. He was a hard worker, however, and after finding his first job as a kitchen assistant, he juggled several jobs and changed paths frequently.

In his life, he was a glassblower, a steel cooker, a boxer, a locksmith and a truck driver. But it was only when he opened a Turkish-Kurdish restaurant in Braunschweig, near Hanover, that he finally landed on his life project.

The former dishwasher made a name for himself as Braunschweig's cult restaurateur. Even with the success of his restaurant, he was a man without airs, someone who sweated in the kitchen and still delivered food himself to the local junior hockey teams.

When Aslan died on April 5, aged 63, local media reported that the entire city mourned. The soccer club Eintracht Braunschweig wrote that they had lost a friend. "He was a Braunschweig man, body and soul," the mayor said.

Aslan leaves behind a widow and their children. They still run his restaurant, which continues to do well despite the restrictions. Local media says they haven't forgotten how to smile.

RUSSIA (41,000+ deaths)

Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, 57

Moscow

UFC

Nicknamed the "Father of Dagestan MMA", Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov was a former wrestler and specialist in the Soviet martial art of sambo. After retiring, he earned a reputation as a maker of champions in southern Russia and even helped his son Khabib to become UFC champion and one of the greatest ever mixed martial arts fighters in history, having yet to be defeated in the spring.

In April, Abdulmanap was treated at home in Kirovaul for a suspected case of pneumonia. He tested negative for COVID-19, but shortly after his condition worsened and he was rushed to a hospital in Moscow.

The pneumonia led to a heart attack, an emergency bypass surgery, then to induced coma. While in the ICU, Abdulmanap eventually tested positive to COVID-19, and the virus began to alter the functioning of his heart, brain and kidneys. He died in Moscow on July 3.

His son Khabib stepped back into the octagon to pay tribute to his father and won the match — before shocking the UFC world by announcing his retirement. Coached by his father, Khabib Nurmagomedov has fought 29 matches in his career. He remains undefeated.

ZIMBABWE (277 deaths)

Zororo Makamba, 30

Harare

TV with Thinus: Coronavirus: TV presenter Zororo Makamba (30) dead as  Zimbabwe

Cooped up in an isolation ward, a young Zimbabwean man who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, pleaded with his family to get him more help. Zororo Makamba, 30, was "alone and scared," his older brother told Zimbabwe's privately owned Daily News newspaper.

Makamba was being treated in the Wilkins Hospital, designated as the main isolation facility for coronavirus patients in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. Shortly after he talked to his family, he was dead. The death of Makamba, a well-known journalist, came swiftly — less than three days after his diagnosis on March 23.

Famous for his online social and political commentary, Makamba wrote under the banner "State of the Nation." His death marked an unwanted milestone: He was the country's first coronavirus casualty and it shocked Zimbabwe. The fact that Makamba came from a wealthy, high-profile family was not enough to save him, and family members have argued that his death has exposed the inadequacies of the country's medical response to the threat of coronavirus.

Makamba had undergone surgery last November to remove a tumour from under his lung and was in recovery. While his family admit that his immune system was compromised, they insist that his death could have been avoided.

SOUTH AFRICA (21,000+ deaths)

Gita Ramjee, 45

Umhlanga

Gita Ramjee spent her life looking for solutions to prevent HIV, focusing on women in South Africa. Born in Kampala, Uganda, she became an internationally recognized expert in the field of microbicide research, and was notably at the forefront of attempts to find an effective HIV vaccine.

Ramjee's pioneering career — during which she worked in close relationship with UNAIDS, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust — led to her receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for HIV Prevention in 2012. She was also awarded the "Outstanding Female Scientist" award from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership in 2018.

Gita Ramjee fell ill after returning to South Africa in mid-March from a work-related trip to London.

Shortly after landing back in South Africa, she was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. She died from COVID-19 complications on March 31 in a hospital in Umhlanga, near the coastal city of Durban.Deputy President of South Africa David Mabuza mourned Ramjee's passing by saying, "In her, we have indeed lost a champion in the fight against the HIV epidemic, ironically at the hands of another global pandemic".

ALGERIA (2,000+ deaths)

Moussa Benhamadi, 67

Algiers

Algérie : L

Former Algerian Minister of Telecommunications Moussa Benhamadi, close to the family of deposed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, died on July 17 of coronavirus in Algiers. He had contracted the virus in prison, where he was being held on corruption charges.

"Moussa Benhamadi contracted the virus on July 4, but he was only brought to hospital nine days later, where he died," his brother Hocine Benhamadi said.

Born on Jan. 4, 1953 in Ras El Oued, in eastern Algeria, Moussa Benhamadi started his career as a computer engineer before he was elected in 2002 as a deputy of the National Liberation Front, an allied party in power.

He had been held in pre-trial detention at El Harrach prison since September 2019 as part of an investigation into corruption involving the Algerian high-tech firm Condor Electronics headed by his brother Abderahmane.

Abderahmane, also suspected of corruption, was released from detention in April. Another brother, Omar, Condor's managing director, is still behind bars.

IRAN (49,000+ deaths)

Parviz Purhosseini, 79

Tehran

Actor Parviz Pourhosseini dies at 79

Iranian actor Mohsen Tanabandeh recently wrote on his Instagram account about the daily "dread of turning on the mobile phone" to discover that another friend or relative had died. On Nov. 27, the name was Parviz Purhosseini, a noted screen and stage actor who died of the coronavirus after spending two weeks in hospital, the Tehran daily Hamshahri reported.

Purhosseini's son, Purang, published pictures of his father on his Instagram account, saying he had "fought to the end" and praised doctors and nurses for striving "day and night" to save his life. "They were truly extraordinary," he said in gratitude to staff at the Firuzgar hospital in Tehran.

Purhosseini was a graduate of Tehran University's fine arts faculty. He had played in Iranian television series and plays including local versions of productions by Britain's Peter Brook. He also had parts in vintage films from the 1980s and 90s, including Kamal ol-Molk, on the life of a prominent artist of the 19th century.

ISRAEL (2,000+ deaths)

Yehuda Barkan, 75

Jerusalem

Yehuda Barkan, l

Actor Yehuda Barkan not only helped define Israeli comedy in films like Hagiga B'Snooker but was also a lifelong practical joker. Barkan, who was from the coastal city of Netanya, died last month of COVID-19.

Born to Yiddish-speaking parents from Czechoslovakia and Poland, he began acting after his military service, but was expelled from the Beit Zvi School of Performing Arts. He instead developed his passion for humor, pranking people on an Israeli radio show.

He gained fame in the 1970s starring in "bourekas' movies. These eventual cult classics explored ethical tensions between Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews. In the film Lupo!, Barkan — then aged 25 — starred as a middle-aged secondhand furniture dealer.

In a 1971 New York Times review, critic Vincent Canby wrote, "Under all those layers of make-up and charm, Mr. Barkan is, I suspect, an actor of real talent."

He became religious and left the entertainment industry, but returned to acting in the 2010s. In the television series "Yellow Peppers," he played the grandfather of a boy with autism.

He also never lost his sense of humor, taking part in hidden camera shows, including one where unsuspecting couples were set up on blind dates. For his last role, he starred as the romantic lead in the 2019 movie "Love in Suspenders." Upon his passing, Prime Minister Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Barkan, "brought joy to generations of Israelis."

CHINA (4,000+ deaths)

Qiu Jun, 72

Wuhan

Coronavirus: The noted victims of the virus in Wuhan - BBC News

Qiu Jun was in his early 40s when his life took an entirely different direction. That's when the railway maintenance technician started bodybuilding.

Qiu was born in 1948 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, where he studied at a local technical school and then started working in railway maintenance in the Wuchang Vehicle Factory — a line of work he kept at for his whole life.

But in 1990, when Qiu was 42, he found bodybuilding and never looked back. He participated in Hubei Province's first-ever bodybuilding competition, where he finished fifth. And yet, he only began working out seriously after his retirement from the factory in 2003, in the middle of the SARS epidemic.

Qiu survived SARS, but his wife did not. He was known for hitting the gym religiously and for participating in bodybuilding contests, even at age 70. In 2019, he won second place in the elderly category of the international "Olympic World Night" tournament. He became famous on social media after pictures surfaced, showing enviable form for his age.

He was scheduled to take part in another competition in June, but started showing symptoms on Jan. 23 and was taken to hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. He died on Feb. 6.

His son is quoted as saying, "The father who never got sick could not escape this disaster."

INDIA (138,000+ deaths)

Jamal Khan, 41

Bijnor

When Jamal Khan, a 41-year-old farmer, developed a fever in August local doctors failed to recognize the risk of COVID, his brother said. It was only when he was transferred to Delhi, 10 days after he first became ill, that he was tested. By then, his lungs were badly damaged, and he died soon after, Asim explained.

"If he would have been diagnosed on time in his own native place, he would have surely survived," the victim's brother said.

India's rudimentary healthcare system has at times struggled to cope with the huge number of coronavirus cases. Many of the victims' relatives have come out to claim there were missed opportunities to cure the infected.

NEW ZEALAND (25 deaths)

Christanthos "Christo" Tzanoudakis, 87

Wellington

Coronavirus: A timeline of the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand and  globally | Stuff.co.nz

Christo Tzanoudakis was something of a legend in the Greek community in Wellington. The 87-year-old, originally from Crete, had lived in the New Zealand city for 50 years.

He contracted the coronavirus when he attended his son Manoli's wedding … along with at least 95 other guests. They formed what became known as the Bluff wedding cluster.

Christo had worked on the wharves and owned a fish and chip shop.

One of the founders of the Cretans Association of New Zealand, he served as the president for some years. The group's current president, Stamatis Nikitopoulos, announced Tzanoudakis' death with "a heavy heart" on Facebook.

"He was a very much-loved man by all his family and friends and a well-respected member of the Cretan Associations and the broader Greek Orthodox Community in Wellington."

Christo had planned to move back to Greece after the wedding. But shortly after the event, a first guest tested positive for COVID-19. Then the bride and groom tested positive. On the Thursday after the wedding, Christ got very sick, his son Manoli said.

"He got rushed to hospital. He was going up and down, and then he started deteriorating." Speaking in Greek, Manoli told him to "be strong, and we will get through it."

It was the last thing he said to his father, who died on April 10.

AUSTRALIA (908 deaths)

Maureen Preedy, 70

Perth

Coronavirus Australia: plea for empathy as COVID-19 patients face their  final hours

Maureen Preedy was a mother of two and grandmother of three, an "extroverted" and "vibrant" person, and a keen traveller. She and her husband Barry were due to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary next year, and they loved going on trips around the world with friends every year.

The couple was on a cruise in Italy when news broke that a coronavirus outbreak had flared up on the Costa Victoria cruise ship they were on. Like the other 200 passengers, Maureen and Barry were quarantined in their cabins as the ship docked north of Rome.

Maureen started to feel sick on the ship, and the couple's daughter Simone campaigned for the government to bring them back. When this happened at the end of March, Maureen seemed to be getting worse. After landing, the couple was taken to two different hotel rooms to continue to isolate.

The next day Maureen was rushed to the hospital, where she tested positive for COVID-19 and was put into an induced coma. She never woke up. Barry couldn't see her again — he tested positive but survived, and is devastated by the loss.

"I wish I had said more," daughter Simone told Guardian Australia. "I wish I had pushed on the health stuff. Maybe if she got medical attention sooner things might have been different."

Geopolitics
Alessio Perrone

Beating COVID-19: What The East Got Right, And West Got Wrong

It's said to be cultural differences, but what separates the success of countries in East Asian and Oceania is above all a question of policy choices.

Last week, with COVID-19 daily case counts hitting new record highs across both the Western Hemisphere and Western Europe, life in the East was remarkably normal. Countries like Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand have managed to stave off both major restrictions and to keep the case death toll at a minimum. In China, where the virus first began to spread late last year, there were exactly 738 cases registered throughout the entire month of October, and the economy is back to chugging at full steam.

Many point to the culture in Asian countries as a key to their success against the coronavirus. Because populations tend to be more collectivist and obedient, and some governments are more authoritarian, the reasoning goes, it's easier for Asian countries to adopt the draconian measures required to fight the pandemic. Western individualism, meanwhile, is a disadvantage in times when a united, coordinated response is needed.

But citing culture may hide more than it reveals. New Zealand is an open, liberal country, not a communist dictatorship. Taiwan and Japan, too, are thriving democracies. All three countries fare better than the US and parts of Western Europe in various indicators of a healthy free society, such as the Human Development Index.


No, when it comes to limiting COVID's spread and death count, and preventing the second wave of infections, it is ultimately a question of policy choices made and actions taken. Here's a look at what the East did right, and what the West got wrong:


1. Testing, testing, testing

When China (official caseload since the start of the pandemic: 85,940; deaths: 4,634. Many question the accuracy of Chinese government data) discovered six new cases of Covid-19 and six new asymptomatic cases in the coastal city of Qingdao, it moved to test all of the city's nine million residents — in just five days. It wasn't a first: China had done the same in Wuhan, population 11 million, and has since also mass screened the western city of Kashgar, La Stampa reports.

  • The rate of almost two million tests per day in just one city remains unimaginable in Europe, where countries currently test between 200,000 and 400,000 people per day.

European countries had been warned. Just one of many examples: in August, a prominent Italian microbiologist, Andrea Crisanti, had recommended the government quadruple the country's testing capacity, as he explained in Milan daily Corriere della Sera. What happened to the plan? "It was ignored by the government," Crisanti said recently.

  • At the current rate of testing, it would take health authorities 34 days to test the entire city of Milan, population 1.4 million — and only if they chose to stop testing all other towns in the surrounding region of Lombardy.

  • Be smart: By itself, building capacity wouldn't have prevented the second wave. Testing campaigns must be strategic and data-driven, although it's difficult to do that now that France is recording close to 50,000 new cases per day. "You have to test with a purpose," French epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola told Le Monde.

But Asian countries have been doing this since day one. In South Korea (caseload: 26,271 total cases; 462 deaths), health workers have been using phone location data to identify thousands of people potentially at risk. In Vietnam (caseload: 1,177 total cases; 35 deaths), authorities have focused on high-risk individuals and on buildings and neighbourhoods where there have been confirmed cases.


2. Act quickly

When Italy announced a ban on gatherings, shut nightspots and high schools earlier in October, not many knew it was copying South Korea, one of the democratic countries most often praised for its effective containment policies.

The difference? On the day South Korean health minister Park Neung-hoo announced the restrictions in late August, saying his people were in "a very dangerous situation", South Korea reported 332 new cases.

  • On 24 October, when Italy closed cinemas, theatres and gyms and mandated high schools to continue remotely for 75% of classes, the country had 19,644 cases and 151 deaths per day — by then, it was too little, too late.

  • In France, introducing measures earlier would have made it "possible to break the dynamic, with less strong measures than those announced today," said Costagliola. "The longer we delay, the more the pandemic progresses, the more we are in this phase of rapid growth, requiring to act strongly."

A medical worker demonstrates collecting sample for the COVID-19 PCR test in Kashima, Japan — Photo: AFLO/ZUMA

3. Total eradication v. flattening the curve

When to end restrictions is as important as when to introduce them. When the West introduced the first nationwide lockdowns in the spring, scientists, politicians and the media told the public that the restrictions were necessary to "flatten the curve". The more we practice social distancing, the rationale was, the slower the virus will spread and kill, the more manageable the health crisis will be.

But countries that have succeeded in staving off a second wave of infections have worked to extinguish the virus altogether, not just flatten the curve.

  • New Zealand (1,949 total cases, 25 deaths), for example, introduced a national lockdown on March 25, when it recorded 102 cases and 0 deaths.

  • When the lockdown was lifted on June 8, the country had had no new local transmission in 17 days, and all patients had fully recovered. To date, life in New Zealand is almost entirely back to normal, with some social distancing.


4. Tighter borders

Countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain and France, whose economies rely on tourism, rallied to reopen borders and allow international visitors to spend the summer holidays there.

But the most successful countries have reopened their borders cautiously, if at all.

Experts point to Taiwan's (553 total cases, 7 deaths) border restrictions as among the most efficient: until the end of June, all new arrivals — tourists, business travelers as well as residents — had to book themselves into a hotel to self-quarantine for two weeks.

  • The government subsidised the stay, including a welcome package with dish soap, nail clippers and laundry detergent to facilitate the quarantine; food was delivered on their doorstep; a local district office would phone at least once a day to check in and thank them for doing their part.


5. Single-mindedness

In European countries, closing schools and working from home during the second wave seemed like an unspeakable taboo: the countries just couldn't afford to close down again. All levels of government opposed new closures, even when their countries recorded more than 20,000 new cases every day.

Asian countries such as China and South Korea, instead, have acted decisively at the local level whenever they saw new flare ups. When Beijing recorded 31 new coronavirus cases on June 10, they shut down schools and urged people to work from home. Offices and schools reopened shortly after.

Geopolitics

When World Leaders Get Sick: Health, Lies And Videotape

The uncertainty around President Trump's condition since contracting COVID-19 is part of a pattern when powerful politicians fall ill.

The 72 hours since U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted out his COVID-19 diagnosis have been filled with a shocking yet unsurprising flood of information, misinformation, facts, rumors, off-kilter video messages and one very ill-advised ride in his motorcade. Even with the whole world watching and asking, nobody has the answer to the question "How sick is he?" The week begins with Washington watching to see whether Trump, as leaked by presidential confidantes, will leave Walter Reed military hospital far earlier than most doctors believe is wise.


What's different: There is much that is unprecedented about Trump's first-hand personal (and presidential) battle with COVID-19. The political context is particularly charged, after the president had spent months downplaying the pandemic — and the timing couldn't be more momentous, one month before his reelection bid. Add to that, of course, is Trump himself who mixes patriotic appeals with an instinct for showmanship and notably casual relationship with the truth. Still, unlike other challenges he's faced over the past four years, the coronavirus itself is a nemesis that is harder to predict than Trump himself.


Despots and democrats: The criticism that Trump and his entourage are facing for the lack of transparency around his health is hardly new in the world of politics. Both the private nature of personal health, and the potentially high stakes of a head of state being incapacitated or worse, has prompted democratically elected leaders and dictators alike to go through great pains to obscure the truth.


Several U.S. presidents have hid chronic illnesses, while others have covered up the grave state of their health, right up until their death in office.

  • Just months after taking office for his second term in 1893, Grover Cleveland was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on the roof of his mouth. While surgeons removed the tumor — along with several of the president's teeth and a large part of his upper left jawbone — the White House announced that Cleveland was on a fishing trip. But the real cover-up came thanks to the president's trademark mustache, which covered his scars.

A portrait of U.S. President Grover Cleveland — Photo: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

French secrets: Just months after François Mitterrand was elected President of France for the first time in 1981, he was diagnosed with cancer.

  • As Paris-based daily Libération reports, he wound up concealing the illness for 11 of his 14 years in office, finally going public in September 1992 following an operation. He died from prostate cancer a year after leaving office in 1995, at the age of 79.
  • A subsequent book, called Le Grand Secret, recounts the lengths Mitterrand went to hide his illness, even publishing false health reports. During his campaign for the presidency, Mitterrand had promised to be transparent about his health, after one of his predecessors, President Georges Pompidou, had died in office in 1974 from cancer that too was long kept secret.


From Russia with secrecy

  • Though Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's health had been deteriorating since the end of World War II — he suffered from atherosclerosis as a result of heavy smoking and had two strokes in 1945 — the official newspaper of the Soviet Union's Communist Party Pravda first reported about Stalin's disease three days after he suffered a massive stroke and one day before his death in 1953. The leader was already unconscious, receiving no medical attention as Soviet leaders competed for his succession (a well-documented episode that even led to a 2017 dark comedy).

  • As the BBC Russian Service once investigated, mum's the word when it comes to Moscow's authorities and their health, with Vladimir Lenin being the only leader whose medical bulletins were published regularly. In subsequent decades, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Boris Yeltsin all had significant health problems that were shrouded in mystery.

François Mitterrand and Ronald Reagan in 1981 — Photo: Wikipedia

​Chavez's cancer: As early as summer 2010, rumors that Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez had cancer started, with Chavez readily denying them.

  • In June of the next year, new rumors started to spread when the president went to Cuba to undergo surgery and didn't appear on media for two weeks, following a knee injury, El Periodico reported at the time.

  • The next month, Chavez finally revealed during a television address that he was being treated for cancer and that the surgery in Cuba was conducted to remove a tumor. He added however that the illness would not prevent him from staying in command of the country.

  • Despite the revelation, details about his illness were kept as vague (and positive) as possible and the state of his condition remained a mystery until his death in March 2013.

In India, the health of home affairs minister Amit Shah, who was hospitalized three times in less than two months due to coronavirus, has sparked a debate over the need for transparency concerning the medical condition of the country's political leaders.

  • The "medical status of public figures is taboo," writes Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in the Telegraph India, as health is seen as a private and personal matter that should not be discussed publicly. Shah, considered India's second most powerful person after his close ally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

  • But Bharat Bhushan, writing for Indian magazine The Caravan argues that as tensions are still vivid with China on the Ladakh border, the need for the home affairs minister "to function efficiently ought to be a matter of public concern". "Revealing the health condition of a leader requires a tough balancing act between transparency and individual privacy. While transparency contributes to public accountability, its absence can endanger the nation, the government and impact public interest", writes Bharat Bhushan.

Silvio's nip and tuck: Leave it to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to make a high-stakes health drama out of a face-lift operation.

  • Around Christmas 2003, the billionaire leader had disappeared for more than a month and reemerged with a notably tighter face.

  • Though Berlusconi never officially confirmed the intervention, La Repubblica reported on anger among Italian plastic surgeons that the operation took place at a Swiss clinic.

  • Six months later, there was speculation that Berlusconi had resorted to hair replacement procedure after he appeared alongside British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a bandana at a Sardinian resort.

Economy

COVID Recovery? End-Of-Summer Checkup On Travel Industry

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, no sector in the economy has been hit harder than the travel industry. Following rolling global lockdowns through last spring, and resulting border closures and travel bans, both tourism and business travel was at a virtual standstill, with an estimated 98% drop in the number of international tourists when compared with the previous year, according to the World Tourism Organization.


Still, the summer was seen as a crucial indicator of both short and long-term prospects for the travel industry. Throughout the world, many made sure not to miss their summer holiday, but there are signs that people are traveling differently, with many preferring to wait until the last minute to book their tickets, choosing reimbursable options, or foregoing international travel altogether to avoid any possible closures or quarantines.

While it's unclear whether these travel trends will last longer than the pandemic itself, here are some examples of sectors inside the global travel industry that are witnessing big changes:


Language Learning In France — In France, foreign language study abroad programs have been struggling to adapt to the pandemic, with an estimated loss of 70-80% in turnover since March, according to Le Monde. "At the beginning of March, almost overnight, everything stopped," recalled Gérald Soubeyran, director of Effective Linguistics.

• Many French students tend to travel abroad to English-speaking countries like Britain, Ireland or the United States, to improve their language skills. However, with border closures, quarantines, slowed air traffic and closed language schools, not to mention those struck by the coronavirus itself, business has virtually ground to a halt.

• Director of the organization Route des Langues, Laurent Pasquet notes that "Even when it was possible to leave for certain destinations, there was a strong psychological effect. Faced with so many uncertainties, families did not want to send their children abroad."

• Anglais In France, which connects French students with native English speakers currently living in France, has seen interest grow since the onset of the virus. According to program manager Jennifer Laur, this is because of the program's ability to teach students away from home in a way that is "reassuring" for their parents.

glamping_uk_inside

A couple takes advantage of an oportunity to "glamp" in a nature reserve in the UK Elmley Nature Reserve


Glamping In UK — While the virus has frozen travel to many cities and metropolitan areas that were once sought-out travel destinations, the countryside made a comeback in the UK this summer.

In a country that can never seem to make its mind up on whether or not to quarantine, making travel plans abroad is a gamble for British nationals. Because domestic travel is the best way to avoid a two-week quarantine or being stranded on the wrong side of a border closure, many new and unusual rural opportunities are opening up across the UK:

• From "glamping," a play on the words "glamourous' and "camping," with a hot tub and alpaca, to a vast selection of yurts and teepees on the beach, or a small cabin in a National Nature Reserve.

• The trend has even opened up opportunities for farmers and rural landowners who were anticipating a hard year due to the removal of EU agricultural subsidies and an expected economic downturn to open up their land for camping, glamping and more.

• As Simon Foster, director of tourism, told The Guardian, "People are looking for somewhere safe, secure, secluded, where they can hunker down for a week, rather than staying in a big resort or a big caravan park or hotel."


Monumental Reopenings In India — How can you shut down one of the seven wonders of the world? Well that's what happened when the Taj Mahal was closed indefinitely to the public in mid-March amid the nationwide lockdowns in India to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. The Taj Mahal and neighboring monuments are now set to re-open mid-September, but that doesn't mean tourism in the region will return as normal.

• All visitors will be screened and sanitized before entering monuments, tickets will be online purchase only, visitors will be required to wear masks and the visitor limit will be set at 2,000 people per day, The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) stated.

• According to the Indian daily Hindustan Times, the hospitality industry is also anticipating the return of tourism. Beyond exchanging handshakes for namastes, guests will also have to sign a declaration that they are not infected with the COVID.

• New innovations to the industry include thermal temperature guns, UV sanitizer boxes available for each guest to sanitize their belongings, special floor mats to clean and disinfect shoes, full protective gear for housekeepers and even security gates with ionizers to kill the virus on the hair of guests.

Geopolitics
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Manon Dambrine

Thailand To Belarus: The Divides Of Democracy Protesters

In two very different parts of the world, seemingly impenetrable authoritarian regimes suddenly appear under siege by popular democratic uprisings. But as protesters take to the streets in Belarus and Thailand — and garner widespread international support — it still remains unclear if they'll be able to turn their mass demonstrations into tangible change.

Flawed democracy, military rule: Thailand, which for years has vacillated between periods of a flourishing if flawed democracy and straight-out military rule, has been run by generals who took over in a 2014 coup and suspended the constitution. The junta has faced sporadic protests, but General-turned-Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's victory for another four-year tem in a sketchy 2019 general election did not cause a major stir, until the recent unrest.

One-man show: In contrast, Belarus has seen next to no bona fide democracy since it became independent following the end of the Soviet Union. President Alexander Lukashenko (who has served for 26 years) recently won reelection in what is widely considered to be a corrupt race that included his opponent fleeing and seeking asylum in Lithuania. Many Belarusians had developed a sense of complacency with the man often described as Europe's last dictator — particularly in defending the small former Soviet country against its neighbor Russia.

What changed in Minsk: But the spark of revolution is drawing supporters from even his traditional base. Belarus's largest protest ever took place last weekend in the capital Minsk.

• Tens of thousands chanted "Resign" and condemned the police brutality that has led to at least two deaths and around 6,700 arrests. Accounts of torture and forced disappearances have only spurred more to join the protests.

• Many state employees have quit their jobs, including members of the government-controlled media, who called it a propaganda arm for Lukashenko.

• Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya encouraged collective action in a video, saying "We need to stop the violence on the streets of Belarusian cities. I call on the government to stop this and come to the negotiating table."

What changed in Bangkok: Meanwhile last Sunday in the Thai capital, an estimated 10,000 student protesters attended a rally at the Democracy Monument asking for the reform of the country's monarchy.

• The protest, organized by the Free People group — formerly called Free Youth — is the largest anti-government rally since the 2014 coup. Thatthep Ruangprapaikitseree, the group's leader, announced in a statement they will stick to three demands: They want the dissolution of the House of Representatives, a new constitution "based on the will of the people" and "the end of intimidation of critics of the government."

• This movement comes after a month of almost daily protests which took place all around the country; a Harry Potter-themed rally criticizing the monarchy drew global media attention. Dressed as Hogwarts students, the young protesters denounced "lèse-majesté" laws, which ban criticism of the royal family and can lead to 15 years in prison.

Recent protest in Minsk against President Lukashenko. — Photo: Ulf Mauder/DPA/ZUMA

• Like in Belarus, Thai authorities are using the threat of incarceration to silence both movement leaders and those protesting on the front lines.

Eleven activists have already been arrested over the recent protests, but police have said there are arrest warrants for a further 12 people with more under investigation. This past Saturday, the student activist Parit Chiwarak, 22, was arrested on charges of sedition.

• Thai youth are criticizing the establishment itself that is promoting obedience to authorities and tradition. They are also concerned with a worsening financial situation, with the poverty rate jumping from 7.2% to 9.8% between 2015 and 2018.

The pandemic factor: COVID-19 is raising the stakes for both the regimes and protesters in both countries.

• The tourism sector, vital for Thailand's economy, has been severely impacted. With no foreign tourists allowed into the country for months, the crisis caused millions of job losses in hotels and restaurants. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Thailand recorded its largest economic contraction since 1999 in the quarter ending in June.

• The economy was also an important factor in Belarus: While it experienced economic growth in the first decade of the 2000s, growth especially in industrial sectors has stagnated as public debt to GDP ratios have increased. The economy is now expected to contract 2% this year because of the health crisis and decreased demand for its commodities.

Democratic takeaway: The Belarus protesters have garnered more attention and global support than their counterparts in Thailand. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the president of the European Council have said they want Lukashenko to be held accountable. But the country risks turning into a proxy battlefield in a larger geopolitical landscape, as offers of military assistance from Russia are raising fears of President Vladimir Putin gaining control in the country of nine million people.

The relative diplomatic silence around Thailand since the military takeover in 2014 is a sign that the fate of the country is largely in the hands of its own people and leaders. For those risking their lives for the cause of democracy — in Bangkok, Minsk or myriad places in between — global interest in your country can cut both ways.

Geopolitics

The Latest: Taliban Advance, Iran’s New President Speaks, Biles Bounces Back

Welcome to Tuesday, where the Taliban have launched an attack on a strategic city in southern Afghanistan, Iran's new leader vows to fight U.S. sanctions and a world record is shattered in Tokyo. In Switzerland, there's also an odd story of a man fond of his fondue fork for criminal purposes.

• Taliban attack key Afghan city: Heavy fighting is underway in the strategic city of Lashkar Gah, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, as the Taliban move to take control of a number of key strongholds. This comes as the U.S. and Afghanistan have ramped up airstrikes in an effort to push back on the militant group's rapid advances. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the UK are accusing the Taliban of massacring at least 40 civilians in Spin Boldak, south Afghanistan.

• Missing Belarus activist found dead in Ukraine: The body of Vitaly Shishov, who led the Belarusian House in Ukraine to help Belarusians fleeing persecution, was found hanged in a park in Kyiv. A murder inquiry has been opened to determine whether the activist was killed and his death made to look like suicide.

• COVID-19 update: Authorities in Wuhan will test the central Chinese city's 11 million residents for coronavirus after the first local infections in more than a year were reported. Meanwhile, the U.S. reached the milestone of 70% of adults who received at least one shot of COVID vaccine, about a month behind President Joe Biden's Fourth of July goal.

• Iran's new president sworn in: Ebrahim Raisi, who won Iran's presidential election with 62% of the votes in June, officially took office, vowing to save the Islamic Republic from the severe economic crisis as well as take steps to lift the harsh sanctions imposed by the U.S.

• Capitol riots officers suicides: The District of Columbia's police department reports that two more police officers who were guarding the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riots have died by suicide in recent weeks. This brings to four the number of suicides by police officers who were on duty that day.

• Qantas to furlough 2,500 workers: Australia's Qantas and its budget carrier Jetstar will stand down around 2,500 workers for at least two months, in response to the extended COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney. The company has lost about 60% of its domestic business from May to July.

• Olympics: Simone Biles bounces back, world record for Norway: American gymnast Simone Biles won bronze during the balance beam final in the Tokyo Olympics, after withdrawing from several other events to focus on her mental health. Norwegian athlete Karsten Warholm smashed the 400 meter hurdles world record, becoming the first man to complete the race in less than 46 seconds.

Watch Video Show less