EL PAIS
El País ("The Country") is the highest-circulation daily in Spain. It was founded in Madrid in 1976 and is owned by the Spanish media conglomerate PRISA. Its political alignment is considered center-right.
COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures
Society
Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures

After slowly shifting in some cities to a more bicycle-centric model, the pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Here are some prime examples

In the two centuries since they were invented, bicycles have tended to be much more about recreation than transportation. Sure, there's the occasional Dutch commuter biking through a small city or a poor person in the developing world who can't afford a car or an American kid delivering newspapers. But, otherwise, the bicycle has been meant for fun and exercise, and competitive sport, rather than as an integral part of the system of transport.

That may be about to change for good. After a gradual shift over the past decade to accommodate bicycle use, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Beyond the long-term environmental and health benefits, the change of attitude is also linked to the lack of street traffic and pollution during lockdowns, and the social distancing that bicycles provide compared to crowded public transportation.

To give an idea: In Europe alone, cities spanning the continent spent an accumulated €1 billion on Covid-related cycling measures in 2020 — building some 1,000 kilometers of cycle lanes and car-free streets.

From Milan to Tokyo, here's what cities around the world are doing to support the two-wheeled world of transport:

BOGOTÁ

In Latin America's leading biking city, Bogotá, the daily number of cyclists increased from 635,000 in 2016 to 878,000 in 2020. Today, with the city authorities having added another 84 kilometers of bicycle lane during the pandemic, that number is set to increase even faster. In fact, the government has already announced the planned allocation of one billion pesos to extend the network by an additional 289 kilometers in the coming three years.

In addition, the extension of bicycle lane infrastructure has led to a 33% reduction in cyclist fatalities in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a government report. This is good news, as safety has been given as a leading reason for why fewer women than men are riding bikes in the eight-million strong Colombian capital. While currently only one out of four riders is a female, the city looks to achieve two-wheeled gender parity by 2039 — with actions including increased personal and road security as well as the broadening of bike lanes to better allow women to travel in the company of children, daily El Tiempo reports.

Love of two wheels in Milan

Abi Schreider via Unplash

MILAN

In Milan, the city government launched its Strade Aperte ("open streets") program in 2020, which includes the construction of 35 kilometers of new bicycle lanes. While the northern Italian city was one of the hardest-hit early in the pandemic, the lockdown also cut motor traffic congestion by 30-75% — and air pollution with it. The regional government is now hoping that the bike boom will work to change Milan's status as one of the country's most polluted cities.

In April 2021— one year after Strade Aperte was launched — the cycle route on the major street Corso Buenos Aires had already become the busiest in town, used by as many as 10,000 cyclists a day — an increase of 122% in the first few months of the year. What's more, in a city where sidewalks were routinely used as parking spaces, Milano Corriere reports there are now fewer than 600 cars per 1,000 inhabitants — a new low in Milan's recent history.

According to the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, Italy is also one of the European countries that experienced the sharpest increase in bike retail last year — with more than two million sales nationwide.

PARIS

Two-wheeled transportation has increased in Paris for some time — with bicycling lanes increasing five-fold between 2015 and 2020 — and the city expects the trend to continue in full force in the years ahead. The first "de-confinement" led to the creation of coronapistes, or bike lanes — typically following metro routes — that the city's mayor recently promised to make permanent through an €80-million investment, French business monthly Capital reports.

Already in the year following the city's first springtime lockdown in 2020, cycling increased 70%, as the combined length of bike lanes reached 1,000 kilometers.

Other initiatives aimed at boosting bicycling culture include government-funded cycling lessons, a €50 subsidy towards the cost of bike repairs, as well as an ongoing project to make the notoriously busy Rue de Rivoli car-free.

Bike lanes in Paris

Ugur Arpaci via Unsplash

BARCELONA

In the city of Barcelona, the pandemic prompted a huge drop in the use of public transport (down 50%), yet only a small decline in private car use (down 10%) in the first year after the outbreak. Starting in the summer of 2020, 20 kilometers of pop-up cycle lanes have been installed to fill the gap in the bicycle network, while city officials are currently accelerating the construction of 160 kilometers of new or improved routes — with the goal to increase the network to 300 kilometers by 2024.

In June this year, bike use had shot up with 20% compared to pre-pandemic values, Spanish daily El País reports, while car traffic is 7.5% lower. The increase in cyclists has also had an impact on the number of subscribers to Bicing, a city-wide bicycle-sharing service launched in 2007. From May 2020 to July 2021, the app gained 17,000 new subscribers — an increase of 16%.

The growing interest in safer, more sustainable transportation has also given rise to a communal project dubbed Bicibús – or Bike Bus. It started in the Eixample district of Barcelona in September, when a group of parents organized a bike ride to school for a handful of kids. Today, more than 100 children gather each day at 8 a.m. with their parents for a 25-minute ride down Entença Street, where three schools are located. The parents are also hoping that their project will prompt authorities to build a school-friendly route that shields the children from the 20,000 vehicles driving down Entença Street every day.

TOKYO

The Japanese capital has been no exception to the global bike boom. With the government launching its "new lifestyle" campaign in May 2020 to promote more pandemic-adapted ways of transport, shopping and socializing, cycling became a way to avoid Tokyo's infamously packed subway trains.

A survey in June 2020 found that 23% of businesspeople had started cycling to work since the pandemic spread, according to the Japan Times. During the same month, national sales produced the largest year-on-year jump at 43.3% — that's despite nationwide bike prices having increased throughout the pandemic, Nikkei Asia reported last week.

Still, biking advocates argue that the increased number of cyclists demands new dedicated lanes rather than "vehicular cycling" — where geared-up road bike riders share the road with cars — that is typical of Tokyo. Some of the proponents are pointing to Beijing, which opened its first cycling highway in 2019 in the form of a six-kilometer bike lane designed to connect multiple cities.

TORONTO

From Toronto to Calgary and Halifax, bike shops in Canadian cities are slammed from a sales surge that started in March 2020, with popular shops receiving hundreds of purchase inquiries every day. In an interview with national broadcaster CBC, bike parts and accessories distributor HLC Canada predicted the industry will be dealing with the turmoil caused by the pandemic for years to come, as store backlogs show no sign of letting up.

Through the public initiative ActiveTO — a program aimed at limiting vehicle traffic and expanding the cycling network in Toronto — 40 kilometers of new lanes were added in 2020, with surveys showing that 29% of people rode a bike for the first time or rediscovered cycling throughout the year. It has also led to a membership spike for Toronto Bike Share, with the city-wide service counting half a million more trips in 2020 than in 2019. Trying to keep up with booming demand, the city added 160 stations and 1,850 bikes last year, bringing its fleet to 6,850 bikes docked at 625 stations.

However, as a large portion of the new infrastructure was built on existing networks, socio-economically disadvantaged areas are yet to enjoy the same benefits of the bike boom. The city now aims to focus on further extension of new lanes to poorer areas — using cycling as a tool to increase equality in society.

A woman holds up a sign in French that says "don't abort my right"
Society
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Roe v. Wade And Beyond: The Battle For Abortion Rights Around The World

As many look to an imminent threat to abortion rights in the U.S., there are changes afoot around the world, from strict new bans and more subtle means for limiting access to surprising progress elsewhere for women's right to choose.

PARIS — While Roe v. Wade cemented abortion access in the United States almost 50 years ago, the pro-life fight to overturn the landmark legislation has long kept the United States in the global spotlight in the debate over reproductive healthcare.

A recent Texas law banning the procedure once cardiac activity is detected (about six weeks into pregnancy) has resulted in an 80% reduction in abortions in the country's second-largest state. Now, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on November 1 to determine whether the federal government has the right to sue over the law, it's an opportune moment to also look at the status of legal abortions around the world.

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Dying Indigenous Tribe In Brazil Killed Off For Good By COVID
EL PAIS
Alidad Vassigh

Dying Indigenous Tribe In Brazil Killed Off For Good By COVID

An 86-year-old identified as the last male member of the Juma, a Brazilian tribe on the verge of extinction, died of the coronavirus last week, Rio-based daily O Globo reported.

Amoin Aruká died in a hospital Feb. 18 in Porto Velho, in the northern Brazilian state of Rondonia, where he was receiving treatment since earlier this month. Aruká"s people, the Juma, have plummeted in numbers from 15,000 several decades ago to four this year, having faced killings at the hands of miners and landowners, and disease brought into the area by outsiders. And now COVID-19 has taken a final toll on the Juma, along with other indigenous people. Madrid-based El Pais reports that COVID has killed 567 from Brazil's shrinking population of indigenous tribes.

Aruká had three daughters who married men of another nation, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, which would make his grandchildren of mixed blood, the website Infobae reported. Yet, it added, they would have the right to live in a land enclave marked in 2004 as Juma territory thanks to efforts made by Aruká. Like other native lands, it observed, the enclave remains vulnerable to incursions by Brazilians, and to infection from the coronavirus.

Kanindé, a Brazilian cultural and environmental group, published a "farewell note" and obituary in pictures that we are sharing here:

As long as there's good WiFi ...
REUTERS
Rozena Crossman

Work → In Progress: Second Wave Seals A New Future For Work

COVID-19 shook up the world of work last spring. Since the virus (and lockdowns) returned this fall, the changes underway have only accelerated.

As the year comes to an end, much of the world is re-confining — or never left quarantine. Although COVID-19 has been with us for nearly 12 months, many of the questions it's triggered about our way of work (and life) have yet to be answered. How do companies factor in their employees' cost of living when so many are moving away? How do workers unionize when they're all working remotely? Can we efficiently network at online conferences? While we may not have all of the solutions just yet, conversations around these themes are swiftly ramping up as businesses prepare for an increasingly remote, digitized world — even post-vaccine.

From Sweden to Silicon Valley to the screen of your computer, this edition of Work → In Progress looks at how companies around the globe are shifting their attitudes as the pandemic rolls on, planting the seeds for the workplace trends of tomorrow.

HERE AND THERE Remote work: Some love it, some hate it. How do companies adapt to the mixed feelings of their employees? Brazilian magazine Epoca highlights how Brazilian companies such as IFood are preparing for a "free model" once the pandemic subsides, meaning that employees will decide where it's best for them to perform their activities (with guidance from HR and management, of course). According to the article, Milton Beck, LinkedIn general manager for Latin America, says that employees were working 28 more hours per week since the pandemic, as work-life balances were thrown into chaos. He believes we can expect to see more hybrid models incorporating both in-person and at-home solutions in a post-COVID world.

PRODUCTIVITY DEVELOPMENT After one of the world's strictest lockdown regimes returned to France, some have begun to ask if it's time for employers to change how they measure productivity. While unions fight for more telework days and the legal acknowledgement of more work-at-home professions, numerous companies are worried about not being able to monitor their employees' efficiency from afar. Philippe Emont, of the AlterNego consultancy firm, argues in French daily Les Echos that this is actually a fantastic opportunity for progress in HR, as companies have necessary conversations not just about how we work, but how we recognize work. "The trust necessary between employer and employees cannot rest exclusively on indicators of control," Emont writes.

GAME ON While last year's International Conference on Distributed Artificial Intelligence took place in Beijing, this year's conference took place in … a video game. While many salons and symposiums have moved online since the pandemic, few have allowed participants to dress their own avatar. The conference could be the next step in digital events, and perhaps even lead to better online networking — a pet dragon is a great conversation starter.

STAT DU JOUR

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION COVID and the ensuing rise of telework has brought about a migration boom as people leave cities for more spacious homes. Now, companies who already had a significant number of employees working from home before the pandemic are thinking about adjusting employee's pay based on where their home base is. Facebook was criticized for considering the idea of changing the salaries' of employees who now have a lower cost of living, while Stripe offered a $20,000 bonus to employees who left New York, Seattle or San Francisco — followed by a 10% pay decrease. This burgeoning phenomenon may turn into a global conversation about how best to establish a cost of living, and how much it should factor into employee compensation.

UNIONS.COM? How do workers unionize in digital industries? Spanish media El Pais wonders if the traditional codes of employee organization will still apply in a future world, or if it's time to find new methods. How can employees assemble if they're all working remotely? How do the self-employed monitor their working conditions? Which government should digital nomads appeal to? What will define a trade union as jobs rapidly shift and no longer fit into old categories? Whatever the outcome, classic methods of negotiation will surely see an upgrade in years to come.

THE ODD JOB

TRIP OUT According to Swedish website Vagabond, 79% of Swedish employees in the private sector believe business travel will significantly decrease from pre-pandemic levels after COVID subsides. While it may seem logical that companies would rush to meet their customers, partners and contractors, 33% feel that remote meetings are sufficient to get most jobs done. Many Swedes, however, feel that trips will increase in the form of digital nomadism. It seems the travel industry may be taking on less work and more play!

A group of representatives of the anti-vaccine movement protesting in Buenos Aires, Argentina
EL PAIS
Alessio Perrone

How Anti-Vaxxers Will Try To Sabotage The COVID-19 Vaccine

-Analysis-

MILAN — Now that Pfizer and Moderna appear to have viable COVID-19 vaccines, a range of legitimate questions are being posed — cost, supply, logistics — in order to carry out what we hope would become the fastest and widest vaccination effort in history.


But three days ago on Facebook, Italian Parliament member and political provocateur Gianluigi Paragone was focused on other questions: What were the potentially ugly side effects of the vaccine? Wasn't this simply a profit play by the pharmaceutical industry?


Paragone didn't have to wait long to get answers, as many of the hundreds of comments that followed amounted to rhetorical red meat of what has become known globally as the anti-vaxxer movement. Users warned that the vaccine would change our DNA; that it was poison; that it would help install microchips in our heads.


It is telling, and ominous, how quickly such a message stuck. The anti-vaxxers have mastered the tools of social media, spreading conspiracy theories as its own kind of digital virus. Over the past five years, basic scientific facts are disputed by a growing number of our neighbors. That vaccines remain one of the most important scientific discoveries ever, largely responsible for the longer life expectancy and public health gains of the last century, is now an open question for more and more people.


Until now, anti-vaxxers have been blamed for a few pockets of outbreaks of diseases that had long been vanquished by vaccines, most notably measles. But now we may be faced with a much greater risk: that the public mistrust that has flowed from between the anti-mask and COVID-deniers dovetails with the anti-vaxxer movement — and potentially undermines the global vaccination campaign against coronavirus.

The anti-vaxxers meld in with other conspiracy theory proponents — Photo: Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA

We are still likely months away from the full-fledged implementation, but in the latest opinion polls, only about one-half of the respondents in France and Italy and 40% in Germany said that they would get the shot.


The Lancet reports on a new study by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate that blames social media companies for allowing the anti-vaccine movement to remain on their platforms. The report's authors noted that social media accounts held by so-called anti-vaxxers have increased their following by at least 7 million people since 2019, and 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook.


There are legitimate reasons to be cautious about the new vaccines for now — for one, they still have to get safety approval from institutions before we even weigh our options. But spreading public distrust risks jeopardizing our chances to eradicate COVID-19, which depends on a sizable part of the population getting vaccinated.


A decade into the social media age, we are reminded again that digital information is both the poison and the cure — and a vaccine against its worst effects will take years to discover.

The pandemic is thought to have caused more than 7 million unintended pregnancies.
Society
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

How The Pandemic Is Limiting Access To Abortion

Across the globe, travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and shifting health care priorities have combined to make abortion an even more difficult procedure to obtain.

As hospitals around the globe direct their attention and resources toward helping COVID-19 patients, other medical needs are, inevitably, getting less attention. One of those is women's reproductive health and access, in particular, to abortion, as evidenced in a recent study by the advocacy group Marie Stopes International. In a recent report, the organization noted that between January and June, in 37 countries, nearly two million fewer women received abortions than in the same period last year.

• Travel restrictions and bans have had an impact as well, limiting options for women in places ranging from the United States to Poland, as they are unable to access abortions in other states or countries where it is considered an essential procedure.

• The United Nations estimates, furthermore, that approximately 47 million women around the globe have been unable to obtain modern contraception, and that because of the pandemic, there have been upwards of 7 million unintended pregnancies.

No exceptions allowed: The situation is especially dire in countries where abortion is outlawed. One of those is Madagascar, where abortion is illegal even in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy puts the mother's health at risk. Women found guilty of having an abortion risk being jailed for up to two years, and the person performing the abortion can be imprisoned for between five and 10 years.

• Abortions that do take place are done clandestinely — sometimes with grave consequences. In fact, abortion is the second leading cause of maternal mortality in Madagascar, where an average of three women die each day from induced and spontaneous abortions.

• The pandemic has complicated matters even more, causing a 40% decrease in new family planning users at basic health centers, according to Céline Lesavre, coordinator of the reproductive and sexual health program at Médecins du Monde.

• "It is obvious that stay-at-home orders have had an impact on gender-based violence, which has increased, and its correlate: unwanted pregnancies," Lesavre told the French daily Le Monde.

"My body, my choice" placard at a Paris demonstration in Nantes, France — Photo: Estelle Ruiz/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Waiting for a referendum: Like in Madagascar, abortion is also banned in the British territory of Gibraltar, where women who undergo the procedure can technically be imprisoned for life. As a result, people with means have traditionally gone to Spain or the United Kingdom for abortions, while those without have taken unsafe approaches to ending pregnancies.

• A referendum was planned for March to give Gibraltarians the opportunity to decriminalize abortion, but because of the pandemic, the vote was canceled. Since then, the tourist destination has largely reopened (and has had no recorded deaths from coronavirus). And yet, there's no plan right now to reschedule the referendum.

• "The lockdown showed just how outdated our legislation really is," pro-choice activist Tamsin Suarez told the London-based daily The Guardian. "The UK has been legally allowed to have abortions at home, whereas Gibraltarians have found themselves alone and desperate with no means of reproductive health care."

• And even when women in the small, Roman Catholic-dominated community of approximately 34,000 are able to receive a safe abortion abroad, there can be real social and psychological repercussions. One such woman, Rosalina Oliva, told the British paper that she left the territory for an abortion in 2008 after becoming pregnant by an abusive partner. "I sobbed the whole time," she recalled. "I had no one to turn to. No one knew what I had just done. I was alone; alone with the weight of the world on my shoulders."

When telemedicine helps: Even in countries that allow abortions, the coronavirus crisis has, for the most part, made things more difficult for women seeking to undergo the procedure. But there have also been some exceptions to the rule: places where the pandemic has actually been a impetus for implementing telemedicine procedures and laws around medication that make abortions easier to facilitate.

• In Scotland, for example, women are now allowed to take an abortion pill at home up to the first 10 weeks of pregnancy without having to consult a doctor in person beforehand. The policy shift came in response to the COVID-19 situation, but the government is now considering making this a permanent change, the first of its kind in the UK.

• Elsewhere in Europe, Spain's equality minister is seeking to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to get abortions without parental consent. And in France, the National Assembly recently extended the legal deadline for abortions from 12 to 14 weeks.

Takeway: The coronavirus pandemic has revealed inequalities in medical care systems around the world. As we rethink how these structures should function, we have the opportunity to not only make them more equitable but also put the focus on health over political, societal or religious motivations. While some of these abortion measures might be temporary, they prove that the solutions to women having more control over their body were available all along.

Walking the fine line of curbing the spread of violence and misinformation
EL PAIS

Is Facebook A Threat To Democracy, Or Just A Platform?

The questions continue to pile up around the U.S. social media giant's role in undermining public discourse and the proper functioning of society.

Facebook announced this week it would be banning all pages, groups, and Instagram accounts linked to the conspiracy theory movement "QAnon." After months of criticism for delayed content moderation and removal, QAnon was labeled as a "militarized social movement," which is prohibited under its current rules, according to a Facebook spokesperson. It's just the latest attempt for the social media giant to walk the fine line of curbing the spread of violence and misinformation across the platform, while being careful not to slow down the constant flow of interactions that drives its billion-dollar business.

While it's a step in the right direction, Facebook has allowed to many of these fringe movement pages and groups to multiply, with many expanding exponentially during the pandemic. Indeed, like COVID-19 itself, controlling the ill effects of the social media is an always morphing global plague. And most agree that Facebook, estimated to have been used by 28% of the global population, still hasn't had a true reckoning with the ways in which it is becoming a tool to undermine democratic systems — both by opponents and governments themselves.

Targeted in India: In what is often referred to as the world's "biggest democracy," an Indian journalist and editor for a popular Jammu-based newspaper State Times, Tsewang Rigzin was arrested early last month. The charges had nothing to do with anything he'd written or published in the paper, but simply for being an "administrator" of a Facebook group.

• Rigzin had established a Facebook group "Ladakh in the Media," which followed coverage of the Ladakh region of Kashmir, the long-disputed territory that has sparked tensions between India and Pakistan.

• As Rigzin later recounted to the Indian news website The Wire, another user had posted a comment that was deemed by the BJP government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be "disobeying a public servant."

• Though Rigzin was released on bail later that same day, it speaks to a greater theme of Facebook being used around the world by governments or individuals to undermine elections in some cases and even democracy itself in others.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Washington in July — Photo: Graeme Jennings/CNP/ZUMA

Rewind, context: In an 18-month period, the Brexit vote in the UK, the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, and the 2017 elections in France, it became clear that Facebook's algorithm and services were being manipulated for political ends, often (by not only) by Russia.

• In the United States, when Facebook, Twitter and Google were questioned on evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, some of the posts in question had reached more than 126 million users on Facebook, over 131,000 messages on Twitter and at least 1,000 videos over YouTube.

• In France, the run-up to the 2017 presidential election saw a barrage of fake news in the form of rumors, stories and even doctored videos against President Emmanuel Macron circulating on Facebook. According to Le Monde, some posts were shared more than 250,000 times. One manipulated video, seen more than 15 million times on Facebook, was revealed to have been filmed in Russia, not France.

• Russian interference has also been linked to Italy's 2018 parliamentary elections to benefit the election of Matteo Salvini as well as the Lega Nord and Five Star Movement (M5S) political parties. According to a report in Wired Italia, one of the main sources of M5S fake news was the Russian disinformation newspaper "Sputnik." An analysis of more than a million posts from over 98,000 Italian social media profiles by El Pais, revealed that the vast majority of xenophobic fake news came from Sputnik.

However, the problem isn't purely political interference from Russia or other foreign entities. Facebook's inability to curb the spread of misinformation on its own platform reaches farther. Like with the QAnon movement and other far-right and fringe groups that use the platform to spread their message and organize, Facebook has long come under fire for its inadequate moderation, content policies and removal.

• A recent study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute found that less than 1% of the misinformation videos had been flagged for fake information or removed as per Facebook's content moderation policies.

• Researchers found coronavirus-related misinformation videos originating on YouTube spreading exponentially on Facebook, with some videos shared 20 million times on Facebook between October 2019 and January 2020. The reach of these posts across social media was higher than those of the five largest English-language news sources in the world.

So Zuck? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has attributed the popularity of partisan posts to the inherent virality of provocative content, thanks to their ability to drive conversations and interaction. While conceding that Facebook, and big tech in general, needed a privacy update, he argued in a recent Axios interview that he didn't necessarily believe it was his problem to solve: "I have a little more confidence in democracy than that. And I hope my confidence isn't misplaced." We hope so too.

Migrants arriving in Lesbos, Greece.
INTERNAZIONALE
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Europe's Refugee Crisis Returns After Pandemic Pause

As borders closed and lockdowns were rolled out around the world, the steady flow of illegal immigration that has plagued southern Europe for years was also temporarily halted. But new arrivals are now accelerating again, and some of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic are now also forced to deal with a worsening refugee crisis.

In Italy and Spain, the lack of tourism has been particularly hard on the economy and now a growing number of refugee boats are landing on the empty beaches, while in Greece, the pressure is rising in the aftermath of the Greek-Turkish border crisis, with the island camps still overcrowded and increasing popular unrest on Lesbos and other islands in the Aegean Sea.

ITALY As of June, more than 13,000 migrants have landed on Italy's shores, which is roughly 9,000 more than during the same period last year. The influx spiked last month, as many chose to embark on the dangerous journey during July when the sea was relatively calm, the UN Refugee Agency reports.

• With both COVID-19 and an economic crisis plaguing Tunisia, Italy has seen a higher-than-usual number of migrants arriving from the North African country. The rise — which is still a fraction of the amount which arrived at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015 — has prompted Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese to call the situation a health problem, claiming that migrants were bringing the coronavirus back to Italy.

• However, Italian daily Internazionale reports these claims as false, as an average of more than 200 residents in Italy have tested positive for the coronavirus every day in the last few weeks, compared to about three newly arrived migrants per day.

Refugees arriving in Malaga, Spain, on June 20— Photo: Jesus Merida/SOPA Images/ZUMA

SPAIN Spanish authorities have also reported an increase in Mediterranean crossings, with around 2,000 migrants arriving in June out of which 700 — mostly Algerians — landed on the shores of Murcia and Almeria the last weekend of the month.

• The Canary Islands are also experiencing a spike in arrivals, as increased border controls in northern Morocco are pushing the migration routes to the Atlantic side, where the closest islands are 95 kilometers west of the Moroccan coast.

El Pais reports that at least 50 African migrants have drowned in late August after their boats sank on the perilous route that is rife with undercurrents and has limited coast guard resources. One vessels broke down off the coast of Mauritania, resulting in 40 deaths, while the second shipwreck took place near the coast of Western Sahara, and left at least 10 people dead.

GREECE The country only received 244 migrants in July, compared 5,008 the same month last year. Although, camps are still overcrowded and resources and the ability to social distance remain limited.

• While life is slowly returning to normal for Greeks and tourists alike, asylum seekers and migrants in reception centers on the Greek islands continue to be under lockdown although very few infections have been detected among the migrants.

• In addition, Doctors Without Borders reported in July that a large number of refugees with severe health and mental health conditions are threatened with eviction from their accommodation, cut off from cash assistance and left in the streets without access to shelter, protection or proper healthcare.

• As of June 1, all refugees who received international protection before May 1 are no longer eligible to stay at reception facilities. In total, more than 11,000 people are set to be evicted from reception and identification centers, camps and hotels, according to Refugee Support Aegean.

Migrant worker in India
EL PAIS

Quebec To Cairo, The Pandemic's Heavy Toll On Migrant Workers

The COVID-19 crisis has been particularly disruptive for people who earn a living by moving from one place to the next. But companies who depend on those workers also struggle.

In El Rocio, Spain, workers wearing disposable face masks pile onto overcrowded buses each morning to pick raspberries in plastic greenhouses, where temperatures can reach up to 40 °C. From there, they return to shared temporary housing in the village, where roughly 50 workers are split between 10 rooms.

The living and working conditions are less than ideal for stopping the spread of the coronavirus in a country that was strongly hit by the virus and where cases continue to rise. Still, for migrant workers like 19-year-old Emeka of Nigeria and his housemates, ages ranging from 19-21, the pandemic has provided a rare opportunity.

Just months ago, Emeka had no job, let alone a work permit, but after a labor shortage caused by the pandemic, the Spanish government granted migrant workers temporary visas. With a smile, he tells Spanish daily El Pais, "This is the first time I've had the opportunity to earn a declared salary."

Essential skills

While Emeka's story has a positive outcome — at least for now — it also highlights a jarring juxtaposition between the crucial role migrants play in keeping food supplies and economies running smoothly, particularly in times of crisis, and the heightened xenophobia and restrictions they face as a result of the pandemic.

An asparagus farm in Quebec, Canada offers a particularly stark example, as Le Journal De Québec reporter Maude Ouellet discovered last month in the province's Lanaudière region. Due to border closures and travel restrictions, the pandemic cut off many temporary migrant workers who enter the country, seasonally or annually. The result is an acute labor shortage, and for places like the Primera farm, where Ouellet spent three days, there are real costs to bear.

The government responded to the labor shortage by calling on the people of Quebec to carry out certain essential jobs, especially in agriculture. More than 8,000 Canadians volunteered, the article explains. But as Marcel Groleau, head of the agricultural producers union (UPA), argues, they lack the skills of the more experienced migrants. For Primera, in particular, this loss of trained hands resulted in half the amount of asparagus crops picked this season and an estimated loss of nearly $150,000.

Migrant workers protesting for documents and regulation in Spain — Photo: Matthias Oesterle/ZUMA

Lost in the fray

On the other side of the world, in India, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on internal migrant workers, an already marginalized population that has been swept even further under the rug, PhD candidate Aman Abhishek argues in a recent piece for the Indian daily The Wire.

Over the past several months, he explains, public discourse in India has been focused primarily on the spread of the virus and on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's public displays meant to evoke collective sympathy and mourning, such as showering hospitals with flower petals from army helicopters.

In the meantime, however, thousands of migrant workers found themselves stranded by the nationwide lockdown, writes Abhishek, a media studies student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the United States. Many attempted to cross thousands of kilometers by any means they could find, including by foot, while others died of hunger.

The country is now reopening after its impromptu lockdown. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, however, and many migrants still find themselves in the same situation they were in before and during the lockdown: stranded somewhere along their journey home to another part of the country, and with an even higher chance of catching and spreading the virus.

A raw deal

Elsewhere, workers have been stranded between countries. Such is the case for a large number of Egyptians, including many with high skill levels, who work in the oil-rich Gulf states but are now bearing the brunt of a sudden economic downturn.

The Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr reports that with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Gulf countries took precautionary measures to control the pandemic. That, in turn, put economic pressure on companies, and those companies "offloaded it onto expatriates' by forcing them to accept new, watered down contracts with reduced salaries and benefits. Others have lost their jobs completely and are seeking to return to Egypt, which isn't in a position economically to absorb them, the news site explains.

Everywhere, migrant workers are among the first to suffer the economic consequences of the crisis. Nowhere, however, do they exist in a bubble. Ultimately, their struggles impact others down the line. Such laborers may be at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid, but for that very reason they also make up a foundation on which everyone else depends.

Protesters and LGBTQ rights groups took to the streets in Spain’s biggest cities following the death of a 24-year-old man in a suspected homophobic attack last weekend.
REUTERS

The Latest: Russian Plane Crash, Spanish Murder Of Gay Man, Escaping Quarantine

Welcome to Tuesday, where Belarus hands down harsh sentence, protests erupt in Spain over the murder of a gay man and a Japanese woman tries to extinguish the Olympic flame with a squirt gun. Writing from Sarajevo for French daily Le Monde, Rémy Ourdan introduces us to Benjamina Karic, the youngest mayor in the history of the iconic Balkan capital.

• Belarus: 14-year prison sentence for Lukashenko opponent: A court in Belarus has convicted Viktor Babariko, a former presidential candidate and opponent of strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, on corruption charges. Several Western leaders criticized the conviction and 14-year sentence, with the U.S. Embassy calling the trial a "sham."

• Debris from missing Russian plane found: Debris from the Antonov An-26 plane carrying 28 people that went missing in Russia's far east region has been found. The plane had been attempting to land in the village of Palana when it reportedly lost contact with air traffic control. Authorities say it is unlikely that anyone survived the crash.

• Controversial Israeli citizenship law defeated: Israel's Citizenship Law, which was first passed in 2003 during the Second Intifada and prevents Arab-Israelis from extending citizenship rights to Palestinian spouses living in the West Bank and Gaza, failed to be renewed by the Knesset this year. The law has been consistently renewed since its inception, but is set to expire this Wednesday at midnight after being narrowly defeated in a 59-59 vote.

• Protests in Spain after murder of gay man: LGBTQ rights groups across Spain have organized protests to demand justice for Samuel Luiz, a 24-year-old gay man who was beaten to death in the city of A Coruña during Pride weekend. As investigators search for the perpetrators, Luiz" friends allege he was murdered because of his sexual orientation.

• Vaccine update: In Thailand, a leaked health ministry document has called into question the efficacy of the China Sinovac Biotech's vaccine. The memo recommended that medical staff be given a booster shot of an mRNA vaccine in order to increase protection. Meanwhile, Israel has reported a decrease in Pfizer vaccine protection against infections, though the vaccine remains highly effective in preventing serious illness and death.

• Luxembourg leader hospitalized with COVID-19: Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who tested positive for COVID-19 about a week ago, was hospitalized for the virus on Sunday. The Luxembourg government reported Monday that the 48-year-old is in "serious, but stable" condition.

• The Great Escape: An Australian woman has been fined $2,500 after kicking down a door and scaling two hotel balconies in order to get out of quarantine. Claiming she simply wanted to go to her mother's house in Cairns, the 22-year-old pleaded guilty before a Queensland court for failing to comply with the public health mandate.

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With and without mask in Lisbon
EL PAIS
Worldcrunch

Face Masks: Conflicting Science, Laws, Attitudes Around The World

After Italy, Spain was one of the first countries in Europe to feel the full, crushing weight of the coronavirus pandemic, and is currently approaching 30,000 deaths. Now, as governments around the continent lift their lockdown restrictions, Spain has also become a reference point for its stringent policy on the use of face masks: starting Thursday, they are mandatory for nearly everyone, and just about everywhere.

The new policy excludes children under the age of six, but applies to everyone else, Spanish daily El País reports. That means that approximately 45 million Spaniards are now required to cover their mouths and noses whenever they're in public spaces — indoors or outdoors — where maintaining a distance of two meters isn't possible.

So far it's not clear how the requirements will be enforced, or what precisely the sanctions will be for people who ignore the rule. What is clear is that Spain is going all in on face masks as a necessary tool to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government order also highlights a shift in both the science and the way people around the world feel about face masks, which have been something of a "moving target" since the pandemic began. Not only has there been cultural resistance, in some cases, to face coverings, but they've also been the subject of conflicting national and international medical guidelines.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises people to wear a mask only if they are coughing or sneezing or taking care of someone with the virus. But a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommends the use of medical face masks in busy and closed spaces even for people without symptoms. So should we wear them or not? Here's what they're saying around the world:

  • France flip-flop: Initially following the WHO advice, France began the pandemic by recommending people wear a mask only if they were sick or work in the medical sector. But in April, the country shifted its position abruptly, encouraging all citizens to wear masks in public, Le Monde reports. The government also announced the manufacture of "alternative" masks for the public would expand and that France had ordered 2 billion masks from China. For now the use of face masks isn't compulsory, though that could change after May 11, when the country starts to loosen its lockdown measures.

  • U.S. culture clash: The rules in the United States vary from state to state — and store to store, and has become politically charged in a nation sometimes obsessed with the notion of individual freedom. As USA Today reports, video was captured of a recent showdown at a Costco retailer between an employee who forced out a shopper refusing to wear a mask, as per store rules. The shopper retorted: "I woke up this morning in a free country."

  • Singapore reversal: Similarly, healthy Singaporians were initially instructed to stay clear of masks, but as the death toll crossed the 1,000 mark in early April, authorities flipped and have since fined hundreds of people for not wearing masks in public, reports daily The Straits Times.

  • South Korea all-in: In South Korea, where face masks were seen as a key part of the national strategy to curb the spread, the government intervened in early February to solve the mask shortage, buying up half of all KF-94 masks (the equivalent of the American N95) from the nation's 130 or so manufacturers and sold them at discount to 23,000 pharmacies, reports South Korean Broadcaster TBS.

  • Sweden says Nej: Swedish health authorities have kept a straight line from the start: No, masks don't protect healthy people. Rather, according to state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, they are likely to increase the risk of spread as the virus leaks and accumulates on the inside of the mask, to then be transferred to the hands whenever put on or taken off, reports Swedish National Television.

  • Czech model: The Czech Republic made it compulsory early on to wear a mask or other mouth and nose-covering apparel when in public, with fines of up to 10.000CZK (363 euros). Despite the global shortage, Czechs have mobilized to sew and distribute homemade masks, in a movement spearheaded by celebrities on social media. A government-sponsored video in English, intended mainly to inspire other countries, explains that it is not so much about face masks protecting the ones who wear them, but everyone else – with a catchword "my mask protects you, your mask protects me."

Joggers in Barcelona on May 3
ABC

Pandemic Dilemma: Save Summer Tourist Season Or Take No Risks?

Last year 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded globally. In 2020, with borders closed and airplanes grounded, the tourism industry has been decimated and its recovery could take years.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development anticipates a 45% to 70% decline in the tourism economy — amounting to losses between $295-$430 billion for the global travel industry. For countries that rely heavily on summer tourism, there's a scramble to save the season.

  • Quick to impose a nationwide lockdown, Greece hasn't been hit as hard as other European countries, with 146 registered deaths so far. But with the tourism sector making up about 18% of its GDP, and most of the visitors arriving in the warm months, action is needed. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis estimates that the country could be ready to reopen to foreign tourists on July 1, depending on the implementation of health protocols.Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis presented a three-point planto the Parliament earlier this week to help reopen Greece to tourism, I Kathimeriní reports. The plan centers on special health safety standards for hotels, airplanes and tour buses, as well as diplomatic contacts with other governments to allow visitors to come, and finally, a new advertising campaign to promote Greece as a holiday destination in spite of coronavirus.

  • Last year, Spain was the world's second most visited country, with nearly 84 million tourists. Having suffered more than 24,500 deaths, Spain continues to be on strict lockdown. After the ABC daily reported that the government was considering closing its borders to foreign tourists for the whole summer, an outcry followed from the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto since told El Pais that the reopening of borders would depend on "the evolution of the health crisis'. For now, only domestic travel and tourism will be encouraged as hotels, bars and restaurants will be gradually reopened beginning next week, with reduced capacity and under strict hygiene measures. Some coastal towns are also looking to recruit extra lifeguards to make sure beachgoers respect social distancing, while separate hours for children or elderly people are also being considered. On the destination islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, some hotels are starting to reopen, though it's unclear how people would reach them.

In Malaga, Spain, on May 2 — Photo: Jesus Merida/SOPA/ZUMA

  • Egypt has cut itself from the outside world and cancelled all international flights since March 19, leading to losses estimated at $1 billion per month for its tourist sector. The country, famed for its Pyramids and Nile river cruises earned $12.6 billion in tourism revenues in 2019, the highest in a decade, according to Asharq al-Awsat. Now Egypt has begun to allow hotels to reopen, but only for domestic tourists and at a 25% capacity until the end of May and 50% from the beginning of June. The Egyptian Tourism Federation has devised a plan with a package of health measures for tourism establishments to reopen while ensuring the safety of both tourists and workers, Egypt Independent reports. Hotels will have to clean rooms daily with a special steam machine to disinfect furniture and fabric and all touchable points will have to be cleaned and sterilized every hour in public places and restrooms. Each hotel will also have to provide an on-site clinic and doctor, and assign an area that can be used as a quarantine bay if any coronavirus case is discovered.

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