LE FIGARO
Le Figaro is a French daily founded in 1826 and published in Paris. The oldest national daily in France, Le Figaro is the second-largest national newspaper in the country after Le Parisien and before Le Monde, with an average circulation of about 331,000 copies Its editorial line is considered center-right. The newspaper is now owned by Dassault Media.
CLARIN
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."

BBC
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
Alessio Perrone

Lula To Sarkozy To Trump: The Toxic Mix Of Justice And Politics

-Analysis-

It was quite a statement about Brazil's justice system: "I have been the victim of the biggest judicial lie in 500 years," Luiz Inácio da Silva declared last week. But the hyperbole from the former president, better known as Lula, was also very much about politics — considered by many to be the opening salvo in his election campaign next year to return to the presidency.

The 75-year-old onetime labor leader, who went on to serve as Brazil"s president between 2003 and 2010, maintains widespread popularity because of his big words and big personality, but also for having introduced far-reaching social programs that are credited with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty. After having seen his protégé and successor Dilma Rousseff impeached, Lula tried to run in the 2018 presidential election but was disqualified after being implicated and convicted (and ultimately, jailed) in a corruption scandal.

But last week, Brazil's Supreme Court cleared Lula, setting up a likely run against current president Jair Bolsonaro in 2022. The O Globo daily featured a front-page cartoon of Lula as an angrily impatient Superman, while Folha de S. Paulo headlined its coverage of his speech: "As in the plot of a Greek play, Lula returns to save democracy."

But whether used for Lula or against him, it's already clear that playing the judicial card will be a big part of Brazil's next election. Lula's supporters will blame "politicized" judges who barred him in 2018 from standing in the way of the public will, and clearing the path for four years of Bolsonaro. His detractors will blame other ‘politicized" judges who might now allow him to run despite his alleged implication in corruption scandals.

It's a dynamic seen at play around the world — walking the fine line between respecting democracy's necessary separation of powers and stoking populist anger amid painstaking judicial proceedings.

Lula in Sao Paulo on March 10 — Photo: Vanessa Carvalho/ZUMA

We've seen similar scenes play out in recent years in Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi used his time in office to lash out at judges who prosecuted him and passed laws designed to make him immune from prosecution. More recently in France, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, still the most popular figure among center-right voters, was convicted of trying to bribe a judge. Le Figaro noted that Sarkozy didn't go as far as Lula, prefering not to call his conviction "politicized justice," but rather a "profound injustice." He added that he has "gotten used to facing this kind of harrassment for 10 years."

And the next theater of such political-judicial drama? Keep your eye on the world's most powerful democracy, where Donald Trump is eyeing another run for the White House in four years — and prosecutors are investigating the former president for a variety of alleged misdeeds. If you think Lula didn't hold back in attacking the judicial system, just wait for the Donald.

Geopolitics
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

What's To Blame For COVID-19 Vaccine Delays Around The World

Delays, reluctance, shortages... the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines across the world has been beset by some recurring obstacles.

The brand new vaccination center in Saarbrücken, in western Germany, was set up in record time in two old exhibition halls. With a dozen check-in counters, two large waiting rooms with hundreds of chairs, 36 separate cubicles and doctors at the ready, the center has all it needs to welcome crowds of people in an orderly fashion. The problem, as German daily Die Welt reports: No one has turned up.

Only 200 people per day were being vaccinated in the center this week, one-tenth its capacity.

According to the latest daily update from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany has vaccinated around 239,000 people since starting its campaign on Dec. 27, well short of the 1.3 million doses that were delivered by the end of 2020.

It was the Christmas miracle the world was waiting for: Multiple vaccines for a pandemic that had plagued countries across the globe for the better part of 2020. However, the reality of implementing an unprecedented global vaccination campaign has fallen far short of miraculous in many countries.

Inoculating billions of people was always going to present almost insurmountable challenges, particularly so with a vaccine that must be kept at extremely low temperatures and requires a second booster shot within weeks. While many countries simply don't have enough doses on hand, others are facing healthcare staffing shortages; a lack of infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved areas; and growing anti-vaccination movements. Here are some of the biggest hurdles:

1. Distribution chaos: In the United States, the lack of a federal roll out plan has left it up to individual states to figure out vaccine distribution, including who should be given priority. A last minute executive order from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis allowing anyone age 65 and older to get a vaccine left Canada's so-called snowbirds flocking to Miami to be inoculated.

  • The state has one of the highest populations of elderly in the country and many of its 4.5 million seniors are camping out in the cold for a vaccine. As Broward County Mayor Steve Geller tells NBC Miami, "Many seniors are panicking because they think they were promised the vaccine immediately. They were not, but now they feel that faith has been broken."

  • Lacking their own infrastructure, some local governments are even turning to the ticketing service Eventbrite to make vaccine appointments, as reported by Vox. Other medical service providers are using Facebook events and Google Docs in lieu of creating their own appointment systems. While this might raise security concerns (there have been fake Evenbrite pages), it eliminates the inevitable crowds of the first come, first served model.

2. Nobody in charge: Sweden was another country without a clearly defined national vaccination strategy. In an opinion article published in Swedish daily Aftonbladet, opposition party Kristdemokraterna lashed out against Sweden's ruling center-left coalition for failing to act preemptively. Kristdemokraterna warned that Sweden might end up last in line for a vaccine.

  • At the heart of this problem is the fact that Sweden appointed a national vaccine coordinator who doesn't have a mandate to negotiate with medical companies. As Sweden lacks the domestic production capacity to meet the national demand for a vaccine, the country is dependent on international manufacturers.

3. Rural delivery delays: The world's second largest country in terms of landmass, Canada faces unique logistical hurdles in delivering its vaccine. More than 420,000 doses have been delivered to the provinces, but only around 28 percent have been administered.

  • "It's an utter failure when you have three-fourths of our vaccines still sitting inside of freezers," biostatistician Ryan Imgrund, who works with Ottawa Public Health, told Global News.

  • In Ontario, Canada's largest province, only around 5,000 people a day are being vaccinated, meaning it would take eight years to immunize the entire province. Ontario previously had the goal of vaccinating 8.5 million people by June, more than half of its 14.57 million population.

Defrosted vaccines being packaged for the start of the delivery — Photo: Pool Olivier Matthys/DDP via ZUMA Press

4. Safety issues: While India has approved two vaccine candidates, questions remain around their efficacy, especially for more vulnerable populations. AstraZeneca made a deal to manufacture its vaccine through the Serum Institute of India. But a trial participant who experienced neurological side-effects from the vaccine is suing the Serum Institute, while AstraZeneca is facing legal challenges in the UK for cherry-picking data. The other vaccine known as COVAXIN is developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with government agencies and is based on an inactivated form of the coronavirus. The company has completed only two of three trial phases. The third, which crucially tests for efficacy, began in mid-November.

  • Consequently, it is the elderly who will both be the first to get the vaccine and potentially face side effects, as the vaccines weren't tested to see if they prevent severe forms of COVID-19.

  • As Vasudevan Mukunth wrote in The Wire, "In other words, by messing up its validation process, the government is virtually experimenting with the most vulnerable cohort who will receive the vaccine candidates first – people like our grandparents, etc. – while those who are less likely to suffer for it will have it easier. And that is wrong, surely."

  • There are challenges for the elderly in Italy too. The senior population there faces challenges to access the vaccine delivery points. One hospital in Rome has begun to dispatch mobile units of medical professionals to reach the most remote places.

5. Supply shortages: "The problem is that Europe doesn't have its own vaccine," president of the Hauts-de-France region Xavier Bertrand told France Inter, pointing out the failings of the government. "We have half of the French population who wants to be vaccinated. ... when will these people be able to do it?"

  • Bertrand added that he expected France to match the level of action of its British neighbor: "We also have a French vaccine, Sanofi, which must be developed."

  • Le Parisien confirms that the EU had ordered 400 million doses from Sanofi, of which 90 million were to go to France. The company's delay in delivering the vaccine therefore threw a significant spanner in France's vaccination plans, leading some to question the government's choice to "go local" in terms of vaccine production.

  • Additionally, an adviser to Prime Minister Jean Castex estimated that between 25 to 30% of the 200 million vaccines ordered by France were at risk of being lost, according to Le Figaro. 50 to 60 million doses could be rendered useless because of the need to store them at -70 °C, and carry out the injection within 5 days after being removed from storage. The country's decision to prioritize the elderly has also slowed down vaccination campaigns considerably, with nursing homes required to collect consent forms from their residents — a process that can be sometimes very long, as France Bleu reports.

6. Doctor shortages: Vaccination delays in the northern Italian region of Lombardy were blamed on doctors being on vacation. But Giulio Gallera, the region's head of welfare services, warned against hysteria in the first days of the vaccination program. "It's awful to see people ranking those who have vaccinated the most people so far, let's do it in 15 or 20 days," Gallera told La Stampa. "We have doctors and nurses who have 50 days of overdue leave. I won't force them back from their holidays to perform vaccinations. But we will stay on schedule."

  • In Spain, 82,834 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered by January 4. In total, the country has received 718,575 doses, of which 360,000 have been received yesterday (despite the campaign starting before the Christmas holidays). The lack of health professionals exacerbated by the Christmas holidays have slowed down the administration of the vaccinations for a week in much of the country.

  • There have also been production problems by the multinational manufacturer Pfizer manufacturer. And then there was the eruption of the new virulent strain of the virus in Great Britain and the subsequent border closures, the unpredictable logistics of several communities, lockdowns, curfews, school closures, healthcare systems being overwhelmed...

DAGENS NYHETER
Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID: The Second Wave Looks Just (And Nothing) Like The First

From Brazil to Canada, Finland to Israel, and well beyond, the impact of the new uptick in coronavirus is being measured across virtually every aspect of society.

Since the first round of lockdowns ended and people around the world were let back into the open, governments have been forced to constantly assess and reassess choices of how much freedom to grant their respective populations. No doubt, we know more about the virus than during the pandemics deadly peak in April and May, but the most important questions (What containment measures are the most efficient? When will we have a vaccine? Masks!?) are still cloaked in uncertainty. Authorities are still grappling with the same life-and-death policy choices as six months ago, though updated the second time around. Here are five key things governments must weigh as a possible second wave looms:


THE ECONOMY With international organizations and individual countries still assessing the economic impact of the pandemic, most governments have ruled out the possibility of a second round of full lockdowns. But national leaders are still walking the tightrope between economic recovery and limiting loss of life, while also having to manage popular opposition and unrest.

  • In France, where President Emmanuel Macron has said that the French economy could not withstand another strict nationwide quarantine after the March-to-May lockdown, partial restrictions have been rolled out instead. Bars and restaurants were closed in southern cities Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, while in other big cities such as Paris, Lille, Bordeaux and Lyon, a partial closure has been imposed between 10 pm and 6 am. Le Figaro reports that the closures have prompted protests in Marseilles, with 100 workers blocking a tunnel on Monday and other bar and restaurant owners threatening to defy the ban.
  • Israel remains the only country to have reimposed a country-wide lockdown, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing a three-week quarantine in mid-September. The move prompted the resignation of ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who said the measures would prevent Jews from attending synagogue over the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holiday, The Times of Israel reports.
  • In Manaou, the largest city in Brazil's Amazon region, bars and river beaches have been closed to contain a new virus outbreak. Manaou is one of the cities hardest-hit by the pandemic, with so many residents dying in April and May that hospitals collapsed and cemeteries ran out of grave slots. As nearly half the city's population tested positive in June, many hoped that Manaou would have reached herd immunity. But Mayor Arthur Virgílio Neto recently proposed a new two-week lockdown, as new infections reached 1,627 between September 24 and 28 — a 30% increase compared to the same period in August.

FACE MASKS The first months of the pandemic were a constant alternation between mask on and mask off, partly because of scientific uncertainty and partly because of supply shortages. Today, most governments view strong pro-mask policies as a viable way to limit the spread, but are choosing different approaches.

  • In Finland, where deaths have remained low throughout the pandemic, 800 people have been infected in the last two weeks. As the national health authorities predict a continued spread in the near future, mask-wearing has been made mandatory in most parts of the country.
  • In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has picked the more surgical approach of making masks compulsory in certain locations, including shops, supermarkets, takeaway restaurants, places of worship, cinemas and museums. This week, as cases continued to surge, the government added taxis to the list. "Your harmless cough can be someone else's death knell," Johnson declared on Tuesday.
  • A third approach has been taken in Italy, where Corriere Della Sera reports that masks are now obligatory in certain regions. Last week, the region of Campania was added to the list, which includes Italy's third-largest city, Naples.

In the UK, masks compulsory in certain locations — Photo: Alex Lentati/London News Pictures/ZUMA

NURSING HOMES Nowhere is infection control more of a life-or-death matter than in elderly care centers. In Sweden, nearly half of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes; while in the U.S., The New York Times reported in June that nearly 40% of total deaths were linked to nursing homes. But with no end to the pandemic in sight, governments and local authorities are forced to balance the risk of letting people visit elderly family and loved ones in the face of the prospect of isolating them again.

  • In Sweden, where nursing homes have been opened to visitors October 1, no major breakouts have occurred. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has assessed the risk of spread as very low, granted that sanitary guidelines are followed — adding that infections have shifted to occur mostly among young people, reports Dagens Nyheter.
  • In Italy, authorities have chosen to open common areas to visitors while still holding that the best way to protect the elderly is for visitors to not enter. Yet, opening the doors was deemed a necessity, partly because residents won't be able to enjoy the gardens and outdoor spaces when winter arrives, Il Post reports. The visits still have to be organized beforehand, and extra precautions like frequent testing and rigorous safety protocols are kept in place.

SCHOOLS Denmark was the first country in Europe to reopen its primary schools in mid-April after containing the virus, with only 650 deaths to date. The Nordic country's successful strategy of split classes, outdoor lessons, and strict rules for hand-washing and distancing has become a global model. But there is no accepted model right now as the threat of a second wave coincides with the back-to-school season and the virus increasingly spreading disproportionately among younger people.

  • In the South Korean capital Seoul and nearby areas, schools resumed in-person classes on September 21 following a month-long closure. While daily COVID-19 cases have dropped to the lowest levels since mid-August, students are still under a hybrid regimen of in-person and online classes, with in-person classes limited to once or twice a week, Channel News Asia reports.
  • France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy even as cases have shot above 10,000 per day. Indeed, the highest proportion of so-called "clusters' of COVID concentrations, approximately one-third, are in schools and universities, reports Le Monde.
  • In South Africa — the country with most deaths on the continent — schools were reopened Aug. 1 following delays as teachers' unions claimed schools lacked sufficient health and hygiene measures to keep educators and pupils safe. While students have now returned to the classroom, many public schools are in poor shape and analysts say that a quarter of them have no running water, making adequate hand-washing impossible, according to Africa News.

France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy — Photo: Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua/ZUMA

BORDERS Beyond the choices about what to do nationally is another key question: opening up international borders. dilemma as other countries pondering the reopening of their borders.

  • Morocco implemented one of the world's strictest border lockdowns, but the country's economy has been dealt a serious blow, especially its tourism industry, which accounts for 7% of its GDP. Tourism professionals have been urging the government to allow travelers back into the country, as the industry experienced enormous losses during the lockdown, with a drop of $1.2 billion in revenue in the first half of 2020. The city of Marrakech, empty of tourists, looks like a "ghost town," Le Monde reports.
  • On Sept.19, Finland finally eased the tightest travel restrictions in Europe and now allows low-risk countries as well as important trade partners to enter the country, Finish site Yle reports. The loosened restrictions now allow travelers arriving from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, Germany and Cyprus, as well as residents of Australia, Canada and Japan traveling from their home country to Finland.
  • Despite economic pressure, others are not so keen to reopen their borders. This is the case for Canada, as its neighbor, the U.S. is registering the highest number of cases in the world with over 7.4 million infections and highest number of deaths with over 210,000 fatalities. In mid-September the six-months-long closure of the world's longest land border, between the two countries, to "discretionary" travel was extended to at least until Oct. 21.
Coronavirus
Anne Sophie Goninet

The Pandemic And The Perilous Return Of Plastic

In normal times, we might be writing this month about the annual momentum gathering for the Plastic Free July challenge. Launched in 2011 by the Australia-based Plastic Free Foundation, the idea is simple: refusing single-use plastics, from bags to packaging, for 31 days.

But in 2020, that simple desire to go fully plastic-free for at least a month has suddenly gotten complicated. Facing the coronavirus pandemic, masks, gloves, visors, medical gowns, hand sanitizer bottles, screens in shops and supermarkets are multiplying, as short-term safety has taken precedence over the longer-term destiny of the planet. And it doesn't seem that it will abate any time soon: The World Health Organization has estimated that 89 million masks and 76 million gloves are required each month around the world to face the pandemic.

These plastic items are already finding their way into nature, and especially in the sea: the first signs of an alarming new pollution that can only get worse. As early as February 2020, OceansAsia found masks on the shores of uninhabited islands near Hong Kong. In June, the French association Opération Mer Propre released pictures and videos of dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitizer on the Mediterranean floor.

For Laurent Lombard, who's part of the association, "we'll soon run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean", especially since the French government ordered 3.7 billion masks last month to face a potential second wave, Le Figaro reports.

It's somehow even more frustrating as progress had been made in recent years to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics, with the ban of items such as straws, plastic bags or the increasing use of reusable glass bottles. But with the fear of catching the virus through contaminated surfaces, plastic items that can be thrown away after use now feel safer for many than their washable or cloth counterparts.

In the United Kingdom, a survey conducted by the organization City to Sea found that 36% of British people felt pushed into using more single-use plastic at the moment. In Canada, the Journal de Québec found that since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of customers bringing their own reusable bags in shops have decreased by more than 40%, while packaging manufacturers increased their production by 20%.

Food deliveries have become increasingly popular in Thailand — Photo: Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/ZUMA

With restaurants closed, food deliveries have also experienced significant growth — and with them, knives, forks and plastic containers big and small. In Thailand, urban waste nearly doubled between January and March compared with 2019 because of soaring demand for home food deliveries, the president of the Thailand Environment Institute told Asia Times.

The benefits of plastic as a protector against coronavirus can actually be questioned. There have been numerous studies to measure how long the virus could live on different surfaces; and while it is true that the virus can be found on objects after several days, recent researches found that the risk of transmission through surfaces is actually quite small and has been "exaggerated".

As for masks, an analysis led by scientists at University College London suggests that "reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream." So the least we could do is use ecological alternatives for masks, whether they are made of washable cloth, biodegradable natural fibers, or even, ironically, from old fish nets or recycled ocean plastic waste.

The urgency right now is to find a way to simultaneously raise (and balance) consciousness of the risks of pollution and the pandemic. And we can start this month, by taking the "Reusable Mask July" challenge.

BBC

The Latest: Biden In Europe, Suu Kyi Corruption Charges, Decuplets

Welcome to Thursday, where President Biden has begun his first foreign trip, Aung San Suu Kyi faces new corruption charges and a South African woman gives birth to what may be a record number of babies. We also scrutinize how facial recognition is being used around the world, not just as a surveillance tool.

• Biden arrives in Europe: U.S. President Joe Biden has begun his first foreign trip as President, after his late-night arrival in the UK. Biden will attend the G7 summit in Cornwall, visit NATO in Brussels and have a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

• New charges against Aung San Suu Kyi: The deposed leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other former officials from her government, are accused of a range of corruption charges, adding to previous accusations by the military regime that overthrew the democratically elected government in a February 1 coup that has plunged the country into chaos.

• Biden revokes TikTok and WeChat bans: After the Trump administration had attempted to block new users from downloading the Chinese-owned apps, TikTok and WeChat, President Joe Biden has withdrawn these executive orders but has ordered a review of the security concerns.

• Russian court outlaws groups linked to opposition leader Navalny: The Moscow ruling has labeled Alexei Navalny's organizations as extremist, preventing people associated with them from seeking public office and carrying lengthy prison sentences for anyone who donates to them.

• El Salvador became the first country to make Bitcoin legal currency: Congress approved President Nayib Bukele's proposal, with 62 out of 84 possible votes. According to the President, the cryptocurrency will make it easier for Salvadorians living abroad to send money home.

• EU COVID passport gets final green light: The European Parliament has approved COVID vaccine certificates intended to recover restriction-free travel within the bloc. The agreement also obliges the Member States from refraining to impose additional entry restrictions, like quarantine or more testing.

• South African woman gives birth to 10 babies: Gosiame Thamara Sithole became a mother of seven boys and three girls. Mother and children are in good health, while the Guinness World Records investigates the case.

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CLARIN
Rozena Crossman

Health Moves Back To Center Of Urban Planning

When we think of modern urban planning, it tends to be focused on improving efficiency in where we live and work, and how we move from place to place. But it should also be about keeping us healthy. The concept is neither a knee-jerk reaction to COVID-19 nor some nod to corporate social responsibility and eco-friendliness. The fact is that trying to prevent and mitigate medical crises has long shaped how our cities have been designed and built.

Mumbai, India, one of the world's most populous cities, began an important urban planning initiative in the late 1890s, after a horrific breakout of the bubonic plague. "The horrors of the plague prompted the most sustained period of state intervention in the affairs of the city," wrote historian Rajnarayan Chandavarkar. According to Indian daily The Wire, after British colonial rule had produced overcrowded neighborhoods, a new building standard was put in place, focusing on light and air, "nature's two great healing elements which everyone might have gratis ad libitum if public opinion insisted on every dwelling room having sufficient open space about it."

Just a few decades earlier, Paris had battled with a bad bout of cholera that killed over 18,000 inhabitants. As Le Figaro notes, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the urban planner extraordinaire of The City of Lights, believed in airing out the city and bringing in more light by creating wide avenues like the Champs-Elysees and knocking down narrow, densely populated areas where outbreaks were common.

Across the Atlantic, in the early 20th century, polio and influenza epidemics prompted the first New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects to be built with an emphasis on "sunshine, space, and air."

Today, our governments, planners and scientists know much more about the spread of disease than their predecessors. Yet much of their experience resonates with city life in the time of coronavirus. The Healthy Building Movement, a recent trend that originated before COVID-19, is proving even more promising in light of the pandemic, promoting the maximizing of natural light and airy spaces. Instead of simply knocking down slums, it advocates for better ventilation, which would improve health conditions in apartments, offices and hospitals.

Of course, the way people move is also at the center or urban planning — and social distancing is a particular challenge in the crowded spaces of public transportation, as Miguel Jurado notes in Buenos Aires daily Clarin. For the urban planner in 2020, this inevitably leads to new efficient infrastructure models and designs as more people choose to commute in their cars, or on bicycles. But now more than ever, health matters at least as much as efficiency.

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Geopolitics

COVID-19, The Weight Of The Animal Factor

Preventing an epidemic like the coronavirus doesn't just require a robust human healthcare system, it also demands a full rethinking of our relationship with the animal kingdom. Just a few examples of what we need: a crackdown on the illicit "wet markets"" trade of exotic animals, where the virus may have originated; veterinary medicine needs to be taken more seriously; and the entire meat industry needs an overhaul to prevent the spread of diseases even more dangerous than COVID-19, which could happen sooner than we think.


Almost all infectious diseases are "zoonotic," meaning they were transmitted to humans from animals. The vectors of these viruses aren't necessarily victims of illegal commerce: While SARS was born in a wet market, mad cow disease came from infected livestock in perfectly legal UK farms. Today, the widespread use of antibiotics in the animal agriculture industry to fatten up livestock and prevent the spread of diseases in factory farms has created a serious risk of bacteria evolving to resist antibiotics.


Three researchers and activists recently lamented this scary state of affairs in The Guardian: "Oddly, many people who would never challenge the reality of climate change refuse to acknowledge the role meat-eating plays in endangering public health. Eating meat, it seems, is a socially acceptable form of science denial."


In the meantime, what can be done for this outbreak? A good starting point would be recognizing the importance of animal health. The momentum is already starting, as more than 100 animal rights groups, politicians, scientists and celebrities recently came together to publish a call in the French daily Journal Du Dimanche for animal protection laws to be included in France's economic recovery plan.


Another smart move would be to elevate the work of veterinarians, who were already very familiar with strains of coronavirus, according to a report by Le Figaro. As one veterinarian argued in the French edition of The Conversation, "Let's highlight that major medical advances come from the veterinary world," citing major discoveries by veterinarian researchers in embryo transfer and immunology that changed the human medical world.


One of the latest breakthroughs is research released last week in veterinary medicine at the University of Mississippi that provides four potential treatments for COVID-19 Paying attention to these animal whisperers will lead to a more holistic, humane and healthier future for the entire animal kingdom — homo sapiens included.

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Geopolitics
Kat Bohmbach

Bracing For A Second Wave Next Winter

PARIS The rate of transmission and death toll of the coronavirus finally seem to be slowing, and various national and local lockdown measures are beginning to loosen. In a best-case scenario, both commerce and public confidence pick back up and social distancing measures help the virus to fade away by the summer. But even if that's the case, health officials are warning that a second wave of infection later in the year, as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, is not only possible but probable.

A seasonal link: Though the behavior of the current coronavirus is still fairly unknown, researchers have reasons to believe that this virus shares many characteristics of other (less-deadly) coronaviruses we have faced before, including the one which causes the common cold, where transmission is much higher in the fall and winter than in the summertime, which may also be linked to the strength of the body's immune system. Most disease specialists have come to believe that the coronavirus will also follow a similar seasonal pattern. Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told The Los Angeles Times: "I suspect this will come back and if we do get any kind of lull in the summer that this will likely pick up in the fall, just like other coronaviruses do."

Reaction time: Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci says that a second wave of the coronavirus is "inevitable" in the fall or winter, the only difference is that there is still time for the government to put countermeasures in place that would curb the spread. Last week, researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) released a report with at least three possible outcomes for COVID-19's future spread across the country.

Worst case: CIDRAP's worst-case scenario prediction, and also the most likely according to them, is not only that there will be a second wave of the pandemic in the fall and wintertime, this second wave is also estimated to be even larger than what we have been witnessing. According to the author of the report and director of the CIDRAP, Michael Osterholm, the disease will not stop spreading until it has infected at least 60-70% of people (which has been estimated to take anywhere from 18 to 24 months and assumes that these people survive the disease). He says, "The idea that this is going to be done soon defies microbiology."

Control & prevention staff working in the snow in Suifenhe, China, on April 22 — Photo: Zhang Tao/Xinhua/ZUMA​

View from Iran: In Iran, one of the countries initially hardest hit by the coronavirus, doctors are warning authorities that they may be in for another viral winter. Though Iranian officials have been suggesting that the pandemic is currently peaking nationwide, like the Health Ministry's calculations from May 4, which show a decline in infection rates in some provinces and the possible approach of a peak in others, physicians in Tehran predict that next winter will not be anything like a routine flu season. Mas'ud Mardani, an infectious disease doctor and member of the capital's coronavirus headquarters, told the daily Aftab-e Yazd that if the country imported "two million flu vaccines last year, this year it must import between 10 and 20 million vaccines at least," to cover all "vulnerable" people.

French low immunity: As reported by Le Figaro, with France beginning to lift the strict confinement measures that have been in place since mid-March, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe reminded citizens of the difference between loosening restrictions and being in the clear when it comes to the spread of the virus. "The risk of a second wave, which would hit a weakened hospital system, would impose a return to quarantine," he said. "That would ruin the efforts and the sacrifices made." And this risk is very real, according to research published by France's Institut Pasteur, the confinement measures put in place successfully reduced the transmission of the coronavirus by 84%. However, they predict that by the time measures begin to loosen on May 11, only 5.7% of the population will have been infected, meaning that when control measures are loosened, population immunity will be insufficient to prevent a second wave.

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BBC
Worldcrunch

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Quarantine Blues And The Power Of A Jigsaw Puzzle

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.


SPOTLIGHT: QUARANTINE BLUES AND THE POWER OF A JIGSAW PUZZLE

A sudden rush of stress, trouble sleeping or eating, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, general fatigue. Does it sound familiar? With approximately half the world still forced to live in lockdown, old and new psychological disorders are a widely diffused side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study led by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of Americans feel the current health crisis had impacted their mental health. In France, Le Figaro reported this week that 74% of adults in a recent survey developed sleeping disorders and 34% showed signs of psychological distress.

Humans are social animals — Aristotle taught us that 2,300 years before Mark Zuckerberg cashed in on the concept. And while we can acknowledge that our modern digital tools are providing instant links in the face of our respective quarantines, we are also seeing how crucial in-person interaction and stimuli are to the human experience. Those living alone or forced to put their professional activity on hold are particularly vulnerable to this enforced isolation.

Alongside the more severe threats to our emotional state is a seemingly less menacing effect: boredom. There is a fine line between enjoying some spare time to do nothing and repeatedly having nothing to do, especially when we yearn for distraction from the current uncertainty of the outside world. Board games that were piling up dust in the basement are seeing the light of day again and solo players indeed are able to play across the computer screen with friends and strangers.

Similarly, the lockdown has created one of the highest recorded demand for jigsaw puzzles, a pasttime whose time had seemed to have passed two or three generations ago. The American Puzzle Warehouse reported a jump of 2,000% in business compared to the same period last year. When the world seems to fall apart, putting back pieces together could be the ultimate satisfaction.

— Laure Gautherin


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Japan urges citizens to stay home today as new predictions warn that death toll that could reach 400,000 without tighter restrictions. Meanwhile the number killed by COVID-19 in the United States edges close to 30,000, and tops 15,000 in France.

  • WHO funding cut: President Donald Trump cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), blaming the organisation for mismanaging the outbreak of the global pandemic. Experts warn of risks in undermining the sole global coordinator of health contagions.

  • Markets: Stocks dip amid new forecasts that global economic crisis could be worst since the 1930s.

  • Oil Forecast: Oil demand is expected to take a sharp dive in April to a record low not seen in the last 25 years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

  • Beijing embassy backlash: The Chinese ambassador was summoned by France, following a stream of controversial comments made by Beijing's embassy in Paris on what they perceived as the government's slow response to the coronavirus.

  • Back to school? Children in Denmark up to the age of 11-years-old are being welcomed back to school today, as the Prime Minister of Australia also considers reopening schools.

  • The Quarantine King: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who'd been quarantining in a German hotel as the coronavirus ravages his country, finally left his ‘harem" lockdown and traveled 20,000 miles home for a national holiday.

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ABC

Coronavirus — Global Brief: A Modern Plague Tests Modern Religions

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.​

SPOTLIGHT: A MODERN PLAGUE TESTS MODERN RELIGIONS

"As we gather here today …"

Taken from the Christian liturgy, the line rings true for believers around the world of nearly every religion. Some form of gathering, communing, sharing are a central part of the worshippers' relation to the divine, a materialization and anchoring of their faith within a congregation, in good and bad times alike.

What to do then, when COVID-19 and its quarantine restrictions make finding solace together impossible? How will the faith of solitary congregants hold up in the face of an almost biblical plague?

We've seen how coronavirus-led bans on large gatherings have derailed religious rites across creeds: from an eerily deserted Kaaba in Mecca to the Pope conducting his Easter mass in a near empty St. Peter's Basilica, closed synagogues and Hindu temples refusing entry to devotees. And though some stubborn Catholic priests in France and American evangelical pastors defied restrictions this past weekend for Easter, for the time being religion is something that must take place at home, away from fellow devotees.

Some might see the current confinement measures as an opportunity to focus on their personal relationship to the divine. Some may even, as French Protestant weekly Réforme suggests, try their hand at their own, homemade version of rites. Others will simply lose faith.

But the twist to this current historical moment is that many men and women of faith will in fact let reason and scientific facts lead the way. It reverses a time-honored dichotomy between science and religion, where contrary to previous comparable catastrophes — like say, the Plague in 14th-century Europe —we don't see the outbreak as some sort of divine retribution for our sins. Thus obeying government restrictions, be they an obstacle to the due practice of our rites and rituals, is not blasphemy. Scientific proof is no longer irreconcilable with the tenets of one's faith and the population's health is a bonafide case of force majeure.

Better, still — there may be something in it for both science and religion, notes a recent Foreign Policy article entitled "Thou Shalt Practice Social Distancing." Religious leaders opting for an enlightened approach to the pandemic can extol the virtues of "following all the rational requirements of science, while offering faith as a source of hope and inspiration — not as a substitute, but a supplement to reason." And let us say: Amen — and go wash our hands.

— Bertrand Hauger


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW​

• Toll: Global cases of coronavirus nears the milestone of 2 million.​​​

• Lockdowns extended: French president Emmanuel Macron announces lockdown extension until 11 May. India extends its strict lockdown measures until May 3.​​​

• Race for vaccine: World Health Organisation says there are 70 vaccines in development, with three set to launch trials on humans.​​​

• Trump power play: U.S. president Donald Trump claimed "total" authority on reopening the economy. Governors from both parties were quick to note they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states.​​​

• Markets rise: Asian shares hit one-month high on better-than-expected Chinese trade numbers and the first signs of European countries opening up after lockdowns.​​​

• Time to vote: South Korea votes in first national election of coronavirus era, with President Moon Jae-in's party expected to get a boost for his handling of crisis.​​​

• Scare tactic: Indonesian village hires a team of spooky "shroud ghosts' to scare people into staying at home.

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