SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
South China Morning Post (SCMP) is an English-language daily published in Hong Kong. Co-founded in 1903 by the British journalist Alfred Cunningham, the newspaper has an estimated circulation of 104.000. It is currently owned by Alibaba group.
Photo of a sunset over Chicago's O'Hare airport with backlit plane tails
Future
Carl-Johan Karlsson

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

Watch Video Show less
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 Dallas voter waving an American Flag during a rally
U.S. Election 2020 - Views From Abroad
Rozena Crossman

American Tragedy, Trump Is Taking Democracy Down With Him

PARIS — Watching the non-stop coverage of the U.S. election, a line from Shakespeare kept flicking at my mind. It's a grim image from that tragic tale of love, hate and disinformation, Romeo and Juliet: "A plague o" both your houses! They have made worms' meat of me." Now, the graphic allegory was unfolding on my computer screen in real time: No matter which candidate wins — and with plagues of our own spreading all around — we risk making worms' meat of democracy.


After growing up in Massachusetts, I've lived abroad ever since reaching voting age, and always dutifully sent my absentee ballot from Canada or France. It used to be a moment of clarity and civic pride, but dropping my vote in the mail, and waiting for the results, has felt very different in 2020.


The Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, is of course far better than the alternative. But after five decades in Washington and two weeks shy of his 78th birthday, he hardly inspires — and apparently didn't excite enough voters to provoke the predicted Democratic landslide across the country in the face of Republican mismanagement of the pandemic.


But make no mistake, this election season's real plague is President Donald Trump. An election night report from the international election observer body, OSCE, gave an assessment usually reserved for countries with scant experience in representative democracy: "Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions."


President Donald Trump upped the ante further Thursday night as challenger Joe Biden approached victory, launching a diatribe of falsehoods from the White House that combined the petulance of an 8-year-old sore loser and a demagogue's tactics for inciting civil war.

This election season's real plague is President Donald Trump.

The damage for a country that maintains its superpower status is bound to spread abroad. Other powers often criticized by Washington for their substandard democracies seem to be reveling in America's current upheaval. As Trump demands the vote counting to stop, as his social media posts are published with disinformation warnings on Twitter and Facebook, China's Xi Jinping and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are given more ammunition. "Xi and Putin have held onto power by convincing their citizens that their systems of government are superior to the democracies of the West," reads a recent article in the Hong Kong-based South Morning China Post.


Even other democratic nations are shaking their heads in disbelief. An op-ed in Foreign Policy by Barkha Dutt, a New Delhi-based journalist, is titled "India Would Have Counted the Votes Already." Meanwhile, French daily Le Monde published an editorial Wednesday entitled "The United States, A Democracy In Danger," while Berlin-based Die Welt describes "a certain weariness with the institutions of the republic, just like in Ancient Rome."


The very principles that the United States has been so used to boasting about, the system of government it has so zealously prosthelytized, are now being undermined by the way we've conducted the most basic function of an open and modern society. I've always rolled my eyes at my fellow Americans who describe our country as the "leader of the free world." With any remnant of that status vanishing, we're all holding our breath to see what comes next.

Stepping out (for good)?
WORLDCRUNCH
Rozena Crossman

Work → In Progress: Why Our Work Days Will Never Be The Same Again

The world found out quickly that COVID-19 would be a major interruption to the way we worked. By now, there is little doubt that the health pandemic — and resulting lockdown measures and travel bans — will leave permanent traces in company policies, employee behavior and our relationship with work spaces and technology.

Yet it goes even further: Since work is so central to people's lives, we are beginning to see how these changes could reshape the broader organization of our economies and societies.

Still, the changes will reveal themselves over time — and as this new edition Work → In Progress shows, the devil will be in the details. What both employees and employers must do right now is begin to think hard about the trade-offs implicit in such potentially big changes to our working habits and policies. Teleworking, for example, has ushered in a new era of flexibility but also raises questions about the potential loss of in-person mentorship; in Ivory Coast, mobility restrictions and closed schools have exacerbated alarming labor issues; while in South Africa, medicine delivery service is helping pharmacy employees handle a growing workload.

TAKE OUT Thanks to COVID-19, the delivery sector has expanded way past pizza and Amazon orders. South Africa, battling both coronavirus and an HIV epidemic, has instituted a medicine delivery service with 240,000 chronic medication packages reported as delivered in mid-June. Although pharmacy employees are struggling to adjust to the unprecedented workload, this new mode of distribution looks like a promising tool for both governments and companies fighting the economic impact of coronavirus. If this trend continues, delivery driver may be the next hottest job on the market.

ETHICS MATTER There's lots of talk about how quarantine has accelerated new work trends, but it has also exacerbated alarming labor issues. According to the International Cocoa Initiative, lockdown in the Ivory Coast has led to a rise in child labor. The combination of closed schools with a lack of adult workers due to mobility restrictions has caused the number of children performing dangerous tasks such as heavy lifting or working with chemicals to increase from 16% to 19%. It's an urgent example of how labor legislation should not take a backseat during the pandemic. On the contrary, it should be front and center, an integral part of every country's fight against the growing economic depression.

STAT DU JOUR

LOST MENTORS "I can only sustainably work from home because I have 40 years of office experience behind me," wrote Richard Harris, a Hong-Kong based CEO and investment manager in the South China Morning Post. In an age of coronavirus and Zoom meetings, he wonders how younger employees will be able to grow professionally without hands-on help from a mentor. HR departments should think carefully about how educational relationships between colleagues can be fostered digitally, or the results may be dire for the future workforce.

HOT TOPIC As the climate continues to change, so do our work habits. Vietnamese rice farmers had their work hours turned upside down by a recent heat wave, forcing them to pick the paddies at 2 a.m. instead of during the day. Temperatures of 40 °C have made outdoor labor impossible after 8 a.m., and the only source of light during night shifts are small head and pocket lamps. Because of this, workers are half as productive and their family lives are heavily affected. It's another item on the long list of reasons why fighting global warming is our most pressing issue.

THE ODD JOB

GOOD INVESTMENTS Social and political issues can spill into workplaces of every sector, and industries around the world felt the effects of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and protests against the murder of George Floyd. Big corporations are seeing pressure to make real change, as some investors are turning away companies that aren't committed to diversity. One resulting example is BlackRock announcing a plan to increase their number of Black employees to 30% in the next four years. According to the Financial Times, however, "shaping investment portfolios to achieve racial justice is incredibly difficult, primarily because of the lack of data." It looks like companies will need to combine technological savvy with CSR in order to attract tomorrow's investors.

ARTIFICIAL ACTING "LOL," as the kids say: The most beautiful robot in the world is unemployed (until movies can start filming again)! When we hear about robots stealing our jobs, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not the movie industry. Yet, the android Erica will be the lead lady in Life Productions' $70 million sci-fi picture, "b," which tells the tale of a scientist tasked with creating perfect human DNA. Created by Hiroshi Ishiguro, a roboticist at Osaka University in Japan, Erica's features were modeled after Miss Universe pageant finalists to make her the most beautiful robot in the world. As an aspiring actress, Erica is great at remembering lines but struggles with adapting her tone of voice to a given context. As she keeps practicing lines with human actors, the developers hope she will be ready to perform when production resumes.

Roquefort may be delicious, but it doesn't cure coronavirus
Coronavirus

From French Cheese To Cow Urine, A Roundup Of Fake COVID-19 Remedies

As the coronavirus has spread across the world, so too have an array of fake remedies and cures that promise to protect people. Social media have been flooded with claims about foods, products and other assorted concoctions that can allegedly cure or prevent the virus. Up to the point that the World Health Organization had to issue warnings about such myths. Needless to say, they vary by location, culture and tradition — but no matter where you live, don't follow these faux cures at home:

  • French cheese: A Facebook post that was widely shared suggested that "Penicillium Roqueforti", the mold used to make Roquefort, the French blue cheese, was used by professor Didier Raoult in the creation of chloroquine and tested by the French physician in the fight against coronavirus, Le Monde reports. The author of the post himself admitted later on that his post was a "positive ‘fake news'" to add a "touch of humor in this difficult time" as well as to promote Roquefort.

Bananas to fight the virus? — Screenshot

  • Bananas: A video entitled "A banana a day keeps the coronavirus away" circulated online, which appeared to be a report promoting bananas as a way to improve the immune system thanks to fruit's concentration of vitamin B6. The video turned out to be a mix of two reports from an Australian television channel and The Wall Street Journal which didn't mention bananas at all.

  • Cow urine: In India, a group of Hindu activists organized a "cow urine drinking party" in an attempt to ward off the virus, The Wire reports. Hindus consider the cow sacred and some believe that the animal's urine, called "Gomutra", has medicinal properties.

  • Garlic: It may be of the most mentioned fake health tips online and despite the fact that there is no evidence that eating raw garlic protects people from the virus, the myth seems to endure. The The South China Morning Post reported the case of a woman who, after eating around 1.5 kilograms of garlic over two weeks, needed hospital treatment as her throat was inflamed to the point she could no longer speak.

  • Vodka to herbal remedy: While Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko have been encouraging its citizens to drink vodka, Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina has launched "Covid-Organics', a herbal tea to cure the virus. According to RFI, the decoction will be sold in supermarkets and pharmacies and some students who were going back to school will be required to take it.

Watch Video Show less
Screen capture of Chan's Jan. 24 performance
Coronavirus

Jackie Chan Helps Lead China's COVID-19 Propaganda War

The COVID-19 propaganda war in and around China now includes a familiar face: There's only one Jackie!

The martial arts movie legend, who is a native of Hong Kong, has long since evolved into a fervent supporter and spokesman for the Communist regime on the mainland. Now critics of Beijing, both inside China as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, are taking shots at Chan for being a mouthpiece for the alleged cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak. Taipei-based daily Liberty Times reports criticism of Chan began spreading on the Chinese-language internet last week after a CCTV Jan. 24 televised performance reemerged of Chan surrounded by hundreds of dancers performing a patriotic song, in response to news around the world of coronavirus spreading in China. "Does my country look sick?", says one refrain of the elaborate song-and-dance routine aboard a massive (and crowded) cruise ship.

In retrospect, with thousands having died since, Chan's chest-thumping looks more than a little bit off-tune: "This walking disaster! Watch out for the bad luck he is bringing!", one Chinese commented on social media last week. Another added: "Jackie's endorsement, China's demise!"

More recently, Chan appearing more subdued on Instagram, advised his fans to follow social distancing advice. The 66-year-old star ends the bilingual video with "Go China! Go the World!" in Chinese, and just "Go!" in the English version.

This is not the first time Chan has been under fire for his overt nationalism and support of the regime, including criticism of anti-government protesters and regional rivals. "Hong Kong and Taiwan have too much freedom," he declared in 2012. More recently he declared himself China's "national flag guard," demonstrating his loyalty to the Chinese authorities during the months of anti-government protests last year in Hong Kong.

Writing after that incident in The South China Morning Post, Chiu-Ti Jansen said the Chinese government's policy of leveraging soft power through celebrities, like Chan, is short-sighted for all. "It seems certain that there will be more pressure on entertainers to declare their positions and also more policing of their public statements. Stars with international reach must be thoughtful, if not strategic, before endorsing any side." With a deadly virus now spreading worldwide, that seems more relevant than ever.

Assembling robots in central China's Hunan Province.
Geopolitics
Anne Sophie Goninet

Robots, A Not-So-Secret Weapon Against COVID-19

There are many reasons robots can help — for starters, they can't catch it.

We've been hearing for years how robots, for better or worse, were going to change our lives. Now in the battle against the highly contagious COVID-19, we're seeing them in a whole new light. Of course it all begins with the fact that, no, robots can't get infected. Winks aside, these artificially-intelligent machines are allowing people to avoid physical contact and maintain social distancing, easing the burden on health providers, helping police officers to implement lockdowns, and allowing people to better face life under quarantine.

  • Health: The most urgent need robots are filling is as healthcare assistants. In Italy, hospitals are turning to robots to replace doctors and nurses and keep them safe from the virus. A child-size robot named Tommy allows care providers to avoid direct contact with patients and limit the use of masks, able to monitor the equipment's parameters in a room and record messages from patients, to transfer them to the staff.

  • Law & Order: The interior ministry in Tunisia has deployed a police robot in the country's capital Tunis to make sure its inhabitants are observing the coronavirus lockdown, reports Jeune Afrique. The four-wheeled robot is equipped with a camera and controlled remotely by officers, in order to check pedestrian's ID or other papers. Drones have also been used in several countries to reinforce patrolling of certains areas. According to Le Monde, in France for instance, police officers used drones to scan beaches where people were still taking walks despite the lockdown, or to broadcast social distancing guidelines.

  • Being there: Robots have also undertaken unexpected social roles during the crisis, allowing people to be present at big life events. With the help of "Newme" avatar robots, the Business Breakthrough University in Tokyo, Japan, was able to hold a virtual graduation ceremony. The remotely controlled robots were equipped with a tablet that used video-conferencing tool Zoom and were dressed in graduation caps and gowns. This allowed students to experience the celebration of walking on the stage to accept their diplomas. In the United States, a father who was in quarantine in California after travelling on the Grand Princess cruise ship, was able to attend his daughter's wedding in Arizona with a help of a "telepresence robot" the family nicknamed the "Papabot", Voice of America reports.

Watch Video Show less
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a morning COVID-19 update meeting remotely during his self-isolation.
BBC

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Why We Care About Boris Johnson

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt 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: WHY WE CARE ABOUT BORIS JOHNSON

Boris Johnson Taken To Intensive Care: It's a headline that stands out among the non-stop flow of disturbing coronavirus news flashes. We already knew the 55-year-old British Prime Minister had been infected two weeks ago, and even Sunday's news that he was being brought to the hospital with a persistent fever was presented as routine testing.

But there's nothing routine about the ICU, nor the oxygen he was being given after breathing difficulties had suddenly appeared on Monday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is running the country, and Boris Johnson is by all appearances fighting for his life.

There will be time another day to reflect on what this means politically in the UK, where Johnson has been questioned for his choices in fighting the pandemic and more generally criticized about his policies on healthcare. But serious illness turns every politician into a person.

He is of course hardly the only person: 1.4 million have been infected, and more than 76,000 people have died from COVID-19 around the world. On Tuesday, Britain's death toll alone hit a one-day high of 854. Yet for those not touched directly, the gravity of this pandemic hits home again as a very public person deteriorates in real-time before our eyes. Indeed, Johnson had posted a video just before being taken to the hospital where he seemed a bit fatigued, but otherwise his usual moppy-haired wry self. So it's him this time, we tell ourselves. Who will be next?

This has happened before in Britain, in 1918, when the nation's war hero prime minister David Lloyd George caught the flu during a ceremonial visit to Manchester's Albert Square. As his condition worsened, and with World War I in full swing, the prime minister's illness was kept hidden to prevent the news from reaching the country's enemies.

A century later, the stricken leader is very much in plain view — it's the enemy that we can't see.

— Jeff Israely

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Watch Video Show less
Before India's lockdown, pro-democracy activists in New Delhi.
Algeria
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Algeria, Hong Kong, India: COVID-19 Halts Protest Movements

A "pause sanitaire" is the phrase El Watan, the French-language Algerian daily, used. Such "health pauses' have been happening among popular protest groups in a number of countries, either imposed by the government or self-imposed by the demonstrators in the face of the threat of spreading coronavirus in the close proximity of street protests.

  • Algeria: Recently inaugurated President Abdelmadjid Tebboune banned street protests as of last week, bringing to an end regular mass anti-government demonstrations that began in mid-February last year after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term in office. But few are criticizing the move: "It does not mark an abdication of the movement," El Watan"s editorial board wrote. "Just the opposite, it is the sign of true lucidity...facing the urgent question of saving thousands of lives."

  • Hong Kong: COVID-19 has in the last two months put a damper on the anti-government protests that defined 2019. But as the South China Morning Post reports, the outbreak has fueled further resentment against authorities that now fear even more violent clashes might occur as the spread of the virus dwindles.

  • Chile: The 90-day state of emergency announced by President Sebastian Pinera last week coincided with the five-month anniversary of nationwide mass protests against structural inequality. El Tiempo reports that the move was seen by many as a way of curbing the protests that had been escalating throughout March, especially as the government simultaneously postponed a referendum on a new constitution scheduled for April 26.

  • India: The government last week banned gatherings of more than 50 people, putting a stop to the long-running protest against a controversial law that bars Muslim refugees from citizenship. More bans have been imposed in other cities since, including south Mumbai, where a dispersing protester told the The Times of India: "We may have differences with the government ... but we are with the government in the fight against COVID-19."

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus home schooling in California
EL WATAN

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Education In A Locked-Down World

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: EDUCATION IN A LOCKED-DOWN WORLD

How will today's children look back on this moment? Beyond the fears about contagion and rumors circulating on social media, many will no doubt remember the coronavirus outbreak with two words: school's out. With UNESCO estimating at least 130 countries facing nationwide closures, and some 80% of world's student population shut out of the classroom, educators are forced to improvise.

In some parts of the world, schools have set up online classes on platforms like Zoom and Skype that have offered the possibility for the learning to continue in ways that wouldn't have been possible even just a few years aog. Still, as Le Monde reports, even in France's robust national education system technical glitches have slowed down classes since the country was put on lockdown last week. And of course many students without digital access simply remain shut out from learning for months at a time.

Beyond such digital divides, television and radio (which more families have access to) has come in handy: Argentina"s public television and radio are broadcasting special educational programming, with a website with e-books, interactive tools and other learning materials was set up to complement the broadcast programs. The Czech Republic"s Ministry of Education also instated educational public television programs — in a mere 5 days. TV editors were originally sceptical as many teachers had no experience in front of a camera, yet the first episodes proved successful with high viewership among 4-12 year olds. In Norway, the prime minister herself lent a hand, holding a national press conference for children, explaining the measures put in place to fight the virus and answering questions ranging from "Can I have a birthday party?" to "What can I do to help?"

Meanwhile, China gave us a reminder that no matter how much young people still need to learn, they're bound to outsmart us. Students in Wuhan flooded their homework app with 1-star reviews in a collective effort to try to get it kicked off the App Store. School's out!

— Rozena Crossman

THE SITUATION - 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Olympics postponed: The Summer Games in Tokyo have been postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Open or close? India orders nationwide shutdown of the country's 1.3 billion people for three weeks. UK government introduces new stricter restrictions, closing "non essential" shops and banning gatherings of more than two people. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump announces the country will "again and soon be open for business." In Wuhan, where the epidemic began, China will partially lift lockdown on April 8.

  • Moving faster: The World Health Organisation warns that the coronavirus spread is "accelerating" around the planet, and the US could become new epicenter of outbreak as the number of cases has jumped to more than 46,000.

  • Toll: Italian death toll passes 6,000 mark, as Spain registers a record 514 deaths in 24 hours, confirming it is on a similar trajectory as Italy.

  • Eurozone economy suffers "unprecedented collapse in business activity" in March, with services sector, especially tourism and restaurants, taking the biggest hit.

  • Where next: Myanmar reports first two cases in men returning from abroad. The country of 54 million was the last world's most populous country not to report a single case, despite sharing a long border with China.

  • Prominent deaths in Africa: Cameroonian saxophone star Manu Dibango dies at 86 after contracting the virus. A similar fate for a top Zimbabwe broadcaster, Zorozo Makamba, who is dead at the age of 30.

Watch Video Show less
Robots and AI are slowly making their way into our daily lives
Geopolitics
Natalie Malek

How Five Countries Are Integrating Robots Into Daily Life

People in Asia already trust robots enough to let them take care of their loved ones and deliver the evening news. Meanwhile, a hitchhiking robot's world tour successfully passed through Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, but the American leg of the journey was cut short when it was decapitated and beaten to death in Philadelphia.

Yes, we humans are an unpredictable and diverse lot. And inevitably, different regions of the world are bound to perceive artificial intelligence in different ways. Here is how five countries are incorporating robotics into their cultures... On their own terms.

China

Robots in China are widely welcomed with open arms. They are programed to work as receptionists and clean windows around the house. The South China Morning Post reports that China's Xinhua state news agency has developed two news anchors using artificial intelligence. The "anchors," named Xin Xiaomeng and Qiu Hao, are based off of real people. They can mimic facial expressions, lifelike movements, and speak both English and Chinese.

Qiu Hao, one of Xinhua's AI news anchors — Photo: China Xinhua Sci-Tech

China has also applied artificial intelligence to its education system. China Daily says that Keeko, a robot-teacher, has made its way into kindergarten classrooms in more than 200 schools across the country. It encourages interactive learning by sharing stories and helping children solve logical problems. Its round head and big eyes give it a "cute" appearance, appealing to children under the age of seven.

Japan

In addition to using artificial intelligence to ease domestic burdens like laundry and elderly care, Japan also sees it benefiting more serious industries down the line. Japan Today reports that Japan's ambassador to the U.N. recently defended the use of "killer robots' under human supervision at a conference. While the country doesn't condone fully autonomous armed robots, he said that it can see a future where robots save labor costs and reduce collateral damage in a military setting. The Asahi Shimbun says that Japan believes human oversight is crucial in this situation.

The country also plans on bringing robots to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, the Japan Times says. Organizers are developing robots to assist visitors and staff during the event. Some of the technology has been developed to specifically help spectators in wheelchairs by guiding them to their seats and by carrying their heavy belongings. Massaki Komiya, the committee's vice director, said they want robots that are "friendly to people….and enhance convenience at events, as well as provide the audience with a new experience."

Thailand

Perhaps the world's most striking— and most controversial — robots are in Thailand. Built with bright red eyes and yellow uniforms, a small army of robots now work at Mongkutwattana General Hospital in Bangkok. They are busy each day ferrying documents from office to office along magnetic strips— a menial task nurses once did. The hospital insists that this advancement is not undermining human employment. Hospital director Reintong Nanna assured Newsflare last year that "these robotic nurses help to improve the efficiency and performance of working in the hospital ... They are not being used to reduce the number of employees."

France

While European robots tend to look more like machines than real people, they are still taking over human jobs. French chefs may find themselves unemployed sometime soon as artificial intelligence starts to infiltrate the culinary industry. Le Parisien says that a robot named Pazzi in Montévrain, France, can prepare, cut, and serve a pizza in less than five minutes and create 500,000 unique recipes. The start-up behind this three-armed metal chef, Ekim, is aiming to launch a restaurant in Paris and Val d'Europe by the end of the year.

Pazzi, Ekim's robot pizza chef — Photo: pazzi_tastemakers via Instagram

Human valets may fade into oblivion as well. At the Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport, robots are parking cars in two minutes. According to a France Info video clip, this is how it works: you leave your car in a designated garage and the robot picks it up and stores it in the parking lot, optimizing space by essentially playing a game of Tetris with your car. The technology has allowed the airport to have 50% more space in the lot and only costs travelers an extra 2 euros. The system is already making plans to expand to Charles de Gaulle and London Gatwick airports.

United States

Americans may be the least open to incorporating robotics into daily life — a 2018 Brookings Institution study revealed that 61% of adult internet users in the U.S. are uncomfortable with robots. Another poll showed that 84% explicitly stated that they are not interested in a robot that helps care for loved ones.

Nevertheless, artificial intelligence has moved into the U.S. healthcare industry. Some doctors are maximizing their time by conferencing into hospitals to talk to patients through a video chat. Their faces appear on a screen that sits atop a 5-foot-6-inch robot. One version of this, Dr. Bear Bot, makes rounds at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. The robot made its debut on Valentine's Day and handed out greeting cards to young patients around the hospital.

Dr. Bear Bot — Photo: Children's National Hospital

Though Dr. Bear Bot successfully garnered popularity among children in D.C., one robotic doctor in Fremont, California is having a harder time. Ernest Quintana, 79, was being treated in Kaiser Permanente Medical Center's intensive care unit when a doctor, via video chat, told him that he would not survive because his lungs were failing. His granddaughter, Annalisia Wilharm, was with him at the time and was shocked by the delivery of the news.

"No granddaughter, no family member should have to go through what I just did with him...I was so scared for him and disappointed with the delivery," Wilharm told CNN.

Since the incident, the hospital has disputed the use of the word "robot" to describe the technology. If Americans are reluctant to even use the term "robot," artificial intelligence may not make it very far.

Still around ... for now?
EL PAIS
Benjamin Witte

Is This The Final Chapter For World's Iconic Bookshops?

From Madrid to Cork to Shanghai, some of the most revered old bookshops are closing doors as they face pressure from big chains and e-readers. But our bookworm writer found some small signs of hope.

-Essay-

PARIS — A week or so before Christmas, I decided to take advantage of a quick in-and-out visit to Paris to visit one of the city's most iconic expat establishments: The Shakespeare and Company bookstore in the Latin Quarter.

A stormy night had just fallen and the temps weren't too far above freezing as I trudged across the Seine, through wind and rain, to where I expected to find the famous English-language gathering spot. But when I got there, the bookshop — famous among other things for cameos in films like Before Sunset (2004) and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (2011) — was nowhere to be found.

That's when it occurred to me that the venerable old locale had perhaps closed down. "Noooo," I lamented. "Say it ain't so." But yes, surely I read something to that effect, I thought. Or did I? Befuddled and very cold, I ducked under an awning and, with numb fingers, fumbled around in my pocket for my phone.

A homeless man glanced at me sideways as I punched the words "Shakespeare and Company" onto the wet screen and then … Yes, there it was, about a block east of my current location, according to Google Maps. Duh. Slinking back into the rain, my collar turned up, I ventured on and, within a few minutes, found myself at last in front of the bookshop — along with about 20 other people waiting in line for a chance to enter.

Too wet and chilled to wait (the other would-be customers had umbrellas), I aborted my mission and headed back across the river to the warmth and shelter of the Châtelet metro station, but with the satisfaction that all was right again with the world. Yes, I thought, at least in this one important case, Amazon, digital reader devices, big-box retailers like Barnes & Noble and all the other shifting currents of our modern world didn't conspire to kill yet another classic bookshop.

Closing shop

But maybe it's just a matter of time, as Spain's El País reminded me this week. In the historic center of Madrid, I was sad to discover, one of the city's oldest and most beloved bookshops — Nicolás Moya Librería Médica — will soon be shutting its doors after more than 150 years.

Established in 1862 and located just a few meters from the Puerta del Sol, the family-owned store specializes in books on medicine, agriculture, veterinary sciences, and navigation. Its founder, Nicolás Moya (born in 1838) wasn't even an adult yet when he first began selling medical texts to students at a nearby training school for surgeons. Later the shop would become a favorite haunt for a number of well-known doctors, including Nobel Prize-winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), with whom Moya became friends.

All that for what?

But all these years later, the Moya family now says they can no longer make ends meet. "And all that for what? So they can put in a Zara, a McDonald's, or one of these other establishments that eat everything up," Salvador García, a neighbor, told El País. "It's so sad. I've bought a ton of books here since I was a student."

Sadly, the demise of the Nicolás Moya shop is part of a well-documented and globe-spanning trend, as independent booksellers across the globe struggle to compete with online retailers and large chains.

Just over two years ago, a beloved bookshop in Cork City, Ireland — Liam Ruiséal's — celebrated its centennial. A year after that, however, the Ruiséal family announced that they would be closing their doors, the Irish Examiner reported. "The recent economic downturn was also a contributing factor," according to a statement by the family. "As a family business, with over 100 years' history in Cork City, it was a difficult and emotional decision for us."

Photo: William Murphy

On the other side of the planet, the Tilley family in Launceston, Tasmania, made a similarly "heartbreaking" decision in early 2017 when they decided to shutter the more than 170-year-old Birchalls, Australia's longest surviving bookshop, according to the local paper The Examiner.

And exactly one year later, the "best-known liberal" bookshop in Shanghai, the Jifeng Bookstore, announced that it, too, would be closing its doors, albeit due to political rather than economic pressures, the South China Morning Post reported last year.

The authorities are more concerned about political stability.

"Jifeng's impending closure was in line with a series of moves by the Chinese authorities to tighten ideological control," a source told the Hong Kong-based, English-language newspaper. "The authorities are more concerned about political stability," he said. "They don't want to see freer social or cultural events."

Happy endings

More recently still, the last surviving used bookstore in New York City's Upper West Side, Westsider Books, gave word that it would also soon close, much to the chagrin of neighbors and employees. "It's a big surprise," shop worker David told the West Side Rag in early January. "Though on the other hand, I'm not surprised. Everyone's having trouble, even Barnes & Noble."

David is right — if that's any solace: Big chain booksellers like Barnes & Noble, which contributed to so many independent shops going belly up (at least in the United States), are also "floundering" these days, the New York Times reported last year. Earlier in the decade, one of Barnes & Noble's biggest competitors, Border's Books, officially went bust.

But taking things back to the Upper West Side: Here, I'm happy to say, is a bit of good news to report. Like my confusion over the fate of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, it turns out that there's a twist to the story of Westsider Books (which, coincidentally, had its own Woody-Allen-film cameo — in Fading Gigolo, 2013).

Thanks to a last-minute fundraising campaign that reached the do-or-die goal of $50,000, the neighborhood fixture will be staying put. It's "the ultimate comeback story," the West Side Rag reported. How's that for poetic justice?