THE LOCAL
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food / travel

Dining With Distance: Restaurant Innovation Adapts To COVID-19

For many, getting back to "normal life" means going out to eat. But people also want to be safe, which is why eateries — from Amsterdam to Australia — are experimenting with distancing innovations that might soon become the new normal in the field of gastronomy. So how will dining out look like in the post-pandemic world? Here are few glimpses:

• In Saxony-Anhalt, Robin Pietsch, the German state's only starred chef, is thinking about setting up small "greenhouses' in an open space at Wernigerode Castle, the German daily Die Welt reports. Each glass cubicle would accommodate two guests and protect them from other diners, and yet still allow them to appreciate the surrounding scenery.

• Pietsch says he was inspired by the "separated greenhouses' that a vegan restaurant in Amsterdam set up on the waterfront and tested earlier this month. The restaurant should reopen for the public in the beginning of June with other Dutch restaurants and terraces hosting up to 30 guests, reported NH Nieuws.

• Unlike its European neighbors, Sweden never enforced a lockdown, and bars, restaurants and cafés continue to serve seated customers, albeit with certain precautions in place. Many establishments decided, for example, to rope off every other table to make social distancing easier. But that's nothing compared to the approach taken by a new restaurant called Bord för En (Table for One), which opened two weeks ago serves just one customer per day, seated at a table in the middle of... a field! Not only that, but food is served in a basket attached to a rope. Offering seasonal and locally farmed food and drinks, the restaurant's owners also have a novel approach when it comes to the bill: It's up to the guests to decide how much they're willing to pay. "We're all facing difficult times," the restaurateurs​ told the Insider.

• The proprietor of a seafood pub in Ocean City, in the U.S. state of Maryland, have also found a creative way to keep business afloat while maintaining social distancing. Customers at Fish Tales, which is reopening its dine-in services, will once again be allowed to mix, mingle and much, but with one condition: They have to wear giant inflatable inner tubes on wheels. These "bumper tables' are six feet wide, and according to UJ City News, the owner intends to fit 40 to 60 of them inside her restaurant.

Photo: Fish Tales

• A café in northeast Germany came up with a similar idea, only instead of inner tubes, customers use swimming pool floats (water noodles) to maintain social distancing. The 1.5-meter-long noodles are attached to hats that customers at Rothe in Schwerin, as the café is known, don while dining, Euronews reports.

• In Spain and Italy, some restaurants plan to reopen with plexiglass screens separating tables or even individual diners. One restaurant in the town of Leganés has already installed the prototype screens to test the design, reports The Local. As part of a pilot test, it has also set up thermal cameras that detect the temperature of diners.

• In New South Wales, Australia, in the meantime, restaurants are back in operation, but with strict limits on the number of diners allowed. Eateries can serve no more than 10 people at a time. Concerned that some clients might find the relative emptiness a bit off putting, the owner of one Sydney restaurant came up with a crafty solution: Why not fill the empty chairs with cardboard cutouts? And because the faux customers can't, of course, talk, the proprietor also outfitted his establishment with recorded background noise that simulates the chatter of clients, 7 News reports.

•A restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand had a similar idea, but instead of cardboard customers, decided to go with stuffed panda dolls. Different strokes, as they say, for different folks.

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Future
Juan David Romero

Scootergeddon: Electric Scooters Invade World Cities

Love them or hate them, electric scooters are changing the very ways we think about mobility and transportation in a city.

PARIS — They're taking over and flooding the streets all across the globe. Sometimes, you can spot them hanging from trees. Some of them are Birds, but the majority are actually Limes. And some people are terrorized, to a degree that they are not only trashing them, but also pooping on them. I'm actually talking about scooters. Electric scooters. If you're still wondering, just look up #Scootergeddon on Twitter.

There are good things about them, obviously: Scooters are cheap, they help reduce traffic, they are environmentally-friendly, they generate jobs, they don't require any physical exertion, they save time and they're simply fun. However, the negatives can be staggering, particularly for pedestrians and car owners, who have to deal with dozens upon dozens of these machines lying around on the streets, sidewalks, building entrances and random locations — some entirely broken. Not to mention death-related accidents in Spain and the U.S.

Whether scooters are safe, or at least safer than bicycles, is yet to be determined. In Austin, a study said scooters report half the injuries than bicycles. However, this study paints a different picture. The truth is, the variables are so vast: Are accidents being caused by malfunctioning scooters, regular vehicle drivers, a poorly-maintained road or a drunk rider? It's not the same riding a Lime in Paris than in Athens, a city with an entirely different driving culture and with little to no bike lanes. At the end of the day, it will be up to the cities to not simply regulate, but equip and educate themselves and their citizens with the right tools. After all, people don't go around leaving their city bikes everywhere, do they?

What's for sure is that for some people it has already become hard to picture a world without these devilish gadgets. The two primary monster micro-mobility companies Lime and Bird operate in 23 and 10 countries, respectively. According to Forbes, these two transportation rental companies became the fastest ever U.S. companies to reach billion-dollar valuations, achieving this milestone within the first year of inception. Also, both hit 10 million rides in less than a year, a milestone that Uber reached in three years. And they continue to grow. In Europe alone, adds Forbes, five e-scooter companies have already emerged and raised over $150 million of capital since the start of 2018. Uber and Lyft are also jumping in the scooter bandwagon.

Here are five examples of how the electric scooters are beginning to permeate into our society — perhaps permanently:

France

In France alone, an estimated 15,000 scooters from various companies have invaded the streets, a number expected to go up to 40,000 by the end of the year, according to France24. However, in September, in an effort to prevent this and create more safety for pedestrians, the country will not only regulate the companies, but also ban all electric scooters from pavements, according to Le Monde. Those who break the rule will receive fines of 135 euros, while bad parking that obstructs the movement of pedestrians will be fined with 35 euros.

To make things smoother, the city plans to provide 2,500 dedicated parking spaces, according to 20 Minutes. For such a feat, the city of Paris is asking operators to release data on the use of the scooters and the recorded flows in order to install parking spaces in the locations that make more sense. It will work similarly to the way city bikes work nowadays.

However, these scooters are so useful that not even the police can resist utilizing them. Not too far from Paris, the city of Calvados in Normandy is running a three-month experiment with scooters not for the public, but for the police, which so far seems to be doing pretty well, according to France 3 Normandy.

Australia

Hacked scooters are making the headlines down under. After all, users can activate these GPS-enabled scooters remotely via a smartphone. It's no wonder anyone with hacking experience could take advantage of the system's weaknesses and reprogram the scooters to play, for example, racist and sexist messages. This is exactly what happened in Brisbane in April, according to News.com Australia: Riders reported scooters that, upon activation, would yell out things like "I don't want to be ridden." The Lime Queensland public affairs manager Nelson Savanh said he was disappointed: "It's not smart, it's not funny and is akin to changing a ringtone," he said.

Switzerland

Besides hacking, there's also the issue of glitches. Earlier this year, Lime pulled all of its scooters off the streets in Zurich and Basel after a glitch caused the front brakes to automatically activate when the scooters reached their full speed around 24kph. In the most serious of cases, reports The Local, a man fractured his elbow and another one dislocated his shoulder.

Bird electric scooters are now present in more than 100 cities — Photo: Wikipedia

U.S.

E-scooters crowd the streets not just with riders, but also with those who collect and charge them. A guy working as a Bird charger (as opposed to a Lime juicer, as they like to call them) was caught by the police trying to move a mountain of loose Birds using a convertible in Venice Beach. The video is here, for comedy value:

Peru

Getting run over by a scooter is not news on its own. It's been happening pretty much everywhere since the machines started making the rounds, including in Latin America, where micro-mobility companies have been making large leaps into the market. But cities are responding pretty rapidly to these type of incidents.

For example, not too long after Movo from Spanish ridesharing giant Cabify launched in Peru, the municipality of San Isidro was forced to suspend scooters. This happened in April when a 63-year-old woman, who was eventually OK, was ran over, according to La Republica. Five days later the Ministry of Transportation and Communications published a resolution prohibiting the use of scooters on sidewalks, green areas and pedestrian crossings, as noted by El Comercio.

Society
Ayaz Ali

Opioids, The Epidemic Spreads Around The World

Back in 2017, the Philadelphia Inquirer spoke with Chera Kowalski of the city's McPherson Square Park library, which had become something of a refuge for drug addicts with nowhere else to turn. In the previous two months alone, the then 33-year-old librarian had performed CPR and administered opioid-overdose spray Narcan on eight different overdose victims. Similar scenes have been playing out in towns across the U.S. in recent years, as an explosion of opioid addiction has turned into a veritable national public health emergency.

Part of a category of dopamine-releasing chemicals (with "opiate" used to specify natural opioids like morphine), opioid abuse traces its origins back through history, from the 19th-century Opium Wars in China to the 1970s spread of heroin abuse in the West. Today, the emergency is perhaps more insidious, as readily prescribed pharmaceutical painkillers start to lead to addiction and a gateway to heroin on the street. While in prior times, opioid abuse may have been concentrated in deprived communities, prescription opioids can now put almost anyone at risk.

And while much of the attention has been focused on the U.S., opioid addiction is leaving its tracks across Europe, Asia, and Africa. With this in mind, we take a look at how it is playing out in five different countries around the world:

1. France

In the mid-1990s, France was a success story for drug treatment, fighting off a heroin epidemic with the revolutionary decision to allow all doctors – not just addiction specialists – to prescribe the non-addictive opioid treatment drug buprenorphine. In four years, heroin addiction fell by 79%, supported by France's nationalised healthcare system.

Yet recent opioid abuse in France has been on the rise again, up 74% between 2004 and 2015, according to the French Observatory for Analgesic Medicine (OFMA). A 2018 investigation by the British Pharmaceutical Society linked an increase in oxycodone prescriptions in France to pharmaceutical marketing practices. The report found prescriptions of certain fentanyl variations rose as much as 263%.

A box full of benzodiazepines, the sleeping pills which Joseph Boudre was addicted to — Photo: Gotgot44

In 2016, Joseph Boudre died, aged 18, in his grandmother's home in Cannes, after consuming what he'd thought was morphine, reported French radio network Europe1. In middle school, he'd been prescribed benzodiazepines for his sleep, and in time, became addicted. Soon after, he turned to over-the-counter opiates for their high. His addiction engulfed him, and he turned to street drugs, where he met his death after accidentally consuming the opioid fentanyl.

"He wanted to stop, but it took over his body," describes his mother, Juliette. She detailed Joseph's story recently in book form, entitled Maman, ne me laisse pas m'endormir ("Mom, Don't Let Me Fall Asleep"). "Opioids made the situation worse because they're much stronger," she said. "They're the next step."

"There is a risk of an epidemic in France, but we're still in a situation where we can avoid it," says OFMA director Nicolas Authier. Currently, regulations in place are limiting another epidemic, with medical opiate use limited to 28 day programs, and direct-to-consumer drug marketing forbidden. The French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) make sure to educate doctors about the risks of opioids, holding seminars on the topic and maintaining a number of observatories around the country monitoring opioid use.

2. Nigeria

In Nigeria, Islamic terror group Boko Haram is known to feed the prescription painkiller Tramadol to children. They push the pills into dates, then offer them to captive child soldiers, reported The Guardian in 2013. The drug makes them all but impervious to physical pain, as well as fatigue and hunger. Pushing young people to work beyond the limits of exhaustion, the opioid turns them into the perfect warriors. They tell the child it gives them courage and strength, that they will not feel their injuries during battle. The children are sent to their deaths in a trance, suicide bombers are sure they won't feel the heat of the blast.

But the painkillers are not just in the pockets of militants, but also everyday workers. A nation clasped by poverty, conflict, and unemployment means value in drugs that let you work longer, and diminish hunger. Out of 195 million people, almost 60% are in absolute poverty, with mass unemployment. This drives drug usage at a rate of almost three times the global average, according to Nigeria's Guardian. While cocaine and heroin are too expensive for most, Tramadol sells for $0.30 per strip of ten.

Last year, the UN called Tramadol and Codeine the most widely abused drugs in Nigeria. While the latter was banned following a BBC report, Tramadol remains ubiquitous. Nigeria's Daily Post reported over half a billion smuggled tablets of Tramadol seized at one of its ports last November. Without international regulation, importing it from India is fairly cheap.

UN reports suggest most of the drugs are trafficked to fund terror groups, including Boko Haram, raising the likelihood that the Islamist group buy the drugs for themselves, and sell on the surplus for profit. Legislative regulation alone won't work therefore, as seen in a recent random truck search in Owerri, which unveiled over 1,000 illegal packets of codeine alongside weaponry and ammunition, reported in Nigeria's Punch. By most accounts, prohibition simply drives the demand for illegal traffickers.

The Nigerian stigma around addiction means there is little Nigerian drug abuse data available, and a "dearth" of treatment centers, mostly funded by charities. WHO data shows abstinence-centered rehab programs, but no substitution therapy, which is more effective. It is therefore clear that tackling the issue requires strategies changing both the law and the stigma.

3. United States

Despite the heightened awareness, the opioid crisis in the U.S. is still full-blown. There are at least 115 daily opioid overdoses right now in the U.S., which could rise to 250 with the current spread of fentanyl and lack of resources in treatment centres, according to health magazine STAT. If so, the death toll for the decade would be comparable to that breast and prostate cancer.

The huge overdose rates are a result of overprescription, due to marketing campaigns by the likes of Purdue, which initially promoted the drugs as safer and less addictive than they are. Patients needlessly taking high-strength opioids became addicted, and once prescriptions run out, a steady supply on the street meant easy access for new addicts. Fentanyl overprescription persists years later, partly still due to pharmaceutical marketing.

NOPE (Narcotic Overdose Prevention Education) vigil in Florida — Photo: Jim Damaske/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA

According to a study by Dartmouth University, 1997 to 2016 saw a nearly $10 billion increase in pharmaceutical drug-marketing spending, mostly physician-directed. The results were phenomenal, with consumer drug-spending increasing $213 billion in the same time frame. One of the most-marketed areas was chronic pain, which most opioids treat. While names like OxyContin are no longer heavily marketed due to backlash, heavy advertising is still common.

FDA strategies towards drug companies remain vague, and DEA failure to investigate the causes behind large opioid shipments last year was enough to merit a 324-page congressional report admonishing the agency. In 2017, President Donald Trump declared the crisis a Public Health Emergency, and a year later, signed a bill to expand treatment and research; but it did not provide sustained funding, and it faced wide criticism.

For current addicts however, treatment remains limited. Medication Assisted Treatment (otherwise known as substitution therapy) is underfunded. Accreditation for treatment centers is time and resource consuming, and requires renewal every 1 or 3 years. To prescribe buprenorphine, a first-line treatment for opiate addiction, doctors must take a special, 8-hour class. For those doctors that can access buprenorphine, the Atlantic reported that many fear being overrun by addicts, unable to treat other patients. But limited insurance coverage means most addicts are priced out of the treatment anyway. It is estimated that of those eligible for addiction treatment, only around 10% receive it.

4. Germany

"Germany risks suffering an opioid epidemic similar to that seen in the USA," said Christoph Stein, director of the anaesthesiology department at Charite hospital in Berlin.

Interviewed last year by German daily Die Welt, Stein said: "The use of opioids per person in Germany is already shockingly high and is barely distinguishable from the U.S. Even for a relatively minor operation, patients are sent home with big packs of opioids because the doctor wants to be sure that the patient is satisfied."

Still, despite growing usage rates, opioid deaths in Germany are rare and treatment is more easily accessible than in the U.S. Speaking to the German edition of The Local, deputy CEO of the German Center for Addiction Peter Raiser claims that for some 200,000 opioid-dependent Germans, regulations keep them protected. The latest Country Drug Report shows that for the 150,943 high-risk opioid users in Germany, there are 78,500 on opioid substitution treatment, a rate of treatment roughly four times higher than the U.S.

5. Palestine

"It numbs the pain," says Mahmoud, 35, of the little red Tramadol pill resting in his palm. The family man and former business owner from Gaza City first turned to the opioid after a bullet fragment hit his spine. Now an addict, Mahmoud shared his story last June with the Abu Dhabi-based The National newspaper. In Gaza, where locals say conflict and economic hardship turn existence into an "open-air prison," drugs are a common way to escape — and more and more, that means opioids.

Isolated economically from the outside world by Israel and Egypt in 2006, the Palestinian Territories have veered towards economic ruin ever since. The blockade drove unemployment up to 44%, and poverty rates to 53%. As poverty rose, so did drug use, which after the 2009 Gaza War, spiked dramatically. Inexpensive and accessible because of lack of international regulation, Tramadol flowed in from the first year after the conflict. Local psychologist Mohammed Salah, 32, told Vice that many of the addicts are suffering some form of PTSD. The locals nicknamed it "cocaine of the poor," and ever since, its popularity has only grown. "I have seen the top elites taking it — university students, girls and respectful people," Dr. Fadel Ashour told the Associated Press in February.

Palestinian anti-drug police in Gaza City in 2017 — Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images/ZUMA

Addiction is taboo in Gaza, so treatment is difficult to access or promote. Most treatment centers are small, and most addicts are too embarrassed to go. According to a 2017 report by the UN and World Health Organization, 2% of men in the region are "high-risk" drug users, with Tramadol as Gaza's most abused drug. Yet Dr. Ashour believes the true figure is much higher, with most feeling too shameful to come forward.

The drugs are smuggled into Palestine through tunnels from Egypt. Cutting the area's legal imports and exports made the black market grew, and in turn, the drug trade. Hamas quickly began to fight the abuse with a hardline anti-drug campaign. In 2010, they burned nearly 2 million tablets of the painkiller in a hospital incinerator. When most of the tunnels were destroyed by the Egyptian government in 2014 and 2015, smuggling became more complex, often inside other goods like washing machines, or even catapulted over border fences. Tramadol prices rose, which police see as a step forward to end drug abuse while continuing to focus on cutting supply.

But drug use is only increasing, even though penalties for trafficking became harsher, with two death penalties issued for drug dealers in 2017. Yet with a lack of funding, training, and equipment for the police force, they remain ineffective at catching abusers. In 2018, Vice spoke with a Tramadol dealer named Ahmed, 20, who said business was good. "My clients are poor people who want to forget," he said. "It's a way to stop existing without having to kill yourself."

Society
Martin Greenacre

Just A Handshake? Touchy Subject For Pious Muslims In The West

A series of recent legal cases across Europe have questioned whether those who refuse to shake hands with people of the opposite sex for religious reasons are guilty of discrimination.

PARIS — The traditional Muslim veil has long been a source of conflict in the West over integration and gender equality. Now, another familiar practice is prompting debate: the handshake.

Last week, it was reported that a Muslim couple had been denied Swiss citizenship after refusing — for religious reasons — to shake hands with people of the opposite sex during their interview. Officials cited a lack of respect for gender equality as the reason for their decision.

It is not the first time the topic of handshakes has caused a stir in the country. In 2016, two Syrian immigrant brothers refused to shake their female teacher's hand, arguing that Islam did not permit physical contact with a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member. Shaking the teacher's hand before and after class is a long-standing tradition in Switzerland, and the regional educational authority ruled that parents of children who refuse would face a fine. Swiss Muslim groups disagreed over whether the brothers were justified in refusing.

The Swiss Federal Court has previously rejected a local ban on wearing hijabs in schools. The board of education, however, ruled that forcing the students to shake the teacher's hand was a reasonable intrusion on their religious beliefs, since "it did not involve the central tenets of Islam," The New York Times reports.

Hafid Ouardiri, a Swiss mediator who is active in the fight against radicalization, told Geneva-based newspaper Le Temps: "We need to take this case very seriously. It is unacceptable that these students refuse to shake their teacher's hand in the name of Islam Above all, our religion teaches respect." The newspaper asked whether the refusal could be the sign of a "slide" towards radicalism, after one of the boys posted videos of soldiers on Facebook in which there was "no explicit violence, but a black flag, identical to those used by the Islamic State group, was visible."

She puts her hand to her heart.

Also last week, a Swedish Muslim woman won compensation after her job interview was cut short when she refused to shake the male interviewer's hand. Sweden's Labor Court ruled that she had been discriminated against, since there was no evidence her refusal would cause difficulties in her work as an interpreter, The Local reports. The woman had argued that when both men and women are present, she greets them the same way, by putting her hand to her heart.

France, where the battle over the Muslim veil has been a major issue for years, has also found itself at the center of the handshake debate. In 2017, an Algerian women was denied citizenship after she refused to shake the hand of a senior official during her naturalization ceremony. Le Figaro reports that the ruling was recently upheld by the Council of State, France's highest administrative jurisdiction. The government claimed that the actions of the woman, who has been married to a French man since 2010, "reveal a lack of assimilation."

The question of gender boundaries is not limited to Islam. When Mike Pence became Vice President of the United States, an interview from 2002 resurfaced in which the evangelical Christian revealed that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. A 2015 survey by National Journal found that several female aides in Washington reported being barred from "driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression," reports The Atlantic. The magazine argues that similar policies harm women's progress by cutting them off from powerful people for long parts of the day.

Also Orthodox Judaism has rules forbidding a man from touching a woman who isn't his wife. Earlier this year, a Jewish candidate in a local election in Antwerp, Belgium, caused controversy by initially refusing to shake hands with women, the Flanders news site VRT NWS reports. He planned to run representing the Christian Democratic and Flemish party (CD&V). One of the party's leaders, Hendrik Bogaert, wrote on Twitter that a man who refuses to shake a women's hand "doesn't belong on a CD&V list."