THE MOSCOW TIMES
The Moscow Times is an English-language weekly newspaper published in Moscow. It was founded in 1992 and currently has a circulation of 35,000 copies.
A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine in a Healthy Moscow pavilion
Russia
Meike Eijsberg

Moscow Mayor To Service Sector Workers: Get Vaccine Or Lose Your Job

In an unprecedented push to make vaccines obligatory, Moscow's mayor has told employees in the city that they will lose their jobs if they don't get vaccinated, Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad reports Monday in the latest move to try to curb the COVID-19 crisis spreading in the Russian capital.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin had already ordered employers of service sectors such as transportation, healthcare, education and hospitality to be sure that at least 60% of their workers were vaccinated by next month. But what was at first presented as a suggestion by employers is now to be made a requirement: those who refuse can be put on indefinite suspension with their salary withheld, while employers face a hefty fine.

This vaccination requirement is the latest, and most extreme, in a series of harsh measurements taken by the Mayor. For months, Russian politicians have rejected the idea of compulsory vaccination, with President Vladimir Putin calling it "impractical and impossible," as reported by The Moscow Times.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin — Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS/ZUMA Press

But in his statement, Sobyanin said he was left with no other options as Moscow's cases are rapidly increasing. The Russian capital reached a new daily record of 9,120 infections on Saturday, a threefold increase compared to two weeks ago.

Although Russia was among the first countries to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine, the national vaccination rate at 12% is much lower than elsewhere. Sputnik V was registered in August 2020 and approved for distribution in Russia soon after.

Although initially met with criticism at home and abroad, the vaccine has been distributed in 59 countries as of April 2021. But Russians still harbor a great distrust of Sputnik V because the government has reportedly been downgrading the COVID figures, leaving many to believe that the virus is not such a bad thing.

In an attempt to change Muscovites' minds, writing on his Russian-language personal blog, Sobyanin referred to unvaccinated people entering public spaces as "complicit" in keeping the pandemic ongoing.

Biased Big Brother
eyes on the U.S.
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Surveillance Tech Eyes COVID-19 And Black Lives Matter

PARIS — It's been a tumultuous few months for so-called "surveillance tech."

Most recently, following pushback from Black Lives Matter activists, Amazon has suspended police use of its facial recognition software for one year. IBM followed suit, announcing it will stop offering its similar software for "mass surveillance or racial profiling." The moves from the tech giants is a step, small as it may be, in the right direction. Yet this also comes amid calls during the pandemic to turn to such technology to ensure public cooperation to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

Despite the potential medical benefits, the use of geolocation technology to curb the coronavirus has raised concerns over fundamental data protection, especially in countries like China, South Korea and Israel where tracking has been more intrusive: enlisting credit card records for purchase patterns, GPS data for travel patterns, and security-camera footage for verification.

In Russia, the pandemic proved a convenient excuse to test a nascent, China-inspired citizen monitoring system, backed by a Moscow court ruling in early March stating that the city's facial recognition system does not violate the privacy of its citizens. Even places not particularly known for their police state-like tactics are pushing limits: In Paris, cameras were installed at the popular Châtelet metro station to monitor mask use, as it is illegal to take public transportation without a mask.

Photo: Lianhao Qu

Similar (and seemingly well-intentioned) efforts like fast-tracked coronavirus data collection apps have raised suspicions of data protection breaches by both hackers and governments, including in the Netherlands and South Africa. In Germany, a country known for its hard stance on privacy protection, new surveillance tools are being met with a considerable amount of defiance. An article in Die Welt asks: "How can you defend yourself against facial recognition?", questioning not only the reliability of the recognition gear and software, but also its growing availability to private companies.

The increased attention during pandemic times has now multiplied during the social unrest that followed the police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis. If companies and governments rushed to implement face-scanning systems to track the movements of COVID-19 patients, what prevents them from exploiting the same tech to gather data from Black Lives Matter protesters?

Recognition software is significantly more likely to misidentify darker-skinned people than lighter-skinned.

Big Brother, it turns out, has racist tendencies. But in a fight-fire-with-fire sort of way, technology itself may actually help us steer away from the slippery slope of profiling. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joy Buolamwini, a researcher nicknamed the "poet of code," created the Algorithmic Justice League, aimed at producing more inclusive and ethical technology. Through her research, Buolamwini found that recognition software is significantly more likely to misidentify darker-skinned people than lighter-skinned — conclusions that could drive calls to review the technological bias.

Meanwhile, U.S.-based Data 4 Black Lives, a movement to counter historically racist uses of big data, posits that "Tools like statistical modeling, data visualization, and crowd-sourcing, in the right hands, are powerful instruments for fighting bias, building progressive movements, and promoting civic engagement." Whether it's about the selective collection of data or what happens with the data gathered, surveillance tech companies should know that they're being watched too.

Two young ride a bike wearing protective face masks.
BBC
Michaela Kozminova

Coronavirus: Young People Are Not Immune

Older people are at greater risk but more cases of young, healthy people getting critically ill and even dying are being recorded around the world. Are these cases changing the picture?

PARIS — It started as a mild cough. She had no underlying health issues.

But on March 24, at the age of 16, rather than becoming one of the many coronavirus patients to see their symptoms come and go, Julie became the youngest person in France to die from the disease. Health officials said she contracted a severe form of the virus, which is extremely rare among young people — rare but not impossible.

"People need to stop thinking that the virus only affects the elderly. No one is invincible in the face of this virus," her sister told Le Parisien.

For most, the message had seemed clear: the older you are, the more at risk you are from coronavirus. But even top medical researchers from around the world are still trying to understand the nature of COVID-19, and particularly who is most vulnerable.

In recent days, new data has sparked concern of an increasing number of young people infected around the world, as several deaths of teenagers made headlines in Europe and the U.S.. In their latest media briefing, WHO officials also warned about a surge in cases of young people dying from the virus. "We are seeing more and more younger individuals who are experiencing severe disease," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said, "Some of those individuals have had underlying conditions, but some have not."

So what do we know about the "age factor" for COVID-19?

*In Moscow, 56% of new coronavirus cases are younger than 40 years old, reported The Moscow Times. According to the city's coronavirus crisis center, 45% of Moscow's patients in serious condition are younger than 60 years old and nearly 40% of patients younger than 40 years old are on respirators.

No one is invincible in the face of this virus.

*In Australia, people in their 20s have more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other age group. The highest share, 11,3% of cases are among people aged 25 to 29, followed by those aged 60 to 65 who make up 9,5% of positive cases, reports The Guardian. Australian experts believe the data might be skewed because people in their 20s are more likely to travel or meet returned travelers. Both testing and infection is therefore more concentrated among this group.

*In Chicago, a nine-month-old became the first infant in the U.S. to die of the disease, while a twelve-year-old girl fell victim to coronavirus in Belgium.

Statistically, it is still proven, that those over 60 are still at highest risk of developing a severe case or dying from the disease. But as Anthony Fauci of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told BBC, the virus "isn't a mathematical formula", so there are reasons for people in every age group to be cautious.

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In Mexico City
THE MOSCOW TIMES

Coronavirus — Global Brief: My Apartment Gets Smaller As The Virus Gets Closer

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: LISTENING TO MY APARTMENT WALLS AS CORONAVIRUS GETS CLOSER

Mexican authorities just announced tighter restrictions, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. But many here are continuing with business as usual, even as I've been doing all I can do is limit my time outdoors. But that led to an equally frightening prospect: my neighbors. Noise too is contagious, and unlike a virus, it penetrates walls and windows.

Some nights ago my neighbor had a girlfriend over, which later led to music. I was hoping it would mean I'd hear nothing more from that flat but he likes to regale his guests with loud television or soft-rock karaoke from the 1990s. I try to understand my rage toward him: is it his refusal to respect confinement, the very sound of his voice, or Phil Collins? As Jean-Paul Sartre reflects through a character in his play No Exit — on three people stuck together forever in a hotel room: hell is other people.

Noise has always been an issue in apartment blocks in Mexico City. Of course, understanding what noises disturb is not a science. I am indifferent for example to the construction noise that has been going on outside our building for over a year, to neighbors' dogs, or to traffic. I am however intolerant of anything suggesting a celebration inside the building, as I see it as brazen indifference to others. (I do not believe people are blissfully unaware of their neighbors. No noise is innocent). For now, in the battle against the tyranny of modern cheerfulness, I have a pandemic on my side.

Alidad Vassigh


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Cases worldwide passes 800,000 mark. Record one-day toll in Spain with 849 deaths, while the US overall death toll rises past 3,000. Italy sees glimmer of hope as number of new infection cases declines, from 1,648 from 3,815 the previous day.

  • Free fall: With two million flights cancelled, the International Air Transport Association estimates the industry will lose $252 billion, an "unprecedented shock".

  • Ugly video: Migrant workers, including women and children, are seen sprayed with disinfectant in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in a new video that sparks nationwide controversy.

  • Amazon workers walk: Strikes in New York to protest the e-commerce giant's handling of COVID-19 safety.

  • Red Bull: Helmut Marko, chief of Red Bull motorsport, wanted the team's drivers to become infected with coronavirus so they could be immune for next season. The idea was dropped.

  • Congo"s ex-president Jacques Joaquim Yhombi-Opango dies at 81 after contracting the virus.
  • Missing Van Gogh: A painting by Vincent Van Gogh was stolen in a museum near Amsterdam that was shuttered because of COVID-19.
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Putin addresses the Duma
Novaya Gazeta
Alastair Gill

End Of Perestroika? Russia’s Media Reacts To Putin’s ‘Reset’

MOSCOW — After months of speculation, it appears that Vladimir Putin has finally settled on a strategy that will allow him to retain power beyond 2024. Ever since he announced plans to make a raft of amendments to the country's constitution back in mid-January, discussion had been rife over what exactly the Russian president — barred from running for a third consecutive term — was planning. Was he intending to retire? Was he eyeing a supervisory role in the State Council? Was he plotting a merger with Belarus? In the end, it appears he has opted to start all over again from scratch.

On March 10, during a session of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, cosmonaut-turned-politician Valentina Tereshkova suggested that a new, altered constitution could be the basis for "resetting" the clock on presidential term limits. Putin responded that in principle he agreed, as long as the Constitutional Court gave its approval. Within an hour the amendment had been approved by the Duma. The amendments go to a "public vote" on April 22, the result of which is likely to be a forgone conclusion, as is any ruling by the Constitutional Court. The proposal paves the way for Putin to run again in 2024 if he so chooses, meaning that in theory he could remain president until 2036.

Facing such a momentous political development, how did Russia's state-run and independent media react?

Novaya Gazeta

The Kremlin's special operation on the constitution has entered the home straight. With the help of an amendment suggested by a cosmonaut-lawmaker, all the terms served by the current president will be annulled, so that Putin can remain in power for at least another 16 years. The president, of course, is in complete accord In this situation the country and its people have turned out to be hostages to an adventure organized by people exposed by circumstances to enormous power, but unaware of the adequate responsibility for this power.

New, altered constitution could be the basis for "resetting" the clock on presidential term limits.

These people are guided by fleeting political motives, chief among which is the retention of power and the willful adjustment of the state to their corporate goals and highly dubious ideas about the historical and philosophical essence of Russia, as well as its place and role in the world. These poor excuses for rulers are simply unable to appreciate the nature and scale of the consequences of their actions. With the help of unconstitutional amendments, Putin is attempting to solve his main problem — the transfer of power.

Kommersant

Recall that Vladimir Putin himself — and the representatives of the working group on preparing the constitutional amendments — let us understand on several occasions that constitutional reform did not mean "resetting" the terms of the sitting president, as if he would be running for the first time at the next elections. Putin announced that he had not suggested the amendments in order to extend his powers. Among the recommended amendments is a norm limiting the number of presidential terms to two (without the qualification "consecutive"), and until now the majority of experts were in agreement that this was about imposing restrictions on the future head of state, who was supposed to be elected in 2024.

The Moscow Times (Eng.)

What is happening is unprecedented in Russian history. The head of state is openly announcing that he is prepared to find a way of staying in the presidential post even after the timeframe set by the law has expired — and that he plans to stay for a long time. Moreover, he is doing that just as expectations that he would depart sooner had become quite intense.

Putin evidently made the decision based on various considerations. He is known to think of the presidential job with reverence, as something akin to an unexpected gift from God. After all, he was elevated to the post while still basically an unremarkable bureaucrat, and then made a success of it.

Komsomolskaya Pravda

The mood is almost that of the Crimean euphoria of six years ago. Today we have won a great victory, even if it is an invisible one for a people convinced that this is the way everything should be.

There was already – I'm convinced of this – some kind of court plan to organize some election or other, to persuade Putin to retire to the State Council, to the village council, to wherever, to become the Queen of England, an ayatollah, Pensioner Number One, whoever, as long as things could quickly begin to change. A transition, a transfer – no matter what these never-ending political analysts called it, there was a single idea and a single aim: make peace with the world outside. That is – to surrender.

Nobody is going to offer another world, just as they didn't offer one in 1991, and since then things have gotten worse and far more complicated. And there was already a feeling that a collective Gorbachev was at the door, that just a little more and they'd have us, then we'd be faced with collapse. And then Tereshkova stood up to speak.

Perestroika is cancelled. Life goes on. Thank God.

blog

Khodorkovsky Back In Kremlin Crosshairs

Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a wanted man again, with a warrant issued for his arrest two years after being released from jail. The 52-year-old who'd spent more than 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement — after what he described as a politically-motivated trial as he fell out with Vladimir Putin — was freed in 2013 after a pardon from the Russian president.

A Russian court on Wednesday issued an international arrest warrant against the former oil tycoon, as Khodorkovsky is now accused of ordering the contract killing of Vladimir Petukhov, the former mayor of the Siberian town of Nefteyugansk, in 1998, Euronews reports. This comes a day after armed police raided the Moscow offices of Khodorkovsky's pro-democracy movement Open Russia.

Khodorkovsky has denied the murder charges and Maria Logan, a spokeswoman quoted by ABC News, said he is currently based in London and is unlikely to turn himself in.