When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Xinhua News Agency is a state-owned press agency of the People's Republic of China founded in 1931. Based in Beijing, it publishes articles online and broadcasts through radio and television.
Inside Milan metro

The World's Cities Get Ready To Take Public Transport Again

Fewer seats, fewer trains, more masks. A quick world tour from Milan to Paris, Beijing to Tehran finds the wheels (tentatively) ready to roll on subways and buses.

As countries loosen lockdown restrictions, one key to getting life and the economy back up and running is how to be sure people can (safely) get around.

Cities in particular face the tricky puzzle of public transportation in the face of the acutely contagious nature of COVID-19. How can people respect social distancing inside packed buses and subways? But as the clamor to restart shutdown economies grows louder, countries and cities are busy implementing new rules. Here is how four major cities around the world are adapting public transports:

  • Milan: The capacity of the Italian city's subway will be reduced by up to 30%, carrying just around 350,000 passengers a day instead of 1.3 million, reports Corriere della Sera. The access to train and metro stations will also be controlled and limited from May 4, when the lockdown starts to loosen. The city is also testing solutions to help people respecting social distancing, like putting red stickers on the floor to tell them how far apart to stand. Many seats will be removed as well, which will divide by two the numbers of passengers in the same car.

  • Paris: France recently unveiled its plans to gradually end the lockdown beginning May 11, including new rules for the RATP, the state-owned public transport operator in the region of Paris and its daily 12 million travelers. Like in Milan, the use of face masks will be compulsory and markings on the ground will be used to make passengers respect safety distances. But contrary to the Italian city, traffic will increase. For Prime Minister Edouard Philippe public transport is a "key measure for the economic recovery" and therefore, he required the RATP to increase traffic to 70%, as it had been functioning at only 30% of its capacity in March and April, according to Le Parisien.

A staff member disinfecting a subway train carriage in Beijing — Photo: Chen Zeguo/Xinhua/ZUMA

  • Beijing: Beijing metro was one of the firsts to test high-resolution sensing cameras which can identify whether passengers are wearing masks. Now the Chinese capital is lowering its restrictions from the top level to the second level starting April 30 and is going to increase traffic in public transportation. According to Xinhua, the maximum allowable passenger capacity will be raised from 50% of full capacity to 75% on buses and to 65% on subway trains. However, the buses and subway carriages will still need to be disinfected and ventilated regularly and all passengers will be required to wear masks and have their temperatures taken. Eating in public transport has also been banned, as Beijing has implemented a new set of regulations to promote "civilized behaviour" and improve public hygiene.

  • Tehran: As the Iranian capital increasingly returns to work, the head Tehran's anti-coronavirus task force, Alireza Zaali, estimated that 570,000 people using public transport each day, ILNA reported. But in a separate report, the agency cited Zaali as saying that only half of metro passengers are currently using masks and gloves. The city council is debating the "mechanics' of enforcing the obligatory use of face masks, the daily Hamshahri reported. Some have suggested the government sell cheap masks to transport users at metro stations and bus terminals.

Watch VideoShow less
The debate over electronic privacy has been escalating in the West
Jeff Israely

Will You Give Up Your Privacy To Go Outside?

For most of human history, the best way to protect personal privacy was to simply stay at home. Lock yourself in your room, or the proverbial closet, and nobody can find out a thing. In little more than a decade, those walls and doors have vanished as digital technology invites us to take large chunks of our lives online. Without ever leaving home (or while scrolling our smartphones in an empty forest), we are now vulnerable to a world of connected spies, data miners, identity usurpers, trackers and any number of other private and public-sector violators of what we hold to be confidential information.

The debate over electronic privacy has been escalating ever since in the West: from Edward Snowden's accusations against the state, to those aimed at commercial tech giants like Facebook and Amazon, to the rogue producers of deep fakes and other nefarious trolls. Meanwhile, authoritarian governments — exposed momentarily to the power of the internet to drive dissent — have quickly taken the upper hand in using digital technology as a tool for control. Yes, until two months ago, the lines on the privacy question seemed drawn quite clearly.

Leave it to a highly contagious and lethal disease to quickly blur those lines. With countries in the West preparing to ease unprecedented national and regional shutdowns, officials are looking to include a range of required (or at least strongly urged) digital testing and tracking tools to limit new outbreaks of COVID-19. Mobile phone applications that force people to share personal health data and reveal their location and other forms of relinquishing control of their personal information are now considered integral to ensuring that normal life can begin to resume. We're told it worked in South Korea and China, where concerns about data privacy are either less ingrained in the culture, or simply smothered by the authorities.

All of this may be bringing that old trade-off full circle: If you really want to protect your privacy, you must again stay inside. Let's ponder that alongside the even more pressing worry about preserving our very lives if we venture outside.

None of these tensions are easy to resolve, especially with so little truly known about the nature of this virus. What is the immediate risk of being in public places? What is the longer-term price of keeping our economies on hold? When will it all be over?

Meanwhile, longer-lasting moral questions, like privacy, hover just above it all. For now, a sense of tentative pragmatism seems to prevail, as a crisis of this magnitude prompts citizens to put their fate in the hands of the state for lack of any other viable solution. So if the government says so, most people are probably prepared to share some of their personal information to feel safer — we have, after all, gotten used to knowing that our data is being shared and our smartphone maps know where we are. But after two months of quarantine, one thing we're not used to right now: Going outside.

Watch VideoShow less
Slow Clap, Xi Jinping style...

April Fools' Day Is No Joke In China

BEIJING — This is not a joke. Chinese citizens who'd like to lay some harmless April Fools' Day pranks are hereby warned: "This is illegal." Such is the official message published by Xinhua Viewpoint, the Chinese government's microblogging account.

"April Fool's Day does not conform to our country's cultural traditions and core socialist values. We hope that the public do not believe in rumors, do not spread rumors, and do not pass on rumors." noted the Xinhua Viewpoint Friday morning, with a caricature showing two mobile phones titled "illegal" with a man's hand pointing to two other bubbles reading "Forward" and "Rumor."

Naturally, in the surprisingly freewheeling space of Chinese social media, there was plenty of fun to have with the official line. "This is the most profound April Fool Day's joke," said one blogger.

Another concurred, with a nod to the "humor" of the evening news broadcast: "We don't need this celebration since we Chinese can have the fun every evening at 6 p.m."

Apart from posting the illustration and the note of warning, the Xinhua also published a commentary piece saying that April Fool Day interests only "a very small minority" of the public, and that "Chinese people generally have a more serious attitude towards festivals and celebrations which are rarely pure entertainment."