Michaela Kozminova

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Geopolitics

Traditional Chinese Medicine At The Service of Xi Jinping

At the heart of Beijing's health diplomacy, traditional Chinese medicine accounts for nearly 30% of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry's turnover, and anyone who criticizes it could be punished.

-Analysis-

BEIJING — It's official. The Chinese people have a strong ally in the "war" against coronavirus: traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The white paper published by the government on June 7, "Fighting Covid-19, China in Action," devotes several paragraphs to this form of medicine, described as having a "unique strength." Although China certainly employs Western medicine, "Chinese herbal formulas and medicines have been used in 92% of confirmed cases," the white paper says.

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Geopolitics

Coronavirus Lies Backfire On Belarus Strongman Lukashenko

People are taking to the streets in a challenge to the country's long-serving president, Alexander Lukashenko, who expects to win a sixth term in next month's elections.

-Analysis-

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus can't, by his own admission, afford to behave democratically. "I could lose the whole country," the long-serving leader said after the recent arrests of several opposition presidential candidates.

In the meantime, police are arresting participants in peaceful demonstrations. Journalists have been detained as well — live on air. Lukashenko has an explanation for that as well: It's to thwart an international conspiracy aimed at destabilizing the country before the presidential election.

Why all this if, until recently, authorities let the demonstrations take place without intervention?

It's because the leadership sees that after 26 years of one-man rule, people are running out of patience, especially in light of Lukashenko's approach to the pandemic, which his government completely denied until recently. The president is worried, therefore, about the elections — afraid that they may not go according to plan.

Belarusians compare the government's attitude towards the COVID-19 pandemic to the Chernobyl tragedy. In both cases, there was an information vacuum, a total lack of transparency, and people died unnecessarily as a result.

Empty Minsk — Photo: Darya Tryfanava

To prevent coronavirus infection, Lukashenko advised citizens to follow personal hygiene habits. He said that from time to time, people should "disinfect themselves from the inside with something stronger." They should drink vodka, in other words. He also said they should work — especially in the fields.

Lukashenko described the virus as a psychosis and let the police arrest opposition media that criticized the inaction of the authorities and questioned the government's coronavirus statistics.

In the beginning of April, he still claimed that no one in the country would die of coronavirus. The World Health Organization recommended that Belarus introduce limits on gatherings. But with no state of emergency declared, people kept going to work, schools or stadiums to watch soccer matches. Belarus was also the only post-Soviet country to hold a military parade marking the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The event attracted mass participation.

As of June 22, the virus infected approximately 60,000 in Belarus and killed 340. The number is based on official statistics, which are probably strongly underestimated.

The assumption was that people will be too busy with the pandemic to pay much attention to politics.

The government's hands-off approach to the pandemic resulted in the country taking practically no action. The disease spread rapidly as a result, and instead of informing the public, official information providers equivocate.

Evidence has emerged that doctors are forced to falsify the causes of death on death certificates. As in Russia, pneumonia is the most reported cause instead of coronavirus. The only verifiable evidence of the current situation in the country are overcrowded hospitals and testimonies from medics and families of victims, who are intimidated by the authorities to remain silent.

The government decided to take advantage of the situation and hastily announced a date for the presidential election: August 9. The assumption was that people will be too busy with the pandemic to pay much attention to politics, and that everything would thus play out as usual, that Lukashenko would win yet another term — his sixth.

Since then, however, people have taken to the streets, and in larger numbers than in the buildup to past presidential elections. Many of the participants are people who had previously supported Lukashenko or were not interested in politics. The protesters claim to represent 97% of the country, since according to independent surveys, Lukashenko's popularity has dropped to just 3%. This number has become a symbol of the current demonstrations.

The three most prominent opposition presidential candidates in this year's election are blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, former director of the Belgazprombank Viktor Babaryko, and former diplomat Valery Cepkalo. The first two were arrested before they finished collecting signatures for their candidacy, after authorities "found" compromising material during house searches. They risk several years behind bars.

Opposition candidate Viktor Babaryko — Photo: Official Instagram

Immediately afterwards, two other candidates voluntarily resigned from the election race. Tikhanovsky's signatures, which must reach at least 100,000 for registration, were taken over by his wife Svetlana, who was threatened by the Belarusian authorities that her children would be taken away right after announcing her candidacy.

Babaryko, who has by far the most support and collected almost half a million signatures, was arrested together with his son on their way to the Central Election Commission, where they were taking more signature sheets for candidacy registration. Also, Belarusian criminal authorities launched an investigation into Belgazprombank's leadership for corruption and financial embezzlement. Babaryko ran the bank for 20 years before resigning in May to run in the presidential election.

In response to the intimidation of opposition candidates, Belarusians braved a heavy rain last month to form a human chain of solidarity that stretched several kilometers along the main avenue in Minsk. Every day, the chain extends to other cities and passing cars honk in solidarity. The movement involves everyone from students to retirees.

Security forces arrest people regardless of age, and sometimes non-uniformed men are seen cramming protesters into unmarked cars. A journalist at Radio Freedom, Alexandra Dynka, was detained together with a cameraman while filming a live report from the demonstrations. During the peak of the protests, the regime also turned off mobile data so people could not share the events online.

Frustrations built up over many years are boiling over.

There is a sense of tension and frustration in Belarusian society across all its layers. The coronavirus crisis has opened the eyes of those who typically shunned politics, even if they knew already that the regime is corrupt and dishonest. What changed is the painful realization that the state has been unable and unwilling to provide its citizens with the basic protections and treatments needed in the pandemic. That's what drove a record number of people into the streets.

Officials, as a result, see themselves on the edge of the same abyss that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Armenian leader Sergeant Sargsjan fell into recently. Exacerbating the situation even more are Lukashenko's claims about exposing an international terrorist center plotting a coup, his use of derogatory names to insult opponents, and comments about how Central Asian rulers bring order to their countries with assault rifles in their hands.

The authorities are trying to intimidate the population, but frustrations built up over many years are boiling over. So far the movement shows no signs of abating, because in the prevailing opinion, the situation cannot get any worse, especially with a global economic crisis approaching.

Belarus is completely unprepared, and the public knows it. No one is convinced by Lukashenko's claims that "tomorrow will be better." Instead, those kinds of shabby phrases just make people angrier still.

What's also certain is that the regime will cheat in the August elections, and that it will not allow any major opposition candidate to participate. Everything else will depend on the level of violence the regime will resort to and how angry Belarusians really are.

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CLARIN

Work → In Progress: Designing A Post-Pandemic Future

Let's not forget that well before COVID-19, we often referred to the "revolution" underway in the workplace. Automation, digitalization, climate change and other seismic shifts were bringing upon major changes in the ways we work. Now, the economy — and life— as we know it seem more unpredictable than ever.

Yet after several months of living with the current pandemic, clear trends have emerged. Around the world, living rooms have become home offices, seminars have become webinars, and industries that have nothing to do with medicine are dependent on a vaccine.

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Coronavirus

Paris To Prague: A Czech Homecoming And Quarantine Au Revoir

PRAGUE — As I walked down Avenue René Coty on a sunny day in late May, everything was like a Paris postcard — except that my glasses were fogging up over my facemask. But I knew the scenery by heart by then, as I had never left a one-kilometer radius around my student residence during the two-month French national lockdown.

By the end of May, we were two weeks into the "de-confinement" and Parisians could move freely without a piece of paper certifying the purpose, date and time of their outing. But the streets were far quieter than normal as I walked down the stairs into the virtual empty metro station for the first time in three months. A guard at the entrance checked my (homemade) mask and stopped others who didn't have one. Another guard, who helped me get my large suitcase through the turnstile, wished me bon voyage. He guessed right: I was on my way to Charles de Gaulle airport ... and a flight back to my hometown of Prague.

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Geopolitics

The Problem With Trimming The U.S. Military Presence In Germany

The chief foreign policy correspondent for Die Welt chimes in on Trump's decision to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany from 35,000 to 25,000.

-OpEd-

BERLIN — That's the thing with emotional acts: Often you can understand where they come, but ultimately they're counterproductive. Such is the case with the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany that Donald Trump confirmed on Monday and presented as a kind of punitive action for Germany's failure to meet NATO spending expectations.

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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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Coronavirus

After COVID-19 Cut, Global Film Industry Looks To Bounce Back

No crisis has ever hit the entire film industry as badly as the coronavirus lockdown. With sets empty, movie premieres postponed, screenings canceled and box offices closed, the global film industry has been largely frozen in time — and revenue. Even as activity is gradually resuming, it will take time for the movie business to recover and when it does, the cinema landscape may never be quite the same – either on set or on screens.

The Cannes Film Festival unveiled its 56 Official Selection titles by live stream Wednesday evening in Paris, two weeks after the 2020 Cannes edition was originally due to run on its iconic red carpet. Despite the lack of physical event and the delay, the Festival's chief Thierry Frémaux told Le Monde that COVID-19 couldn't be allowed to destroy the event completely. "If the Festival couldn't take its usual form, we needed to present it another way — but never would it disappear."

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food / travel

A Recovery Recipe For French Restaurants

Some of the country's eateries may not survive. Others are having to adapt — and quickly — to a still uncertain scenario.

PARIS — You're sitting at a table with your loved ones — inside a transparent bubble. The head waiter approaches, but not too close. He's wearing white gloves and a mask. He doesn't hand you a card, but a QR Code, and invites you to download the menu to your smartphone.

As surreal as it sounds, you may soon experience this scene in your favorite restaurant. But that, of course, is assuming the eatery has survived the past two months. What began on March 14 — the day professionals learned at 8 p.m. that they'd have to close the curtain at midnight — is nothing less than the sector's worst crisis in history, and the numbers have been dramatic indeed.

The French Union of Professions and Industries in the Hotel Business (UMIH) estimates that out of the 160,000 catering outlets in France, some 100,000 would be doomed in the absence of a support plan. "Most of the restaurants are very small businesses, and their cash flow represents barely two days' takings," warns Hervé Becam, the association's vice-president.

Bernard Boutboul, the founder of the Gira consulting agency and a specialist in the sector, says that if the closure were to last until mid-June, as has been rumored, at least 20% of the restaurants — about 40,000 in total — would disappear. Other sources say that "only" 10% of the establishments will fail.

We need, of course, to remain cautious in our forecasts, as there are so many uncertainties. The future of restaurants will depend on the willingness of customers to return, but also on the political decisions taken, and not just with regards to when exactly establishments will be allowed to reopen. There are also decisions to be made on hygiene rules, for example, and on when tourists will be allowed back into the country.

And it's not just a problem France. In the United States, industry guru Roger Lipton is already talking about "carnage," with 3 million jobs lost. In Canada, there are estimates that in March alone, 10% of the country's restaurants have already closed down.

Switching gears

After the lockdown went into effect, many cooks decided to make themselves useful and mobilized to offer meals to hospitals. Among the most effective initiatives, it is worth mentioning "Les chefs avec les soignants," the operation concocted by the chef of the Elysée Palace, Guillaume Gomez, with the journalist Stéphane Méjanès. Supported by the start-up TipToque (for logistics), Rungis Market, Transgourmet and Métro, dozens of cooks have been treating nurses, doctors and care assistants for over a month.

At the same time, chefs try to keep in touch with their customers through social media. On Instagram, Guy Martin, the double-starred chef at Le Grand Véfour, creates easy recipes from his own kitchen. Also on Instagram, Bruno Verjus, a star in Paris, tells engaging stories of gastronomy every day. Amandine Chaignot, a former "Masterchef" juror on TF1, has transformed her young restaurant Pouliche, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, into a small producers' market as a way of ensuring at least some revenue for her suppliers.

Restaurant owners are also, of course, scrambling to save their businesses. The most enlightened, aware of the fate of their European or American colleagues, recognize that the State is here to help.

ZUMA_french_restaurants_coronavirus_inside

A woman sweeps the path to a closed restaurant in Monmartre in Paris. Photo: Gao Jing/ZUMA

"We are lucky to be French!" says Yannick Alléno, the three-star chef of the Pavillon Ledoyen and Cheval Blanc in Courchevel. "We thank the Government, which is doing its best in every way. We were able to benefit immediately from state-guaranteed loans and partial unemployment so that we didn't have to lay off staff."

Grateful but worried, restaurateurs are constantly defending their cause in front of public authorities, banks and insurers. The latter have sparked anger in the profession, reminding without batting an eyelid that the business interruption coverage does not apply to the pandemic. The UMIH is furious with the insurers, and has asked for a special support fund, which they say should be financed by a future premium surcharge. This surcharge would protect the restaurant sector against a new health crisis in the future.

To address all these concerns, the French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, organized a videoconference meeting on April 20 between restaurant owners and bank and insurance company representatives. During this exchange, the minister invited everyone — including insurers — to act in a spirit of solidarity, and asked Sébastien Bazin, the president of AccorHotels, to propose conditions under which restaurants could resume their normal activities.

But this is a delicate subject. The sector will be one of the few not allowed to reopen on May 11. Authorities say it would be too risky from a health perspective, given the exchanges and contacts between people, whether employees or customers. Irritated, some do not understand why schools would be safer than their establishments. For others, the uncertainty and waiting become unbearable.

"You can't imagine how much we're all in a hurry to get back to our customers," says André Terrail, the young boss of La Tour d'Argent in Paris. "Our job is a play that, in principle, never stops."

Rules of engagement

Led by Alain Ducasse and some 15 Michelin-starred chefs, the Culinary College of France — which brings together 1,800 restaurateurs and nearly 1,000 quality producers — has called for restaurant businesses to be allowed to reopen May 11 if they make commitments on hygiene, and on two other points: that they choose French suppliers and craftspeople, and that they maintain as many jobs as possible.

This call did not please everyone, including some within the Culinary College. The most "virtuous' — the top restaurants, in other words —would be favored. Only they would be able to invest in expensive equipment, keep their staff and buy from small quality producers. Another objection: Wouldn't it be dangerous to reopen too soon?

Our job is a play that, in principle, never stops.

In fact, the call by the Culinary College succeeded in placing the reopening schedule at the center of the debate. So much so that on April 24, a new meeting was held with representatives of the restaurant and hotel industries, only this time in the presence of President Emmanuel Macron. What better way to show the commitment of the government than a two-hour videoconference involving the head of state and three ministers? The president did not announce a date, but he did talk about a method and means.

"He has announced new support measures, but also a recovery plan and an intelligent timetable," said Alain Ducasse.

The official date for the reopening will be decided at the end of May, depending on the evolution of the epidemic.

In any case, we need to prepare for this reopening. The tables will have to be far away from each other, which will reduce the turnover. Not too serious at the start, since tourists — who can account for up to half of the turnover — will be absent. Work in the kitchen and dining room will also be reorganized to avoid contagion.

Alain Ducasse is already working on getting his establishments up and running and is thinking about the rules that everyone will have to follow, at least for several months. Masks, gel and foot baths in restaurants, even the starred ones?

"Yes, we will have to!" answers one of the most renowned chefs in the world and "godfather" of French gastronomy. "We must move towards transparency about what we eat and with whom we eat," he adds. "We are going to draw up perfectly rigorous measures that we will undertake to respect. The worst thing would be to have to close down two months after starting up again!"

The problem is that the rules of hygiene and social distancing are at odds with the conviviality of a restaurant, and even more so of a big restaurant. David Sinapian, president of the Grandes Tables du Monde network, conducted a small survey. While most customers fear having to hold a menu between their fingers that could sicken them, they unanimously reject the idea of staff in the dining room wearing masks.

"We can offer a digital menu, serve dishes in gloves, but we can't medicalize the gastronomy," explains David Sinapian. "A restaurant is not an operating theater!"

In South Korea, which is a month ahead in the pandemic's evolution, some new hygiene solutions are already in place. "In my restaurant in Seoul, we have reopened 30 out of 150 seats, and installed a 4-meter carpet that disinfects the shoes of customers entering," says Yannick Alléno. "There is gel at the entrance, and the clothes in the cloakroom are stored under plastic wrap."

As François Blouin of Food Service Vision explains: "Restaurants will have to do even better on hygiene and know how to prove it. But where they will really have to innovate is on "contactless conviviality" and on their ability to open up to takeaways and deliveries."

As it stands now, few restaurants, especially the chic ones, offer their dishes as take-aways. First, because the Deliveroo, Uber Eats or Just Eat platforms charge a comfortable commission (around 25%) and collect customers' contact information. And second, because it is not always rewarding for a prestigious establishment to be featured on the app alongside local supermarkets. But there are ways to avoid these digital giants — by using the services Rapidle or Stuart, for example.

In the longer term, the pandemic could transform consumers' relationship with restaurants. Most leading chefs are considering narrowing their menus to reduce costs without compromising quality. Mathieu Viannay from Lyon knows that he won't reopen La Mère Brazier in the same way. "Several menus with many choices and 35 employees? It will no longer be possible!"

Anne-Sophie Pic, the most starred woman in the world and head of the Pic group based in Valence, is also thinking about getting rid of her long menu. Why not consider dining as a show? Going to dinner in a three-star restaurant could be an experience where customers are guided from arrival to departure. But some are not convinced: "Of course, we can reduce the menu to three starters, three main courses and three desserts. But as a customer, I wouldn't like to have it imposed this way," says Eric Frenchon, the chef at three-star Epicure in Paris.

Will the experience of confinement lead customers to be wiser? Will they call for a more locally focused, more responsible, more planet-friendly catering? "I have been advocating for years that we eat less meat, but of better quality, and that our plates give pride of place to vegetable proteins," says Alain Ducasse.

"We took this direction 10 years ago," he adds. "When I reopen, I will offer our customers a welcome dish, the same one in all my restaurants around the world. It will be based on locally grown vegetables and cereals, without salt or fat, served at the right temperature."

And that, after these most difficult of months, really is something to look forward to.

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Geopolitics

Coronavirus And The Czech Republic's Geopolitical Crossroads

-Analysis-

PRAGUE — From a geopolitical perspective, the Czech Republic is a case apart. After four decades of being "abducted" to the East (as writer Milan Kundera, for one, described the era of Soviet communism), it has spent 30 years as part of the West, first as part of Czechoslovakia, with its Velvet Revolution, and later as an independent state and member of both NATO and the European Union. But in recent years, part of the country's political elite and a large part of society have repeatedly questioned our affiliation with the West.

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GREEK REPORTER

How The World Of Design Is Embracing The New Normal

Around the world, creative minds are coming up with bright (or at least, new) ideas to help people stay germ-free while returning to work, school or travel.

Countries around the world may gradually be easing their lockdowns, but it's increasingly apparent that "normal" is still a long way off. To limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, there needs to be continued social distancing in all aspects of our lives, from school and work to dining and leisure activities. And keeping up with these changes, people are realizing, requires some major new ideas and innovations in design.

  • After allowing shops to begin reopening, Germany is hoping to soon give bars and restaurants the green light as well. But that raises a tricky question: How to make eating out compatible with the new social distancing measures? One restaurant owner thinks he has the answer. The man, originally from Greece, created a new type of face mask that includes a zipper, which diners can simply open and close every time they want to take a bite or a sip. The creator told the Greek Reporter that a large company already expressed interest in producing and marketing his innovation.

  • Social distancing is also, of course, a concern in schools, which are gradually resuming activities in various countries around the globe. Face masks are one option. But in China, pupils at Yangzheng School in Hangzhou returned to classes with an even more eye-catching accessory: "social distancing hats," with a one-meter-long pole jutting out the sides. Have a look here.

  • For people in search of an even greater level of protection, a design studio in Italy has created a prototype for the ultimate social-distancing gear: a personal inflatable bubble. The item, developed by the studio DesignLibero, is made of a fluorine-based plastic and runs on solar energy, the website Daily Geek Show explains. Like something of science fiction, the bubble also contains a compressor and ventilator that purify and filter the air inside. Take that coronavirus!

  • ABC Displays in Bogota, Colombia created a bed that can be converted into a coffin to deal with the influx of corpses. While it's made almost entirely out of cardboard, it is strong enough to hold the weight of a body. The company used cardboard because it is cheap and widely available material: Each bed costs less than $100. The first 10 will be donated to Colombia's Amazon region, one of the parts of the country worst hit by the pandemic.

  • Air travel is another area where social distancing makes sense, but is easier said than done. With that in mind, the Italian firm Aviointeriors​ has a simple but potentially effective idea: reverse the middle seat to ensure maximum isolation between passengers. Another concept being floated these days, according to the industry publication Flight Global reports, is to install a bubble of transparent material above each seat that encases the passenger's head and shoulders.

The Aviointeriors plane seat design that respects social distancing. — Photo: Aviointeriors

  • Planes, schools and restaurants aren't the only places germs spread. People can also get sick in their own homes — just by touching a dirty doorknob, for example. One way to stay heathy, in other words, is to keep hands off handles, which is why a number of designers are working on simple and attachable door-opening prototypes. A Welsh designer invented a hands-free door pull that works like an "arm extension." And in Belgium, a firm figured out that by fastening a pair of specially designed, 3D-printed pieces over an existing handle, people can easily open the door with an elbow.

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Geopolitics

West Berlin To Hong Kong, When Freedom Is At Stake

After months of quiet amid the COVID-19 crisis, Hong Kong demonstrators attended an unauthorized rally this weekend to protest Beijing’s proposed security law that would tighten China’s control over the island territory. Police repeatedly fired tear gas,

BERLIN — Germany is facing the biggest crisis in post-War history … So why should we be interested in Hong Kong right now? Quite simply because the threat Hong Kong is currently facing is even greater than the pandemic. Germany and Europe will eventually defeat the virus, we will survive the economic crisis, and at some point, move on to a brighter future. However, this will only happen if our greatest achievement — freedom — is not lost along the way. And that's exactly what is at stake in Hong Kong.


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BBC

From Poland To Uruguay, What The Pandemic Means For Abortion

Across the globe, swamped hospitals and shelter-in-place measures have impacted people's access to healthcare for any number of non-COVID-19 issues. One of them is abortion, a time sensitive procedure that is also — even the best of times — both emotionally and politically charged.

Now, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, some countries have used emergency decrees to change their policies related to pregnancy terminations. While several have extended access to abortions in an effort to ease pressure on women and guarantee their rights, others have seen the situation as an opportunity to make abortions more difficult to access.

  • In Poland, which has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, access to pregnancy terminations is now becoming even more difficult as women cannot easily travel to another country to undergo abortion. On top of that, Polish President Andrzej Duda backed in a citizen's bill last month that would outlaw abortion even when the fetus is malformed, the Catholic weekly Niedziela reported. So far, terminations in Poland have only been allowed when the fetus is malformed, the health or life of the mother is endangered, or in the event of rape or incest – with the first reason accounting for most in-country terminations. Although the bill was not passed, it was not rejected either, and is now idling in a parliamentary commission.

  • France: With overwhelmed hospitals and strict lockdown measures that until this week forced people to stay home, rights groups have raised concerns about the difficulty of accessing abortions during the epidemic, warning that some women would have to wait past the legal date. Under the normal, pre-pandemic circumstances, women can ask for prescribed abortion pills and take them at home up to seven weeks after their last menstruation, or up to nine weeks under medical supervision. But in early April, the French Health authority extended access to the medication at home up to nine weeks, to guarantee women's rights to access abortion during the epidemic and to avoid as much as possible that they go into a health facility, reported Le Parisien.

  • In the United States, abortion by telemedicine is expanding rapidly as several states, including Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, suspended access to surgical abortions during the crisis, adding abortions on a list of "non-essential" procedures, The New York Times reported. The limited access to abortion means that many women must travel much further to abortion clinics, sometimes to different states where restrictions are milder. But with traveling also close to impossible, women resort more and more to "TelAbortion," a program that has been operating as a research study for several years and which allows women to have video consultations with certified doctors and then receive abortion pills by mail to take on their own. Concerned about the program's growth, Republican senators recently introduced a bill to ban it.

  • As a result of the pandemic, human rights organizations in Germany have warned that women might not be able to visit counseling centers, which is one of the conditions for legal abortion in the country. Access to abortion is also in danger due to the shortened opening hours of these centers, travel restrictions, shortage of medical personnel, lack of protective equipment and the fact that many doctors who perform abortions are at risk because of their age, reports Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Women's Day Manifa march in Warsaw on March 8 — Photo: Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/ZUMA

  • The abortion issue is also making waves in Uruguay, one of just two countries in Latin America that allows women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy. Abortion was legalized there in 2012, during the presidency of José Mujic (2010-2015), a leftist. But the country's new president, conservative Luis Lacalle Pou, opposes the practice, and in his inaugural address, on March 1, talked about defending the rights of "those who have no voice…the 10,000 children in this country who aren't born." Two months later, in a May 4 videoconference, the president reiterated his opposition to abortion, but also said he respects the laws of the land as they stand, the Uruguayan daily El País reports.

  • In Colombia, a high-profile court case linked to the country's decades-long civil war turned public attention to the issue of forced abortion. On May 11, a court in Pereira sentenced a man named Héctor Albeidis Arboleda Buitrago to more than 40 years in prison for carrying out numerous abortions, including on minors, at the behest of armed rebel groups. "El Enfermero" (The Nurse), as he's known, sold his services to different guerilla organizations over the course of seven years (1997-2004), the Colombian daily El Tiempo reports.

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