After surge in COVID-19 cases, Spain reinstates restrictions

News Network
July 25, 2020

Madrid, Jul 25: Spain is witnessing a new surge in virus" coronavirus infections with nearly a thousand cases daily, a month after lifting the pandemic lockdown.

The country is reinstating both voluntary guidelines and mandatory restrictions that it had lifted on June 21, The Washington Post reported.

Spain on Wednesday reported over 224 outbreaks and 2,622 virus" coronavirus cases. According to a report in Washington Post, the new surge is attributed primarily to seasonal farmworkers, people attending family get-togethers and nightclub partyers.

On Thursday, the health ministry reported an additional 971 cases.

"The majority are related to fruit collection and also to the spaces where measures to avoid contact are relaxed," Spain Health Minister Salvador Illa told parliament. "We have to call on citizens to not lose respect for the virus not to be afraid of it, but not to lose respect for it either."

The government of Spain lifted all restrictions put in place to combat virus" coronavirus on June 21 and declared 'a new normal'. 

The virus" coronavirus pandemic till then had killed 24,000 people and infected more than 2,70,166.

Countries around the world are witnessing the second surge of virus" coronavirus. The resurgence could threaten the economic bounce Spain was hoping to get from vacationers eager for summer fun.

The surge in cases has been greatest in the northeastern region of Catalonia with more than 7,953 new confirmed cases since July 10.

Spain's National Epidemiological Survey has predicted that the rate of increase more than doubled in the past three weeks.

Meanwhile, the Catalan government reverted to pre-June 21 confinement rules in Barcelona and a dozen other municipalities in the metropolitan area, as well as in Figueras, Vilafant, La Noguera and Lleida.

Authorities have ordered bars and restaurants to limit indoor occupancy to 50 per cent, reduced sports to fewer than 10 people, closed night clubs and gyms and blocked some cultural activities.

The epidemiologist in charge of the region's biggest hospital warned in an interview last week with the Spanish daily El Pais that the situation in the agricultural hub of Lleida, located about 100 miles west of Barcelona, "had clearly gotten out of hand."

"Nobody foresaw that there would be a number of people coming from abroad to pick fruit in unfavourable conditions and that they might be infected," said epidemiologist Magda Campins of Vall d'Hebron in Barcelona. "And when the infections began to be detected, it was hard to keep tabs on the cases and their contacts because some of them, although they should have been in isolation, got away because they needed to earn money."

Catalonia's Department of Labour, Social Affairs and Family is using a hotel in Lleida to quarantine fruit workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are unable to isolate at home.

In the capital of Madrid, which was the epicentre during the pandemic's first wave in the spring, authorities reported 710 new cases in the past week. The use of face masks is widespread, but the region has shied away from making them mandatory in public.

Madrid's regional health secretary, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, defended that position while citing an uptick in infections in the under-40 age group. He told young people not to let down their guard.

"We can't take even one step backwards. Young people have to be aware of the responsibility they have," Ruiz Escudero said in a news conference Thursday. "I ask them to use the face mask and to maintain a safe distance."

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Agencies
October 29,2020

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Washington, Oct 29: "Baloney!", "sham!" and "who the hell are you" scoldings dominated a Senate hearing on Wednesday where the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google took heat in a talking match with US lawmakers over the idea of free speech and alleged anti-conservative bias on the companies' mighty platforms.

The Congressional grilling quickly shifted into the realm of political circus around the social media content moderation dumpster fire.

With less than a week to go for the US election, Republican lawmakers got an earful from critics for the timing of the "sham" hearing.

At the heart of the heated arguments were 26 words tucked away in a 1996 US law - Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 states that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider".

Under American law, Internet firms are typically exempt from liability for content that users post on platforms. President Donald Trump has challenged this via executive order which threatens to strip those protections if online platforms wade into "editorial decisions".

For 3 hours and 42 minutes, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google were at the receiving end of a firehose version of bipartisan alarm over their phenomenal power to influence behaviour at scale.

The Republicans' drumbeat centered on Facebook's and Twitter's decision earlier this month to slam the brakes on an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The story cited unverified emails from Biden's son Hunter.

Trump acolytes jumped on the chance to prove their loyalty. One of them called Twitter's action on the newspaper "a pattern of censorship and silencing Americans with whom Twitter disagrees".

For their part, Twitter, Facebook and Google have struggled to frame exactly how they would intervene and in how many scenarios. And what about content that doesn't fall into their precast rubric or categories of bad stuff? The answers have been less than clear.

Of the three companies, Facebook's sway over behavioural targeting has raised a string of red flags in the context of the US 2020 election.

Multiple lawmakers pushed back against the idea of "unelected San Francisco elites" deciding if content makes the grade or not.

In opening statements, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai spoke to the proposals for changes to Section 230. Zuckerberg said Congress "should update the law to make sure it's working as intended."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that if Google was "acting as a publisher", he would be okay with the company being liable for content published on its platform.

Wednesday's hearing comes barely a week after the US Justice Department's landmark antitrust lawsuit against Google which argues that both advertisers and regular people are harmed by the tech giant's position as "the unchallenged gateway to the Internet for billions of users worldwide."

Warnings abound of the coming restrictions and for the "free pass" to end, maybe on the other side of the election results.

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Agencies
October 21,2020

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Kabul, Oct 21: At least 11 women were trampled to death when a stampede broke out Wednesday among thousands of Afghans waiting in a soccer stadium to get visas to leave the country, officials said.

Gov. Attaullah Khogyani said another 13 people, mostly women, were injured at the stadium in the eastern Nangarhar province, where they were trying to get visas to enter neighbouring Pakistan.

He said most of those who died were elderly people from across Afghanistan.

In a separate incident, at least 34 Afghan police were killed in an ambush by Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan, according to a local hospital official.

Rahim Bakhish Danish, the director of the main hospital in the Takhar province, confirmed receiving 34 bodies and said another eight security forces were wounded.

An Afghan security official said the forces were in a convoy that was ambushed.

The official, who was not authorised to brief media on the event and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said several police Humvees were set ablaze.

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Agencies
October 15,2020

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Washington, Oct 15: The world is experiencing one of the deepest recessions since the Great Depression in the 1930s owing to the novel coronavirus, World Bank President David Malpass has said, terming the COVID-19 pandemic a "catastrophic event" for many developing and the poorest countries.

He told reporters that given the extent of the economic contraction, there was a rising risk of disruptive debt crises in countries.

So that has got a lot of focus here at the meetings, Malpass told the media on Wednesday at the start of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

"The recession has been deep, one of the deepest since the Great Depression. And for many developing countries, and for the people in the poorest countries, it is truly a depression, a catastrophic event. It is continuing to add to the ranks of those in extreme poverty," he said.

That is the focus of this meeting and the focus of their actions, he said, adding that the World Bank was building as big a growth programme for countries as they can in this fiscal year.

A day earlier, the Board approved the extension of the health emergency programmes to up to USD 12 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and distribution of those in countries that do not otherwise have access.

Responding to a question, Malpass said that the world was currently experiencing a K-shaped recovery.

That means that the advanced economies have been able to provide support, especially for their financial markets and for people that have jobs that can be done by working from home. But people that are in the informal economy have lost their jobs, and are depending on social protection programmes, he said.

For the developing countries, and especially the poorest developing countries, that downward leg in the K is an increasingly desperate recession or depression that is facing people in the poorest countries because of the loss of jobs, the loss of income, and also the loss of remittances coming from workers, working outside the country, Malpass said.

"What we're trying to do at the World Bank is recognise that problem and provide extra support for social protection for the poorest in countries, also recognising the agricultural challenges," he said.

The president welcome countries that are keeping open their export markets, and also countries that are able to change their subsidy systems in order to allow more food availability within their economies during this very challenging time.

Malpass said that the first priority was saving lives, people's health, and safety.

That involves procedures that have been widely discussed of social distancing and masks and proper health care if people contract the virus, strengthening of hospital systems and so on. All of those are important, he asserted.

"And then, as we look at the next stage, what I think we can be talking about is that it's going to be a prolonged downturn for many of the countries, there won't be as fast a rebound in tourism, for example, as many would like to have," he said.

There will need to be flexibility in economies, so that people can move to new jobs and positions, and the country can be prepared for a post COVID-19 global economy, Malpass said.

Acknowledging that it is going to be different from the pre-COVID-19 economy, he noted that one does not know exactly how and that will only evolve over time.

"And so, having countries preserve some of their core industries and businesses, and then keeping families together. We're providing social safety nets to try to help provide cash grants for people, for example, in Brazil, we have a sizable programme. In Jordan, we support Jordan's sizable programme and elsewhere around the world, he said.

The World Bank is encouraging countries to spend in the first instance on health programmes, on social programmes, and on education, Malpass said, adding that a critical step for countries is to reopen schools.

"We think there are as many as a billion children still out of school in the developing world. And in those cases, learning goes backward, which has a huge future cost for countries. This is particularly true for girls that are left out at a critical point in their lives, left out of school. That's a high priority, he said.

Now, looking longer term, infrastructure is a very important part of a country's growth, he said.

"We have a large undertaking through the IFC that works on infrastructure that helps provide electricity and low carbon ways, for example, that helps provide clean water, that helps provide global public goods, meaning helping the country reach a balance with the environment and with the climate that benefits themselves and their neighbours. All of those are key priorities, he said.

On infrastructure, one of the challenges is they have a very low interest rate environment, and it should be an environment that provides much more infrastructure investment than is currently occurring, Malpass said.

"A key step in this is the documentation and the standardisation of the quality of the infrastructure projects. It's vital that the world move toward a financing structure where multiple infrastructure projects can be pooled in order to reduce the risk to the entire package, and that's difficult right now because of the difference in the contracts.

"So, one of the things we've wanted to do is try to help standardise some of the contracting and make it much more transparent. This will help the infrastructure build up, he said.

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