Author: Fworld

Denmark Imposes New COVID-19 Restrictions as Virus Cases Surge

Denmark’s prime minister announced Friday new COVID-19-related restrictions after a resurgence of coronavirus infections in recent weeks.
 
At a news conference in Copenhagen, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Denmark will lower the limit on public gatherings to 50 people, down from 100, and bars and restaurants will close at 10 p.m. She said both measures will take effect Saturday and stay in effect until October 4.
 
In recent weeks, Frederiksen said, Denmark has seen daily infections rise after a relaxing of lockdown measures imposed between March and May. She said 454 new coronavirus infections had been registered in Denmark over the prior 24 hours, close to an April record of 473.  
 
The prime minister said the COVID-19 reproduction rate, which indicates how many people one infected person on average transmits the virus to, is at 1.5 in the country.  
 
Denmark is part of a growing list of European countries re-imposing or tightening COVID-19 restrictions in the face of surging infections rates that follow relaxed lockdown measures.
 
Britain, France and Spain have all locked down regions or at least tightened restrictions in targeted areas after seeing cases surge this week. British Health Minister Matt Hancock said a second nationwide lockdown could happen if cases continue to surge.
 

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Drug Shows Promise in 1st Largely Minority COVID-19 Study

A drug company said Friday that a medicine it sells to tamp down inflammation has helped prevent the need for breathing machines in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the first large study that primarily enrolled Hispanics and Blacks.Switzerland-based Roche reported the results for tocilizumab, sold now as Actemra and RoActemra for treating rheumatoid arthritis and some other diseases. The company said it would quickly publish the results, which have not yet been reviewed by independent scientists, and would speak with regulators about next steps.The drug, given through an IV, tamps down a protein called interleukin-6 that’s often found in excess in COVID-19 patients. It failed in a previous study that tested it in people more severely ill from the coronavirus. The new study was done in the United States, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. About 85% of the 389 participants were Hispanic, Black, Native American or other ethnic or racial minorities. These groups have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.About 12% given the drug needed a breathing machine or died within 28 days versus about 19% of patients given a placebo.Looked at separately, there were fewer deaths among those on the drug — 8.6% versus 10.4% on placebo — but the difference was too small to say it might not have been due to chance.It’s unclear how the results will be viewed; another drug that works in a similar way failed in an experiment rigorously testing it in COVID-19 patients but some less scientific, observational studies have suggested benefit.This is the third time this week that companies have announced positive results from studies testing COVID treatments via press releases. Companies often are required to disclose results that could affect their financial situation.On Monday, Eli Lilly reported benefits from a study testing its anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib when combined with the antiviral drug remdesivir. On Wednesday, it said interim results from very early testing suggested that its experimental antibody drug showed promise for helping clear the virus and possibly reducing the need for hospitalization in mild to moderately ill patients.

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Stage Set for Post-COVID Battle Among European Heads, Hands and Hearts

Populist-ruled countries the United States, Brazil, Mexico, India and Britain are among the worst impacted, so far, in terms of coronavirus cases and deaths, prompting commentators and analysts to argue the pandemic could mark the beginning of the end for populism, whether of the political left or right.But in Europe, recent polling by the Politico Europe newspaper suggests liberal and establishment opponents would be premature in writing off populism. Support for populist parties has remained relatively stable since the pandemic struck the continent and there are signs that skepticism about the European Union, a key populist issue, is rising rather than ebbing.And in Europe, with the exception of Britain, populist governments in some countries, including Poland, Hungary and Austria, have been credited with doing a good job in curbing viral transmission and keeping deaths low, undermining establishment claims that populism has mismanaged the pandemic.A new book by British author and political commentator David Goodhart suggests post-pandemic populism is likely to remain a transfiguring political force for some time. In “Head Hand Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century,” Goodhart, an analyst at Policy Exchange, a London-based research organization, argues “status inequality” will continue to drive a political rebellion that has already led to Brexit and the upending or disruption of establishment parties from Italy to Germany.In a previous book, “The Road to Somewhere,” published in 2017, Goodhart placed the roots of populism in a conflict over values, dividing voters into two groups. Those in the larger group feel they are far from somewhere. They are rooted in their communities, tend to be socially conservative and often didn’t attend college. Those in the smaller but more powerful group feel they could come from anywhere. They tend to be more metropolitan, socially liberal and, more often than not, university graduates.In his latest book he expands on the theme, dividing voters between the highly educated, the Heads, manual workers, the Hands, and those who mainly care for others, the Hearts. He maintains populism is a backlash against the Heads, who have become too powerful. “In the language of political cliché,” Goodhart writes, “the ‘brightest and the best’ today trump the ‘decent and hardworking.’ Qualities such as character, integrity, experience, common sense, courage and willingness to toil are by no means irrelevant, but they command relatively less respect.”FILE – People queue at a testing site amid the coronavirus pandemic in Southend-on-Sea, Britain, Sept. 16, 2020.That is building resentment, and not just when it comes to jobs or wealth. Alongside an income inequality there is a status inequality, which will continue to drive populism, along with different definitions of identity and clashes over the future shape of the European Union.Both euro-federalists, those who want closer political integration among the EU’s 27 member states, and populist euro-skeptics see political opportunities arising out of the coronavirus pandemic.The former says the crisis will bring home to people the reasons for greater political and economic integration — that the big challenges, from public health to climate change, require closer coordination and more centralized decision-making.But populists say the absence of solidarity and the squabbling among European nations during the pandemic is what many people will take away from the crisis. Deeper integration, they say, will just place more power into the hands of faraway elites, compounding Europe’s long-standing crisis of political accountability.Other close observers of European politics agree that just a dose of “more Europe” will allow populism not only to survive but likely thrive after the pandemic, whatever the results are of this November’s U.S. elections.“Populism is tied to the hollowing out of advanced democracies. Political elites have become estranged from voters after decades of declining participation in elections, in party membership, and in the civic activities that created links between the electorate and the government,” says Rosa Balfour, director of Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based research group.Balfour says a political void has emerged, which populists have filled “bypassing the traditional institutions — from parliaments to newsrooms.”In a recent commentary for Carnegie Europe, Balfour says the populist challenge isn’t just on a national level but feeds through to the European Union, which is “unable to keep up with the transformations of the twenty-first century.” Populist politics “pose deeper questions about legitimacy, representation, and political participation. Who are ‘the people?’ Who decides? And for whose benefit? Filling those voids meaningfully requires a total rethink of the relationship between the local, national, EU, and global levels of governance — instead of the top-down reform the EU has habitually pursued.”
 

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Virus Clusters at French Universities Give Europe a Lesson

Can mandatory masks offer enough protection in lecture halls so packed that late arrivals have to sit on the floor?  That’s what worries many students at the centuries-old Sorbonne University in Paris as the coronavirus is on the rebound across France.  At least a dozen COVID-19 clusters have emerged since French campuses and classrooms opened this month. The clutches of cases are a warning sign for countries elsewhere in Europe, where most universities are readying to resume teaching and research in coming weeks.  “We go back to university in conditions that are a bit extreme, and we fear we might get COVID-19,” Elise Gilbert, 20, who is studying literature at the Sorbonne, said of the overcrowding students encountered.  France’s experience so far stands in contrast to what’s happening in Britain, where virus-driven changes on campuses mean university life will look a lot different this term. Germany and Italy are also adapting their delivery of higher education in response to the pandemic.  The French government was determined to get people back to classrooms to bridge education inequities that the pandemic has exacerbated. The government also urged workers to return to offices and job sites to resuscitate the economy and to “learn to live with the virus.”  At universities, the main change this year is mandatory mask-wearing at all times. But keeping physical distances appears impossible in many places.  Some students are raising their grievances on Twitter, using the hashtag #Balancetafac (“Squeal on your uni”) to share pictures of packed classrooms and corridors.  They describe situations where there’s no soap to wash their hands and where rooms, sometimes with no windows to provide fresh air, are not being disinfected between lectures.  “We are doing our best to respect social distancing, but sometimes we can’t,” Corentin Renoult, a 20-year-old Sorbonne journalism student, said.  Nevertheless, the Sorbonne is maintaining in-person classes for the time being.  “It’s quite hard at the moment because we haven’t got any extra means,” Franziska Heimburger, assistant director of the university’s English department, said. “.We don’t have any more teachers, we don’t have any more space, so we basically have to teach as best we can.”  Heimburger said instructors won’t penalize students for pandemic-related absences. “I’ve had students who live with their grandparents and they are worried of taking (the virus) back home with them,” she said.  Many students also expressed anger when French authorities appeared to blame the country’s recent virus outbreaks mostly on students attending parties.  One factor in the overcrowding is more students are attending French universities. The number of students enrolled jumped by 270,000 to 2.8 million after the exam which allows high school students access to universities was canceled due to the pandemic. Students were instead granted access based on school grades, and many more qualified than usual.  The safety precautions differ broadly among schools. Some have strict public health measures in place, with small class size limits and a mix of in-person and online classes.  But others have had to temporarily shut down after dozens of students tested positive in multiple sites, from engineering to medical and business schools. They moved teaching online, as when the country was locked down at the height of its epidemic which has killed some 31,000 people in France.  In the UK, most universities do not begin their fall terms until late September or early October, and are readying big changes.  At the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where the fall semester began Monday, many classes are being taught online — other than laboratory sessions or other practical instruction where hands-on learning is essential. Student societies are barred from meeting in person, and many students arriving from overseas will have to quarantine for two weeks in line with government protocols.  At University College London, only a quarter of the buildings will be occupied at one time. Teaching spaces will incorporate social distancing and everyone must wear face-masks. The university created an app for students to alert authorities if they have symptoms and plans to test up to 1,000 students and staff a day to keep the campus safe.  “I’ve got a public health expert team that are advising me when it’s appropriate to extend testing beyond those that are immediately symptomatic,” Michael Arthur, the president and provost at UCL. “So I think we’re reasonably confident if we do have an outbreak — and I’m sure we will have, we’re just playing with statistics — that we can move in and contain it very rapidly.”  Student housing has been adapted to allow those who test positive to self-isolate.  In Germany, most universities won’t start lectures before next month, and they have introduced numerous rules to ensure distancing, increased hygiene and bans on students’ parties. They are also expanding online teaching.  Many Italian universities are reopening with distance learning this fall. Priority for physical classrooms was being given to first-year students, to aid their transition.  In the United States, dozens of universities have emerged as virus hot spots. Although students are being spaced apart in classrooms and dining halls, the virus has continued to spread in cramped dorm halls and through off-campus parties that have been blamed for thousands of cases.  The surge has prompted some universities to send students home and cancel in-person instruction for the rest of the term. U.S. officials are urging against that approach, saying it could spark outbreaks elsewhere. Instead, universities are being urged to keep students where they are and temporarily move classes online. 

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Poland’s Governing Alliance Thrown into Crisis Over Animal Rights

Poland’s governing alliance appeared to be in disarray early Friday, as a dispute over animal rights measures highlighted divisions in the ruling camp, raising the possibility of early elections if differences cannot be resolved. Tensions within the alliance led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party came into the open after some members did not support the measures, which passed in parliament with opposition support. The dispute over changes to animal rights laws, which are seen as an appeal to younger voters, halted talks on overhauling ministries and threatened deeper problems for the coalition. The measures, which would ban fur farming and curb the slaughter of animals, were opposed by all lawmakers from the ultra-conservative United Poland party. Other lawmakers abstained. Polish farmers take part in a demonstration against a proposed ban on fur farms and kosher meat exports in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 16, 2020.PiS lawmaker and Agriculture Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, who had openly criticized the bill, voted against it. Opponents of the bill within the ruling alliance said it would alienate voters in PiS’s rural heartlands and hurt farmers. Poland produces millions of furs a year, and the sector employs about 50,000 people. The country is also one of Europe’s biggest exporters of halal and kosher meat, with 2017 shipments of more than 70,000 tons. Talks had been under way between PiS, United Poland and the more liberal Accord over plans to reduce the number of ministries, potentially concentrating power in the hands of PiS. “Negotiations … have been suspended due to the situation we have in the Sejm,” or parliament, PiS lawmaker and Deputy Parliament Speaker Ryszard Terlecki said before the vote. Asked about ruling as a minority government, Terlecki said this would not be possible. “If that happens, we’ll go to elections. Alone, of course.” In 2007, PiS decided to go for early elections and lost power, making the party well aware of the risks of such a move. 
 

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Russia Leading ‘Drumbeat’ of Disinformation Ahead of US Presidential Election

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Thursday that Russia is not letting up in its efforts to sway the outcome of the November presidential election, backing earlier assessments from U.S. counterintelligence officials that Moscow’s main goal is to damage the campaign of Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. Wray, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, described the Kremlin’s influence operations as “very, very active” on social media, on its own state-run media and through various proxies. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 17, 2020.The aim of these influence operations is “primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden and what the Russians see as kind of an anti-Russian establishment,” he said. The FBI director’s comments are in line with a rare public assessment in early August about threats to the U.S. election provided by the nation’s top counterintelligence official, William Evanina. FILE – Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina speaks during the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington, Oct. 31, 2017.”What concerns me the most is the steady drumbeat of misinformation and amplification of smaller cyber intrusions,” Wray said. “I worry they will contribute over time to a lack of confidence [among] American voters.”That would be a perception, not reality. I think Americans can and should have confidence in our election system and certainly in our democracy,” he added. No Signs of Cyberattacks Targeting US Election SystemsTop US officials seek to reassure voters with less than 50 days until the November presidential electionDuring lawmakers’ questioning, Wray also rejected concerns about the expected increase in the use of mail-in ballots for the November election, despite repeated warnings from Trump that voting by mail will lead to massive fraud. “We have not seen, to date, a coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election,” he said, echoing assurances given by senior U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity just last month. US Officials Reject Claims of Rigged Presidential ElectionSenior intelligence and law enforcement officials say there is ‘no information’ to support claims that someone could use mail-in ballots to manipulate outcome of upcoming electionWray’s assurances, though, appear to leave him at odds with Trump, who later Thursday sent out a series of tweets warning that the use of mail-in ballots will result in a “RIGGED ELECTION” and “lead to massive chaos and confusion!” Just out: Some people in the Great State of North Carolina have been sent TWO BALLOTS. RIGGED ELECTION in waiting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2020Unsolicited Ballots are uncontrollable, totally open to ELECTION INTERFERENCE by foreign countries, and will lead to massive chaos and confusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2020Antifa and US protests The FBI director also appeared to clash with Trump, and Republican lawmakers, over antifa, a left-wing protest movement that has been increasingly visible in demonstrations that have spread across the country. Trump has tweeted repeatedly about classifying antifa as a terrorist organization. Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2019Consideration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others). Would make it easier for police to do their job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2019But Wray repeatedly shied away from that sort of description Thursday. “We look at antifa as more of an ideology or a movement than an organization,” he told lawmakers, adding there is no evidence that antifa is behind any sort of coordinated campaign to incite violence at protests that have gripped parts of the country. “Much of the violence that we’re seeing does not appear to be organized or attributed to any one particular group or movement,” the FBI director said. Instead, he described attempts by antifa and other movements, like the right-wing Boogaloo Boys, to instigate violence as ad hoc. Boogaloo Boys Aim to Provoke 2nd US Civil War Group goal is to co-opt practically any anti-government event – from anti-lockdown demonstrations to Black Lives Matter protests – to violently confront government”We are seeing, in certain pockets, more kind of regionally organized folks coalescing, often coordinating on the ground in the middle of protests,” Wray said, adding that such attempts can even cross ideological lines, such as in one incident earlier this month in which two self-described Boogaloo Boys attempted to join with the Palestinian terror group Hamas. ICYMI: Self-described “Boogaloo Bois” charged w/attempting to provide #Hamas firearms/parts Per @FBI 30yo Michael Solomon of Minnesota & 22yo Benjamin Teeter of #NorthCarolina are part of a sub-group called the “Boojahideen” & felt their anti-US gvt views aligned w/Hamas— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 4, 2020Wray’s explanations about antifa, however, did not sit well with Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw, from Texas, who has been supportive of the president. “It seems strange to me that we can’t call it a group,” Crenshaw told Wray.  “This is an ideology that organizes locally. It coordinates regionally and nationally. It wears a standardized uniform. It collects funds to buy high-powered lasers to blind federal officers,” Crenshaw said. “It just seems to be more than an ideology.” But Wray said the FBI’s focus is on violence and criminology, and not ideology, which is protected under freedom of speech. “I, by no means, mean to minimize the seriousness of the violence and criminality that is going on,” he said. “To be clear, we do have quite a number of properly predicated investigations into violent anarchist extremists, any number of who self-identify with the antifa movement.” US-based extremists Wray also told lawmakers the FBI sees U.S.-based violent extremists, whether influenced by jihadist ideology or ideology emanating domestically, as the biggest threat to the country. “Racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group,” he said, noting there have been a total of 120 arrests for domestic terrorism this year. 

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Social Media Firms Deleting Evidence of War Crimes, Human Rights Watch Says

Social media companies are taking down videos and images that could be vital in prosecuting serious crimes, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are increasingly using artificial intelligence algorithms to remove material deemed offensive or illegal. Human Rights Watch says vital evidence is being missed or destroyed. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Britain Begins Strict Regional COVID-19 Lockdown

Britain’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, has announced new lockdown measures on the northeast of England after a significant surge in coronavirus cases there. Hancock told parliament that beginning Friday, people in the region would not be allowed to socialize with others outside their households or support groups. Restaurants and bars would be allowed to provide only table service, and “leisure and entertainment venues” would have to close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.  The health secretary told parliament Thursday the government does not take the steps lightly, and it understands the impact the restrictions can have on families, business and communities. But, he said, “We must follow the data and act. And the data says that we must act now.” Earlier this week, the British government had tightened restrictions across the country, banning social gatherings of more than six people. Residents across England have been struggling to access the COVID-19 testing system since an increase in cases raised the demand for tests. Hancock said the huge spike in demand for coronavirus testing for people who do not have symptoms was creating challenges in the system, after members of parliament shared stories of people without symptoms not being able to get tested. Reuters news agency reports official statistics show Britain recorded 3,991 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, compared with 3,105 the day before. The news agency also reported a further 20 new deaths from COVID-19. Britain’s overall death toll from the virus is 41,773, the highest in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

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