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Europeans savour lockdown easing, but elsewhere virus cases surge

German football champions Bayern Munich played and won their first match in more than two months on ..

German football champions Bayern Munich played and won their first match in more than two months on Sunday as Spain and Britain recorded their lowest daily coronavirus death tolls since March, but the pandemic continued its devastation elsewhere.

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With a worldwide virus death toll above 314,000 and the global economy reeling from the vast damage caused by lockdowns, numerous European countries are lifting restrictions to provide much-needed respite for their beleaguered and impatient populations.

But the virus is still surging in Brazil, which saw its number of deaths soar past 15,000 with more than 230,000 infections, making it the country with the fourth-highest number of cases.

Germany's Bundesliga at the weekend became the first top football league to return after lockdown, bringing relief not only to European football fans but to a sports-starved world. Defending champions Bayern Munich defeated Union Berlin 2-0 inside an empty stadium in the capital on Sunday evening.

Already attracting a record TV audience, the restart is under intense scrutiny as a test case. Top sports competitions are trying to find ways to resume play without increasing the risk of spreading the virus, which has infected more than 4.6 million people globally.

However, there were calls for the Bundesliga to tighten its hygiene protocol after several players celebrated goals by hugging — two even kissing on the cheek — during Saturday's games.

Latin America cases surge

A day before Spain is set to further ease its lockdown measures, the country recorded 87 new virus-related deaths — the first time the number has fallen below 100 in two months.

Britain also registered its lowest daily increase since late March, with 170 fatalities. However, that number did not include Northern Ireland due to a technical issue — and these figures are often lower on weekends due to lags in reporting.

Despite the optimism in some European countries, rising infection and fatality numbers in other parts of the world offered grim reminders of the threat COVID-19 poses.

The number of cases in Latin America passed half a million as Chile locked down its capital Santiago following a sharp rise in infections.

Despite Brazil's surging numbers, President Jair Bolsonaro is keen to end lockdowns, which he claims have unnecessarily damaged the economy.

"Unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of total isolation," he tweeted.

India reported its biggest single-day jump in infections, prompting an extension of a nationwide lockdown for its 1.3 billion people until the end of May.

Russia, which has the world's second highest number of infections, claimed Sunday that steadying case rates showed the growth of the virus had been halted, after reporting its deadliest day yet on Saturday.

In Algeria, the death from COVID-19 of an eight-month pregnant doctor sparked an uproar after her request for early maternity leave was rejected.

Madagascar and Nepal reported their first coronavirus-linked deaths, while Qatar began enforcing the world's toughest penalties of up to three years' prison for failing to wear a mask in public. The Gulf emirate has one of the world's highest infection rates.

A team of Hong Kong experts said Sunday that research on hamsters found that mask use could reduce non-contact transmission of the virus by more than 60 percent.

Europe relaxes

The weekend brought welcome relief for people in European countries which relaxed restrictions earlier in the week, with leisure-seekers enjoying reopened beaches in France, Greece and Italy, and Britons basking in the sun in parks.

Catholics attended mass in eastern France on Sunday for the first time in two months, but the faithful were inside their cars in a car park, taking communion from mask-wearing priests.

"Clean hands give the communion, clean hands receive it," said Bishop Francois Touvet in Chalons-en-Champagne. "An exceptional measure for an exceptional situation."

Italy, once the world's worst-hit country, will allow EU tourists to visit from June 3, and has scrapped quRead More – Source

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Europe

Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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