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Helsinki: Coronavirus-sniffing Dogs Could Provide Safer Travel

Helsinki Airport is getting creative when it comes to operating safely in the age of COVID-19. Begin..

Helsinki Airport is getting creative when it comes to operating safely in the age of COVID-19. Beginning this week, travelers arriving at Finland’s busiest international airport will have the opportunity to take a voluntary coronavirus test that takes 10 seconds and is entirely painless — but it’s not the test that is unusual, rather, it’s who is conducting it.

The new state-funded pilot program uses coronavirus-sniffing canines to detect the presence of the virus within 10 seconds with shocking accuracy. Preliminary results from the trial show that the dogs, who have been used previously to detect illnesses such as cancer and malaria, were able to identify the virus with nearly 100% accuracy.

Sniffer dog Miina, being trained to detect the coronavirus from the arriving passengers samples, works in Helsinki Airport in…

FILE – Sniffer dog Miina, being trained to detect the coronavirus from the arriving passengers’ samples, works in Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, Sept. 15, 2020.

Many of the dogs were able to detect the coronavirus long before a patient developed symptoms, something even laboratory tests fail to do.

After passengers arrive at Helsinki from abroad and have collected their luggage, they are invited to wipe their necks with a cloth to collect sweat samples that are then placed into an intake box. In a separate booth, a dog handler places the box alongside several cans containing various scents and the canine goes to work.

Researchers have yet to identify what it is exactly the dogs sniff when they detect the virus, but a preliminary study published in June found there was “very high evidence” that the sweat odors of a COVID-19-positive person were different from those who do not have the virus. This is key, as dogs are able to detect the difference thanks to their sharp sense of smell.

If the dog flags the sample as positive, the passenger is directed to the airport’s health center for a free PCR virus test.

While there have been instances that an animal contracts the coronavirus, dogs do not seem to be easily infected. There is no evidence that dogs can pass the virus on to people or other animals.

Sniffer dogs Valo (L) and E.T., who are trained to detect the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from the arriving passengers…

Sniffer dogs Valo, left, and E.T., who are trained to detect the coronavirus disease from the arriving passengers’ samples, sit next to their trainers at Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, Sept. 22, 2020.

Scientists in other countries, such as France, Germany and Britain, are engaging in similar research, but Finland is the first country in Europe to put dogs to work to sniff out the coronavirus.

Finnish researchers say that if the pilot program proves to be effective, dogs could be used to quickly and efficiently screen visitors in spaces such as retirement homes or hospitals to help avoid unnecessary quarantines for health care workers.

Representatives from the University of Helsinki, who are conducting the trial, said Finland would need between 700 and 1,000 specially trained coronavirus-sniffing dogs in order to cover schools, malls and retirement homes. For broader coverage, even more trained animals— and their trainers— would be required.

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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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