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Polish Town Will Remain 'LGBT-Free Zone' Despite Global Criticism

LONDON, Sept 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Councilors in eastern Poland voted narrowly on Tuesday to keep a motion declaring their town “free from LGBT ideology,” as international pressure grows on dozens of Polish municipalities that have made similar declarations.

The mayor’s office in Krasnik said councilors had voted 11 to nine to keep the symbolic anti-LGBT+ motion that was passed in May 2019, which declared that the town would defend itself from “radicals striving for a cultural revolution.”

Tuesday’s vote on whether to repeal the motion followed an announcement by Norway last week that it would not grant funding to any of the nearly 100 Polish municipalities that have issuedLGBT-free resolutions.

Bartosz Staszewski, a campaigner against the so-called LGBT-free zones, said the decision was against the best interests of Krasnik’s roughly 35,000 residents.

“I just hope that this is the most expensive… act in Krasnik’s history,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “The citizens of these cities are losing because of thepath (politicians) choose.”

Norway’s foreign minister said on Sept. 14 that Krasnik and other districts with similar LGBT-free statements would not begetting grants from a 100-million-euro program for small and medium-sized Polish cities funded by Norway, Iceland andLichtenstein.

The city, which would have been eligible to apply for up to10 million euros, has received about 7 million euros from the European Union in the last two years, a spokesman for Krasnik Mayor Wojciech Wilk said by email.

He distanced the town’s executive from the vote, saying the resolution was purely symbolic and that there were no specific regulations negatively affecting LGBT+ people.​

The Polish embassy in the United States said on Tuesday there were no LGBT-free zones in Poland, responding to a tweet by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who said they had “no place in the European Union or anywhere in the world.”

“The Polish Government is committed to the rule of law, equal rights and social inclusion. There is no place for discrimination in our societies,” the embassy said in the tweet.

Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the EU to take action against Poland for rolling backLGBT+ rights and compromising judicial independence, including potentially denying it funding from the bloc.

Earlier that week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned “LGBT-free zones,” calling them”humanity-free zones.”

(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by HelenPopper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly.Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Sex, Apps And VPN: Pakistan Is Curbing Internet Freedom, But Young People Are Fighting Back

Karachi, PAKISTAN — On 1 September, Pakistan’s telecom regulator announced it was blocking access to five apps, including dating apps Tinder and Grindr. The decision has infuriated young Pakistanis, who say this will deal an even bigger blow to the limited freedom and agency available to women and sexual minorities in the country. 

“Do we need a Sima Taparia just for dick now? The ban is stupid because it is yet another step towards a repressed society where people end up using LinkedIn and Twitter to approach women,” said 30-year-old A*, an Islamabad-based yoga instructor, who said she initially joined Tinder for fun before realising it was a way to meet interesting people. Taparia is a wedding consultant who appeared on the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking.

The ostensible reason given by telecom regulator Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), that they want to check the “immoral/indecent content” on the apps, has also not gone down well with users.

“If the PTA really wants to curtail ‘immoral’ behaviour, maybe they can neuter Pakistani men. That will surely help,” fumed A.

In a country where women, particularly from less privileged backgrounds, find it difficult to meet and interact with men freely, apps such as Tinder offered a way out, even if the aim was merely friendship. The option of getting to know someone away from the excessive interest shown by relatives or matchmakers makes dating apps attractive for young women chafing at restrictions. Homosexuality is banned in the country, making Grindr a go-to option for queer people, especially gay men. While adultery laws were made more lenient in 2006, extramarital relationships can still land participants in trouble. 

Reuters has reported that Tinder was downloaded more than 440,000 times in Pakistan within the past 12 months while Grindr and two other banned dating apps Tagged and SayHi had each been downloaded about 300,000 times in the same period, suggesting widespread adoption of the apps.

While users with resources can circumvent the ban through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or by moving to other apps such as Bumble, some ask why they should be forced to do so.

“How does it matter if women are talking to men or having sex with them? How can that possibly be more important than tackling bigger issues like education or poverty? And they’re stupid if they think that this will stop people from dating or having sex. They won’t, people will always find a way. I’m not concerned that this will make it hard to hook up or date, I’m angry because how dare they?” said Sana, a 30-year-old researcher based in Karachi who joined Tinder two years ago to help deal with heartbreak.  

The app ban, while a blow, wasn’t surprising. The PTA has been accused of overstepping its mandate and being a “moral police” several times. In 2012, The Express Tribune wrote in an editorial that “the agency frequently blocks websites that are considered offensive, usually on grounds of religion or social morality”. 

This was after the PTA asked telecom companies to stop offering packages that would enable customers to make unlimited calls at night—because the advertisements were targeted at “young boys and girls”.  

The same year, YouTube was banned in the country after an anti-Islamic short film was uploaded to the video-sharing website. The ban was lifted only in 2016 after the company launched a local version which, according to Reuters, “allows the government to demand removal of material it considers offensive”. Last year, the regulator told a government panel that it had blocked 900,000 URLs due to blasphemous or pornographic content. Earlier this year, the PTA banned PUBG, claiming it received complaints that the game was “addictive” and “wastage of time”. The ban was lifted in July after PUBG officials held meetings with the government. 

PTA told HuffPost India that the recent ban was because the apps host content that violates the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), adding that the regulator had taken action in accordance with law. Activists, however, have termed PECA a “draconian” law.

 

Do we need a Sima Taparia just for dick now? —A*, an Islamabad-based yoga instructor

Dating 101

Reema, a doctor, met her husband Khalil, a banker, on Tinder two years ago. Both of them worked long hours and found it difficult to meet someone the traditional way. While their families were happy with the match, neither of them have confessed to their parents how they met.

Both of them are appalled at the ban.

“In Karachi, social circles tend to be very clique-ish and the same type of available people after a certain age,” said Reema, adding that she had joined Tinder to meet new people “without the entire social circle invested and watching the interaction”.

Munira, a young journalist based in Karachi, said she found it hard to make friends and socialise with men.

“I joined Tinder last year to make friends and obviously, I was looking forward to dating someone in the long run as well. While the app is a good way to get to know people, there are some cons as well. Just before the ban, I matched with a man and he was being creepy… kept asking if he could come over immediately after we started talking. Then he randomly asked me if I lived on X street. I freaked out,” she said.

But the ban hasn’t really caused much trouble for Munira, who has just moved on to Bumble. “It’s another dating app and everyone has migrated here or they already had an account there too. Instead of banning apps, the PTA should work towards making these and other apps more secure for users.”

It is unclear why PTA has not yet banned Bumble—which markets itself as a more “feminist” app, with only women able to make the first move. However, HuffPost Indiareported last year that apps such as Tinder and Bumble have a worryingly lax attitude towards sexual harassers on their platforms.

According to Sana, the researcher quoted above, Tinder was a solution for Pakistanis who had relatively less access to opportunities for meeting people, either due to family restrictions or lack of privilege. 

“I don’t have the social capital to be invited to parties other than the occasional birthday once every couple of months but those are small things for friends. How many people do you even meet there to be friends with, let alone date or fuck?” she said. 

B*, a Karachi-based fine artist who has been using Grindr on and off since 2013, said he met many of his close friends through the app. It feels cruel, he said, to have a major chunk of space taken away when there is already so little of it. 

“I kept thinking about their statement and that the ‘inappropriate content’ on Grindr they mention are the queer men themselves,” said this person.

B added that many queer people around him are not too bothered, making him feel like his response is disproportionate. 

“Maybe there is this tacit understanding that we are going to lose space. That the fact that we had access to these apps was already a privilege or a lapse in the workings of the oppressive moral-policing state and it was always a matter of time before they were taken away,” he said.

I kept thinking about their statement and that the ‘inappropriate content’ on Grindr they mention are the queer men themselves —B*, a Karachi-based fine artist

Ali, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, joined Grindr in 2013 after a scare on another dating app, Manjam, where an alleged serial killer was targeting gay men that he met on the app. 

According to Ali, his current circle of friends are people he met through the app and some of them have become his lifelines, “my rocks in terrible times”. 

“I don’t know how straight people treated Tinder but we thought of it as a dating app while Grindr was always our bootycall/hook-up app. It’s definitely important to have access to dating apps but we, gay people, have turned everything into a dating app. If you have a couple of gay friends you follow, you’ll end up getting gay boys on Instagram or Facebook or, if anonymity is your thing, then there is Twitter,” he said.

However, the ban is definitely a blow as it makes things harder for a community that was already suffering. “It’s silly, it’s 1984. None of this makes sense. I’ll just use my VPN if I want to use the app now. So essentially, the ban hasn’t really stopped me from using the app, just made the route a bit circuitous.”

Unfortunately, the VPN route may also not be available to many people soon. PTA has asked users to register all corporate VPN connections or face an IP blacklist soon.

PTA’s excesses

“We’re seeing a fundamental closing of Pakistan’s digital spaces and if the PTA is allowed to continue unchecked as it has been, the consequences will be dire,” said digital rights activist and lawyer Nighat Dad, who set up the Digital Rights Foundation in 2012. 

Dad said PTA’s tendency to ban apps has been on the rise this year. Several apps such as online game Fornite and live-streaming platform Bigo Live were removed after a PTA order, while warnings have been issued to YouTube and TikTok.

“While it is true that these (the banned apps) were ‘dating’ apps, its use may not have always been so ‘scandalous’ as people may have thought. This was an online platform where people got to meet each other virtually and exist in a way outside of society and its ways and expectations. It gave people some degree of autonomy over themselves and their bodies too,” said Dad, who said the impact was particularly hard on women and sexual minorities.

PECA, she pointed out, was a particularly problematic law.

“Essentially it is a draconian law because under Section 37, the regulator has powers to block or censor content that it sees as immoral, anti-state or religion—not just on the internet but though any device…this allows the PTA to interpret how the exclusions are to be applied,” she said.  

A recent example of how PECA is misused was the case of Karachi-based journalist Bilal Farooqui, who was arrested for alleged “anti-state” tweets. 

The only way to reverse the ban, said Dad, is for young Pakistanis to raise their voices and speak in public spaces: online and offline. 

“They must not let the discourse die. The youth needs to form a unified and united front and opposition to certain government bans and laws.” 

*Names changed to protect privacy

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Prince Charles Says Military-Like Marshall Plan Needed To Combat Climate Change

LONDON (Reuters) – Climate change poses such a severe threat that the world’s only option is to adopt a military-style response reminiscent of the U.S. Marshall Plan to rebuild post-war Europe, Prince Charles said on Monday.

A long-time advocate for nature, the British royal said climate change was rapidly becoming a “comprehensive catastrophe” that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“At this late stage I can see no other way forward but to call for a Marshall-like plan for nature, people and planet,” Charles said in a video recorded for the launch of a week of virtual climate change events in New York.

“We must now put ourselves on a warlike footing, approaching our action from the perspective of a military-style campaign,” he said.

Prince Charles is a longtime advocate for the environment. 

Scientists say the world is on track for catastrophic warming in the coming decades unless governments take rapid action to wean the global economy off fossil fuels and protect and restore forests, wetlands, peatlands and other ecosystems.

With existing commitments falling far short of the kind of transformational action scientists say is now vital, many advocates of climate action are urging governments to respond with the kind of urgency historically reserved for wartime.

While many national governments are lagging behind on climate targets, pledges by cities and companies to slash greenhouse gas emissions have roughly doubled in less than a year, with many seeking climate-friendly recoveries from the pandemic, according to a report published on Monday.

Cities and regions with a carbon footprint greater than the emissions of the United States and companies with a combined revenue of more than $11.4 trillion are now pursuing net zero emissions by the end of the century.

The majority are aiming for a zero-carbon economy by 2050, as part of a United Nations “Race to Zero” campaign, said the report by the Data-Driven EnviroLab and the NewClimate Institute think-tanks.

Editing by Janet Lawrence

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British Military Could Help Police Enforce New Coronavirus Rules, Says Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the military could be deployed in England to help with the enforcement of new coronavirus restrictions.

Speaking to U.K. lawmakers on Tuesday, the prime minister said there would now be “greater police presence” on the streets with “the option to draw on military support where required.”

The move come after the government’s chief scientific and medical advisers warned there could be 50,000 U.K. cases a day by mid-October, with a daily death toll of 200 or more by mid-November if the current growth in the rate of infection is not halted.

The U.K. already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe — and the fifth largest in the world.

Johnson announced there would also be “tighter” enforcement of the new rules, as the fine for not wearing a face mask will rise to £200 (about $250).

The prime minister also ripped up his push to persuade people to go back to their offices and told the public to work from home if they can.

“No British government would wish to stifle our freedoms in the ways that we have found necessary this year,” he said. “So it now falls to each of us and every one of us to remember the basics — wash our hands, cover our faces, observe social distancing and follow the rules.”

Under the new measures, pubs, bars and restaurants in England will have to close by 10 p.m. each night and must operate as table service only from Thursday.

“What we have seen from the evidence is that alas the spread of the disease does tend to happen later at night after more alcohol has been consumed,” Johnson told the U.K parliament.

Face masks will become compulsory for bar staff, shop workers, waiters and taxi drivers.

Businesses will be fined and could even be be closed if they breach the rules.

The number of people who can attend weddings will be halved, from 30 to 15.

A plan to allow small crowds to sports stadiums has been suspended.

Johnson said that the restrictions announced could remain in place for “perhaps six months.”

“For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives, and I must tell [Parliament] and the country that our fight against it will continue,” he said.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said the military could be used to backfill certain police duties, such as office roles and guarding protected sites, so police officers can be out enforcing the virus response.

“This is not about providing any additional powers to the military, or them replacing the police in enforcement roles, and they will not be handing out fines. It is about freeing up more police officers,” the spokesperson said.

Johnson sad MPs will have the opportunity to debate the new coronavirus measures next week.

The opposition Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said Johnson was “right” to announce further measures. “We support those measures,” he said.

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus

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Indian Medical Association Says 382 Doctors Died Of COVID-19 After Gov't Claims No Data On Health Care Staff

After the Health Ministry said this week that the centre does not maintain data of healthcare workers who died due to Covid-19, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has published a list of 382 doctors who died due to the disease and demanded that they be treated as “martyrs”. 

When asked about the number of healthcare staff, including doctors, nurses, support staff and ASHA workers, who died from Covid, Minister of State for Health Ashwini Kumar Choubey said on Tuesday that health is a state subject and such data is not maintained at Central level by the Ministry of Health
and Family Welfare.

“However, database of those seeking relief under the ‘Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Insurance Package’ is maintained at national level,” he said and added that relatives of 155 healthcare workers sought relief under the package. 

A health worker works with a rapid antigen based Covid-19 test kit at Drya Ganj on July 27, 2020 in New Delhi

IMA called Choubey’s statement an “abdication of duty and abandonment of the national heroes who have stood up for our people”.

“The IMA finds it strange that after having formulated an unfriendly partial insurance scheme for the bereaved families to struggle with the ignominy of the government disowning them altogether stares at them,” it said, according to PTI.

According to the medical body’s data on 16 September, as many as 2,238 doctors were infected with the disease and of them 382 lost their lives, a senior official of the doctors’ body was quoted as saying by PTI.

“To feign that this information doesn’t merit the attention of the nation is abominable,” the medical body said and added that “if the government doesn’t maintain the statistics of the total number of doctors and healthcare workers infected by Covid-19 and the statistics of how many of them sacrificed their life due to the pandemic, it loses the moral authority to administer the Epidemic Act 1897 and the Disaster Management Act.”

IMA said that this “exposes the hypocrisy” of calling healthcare workers corona warriors on one hand and denying them and their families the status and benefits of martyrdom.

The response comes after the Narendra Modi government told the Parliament that it had no record of the number of migrants who died or were injured during the lockdown. 

Opposition leaders have slammed the government over its response. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted on Friday that doctors’ families should be compensated and a national fund should be set up to help the families of all medical personnel who died fighting Covid. 

He also questioned the government over the lack of data. 

(With PTI inputs)

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Revenge Porn Helpline Cases Surge In Lockdown, With 'Sextortion' On Rise

The UK’s revenge porn helpline has dealt with more cases so far this year than it did during the whole of 2019, amid fears of a post-lockdown “new normal” when it comes to online image abuse.

Some 2,050 reports of so-called revenge porn had been made to the government-funded helpline as of Monday. This represents a 22% rise on the 1,685 reports over 2019 and its busiest year on record.

The helpline, run by the charity SWGfL, part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, saw cases almost double in April compared to the same month the previous year – from 122 to 242.

Advisers thought this spike may settle, but despite the coronavirus lockdown easing, cases have remained high through to August.

From April to the end of August, 1,387 reports were made, the equivalent of nine every day. Last month, the helpline dealt with 285 cases, a 63% increase on the 175 dealt with in August 2019.

The sharing of private or sexual images or videos of a person without their consent became an offence in England and Wales in April 2015.

Research by Refuge found one in seven young women have received threats that their intimate photos will be shared without their consent, suggesting this is a common form of abuse.

Around two thirds of cases reported to the helpline involve women. It has helped remove 22,515 images this year – 94% of the 23,913 reported by victims.

Its experts predict the UK total could rise to 2,700 reports by the end of the year – 60% higher than the 2019 total.

Helpline manager Sophie Mortimer believes the sustained rise is evidence of a long-term behaviour triggered by the lockdown, and greater awareness of the crime and support. “It’s interesting it hasn’t dropped and for me, that really does confirm we were only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” she told PA news agency. 

“I think it did show that there’s a lot more going on behind closed doors, and the tighter those doors are closed, the more intense some of that behaviour has become, and maybe brought things to a head that otherwise would have taken a lot longer or might have taken a different shape.”

Sextortion cases – when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature – have also risen since lockdown, and now make up almost a fifth (18%) of the total cases dealt with by the helpline. Before the lockdown, they accounted for 13% of the total.

While around three quarters of the 363 sextortion cases involved male victims this year, figures suggest a greater number of women are being exploited. In March and July, 30% of the sextortion cases flagged to the helpline involved women.

David Wright, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “The lockdown produced an extreme set of circumstances which are bringing a lot of problems.

“What we are seeing here, however, suggests something more long-term has happened which could mean we will be busier than ever before.

“It’s worrying to think this could be the new normal.”

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Students Back In India Struggle To Keep Up With Classes At U.S. Colleges

Akshay, a second-year Operations Research graduate student at Northeastern University, sleeps for 6-7 hours during the day on Mondays and Wednesdays so that he can stay up for his classes which often start at midnight and go on till 7 AM in the morning. Like many Indian students enrolled in American universities, he left the US earlier this year as campuses started to close down abruptly and the Covid-19 situation worsened in Boston, Massachusetts. 

“Last week, I attended a 3 AM lecture and I was half asleep,” said Akshay, who’s currently in Mumbai. “It is very difficult, of course.”

Saachi Khandpur, a third-year politics and psychology major at Mount Holyoke College, has classes five days a week that she attends from New Delhi—three of them go past midnight. For three weeks, she tried sleeping during the day and attending classes at night but had to stop after she started getting sick. 

“Now I am choosing between whether I want to follow a normal schedule, not feeling sick and getting some quality time with my family or if I want to be able to participate at my optimal potential in class, and it is a hard choice,” she added.

Many Indian students such as Akshay and Saachi decided to take online classes instead of going back to the US for the Fall 2020 semester, as Covid-19 cases continue to escalate in both India and the US. International flights are limited and expensive, and classes remain virtual for most universities and colleges. For some students, lack of campus jobs and summer internships falling through because of the pandemic was also a major consideration in moving back for the summer.

“I wanted to go back even before July because the job situation was not great, my lease was ending in August and if I left I would get to stay with my family for 4-5 months rather than being alone at this time,” said Akshay. 

The New York Times reports that there have been more than 88,000 coronavirus cases in US colleges and universities since the outbreak—over 150 colleges have reported at least 100 cases each. For the new semester in Fall 2020, most colleges decided to offer online classes to students.  

Lisa Wymore, a professor of dance, theater and performances studies at University of California, Berkeley leads warm-ups for an online course in Berkeley, California, U.S., March 12, 2020. 

Some universities and colleges decided to reopen with in-person classes and make safety protocols such as masks, social distancing and frequent testing mandatory. However, after being unable to stem the rapid spread of coronavirus on campuses, universities like James Madison University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame and a few others, have already moved their classes back online.

Online classes for foreign students have their own drawbacks though—limited access to resources like high-speed internet and textbooks, large time differences for classes, and limited social interaction with teachers and peers. Aditi Parashar, 20, a Psychology major at Mount Holyoke College, decided to leave for New Delhi as cases started rising in the US, the campus housing she was staying in closed down and her parents started worrying. 

“It is an adjustment. You are very conscious because you can see yourself also while you can see everyone else,” Aditi said about her experience after taking virtual classes on video conferencing apps like Zoom for nearly a month. 

“By the time you have your 12 AM class, your brain has checked out. My classes are really interesting and I shouldn’t be holding my head in my hands,” she said. “But this only gets exacerbated the longer the class. You are yawning, rubbing your eyes, and everyone can see you.”

Similarly, Jaskirath Panjrath, a second-year Communications Design major at the Parsons School of Design, finds that things are very busy, especially when confined in a four-walled space with classes till 3 AM.

“It is difficult if you are bad at concentrating. The classroom experience is very collective but remote learning is very individualistic, ” said Panjrath about his experience. “It is very uncomfortable, like a chair that you would not want to sit on.”

Aneesa, a peer academic advisor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has observed that students, particularly foreign students, are having trouble accessing resources such as textbooks and technology, both software and hardware. Some students cannot access university resources due to firewall and privacy restrictions in their home country. Others are struggling with access to virtual learning due to shaky internet connections and power cuts.

“My internet connection is great but your electricity goes out at random times in the summer in India. There is also a lot of construction happening in my neighborhood.” said Aditi. “It has already happened once in class, where I started panicking and my parents suggested I email the professor. My professors understand but it is difficult to grasp the theories if you miss the class.”

Randy Albelda, Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts for over two decades, has noticed that her class looks very different this year: “Some students are more affected by Covid-19 than the other. I think we are getting students who are better able to do these classes, so ones who are more financially stable and have a better living situation. There will be more inequality after this is over.” 

Professors are trying their best to accommodate students by recording classes and following a variation of synchronous and asynchronous classes. A foreign student in Albelda’s class is struggling with time zones and online censorship in China and the professor has been recording videos and voice threads to send to the student. With virtual teaching, instructors are also struggling with ways to keep students engaged.

“A third don’t show their face, so how do I know that they are there? Even if they have their cameras on, I can only see 3-4 faces when I am presenting, so I don’t know if they are understanding,” said Professor Albelda. “Not having visual cues is hard, particularly because as a teacher you want to connect.”

It has also led to additional workload for professors. Like Professor Albelda, Professor Sripad Motiram, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at UMB, also finds that his time spent teaching and preparing for classes has increased greatly with virtual classes.

“I enjoy teaching and I like meeting students and interacting with them, something not very easy to do virtually. You end up doing more work but you are getting less fulfilment from it,” he added. 

“I have a visual problem and teaching online really stresses my eyes. Like students, the impact of Covid-19 has also been disproportionate on some teachers, like those who had to suddenly adjust to this new technology or female academics who were already doing a disproportionate amount of household work,” he said.

Many students like Sakshi have also lost their on-campus jobs because of being away from college. The college told her that they couldn’t keep her on because it would be difficult to comply with both Indian and American occupational laws while she was in India. 

“I am on hefty financial aid. This is stressful for me because I will have expenses the minute I land in the US,” she said. “I have some savings but I am worried that might not be enough unless I start earning the minute I get back on campus.”

Aditi and Sakshi’s university have divided their semester system into two modules where students take two classes in the first half and two classes in the later half, rather than taking all four classes in one go. While this means that they have to stay up late for fewer classes, their current classes feel rushed. Class material that was once spread out over 14 weeks is now compressed into 7.5 weeks. Coordinating group projects is another major hurdle.

“Group work is becoming an issue. For one of my classes, most of my group is in the US while I am in a different time zone so I did end up missing one of our meetings.” said Aditi. “It is hard to sync timings when everyone is in a different time zone.”

Covid-19 and the ensuing shift to virtual schooling, has also limited social interaction amongst students and the communities they built around their colleges.

Saachi Khandpur said she was unable to take part in campus organisations due to the time difference.

“I am part of the FAMILIA, an LGBTQ+ and people of colour organisation on campus. It was my family away from home and that’s one community I miss a lot,” she said. “Now that I am home, that is something I miss talking about. One of the clubs emailed me that they are meeting today, but they are meeting at 3 AM, and I don’t know if I should stay up.”

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Barbados Says It Will Remove Queen Elizabeth As Head Of State

LONDON (Reuters) – Barbados wants to remove Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as its head of state and become a republic, the Caribbean island nation’s government has said, reviving a plan mooted several times in the past.

A former British colony that gained independence in 1966, Barbados has maintained a formal link with the British monarchy as have some other countries that were once part of the British empire.

“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” said Barbados Governor General Sandra Mason, delivering a speech on behalf of the country’s Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Queen Elizabeth II receives Governor-General of Barbados Dame Sandra Mason during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on March 28, 2018.

“Barbadians want a Barbadian Head of State. This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a Republic by the time we celebrate our 55th Anniversary of Independence.”

That anniversary will come in November of next year.

Buckingham Palace said the issue was a matter for the people of Barbados. Britain’s Foreign Office said the decision was one for Barbados to take.

“Barbados and the UK are united in our shared history, culture, language and much more. We have an enduring partnership and will continue to work with them along with all our valued Caribbean partners,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

As things stand, the governor general of Barbados is appointed by the queen on the advice of the island’s prime minister. The governor general represents the queen at formal events such as the state opening of parliament, which was the occasion at which Mason delivered the speech on Tuesday.

Prince Charles during a walkabout with the Prime Minister of Barbados, Ms Mia Mottley in Bridgetown, Barbados on March 19, 20

Prince Charles during a walkabout with the Prime Minister of Barbados, Ms Mia Mottley in Bridgetown, Barbados on March 19, 2019. 

Britain has played a key role in the history of Barbados, which was transformed by the Atlantic slave trade. The island was claimed for England in 1625 when Captain Henry Powell landed there.

It was quickly settled and stayed in British hands over the centuries, unlike other Caribbean islands that were fought over by the Spanish, British, Dutch, French and Americans. The introduction of African slaves to work the sugar plantations fields brought fabulous wealth for the white ruling class.

Today’s population of under 300,000 is overwhelmingly of African descent. Some cultural links to Britain are still evident: towns have names like Hastings and streets like Liverpool Lane, while the sport of cricket is very popular.

Britain is home to a large community of people of Barbadian descent.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alexandra Hudson

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India Hits New Milestone, Surpasses 5 Million Coronavirus Cases

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s coronavirus confirmed cases crossed 5 million on Wednesday, still soaring and testing the country’s feeble health care system in tens of thousands of impoverished towns and villages.

The Health Ministry reported 90,123 new cases in the past 24 hours, raising the nation’s confirmed total to 5,020,359, about 0.35% of its nearly 1.4 billion population. It said 1,290 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 82,066.

India’s total coronavirus caseload is closing in on the United States’ highest tally of more than 6.6 million cases and expected to surpass it within weeks.

India reported a record daily high of 97,570 cases on Sept. 11 and has added more than 1 million cases this month alone.

People wait in line to receive COVID-19 tests at a government hospital in Jammu, India on Tuesday.

Experts warned that India’s case fatality rate could increase in coming weeks with lockdown restrictions relaxed except in high-risk areas.

But authorities ruled out imposing a second countrywide lockdown as recoveries were growing at more than 78%. Its fatality rate is 1.6%, far lower than 3% each in the United States and Brazil, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine and University.

Dr. Gagandeep Kang, an infectious diseases expert from Christian Medical College in the southern Indian state of Vellore, said that the number of cases increasing in India was inevitable. But the country still had the opportunity to try and restrict cases through a strategy of testing and isolating the affected places.

She said that “the goal was for India to do enough testing to bring down test positivity rate, or fraction of tests that test positive to less than 5 percent or even less than 1 percent.”

Most of India’s deaths are concentrated in its large cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune. But smaller urban centers in Mahrashtra like Nagpur or Jalgaon have also reported more than 1,000 deaths.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Tuesday that only about 6% of the coronavirus patients in India were on oxygen — 0.31% on ventilators, 2.17% on intensive care unit beds with oxygen and 3.69% on oxygen beds.

Maharashtra state with more than 1 million cases remains the worst affected region in India, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. These states account for more than 60% of coronavirus cases in the country.

The Health Ministry said 155 health workers, including 46 doctors, have died so far due to COVID-19.

India’s meager health resources are poorly divided across the country. Nearly 600 million Indians live in rural areas, and with the virus spreading fast across India’s vast hinterlands, health experts worry that hospitals could be overwhelmed 

Nationwide, India is testing more than 1 million samples per day, exceeding the World Health Organization’s benchmark of 140 tests per 1 million people. But many of these are antigen tests, which look for virus proteins and are faster but less accurate compared to RT-PCR, the gold standard for confirming the coronavirus by its genetic code.

With the economy contracting by a record 23.9% in the April-June quarter leaving millions jobless, the Indian government is continuing with relaxing lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March. The government in May announced a $266 billion stimulus package, but consumer demand and manufacturing are yet to recover.

A large number of offices, shops, businesses, liquor shops, bars and restaurants have reopened. Restricted domestic and international evacuation flights are being operated every day along with train services.

Schools will reopen for senior students from 9-12th standards for consultation with teachers next week.

Associated Press Science Writer Aniruddha Ghosal contributed to this report.

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Putin Critic Navalny Shares Hospital Photo Of Himself, Plans Return To Russia

BERLIN (AP) — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday posted a picture of himself from his hospital bed in Germany where he’s recuperating from being poisoned with a nerve agent, wryly joking about being able to breathe on his own.

“Hi, this is Navalny,” he wrote in the Russian-language post on Instagram in the first image of the 44-year-old since he was taken to Berlin’s Charite hospital. The photo shows him being given a hug by his wife Yulia and flanked by his two children as he sits upright in his bed in a hospital gown.

“I have been missing you. I still can’t do almost anything on my own, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day,” he added in the post, which got over 1.1 million likes in several hours.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen with his wife Yulia, right, daughter Daria, and son Zakhar, top left, in a hospital in Berlin, Germany.

Separately, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh tweeted that once he has recovered, Navalny plans to return to Russia, where he has supported opposition candidates and waged anti-corruption battles. “No other option has ever been considered,” she wrote.

Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20 and treated at a hospital in the city of Omsk. Two days later, he was flown to the German hospital, where he was kept in an induced coma for more than two weeks as he was treated with an antidote. On Sept. 7, doctors said his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of the coma.

On Monday, the hospital said he had been removed from a ventilator and was able to leave his bed for “short periods of time.”

In his Instagram statement, Navalny displayed his well-known sarcastic humor when he talked about being able to breathe without a ventilator.

“Just on my own, no extra help, I didn’t even use the simplest valve in my throat,” he said. “I liked it very much. It’s a remarkable process that is underestimated by many. Strongly recommended.”

Despite his recovery, doctors have said they cannot rule out long-term health issues associated with the poisoning.

Leonid Volkov, a top associate of Navalny, refused to give any details on his condition or his possible return when reached by The Associated Press.

Alexander Sabayev, chief toxicologist of Russia's Omsk Region and Siberian Federal District, talks to the media on Navalny's

Alexander Sabayev, chief toxicologist of Russia’s Omsk Region and Siberian Federal District, talks to the media on Navalny’s condition. Russian doctors have said they found no trace of poison in his system while he was at a hospital in Omsk.

A German military lab has determined that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. On Monday, the German government said independent tests by labs in France and Sweden backed up its findings.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its designated labs, Germany has said.

The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he had expressed “deep concern over the criminal act” that targeted Navalny directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. The Kremlin said Putin in the call “underlined the impropriety of unfounded accusations against the Russian side” and emphasized Russia’s demand for Germany to hand over analyses and samples.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday that Russia is puzzled by Germany’s refusal to share Navalny’s analyses and other medical data, or compare notes with the Russian doctors who said they found no trace of poison in his system while he was at a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk.

A view of Berlin's Charite hospital, where Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny receives treatment.

A view of Berlin’s Charite hospital, where Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny receives treatment.

“Russia has been absolutely open for cooperation in determining what happened,” Peskov said. “Russia needs cooperation with the German side in getting the patient’s biological samples to be able to advance.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who canceled a scheduled trip Tuesday to Berlin, said Russian authorities have conducted a preliminary inquiry and documented the meetings Navalny had before falling ill, but he emphasized they need to see the evidence of his poisoning to launch a full criminal investigation.

Lavrov said Navalny’s life was saved by the pilots of the plane who quickly landed in Omsk after he collapsed on board and by the rapid action of doctors there. He accused the West of trying to smear Russia and use the incident as a pretext for new sanctions against Moscow.

In a phone call Tuesday with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Lavrov warned him against politicizing the situation with Navalny, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Lavrov said Moscow would view Germany’s continued stonewalling of Russia’s request for analyses and samples as a “lack of desire to help determine the truth as part of an objective and thorough investigation.”

Navalny, who has vowed to destroy the political system under President Vladimir Putin, is seen being detained by police

Navalny, who has vowed to destroy the political system under President Vladimir Putin, is seen being detained by police in 2013 after he visited Moscow’s election commission office to submit documents to get registered as a mayoral election candidate. 

Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels on sharing evidence. Asked why no samples from Navalny have been given to Russia, a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Monday that “Mr. Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours.”

Sergei Naryshkin, the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said that studies by Russian labs found no indication Navalny was poisoned while still in Russia.

“It’s a fact that at the moment when Navalny was leaving Russia, there were no toxic agents in his body,” Naryshkin said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies. “In that context, we have many questions to ask the German side.”

He emphasized that Russia has fully met its obligations under the international chemical weapons ban and completely destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles.

“It’s disinformation to say that Russia has production assets or old stockpiles of military nerve agents,” he said.

Most of Germany’s political parties have joined Merkel in calling for an investigation, but leaders in the far-right Alternative for Germany, known for its pro-Moscow sympathies, have said Berlin should not be involved. On Tuesday, it invited media to a discussion with a Russian lawmaker on “the Russian view of the Navalny case.”

Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

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