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Where in the world are coronavirus cases rising and falling?

Words: - BBC News - 23:11 28-06-2020

With the coronavirus pandemic reaching a global total of 10m cases, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a dangerous new phase in the crisis.

While many countries in western Europe and Asia have the virus under some degree of control, other regions of the world are now seeing the disease spread at an accelerating rate.

It took three months for the first one million people to become infected, but just eight days to clock up the most recent million.

And because these numbers only reflect who has tested positive, they're likely to be "the tip of the iceberg", according to one senior Latin American official.

The graphs are moving in completely the wrong direction in parts of the Americas, south Asia and Africa.

The US, already recording the most infections and most deaths from Covid-19 anywhere in the world, is seeing further startling increases. The number of positive tests recorded in the past few days has reached a daily record total of 40,000, and it's still climbing, fuelled by an explosion of clusters in Arizona, Texas and Florida.

This is not a "second wave" of infections. Instead, it's a resurgence of the disease, often in states which decided to relax their lockdown restrictions, arguably too early.

Brazil, the second country after the US to pass 1m cases, is also experiencing dangerous rises. Its biggest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are the hardest hit but many other areas of the country are doing little testing, and the real numbers are bound to be far higher.

Something similar is happening in India. It recently recorded its greatest number of new cases on a single day - 15,000. But because there's relatively little testing in some of the most heavily populated states, the true scale of the crisis is inevitably larger.

Why is this happening? Deprived and crowded communities in developing countries are vulnerable. Coronavirus has become "a disease of poor people", according to David Nabarro, the WHO's special envoy for Covid-19.

When whole families are crammed into single-room homes, social distancing is impossible, and without running water, regular hand-washing isn't easy. Where people have to earn a living day-by-day to survive, interactions on streets and in markets are unavoidable.

For indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest and other remote areas, healthcare can be limited or even non-existent.

And the rate of infection itself is often worryingly high: of everyone tested in Mexico, just over half are turning out to be positive. That's a far higher proportion than was found in hotspots like New York City or northern Italy even at their worst moments.

Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline medical staff are far more severe where budgets are small.

In Ecuador, where at one stage bodies were being dumped in the streets because the authorities could not cope, a key laboratory ran out of the chemicals needed to test for coronavirus.

And where economies are already weak, imposing a lockdown to curb the virus potentially carries far greater risks than in a developed nation.

Dr Nabarro says there is a still a chance to slow the spread of infections but only with urgent international support. "I don't like giving a depressing message," he says, "but I am worried about supplies and finance getting through to those who need them."

But these are not the only things driving the rise. Many politicians have chosen for their own reasons not to follow the advice of their health experts.

The president of Tanzania took the bold step of declaring that his country had largely defeated the virus. Since early May he has blocked the release of proper data about it, though the signs are that Covid-19 is still very much a threat.

In the US, President Trump has either played down the disease or blamed China and the WHO for it, and urged a rapid re-opening of the American economy.

He praised the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, for being among the first to bring his state out of lockdown, a move now being reversed as cases rise.

Even the wearing of masks in public, which has been an official US government recommendation since early April, has become a symbol of political division.

Mr Abbott has refused to allow Texan mayors to insist on them so that, as he put it, "individual liberty is not infringed". By contrast the governor of California, a Democrat, says the "science shows that face coverings and masks work". Mr Trump, meanwhile, has refused to wear one.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, has been caught up in the same kind of argument. Having dismissed the coronavirus as "a little cold", he's repeatedly tried to stop officials from doing anything that might disrupt the economy. And after regularly appearing in public without a mask, he's now been ordered by a court to wear one.

It's attitudes like this that prompted the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to warn that the greatest threat is not the virus itself but "the lack of global solidarity and global leadership".

As a remote set of islands in the Pacific, New Zealand is able to isolate easily, and the government of Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for an aggressive response which recently led to a 24-day period with no new cases.

That came to an end as citizens started to return from abroad, some of them infected, and further measures have been needed to monitor people on arrival. But rather than this being a blow to New Zealand's hopes of becoming Covid-free, many experts see it as evidence of a surveillance system that generally works effectively.

Similarly, South Korea is lauded for using technology and contact tracing to drive down infections to extremely low numbers and had three days in a row with no new cases.

Its officials now say they are seeing a second wave, with clusters centred on nightclubs in the capital Seoul, though the numbers are relatively small.

The mayor of Seoul has warned that if cases go above 30 for three days, social distancing measures will be re-imposed. By contrast, the UK has roughly 1,000 new cases a day.

Proudest of all is Vietnam, which claims to have had no deaths from Covid-19 at all. A rapid lockdown and strict border controls combined to keep the numbers of infections low.

What's next? A big unknown is what happens in most of the countries of Africa, which in many cases have not seen the scale of disease than some feared.

One view is that a lack of infrastructure for mass testing is obscuring the true spread of the virus. Another is that with relatively young populations, the numbers becoming afflicted are likely to be lower.

A third perspective is that communities with fewer connections to the outside world will be among the last to be touched by the pandemic.

In countries that have most successfully controlled the virus, the challenge is remaining vigilant while trying to allow some normality to resume.

But the reality for many of the rest is Dr Nabarro's grim forecast of "continued increases in the numbers of people with coronavirus and the associated suffering".

Which is why he and many others are hoping that developing countries will get the help they need, before the crisis escalates any further.

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Coronavirus: UK hardest hit by virus among leading G7 nations

Words: - BBC News - 16:03 29-06-2020

The UK was the hardest hit of all the G7 major industrialised nations in the weeks leading up to early June, according to BBC analysis of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Analysis also showed that England fared the worst in Europe, just above Spain. The research compared 11-week periods for each nation as the virus hit its peak in each country.

The analysis of Covid-19 deaths and excess deaths - which compared countries in three different ways - showed the UK worse off than the US, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and Japan.

A separate analysis of European nations, by Oxford University economists, has England just above Spain in terms of the proportion of deaths over and above what would be normal.

The BBC has worked with the Health Foundation, an independent health analysis charity, and economists at Oxford University's Institute for New Economic Thinking on comparable analyses between countries.

As the impact of the first wave becomes clear in many countries, it is now possible to start initial comparisons between similar nations.

On all three measures of the G7 nations - recorded Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people, excess deaths per 100,000 people, and excess deaths as a proportion of the usual level of deaths - the UK has been the hardest hit. Of the G7 nations, Germany, Canada, and Japan, have seen comparatively few deaths.

The UK had registered 65 Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people, versus 58 for Italy, 44 for France, and 38 for the US.

Using "excess deaths" might help account for different measurement techniques, and the per-100,000 people number for the UK is 97, lower for Italy at 75, France just ahead of the US, with Canada, Germany and Japan at very low numbers.

The percentage of excess deaths as a proportion of usual deaths, which help account for age differences in the population, show UK at 52%, Italy at 35%, and France on 24% just ahead of the US.

All the methods show broadly the same picture, although the numbers for the US could change as cases begin to spike again.

Canada's excess deaths exclude three territories that have not yet reported data. However, the numbers have been adjusted to account for that.

Statisticians argue against making a single league table when every number has its own weakness.

There are many different ways of counting deaths due to the virus and some countries have a better record at diagnosing Covid-19 deaths than others.

Looking at the patterns in the total number of deaths means that these different practices don't skew the comparisons and captures the true toll of the epidemic.

Even with this better set of data, there are different ways to analyse the figures that each lead to a slightly different result.

But if you look across a list of different league tables, each based on its own measure or analysis, the UK consistently features in that list of the hardest hit countries so far.

The separate Oxford study, using the same methods, analyses Europe's worst hit nations using percentage excess deaths as the key metric.

It splits out each of the four UK home nations, which sees England just above Spain on 55% and 54% respectively. On this measure Spain has had a worse pandemic first wave than the UK on 52%. England is on 55%, compared with Scotland on 41%, Wales on 33% and Northern Ireland on 30%.

The study also identified that England and Wales saw significant excess mortality among the working age population (16-64 years old) over the peak 11 weeks of the pandemic, in excess of 60% in some weeks.

This stands in some contrast with, for example, France, where excess mortality in all but three weeks was negative.

The analysis shows that the shape of the pandemic in the UK and England has been quite different to similar countries. The period of marked excess deaths has lasted longer than elsewhere.

Researchers are planning to conduct more sophisticated analyses which compare deaths while adjusting for age. As the UK has a generally younger population, this is unlikely to significantly change the broad picture.

More complicated calculations for the expected number of deaths are also possible, as more detailed data is released.

The government has in recent weeks resisted attempts to compare the UK or English record with other countries, arguing the exercise is premature.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said on Monday: "Every death is a tragedy and our absolute priority has always been to save lives, guided by the latest scientific and medical advice.

"Although it is important to look to evidence from other countries, comparing figures directly can be misleading as different countries compile their statistics in different ways."

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Rankin portraits celebrate NHS workers during pandemic

Words: - BBC News - 14:12 29-06-2020

Community pharmacist Ade Williams said: "I pray that we can emerge from this pandemic with a more generous and equal society."

A collection of photographs of NHS workers including a cleaner, porter and pharmacist has been released to show how they helped during the pandemic.

Celebrity photographer John Rankin took portraits of 12 people whose jobs have been critical in the coronavirus crisis to mark 72 years of the NHS.

Pharmacist Ade Williams, from Bristol, said after "facing a common fear" it was time to "build a better future".

Rankin said he wanted to "document their role in fighting this disease".

He took the photographs from a safe distance behind a plastic sheet.

Ade Williams, who works at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol, moved to the UK from Nigeria 23 years ago as a teenager and said he was "utterly awestruck at how the NHS functioned".

He said: "In our team, working alongside my wife, also a pharmacist, we all share the belief that health inequality is a form of injustice.

"Our goal every day is to help address this - which means there is never a dull moment. That is what gets me up in the morning."

Stuart Brookfield became a fully qualified paramedic in April this year

Paramedic Stuart Brookfield, from South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said he had "always wanted to help the community".

He said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has been a tough time for any new paramedic. We are making decisions that are very hard for us on the road.

"It has been mentally draining, but I've never felt that I didn't want to go in the next day.

"The respect too that we've received from the community during the pandemic has been amazing and so good for staff morale."

Claudia Anghel said: "When I was young growing up in Romania, I always knew that I wanted a career that made a difference"

Midwife Claudia Anghel from University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire said "even during challenging times, midwifery is about life and joy".

"Since the pandemic, we've had to isolate certain areas and set-up a coronavirus labour ward for patients who may be infected.

"Expectant mothers can now only have their partner with them for the delivery, so the emotional support we give has become even more important.

"Of course, we are concerned, but we are also strong. I still get up in the morning, put on my uniform and a bit of lipstick and go to work - although these days the masks we wear means the lipstick doesn't last long."

Ali Abdi said "even at weekends in the back of my head I’m always thinking ‘when can I get back to work and help the team?’"

Porter Ali Abdi who works at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust said "even though I work 12-hour shifts the day goes so fast".

"I honestly couldn't tell you how many miles I must have walked around my hospital helping patients.

"As a porter, it's my job to make sure the right people get to the right place at the right time."

Covid-19 ward cleaner Laura Arrowsmith said she could be "a friendly face for patients staying in the hospital" as part of her job

Covid-19 ward cleaner Laura Arrowsmith from Leighton Hospital, Crewe, said she has "always liked to talk to patients and find out more about them".

"In this situation we can't allow as many visitors and not everyone has the technology to keep in touch with loved ones, so I try to help by bringing patients a little piece of the outside world.

"I've been cycling a lot during the pandemic, so I get out on my bike and whizz around to pick things up for patients - even if it's just a picture to have by their bed."

Anne Roberts said: "I’m not a hero. I’m a nurse just trying to do the best I can"

District nurse Anne Roberts from the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said she thought "being a nurse is ingrained in you".

"As we can't go out right now, I go around to my parents' bungalow and Mum puts a cup of coffee in the middle of the driveway.

"I try and look after my colleagues too and help them feel positive and valued, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic."

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Betelgeuse: Nearby 'supernova' star's dimming explained

Words: - BBC News - 14:11 29-06-2020

Artwork: Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star, nearly 1,000 times larger than the Sun

Astronomers say big cool patches on a "supergiant" star close to Earth were behind its surprise dimming last year.

Red giant stars like Betelgeuse frequently undergo changes in brightness, but the drop to 40% of its normal value between October 2019 and April 2020 surprised astronomers.

Researchers now say this was caused by gigantic cool areas similar to the sunspots seen on our own parent star.

There had been speculation that Betelgeuse was about to go supernova.

But the star instead began to recover and by May 2020 it was back at its original brightness.

Betelgeuse, which is about 500 light-years from Earth, is reaching the end of its life. But it's not known precisely when it will explode; it could take as long as hundreds of thousands of years or even a million years.

When the giant star does run out of fuel, however, it will first collapse and then rebound in a spectacular explosion. There is no risk to Earth, but Betelgeuse will brighten enormously for a few weeks or months.

It should be visible in daylight and could be as bright as the Moon during night time.

Because it takes about 500 years for the light to reach us, we would be viewing an event that had happened centuries in the past.

Various scenarios have been put forward to explain the recent changes in the brightness of the star.

Astronomers have previously considered that dust produced by the star was obscuring it, causing the steep decline in brightness.

Red giants exhibit a behaviour known as pulsation, caused by changes in the area and temperature of the star's surface layers. Pulsations can eject the outer layers of the star with relative ease.

The released gas cools down and develops into compounds that astronomers call dust.

ESO / M. Montargès et al.

Variations in brightness on the surface of Betelgeuse before and during its darkening. The asymmetries led the authors to conclude that there are huge star spots

To test the dust idea, the astronomers used the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These telescopes measure electromagnetic radiation in the submillimetre wave spectral range. The wavelength of this radiation is a thousand times greater than that of visible light.

This part of the electromagnetic spectrum is particularly good for observing the distribution of cosmic dust.

"What surprised us was that Betelgeuse turned 20% darker even in the submillimetre wave range," said co-author Steve Mairs from the East Asian Observatory in Taiwan, which operates the JCMT.

The result isn't compatible with the presence of dust, say the researchers. Instead, the astronomers say, temperature variations in the photosphere - the luminous surface of the star - most likely caused the brightness to drop.

"Corresponding high-resolution images of Betelgeuse from December 2019 show areas of varying brightness. Together with our result, this is a clear indication of huge star spots covering between 50% and 70% of the visible surface and having a lower temperature than the brighter photosphere," said co-author Peter Scicluna from the European Southern Observatory (Eso).

"For comparison, a typical sunspot is the size of the Earth. The Betelgeuse star spot would be a hundred times larger than the Sun. The sudden fading of Betelgeuse does not mean it is going supernova. It is a supergiant star growing a super-sized star spot." said co-author Prof Albert Zijlstra from The University of Manchester, UK.

Compared with our Sun, Betelgeuse is about 20 times more massive and roughly 1,000 times larger. If placed in the centre of the Solar System, it would almost reach the orbit of Jupiter.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Follow Paul on Twitter.

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Coronavirus: What are the rules on weddings?

Words: - BBC News - 16:05 03-07-2020

Weddings of up to 30 people are allowed to take place in England again from 4 July.

About 73,600 weddings and same-sex civil partnership ceremonies were postponed during the first three months of lockdown, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In some circumstances, depending on the size and location of the ceremony.

Weddings or civil partnerships with up to 30 guests can take place from 4 July in England. They had been banned under almost all circumstances since lockdown began on 23 March.

Northern Ireland has allowed outdoors weddings with 10 people present since early June. Wales and Scotland also now allow wedding ceremonies to take place, but social distancing must be observed, and big gatherings are not allowed.

As weddings typically bring lots of families and friends into close contact, they are particularly vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus. The government has published guidelines on how to have a ''Covid-secure'' wedding in England, once they can take place again from 4 July:

The government says it is working with the weddings industry to see how receptions could take place safely in the future.

If you feel your will be too different from the day you wanted, it is generally better to postpone rather than cancel it.

Check alternative dates with your venue as soon as possible, and then ask your suppliers if they would also be able to switch.

Couples ''do need to be understanding of what venues and suppliers are going through at the moment", says Henrietta Dunkley of Ellis Jones Solicitors. She specialises in dispute resolution, and is due to get married in August.

Many venues will have lost significant sums of money because of the pandemic

Many venues and suppliers are likely to have lost significant sums of money, so try to find a solution that works for everyone, she advises.

For example, if the wedding was on a Friday or Saturday or in peak season and the venue can't offer an equivalent date, it's generally reasonable to ask for a fee reduction, or an upgrade in the service you will receive.

If your ceremony was due while weddings were banned, you should generally be entitled to a full refund if you don't want to postpone.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says in most cases this would be if:

An exception is the costs a business has incurred on your behalf already, such as a wedding meal tasting or a dress fitting.

As a result, venues and suppliers may be entitled to keep all or part of your deposit, but consumer rights law states they must give you a breakdown of costs.

Even if a wedding can't take place, couples may need to pay for some of the services already received

If your wedding is coming up and is technically allowed to take place, that's where things become trickier.

Read the small print in your contract to check the rules on cancellation or date changes of the businesses you are using. And then ask them what they are prepared to offer.

Under consumer rights law, contract clauses that could be deemed unfair may be unenforceable, even if you previously agreed to them. Any ''non-refundable'' deposit can only have been a small percentage of the total price.

Most wedding insurance does not cover a ''government act", so it is unlikely to pay out if the lockdown affected your wedding.

A few wedding insurers are paying out now under some circumstances. For example, John Lewis suggests it will refund you if restrictions mean your wedding cannot be held and you can demonstrate you have tried to recoup the money from your venue and suppliers.

It's a good idea to check the rules on cancellation or date changes

Many, if not all insurers are not selling new wedding policies, so this only covers existing agreements.

If not, you may have to register a claim with the administrator or can claim up to £30,000 per supplier from your credit card company for services not rendered, under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

If you paid on debit card you may be able to secure a refund under the chargeback scheme.

Businesses are not allowed to profiteer from the pandemic, meaning they cannot just hike up their prices.

Ms Dunkley says some couples have found venues are charging them far more for a postponed wedding than if they tried to book the same date as a new customer. This is unlikely to be deemed reasonable.

However, she adds it is fair for an equivalent wedding in 2021 to cost slightly more, because of inflation - the rise in costs for goods and services over time - and to reflect an increase in supply costs.

The CMA has set up a taskforce to investigate harmful pricing practices during the pandemic. Consumers can fill in this form if they feel a business has treated them unfairly.

Some insurance policies will pay out if your supplier or venue goes bust.

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'The love letter to my neighbourhood that helped me flee my country'

Words: - BBC News - 23:06 27-06-2020

Jose (left) with his cousins and a niece in Nino Jesus in the '90s

As a journalist in Venezuela, José Gregorio Márquez reported from poor areas of Caracas, while being careful to hide his own humble beginnings. But years later, a love letter to the neighbourhood he'd felt so ashamed of would be his ticket to a new life abroad.

When José Gregorio Márquez was a child, he used to love writing plays for his classmates at school. He particularly remembers one about a group of animals who picked on a rabbit and bullied him.

"My message there was that we are all equals and we need to treat people decently. At the end of the story, the other animals got to know the rabbit they didn't like at first, and grew to love him," he says.

He also used to imagine stories for his toys, with each new tale entertaining and keeping him company for up to a week.

It was a form of escapism for the young José.

"Most of the time I was at home alone. My mum used to work the whole day, and I didn't have anyone my age to play with," he remembers.

"All these games were a distraction. I was creating the world that I wanted to live in, which was very different from the world I was living in."

That world was Niño Jesús, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Venezuela's capital city, Caracas. Gangs controlled the streets, so José's mum, a cleaner bringing up four children alone, didn't allow him to leave the house.

"Many mums in the neighbourhood thought that was the way to make sure you don't become a criminal," he says.

José was nine when Hugo Chávez, a former paratrooper, came to power promising a socialist revolution. To low-income families, like those in Niño Jesús, he was a hero, at least to begin with.

José was used to seeing Chávez on TV. Every Sunday the president hosted a talk show called Aló Presidente, where he took calls from people across the country. But it was watching a political crisis unfold on television that inspired José's career.

"I actually remember the specific day I decided I wanted to be a journalist," he says.

It was 11 April 2002, two days after the start of a general strike. A huge demonstration made its way to the presidential palace, gunmen started shooting into the crowd and 19 people died, including a photojournalist.

A policeman holds up his gun during clashes in Caracas on 11 April 2002

José, who was 13, watched the events unfold live on television. Then the picture changed: Chávez was giving a national address.

"The channels divided the signal, showing an urgent message from Chávez on one side of the screen and on the other they continued to show the demonstrations."

But within minutes the government succeeded in cutting off live coverage from the street.

"So one side of the screen was black and the other had Chávez," remembers José.

"For me, it was very shocking not to be able to know what was going on. But it was also very shocking to see all those journalists trying to get the information, despite all the risks. So then, almost an obsession with journalism started."

Within hours of his broadcast, Chavez was forced to resign by the military high command, but 72 hours later - after huge demonstrations by his supporters - he was back in charge. From then on, he set about dismantling the private TV networks, which he felt were against him.

Hugo Chavez returns to office shortly after he was ousted

But José was set on his path, and in 2008, while studying for a degree in Social Communication, he joined a daily newspaper called Últimas Noticias as an intern, and worked his way up to writing for a section called Ciudad (City).

"It consisted of collecting information from the neighbourhoods of Caracas with people's demands for the government. So it was more or less what I had lived in my own life. Now I could give a voice to all those people and publish their stories."

But José always kept it a secret that he lived in Niño Jesús.

"I used to hide it completely. I didn't tell anyone that I was from there," he says. "I was ashamed of the area I came from, despite being a reporter for other neighbourhoods where humble people lived, who were demanding improvements."

Jose reported from poor neighbourhoods like the one where he grew up

This was a challenging time to be a journalist in Venezuela. Chavez had grown increasingly tyrannical and journalists were now at risk of imprisonment if they criticised a government official.

José felt like he was coming of age as a journalist just as press freedom was disappearing.

The daily newspaper that José had been working for ended up being nationalised, like many other newspapers and television networks. Outlets that managed to avoid it, stopped holding the government to account, in order to avoid nationalisation or closure.

In 2013, José started working for El Nacional, a newspaper with a 70-year history, which remained one of the last critical voices in the country.

"The government took every step possible for the newspaper not to have actual paper to be printed on," José remembers.

"It was interesting to be a journalist at the time, because sometimes you could write a headline that didn't make any critical reference, but then down in the news story, you could because the censors didn't read the whole story. So I did that a lot - until I was found out."

El Nacional ceased to be printed in 2018, and went online only

Later, while working as a cultural reporter for a newspaper, José was sent to review a performance by the daughter of a prominent politician, Diosdado Cabello.

She wanted to be a singer, and José watched the audience shouting and booing at her because of who her father was.

When his report was published, he was almost fired and the union of journalists had to step in to save his job. It was the last time he wrote something that could be perceived as critical of the regime.

For years José was waiting for the day when he could leave Niño Jesús. He wanted a better life - a home where he could feel safe, and had access to drinking water every day. In Niño Jesús, you could often only get it once a week, and there would also be periods up to 20 days long where there was no access to water at all.

So, in November 2012, a few months before he graduated, José moved into an apartment in the Altamira neighbourhood of Caracas, sharing a room with a friend to make ends meet.

But almost as soon as he left, something strange happened. The shame he had felt about the barrio for so long evaporated and was replaced by a fierce sense of love.

"As the saying goes, 'You don't appreciate what you have until you lose it.' I connected more with where I came from once I saw it from afar," says Jose.

He realised that the skills and experiences he'd gained growing up in Niño Jesús had shaped him in a positive way. "I guess I grew up," he says.

And within months an opportunity arose to tell the world about it.

A sunset over Nino Jesus

Even before Chávez came to power, Venezuela held a popular annual love letter writing competition.

"It was just another way to give some colour to people's lives in a country where everything is wrong and nothing works," José says.

Hundreds of people took part in the contest, and it became so successful it was eventually opened up to participants from other countries.

Most of the letters were written to loved ones, relatives, or even pets. But in 2013, when José saw the competition advertised, he felt inspired to do something different.

He decided to write about Niño Jesús.

"I was declaring my love to a neighbourhood, but it was also a way of telling the truth about how society looks away from these neighbourhoods, instead of looking at them and taking care of them," José says. "I made peace with the neighbourhood."

José had seen the violence, the crime, the death that Venezuelans associated with Niño Jesús. But he also wanted to show the colour, the life, behind all those stories.

"From far away, you didn't see the people who live in those little houses, people who love and smile in those neighbourhoods," José says. "So my intention was to put that into words, telling how I came to love and understand the place, and understand that it had been very important to the person I was becoming."

José was selected as a finalist in the competition and was asked to read his love letter in a theatre in Caracas.

"Dear Niño Jesús, I still remember your abstract shapes and your misshapen shadows," he began.

Although when I lived in your streets and walked your stairs, I'd rather just look up at the sky because it was the only thing I liked around me. I was an idiot...

You're not to blame for anything, but I wanted to be far away from you.

I used to hate waking up at four in the morning to fight for a seat on the bus that would take me to work.

I hated going up or down each of your damn steps. I hated the zinc roofs that didn't stop the stones, the raindrops, or the bullets. I hated the sheets spread over stiff bodies that could no longer feel the cold of the asphalt. I hated you.

Now, however, I miss you.

I miss the kites undulating among the clouds like roving sperm. I miss the green of your trees, next to the orange of your bricks, caressing the blue of your water tanks. I miss the impudence of the roosters at dawn and the eloquence of the cats at dusk. I miss you.

Although I understand how important you were to building my life, I was always ashamed of you. I denied knowing you.

And I'm sorry.

I never belonged to you as much as I do now, when I am without you and you are without me. I had never realised before that I loved something I'd already lost.

I never asked you for anything before, but this time I'm asking you to forgive me...

I came from you and I will always be yours.

After a moving performance, much to his surprise José won the competition. As he walked up on to the stage he thought there must have been a mistake, and that the judges had intended to name one of the other finalists - some far more well-known, and with beautifully written letters.

Jose Gregorio Marquez reading out his award-winning letter in 2013

José was awarded a watch worth $5,000. He knew it was an insurance policy, a way of getting money if he really needed it, and concealed it carefully in his underwear drawer.

About a month later, his apartment was burgled and many of his valuables, including his laptop, were stolen.

But his watch remained safely hidden under his socks and pants.

President Chávez died in the same year as Jose won his prize, and Vice-President Nicolás Maduro took over. Simultaneously, with falling oil prices and inflation rising, the country's economy went into freefall.

"You just couldn't get food," José says. "They assigned all citizens a day of the week to buy groceries according to your ID card number. My day was Friday, but normally food got delivered on Monday. So by Friday, you wouldn't have any food in the supermarket any more. If I tried to buy on Monday, I wasn't allowed. It was just pure, utter despair. It was very humiliating and very sad."

By 2015, unable to live off of his income as a journalist, José started thinking about leaving Venezuela. But first he moved back to his childhood home.

"My mum was still living there, and given that I couldn't have any way to take my family with me at the time, it was nice to be with them. It was a good way to say goodbye and it was actually lovely to get back to the place I had grown up, to see those colours again."

Jose (left) with one of his older brothers and a niece in the 90s

José found the idea of leaving extremely difficult because he feared he wouldn't be able to return as long as Maduro remained in power.

But the country he knew no longer existed. Things had been changing so rapidly and deteriorating so quickly. And he realised that even if he had to leave the country, he'd never again leave behind that part of himself that was forged in Niño Jesús.

José knew that in order to leave he would need US dollars, but the value of the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, had sunk so low they were virtually unobtainable.

So he asked a friend who was travelling to the United States if he would take his watch and sell it. He agreed, but was only able to get $1,500 for it - $3,500 less than its actual value.

That was enough, though. He decided to emigrate to Buenos Aires with a friend who lent him the money for a one-way ticket. He would use the money from the watch to help him survive once he got there.

José had previously visited Argentina in 2011, and already had friends living in the country. He liked the openness of the culture, and, vitally, he believed he'd be able to get a residence permit.

After saying an emotional goodbye to his family, José arrived in Buenos Aires, with photographs and bolívar coins and tickets as memories of his life back home.

He expected to land on his feet. After all, he'd been a successful journalist at respected publications in Venezuela, and thought this would make it easy for him to find a job in journalism.

But it wasn't to be. He spent his first month feeling sick, unused to the cold Argentinian winters, and had no leads for job interviews. He decided to start working in a cafe, which he says helped him grow as a person, and learn to work as part of a team.

"It made me see that nothing can be taken for granted in life, and that you can always start from scratch. To start from the beginning, without ego."

Six months later, he was able to find a job in an advertising agency.

In the four years since he left Venezuela, José has not returned. And he doesn't see that changing while the government continues with chavismo - the political system and ideology established by Chávez.

There are things that he misses - most notably, the beach, the weather, and the El Ávila mountains.

But these are not reasons enough to leave Argentina.

"Not only because of the current economic crisis, but also because I am gay and Venezuela is a homophobic country where LGBTI people have no rights and are constantly mistreated," José says.

In February, after saving for many years, José moved his 70-year-old mother to Argentina. He wanted her to live comfortably in her later years and this would not have been possible in Venezuela.

Jose and his mother, Alida, now live in Buenos Aires

José says his love letter to Niño Jesús changed his life.

"It made me feel validated, not only as a human being, not only for my story of humble origins, but also for what I had to offer as an aspiring writer who, until then, always felt that I did not have enough talent, even though I had been writing for newspapers for years," José says.

"That award is so important in my life, it allowed me to emigrate from the country, flee from the crisis, and it continues to bring me closer to incredible people from all over the world."

Listen to Jose speaking to Outlook, on the BBC World Service (producer, Tom Roseingrave)

As a gay teenager in post-Soviet Russia, Wes Hurley breathed a sigh of relief when his mother married an American and they moved to the US - but he soon discovered his stepfather, James, was violently homophobic. This led to strained relations, until James underwent an unexpected transformation.

'I hated my homophobic stepdad, then he came out as trans'

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Does PHP Have A Future, Or Are Twenty Five Years Enough?

Words: Ben James - Hackaday - 14:01 29-06-2020

In June, 1995, Rasmus Lerdorf made an announcement on a Usenet group. You can still read it.

Today, twenty five years on, PHP is about as ubiquitous as it could possibly have become. I’d be willing to bet that for the majority of readers of this article, their first forays into web programming involved PHP.

Announcing the Personal Home Page Tools (PHP Tools) version 1.0.

These tools are a set of small tight cgi binaries written in C.

But no matter what rich history and wide userbase PHP holds, that’s no justification for its use in a landscape that is rapidly evolving. Whilst PHP will inevitably be around for years to come in existing applications, does it have a future in new sites?

Before we look to the future, we must first investigate how PHP has evolved in the past.

Rasmus Lerdorf initially created PHP as a way to track users who visited his online CV. Once the source code had been released and the codebase had been re-written from scratch a sizeable number of times, PHP was enjoying some popularity, reportedly being installed on 1% of all domains by 1998. At this point, the language looked nothing like we know today. It was entirely written within <!-- html comments -->, with syntax noticeably different to modern versions.

Enter Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans, who were using PHP to try to build a business but found it lacking in features. Collaborating with Rasmus, PHP was once again re-written and released as PHP 3.0. Now we’re getting somewhere, with PHP 3 installed on an estimated 10% of domains at the time. This is also the point where the meaning of PHP changed from Personal Home Page to everyone’s favorite recursive acronym, “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor”. This version and period is generally seen as the time in which PHP cemented its future status. Between PHP 3 and 4, phpMyAdmin was created, Zeev and Andi mashed their names together and founded the PHP services company Zend, and the venerable elephant logo appeared.

The rest is history: shortly after PHP 4 came Drupal; in 2003 we got WordPress; then in 2004 along came a student at Harvard named Mark.

Facebook famously started as a PHP site. But when thousands of users became millions, and millions were beginning to look like billions, there were growing pains.

In particular, PHP was (and still is) a scripting language. Great for developer productivity, not so great for resource efficiency. So in 2008, Facebook began work on HipHop for PHP, a transpiler. Very simply, it parsed PHP, transpiled it to C++, then compiled the resulting C++ into x64. This was no mean feat given that PHP is weakly-typed and dynamic. But the results speak for themselves: a 50% reduction in CPU load.

I’m sure you’re imagining the horror of working as a developer at Facebook using this process. Making a change to the PHP code, running the transpiler, then compiler, drumming your fingers, running the executable and finding the problem you need to go back and fix. That’s a pretty long iteration cycle, which is why Facebook also developed HPHPi, an interpreter that does the same job as the transpiler/compiler (HPHPc), but just to be used for development. As you can imagine, keeping the two projects in sync was an almighty headache, so in 2011 they developed HHVM, the HipHop Virtual Machine.

HHVM is a PHP runtime. It uses JIT (just-in-time) compilation to provide the best of both worlds. It’s pretty cool, and you can read more in Facebook’s own blog post if you’re interested. The next big step came in 2014, with the invention of Hack, a language specifically built for HHVM. It’s both a superset and subset of PHP, adding optional type annotations and extra features such as asynchronous architecture. It also helps make HHVM’s JIT more efficient by enabling it to optimise with confidence using the specified type hints. Soon, new code at Facebook was written in Hack, with existing code being converted over time. Both Hack and HHVM are open source, and actively maintained today.

Does the fact that Facebook found PHP in its native form unusable at scale mean that it’s a badly engineered language? No, I don’t think so. I don’t believe any of the options which were around at the time had been created for the scale or specifics which Facebook required. However, that doesn’t stop people using it against PHP.

Within the wider software community, as PHP became larger it inevitably drew fire from a growing group of cynics. Except, PHP objectively speaking gets more hate than most other languages. According to the recent 2020 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, PHP is the sixth most dreaded language. Why?

I don’t want to get into technical minutiae here, but if you do, PHP: a fractal of bad design, is the bible blog post for PHP haters. Written in 2012, some problems it mentions have since been fixed but many haven’t. (eg: why is there no native async support in 2020?)

I think more general problems lie in the philosophy of the language. It’s a tool for a fairly narrow domain, implemented in a complex way. In an ideal world, if an application must be complex, the complexity should be visible to the developer in user code, not the language itself. You don’t need a complex tool to create complex projects. When I say PHP is complex, I’m not saying it’s hard for beginners to use (quite the opposite in fact), I’m saying it has inconsistent naming conventions and a lot of very specific functions, both make it easy to create errors which aren’t caught until runtime. But are these simply properties of PHP’s age, to be expected? Whilst perhaps a factor, it’s certainly isn’t the reason for the hate. After all, Python was created in 1989, six years before PHP, and comes in as the 3rd most loved language in the Stack Overflow survey, as well as being one of the fastest-growing languages today.

When it comes to security, there’s some debate as to whether the above-average number of vulnerabilities on PHP sites are the fault of the language or the site developers. On the one hand, a coding language designed to appeal to a broad range of people including non-programmers, who produce sites with code hacked together from decades-old tutorials will always have issues, no matter the merit of the language itself. On the other hand, PHP has attempted to fix basic security issues in questionably convoluted ways, for example fixing SQL injection first with escape_string(), then fixing vulnerabilities with that by adding real_escape_string(), then adding addslashes(), mysql_escape_string(), pg_escape_string() and so on. Add this to its labyrinthine error/exception handling (yes, errors and exceptions are different), and it’s easy to make mistakes if you’re not well versed in the nuances of the language. The amount of sites running old, unsupported versions of PHP past their End Of Life continues to be staggeringly large, so PHP sites will continue to be low-hanging fruits for hackers for years to come.

Be this as it may, I’m not convinced that the problems the language has are as large as many would make out. Despite there being reasonable grounds for complaint about PHP, it seems to me that much of the stigma is absorbed because it’s fashionable, rather than reasoned by individuals.

This author is well aware of the irony of typing critiques of the language into a page with post.php in the address bar. But this isn’t about existing sites. I don’t think even the most ardent pitchfork mobs would suggest that we re-write all existing sites made with PHP. The question is, in June 2020, if I want to create a new website, should PHP be an option I consider?

There is no doubt that the current web development trends are setting a course for Single Page Applications – where your browser never reloads, but navigations occur from Javascript re-rendering the page using data from lightning-fast API calls (eg: browsing GitHub or Google Drive). There is an ever-growing ecosystem of Javascript libraries, frameworks, and tools for building reactive and performant applications in the browser — React and Vue being the most popular.

Ultimately, PHP is for server-side rendering. That’s fine for most sites and the best option for many. But if you’re building something new in 2020, you have to accept that this brings limitations. And whilst PHP-style server-side rendering isn’t dead (did everyone forget about SEO?), modern sites are likely to be Isomorphic, that is, able to render the same Javascript on server and client, using frameworks such as Next.js (for React) or Nuxt.js (for Vue), putting PHP out of business on the server.

But we can’t ignore the fact that PHP is evolving too. Laravel, self-publicised as “The PHP Framework for web artisans”, provides an MVC architecture for creating PHP applications safely and quickly. It’s held in high esteem by the community, and enjoys active and rapid development. Additionally, PHP 8 is coming out later this year, with a bunch of new features (many of which will look familiar from the Facebook section), such as a JIT, Union types, and improved errors.

So, happy twenty-fifth birthday PHP, you are endlessly quirky and will undoubtedly endure for many more years. You’ve empowered many people and played a key role in the rise of the web. But don’t be too upset if people are looking elsewhere for the future, it’s 2020 after all.

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Coronavirus: How will local lockdowns work?

Words: - BBC News - 18:17 03-07-2020

The UK's first local lockdown has been introduced in Leicester, following a spike in coronavirus cases.

How will such restrictions be enforced and could they be used elsewhere?

It depends whether there is a cluster or an outbreak.

A single premises with a coronavirus cluster is likely to be closed temporarily by the local director of public health and the Health and Safety Executive, and must legally remain shut.

These powers have been used previously to deal with salmonella or Legionnaires' disease outbreaks.

If there is evidence of a bigger coronavirus outbreak in a town, city or region, several organisations decide the response.

England's chief medical officer can advise a minister to use existing emergency powers to control it. This could mean introducing legislation which doesn't need voting on in Parliament.

Local authorities will for the first time be given access to postcode-level data about the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in their areas.

An agreement, signed individually with councils over the past week, gives them access to a digital dashboard which shows extremely localised test results.

In Leicester, it will be similar to going back to the UK-wide lockdown introduced at the end of March.

Residents will have to stay at home as much as they can, while people in other parts of England will have more freedom.

The reopening of pubs and restaurants for consumption on the premises, and the relaxation of social distancing across England on 4 July to "one metre plus", will not apply.

Non-essential travel to, from and within Leicester should also be avoided.

People or businesses that repeatedly flout the new law could receive fines of up to £3,200.

But a future lockdown in another place might not be so tough. It will depend on the nature of the coronavirus spike.

"It might be closing schools again if the increase is only seen in children and teachers," says Dr Nathalie McDermott, clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at King's College London.

"Or it might be not opening restaurants and bars because you're concerned about the direction the trend is going in."

Mr Hancock told the Commons on Monday the city had "10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week".

Leicester's seven-day infection rate of 135 cases per 100,000 people was "three times higher than the next highest city". Admissions to hospital were between six and 10 per day - compared to about one a day elsewhere.

Its local lockdown will be officially reviewed in two weeks although the Health Secretary Matt Hancock can end it at any time.

The city-wide lockdown was brought in because "targeted action" had not worked, Mr Hancock said.

When many Covid-19 cases are found in one place like a hospital, factory or school, this is called a cluster. They can be dealt with by local directors of public health, often by closing the premises.

There have already been clusters in several parts of the UK:

When different clusters are found to be linked, this is defined as an outbreak.

Police have powers to enforce the local lockdown, for example, if they believe that somebody is staying overnight somewhere other than where they live they can tell them to return home.

Police can also fine people for breaking the rules, with fines starting at £100, as before.

And they may also issue a "prohibition notice" directing somebody not to do something.

Covid testing in a Leicester park

In Germany, local authorities have the power to vary the level of restrictions in individual states, and a number of small lockdowns have been imposed recently.

One has also been enforced in parts of China's capital, Beijing after a recent outbreak.

Public Health Wales said that a local lockdown was under consideration after the recent outbreak in Anglesey. However, First Minister Mark Drakeford said that any decision would be not be taken lightly.

The Scottish government - for which public health teams work for the NHS, rather than councils - says it is developing a "responsive system of community surveillance" at a national, regional and local level to identify outbreaks quickly.

In Northern Ireland, the government says that any potential clusters or outbreaks will be handled using "appropriate infection control" in line with its normal guidelines for handling an outbreak of a disease.

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Leicester forced into local lockdown to combat surge in Covid-19 cases

Words: Simon Murphy and Amy Walker - The Guardian - 23:11 29-06-2020

Leicester will endure the country’s first local lockdown, with schools shutting for most children and re-opened shops forced to close again, as restrictions are strengthened and continued for two weeks in a bid to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Non-essential stores will close from Tuesday with schools shut to all but a small group of children from Thursday in a series of measures announced by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to quell coronavirus infections – which swelled by nearly 950 in a fortnight according to Leicester City council.

It means the city of more than 300,000 people will have to wait while the rest of England enjoys new freedoms, including the reopening of pubs and restaurants from 4 July, on what has been labelled “Super Saturday”. Non-essential shops, which were only allowed to reopen earlier this month as part of lockdown easing, will have to shut again. The new measures in Leicester will be reviewed in a fortnight, Hancock said.

The move came after an alarming rise in infections, with Leicester accounting for around one in 10 of all coronavirus cases in the past week. Hancock met with local leaders in Leicester on Monday afternoon to discuss the plans, followed by Boris Johnson chairing a cross-government Covid-19 operations committee. Leicester’s Labour mayor earlier hit out at the government’s handling of the outbreak in the city, describing Downing Street’s plans as hastily “cobbled together”.

Addressing the Commons at around 9pm in an unusually late statement – which was delayed by several hours – Hancock told MPs: “Given the growing outbreak in Leicester, we cannot recommend that the easing of the national lockdown, set to take place on 4 July, happens in Leicester.

“Having taken clinical advice on the actions necessary, and having discussed them with the local team in Leicester and Leicestershire, we’ve made some difficult – but important – decisions.

“We’ve decided that from tomorrow [Tuesday], non-essential retail will have to close and, as children have been particularly impacted by this outbreak, schools will also need to close from Thursday, staying open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers as they did throughout.

“Unfortunately, the clinical advice is that the relaxation of shielding measures due on 6 July cannot now take place in Leicester. We recommend to people in Leicester: stay at home as much as you can. And we recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester.

“We’ll monitor closely adherence to social distancing rules and we’ll take further steps if that’s what’s necessary.”

The local measures would be kept under review, he said, adding that they would not be imposed for any longer than necessary. They will be reviewed in two weeks’ time, he said.

The measures will also apply to the surrounding areas of the city, including Oadby, a town three miles south, and the villages of Glenfield and Birstall, three miles north.

While cases have fallen across the country, in Leicester they have continued to rise, Hancock said. “The seven-day infection rate in Leicester is 135 cases per 100,000 people which is three times higher than the next highest city,” he told MPs. “Leicester accounts for around 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week. And admissions to hospital are between six and 10 per day rather than around one a day at other trusts.”

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, said he supported an extension of lockdown measures in the city but pressed Hancock on what powers the government had to enforce them. In response, the health secretary said: “They will be brought forward with a statutory instrument very shortly and I absolutely commit to keeping the house updated on the two-week review.”

Earlier on Monday, the prime minister’s official spokesman highlighted that the government has powers under the Coronavirus Act to contain local outbreaks. Local authorities and Public Health England can also impose temporary closures of public spaces, businesses and venues, the spokesman added.

Reacting to Hancock’s lockdown statement, the city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby told BBC Radio Leicester: “They’ve gone further than we anticipated they might. They are clearly determined to start with the maximum, as it were, to see how it works and then perhaps to use the learning from this in other areas I have no doubt will follow.

“I can understand it from their perspective – they are entirely convinced that the level of the transmission of the disease in Leicester is at a higher level than I think the figures show.

“Nonetheless I can understand why they want to err on the safe side … I can see where they’re coming from even though I still have some scepticism about the figures that led them to this.”

Nick Rushton, the leader of Leicestershire county council, added: “Clearly coronavirus does not adhere to lines on a map. And although county rates are below the national and regional averages, we can’t be complacent and it makes sense to step up restrictions in areas closer to the city.

Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics.

How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.

Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?

This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.

Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.

Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.

In June 2020, Beijing suffered from a new cluster of coronavirus cases which caused authorities to re-implement restrictions that CHina had previously been able to lift.

What are experts worried about?

Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.

The threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.

In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry right now is that with a vaccine still many months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.

“This is the first localised lockdown on this scale and undoubtedly there will be issues to iron out. I understand this is disappointing news for residents, parents of schoolchildren and businesses when most of the country is opening back up but it’s crucial that people follow the latest advice.”

Liz Kendall, Labour MP for Leicester West, tweeted: “I’m extremely concerned about children missing school & local businesses & jobs. But if we don’t bring infection rates down it will be worse for us all in the long run. We can and we will beat this virus by working together. I urge the Government to ensure Leicester gets all the resources we need including more testing kits & facilities, promoting health messages in all languages & more inspections/support in workplaces, if that is required.”

According to Leicester city council, the latest figures from Public Health England show that 944 new cases of coronavirus were reported in the city in the last two weeks. It said in total,3,216 people have tested positive with Covid-19 in the city since the start of the epidemic.

On Sunday, the home secretary, Priti Patel, said the government was considering a localised lockdown in Leicester.

Soulsby described the government’s approach to the city’s outbreak as “intensely frustrating” earlier on Monday. “It was only last Thursday that we finally got some of the data we need but we’re still not getting all of it and it was only at 1.04am that the recommendations for Leicester arrived in my inbox,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “What they’re suggesting is not a return to lockdown, it seems that what they’re suggesting is that we continue the present level of restriction for a further two weeks beyond 4 July.

“I’ve looked at this report and, frankly, it’s obviously been cobbled together very hastily. It’s superficial and its description of Leicester is inaccurate and certainly it does not provide us with the information we need if we are to remain restricted for two weeks longer than the rest of the country.”

Claudia Webbe, the Labour MP for Leicester East, also earlier criticised the government’s communication about how the city should tackle the outbreak, and called for a local lockdown.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: “There are significant worries and significant problems in terms of inequalities and high levels of poverty that I’m concerned about.

“…The government hasn’t reassured us. Thus far, the messages and the communication from the government have been unclear, and it has been difficult, and I really don’t understand what communities are meant to follow.”

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How hackers extorted $1.14m from University of California, San Francisco

Words: - BBC News - 09:57 29-06-2020

A leading medical-research institution working on a cure for Covid-19 has admitted it paid hackers a $1.14m (£910,000) ransom after a covert negotiation witnessed by BBC News.

The Netwalker criminal gang attacked University of California San Francisco (UCSF) on 1 June.

IT staff unplugged computers in a race to stop the malware spreading.

And an anonymous tip-off enabled BBC News to follow the ransom negotiations in a live chat on the dark web.

Cyber-security experts say these sorts of negotiations are now happening all over the world - sometimes for even larger sums - against the advice of law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Europol and the UK's National Cyber Security Centre.

Netwalker alone has been linked to at least two other ransomware attacks on universities in the past two months.

Netwalker's dark web website used for negotiations with victims

At first glance, its dark-web homepage looks like a standard customer-service website, with a frequently asked questions (FAQ) tab, an offer of a "free" sample of its software and a live-chat option.

But there is also a countdown timer ticking down to a time when the hackers either double the price of their ransom, or delete the data they have scrambled with malware.

Instructed to log in - either by email or a ransom note left on hacked computer screens - UCSF was met with the following message, posted on 5 June.

Six hours later, the university asked for more time and for details of the hack to be removed from Netwalker's public blog.

Noting UCSF made billions a year, the hackers then demanded $3m

But the UCSF representative, who may be an external specialist negotiator, explained the coronavirus pandemic had been "financially devastating" for the university and begged them to accept $780,000.

After a day of back-and-forth negotiations, UCSF said it had pulled together all available money and could pay $1.02m - but the criminals refused to go below $1.5m.

Hours later, the university came back with details of how it had procured more money and a final offer of $1,140,895.

And the next day, 116.4 bitcoins were transferred to Netwalker's electronic wallets and the decryption software sent to UCSF.

UCSF is now assisting the FBI with its investigations, while working to restore all affected systems.

It told BBC News: "The data that was encrypted is important to some of the academic work we pursue as a university serving the public good.

"We therefore made the difficult decision to pay some portion of the ransom, approximately $1.14 million, to the individuals behind the malware attack in exchange for a tool to unlock the encrypted data and the return of the data they obtained.

"It would be a mistake to assume that all of the statements and claims made in the negotiations are factually accurate."

The hackers and the university negotiated in a live chat on the dark web

But Jan Op Gen Oorth, from Europol, which runs a project called No More Ransom, said: "Victims should not pay the ransom, as this finances criminals and encourages them to continue their illegal activities.

"Instead, they should report it to the police so law enforcement can disrupt the criminal enterprise."

Brett Callow, a threat analyst at cyber-security company Emsisoft, said: "Organisations in this situation are without a good option.

"Even if they pay the demand, they'll simply receive a pinky-promise that the stolen data will be deleted.

"But why would a ruthless criminal enterprise delete data that it may be able to further monetise at a later date?"

Most ransomware attacks begin with a booby-trapped emaiI and research suggests criminal gangs are increasingly using tools that can gain access to systems via a single download. In the first week of this month alone, Proofpoint's cyber-security analysts say they saw more than one million emails with using a variety of phishing lures, including fake Covid-19 test results, sent to organisations in the US, France, Germany, Greece, and Italy.

Organisations are encouraged to regularly back-up their data offline.

But Proofpoint's Ryan Kalember said: "Universities can be challenging environments to secure for IT administrators.

"The constantly changing student population, combined with a culture of openness and information-sharing, can conflict with the rules and controls often needed to effectively protect the users and systems from attack."

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Karim Benzema backheel sums up La Liga weekend of beauty and brilliance | Sid Lowe

Words: Sid Lowe - The Guardian - 17:13 29-06-2020

S ometimes there’s so much brilliance you don’t even know where to begin, let alone which words to use. Stendhal Syndrome, they call it, which is a disappointingly functional phrase to define those moments when you feel overwhelmed by beauty, and Karim Benzema expressed it better. On the pitch most of all, but off it too. Not when he said pfff – because what else was he supposed to say – but when he smiled, shrugged a little and said: “that’s football.” The afternoon before, Fyodor Smolov had said it too without uttering a word. Instead, he took the ball in his arms and kissed it.

“Thanks, old girl,” Alfredo Di Stéfano used to say, addressing the ball that had given him everything. Sometimes it’s enough to be grateful for the game and this was one of those times, if only fans could have been there to see it themselves. The kind of weekend Iago Aspas scores a goal so good he tears off his shirt in an empty stadium, sliding to his knees before a solitary man in a mask; the kind that closes after midnight with Benzema trying to explain how he had dreamed up the backheeled, nutmegged assist – yes, it was a backheel, a nutmeg and an assist – that took Real Madrid clear and brought the title close now.

“Sometimes things come from within me,” he said, softly. “It’s how I see football.”

This time, more than any other time. There is magic in those boots, inspiration in those minds, and not just his. When it comes to amazing goals, incredible plays, pure quality, it’s hard to remember anything quite like the latest week of the strangest season there’s ever been, a silent showreel squeezed into a solitary round of matches. The worst footballers you’ve ever seen are still exceptional – something we would do well to remember – but this? This was something else. You can spew out superlatives, turn to sensational in the thesaurus and copy down every entry, you can just make noises instead, splatter the screen with exclamations like Batman laying into baddies – Kerpow! Boom! and Biff! – but it will still fall short.

This was silly, it was bloody hell, it was did you just see that? Woof, wow and what the … It was: how?! Stop reading and get watching – which isn’t great advice for a writer but, let’s face it, it’s time to admit defeat.

It was where to start? Start at the end, that end. A wizard, a magician, a poet, a genius, Houdini, an artist: Karim Benzema has been all of those in the media this morning and why not? And yet he is not alone. On Sunday night he had produced the best assist of the season as Madrid defeated Espanyol and yet he might not have even produced the assist of the day. It’s possible he didn’t even produce the second-best of the weekend. One thing’s for sure, though: he produced the most important, and the one that will linger longest.

Just a casual backheel assist from Benzema, no big deal! 😍

Casemiro finishes and Madrid lead just before half time ⚪ pic.twitter.com/Vjhtl8ETbe

June 28, 2020

It is tempting to conclude that it’s over: when La Liga came back from lockdown, it seemed everything was in play; two weeks on, with six games to go, it feels like maybe nothing is. Madrid’s two-point lead looks strong, with Gerard Piqué insisting that fighting to the end is in Barcelona’s DNA – the same Gerard Piqué who admitted it would be “very, very hard” to win the league a week ago – and things have got worse since. Barcelona’s second-half collapse and 2-2 draw at Celta means Madrid have to drop at least three points. The Champions League positions look like being Atlético and Sevilla’s. And the bottom three are virtually gone: Espanyol, who have just sacked their third manager, Leganés and Mallorca are now 10, nine and eight points adrift.

How it all happened was special, the sort of stuff you just don’t see normally, and certainly not all together like this – a level of talent, technique, creativity, inspiration, intelligence so impressive that just listing it takes time. It was above all, a celebration of the men who give. “I’m just happy to be able to enjoy it,” said Santi Cazorla, speaking for everyone. Which tends to be the way when he’s around but then every game had something extraordinary this weekend, except perhaps Atlético versus Alavés, although that did have a lovely delivery from Kieran Trippier for Saúl’s opener and the stupidest penalty this season.

Borja Mayoral, Ennis Barhdi and José Luis Morales all got very nice goals as Levante secured survival for another season with a 4-2 win over Betis, while Sergio Canales scored a goal that might have been no consolation had it not been so good. Kiko Olivas and Sancet completed really clever set-play routines as Valladolid drew 1-1 at Sevilla and Athletic beat Mallorca 3-1. Enric Gallego scored an early overhead kick and a late header as Osasuna won 2-1 against Leganés – for whom Javi Avilés hit an astonishing shot that tore through the air and almost the net. And Eibar are safe again – an achievement that shouldn’t be normalised just because it’s normal now – after Pablo De Blasis scooped a lovely finish over Aarón Escandell.

Celta-Barcelona had Lionel Messi escaping the trap set for him on free kicks by dropping a perfect pass, both in conception and execution, right onto Luis Suarez’s head for the opening goa. Most of all, though, it had Aspas, “a catalogue of delicacies” in the words of El Faro de Vigo.

He produced an excellent pass to set up the first for Smolov, the Russian who got in trouble for breaking lockdown to see Boris Yeltsin’s granddaughter. Although Barcelona went 2-1 up, Suárez scoring again – a goal that on a normal weekend might have been talked about more – Aspas, Rafinha and Denis Suárez led Celta back and Quique Setién’s side fell apart. Aspas rolled a brilliant, barely believable backheel into the path of Nolito, only for Ter Stegen to make a save almost as good, thus rendering potentially the weekend’s best assist not an assist at all. But with two minutes to go, he scored a sensational free kick after a foul on Rafinha from Piqué.

The defender didn’t think it was a foul – he later tweeted lyrics from MGMT track Time to Pretend – and replays suggested he might have a point. But Aspas didn’t care. He had watched Barcelona’s walls and he knew where to aim. But knowing where he was going and getting there are not the same thing. He bent the ball in an impossibly long, low arch round the outside of the wall and into the net, running off towards the stands in celebration. They were empty, but inside Aspas was erupting. Some players can start a fight in an empty room; he can start a party. Shirt off, he skidded to the floor screaming. Barcelona were finished. Celta weren’t, but somehow Nolito missed a last-minute sitter to win it.

“It’s the milk,” Aspas said afterwards. “You’re fighting for survival, you draw with Barcelona and you feel frustrated: that last chance was so clear. We have great players.”

Spain does. Witness Villarreal, whose first goal in the 2-0 win over Valencia was impressive – a Paco Alcácer volley from Gerard Moreno’s pass – and whose second was ... well, absurd. Bonkers. Genuinely, you have probably never seen anything like it. And you probably never will either.

Sergio Asenjo punted the ball from one end to the other. It flew up, up, up into the air, travelling 70 metres or more in a long, high loop. Miles below, way beneath the ball, Santi Cazorla was squinting into the sunshine, watching it drop from the sky, almost running in circles to line up under it, like a bunch of firemen with a blanket trying to catch a bloke jumping from the 15th floor. When at last it fell, it landed on the inside of his foot where, as if he were wearing slippers, Cazorla cushioned it. One touch on the volley left it sitting there in the air, waiting for Moreno and, sideways on, he smashed it in from 20 yards. From goalkeeper to goal, it hadn’t touched the floor.

One of the goals of this LaLiga season ⭐️

🤤 @19SCazorla’s touch

🤯 @GerardMoreno9’s finish

💛 @Eng_Villarreal are unbeaten since returning to action, sitting 3pts behind 4th place Sevilla!

pic.twitter.com/gEpLdDVNCC

June 29, 2020

It was ludicrous but it was not the last. A few hours later, a hot and not particularly impressive game was suddenly lit up by Benzema’s inspiration. The man who scored a ridiculous goal against Valencia a week ago now provided a ridiculous assist to go with it, enough to defeat Espanyol 1-0. With Bernardo chasing him, the Frenchman took the ball on the bounce and on the backheel, sending it through the defender’s legs and into the six-yard box where he had heard Casemiro calling.

“It’s Karim’s goal,” Casemiro insisted afterwards. “It’s typical of him; an incredible pass.” AS called it a “golden backheel”; Marca called him a “genius”; El Paí­s described it as “Versaillesque”; “Oil on canvas” was another line, a moment to frame, if only performance art could be. If only an audience had shared it; able to say one day: “I was here.” In El Mundo, Francisco Cabezas wrote: “if there’s any reason to watch this strange version of football, it’s for players like Benzema.” Everyone everywhere was busy remembering Guti’s “backheel of God”, but this was better, Zinedine Zidane said – and he was right. He was also not surprised. “That’s Karim,” he said.

“You haven’t asked me about the move of the game,” Emilio Butragueño said as his post-match interview came to a close. Actually, they had, but there was no harm asking again. “It’s surprising, truly spectacular. It was the play of the season,” he said.

A director now, Butragueño played the lead role in the Madrid team of the 1980s that is often seen as the footballing expression of the Movida Madrileña – an outpouring of creativity and imagination, an explosion in music, literature, film, and art. The man who once said: “Art is any creation. I try to be creative on the pitch. You compete to win, but it’s a game. You begin playing any game with the intention of enjoying yourself. When you win and enjoy yourself, it’s marvellous. On the pitch, it’s a delight. I understand football as a way of expressing yourself, inventing something. It is all about creation. Enjoyment, fun. And when that comes off it is wonderful.”

On Sunday night he watched from the empty stands as down below it did.

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Coronavirus: Author Michael Rosen told he 'might not wake up' from coma

Words: - BBC News - 09:33 29-06-2020

Author Michael Rosen has said doctors warned him he "might not wake up" shortly before putting him into an induced coma during Covid-19 treatment.

The We're Going On A Bear Hunt writer, 74, spent 47 days on a ventilator after being admitted to hospital in March.

He said doctors "handed me a piece of paper and said you've got a 50/50 chance", to which he asked "are you telling me I might not wake up?".

The ex-Children's Laureate said he was told "'Yes', then I signed something."

He recalled: "I think I was a bit light-headed but I remember thinking 'oh well a 50/50 chance'. I was quite sort of flippant to myself about it really."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said at first he thought he had the flu or a mild form of the disease.

He told presenter Mishal Husain that "things started moving very, very quickly" after his neighbour, a GP, tested the levels of oxygen in his blood and told him "you've got to go to A&E now".

He later found out his respiratory system, liver and kidneys were failing, and looking back said he was "probably two or three hours off departing this planet."

"I was so near to going," he said. "It's a reminder of how life is very impermanent."

Recalling the moment his wife told him how long he had been unconscious for, Rosen said "I got quite upset about it... That's full of emotion for me, that people were just hanging in there."

His wife, radio producer Emma-Louise Williams, is now helping the author recover.

She used Twitter to update fans about her husband's illness, describing his time on a ventilator as a "long and difficult" seven weeks.

Recalling the night she was first told her husband may have to be put on a ventilator, she said: "My daughter and I came home and we didn't really sleep. We did think that Michael might go that night".

She said Rosen would spend another eight days breathing with the aid of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask but was later readmitted to intensive care.

Rosen has been left with a temporary hole in his neck after doctors performed a tracheostomy to allow the ventilator to supply oxygen to his body via a tube.

He described himself as "feeble" and "lopsided" after losing some vision and hearing on his left side.

He likened his legs to "cardboard tubes full of porridge" and currently uses a hospital-issued walking aid which he has named "Sticky McStickstick".

In a specially recorded message for his young fans, he thanked them for their messages, and told them: "It does look a little bit as if this illness can be beaten with kindness and care form the NHS."

Skip Twitter post by @BBCr4today

After contracting coronavirus, the poet @MichaelRosenYes spent 48 days in intensive care. Now back at home, he has a message for all of those people who wished him well while in hospital. #R4Today pic.twitter.com/dS9F0cyO55

— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) June 29, 2020

Report

The author, who was Children's Laureate from 2007 to 2009, is best known for works including Little Rabbit Foo Foo and Tiny Little Fly.

His 2008 poem These Are The Hands was written to mark the 60th anniversary of the NHS. It is now part of a book that's being used to raise money for the health service.

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How hate speech campaigners found Facebook’s weak spot

Words: Alex Hern - The Guardian - 17:08 29-06-2020

It took less than two hours for Facebook to react and it did so for good reason.

At 5pm on Friday, Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers, with a portfolio of products that ranges from Marmite to Vaseline, suddenly announced it was pulling all adverts from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the US.

Given the “polarised atmosphere in the US”, the company said, and the significant work left to be done “in the areas of divisiveness and hate speech … continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society”.

Mark Zuckerberg, it said, would be “going live on his Facebook page” to discuss the company’s racial justice work. Thirteen minutes after that, the most powerful chief executive in the world appeared on screens.

Humbled, he announced a series of new policies, including a ban on hateful content that targets immigrants, and further restrictions on posts making false claims about voting.

Asad Moghal, a senior digital and content manager at Byfield Consultancy, said Unilever’s action was always going to force Zuckerberg to respond. “When such an international giant decides that inaction is no longer an option to tackle racist and discriminatory language, then the social media businesses need to listen up.

“By taking financial action, a company the size of Unilever can effect change and force the hand of Twitter and Facebook; the business has decided it needs to protect its brand reputation and can longer be associated with platforms that deliver hate speech and divisive content. But what will really effect change is if this move creates a domino effect and other big-name corporations remove investment from the platforms.”

The swathe of announcements marked the first concessions from Facebook towards the aims of a coalition, Stop Hate for Profit, that was formed in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in May.

But the group’s leaders say the tweaks do not go far enough, and are reiterating their calls for a month-long global advertiser boycott starting on Wednesday.

The real danger for Facebook is if other brands decide they can do without the platform too.

This crisis has been a long time in the making – and shows no sign of going away.

Facebook has historically taken a softer line on hate speech than it has on other controversial content, such as that containing nudity, in part out of a belief in the inherent ambiguity of offensive speech, and in part due to the difficulty of automating such work.

Identifying hate speech is reliant on knowledge of context, custom and culture which can be hard to teach human moderators, let alone machines.

In recent years, Facebook has made strides in that area. In the third quarter of 2017, according to its community standards report, Facebook found just under a quarter of hate speech by itself; the other three-quarters was only removed after the site’s users manually flagged it to moderators, who then took action.

By this spring, the proportions had reversed: 88% of hate speech removed from the site was found by Facebook’s own tools, allowing it to remove or restrict almost four times as much hate speech as it had two years earlier.

But working against Facebook’s technical expertise was another factor: the US president.

As far back as 2015, according to reporting by the Washington Post, the social network has struggled with how to deal with a man who, first as a candidate and then as president, pushed the limits of what was allowed to be posted.

Instead, Facebook has steadily tweaked its own rules to avoid angering the president: introducing in 2015 an exception for “political discourse” to allow a video calling for a ban on Muslims entering the US to stay up, for instance, or limiting efforts to tackle “false news” out of a fear that doing so would disproportionately hit right-leaning pages and posters.

In the protests prompted by Floyd’s death, Trump again tested the boundaries, posting on Facebook and Twitter a message that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

Twitter, noting the racist history of the phrase, and interpreting it as a potential call for violence, enforced a policy it had enacted last summer for just such an occurrence: the company restricted the tweet, preventing it from being replied to or liked, and hid it behind a warning declaring that the tweet broke its rules. But it left it up, citing the inherent newsworthiness of a statement by an elected official with millions of followers.

On Facebook, however, the post was untouched. In a post on his personal page, Zuckerberg wrote that he interpreted the statement not as incitement to violence but as “a warning about state action”. “Unlike Twitter,” he wrote, “we do not have a policy of putting a warning in front of posts that may incite violence because we believe that if a post incites violence, it should be removed regardless of whether it is newsworthy, even if it comes from a politician.”

The decision became a flashpoint for lingering unease about Facebook’s wider problems with tackling hate on its platform – as did Zuckerberg’s decision, a week earlier, to appear on Fox News to defend a different Trump post, on mail-in voting, saying he did not think his company should become the “arbiter of truth”.

Facebook staff began to speak out on social media, holding a virtual walkout to emphasise that “doing nothing is not acceptable”.

The company’s precariously employed moderators joined in, risking their contracted-out jobs to decry the “white exceptionality and further legitimisation of state brutality”.

Even scientists funded by Zuckerberg’s personal charity the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative spoke out, calling Trump’s post “a clear statement of inciting violence”.

With some fanfare, Zuckerberg appointed in May an oversight board – a roster of experts that will have the power to overrule Facebook’s moderation decisions.

It includes Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister of Denmark; the Nobel peace laureate Tawakkol Karman; and Alan Rusbridger, a former Guardian editor-in-chief.

But the difficulty of setting up a new organisation in the age of Covid-19 means that the board was unable to take the heat off Zuckerberg.

“Zuckerberg’s strategy of dealing with Trump is an incoherent blend of two leadership approaches,” said Chris Moos, a leadership expert and teaching fellow at Oxford University’s Saïd business school.

Where some attempted to find “practical approaches for dealing with those tensions” they encountered at work, and others appealed “to higher-order principles”, Zuckerberg tried both and succeeded at neither. “On the one hand, he has engaged a wide set of stakeholders into the debate, throwing money at initiatives to build racial justice and voter engagement. On the other, the Facebook CEO has tried to rise above the controversy by making it clear that his company will be erring on the side of free expression, ‘even when it’s speech we strongly and viscerally disagree with’.”

Zuckerberg can never be removed from his position. While he only owns 14% of the company, the special class of shares he owns means he controls 57% of the voting rights at board meetings. But employee pressure can hurt him, professionally and personally: if Facebook no longer seems like a pleasant, enjoyable and rewarding workplace, the company will struggle to hire and retain the highly skilled staff it relies upon to compete in Silicon Valley.

In June, the Stop Hate for Profit campaign found another weak point for the site: advertisers. While Facebook takes some revenue directly from users, for products such as its Portal videophone or its Oculus VR headsets, the vast majority of the company’s $70.7bn (£57.5bn) annual revenue comes from advertising. On 17 June, Color of Change, along with the NAACP, ADL, Sleeping Giants, Free Press and Common Sense Media, launched a public request for “all advertisers to stand in solidarity with Black Facebook users and send the message to Facebook that they must change their practices by pausing all advertising on Facebook-owned platforms for the month of July 2020”.

Many of those advertisers were already uncomfortable about their spending on Facebook before the latest campaign. The site, as with all programmatic advertising, can have “brand safety” issues when companies find their messages next to extreme or hateful content. At a macro level, meanwhile, marketers are all too aware of the risks of helping consolidate the “duopoly” of Facebook and Google, which between them have secured the majority of the advertising industry’s growth.

But even if the Stop Hate for Profit campaign was pushing at an open door, the success has been surprising. By the end of the first week, Patagonia, North Face and the freelancing platform Upwork had signed on. And Unilever’s decision to pause advertising until November – albeit only within the US, and without directly citing the campaign – opened the floodgates. Over the weekend,it was joined by other megabrands, including Coca-Cola and the alcohol conglomerate Beam Suntory.

“Let’s be honest,” said Moghal, “these tech platforms have generated income and interest from this divisive content; they won’t change their practices until they begin to see a significant cut to their revenue.”

With the boycott officially starting on Wednesday, the campaigners are not easing off the pressure. In fact, success has only driven higher ambitions.

“The next frontier is global pressure,” Jim Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media, told Reuters on Monday. While some, including North Face and Patagonia, have expanded their boycotts globally, others are currently content to only withhold spending in the US. If even that is enough to get Zuckerberg in front of a camera in less than two hours, the campaigners hope the power of worldwide action could motivate lasting change.

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Behind the scenes of Stormzy's Glastonbury set

Words: - BBC News - 05:36 29-06-2020

In 2019, Stormzy pulled off one of the most talked-about headline sets at Glastonbury in recent years.

It marked the first time a British black man had taken to that stage, in that slot - and the performance was a celebration of British black culture.

But he didn't do it all by himself - he hired creative directors Bronksi and Amber Rimell, who run Tawbox.

With the 2020 Glastonbury Festival cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the BBC has been hosting a virtual line-up, featuring some of the festival's best performances across the years.

To coincide with the 2020 mash-up, pictures have been shared of Stormzy's rehearsals and how that 75-minute show came together.

Stormzy rehearsing Shut Up with WAR (We Ain't Regular)

Stormzy performed Shut Up with WAR (We Ain't Regular), a dance collective from south London.

Amber knew the group and thought they would be perfect alongside the grime star. Later she came across 10-year-old dancer Princess K, on Instagram, and added her to the mix.

"I put this to Stormzy and he was, like, in love with it," she says.

"When we went into rehearsals, and he saw the piece - he was blown away by the talent in the room."

Bronksi and Amber worked with a set designer called Misty Buckley.

She has a huge amount of experience, from the Superbowl halftime show to the Brit Awards and Glastonbury.

The set featured layers of video which allowed Bronski and Amber to visually support the narrative of Stormzy's 75-minute set.

Bronski, Amber and assistant choreographers Nathaniel Jones and Callum Powell during rehearsals.

One of the most powerful moments of the set was Blinded By Your Grace: pt2. The singers were from The Music Confectionery, a black-owned music talent company.

Stormzy watches as the choir practise their vocals and choreography.

Amber says planning and rehearsing began about eight months before Stormzy took to the stage at Worthy Farm.

Bronski says it was the biggest set that has ever been on the Pyramid Stage.

"And believe it or not, the Pyramid Stage is actually really small," he says. "So we pushed it to its boundaries, in terms of how big and heavy a set we could get in there."

Stormzy joining the rehearsals for Blinded By Your Grace pt2.

When asked what the most challenging moment of the whole experience was, Bronski said it was George Ezra,

He was on the Pyramid Stage before Stormzy and ran over by five minutes.

"It went right to the wire," Bronski admits. "But fortunately, by the time the set team were happy, lighting, video and sound were all happy [too] - it was show time and we were good to go."

Singers from The Music Confectionery rehearsing the interlude Saved Me.

The interlude Saved Me featured two pillars, intended to represent south London, where Stormzy grew up.

It also, memorably, featured Ballet Black.

Stormzy had told Bronksi and Amber that he wanted them on stage with him, but he didn't know how involve them.

Amber says she did some research and discovered they had helped create ballet shoes in different skin tones. So they incorporated their story, using dancers and visuals.

"I thought using that to celebrate the fact that the ballet world has moved [on] so much would be great," she explains.

Stormzy rehearsing First Things First

"Negative space is important in theatrics," Bronski says, as he talks about Stormzy's performance of First Things First and their decision to make the selected words from the track stand out even more by having lots of space between them.

Stormzy finished his 75-minute set with Too Big For Your Boots.

Bronski and Amber say they wanted a hard visual to end the show and accompany the stomping track.

Stormzy leaving his dressing room to head to the Pyramid Stage in 2019

"I remember seeing him before he walked on stage," Amber says.

All the planning and rehearsing had led to this moment.

"He was stood backstage in his dressing room, pacing, and I just looked at him and just nodded at him.

"I didn't say anything. I just nodded at him. And he nodded back at me, and then I left him.

"You could just see how much it meant to him."

i Instagram i Facebook , Twitter and YouTube .

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Rupert's radio: can Murdoch's Times Radio compete with the BBC?

Words: Mark Lawson - The Guardian - 16:20 29-06-2020

T imes Radio – which launched today at 6am as a daily audio version of Rupert Murdoch’s highest-brow newspaper – had the coup of securing Boris Johnson’s first broadcast interview since his recovery from coronavirus. The conversation started with the prime minister, making space for his notes on the studio table, displacing the most crucial tool of radio broadcasting, making it sound as if he were whispering.

“Sorry, we’re going to have to get your microphone closer,” said the co-host (and station launch director) Stig Abell. “You’ve moved it away.”

There was a clatter as the presenter intervened. It is probably a good thing Johnson has already had Covid-19, as Abell had broken physical distancing rules.

“Howzat?” boomed Johnson, sounding like one of the bowlers still banned from village greens.

So, how was Times Radio? Since selling Sky TV, Murdoch has compensated by expanding his presence in UK audio broadcasting. This is his fourth wireless enterprise, after Virgin Radio, talkR adio and talkSport. The newcomer shares some on-air personnel with the other Murdoch speech networks (“That interview from our sister station, TalkSport 2”) and follows Virgin by eschewing adverts in favour of corporate sponsorship, which, in practice, means frequent commercials for the station itself and other Murdochian products.

On the early evidence, Times Radio most resembled a good-quality karaoke BBC Radio 5 live. Abell’s breakfast co-host, Aasmah Mir, has Radio 4 on her BBC CV (as does the afternoon host Mariella Frostrup), but Mir learned her craft at Radio 5 live; in her new role, she echoed the youngest BBC speech station’s chatty informality. Abell was also notably informal, pronouncing news as “nooze” and speaking so casually that the ends of sentences were sometimes incomprehensible. Laid-back is one thing; leaning back too far from the microphone is another.

Times Radio was talked-up in advance as a rival to Radio 4 – an antidote to the imperial self-importance of which detractors have accused that channel – but it seemed in competition only immediately after the 8am news, and less through its own efforts than a decision of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser. He had not only given Johnson’s first on-air one-on-one for three months to a BBC rival, but offered him in the time slot that Radio 4’s Today prides as Britain’s premier platform for politicians.

The launch felt like one of Murdoch’s more subtle moves in his long, hostile campaign against the BBC. The Cummings-Johnson administration seemed happy to cooperate, forcing Today and the BBC to credit a Murdoch outfit if they wanted to report what Johnson had said.

That dilemma was reduced by the failure of the interview to produce much news of significance, partly because, despite being asked good questions on Cummings and Covid-19, Johnson ignores any topic he does not want to discuss. The only solution is to become furious, as Andrew Neil once did in a TV encounter, but that would not fit the general gentleness for which this station seems to be aiming.

The prime minister oozed his usual bluff about doubling down on levelling up, whacking moles and putting his arms around workers. A fresher Johnson buzzword, “Rooseveltian”, was allowed by the presenters to pass without explanation, although, in after-chat analysis, the network’s “chief political commentator”, Tom Newton Dunn, eventually glossed the economic interventionism of the 32nd US president.

The biggest and most expensive obstacle to setting up a speech station is the construction of a global news operation, but Times Radio can cannily recycle correspondents from Murdoch print titles. The excellent Newton Dunn has transferred full-time from the Sun, but Times and Sunday Times reporters were called on to animate other news stories, although the word is that they will not be paid extra for this moonlighting.

In a welcome departure from Radio 4 and Radio 5 live – where, in male-female pairings, the man always seems to be top dog – Mir feels positioned as lead morning presenter, as befits experience and technique superior to Abell’s. If the network can establish an audience – and the airing of tweets from listeners in Australia and Bangladesh suggested widespread initial curiosity – then Mir could become the star that the BBC never quite allowed her to be.

Her double act with Abell needs more work, though. He told the same story about his attitude to cashpoints in the first and second hours, although his co-host, either from politeness or tiredness, managed to express surprise at the reprise.

Luke Jones, a talented young reporter bought in from Radio 4’s lunchtime news shows, made a bright start, reporting throughout the day from a maternity unit at a hospital in Newcastle – another very Radio 5 live type of feature. Jones suddenly lost an interviewee because she was “in the birthing pool and starting to push”, a line I have only heard previously on radio in The Archers. Trumping that, the reporter later introduced the debut day’s most startling sound-effect – a baby vomiting. Jones, who will also co-host Friday-Sunday breakfasts, feels like another loss to the BBC.

Having started as a Radio 5 live tribute act, Times Radio, channelled a newer audio phenomenon in the second show on its schedule. Matt Chorley’s 10am-1pm programme is an expansion of his impressive Times podcast Red Box, which provides Westminster insight and rumour. Asked what he thought of Mir and Abell’s prime ministerial interview, Chorley tactfully, and accurately, replied that Johnson is “a hard one to pin down”.

Between frontline political guests – Gus O’Donnell, Alistair Darling, George Osborne – Chorley’s opinionated soliloquies sound more LBC than Radio 5 live, suggesting that Times Radio is aiming to take listeners from a variety of rival stations. It was a wonder they didn’t put on Pachelbel’s Canon in D and go after Classic FM and Scala.

While the pandemic made launching a broadcaster much harder logistically, the prevalence of video conferencing and phone interviews during lockdown has set technical expectations lower – listeners are more tolerant of blips and slips, such as the studio not being able to raise a line to Chorley’s third guest. But, in technical terms, it was generally a slick and confident launch.

Judgment on content must wait longer. The new station’s parent paper was historically nicknamed the Thunderer. Some of the first day content suggested the risk of Times Radio becoming known as The Chunterer – especially when Mir and Abell swapped stories about their preferred nutritional smoothies and their children’s births. Or perhaps The Repeater: Newton-Dunn discussed the Johnson interview with Frostrup and then drivetime host John Pienaar in much the terms he had at breakfast.

Pienaar, familiar with rolling news, was typically sharp and engaging, but Frostrup, new to the long magazine format, seemed to run out of material in the third hour. She filled a chunk with extracts from earlier programmes, including a replay of her own interview with actress and activist Rose McGowan that we had heard around 90 minutes before.

The BBC’s squadrons of on-air correspondents and the alleged over-staffing in production have long been targets of editorials in The Times; Times Radio, conversely, sometimes sounded under-staffed on and off air. If so, it was perhaps lucky to launch on a slow news day, with the reorganisation of the civil service the biggest tale in town. The big test will come when, in a year of events that have felt like an adaptation of the Book of Revelations, the next apocalypse invades its airwaves.

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Dead by Daylight devs deny nerfing Pyramid Head’s ass

Words: Cass Marshall - Polygon - 19:40 29-06-2020

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hrnrnghh cheryl i’m trying to sneak around but im dummy thicc,

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The next Dungeons & Dragons campaign comes in a $500 limited edition

Words: Charlie Hall - Polygon - 16:42 29-06-2020

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Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden Platinum Edition is limited to 1,000 units

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