Europe is once again an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and Spain – under a state of emergency – has gone into another lockdown as protests continue. Alfonso Beato has more from Barcelona in this report narrated by Roderick James.Camera: Alfonso Beato Producer: Roderick James
The nation’s top technology leaders urged U.S. lawmakers Wednesday to keep content moderation protections in place, despite growing calls from Republicans to address perceived bias in the way social media companies handle free speech online. Online companies are shielded from liability for content on their sites under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Those protections apply to companies of all sizes operating online that use third-party content. But some Republicans contend Section 230 is a “carve-out” for larger companies such as Facebook and Twitter, allowing them to censor content based on political viewpoints and use their considerable reach to influence public discourse. U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to Section 230 in a Tweet Wednesday, saying “The USA doesn’t have Freedom of the Press, we have Suppression of the Story, or just plain Fake News. So much has been learned in the last two weeks about how corrupt our Media is, and now Big Tech, maybe even worse. Repeal Section 230!” President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at MotorSports Management Company, in West Salem, Wis., Oct. 27, 2020.At issue is whether or not a company that moderates content is a publisher instead of a platform and if the reach of companies such Facebook, Google and Twitter constitutes a monopoly. “Companies are actively blocking and throttling the distribution of content on their own platforms and are using protections under Section 230 to do it. Is it any surprise that voices on the right are complaining about hypocrisy, or even worse?” Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker said Wednesday. Section 230 has received renewed attention during the 2020 presidential election cycle due to online companies’ new approaches to content moderation in response to foreign interference on online platforms during the 2016 elections cycle. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pushed back against that in prepared testimony Wednesday, saying, “We should remember that Section 230 has enabled new companies—small ones seeded with an idea—to build and compete with established companies globally. Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies.” Dorsey told lawmakers one possible approach that is “within reach” would allow users to choose between Twitter’s own algorithm that determines what content is viewable, and algorithms developed by third parties.Wicker said his staff had collected “dozens and dozens” of examples of conservative content that he says has been censored and suppressed over the past four years by Twitter. He alleged the social media company had allowed Chinese Communist propaganda about COVID-19 to remain up for two months while President Donald Trump’s claims about mail-in ballots were immediately taken down. Earlier this month, Twitter blocked users from sharing a link to a news story on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Twitter also locked the accounts of President Trump and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for sharing the story, citing its policies for how hacked materials are shared on its website. Based on these actions, Republican Senator Ted Cruz accused Twitter of attempting to influence U.S. elections. “Your position is that that you can sit in Silicon Valley and demand of the media that you can tell them what stories they can publish; you can tell the American people what reporting they can hear,” Cruz said to Dorsey Wednesday. The Twitter CEO has apologized for the decision, tweeting, “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.” Facebook also restricted sharing of the Hunter Biden story, saying it would first need a third-party fact check. The social media company had allowed Russian disinformation to flood the site during the 2016 election, but Facebook instituted new policies this election cycle. According to its website, Facebook’s response includes the removal of 6.5 billion fake accounts in 2019, adding third-party factcheckers to go over content posted on the site as well as removing 30 networks engaged in coordinated, inauthentic behavior. “Without Section 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything people say. Platforms would likely censor more content to avoid legal risk and would be less likely to invest in technologies that enable people to express themselves in new ways,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers Wednesday. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on a screen as he speaks remotely during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill, Oct. 28, 2020, in Washington.Congressional Democrats expressed concern about the growth of extremist groups online as well as continuing attempts at foreign election interference on social media platforms, questioning the timing of the hearing.“I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election, when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to try to tilt toward President Trump’s favor. The timing seems inexplicable except to game the referee,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. “President Trump has broken all the norms. And he has put on your platforms, potentially dangerous and lethal misinformation and disinformation.” In an earlier line of questioning, Dorsey told lawmakers Twitter does not maintain lists of accounts to watch, but bases content moderation based on algorithms and service user requests. Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer at Google, also stated the company’s commitment toward independence, telling lawmakers, “We approach our work without political bias, full stop. To do otherwise would be contrary to both our business interests and our mission, which compels us to make information accessible to every type of person, no matter where they live or what they believe.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday the EU’s administrative arm will spend $117 million on rapid COVID-19 tests as the virus surges across Europe.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Von der Leyen said unlike last spring, when the pandemic first began, every European country is feeling the effects of a second wave of the virus. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control says the virus continues to spread throughout the continent.
The agency reports almost 6.5 million people have contracted the virus in the EU member countries, plus Britain, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Von der Leyen says they are purchasing rapid antigen tests as another tool to help bring COVID-19 under control. The finger-prick antigen tests are not considered to be as reliable as the standard nasal-swab “PCR test,” but they work much more quickly, with results available at the testing point within 15 minutes.
European health experts say the virus is now moving too quickly to rely on tests that can take days.
Von der Leyen also urged member state leaders to improve information-sharing about the virus, saying that will help identify where extra intensive care unit capacity might be found and better organize cross-border patient care.
Von der Leyen also called on member states to begin preparing national vaccination plans, and to review them now at the EU level. She said they all need to be prepared for the arrival of the first vaccine, which in the best-case scenarios could begin arriving sometime in April in monthly 20 million to 50 million dose deliveries.
Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne, ended a nearly four-month coronavirus lockdown Wednesday, with restaurants, cafes and bars reopening and outdoor contact sports resuming. Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria.
At a news conference, state Premier Daniel Andrews said the easing of the lockdown will allow 16,200 retail stores, 5,800 cafes and restaurants, 1,000 beauty salons and 800 pubs to reopen, impacting 180,000 jobs.
Melbourne and the surrounding areas were the epicenter of Australia’s pandemic, with a peak of 700 new cases a day back in August, and 819 of the nation’s 907 total deaths from the coronavirus. Wednesday was the first day since June 9 that no new cases of the virus were reported in Melbourne.
Residents must still wear masks. Work from home orders are still in effect and travel remains limited to no more than 25 kilometers. But while many shops and restaurants did not survive the pandemic, others that are left report record demand, with some restaurants already fully booked one month in advance.
The travel restrictions are expected to be lifted November 9, allowing residents of Victoria to visit other parts of Australia, which were able to contain the second wave of the virus with severe measures. Officials say the nation has recorded just over 27,500 novel coronavirus infections, far fewer than many other developed countries.
Iran’s parliament speaker said that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, joining a growing list of infected Iranian officials as the country again shattered its single-day death record with 415 new fatalities reported Wednesday.
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf tweeted that he received the news after one of his colleagues tested positive for the virus. He said he would continue to carry out his duties from self-quarantine. Earlier this month, he was on state TV visiting a coronavirus ward in one of capital’s overwhelmed hospitals to show support.
“I decided to appear in the hospital to see problems from a close distance,” Ghalibaf told local media from the ward in Tehran. “Supervising is the main duty of parliament.”
Iran has for months wrestled with the worst outbreak in the Middle East, and on Wednesday the daily death toll hit a new high for a second consecutive day. Wednesday’s count pushes Iran’s total death toll past 33,700 — the highest in the region. Public health officials have repeatedly stressed that the true number of deaths is likely 2.5 times higher.
The government, desperate to salvage an economy reeling from severe American sanctions, has been loath to order business closures even as infection rates reach new heights.
In a clear sign of the outbreak’s scale, dozens of top officials have fallen ill. At least 30 lawmakers have tested positive in recent months, according to local media, and a senior adviser to the country’s supreme leader has died. Earlier this month, the head of the country’s atomic energy organization and the vice president in charge of budget and planning both contracted the virus.
Iran’s former parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, tested positive for the virus in April and returned to work after convalescing for three weeks. Ghalibaf took over his post in early June.
As infections surge, filling the country’s hospitals and driving up its death toll, Iran’s parliament has continued to hold regular sessions. Lawmakers wear masks but tend not to practice social distancing. When President Hassan Rouhani decided to skip a parliamentary vote this fall out of concern for his health, he faced intense backlash from hard-line lawmakers who demanded he attend regardless.
The timing of the pandemic has proved disastrous for Iran’s economy, which is buckling under U.S. sanctions re-imposed in 2018 after the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
A new study of the British population shows that antibodies in the human body fighting COVID-19 declined rapidly in the British population during the summer, suggesting any immunity against the virus may not last long.The study, conducted by Imperial College London and published Tuesday, involved tests on more than 365,000 British people between June 20 and Sept. 28.In their findings, the researchers’ analysis of the home finger-prick tests found that the number of people testing positive for antibodies dropped by 26.5% during the study period, from almost 6% to 4.4%.The findings suggest the possibility of decreasing population immunity ahead of a second wave of infections in recent weeks that has forced local lockdowns and restrictions.The researchers say it is unclear what level of protection antibodies give a person against COVID-19 specifically.Imperial College London Department of Infectious Disease head, Wendy Barclay, told reporters in London they are confident in what a decline in antibodies tells them.“On the balance of evidence, I would say with what we know for other coronaviruses, it would look as if immunity declines away at the same rate as antibodies decline away, and that this is an indication of waning immunity at the population level.”The researchers say that more than anything, the study reinforces the need for a vaccine to effectively bring the virus under control.
Russian authorities issued a national mask requirement Tuesday as the country set a single day record for coronavirus deaths amid a resurgence of new cases.Health officials reported 16,550 new cases and 320 new deaths Tuesday, the highest daily death toll since the pandemic started.In response, Russia’s consumer safety and public health agency, Rospotrebnadzor, ordered all Russians to wear masks in crowded public spaces, on public transit, in taxis, parking lots and elevators starting on Wednesday.The agency also recommends regional authorities put a curfew on entertainment events, cafes, restaurants and bars from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.Russia has the world’s fourth largest tally of more than 1.5 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic.The government’s coronavirus task force has been reporting more than 15,000 new infections every day since Sunday, which is much higher than in spring.Russia has reported more than 26,000 virus-related deaths.Despite the sharp spike in daily infections, Russian authorities have repeatedly dismissed the idea of imposing a second national lockdown or shutting down businesses.Most virus-related restrictions were lifted in July as cases dropped, but masks were still encouraged.
U.S. government researchers say an experimental COVID-19 therapeutic drug is not effective at treating patients hospitalized with an advanced stage of the novel coronavirus. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued a statement Monday saying it would no longer recruit new patients to take part in a clinical trial of the experimental drug, called bamlanivimab. The drug, developed by U.S.-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Canadian-based biotech firm AbCellera, is part of a class of treatments known as monoclonal antibodies, which are made to act as immune cells that scientists hope can fight off the virus. The antibody therapy was similar to one given to U.S. President Donald Trump after he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. The clinical trial was paused earlier this month by independent monitors because of safety concerns. The study, which launched in August, aimed to enroll 10,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients in the United States. Eli Lilly has already applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization for the drug to be used for mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 infections based on preliminary results from a different clinical trial. The United States is in the midst of a dramatic surge of new COVID-19 cases, with more than 66,000 confirmed on Monday, according to data released by the FILE PHOTO: Healthcare worker carries specimen collection tubes at COVID-19 drive-in testing location in Houston, Texas.In the western state of Utah, a group representing the state’s hospitals have warned Gov. Gary Herbert that the facilities are reaching the point where they may have to start rationing care, where doctors would have to determine who could remain in the hospital based on factors such as age and overall health. The situation is steadily improving in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, which posted a second consecutive day Tuesday with no new coronavirus infections. The initial milestone on Monday was the first COVID-19-free day since June 9. Melbourne and the state of Victoria had been plagued by a massive spike of new coronavirus cases, peaking in August when daily new cases rose above 700. The resurgence of new cases has been blamed on security lapses at hotels where travelers were being quarantined after arriving from overseas. Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews announced Monday that Melbourne’s five million citizens will be able to leave their homes effective Tuesday at midnight, and that all cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and hotels will be allowed to reopen.