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World News

What makes a gathering a ‘superspreader’ event?

Now months into the US coronavirus outbreak, safety precautions have become routine: stand 6ft (2m) apart, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

But still, certain ‘superspreader’ events – birthday parties, bar nights, and even choir practice – seem to be the culprits in an outsized number of Covid-19 infections.

So how can one night out, or a single infected person, lead to dozens of cases?

We asked Dr Abraar Karan, a physician and public health researcher at Harvard Medical School, to look at three different cases since the US outbreak began to understand how some events can shift from low to high risk, and how to avoid attending a superspreader event yourself.

First, what is a superspreader?

At a superspreading event, the number of cases transmitted will be disproportionately high compared to general transmission, Dr Karan says.

And the risk of these superspreading events may balloon in the presence of superspreading people, who pass on their infection more widely either by being in contact with more people or emitting more of the virus.

“I tend to think of it as this: the vast majority of people may not infect any other people, and some people in certain situations infect a lot of people,” he says. “One person may infect 10 people, or 15 people or 20 people.”

Research is still being done, Dr Karan says, but early results indicate that coronavirus spread is primarily powered by these supercharged events.

“Different models have looked at this and they suggest that 20% of people account for 80% of spread.”

And while risk profiles will vary widely between similar events, Dr Karan says there are certain factors that should raise a red flag.

“If you have any of the following in combination: indoors, crowded, closed spaces, without any sort of personal protective equipment like masks, which you’re not going to have eating – I think those are all high-risk,” he says.

Choir practice, Mount Vernon, Washington

What happened?

Back in March, early in the US outbreak, 61 members of a choir group in Skagit County, Washington, met for their weekly choir practice. One person at the two-and-a-half-hour meeting displayed cold-like symptoms.

Days later, after an investigation by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 53 Covid-19 cases were identified – 87% of the group that had assembled to sing. Two members of the group later died.

During the 10 March rehearsal, chairs were arranged in six rows of 20 chairs each, spaced 6-10 inches apart, according to a report by the CDC. Members took their usual rehearsal seats, with some space left over by the roughly 40 people not present that night. Some shared snacks during a 15-minute break, though no member reported physical contact between those present.

Why the spread?

In this case, the key factor is likely the group’s reason for meeting: to sing.

When you sing, similar to when you speak loudly or shout, you expel respiratory droplets from you mouth and nose, Dr Karan says.

“When you really are breathing out heavily from your airway you’re producing more aerosol, smaller droplets that can hang around in the air,” he says.

In the Skagit County choir, the initial sick member could have expelled these droplets as they rehearsed, which then hovered in the air as members sang and socialised for more than two hours.

Birthday party, Carollton, Texas

What happened?

On 30 May, the Barbosa family gathered in a group of 25 for a surprise birthday party. The north Texas family told US media that the host was unknowingly infected with Covid-19.

By the end of June, family member Chance O’Shel said that eight family members and 10 friends of the family had contracted the virus, including grandparents Frank and Carole Barbosa, who were approaching their 68th anniversary.

Both Frank and Carole Barbosa were later hospitalised, and on 1 July, Frank Barbosa died, family members said.

“They were even more cautious than they were before, but it still lead to my grandma, grandpa and aunt in the hospital,” Mr O’Shel said of the gathering to local TV station KAVU.

Why the spread?

To Dr Karan, a birthday party similar to that of the Barbosa family’s could have all the ingredients for a superspreading event.

“You can imagine if you’re indoors at a birthday party, there’s a lot of close contact there,” he says. “There’s also people maybe lining up to use the restroom”, crowding together in small hallways where social distancing is impossible.

As people drink and eat, more problems arise. First, it’s unlikely you’ll be using a facial covering as you eat – allowing for easier spread.

Secondly, if party guests start drinking, rigid social distancing guidance may be more loosely followed, or outright ignored.

“We’re asking people to change their behaviours, we’re asking people to do things that are not natural to them”, to help curb the spread, Dr Karan says. “If you introduce things like alcohol, it’s more likely that people revert to their normal behaviour, they’re less inhibited so they may forget.”

And it matters who was initially infected, he explains. When the index case is someone central to the gathering, someone familiar with the guests – like the host of a party, as was the case at the Barbosa birthday – that added intimacy and contact may contribute to extra infections.

Restaurant and bar, East Lansing, Michigan

What happened?

On 8 June, the owners of Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub – a 10,000 square foot indoor restaurant with a large outdoor deck – opened its doors after weeks of Covid-19 closures.

Managers provided training on safe practices, tables were pushed six feet apart and capacity was limited to around half of its typical crowd, allowing for approximately 225 customers.

But as of 2 July, a reported 152 infections in 13 counties across Michigan have been tied to Harper’s. Of these cases, 128 reported they were present at the restaurant between 12 June and 20 June, and the remainder are close contacts of those who did.

Why the spread?

Heading to an indoor bar or restaurant may bring you into some risky territory, Dr Karan explains.

Similar to a birthday party, food may be a factor.

“When you have people that are eating, they’re not going to be wearing masks, they’re going to be chewing and talking, and they’re going to be face-to-face, across from one another,” he says, allowing for droplets to transmit between guests.

If loud music is playing, or a crowded venue makes it difficult to hear, loud speaking will also pile on some risk, “like a party in overdrive”, Dr Karan says.

The high temperatures that come with summer will add yet another complication, he says.

“There is some evidence that air conditioners may contribute to spread, potentially blowing droplets along the path of the air conditioner.”

Add in the use of public restrooms, several high touch-point areas like doorknobs, and you have ready-made potential for superspread.

“I think taking precautions is important,” Dr Karan says. “But at the end of of the day, no matter how many precautions you take, some things are just high-risk, and I think bars are one of those things.”

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Politics

Sturgeon left red faced as Scottish rail ranks bottom in UK – operator paid 65,000 claims

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The Office of Road and Rail says Network Rail Scotland’s divisional score, which is funded by the Scottish Government, was 43.3 percent, compared to 74.6 percent for it’s best English counterpart. The publicly-funded body is in charge of the country’s rail infrastructure, including tracks and signals.

The score takes into account a range of issues from punctuality and customer satisfaction to safety and financial management.

The other UK regions were Southern England, which scored 74.6 percent. Wales and Western England scored 62.9 percent, Eastern England got 56.5 percent while North West and Central got a 56.1 percent mark.

The government rail watchdog also showed the body was 4 per cent short of their target in terms of service punctuality.

88.5 percent of services arrived at their destination within five minutes of schedule, lower than the officially set target of 92.5 percent which Network Rail forecast would not be met till March 2022.

 

There was also 1.24 minutes of delay per 100km of train travel in 2019-20 – 0.18 minutes worse than official targets.

The ORR report added: “Network Rail Scotland did not deliver the targets set by the Scottish Ministers or those agreed with its customers.

“However It has demonstrated that it understands what it needs to do to achieve its performance targets and, working closely with its customers, has plans in place to deliver these improvements.”

The pressure piles on as Network Rail Scotland is under pressure to deliver £347 million of efficiency savings over five years.

The ORR also scored Network Rail down after it failed to achieve targets for customer satisfaction, train performance, reduction in works complaints and other management.

The figures also claim worker safety requires improvement with the body failing to reduce the number of minor injuries, especially slips, trips and falls among workers.

It comes after the regulator issued two national improvement notices concerning track worker safety in 2019-20.

But the report said the rail body was “responding positively” to these.

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Network Rail was previously investigated by the transport regulator as it emerged that it was responsible for 66 percent of delays.

It meant Scotland’s train operator Scotrail had to pay out 65,000 successful claims from passengers in nine months.

But the regulator said Network Rail Scotland’s strongest performing areas were in safety, investment and asset management.

The report added: “While the reliability of Network Rail Scotland’s infrastructure is improving, it is important that it focuses on other areas where the proportion of delay remains high.

 

“Network Rail Scotland knows it must do this and has recently put in place plans and dedicated resources to help reduce delays associated with its operational management of the network. 

“Network Rail Scotland is specifically focused on reducing the level of ‘unexplained’ delay by investigating the worst performing routes to better understand the factors impeding performance.” 

It comes after pressure begins to mount to extend the iconic Borders Rail Route so Edinburgh will once again be connected with Carlisle via the Borders following the announcement of Boris Johnson’s £5bn infrastructure pledge.

John Larkinson, Chief Executive of the ORR, said: “We are also encouraged by the level of commitment that Network Rail has shown in delivering the Scottish Ministers’ requirements on enhancement projects such as the redevelopment of Scotland’s third busiest station, Glasgow Queen Street station and in areas that support delivery of the Scottish Ministers’ strategic objectives – for example working with the industry on plans for freight growth.

“Train service performance for passengers was below target, although it did improve during the year – and delays caused by Network Rail reduced.”

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Business

Wall Street shifts bets to big pharma as COVID-19 vaccine race progresses

(Reuters) – Wall Street is moving some bets on COVID-19 vaccines to large pharmaceutical companies with robust manufacturing capabilities, signaling that a love affair with small biotech firms might be ending after the sector’s best quarter in almost 20 years.

Early signs of the shift came Wednesday, when positive data for one of Pfizer Inc’s (PFE.N) COVID-19 vaccine candidates sent shares of the large U.S. drugmaker up more than 3%. Shares of its partner on the vaccine, Germany’s BioNTech SE (22UAy.F), have been flat on the data.

Although the news had little effect on shares of Pfizer’s large rivals in the vaccine race, smaller peers Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc (INO.O), both of which have previously shown promising COVID-19 data of their own, ended down more than 4% and 25%, respectively. Inovio partially rebounded Thursday.

For the week so far, shares of bigger players in the vaccine race, such as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Merck (MRK.N), have also outperformed Inovio and Moderna.

Some of the selling was likely driven by end-of-quarter profit-taking, locking in dizzying gains in an otherwise turbulent market. Moderna and Inovio shares have risen nearly 200 percent and 540 percent in the year-to-date, respectively, greatly eclipsing gains for large pharmaceutical companies.

Analysts say investors are changing their strategy to focus on companies that can make, as well as discover, a vaccine and that the risk reward profile for some biotechs is less favorable after their stunning gains so far this year.

“I would certainly say success by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson could make it more challenging for smaller companies, given size and scale and manufacturing capability,” said Vamil Divan, a biotechnology analyst at Mizuho.

Smaller biotechnology companies with promising COVID-19 vaccines pose a special challenge for investors, said Justin Onuekwusi, a portfolio manager at Legal & General Group Plc.

Because of their limited manufacturing capabilities, investors in those stocks are effectively betting that the company or its drug will be bought by larger companies, he said.

“In smaller cap stocks like biotech, it all tends to be quite binary so fundamental or detailed analysis don’t always work,” Onuekwusi said.

Medical manufacturers have never faced a challenge like that of producing a global COVID-19 vaccine.

Companies including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have said they each aim to produce as many as 1 billion doses by the end of 2021.

There are more than 17 vaccine candidates being tested on humans in a frantic global race to end a pandemic that has infected 10 million people and killed more than half a million. Drugmakers have released early stage human trial data for five vaccine candidates so far.

Bernstein Research analyst Vincent Chen said COVID-19 vaccines could generate in excess of $10 billion in annual revenue, but many investors are struggling to determine their value.

“In the near term, they are not going make a ton of money on” the vaccines, said Evan Seigerman, an analyst at Credit Suisse. “The initial round of vaccines are going to be given away or sold at cost. Where people will start making money is if COVID-19 vaccine becomes something like the flu shot and people need to constantly protect against it.”

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World News

Brazil's Bolsonaro would veto bill regulating fake news in current form

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said he would veto a bill regulating fake news, which has also been criticized by social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, if it comes to his desk from Congress in its present shape.

A network of Bolsonaro’s right-wing supporters is being investigated for propagating fake news to denigrate opponents and attack the country’s democratic institutions.

Speaking on a Facebook live broadcast, his favorite channel of communication with his backers, Bolsonaro said he was for “total freedom of the media” as he criticized the bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday.

The proposal has returned to the lower chamber to approve changes.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have jointly criticized the bill as a serious threat to privacy by requiring social media account holders to provide an identity document and a cellphone number for verification purposes when registering.

The companies called it a “massive gathering of data on people” that undermined the right to protect data.

They also said the requirement to keep databases on servers in Brazil would endanger privacy and hurt the economy because it would create barriers to commerce that were contrary to the global and open nature of the Internet.

Bolsonaro said he would “consult the people” before deciding whether to veto the bill or sign it into law.

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Economy

5 key takeaways from a strong June jobs report – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — At first glance, the June employment report was a blockbuster.

The U.S. economy produced a record 4.8 million added jobs last month, walloping expectations. And the unemployment rate sank from 13.3% all the way to 11.1%.

“Today’s announcement,” President Donald Trump declared Thursday after the report was released, “proves that our economy is roaring back.”

Maybe. But most economists warn that the risks ahead outweigh the reasons to cheer as the economy and the job market struggle to emerge from a devastating meltdown triggered by the coronavirus.

Further hiring gains are imperiled by a resurgence of COVID-19 cases throughout the South and West. And despite a solid rebound in employment, the job market remains badly damaged — by the pandemic itself, by the lockdowns imposed to contain it and by a loss of confidence among Americans fearful of returning to shops and restaurants until a vaccine or an effective treatment for the virus is available.

Even after superb hiring reports for May and June, the economy has regained only about one-third of the 22 million jobs it lost to the pandemic recession, according to Thursday’s jobs report. And the unemployment rate still exceeds the highest rate during the 2009-2009 Great Recession.

Here are five major takeaways from a jobs report that was surprisingly robust yet may not fully reflect a fast-evolving employment market.

THE GOOD NEWS MAY BE OLD NEWS

Just as the economy seemed to be gathering momentum after springtime lockdowns of businesses, confirmed virus cases began resurging throughout the South and the West. The spike in cases forced state and local governments that had allowed many businesses to reopen to suddenly suspend or reverse those plans.

Many bars and restaurants, newly reopened in late May and early June, shut down again and laid off workers — again. The June report didn’t include those job cuts.

“Remember that the (June jobs) data are capturing the data from the middle of May through the middle of June, given the survey period,” economists at Bank of America Global Research cautioned. “It captures the state of the labor market before the economy was hit by the rise in virus cases in the Sun Belt.”

Researchers who track business activity in real time have detected evidence of a slump. Homebase, a provider of time-tracking software for small businesses, discovered that the number of hours worked at its client companies has leveled off after having risen sharply in May and early June.

Likewise, the data firm Womply found that the proportion of bars that are closed in Texas, Florida, Tennessee and some other states grew last week after having declined steadily since April or early May.

What’s more, the government reported Thursday that the number of laid-off Americans seeking unemployment benefits last week remained at an elevated pace — 1.43 million, down slightly from the previous week but alarmingly high by historical standards.

“With the number of COVID-19 cases accelerating and some states delaying re-opening or imposing new restrictions, we are concerned that a significant number of individuals may become furloughed again, “Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities, wrote in a research report. “The outsized gains in payrolls that were registered in May and June likely won’t be repeated in the next few months.’

JOB MARKET FACES A LONG CLIMB BACK

Despite the April-May bounce-back, the employment market remains in dire shape: 137.8 million Americans were working in June — 14.7 million fewer than in February, before the pandemic began to inflict deep economic damage. Even May’s 11.1% unemployment rate was the third-highest, behind April and May, in monthly records that go back to 1948.

And the vast majority of May’s job gains appeared to come from businesses that had recalled employees who were provisionally let go during the virus lockdowns: The number of Americans on temporary layoffs sank by a record 4.8 million last month.

Ominously, by contrast, the number of people labeled “permanent job losers” surged by 588,000 last month. That was the biggest such jump since February 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession. These people will likely find it more difficult to regain employment.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, denounced Trump for declaring what Biden said was a premature victory over job losses:

“President Trump has spiked the ball and made this about him. He doesn’t seem to realize he’s not even on the 50-yard line.”

RACIAL DISPARITIES PERSIST

White workers continue to fare better than Black workers.

In June, the jobless rate for white Americans fell from 12.4% in May to 10.1%. For African Americans, the rate dropped less, from 16.8% to 15.4% Historically, the unemployment rate for Black workers has been 1.5 to 2 times the rate for white workers.

That gap had narrowed in the early stages of the pandemic because African Americans work disproportionately in many front-line jobs in warehouses, grocery stores and takeout eateries. Such businesses were generally regarded as “essential” and so managed to retain most of their employees.

But in the past couple of months, the racial gap has widened again.

“The pandemic has really shone a spotlight on how lopsided our economic system is, particularly in terms of the labor market,” said Steve Rick, chief economist at the insurer CUNA Mutual Group. “It’s clear that Black communities have been disproportionately affected by this recession.”

WAGES SHRANK

Average hourly earnings at private companies fell 1.2% to $29.39 in June. For rank-and-file workers specifically, hourly earnings dropped 0.9% to $24.74.

The reason wasn’t so much that employers imposed pay cuts. Rather, the workers who were rehired in June, at bars, restaurants and other such establishments, disproportionately work in lower-paying occupations. That trend pulled down average wages for the month.

“The decline reflects the extent to which June’s job gains were skewed toward lower-wage, lower-hour industry groups, such as retail trade and leisure and hospitality services,” said Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial.

A job-quality index produced by Cornell University’s law school found that nearly 87% of June’s growth in private sector hiring came from “low quality’ jobs — non-management positions that offer below-average weekly earnings.

JOB GAINS WERE BROAD-BASED

Employers were hiring all over the economy last month.

Restaurants, bars, hotels and other leisure and hospitality businesses, hard hit by closures in the spring, added 2.1 million jobs in June. Even so, they employ 4.8 million fewer people than they did in February.

Retailers added 740,000 jobs, health care 475,000, manufacturers 356,000 and construction firms 158,000.

“Job gains in June were broad-based across 75% of the private sector,’ noted Kathy Bostjancic of Oxford Economics.

AP Economics Writers Martin Crutsinger and Christopher Rugaber contributed to this report.

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World News

Sadiq Khan mocked for ‘remarkable achievement’ of leaving London ‘broke’

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Susan Hall, leader of the Greater London Association Conservatives, has accused Sadiq Khan of imposing austerity part two onto ordinary Londoners after the Labour Mayor outlined almost £500million worth of cuts to public services. Sadiq Khan has confirmed the Greater London Authority (GLA) faces a budget deficit of £493m over the next two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Khan has pleaded with the Government for yet another bailout and has warned without the support, he will be forced to cut funding for Transport for London, the London Fire Brigade and the Metropolitan Police.

Ms Hall, who also serves as the London Assembly’s budget committee chair, has called on Mr Khan to take responsibility and stop playing the victim.

In The Daily Telegraph, she wrote: “Despite his warnings of a new austerity post-coronavirus, an approach which the Government has rejected, Sadiq Khan is ironically planning to impose it on London himself.

“And Khan’s proposed cuts are not small. His policing cuts alone are the equivalent to the salaries of 1,681 police officers.

“As usual, Sadiq Khan is treating this crisis as a press opportunity to attack the Government, rather than a problem he is responsible for solving.

“His gambit is that by playing the part of a ‘poor Mayor’ and publicly calling for ministers to step in and bail him out again, Londoners will not notice that he is the one choosing to drop the axe on the vital services that keep our city safe.”

City Hall estimates it will see a seven percent loss in council tax revenues and reductions of 11 percent in business rates by March 2022.

The London Mayor has outlined this would result in TfL having to save £75.5m in 2020-21 and then £211.9m in 2021-22.

The Met will need to find £45.5m in 2020-21 and then £63.8m the following year.

Meanwhile, the London Fire Brigade faces cuts of £10m in 2020-21 and £15m in 2021-22.

Mr Khan has also attempted to make savings of more than £50m by relocating his office from City Hall to east London’s Royal Docks.

The Conservative chief at the GLA insisted the relocation of City Hall has highlighted how far the Mayor’s stock has fallen during his tenure.

Ms Hall added: “I will pay Sadiq Khan one compliment when it comes to his mayoralty. He has achieved something remarkable.

“He has turned the Mayor of London from being one of the most powerful roles in the country into a broke office looking for a discount City Hall.

“Sadly it’s Londoners who are paying the price.”

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Outlining the scale of economic troubles in the capital, last week Mr Khan said: “Ministers have repeatedly promised that there will be no new era of austerity as a result of COVID-19.

“We need the Government to act right now to keep that promise and provide financial support to local and regional authorities across the UK.

“A new era of austerity will not just damage public services – but will strangle the economic recovery that we desperately need to see in order to protect as many jobs as possible.”

Express.co.uk has contacted Sadiq Khan for further comment.

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Politics

Frost bites back! UK issues angry retort to Barnier as Brexit trade deal talks on brink

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David Frost has confirmed “significant differences” remain between the UK and the EU after three days of intense discussions fizzled out during the fourth round of negotiations. Following the first face-to-face encounter since the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Barnier reiterated there would be no deal unless the UK accepted Brussels’ demands for a “level playing-field” on trade and access to British fishing waters.

Mr Frost stated the personal meeting had provided “extra depth and flexibility” to talks but insisted outstanding issued remained.

In a statement, Britain’s Brexit negotiator said: “We have completed our discussion of the full range of issues in the negotiation in just over three days.

“Our talks were face to face for the first time since March and this has given extra depth and flexibility to our discussions.

“The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful.

“But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.”

The official deadline for an extension to the transition period officially expired on Tuesday.

Despite the lack of progress, Mr Frost has insisted the UK will still look to strike an agreement before the December 31 deadline.

The next round of talks will take place in London next week.

Mr Frost added: “We remain committed to working hard to find an early understanding on the principles underlying an agreement out of the intensified talks process during July.

“Talks will continue next week in London as agreed in the revised terms of reference published on 12 June.”

Following the discussions, Mr Barnier firmly pointed the blame towards the UK for the lack of progress.

The French europhile insisted the EU had engaged “constructively” and added officials needed to see an “equivalent engagement from the UK side”.

He said: “Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement.

“However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.”

The EU Head of Taskforce added Brussels had “listened carefully” to British concerns, but insisted the EU would not shift on its red lines on a so-called level playing field and access to the UK’s fishing territories.

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The 27 EU member states have given Mr Barnier a mandate to ensure a level playing field on trade – amid fears the UK leaving the single market and customs union could undercut the bloc in any future deals with nations around the world.

Mr Barnier said: “We will continue to insist on parallel progress on all areas.

“The EU expects, in turn, its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement.

“We need an equivalent engagement by the United Kingdom.”

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World News

Focus Points, Lost City open affordable Denver farmers market this week

Before the pandemic, Gisela Juarez was working on improving her cooking and English language skills with the dream of opening a restaurant. But in March, she found herself out of work and struggling to pay for rent and food like thousands of other Coloradans.

There’s still a lot Juarez needs to patch together to keep her family fed, but a new “pay-how-you-can” farmers market in her neighborhood, Globeville Elyria-Swansea, has become one important resource.

“We’re eating everything healthy,” she said. “It’s no chemicals, no fast food, all organic.”

Juarez found the market as a participant in the Comal Heritage Food Incubator, a restaurant and work development program for immigrants and refugees from the Focus Points Family Resource Center. She also helps out at their food stand to provide healthy food for other members of her community.

Focus Points — a nonprofit providing programs and services in northeast Denver — is one of the organizations behind the “pay-how-you can” farmers market, along with the Lost City cafe and East Denver Food Hub. The weekly market opened July 1 and will run from 5-8 p.m. every Wednesday through October.

The Lost City Market features 15 vendors, providing everything from fresh vegetables to bread and flour. Comal Heritage Incubator is selling salsas and specialty dishes like Venezuelan potato salad. East Denver Food Hub provides fresh produce from immigrant-run farms often left out of mainstream farmers markets. Juarez said her favorite item was her sourdough loaf from Rebel Bread, which she has for breakfast every morning.

In order to put on a “pay-how-you-can” market, Michael Graham, owner of Lost City, said that some people spend more than they usually would, while others pay less or nothing. Community members can also donate to the market or volunteer, especially if they speak Spanish.

The market extends from the Denver Metro Emergency Food Network, another partnership between Lost City, Focus Points and other organizations in Denver. Since March, DMEFN says it has delivered more than 250,000 meals to homebound families, elderly residents and other individuals in need.

Jules Kelty, executive director of Focus Points, said the farmers market and emergency meals grew out of high demand for accessible, healthy food in Globeville Elyria-Swansea and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We needed to adapt to the needs of members in our community,” Kelty said. “We noticed at the beginning of the pandemic that food security emerged as one of the biggest issues.”

Focus Points and Lost City are neighbors in Globeville Elyria-Swansea, and the market takes place on the cafe’s patio and the parking lot they share at the TAXI development.

Globeville Elyria-Swansea is considered one of the largest food deserts in Denver with no access to affordable, healthy meals at grocery stores. Kelty described systemic issues that lead to food insecurity like transportation injustice. I-70 cuts right through Globeville, and bus routes barely make it up to the low-income, majority non-white neighborhood.

“As a ‘foodie city,’ people may not see food insecurity right in front of them, but it’s right next door,” Kelty said. “It’s created so many barriers for our community to get the food they need to feed their families.”

It’s not the easiest time to be a restaurant or nonprofit, either. Kelty said her organization needed to adjust staff and resources as demand for programs like food insecurity skyrocketed, while regular operations grinded to a halt. However, she added that Focus Points has started to stabilize, thanks to hard work from her team and support from the philanthropic community for their direct response efforts.

In March, Graham said he made the difficult decision to close his cafe and focus on helping individuals hit hardest by the pandemic in the community.

“We shut down our operations and said hey if we’re going to go out with a bang, we want to go out getting meals to people that need it,” Graham said.

As he got involved in DMEFN, Graham emphasized the fortitude of community members in Globeville Elyria-Swansea. Focus Points and Lost City intentionally hired people from the neighborhood to deliver emergency food, and the same team is helping put on the market, he said.

“It’s just inspiring seeing (residents) step up to help support their own community with such grace and resilience,” he said.

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World News

How to host a socially distanced barbecue – The Denver Post

Here’s a maxim for entertaining in the age of COVID-19: The only way to bring people together is to figure out how to keep them apart.

So on a recent blue-skied afternoon, I stretched a tape measure to 6 feet while my husband, Daniel, arranged chairs and folding TV tables in our narrow Brooklyn backyard. We had just enough room for seven people in a distanced oval: four guests, plus our family of three. I was positively giddy at the prospect of cooking for friends for the first time since the pandemic began.

Back in rainy March, as New York entered lockdown and we huddled in place, my family and I tried to become self-sufficient by stocking up on beans and pasta and what we thought were far too many cases of wine. (It wasn’t.) We felt uncertain about grocery shopping and receiving packages, and were becoming anxious about what lurked in every human interaction. But after a few weeks, we realized it was human interaction we craved the most. Not beans, not wine.

Every Zoom cocktail hour with friends and family had an edge of sadness, and each virtual quarantini seemed to intensify the pangs of disconnection as much as quell them.

We were determined to find a way to entertain safely — and in person.

Depending on where you live, guidance from your local authorities and your comfort level, it may be possible to get together outside in small, physically distanced groups where guests can remain at least 6 feet away from one another. Even as we texted our invitations, we knew there was no way to have people over that was 100% safe. But there were ways to reduce the risks.

Our goals were to be as careful as we could, given our knowledge of the virus, and to use the comfort threshold of the most anxious person in the group as our guide. Because while pandemic etiquette was new to all of us, making guests feel at ease and welcome in our home is not.

Although most experts agree that the chances of catching the coronavirus from touching objects is low, studies have shown that, under ideal conditions, the virus can live on a surface for up to 72 hours. Quarantining the items for three days and unpacking them with gloved hands would lower the risk to a point acceptable to everyone in attendance.

The first step was to quarantine the tableware.

I put a set of plates, silverware, glasses and napkins on a separate tray for each group, then wrapped each tray in a bag. I also wrapped up cans of seltzer and individual bags of fancy potato chips.

We also had the slightly awkward experience of sending out pre-party group emails to strategize about the bathroom.

All involved agreed that they felt fine about sharing it — as long as only one masked person went into the house at a time, and as long as everyone promised to close the lid before flushing. (What’s normally TMI becomes essential knowledge during a pandemic.) We left paper towels and plenty of hand soap on the sink, along with disinfecting wipes and a spray bottle filled with 70% isopropyl alcohol for misting handles and knobs.

The day of the party, Daniel and I snapped on gloves and packed an ice-filled cooler with the seltzer cans, spaced apart for easy grabbing. (We also set disinfecting wipes next to the cooler.) Each group had a separate folding TV table next to carefully spaced chairs, and on the table we set bags of potato chips next to a canapé-size hand sanitizer. This wasn’t the abundant hors d’oeuvres spread I was used to, but chips and Purell is surely the snack combo of 2020.

After all the planning and logistical arrangements, cooking itself was a snap. We served the food directly off the grill, and each guest pulled a piping-hot serving off the fire with their own utensils. Minimal risk, minimal fuss.

Grilled chicken thighs were an easy choice. I could marinate them in a gingery balsamic glaze ahead of time. And unlike a big, thick steak or leg of lamb, they didn’t need to be carved or handled after cooking. Fish fillets, hot dogs and burgers (made with real meat or vegan meat), and individual chops are also suitable choices.

Just be wary of garnishes and condiments; the fewer, the better. If you can’t imagine grilling without ketchup, mustard or Sriracha, give each group its own bottle or jar, use gloved hands to put small servings in ramekins or ask people to bring their own condiments. This holds true for things like olive oil, salt and pepper, too. At the very least, be sure to have plenty of serving spoons at the ready, one for each group, as well as paper towels and wipes on hand, so everyone can clean as needed.

A few menu items could be made in advance, and, for those items, we again followed the three-day quarantine rule, leaving everything covered in the fridge and pulling out items with gloved hands only just before serving.

As a seasoning for grilled corn, I made jalapeño-feta butter, wrapping individual portions in parchment paper and twisting the ends as if each held a giant, chile-studded confection. The butter would also work equally well sliced on top of other grilled vegetables — peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini — melting into a creamy, salty, lightly spicy sauce.

I whipped up personal ramekins of no-bake butterscotch custards three days ahead. They were dense and ultracreamy, with a dash of molasses to accentuate the bittersweet brown sugar.

And finally, when it came to pouring wine and batched cocktails, we instructed our guests to leave a glass on a table, then take a few steps back while Daniel or I refilled it without touching.

The planning took a lot more thought than parties before this new normal, and we all needed to stick to a conscious choreography to make sure we kept our distance.

When our friends showed up, it was hard at first to remember every rule, and it felt downright strange not to hug and kiss hello.

But as everyone settled in, 6 feet apart, wineglasses in hand, we gradually eased out of the awkwardness and remembered what it was like to eat and drink with loved ones on a warm summer night. That feeling, it turns out, hadn’t changed a bit.

And to Drink …

The sweet-and-tart flavors of this grilled chicken dish have a natural partner: riesling, particularly the lightly sweet rieslings of the Mosel Valley of Germany. These fine wines, which balance sweet flavors with lively acidity on an exhilarating razor’s edge, will echo the peach, ginger and balsamic notes with refreshing clarity. Look for bottles labeled kabinett and spätlese. Abhor sweet wines? You could try dry German rieslings (many are labeled trocken), or pinot gris or gewürztraminer from Alsace. For many, gewürztraminer, which can smell like roses, cold cream and lychees, is an acquired taste. This dish would be a fine time to acquire it. Other good alternatives would include chenin blancs, from the Loire or elsewhere, and dry sparkling wines. Also worth noting: You can’t go wrong with lager or wheat beer.

— Eric Asimov

Recipe: Grilled Corn With Jalapeño-Feta Butter

Yield: 6 servings

Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, basil or dill
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely grated or mashed to a paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 6 ears corn, shucked
  • Olive oil, for grilling

Directions

1. To prepare the jalapeño-feta butter, in a small bowl, mash together the butter, jalapeño, feta, cilantro, garlic, lime or lemon juice, salt and coriander.

2. Divide the butter equally onto six pieces of parchment paper large enough to wrap them snugly (6-inch squares should do it), form into logs, and wrap well, twisting the ends like candy wrappers. Chill for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days before using, or freeze for up to 3 months.

3. Light the grill or heat the broiler, arranging the rack about 4 inches from the heat source. Brush corn lightly with oil. Grill until charred on all sides, 3 to 6 minutes total.

4. Transfer corn to plates, and serve each ear with a log of jalapeño-feta butter for rubbing onto the ear.

Recipe: Gingery Grilled Chicken Thighs With Charred Peaches

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 45 minutes, plus marinating

Ingredients

For the Chicken:

  • 5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (preferably the good, syrupy kind)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger and any ginger juice from a 2-inch piece
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 8 fresh thyme sprigs, or 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely grated or mashed to a paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
  • Olive oil, for brushing
  • Plain whole-milk yogurt, for serving (optional)
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Handful of torn fresh basil (optional)

For the Peaches:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3 to 4 ripe peaches or nectarines, halved and pitted
  • Flaky sea salt

Directions

1. Marinate the chicken: In a small bowl, mix together balsamic vinegar, grated ginger and a pinch of salt.

2. Season chicken all over with salt, and put it in a larger bowl or resealable bag. Add 2 tablespoons of the balsamic mixture. (Give it a stir before measuring in case any of the ginger has fallen to the bottom. Save remaining balsamic for serving.) Add the thyme, garlic, soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon lime juice. Cover bowl or close bag, and let chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

3. Light the grill or heat the broiler, arranging the rack about 4 inches from the heat source.

4. Prepare the peaches: In a bowl, combine butter, thyme and honey. Brush peaches lightly with butter mixture and place in a grilling basket, if you have one, or directly on the grill. Grill over direct heat until just charred, 2 to 4 minutes per side. You’ll know they are done when the skin curls back and the flesh starts to melt. Transfer to a serving platter or plates, and, if you like, drizzle with a little more of the butter mixture and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

5. If there’s room on the grill, cook the chicken at the same time (or wait until peaches are done). Brush off any clinging pieces of marinade from chicken, pat it dry, and coat lightly with oil. Grill or broil until charred and browned, 4 to 6 minutes per side.

6. Transfer chicken to a platter or serving plates, along with the peaches. Serve with dollops of yogurt on the side if you like, and a drizzle with some of the remaining gingery balsamic and a little more olive oil. Scatter with scallions and basil, if using, for garnish.

Recipe: No-Bake Butterscotch Custards

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 35 minutes, plus chilling

Ingredients

  • 1 cup/240 milliliters heavy cream
  • 1 cup/240 milliliters crème fraîche
  • 1/2 cup/110 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon light, unsulphured molasses (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream and fresh berries, for serving (optional)

Directions

1. In a medium saucepan, combine cream, crème fraîche, brown sugar and salt over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar.

2. Cook at a vigorous simmer until mixture thickens slightly, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in molasses and vanilla. Let sit until mixture has cooled slightly and a skin forms on top, about 20 minutes.

4. Stir mixture, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a measuring cup with a spout. Pour mixture into ramekins or individual serving bowls.

5. Refrigerate, uncovered, until set, at least 3 hours and up to 3 days. Serve with whipped cream and berries, if you like.

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World News

Why a growing number of Kashmiri youth are picking up guns

Violence has seen an uptick as India’s governing party adopts a tough policy to deal with protests and armed rebels.

Shopian, Indian-administered Kashmir – Sajad Ahmad Beigh, a 23-year-old herder from south Kashmir’s Shopian district, left his home with a flock of sheep into the nearby woods on a summer afternoon early last month. He never returned.

A week later, his brother Khurshed Ahmad was informed by the Indian army officers that Sajad was shot dead in a gunfight in Sugg village, 4km (2.5 miles) away from his home.

“He was very young. We had no idea what happened to him,” Khursheed, Sajad’s brother, told Al Jazeera. “It was not a thing he would discuss. We had no idea. We were shown body at 9:30pm on the day of his killing to identify,” he said.

An offensive launched by Indian forces in Kashmir has killed at least 116 rebels since January, handing a blow to the armed rebellion that broke out nearly 30 years ago against Indian rule.

Sajad‘s rebel life lasted a mere seven days. Several fighters killed over past months were recent recruits – some of them just days old.

In Srinagar, a rebel killed this month had picked up the gun last month. Another young man – who was enrolled for a PhD in business administration at a local university – who disappeared from a trekking trip is suspected to have joined rebel ranks.

Kashmir’s Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh said “22 terrorists have been killed in the last two weeks” and more than 100 – one-third of the total rebel numbers – killed since the beginning of the year.

At least 42 rebels were killed in June alone, according to an official tally.

In the main city of Srinagar where gunfights are rare, five rebels were killed in two military operations in the last two months. Three civilians were also killed when, according to their families, an “unexploded shell” went off at one of the sites. One of the victims was a 12-year-old boy, Basim Aijaz.

On Wednesday, the killing of a 65-year-old civilian caused outrage after a picture emerged of a toddler sitting on his body.

Hard-line Kashmiri policy

The security forces have pledged to wipe out armed rebellion from the region, but a slow trickle of youth, like Sajad, continue to join the rebel ranks as they leave behind families “shocked and clueless”.

Last year, 139 youth joined the armed rebellion, according to official figures.

Kashmir’s security situation has gradually worsened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014, data show, raising a question mark over his hard-line Kashmiri policy.

Last August, India revoked a 70-year-old constitutional provision, Article 370, which guaranteed a limited autonomy to the disputed region – home to about 12 million people.

India’s Hindu nationalist government also rushed thousands of additional troops to the region, which is already believed to host more than half a million Indian forces, making it one of the world’s most militarised zones in the world.

Most of the pro-freedom leaders, as well as a large number of pro-India leaders including former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, remain in jail since last year’s decision to strip Kashmir’s special status and impose a strict military and communication clampdown.

An internet shutdown was lifted in February but Kashmir is still deprived of high-speed internet. Government has defended its decision saying the internet would be used to organise protests against the government.

New Delhi’s decision to disband the local legislative body has also alienated sections of politicians who were previously loyal to New Delhi.

‘Deepening the alienation’

“At this time, Jammu and Kashmir is one of those last corners of the world where normal political processes and institutions are under suspension. People don’t have participation in the decision-making process, the most basic of any democratic societies,” Zafar Choudhary, a political analyst based in Jammu region, told Al Jazeera.

Zafar said that amid a political vacuum, New Delhi has been pushing for “unprecedented constitutional changes” in the region. “And new policy decisions of massive repercussions, such as domicile law continue to surprise people,” he said.

Kashmiris fear the domicile law is a tool to bring about demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region. The law had previously barred outsiders from other Indian states from buying land and settling in Kashmir. Last week, up to 25,000 outsiders were granted residency in the disputed region, which is also claimed by Pakistan. Both countries govern parts of the Himalayan region.

Zafar, who is also the editor of news website The Dispatch, said New Delhi’s policy of assimilating Kashmir with the rest of India is having the opposite impact. “These are proving to be materials of further deepening the alienation,” he said.

Last year’s security lockdown also devastated the region’s main export produce – apple – while hopes of a revival of economic activity this year were dashed by coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile, the military offensive has continued even as the region battles the global pandemic.

No more funerals of rebels

Rebels enjoy popular support and those killed in gun battle are considered martyrs and accorded mass funerals. The killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani in southern Kashmir’s Tral region four years ago sparked widespread protests. His funeral attracted tens of thousands of people.

But Indian authorities now confiscate bodies of slain rebels and transport them to remote mountainous locations where they are quietly buried.

“We briefly saw his face and were not allowed to cry or touch it or even take a last picture of him. We were told to submit our phones before the funeral,” Sajad’s younger sister, Shahida, a college student, told Al Jazeera. “There is no one whom we could tell and they would listen that having the dead body is our right.”

Shahida said last month Sajad’s mobile phone was taken away by the army when he was with his cows near his home.

“They [army] told him to come and collect it. When he went to the army camp they beat him and tortured him. He was unable to walk, his thighs hurt. He was again told to collect it and he refused to go due to the fear. His phone is still with them,” she said.

Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar told Al Jazeera that they are not handing over bodies of “militants to families and not allowing their burial in the native places”.

“This way we are not only protecting people from COVID-19 infections, but also stopping glorification of militants during funerals,” the official said.

In a nearby village of Baghandar, Sahil Ahmad Malik, 25, lived with his family till he left home in August 2018 to join rebel ranks. The family told Al Jazeera that he never visited or made contact with them during his rebel life that lasted two years.

Malik was killed along with Sajad in southern Kashmir, a rebel stronghold, his family said. They however, did not see his body as they were not informed before it was buried in Sheeri village, located over 120km (75 miles) from Shopian.

‘Harassment from security forces’

Habla Begum, 50, Malik’s mother alleged that they continued to face harassment from the security forces for two years when her son was an active rebel.

“Every day there was a raid in our home. We could not sleep properly all those months. I did not see his dead body. We heard he was killed,” she said at her home in Baghandar village.

“They beat my younger son who was 18. I cannot even explain the harassment we faced during the 23 months. Once they [army] kept me on snow bare feet the whole night in winters, the other time they kept a torch shining on my eyes the whole night in the darkness. This was the punishment for us,” she alleged.

“They were forcing us to tell him to surrender and bring him but we didn’t have any information about him. I kept on pleading with those officers that they too might have mothers like me. We all felt suffocated.”

When asked about the allegations of harassment by the security forces, IGP Kumar told Al Jazeera that they have not received any complaints.

“We have received any complaint about the harassment by police through social media but parents did not report any complaint. We are still looking into it.”

Kumar said the current active rebel strength is between 165 and 180 – a considerable drop from the early 1990s when armed fighters ran in thousands. The numbers slowed down drastically in the early 2000s, after which street protests became more commonplace.

Indian security forces have been accused of using disproportionate forces on protesters, including stone-pelters, blinding thousands by pellet guns.

‘This will carry on’

Ajai Sahni, a security expert and executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management based in New Delhi, believes the rebels will possibly “carry on” with limited numbers and resources.

“I don’t see any radical transformation in their trajectory,” he said.

“They have come down from several thousand to a few hundred. This is a sustainable type of insurgency and they can maintain this level for a long time, especially because they get help from Pakistan,” Sahni said, referring to New Delhi’s accusation that Islamabad backs rebels. Pakistan denies arming rebels.

He, however, said there had been “no efforts” for political accommodation in Kashmir even when deaths and rebel activities declined drastically in the early 2000s.

Since the killing of Wani, the rebel commander, a growing number of Kashmiri youth have joined rebel ranks as they see no hope of a political solution.

The calm at the de facto border between India and Pakistan has also been broken in recent years. The cross-border shelling, which had come down considerably, has seen a sharp uptick as New Delhi changed its Kashmir policy under Modi.

In 2014, there were 547 ceasefire violations, which increased manifolds in 2019 to 3,479.

The official data shows that there has been an increase in the number of incidents of violence such as the killing of rebels, civilians and the Indian security personnel in recent years.

On Wednesday, a Kashmir-based rights group said at least 229 people have been in the first six months of this year. The report [PDF] by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society said 32 of those killed were civilians.

Meanwhile, Kashmiris will continue to bear the pain of violence and political and economic marginalisation until, in Sahni’s words, a “political outreach is initiated” from New Delhi.


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Out of Sight in Kashmir | Close Up

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