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Cycle power: Bikes emerge as a post-lockdown commuter option

MADRID — As countries seek to get their economies back on track after the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, bicycle use is being encouraged as a way to avoid unsafe crowding on trains and buses.

Cycling activists from Germany to Peru are trying to use the moment to get more bike lanes, or widen existing ones, even if it’s just a temporary measure to make space for commuters on two wheels.

The transition to more bike-friendly urban environments “is necessary if we want our cities to work,” said Morton Kabell, who cochairs the European Cyclists’ Federation.

“A lot of people will be afraid of going on public transportation, but we have to get back to work someday. Very few of our cities can handle more car traffic,” he said.

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In addition to bike lanes separated by curbs, Kabell backs subsidizing electric bicycles, which could encourage commuters who have longer or hilly journeys.

The benchmarks are Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where half of the daily commuters are cyclists, and the Netherlands, with its vast network of bike lanes.

Still, countries around the world are catching up at different speeds.

The French government asked cycling activist Pierre Serne to draw up a plan for when its lockdown ends May 11. His recommendations, including bicycle lanes separated from other vehicles at an estimated cost of around $90,000 per mile, have been submitted to the Transportation Ministry.

In Berlin, the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg council simply painted yellow lines on the some roads to take space from car lanes.

Similar initiatives are popping up elsewhere. Officials in Lima, Barcelona, and Milan are speeding up plans to expand bike paths or take space from cars or current parking sites.

Associated Press

Boris Johnson says doctors prepared to announce worst

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered more insight into his hospitalization for coronavirus, telling a British newspaper that he knew doctors were preparing for the worst.

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The 55-year-old Johnson, who spent three nights in intensive care during his week of treatment in a London hospital after falling ill with COVID-19, told The Sun newspaper he was aware that doctors were discussing his fate.

“It was a tough old moment, I won’t deny it,’’ he said. “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘death of Stalin’-type scenario.’’

Johnson couldn’t believe how quickly his health deteriorated and had difficulty understanding why he wasn’t getting better. Medical workers gave him “liters and liters of oxygen’’ but he said the “indicators kept going in the wrong direction.’

The remarks were Johnson’s most candid yet on his brush with death, though he acknowledged when he left the hospital that his fight to survive “could have gone either way,’’ as he paid tribute to the two nurses who never left his bedside for 48 hours.

Associated Press

In random test of 500 in Kabul, one-third has virus

KABUL — One-third of 500 random coronavirus tests in Afghanistan’s capital came back positive, officials said Sunday, raising fears of widespread undetected infections in one of the world’s most fragile states.

The results of the tests are “concerning,” said Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Mayar. Afghanistan has performed only limited testing, about 12,000, with more than 2,700 confirmed infections, in a nation of 36.6 million.

As more testing becomes available, the country’s confirmed infection numbers are likely to rise sharply, said Mayar. He urged residents to stay home. Kabul and most other cities are in lockdown, but compliance has not been widespread.

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Associated Press

Report says pandemic being used to curb press freedom

BERLIN — An international media rights group said Sunday the coronavirus pandemic is being used by governments around the world to increase restrictions on press freedoms.

In a report issued to coincide with World Press Freedom Day 2020, the International Press Institute concluded that in both democratic and autocratic states the “public health crisis has allowed governments to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation.”

It said authoritarian governments have been abusing emergency measures to “further stifle independent media and criminalize journalism,” while in democracies “efforts to control the public narrative and restrict access to information around the pandemic are on the rise.”

The Vienna-based group said it has documented 162 press freedom violations related to coronavirus coverage over the past 2½ months, almost a third of which have involved the arrest, detention, or charging of journalists.

The institute’s report came three days after the International Federation of Journalists published a survey that found that the working conditions of news reporters around the globe have deteriorated during the pandemic amid job losses and attacks on media freedom.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993.

Associated Press

Bangkok’s parks reopen as outbreak restrictions eased

BANGKOK — Residents of Thailand’s capital enjoyed the city’s parks, booked haircuts, and stocked up on beer and other alcoholic drinks Sunday as they enjoyed their first day of eased restrictions that were imposed weeks ago to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

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The top perk in Bangkok, a city famous for its eateries, may have been the reopening of restaurants. But it was not clear how many were actually serving seated customers again, since strict guidelines will make it hard for many of them to turn a profit.

Restaurants have to keep their customers at least 5 feet apart and practice a wide range of sanitary measures, beginning with taking the temperature of customers and staff, and circulating fresh air. Small restaurants that could fit 20 people before might be able to seat eight to 10 under the rules.

Associated Press