People flocked to Huntington Beach, Calif., last weekend despite advice that they keep their distance from one another to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

 

Lance Goodall

4 May 2020


Our world has been rapidly changing at warp speed over the last several weeks. Courtesy of mass media, smartphones and other technologies, we have been updated constantly on a daily, even hourly basis about the exponential global climb of Coronavirus cases.

Some of it seems totally unbelievable, like some kind of Sci Fi horror movie where people all around us will suddenly become ill and drop dead before us. Well that’s the perception we get when watching our TVs, from our talking heads on the nightly news, and from our leaders on all sides of the political spectrum.

But the Coronavirus is nothing of the sort. Admittedly it’s a difficult thing to pin down, from no symptoms for many, to a cough and a fever, to the other extreme, an acute respiratory illness.

But this ‘plannedemic’ is an exercise in social conditioning, Simply put, every politician whether in the seat of power in Europe, Governors in New York, Oregon, or Michigan, to the far flung regions of Australia and New Zealand, all these politicians are singing from the same Hymn sheet.

Some of these politicians have become celebrities over night, and have seen a great surge in their popularity.

In the Big Apple with the sun out the world is beginning to blossom again — but to some coronavirus lockdown-weary New Yorkers who ventured outside, it felt more like “1984.”

 

coronavirus cops parks

An NYPD officer hands out masks to two women at Gantry State Park in Long Island City today. Billy Becerra

As temps climbed into the 70s, more than 1,000 NYPD officers made their presence known across the five boroughs as they enforced state social distancing mandates requiring masks and at least six-feet of space between people to contain the spread of the killer bug.

“It’s Orwellian to be watched like this,” one freaked-out 36-year-old park-goer told The Post as she tried to enjoy the sunshine at Staten Island’s Clove Lakes Park.

“It’s friggin’ nuts,” she huffed of the patrols of NYPD cars, park police officers and bike cops — whose helmets were equipped with video cameras.

“It’s like something out of “1984,” she continued, referencing George Orwell’s dystopian classic. “What is this, a military state now?”

Thousands flocked to Central Park, where the Sheep Meadow was evenly blanketed with small groups of sun-bathers and picnickers.

Though there were few masks, the groups themselves — typically two, three or four family members or friends — did keep six feet or more away from each other.

“They’re just doing their jobs,” shrugged Mariam Dar, 34, a finance worker who lives near the park, as she snacked on crackers on a blanket with her fiancé and her brother.

Doing their jobs? Yes they are, and if I was a policeman I guess I might find myself having to talk to individuals who are taking advantage of their new found freedoms, but the very fact that people are in the open air, in sunlight (UV rays) and are only clustered with trusted friends and family, the virus doesn’t stand a chance.

People flocked to Huntington Beach, Calif., last weekend despite advice that they keep their distance from one another to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

Credit…Apu Gomes/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MIAMI — The salty breeze and ocean waves have beckoned stir-crazy residents of the coast back to their beloved beaches, social distancing norms be damned.

But how to prevent beach blankets and lawn chairs from becoming new founts of coronavirus infection has become a flash point for governors in Florida, California and other coastal states, who must balance demands from constituents for relief from the escalating spring heat against the horrified reaction of the general public to photos of sweaty, swimsuit-clad bodies packed towel to towel.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California stepped in on Thursday to shut down the beaches in Orange County, rolling back earlier attempts at giving people there a chance to stroll along the shore while staying a safe distance away from one another. Broad swaths of sand were packed over the weekend with crowds, with many people flocking from neighboring Los Angeles and San Diego Counties, where the beaches had been off-limits.

“This disease isn’t going away,” Mr. Newsom said at a news conference, noting that the pandemic had claimed at least 95 lives in the state in the past 24 hours.

The county-by-county approach in California and Florida, perhaps the two states most defined by their iconic coastlines, has resulted in a patchwork of evolving rules that differ day to day, and even from beach to beach. Figuring out how to keep coastal areas safe represents one of the toughest dilemmas for state officials as they begin to move out of coronavirus lockdowns.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted pressure to close all the beaches, insisting that the decision should be made locally — and that people who consider the beach their backyard deserve a respite from being cooped up at home.

When photos of beachgoers in the Jacksonville area prompted “#FloridaMorons” to trend on social media, Mr. DeSantis dismissed the mockery as misguided elitism from outsiders who were unwilling to accept that not all areas of Florida have been hit by the coronavirus as hard as the region from Miami to West Palm Beach, where the beaches remain closed.

Don’t we know that instinctively already?

The places where the virus has spread has not been at your local park or beach, but in Age Care Homes, in Hospitals, on Cruise Ships, and Abattoirs. Places where people are in close proximity to one another, indoors.

 

A smartphone app in Turkey asks for Murat Bur’s identity number, his father’s name and information about his relatives. Did he have any underlying health conditions, the app wondered, presenting him a list of options. How was he feeling at the moment, it asked. It also requested permission to track his movements.

 

None of this felt intrusive to Bur, a 38-year-old personal trainer. The app, which he had voluntarily downloaded, had helpfully warned him that his neighborhood was a coronavirus hot spot. “There are people in our country still having parties and picnics. I do not see the harm in people being followed,” he said. “There is an extraordinary situation in the world.”

 

To the feelings of fear, restlessness, insecurity and sorrow taking hold around the globe, the pandemic era has added another certainty: being watched.

 

“This is a Manhattan Project-level problem that is being addressed by people all over the place,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto.

He is among a group of researchers and privacy advocates who say there is not enough debate over the consequences and utility of the new surveillance tools, and no indication how long the scrutiny will last — even as the flood of prying apps are becoming a reality for millions of people, like solitude and face masks.

Because of the pandemic, surveillance is a “necessary evil,” said Lee Yoon-young, a South Korean university student who was under strict, government-monitored quarantine after returning home from her studies overseas. “I am not disturbed since I understand that stronger quarantine control allows those not under stay-at-home order to continue on with their lives without a nationwide lockdown,” she said.

 

At least 27 countries are using data from cellphone companies to track the movements of citizens, according to Edin Omanovic, the advocacy director for Privacy International, which is keeping a record of surveillance programs.

And at least 30 countries have developed smartphone apps for the public to download, he said.

The monitoring has raised fewer objections in countries that have been more successful at battling the virus, like Singapore, and provoked a much louder debate in Europe and the United States — a difference that is reflected in the numbers of people who voluntarily download tracking applications.

An illustration shows the new COVIDSafe app by the Australian government on a mobile phone, as the country works to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
An illustration shows the new COVIDSafe app by the Australian government on a mobile phone, as the country works to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

In South Korea, millions of people have signed up to use websites or apps that show how the virus is spreading. More than 2 million Australians quickly downloaded a coronavirus contact-tracing app that was released last Sunday. But 3 in 5 Americans say they are unwilling or unable to use an infection-alert system being developed by Google and Apple, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll has found.

 

Epidemiologists and government health officials have taken a central role in designing some of the coronavirus tracking programs.

Privacy groups have been far more concerned when intelligence agencies have taken the lead, as they have in Pakistan and Israel, or when governments outsource tracing to private companies.

 

Infection-tracking software by NSO, an Israeli company, has attracted criticism before it has even launched. The company is best known for designing surveillance tools used by authoritarian governments to spy on dissidents, journalists and others. A person close to NSO said its new coronavirus tracking software, called Fleming, was being tested by more than two dozen governments around the world.

 

The pandemic has all but silenced the debate about encroachments on privacy by corporations, Scott-Railton said. “People are anxious. They are worried. They want to go back to normal, to handle doorknobs, to online date.

“We are looking to anyone who is pitching hope.”

Virus-tracking apps

South Korea has never imposed a nationwide lockdown or travel restrictions in response to the coronavirus, only issuing strong advisories against nonessential travel as part of a national social distancing campaign.

The country’s coronavirus response, featuring widespread testing for infections, is often held up as a model around the world.

 

As part of that effort, South Korea’s health authorities track the movement of people and then later retrace the steps of those diagnosed with the virus by using GPS phone tracking, credit card records, surveillance video and interviews with patients. The patient travel histories are published without names to help others identify whether they crossed paths with a virus carrier.

Another smartphone app monitors thousands of people under self-quarantine and reports their movements to the government.

Lee Yoon-young, the university student who has been under the remotely monitored quarantine, said she welcomed the geo-positioning app on her phone that allowed the government to pinpoint her location.

 

Lee returned to South Korea after her studies in the United Kingdom were disrupted by the pandemic. The contrast between the government response in the two countries was stark. In Brighton, where she studied, she had relied on patchy news reports to identify virus-prone locations to avoid. In South Korea, she has found it reassuring to be able to see online travel histories of virus carriers.

A couple look at a phone, as other people wear protective face masks to avoid the spread of the coronavirus at an amusement park in Seoul on April 30.
A couple look at a phone, as other people wear protective face masks to avoid the spread of the coronavirus at an amusement park in Seoul on April 30. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

But the Korean travel data can be accessed not just by health-conscious residents but also voyeuristic onlookers, which was “concerning,” she said, adding that personal information about infected people should be redacted

Singapore also mobilized early to contain the epidemic by aggressively tracking chains of infection, imposing harsh penalties on patients who violated quarantine rules and mounting ubiquitous public awareness campaigns — while avoiding a full lockdown. Cellphone apps were developed to help enforce self-quarantine rules and aid the contact-tracing effort by making use of Bluetooth technology.

 

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, an author and journalist who lives in New York, saw how strictly quarantine rules were enforced when she flew to Singapore in late March and was forced to self-isolate in a hotel. Her location was monitored through her cellphone, and twice a day, she was required to verify her whereabouts for the government, occasionally by sending a picture of her surroundings. Once, she got a video call from health officials, just to make sure she was where she said she was.

“They were very strict about it,” she said. “As they should be.”

 

Her experience in New York, with one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks, made her more willing to accept government monitoring and less tolerant of people flouting quarantine and other distancing rules. “These are desperate times. I would have fought for my personal liberties on many levels before. Now I am the one trying to restrict the people around me. I am more of a scold,” she said.

 

The intrusions were easier to accept because Singapore’s government appeared to have citizens’ welfare in mind, and no “ulterior motives,” she said.

But the number of intrusions was rising: one government app allowed people to report violations by their neighbors. More recently, some grocery stores had required people to provide their identity numbers to enter.

“It’s worrying once you give up these liberties,” she said. “Is this the way it’s always going to be?”

‘More afraid of corona’

The experience of countries hurriedly deploying apps and similar surveillance software highlights the limits of such technology and the challenge of wide-scale public buy-in even in places that are largely open to being watched.

 

Experts warn, for example, that apps relying on Bluetooth radios can provide inexact location data and falsely identify people as infected.

 

Jason Bay, the director of Singapore’s contact-tracing app, called TraceTogether, said in an online post last month, “If you ask me whether any Bluetooth contact tracing system deployed or under development, anywhere in the world, is ready to replace manual contact tracing, I will without qualification say that the answer is no.”

 

Scott-Railton of Citizen Lab said the effectiveness of such apps was ultimately determined by “human social behavior and racial and age demographics.”

Government Technology Agency staff demonstrate Singapore's new contact-tracing smartphone app called TraceTogether, as a preventive measure against spreading the coronavirus.
Government Technology Agency staff demonstrate Singapore’s new contact-tracing smartphone app called TraceTogether, as a preventive measure against spreading the coronavirus. (Catherine Lai/AFP/Getty Images)

Apps are of limited utility unless a large percentage of a country’s population downloads them, and even then, the reach of the software is limited to people who own smartphones, which often excludes lower-income people, racial minorities and people over 65, he said.

 

Some surveillance initiatives have also run into organized efforts to rein them in.

In Israel, a group of civil liberties groups went to court in March to block a far-reaching effort by Israel’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, to track the cellphones of covid-19 patients. The agency uses cellphone location signals of known coronavirus cases and its own vast trove of data to detect users who have been in proximity to an infected person — information health officials use to alert people to self-isolate.

 

Last Sunday, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the government tracking would require parliamentary legislation to continue much past the end of April, when the emergency measure was due to expire.Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, was one of the groups that filed a petition with the high court objecting to the government’s reliance on emergency powers to expand the reach of its security apparatus. “Surveillance violates the constitutional right to privacy and there exist other tools to deal with the coronavirus,” said Suhad Bishara, an attorney for Adalah.

 

While contact tracing is an important tool for isolating infected people, “extending the work of such an agency to do civil-related matters becomes very problematic,” she said, adding that many Palestinians, subject to surveillance or interrogations by Israeli security services over decades, fear the agency would misuse health records and other data it has access to, she said.

 

Roxanne Halper, 60, who works in international development and leans toward the left end of Israel’s political spectrum, said she would normally be wary of government surveillance, but not this time.

 

“I feel like I should have a problem with it and yet I don’t,” Halper said during a phone interview from her home on a small kibbutz between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

 

Like many, she said health considerations now seem more pressing than privacy. She had even downloaded a voluntary government app and appreciated it every day when it told her she had had no contact with a known coronavirus case. (The app is separate from the Shin Bet’s tracking efforts.)

 

“I take comfort from that,” she said. “I can’t be afraid of the [risk to privacy] right now. I’m much more afraid of corona and what it’s doing to society,” she said.

 

 

Police have expressed their disappointment at the behaviour of crowds at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast in Australia yesterday, warning that it jeopardises a further easing of restrictions.

But they’ve confirmed no fines were issued.

Officers were forced to move on hundreds of people who had gathered on Burleigh Hill for sunset on Sunday.

While picnics and other gatherings are allowed, it is currently only permitted with members of your household or with one other person and social distancing rules still apply.

Locals report similar crowd sizes on Saturday afternoon.

Commissioner Katarina Carroll says the incident at Burleigh has overshadowed the good work of the majority of Queenslanders.

“The behaviour of crowds across the weekend has been absolutely tremendous and then we saw that situation at Burleigh last night,” Commissioner Carroll told Nine.

The Commissioner has warned people not to think about doing that again this afternoon with extra officers to be deployed to the area today.

“We were trying to do the right thing yesterday and asking people to stay apart and the message all along is, if an area is very very busy please move away from there so we can maintain that social distancing .

Mackenzie Colahan@maccolahan9

This is what Burleigh Hill looks like at the moment @9NewsGoldCoast @9NewsQueensland

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Nine News Gold Coast

@9NewsGoldCoast

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Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth says the incident on the Gold Coast is just a small blip and the majority of people right across the country have been adhering to the rules.

 

“I’m not disappointed at all with those scenes, they’re completely understandable,” Dr Coatsworth told Nine.

“They’re single screen shots from one beach in Australia and they probably don’t reflect what’s going on across every single jurisdiction and I think, by and large, Australians have shown us, by flattening the curve, that we do, as a nation, understand the importance of the what the health advice has been.”

But seriously when people have been stuck at home for weeks, with no flexible working solution, what do authorities expect, and by the way can anyone tell me what is intrinsically wrong with people on this beach? What are they failing to do? How are they not complying? The grass area isn’t exactly Central Park. And of course the police threaten that the actions of a few could spoil it for the rest of us, with further lockdowns.

What is this all about? This is more about control than it is about stopping a virus.

The suggestion is we might lose our new found freedoms if this type of behaviour is seen again.

And yet why did we have to lose them in the first place?