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Europe embraces digital health pass

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Europe embraces digital health pass

MADRID, April 26 – As Europe races to set up a digital health pass scheme to save the holiday season from the pandemic, technical and political obstacles are showing just how big a challenge the world faces in building such systems, people involved in the effort say.

Developers are grappling with issues ranging from the practical – such as what to accept as proof of being COVID-19 free – to the philosophical, including debates over discrimination and personal privacy.

Southern countries that depend on tourism like Spain, Greece and Portugal are clamoring for a quick rollout of the promised European Union “digital green pass,” saying their economies will not withstand the loss of another summer season.

The EU Commission plans to award a contract this month for a central system for verifying the digital passes, which will use QR codes that can be scanned into a smartphone app. It will also provide a template to help member countries develop their own apps – though some have already readied their own versions.

The gateway is supposed to launch in June after testing in May. But the bloc’s less tourism-reliant northern states warn launching a viable solution so quickly will be a stretch, especially given the number of stakeholders in the 27-nation bloc.

“It’s an aggressive timeline and it requires cooperation,” said Mats Snall, the head of Sweden’s digital vaccine passport initiative.

BUGS TO FIX

The list of unresolved issues in the vaccine passport scheme is long.

There is still no consensus on whether antibody tests provide sufficient proof that a person who has recovered from COVID-19 is immune, sources involved in the efforts say.

Adapting the scheme for overseas visitors represents a challenge too, after Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the New York Times on Sunday that the EU would open its doors to vaccinated Americans this summer.

Member states also worry about the security of personal information, though the Commission has promised the online certificates will contain minimal data: name, date of birth, the specific health information, its date of issue and a unique identifier code.

And while vaccine passports have not become a political football to the extent they have in the United States – where right-wing politicians denounce the idea as an impingement on personal freedom – concerns about digital tracking loom large.

The data put into the digital certificates will be easily amenable to forgeries, cautioned Michael Veale, who lectures on digital rights and regulation at University College London.

At the same time, training and equipping staff across Europe to verify the certificates could well prove to be impossible in practice, creating a form of “security theater” that is more intrusive than useful in practice, added Veale.

TRIAL UNDERWAY

The wrangling over vaccine passports resembles last year’s debates over contact-tracing apps, which some experts thought could help stem the pandemic but mostly foundered in the face of technical bickering, lack of uptake, and huge waves of infection that rendered them mostly moot.

But vaccine passports are inherently simpler: unlike contact-tracing apps, they don’t need to communicate with other phones, or track movements in any way.

Instead, a digital health pass, issued by a doctor or health center, would feature a QR code containing pre-authenticated information that attests a traveler has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or has received a negative PCR test result.

EU member states are creating apps for individuals to upload the QR code into their smartphones. Officials would be issued with separate checking apps: a ‘green’ result would mean the certificate is valid, ‘red’ would be invalid.

The EU gateway would assure that, say, the German app could easily be read in Portugal.

Estonia, which already tested a digital immunity passport for workplaces last year, is considered in Brussels to be the most advanced in building its own national app, but others aren’t far behind.

France has just added a feature to its existing coronavirus contact-tracing app, allowing users to upload recent test results and proof of vaccination. It is trialing the app initially on airline flights to Corsica.

Germany is starting by creating a standalone app to provide proof of vaccination, but plans to then incorporate the digital certificate via a wallet feature into the Corona-Warn-App, launched last year to enable contact tracing, sources say.

Spain is one of the digital green pass’s most vocal advocates, hailing it as a safe way of facilitating mobility having lost over 80% of its foreign visitors in 2020, a 51-year low.

“Spain cannot afford another summer like 2020,” a source at the tourism ministry said. “Port and airport authorities have already contracted the services needed to implement and recognize the digital certificate.”

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Nebraska death sentences continue despite no execution drugs

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Nebraska death sentences continue despite no execution drugs

OMAHA, Neb. — Three times in the past four years, Nebraska prosecutors have sought death sentences, and each time they have been successful. Within a couple months, two more people convicted of a grisly murder could also be sentenced to death.

But as the state adds to its death row population, the lawyers, judges and prison officials who oversee Nebraska’s system of capital punishment largely ignore the fact that the state has no lethal injection drugs and very likely won’t get any for years, if ever. Those sentenced to death have a better chance of dying of natural causes than being executed.

While the nation remains divided over capital punishment, Nebraska stands out for its peculiar version of the institution: it’s still wedded to the idea of executing prisoners, just not the practical part of doing it. The state is among a handful caught in a law vs. reality netherworld as legislatures and activists wrestle over how the issue will eventually play out.

As the Rev. Stephen Griffith, a leading anti-death penalty activist, put it, “We’re being duplicitous, really. We say Nebraska has a death penalty when, functionally, we don’t.”

Twenty seven states allow capital punishment, but many have struggled in recent years to obtain the drugs used to execute inmates because most manufacturers now refuse to openly supply them. While 12 other states responded to the hesitancy by keeping their suppliers secret, Nebraska’s Supreme Court threw out its secrecy policy after the state used it to execute an inmate in 2018.

Corrections director Scott Frakes told a legislative committee that unless Nebraska is allowed to hide supplier names, the state likely would never be able to obtain the necessary drugs.

“Once we get done with the trial and sentencing, it’s kind of off our shoulders,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who has sent four men to death row during his 14-year tenure, none of whom have been executed. “Certainly, it seems to be the case right now that the state doesn’t have the wherewithal to carry it out.”

The stand-off over execution drugs reflects a longstanding ambivalence toward capital punishment in Nebraska. Even before the drug issue, the state didn’t carry many executions, and legislators in 2015 voted to abolish the death penalty, in part because it costs the state an estimated $15 million annually to prosecute and offer special housing to death row inmates.

But after Gov. Pete Ricketts helped pay for a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly reinstated the death penalty.

Matt Maly, a conservative activist who opposes capital punishment on moral and fiscal grounds, said many Nebraskans still support capital punishment, but they’re not especially passionate about the issue. Given that, politicians are willing to keep it on the books but not actually carry out executions.

“It’s not something you’re hearing about in coffee shops or grocery stores,” Maly said. “The legislature could have said, ‘Let’s do what it takes to make this happen,’ but they don’t have the will to do that.”

Still, the end of executions doesn’t mean an end to the death penalty process. Prosecutors keep seeking death sentences, and judges have condemned three more inmates since the capital punishment reinstatement vote in 2016. Nebraska’s death row now has 11 inmates after one died in early April of natural causes.

Nationally, executions have resumed after the struggle over drug supplies but are nearing record lows, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that tracks executions. Seventeen inmates were put to death in 2020, down from a high of 98 in 1999.

Texas and Georgia, both leading death penalty states, now have periodic executions. Tennessee has executed seven inmates in the last three years, including one in 2020. Several states are still working through legal challenges, including Oklahoma, which suspended executions after injection problems in two cases. A few states have given up, like Virginia, which dropped capital punishment in March.

Robert Dunham, the Death Penalty Information Center’s executive director, said many states seem to show “inertia” with the death penalty.

“If you have a jurisdiction in which death sentences haven’t been imposed, people either forget how to do it or they sort of realize they don’t miss it and they don’t tend to push for it,” he said. “But once they do it and it becomes a part of the culture, they tend to do it again and again and again.”

All of Nebraska’s current death-row inmates were convicted of either murdering multiple people or a child, and each case includes aggravating factors such as sexual assaults, cover-ups of other crimes or dismembering bodies.

Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said that if drugs are a problem, lawmakers should consider other execution methods, such as firing squads.

“There are some crimes that are so heinous, so evil, that they deserve the death penalty,” Wagner said.

Kleine, the Douglas County attorney, said he’ll continue to pursue death sentences out of respect for the voters who chose to keep capital punishment.

“It’s not an easy decision to seek the death penalty, but right now it’s a law on the books, and if we feel the circumstances are appropriate, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

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IHOP’s Adam Sandler-inspired Milkshake Monday is here

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IHOP's Adam Sandler-inspired Milkshake Monday is here

Shake it off, Sandman.

In honor of that iconic moment when 17-year-old hostess Dayanna Rodas refused to seat Adam Sandler at an IHOP in Manhasset, NY, the pancake purveyor hopes to make amends with — or capitalize on — the “Uncut Gems” star with their Milkshake Monday promotion on May 10.

The deal promises to donate $1 for every IHOP milkshake purchased today, up to $50,000, to the nonprofit Comedy Gives Back, which works as a financial safety net for the comedic entertainment community. Indeed, Sandler headlined their virtual Laugh Aid fund-raising event last year to support struggling comedians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And for those fortunate enough to find themselves in Sandler’s neck of the woods, IHOP is also hosting an All-You-Can-Drink milkshakes daylong special at the chain’s 19 Long Island locations, starting at noon today.

It all started with Rodas, who recently shared a TikTok video of IHOP security footage which appeared to show her turning away a masked Sandler, with daughter in tow, at the hostess stand. According to her retelling, she told the 54-year-old filmmaker that he would have to wait at least 30 minutes to be seated during the rush.

Rodas told The Post, “It wasn’t until a customer walked in about 15 minutes later saying, ‘Adam Sandler was outside,’ when I realized I spoke to Adam Sandler!”

Sandler later took to social media to make light of Rodas’ innocent gaffe. After all, she was only 6 years old when Sandler’s “Grown Ups” premiered in 2010 — his top grossing live-action role to date with $271.4 million, second only to the $358.3 million debut of the animated “Hotel Transylvania” in 2012.

“For the record, I only left the IHOP because the nice woman told me the all-you-can-eat deal didn’t apply to the milkshakes,” he joked last week.

Run, don’t walk, as IHOP’s bottomless milkshake’s event ends at 8 p.m. tonight. Then, consider running again to save off the inevitable post-milkshake regret.

Here’s where the All-You-Can-Drink Milkshake Monday is going down in New York:

100 W. Old Country Road, Hicksville 11801
2935 Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown 11756
533 Old Country Road, Westbury 11590
133 B W. Sunrise Highway, Freeport 11520
145 Hillside Avenue, Williston Park 11596
180 E. Sunrise Highway, Valley Stream 11581
2971 Long Beach Road, Oceanside 11572
1586 Northern Boulevard, Manhasset 11030
2159 Jericho Turnpike, Commack 11725
201 Airport Plaza Boulevard, Farmingdale 11735
1490 Old Country Road, Riverhead 11901
339 Portion Road, Ronkonkoma 11779
666 Motor Parkway, Hauppauge 11788
513 Patchogue Road, Port Jefferson Station 11776
141 Alexander Avenue, Lake Grove 11755
25 W. Sunrise Highway, Lindenhurst 11757
Shore Mall, Bay Shore 11706
651 Montauk Highway, West Babylon 11704
259B Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station 11746

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Company paying ‘nap reviewers’ $1,500 each for research

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Company paying ‘nap reviewers’ $1,500 each for research

It seems like loving naps could really pay off. 

Mattress review company Eachnight is offering to pay five people $1,500 each to take naps every day for 30 days. These “nap reviewers” have to sleep alone during their naps and have to have strong English writing skills for their reviews, the company said. 

The selected nappers will have to “take part in a variety of experiments testing out theories such as the best nap duration for feeling refreshed, the effects of napping on overall levels of fatigue, and the effects of napping on memory, motivation and productivity,” Eachnight said on its website.

Duties also include participating in video calls before and after each nap and completing a verbal questionnaire about the nap.

The selected nappers will be paid when they complete their napping experiments, the company said. 

“We wanted to test a few theories behind the pros and cons of napping to provide our community with some valuable insight,” Eachnight said in its job posting. “We know that in general different length naps have different benefits, but we are keen to put this to the test, and we need your help!”

Applicants must be at least 18 years old. Eachnight is accepting applications from all over the world until May 31.

People who think they would be a good professional napper just have to fill out a form on Eachnight’s website before the deadline.

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