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Skating-crazy Dutch defy pandemic by taking to outdoor ice

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Skating-crazy Dutch defy pandemic by taking to outdoor ice

DOORN, Netherlands — A deep winter freeze gripping the Netherlands is reawakening the national obsession with skating on frozen canals.

With subzero temperatures forecast to last more than a week, ice fever swept the nation Tuesday, offering a welcome respite from grim coronavirus news while also creating a challenge for authorities trying to uphold social distancing rules.

People around the country were rummaging through attics and dusting off long-unused skates, while businesses that sharpen skate blades reported boom times.

Ice skating is a national wintertime passion in the Netherlands, with the country’s spandex-clad elite athletes dominating Winter Olympic speedskating races in recent years. Amateurs of all ages eagerly await the Arctic conditions that allow them to take to the country’s vast network of canals and waterways.

But with the country in a strict coronavirus lockdown, the prospect of a long-distance skating race in the northern province of Friesland being staged for the first time since 1997 remains remote at best.

The association that organizes the 11 Cities Tour over frozen canals and lakes said in January that “under the current coronavirus measures, it is not possible to organize” the near mythical event. Since then, authorities have not relaxed the measures beyond allowing elementary school students back into classrooms this week.

The chairman of the association poured more cold water on people’s hopes Tuesday, noting just what a production the race normally involves.

“We’re talking about a tour with 1–1.5 million spectators, 25,000 participants, thousands of volunteers and half of the Netherlands on the road,” Wiebe Wieling told national broadcaster NOS. “Every right-thinking person will realize that something like that is not possible” amid the pandemic.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte weighed in on the debate Monday night, saying that skating authorities could consider allowing races on natural ice if the country’s top 120 racers enter a coronavirus bubble. But he, too, said that staging an event with a huge numbers of spectators was out of the question, even if it is outdoors.

Still, Rutte said the Dutch should make the most of the conditions while they last.

“Enjoy this beautiful weather and the ice,” Rutte said. “But do that within the COVID-19 rules.”

Dutch media reported a few hardy souls risking a skate on thin ice in parts of the Netherlands on Tuesday, but for the time being temporary ice tracks were the safest place to lace up one’s skates.

Local schoolchildren visited the skating club in Doorn, 65 kilometers (40 miles) southeast of Amsterdam, which created its rink by spraying water onto an outdoor inline skating track and built up an even ice surface by dragging a Persian rug around it.

Canals are expected to be frozen solid enough later in the week for people to skate on. Authorities in Amsterdam have closed locks and banned boats on parts of the city’s World Heritage-listed ring of canals to give them a better chance of freezing over.

The municipality, however, also warned skaters to stick to social distancing and other coronavirus restrictions.

“The coronavirus rules for public places also apply on the ice,” City Hall said.

It was not only ice skating fans preparing for the big chill.

A zoo in the central Netherlands moved 15 penguins indoors and out of the cold Tuesday. Unlike their Antarctic cousins, the black-footed penguins hail from South Africa and Namibia and aren’t used to such icy conditions, Burgers’ Zoo said.

The freezing conditions also created natural ice sculptures in a marina in the village of Monnikendam, just north of Amsterdam on Markermeer Lake, with boats moored there swathed in swirling sheets of ice.

Lines of wind-blown icicles hung off boat railings and ropes, and ice coated a set of children’s swings and trees near the edge of the snow-covered frozen waters of the lake.

“We’re living in the most beautiful painting of the 17th century,” Rutte said.

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California coronavirus vaccination site gives thousands wrong vaccine dosage

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California coronavirus vaccination site gives thousands wrong vaccine dosage

An estimated 4,300 in California individuals received a smaller coronavirus vaccine than they should have due to an issue with syringes.

According to KTVU, the Oakland Coliseum site received orange-capped syringes that left a third of the vaccine stuck on the bottom of the plastic container. The problem was eventually detected on Monday but individuals vaccinated before that point reportedly only received 0.2 mL of the Pfizer vaccine instead of the optimal 0.3 mL.

The California Office of Emergency Services, which helps run the site with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said high-level meetings were held on Tuesday afternoon after whistleblowers alerted the issue.

Cal OES spokesman Brian Ferguson reportedly said he didn’t think anyone was formally underdosed and that there wasn’t any need to contact the individuals who received the lower vaccine amount.

On Wednesday, he said authorities were told that the dosing fell within medical guidelines and protocols.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert, reportedly said the patients were “likely protected” and could make up the lost dosage in the second round of vaccine dosing.

The incident came as Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed optimism over the state’s vaccination efforts.

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EU wants employers to report pay levels to fix gender gap

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EU wants employers to report pay levels to fix gender gap

BRUSSELS — The European Union executive wants to force employers to be much more open about how much their staff earn to make it easier for women to challenge wage imbalances and close the gender pay gap.

Even though the gender pay gap across the 27-nation bloc has been reduced to 14 percent for people doing exactly the same work, the European Commission wants to eliminate the disparity by imposing specific rules to make pay levels public.

“For equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Since its inception in 1957, the European Union has sought to end such gender bias, but progress has been slow over the decades. When it comes to pension rights, reflecting working conditions of the past 30 to 40 years, the gender gap still stands at 30 percent.

Wage conditions and scales in Europe have long been shrouded in secrecy, which has helped extend inequality and proved to be a big hurdle for those demanding pay justice.

And companies have fallen far short in helping bridge the gap, said EU Vice President Vera Jourova. “We have sufficiently strong evidence that we need to have binding rules and not only to rely on social responsibility of the companies because we see that it doesn’t lead anywhere,” she said.

She said that over the past 7 years, the gap had closed only by little over 2 percentage points. “You can imagine if we continue like that, we will achieve pay fairness some time in several decades. So we cannot continue like that.”

Under the commission’s proposals, employers would have to give information about initial pay levels in the vacancy announcement and ahead of the job interview, during which employers will not be allowed to ask about applicants’ previous pay grades.

Employees will be allowed to ask employers the average pay levels by gender for people doing the same work.

And to put more pressure on big companies, the proposal forces firms with more than 250 employees to publish information about any gender pay gap.

If women remain underpaid, the commission wants them to be able to get back pay and it wants the burden of proof to be on employers, not the women challenging them.

The European Trade Union Confederation lauded the intent but said the proposals lacked teeth to force companies into decisive action. It complained that small- and medium-size companies, where such discrimination often happens, were excluded from key elements of the enforcement.

The proposal now goes to the European Parliament and EU countries for further discussion before it can be approved.

The announcement came ahead of International Women’s Day next Monday.

The EU noted that women had been disproportionally affected by the pandemic, many having to add more home tasks to their work schedule because of the closure of schools and day care centers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only consolidated injustices and inequalities that already existed in our societies, it is also likely to wipe out decades of achievements by women, on progresses in the labor market,” said European Parliament President David Sassoli.

Jourova said women were vulnerable because most were still at the bottom of the pay scale.

“That over-representation in lower-paid sectors and occupations such as, for instance, hospitality, retail or personal services has made them particularly vulnerable in the labor market struck by the COVID-19 crisis,” Jourova said.

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Hundreds mourn Myanmar’s ‘Everything will be OK’ protester

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Hundreds mourn Myanmar's 'Everything will be OK' protester

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Myanmar on Thursday for the funeral of a 19-year-old protester shot and killed at a demonstration against military rule.

Angel, also known as Kyal Sin, was shot in the head and killed in the city of Mandalay on Wednesday while wearing a shirt bearing the message “Everything will be OK”.

Mourners, many of them young like her, filed past her open coffin and sang protest songs, raised a three-fingered salute of defiance and chanted slogans against the Feb. 1 military coup that has plunged the country into turmoil.

Angel was one of 38 people killed on Wednesday, according to a United Nations tally. A spokesman for the junta did not respond to a request for comment on the killings.

Sai Tun, 32, who attended the funeral, said he could not come to terms with what had happened to her.

“We feel so angry about their inhuman behaviour and really sad at the same time,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“We’ll fight dictatorship until the end. We must prevail.”

Despite the slogan on her shirt, Angel was aware of the risk as she headed out to the protest, posting details of her blood group, a contact number and a request to donate her body in the event of her death.

The phrase on the shirt quickly went viral on social media among opponents of the coup.

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