a prepandemic evaluation found.

So while program administrators relish a rare opportunity to expand their reach, they worry that if Congress doesn’t sustain this higher level of appropriations, the relief money will be spent and waiting lists will reappear.

“There’s going to be a cliff,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. “What’s going to happen next time? I don’t want to have to call people and say, ‘We’re done with you now.’ These are our grandparents.”

View Source

Vaccine Passports Could Unlock World Travel and Cries of Discrimination

LONDON — For Aruba, a Caribbean idyll that has languished since the pandemic drove away its tourists, the concept of a “vaccine passport” is not just intriguing. It is a “lifeline,” said the prime minister, Evelyn Wever-Croes.

Aruba is already experimenting with a digital certificate that allows visitors from the United States who tested negative for the coronavirus to breeze through the airport and hit the beach without delay. Soon, it may be able to fast-track those who arrive with digital confirmation that they have been vaccinated.

“People don’t want to stand in line, especially with social distancing,” Ms. Wever-Croes said in an interview this week. “We need to be ready in order to make it hassle-free and seamless for the travelers.”

Vaccine passports are increasingly viewed as the key to unlocking the world after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns — a few bytes of personal health data, encoded on a chip, that could put an end to suffocating restrictions and restore the freewheeling travel that is a hallmark of the age of globalization. From Britain to Israel, these passports are taking shape or already in use.

But they are also stirring complicated political and ethical debates about discrimination, inequality, privacy and fraud. And at a practical level, making them work seamlessly around the globe will be a formidable technical challenge.

The debate may play out differently in tourism- or trade-dependent outposts like Aruba and Singapore, which view passports primarily as a tool to reopen borders, than it will in vast economies like the United States or China, which have starkly divergent views on civil liberties and privacy.

The Biden administration said this week that it would not push for a mandatory vaccination credential or a federal vaccine database, attesting to the sensitive political and legal issues involved. In the European Union and Britain, which have taken tentative steps toward vaccine passports, leaders are running into thorny questions over their legality and technical feasibility.

And in Japan, which has lagged the United States and Britain in vaccinating its population, the debate has scarcely begun. There are grave misgivings there about whether passports would discriminate against people who cannot get a shot for medical reasons or choose not to be vaccinated.

Japan, like other Asian countries, has curbed the virus mainly through strict border controls.

“Whether or not to get vaccinated is up to the individual,” said Japan’s health minister, Norihisa Tamura. “The government should respond so that people won’t be disadvantaged by their decision.”

Still, almost everywhere, the pressure to restart international travel is forcing the debate. With tens of millions of people vaccinated, and governments desperate to reopen their economies, businesses and individuals are pushing to regain more freedom of movement. Verifying whether someone is inoculated is the simplest way to do that.

“There’s a very important distinction between international travel and domestic uses,” said Paul Meyer, the founder of the Commons Project, a nonprofit trust that is developing CommonPass, a scannable code that contains Covid testing and vaccination data for travelers. Aruba was the first government to sign up for it.

“There doesn’t seem to be any pushback on showing certification if I want to travel to Greece or Cyprus,” he said, pointing out that schools require students to be vaccinated against measles and many countries demand proof of yellow fever vaccinations. “From a public health perspective, it’s not fair to say, ‘You have no right to check whether I’m going to infect you.’”

CommonPass is one of multiple efforts by technology companies and others to develop reliable, efficient systems to verify the medical status of passengers — a challenge that will deepen as more people resume traveling.

At Heathrow Airport in London, which is operating at a fraction of its normal capacity, arriving passengers have had to line up for hours while immigration officials check whether they have proof of a negative test result and have purchased a mandatory kit to test themselves twice more after they enter the country.

Saudi Arabia announced this week that pilgrims visiting the mosques in Mecca and Medina during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would have to show proof on a mobile app of being “immunized,” which officials defined as having been fully vaccinated, having gotten a single dose of a vaccine at least 14 days before arrival, or having recovered from Covid.

In neighboring United Arab Emirates, residents can show their vaccination status on a certificate through a government-developed app. So far, the certificate is not yet widely required for anything beyond entering the capital, Abu Dhabi, from abroad.

Few countries have gone farther in experimenting with vaccine passports than Israel. It is issuing a “Green Pass” that allows people who are fully vaccinated to go to bars, restaurants, concerts and sporting events. Israel has vaccinated more than half its population and the vast majority of its older people, which makes such a system useful but raises a different set of questions.

With people under 16 not yet eligible for the vaccine, the system could create a generational divide, depriving young people of access to many of the pleasures of their elders. So far, enforcement of the Green Pass has been patchy, and in any event, Israel has kept its borders closed.

So has China, which remains one of the most sealed-off countries in the world. In early March, the Chinese government announced it would begin issuing an “international travel health certificate,” which would record a user’s vaccination status, as well as the results of antibody tests. But it did not say whether the certificate would spare the user from China’s draconian quarantines.

Nor is it clear how eager other countries would be to recognize China’s certificate, given that Chinese companies have been slow in disclosing data from clinical trials of their homegrown vaccines.

Singapore has also maintained strict quarantines, even as it searches for way to restart foreign travel. Last week, it said it would begin rolling out a digital health passport, allowing passengers to use a mobile app to share their coronavirus test results before flying into the island nation.

Free movement across borders is the goal of the European Union’s “Digital Green Certificate.” The European Commission last month set out a plan for verifying vaccination status, which would allow a person to travel freely within the bloc. It left it up to its 27 member states to decide how to collect the health data.

That could avoid the pitfalls of the European Union’s vaccine rollout, which was heavily managed by Brussels and has been far slower than that in the United States or Britain. Yet analysts noted that in data collection, there is a trade-off between decentralized and centralized systems: the former tends to be better at protecting privacy but less efficient; the latter, more intrusive but potentially more effective.

“Given the very unequal access to vaccines we are witnessing in continental Europe, there is also an issue of equal opportunity and potential discrimination,” said Andrea Renda, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

For some countries, the legal and ethical implications have been a major stumbling block to domestic use of a passport. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada put it last month, “There are questions of fairness and justice.”

And yet in Britain, which has a deeply rooted aversion to national ID cards, the government is moving gingerly in that direction. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week outlined broad guidelines for a Covid certificate, which would record vaccination status, test results, and whether the holder had recovered from Covid, which confers a degree of natural immunity for an unknown duration.

Mr. Johnson insisted that shops, pubs and restaurants would not be required to demand the certificate, though they could opt to do so on their own. That did not stop dozens of lawmakers, from his Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, from opposing the plan on grounds that were legal, ethical and plainly commercial — that it could keep people out of the country’s beloved pubs.

Government officials now suggest that the plan is targeted less at pubs and restaurants and more at higher-risk settings, like nightclubs and sporting events.

“Would we rather have a system where no one can go to a sports ground or theater?” said Jonathan Sumption, a former justice on Britain’s Supreme Court, who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s strict lockdowns. “It’s better to have a vaccine passport than a blanket rule which excludes these pleasures from everybody.”

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle in London, Motoko Rich in Tokyo, Shashank Bengali in Singapore, Vivian Wang in Hong Kong, Vivian Yee in Cairo, Asmaa al-Omar in Beirut, and Ian Austen in Ottawa.

View Source

The Tax Filing Deadline Was Delayed to May 17, but Read the Fine Print

“They hear Tax Day is moved to May 17, so a lot of people will go to their preparer on April 30,” Mr. Stewart said. “Unfortunately, the first-quarter estimated payment is late.”

The conference and other groups representing tax professionals had urged the government to postpone the estimated tax deadline as well. In congressional committee testimony in March, the I.R.S. commissioner, Charles P. Rettig, said the estimated tax deadline hadn’t been changed because it would, in effect, be giving “a break” on interest and penalties to wealthy people, who would invest the money instead of paying the government.

But people who file estimated taxes also include sole proprietors and workers in the gig economy with modest incomes, accountants say. Many people who lost jobs in the pandemic switched to work delivering meals and groceries ordered by mobile apps, said Melanie Lauridsen, senior manager for tax policy and advocacy at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

“That’s where the need is,” Ms. Lauridsen said.

The disconnect between the filing and estimated tax deadlines means tax preparers are pushed to get returns done by the traditional deadline anyway. “It’s putting a tremendous amount of stress on tax preparers,” said Rhonda Collins, director of tax content and government relations with the National Association of Tax Professionals.

In general, filers must estimate what they owe and round up to reduce the risk of underpaying. “It feels like it’s very much a guesstimate,” Ms. Collins said.

Should you incur a penalty when you file your tax return next year, you can request an abatement. Often, the I.R.S. is lenient with first-time errors, she said, especially when there are extenuating circumstances.

It’s also important to keep track of your income in 2021, tax professionals say. Many people had lower incomes than usual during 2020 because of the pandemic, and could see them rise in 2021 if the pandemic wanes as expected and the economy expands. If your income is turning out to be higher than expected, you may need to increase the amounts of your estimated payments later in the year.

View Source

Pinterest Is Said to Be in Talks to Acquire the Photo App VSCO

SAN FRANCISCO — Pinterest has held talks to buy VSCO, a photography app that spawned a teenage social media craze, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The discussions are ongoing, said the people, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly. A deal price couldn’t be learned; Pinterest has a market capitalization of about $49 billion, while VSCO has raised $90 million in funding and was last valued at $550 million. An acquisition may not materialize, the people cautioned.

Representatives from Pinterest and VSCO (pronounced “vis-coe”) declined to comment on deal talks.

Julie Inouye, a spokeswoman for VSCO, said the company was focused on expanding its business. “We’re always meeting with different companies across the creative space at any given time and do not discuss rumors or speculation,” she said.

Pinterest and VSCO, which stands for Visual Supply Company, are part of a group of tech companies that are highly focused on digital images and visual editing and that rely less on social networking features. Pinterest, a digital pin board site that went public in 2019, lets its users discover and save images to inspire creative projects or to plan important aspects of their lives, including home renovations, weddings and meals.

an app for editing and sharing images and videos. In 2019, it became popular with a Generation Z group that came to be known as “VSCO girls,” who were known for wearing Crocs and carrying Hydro Flasks. The idea of VSCO girls went viral, inspiring social media imitation, mockery, memes and Halloween costumes.

For Pinterest, buying a once-buzzy start-up that was popular with younger audiences and that has expertise in photo- and video-editing technologies could bolster its core service, the people said.

Since Pinterest went public, its revenue has grown, though analysts have said they don’t expect Pinterest to become regularly profitable until 2022. It has also expanded internationally.

During the pandemic, the company experienced a surge of interest as people were locked down and turned to more digital activities. Pinterest added 100 million monthly active users last year and now has a total of 450 million monthly active users.

The San Francisco company also faced social unrest last year. In December, it agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit from its former chief operating officer, one of the largest publicly announced individual settlements for gender discrimination. Two female employees of color who quit last year also publicly discussed their experiences with racist and sexist comments, pay inequities and retaliation at the company.

Founded in 2011, VSCO became known among younger users as a kind of anti-social network. The app does not have likes, comments or follower counts, so it appeared to put less pressure on users to build up a fan base. VSCO also eschews advertising, instead earning money by charging people for extra features. Of its 100 million registered users, more than two million are paying subscribers.

When VSCO girls became a cultural phenomenon in late 2019, investor interest in the start-up swelled. But the fad has since cooled off. When the pandemic hit, VSCO laid off 30 percent of its employees. In December, it acquired Trash, a mobile app for video editing, and said it planned to continue acquiring companies in 2021.

View Source

Myanmar Soldiers, Aiming to Silence Coup Protests, Target Journalists

Ten days after seizing power in Myanmar, the generals issued their first command to journalists: Stop using the words “coup,” “regime” and “junta” to describe the military’s takeover of the government. Few reporters heeded the Orwellian directive, and the junta embraced a new goal — crushing all free expression.

Since then, the regime has arrested at least 56 journalists, outlawed online news outlets known for hard-edge reporting and crippled communications by cutting off mobile data service. Three photojournalists have been shot and wounded while taking photographs of the anti-coup demonstrations.

With professional journalists under pressure, many young people who came of age during a decade of social media and information sharing in Myanmar have jumped into the fray, calling themselves citizen journalists and risking their lives to help document the military’s brutality. They take photographs and videos with their phones and share them online when they get access. It is a role so common now they are known simply as “CJs.”

“They are targeting professional journalists so our country needs more CJs,” said Ma Thuzar Myat, one of the citizen journalists. “I know I might get killed at some point for taking a video record of what is happening. But I won’t step back.”

the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, stamped out a pro-democracy movement by massacring an estimated 3,000 people. She said she saw it as her duty to help capture evidence of today’s violence even though one soldier had already threatened to kill her if she didn’t stop.

The regime’s apparent goal is to turn back the clock to a time when the military ruled the country, the media was firmly in its grip and only the wealthiest people had access to cellphones and the internet. But the new generation of young people who grew up with the internet say they are not giving up their freedoms without a fight.

Facebook became the dominant online forum. A vibrant media sprouted online and newsstands overflowed with competing papers.

Since the Feb. 1 coup, protests have erupted almost daily — often with young people at the forefront — and a broad-based civil disobedience movement has brought the economy to a virtual halt. In response, soldiers and the police have killed at least 536 people.

At the United Nations on Wednesday, the special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, warned that “a blood bath is imminent.” The regime has arrested thousands, including the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On Thursday, one of her lawyers said she had been charged with violating the official secrets act, adding to a list of alleged offenses.

While the military uses state-owned media to spread its propaganda and fire off warnings, attacks on journalists have increased drastically in recent weeks, as have arrests.

hop on his good leg as they lead him away.

Another photojournalist shot that day, U Si Thu, 36, was hit in his left hand as he was holding his camera to his face and photographing soldiers in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city. He said he believes the soldier who shot him was aiming for his head.

“I had two cameras,” he said, “so it was obvious that I am a photojournalist even though I had no press helmet or vest.”

“I’m sure that the military junta is targeting journalists because they know we are showing the world the reality on the ground and they want to stop us by arresting or killing us,” he added.

Of the 56 journalists arrested, half have been released, according to a group that is tracking arrests. Among those freed were reporters for The Associated Press and the BBC.

But 28 remain in custody, including at least 15 who face prison sentences of up to three years under an unusual law that prohibits the dissemination of information that might induce military officers to disregard or fail in their duties.

Ma Kay Zon Nway, 27, a reporter for Myanmar Now, live streamed her own arrest in late February as she was running from the police in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Her video shows the police firing in the air as protesters flee. The sound of her labored breathing is audible as the police catch up and take her away.

She is among those who have been charged under the vague and sweeping statute. She has been allowed to meet just once in person with her lawyer.

Mr. Swe Win, the Myanmar Now editor, himself served seven years in prison for protesting in 1998. “All these court proceedings are being done just for the sake of formality,” he said, adding, “We cannot expect any fair treatment.”

With mobile communications blocked, Facebook banned and nightly internet shutdowns, Myanmar’s mainstream media has come to rely on citizen journalists for videos and news tips, said Mr. Myint Kyaw, the former press council secretary.

One of them, Ko Aung Aung Kyaw, 26, was taking videos of the police arresting people in his Yangon neighborhood when an officer spotted him. The officer swore at him, aimed his rifle and fired, Mr. Aung Aung Kyaw’s video shows.

The bullet hit a wall in front of him.

“I know that recording these kinds of things is very risky and I might get shot to death or arrested,” he said. “But I believe I need to keep doing it for the sake of having a record of evidence to punish them.”

View Source

If You Care About Privacy, It’s Time to Try a New Web Browser

Firefox Focus, DuckDuckGo and Brave are all similar, but with some important differences.

Firefox Focus, available only for mobile devices like iPhones and Android smartphones, is bare-bones. You punch in a web address and, when done browsing, hit the trash icon to erase the session. Quitting the app automatically purges the history. When you load a website, the browser relies on a database of trackers to determine which to block.

DuckDuckGo, also available only for mobile devices, is more like a traditional browser. That means you can bookmark your favorite sites and open multiple browser tabs.

When you use the search bar, the browser returns results from the DuckDuckGo search engine, which the company says is more focused on privacy because its ads do not track people’s online behavior. DuckDuckGo also prevents ad trackers from loading. When done browsing, you can hit the flame icon at the bottom to erase the session.

Brave is also more like a traditional web browser, with anti-tracking technology and features like bookmarks and tabs. It includes a private mode that must be turned on if you don’t want people scrutinizing your web history.

Brave is also so aggressive about blocking trackers that in the process, it almost always blocks ads entirely. The other private browsers blocked ads less frequently.

For most people, not seeing ads is a benefit. But for those who want to give back to a publisher whose ads are blocked, Brave hosts its own ad network that you can opt into. In exchange for viewing ads that do not track your behavior, you earn a cut of revenue in the form of a token. You can then choose to give tokens to websites that you like. (Only web publishers that have a partnership with Brave can receive tokens.)

I tested all three browsers on my iPhone, setting each as my default browser for a few days.

All have a button to see how many trackers they blocked when loading a website. To test that, I visited nypost.com, the website of The New York Post, which loaded 83 trackers without any tracking prevention. With DuckDuckGo, 15 of the nypost.com trackers were blocked. With Brave, it was 22. And Firefox Focus blocked 47.

View Source

EnerBank’s Dave King Named to HIRI’s Board of Directors

SALT LAKE CITY–(BUSINESS WIRE)–EnerBank USA’s Dave King, Vice President, Research and Analytics, has been named to the board of directors of the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI), the only nonprofit organization dedicated to home improvement research. Mr. King will serve his first two-year term to help HIRI’s board drive the organization’s strategic direction while directly influencing the type of research done by serving as co-chair of the research committee.

“HIRI arguably delivers more value than any other research organization given the low cost of membership and the high quantity and quality of their research,” said Charlie Knadler, President and CEO of EnerBank. “Having Dave serve on the HIRI board and delve into the research that is of most value to the home improvement industry is beneficial for our whole industry.”

Mr. King is the only board member from a home improvement lender. Other board member positions are represented by Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Houzz, HomeAdvisor, and others.

At EnerBank, Mr. King utilizes his background in market research, advanced analytics, and strategic consulting to help the bank serve the specific needs of home improvement contractors and homeowners who take out the bank’s specialized loans. By establishing a deep understanding of the complex home improvement market, EnerBank is able to truly partner with industry professionals to develop innovative loan products and services. Mr. King is integral to that effort.

“We congratulate Dave on being appointed to HIRI’s board of directors,” said Mr. Knadler. “His expertise in research, theoretical statistics, applied econometrics, and consumer decision-making theory will enhance the overall research efforts at HIRI—one of the premier research organizations in the nation.”

About EnerBank USA—America’s home improvement lender of choice

EnerBank USA® is the largest specialized home improvement FDIC-insured bank in the country, providing home improvement loans through strategic business partners and independent home improvement contractors. We work hand-in-hand with manufacturers, distributors, franchisors, and major retailers of home improvement, remodeling, and energy-saving products and services. Our mission is to grow contractors’ businesses by increasing leads, boosting close rates, and growing average job size, while helping homeowners fulfill their home improvement dreams. We also make receiving lending approvals and funding requests quick and easy through our Mobile Loan App. We’re America’s home improvement lender of choice. Learn more at enerbank.com.

About HIRI

The only nonprofit organization dedicated to home improvement research, HIRI empowers members with exclusive, ongoing home improvement data, and information for making better business decisions. Members are the leading manufacturers, retailers and allied organizations in the home improvement industry. Visit www.hiri.org for more information.

View Source

U.S. to Seize Gloves After Finding ‘Sufficient’ Evidence of Forced Labor: Live Updates

A worker inspecting disposable gloves at a Top Glove factory near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in August.
Credit…Mohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

United States Customs and Border Protection has ordered port officials to seize disposable gloves made by the world’s largest rubber glove maker, a Malaysian company that the agency says uses forced labor in its factories.

Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on Monday that it had “sufficient information to believe” that the company, Top Glove, “uses forced labor in the production of disposable gloves.”

Last July, the agency issued an import ban on products from two Top Glove subsidiaries because they were suspected of using forced labor. On Monday, it said it had determined that rubber gloves produced by the company with forced, convict or indentured labor “are being, or are likely to be, imported into the United States.”

Based on that determination, the agency said in a notice, it had authorized U.S. port directors to seize the gloves and start forfeiture proceedings unless importers can produce evidence showing that the gloves were not produced with prohibited labor.

The notice was the result of a monthslong investigation “aimed at preventing goods made by modern slavery from entering U.S. commerce,” Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement.

The agency, he said, “will not tolerate foreign companies’ exploitation of vulnerable workers to sell cheap, unethically made goods to American consumers.” He added that the agency had “taken steps to ensure” that the enforcement action would not significantly affect total imports of disposable gloves into the United States.

After the import ban on Top Glove subsidiaries last summer, officials at the company said they were upgrading their worker dormitories and paying restitution to affected workers.

The company said in a statement on Tuesday that it was in touch with the U.S. agency and hoped to “resolve any ongoing areas of concern immediately.”

Top Glove also said it had engaged a independent labor consultancy from Britain since last July. That consultancy, Impactt Limited, said in a statement this month that its latest investigations had not turned up any “systemic forced labor” among the company’s direct employees.

But Andy Hall, a labor rights campaigner based in Nepal, said on Tuesday that Top Glove “remains an unethical company whose factories and supply chain continue to utilize forced labor,” and one that prioritizes profits and production efficiency over its workers’ basic rights.

Mr. Hall said he welcomed the Customs and Border Protection notice, and that the next step would be holding the company’s owners and investors to account.

Top Glove controls roughly a quarter of the global rubber glove market and has 21,000 employees. Many of them come from some of Asia’s poorest countries — including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal — and live and work in crowded conditions.

The company has enjoyed record profits during the pandemic, even though thousands of its low-paid workers in Malaysia suffered from a large coronavirus outbreak last year.

A mobile touch screen doubles as a digital whiteboard while a cellphone on a tripod makes a recording that can be used later in a presentation.
Credit…John Muggenborg for The New York Times

As company heads are once again planning for a return to the office, it is not only safety measures but also the new work arrangements that are driving discussions about the post-pandemic workplace. More than 80 percent of companies are embracing a hybrid model whereby employees will be in the office three days a week, according to a new survey by KayoCloud, a real estate technology platform.

Workplaces are being reimagined for activities benefiting from face-to-face interaction, including collaboration on projects, Jane Margolies reports for The New York Times.

Common areas will be increased and equipped with furniture that can be moved as needs change. Steelcase and Knoll, suppliers of office furniture, report strong interest in mobile tables, carts and partitions.

As the amount of space devoted to gathering expands, the fate of one’s own personal turf at the office — a desk decorated with family photos, a couple of file cabinets — hangs in the balance. In some cases, personal desks are being replaced with “hoteling” workstations, also called hot desks, which can be used by whoever needs a place to touch down for a day.

Conference rooms, too, are getting a reboot. Companies are puzzling over how to give remote workers the same ability to participate as those who are physically present. There are even early discussions about using artificial intelligence to conjure up holographic representations of employees who are off-site but could still take a seat at the table. And digital whiteboards are likely to become more popular, so workers at home can see what’s being written in real time.

Kroger requires employees and customers to wear masks.
Credit…Eze Amos for The New York Times

Retail and fast-food workers feel newly vulnerable in states like Mississippi and Texas, where governments have removed mask mandates before a majority of people have been vaccinated and while troubling new variants of the coronavirus are appearing.

It feels like a return to the early days of the pandemic, when businesses said customers must wear masks but there was no legal requirement and numerous shoppers simply refused, Sapna Maheshwari reports for The New York Times. Many workers say that their stores do not enforce the requirement, and that if they do approach customers, they risk verbal or physical altercations.

For many people who work in retail, especially grocery stores and big-box chains, the repeals of the mask mandates are another example of how little protection and appreciation they have received during the pandemic. They were praised as essential workers, but that rarely translated into extra pay on top of their low wages. Grocery employees were not initially given priority for vaccinations in most states, even as health experts cautioned the public to limit time in grocery stores because of the risk posed by new coronavirus variants. (Texas opened availability to everyone 16 and older on Monday.)

The differing state and business mandates have some workers worried about more confrontations. Refusing service to people without masks, or asking them to leave, has led to incidents in the past year like a cashier’s being punched in the face, a Target employee getting his arm broken and the fatal shooting of a Family Dollar security guard.

Emily Francois, a sales associate at a Walmart in Port Arthur, Texas, said that customers had been ignoring signs to wear masks and that Walmart had not been enforcing the policy.

“I see customers coming in without a mask and they’re coughing, sneezing, they’re not covering their mouths,” said Ms. Francois, who has worked at Walmart for 14 years and is a member of United for Respect, an advocacy group. “Customers coming in the store without masks make us feel like we aren’t worthy, we aren’t safe.”

View Source

How the Pandemic Changed Office Design: Hot Desks and Zoom Rooms

Since the pandemic sent workers home last year, a slew of modifications have been made to office buildings to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Now, as companies prepare to bring workers back, experts say even more changes are on the way.

Expect expanded gathering spaces and fewer personal workstations, for instance, changes that are being fueled by the success of working from home. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Walmart have already announced proposals for hybrid work models that will allow employees to continue to work remotely at least a few days a week.

These new arrangements mean companies may need less office space, and some have already cut back on their real estate needs, according to a survey from the consulting firm PwC. Target said this month that it was giving up office space in downtown Minneapolis, and in September, the sporting goods retailer REI sold its newly built headquarters in Bellevue, Wash.

“We really are at an inflection point,” said Meena Krenek, an interior design director at Perkins+Will, an architecture firm that is revamping offices, including its own, for new modes of working.

a return to the office in the summer and fall. Desks were dragged six feet apart and Plexiglas barriers installed between them. One-way arrows were stenciled on corridor floors, chairs were removed from conference rooms, and an elaborate choreography was developed to determine how and when teams would return to avoid overcrowding.

Then many workers simply stayed home. As the pandemic dragged on and people got the hang of Zoom, many discovered it was possible to be productive while parked on living room sofas or in backyard lawn chairs.

Now, as company heads are again planning for a return to the office, not only safety measures but also the new work arrangements are driving discussions about the postpandemic workplace. More than 80 percent of companies are embracing a hybrid model whereby employees will be in the office three days a week, according to a new survey by KayoCloud, a real estate technology platform.

Workplaces are being reimagined for activities benefiting from face-to-face interaction, including collaboration on projects and employee training, as a way to promote a company’s culture and identity.

holographic representations of employees who are off site but could still take a seat at the table.

For now, some companies are having in-person attendees continue to use their laptops so that remote workers can see everyone on their Zoom screens, an effort to “help maintain a sense of equivalency that we’ve come to expect,” said Peter Knutson, chief strategy officer of A+I, a design firm.

Devices combining 360-degree cameras, microphones and speakers are being placed on a table or tripod to improve sound and visibility. In the future, these technologies are likely to be built into gathering places and the number of screens increased, transforming the conference room into a “Zoom room,” Ms. Krenek said.

Likewise, some phone booths — the closet-size pods deployed in open-plan offices to give workers a place to make private calls — may give way to videoconferencing booths, which some manufacturers have introduced with built-in screens.

Screens are destined to pop up elsewhere. One near the coffee bar or at a cafe table could allow those on the premises to meet virtually for a latte or lunch with colleagues working remotely.

And digital whiteboards are likely to become more popular, so workers at home can see what’s being written in real time.

foot pedals to activate elevators. Buttons on walls outside restrooms can be pressed with an elbow, averting the need to touch door handles. Some companies are adding foot-operated door openers.

The coronavirus has focused attention on air quality in what may be a lasting way. Outdoor spaces — roofs, terraces and courtyards — were popular before the pandemic and have become more so as fresh air has gone from being a nicety to being a necessity.

Landlords have in some cases adjusted HVAC systems to increase the amount of outdoor air being pumped in. They are also upgrading filters to trap smaller airborne particles.

Some measures are being enshrined in leases, said Geoffrey F. Fay, a real estate lawyer with Pullman & Comley. But landlords are doing such things proactively, he added, as they try to make offices as enticing as possible at a time when tenants may be wondering if they even need to rent space anymore.

“Landlords realize we are on the precipice of change,” he said. “They want to make employees feel comfortable to the extent they’re coming back to the office.”

View Source

Inside Myanmar’s Army: ‘They See Protesters as Criminals’

Capt. Tun Myat Aung leaned over the hot pavement in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and picked up bullet casings. Nausea crept into his throat. The shells, he knew, meant that rifles had been used, real bullets fired at real people.

That night, in early March, he logged on to Facebook to discover that several civilians had been killed in Yangon by soldiers of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known. They were men in uniform, just like him.

Days later, the captain, of the 77th Light Infantry Division, notorious for its massacres of civilians across Myanmar, slipped off base and deserted. He is now in hiding.

“I love the military so much,” he said. “But the message I want to give my fellow soldiers is: If you are choosing between the country and the Tatmadaw, please choose the country.”

ousting Myanmar’s civilian leadership last month, setting off nationwide protests, it has only sharpened its savage reputation, killing more than 420 people and assaulting, detaining or torturing thousands of others, according to a monitoring group.

On Saturday, the deadliest day since the Feb. 1 coup, security forces killed more than 100 people, according to the United Nations. Among them were seven children, including two 13-year-old boys and a 5-year-old boy.

In-depth interviews with four officers, two of whom have deserted since the coup, paint a complex picture of an institution that has thoroughly dominated Myanmar for six decades. From the moment they enter boot camp, Tatmadaw troops are taught that they are guardians of a country — and a religion — that will crumble without them.

They occupy a privileged state within a state, in which soldiers live, work and socialize apart from the rest of society, imbibing an ideology that puts them far above the civilian population. The officers described being constantly monitored by their superiors, in barracks and on Facebook. A steady diet of propaganda feeds them notions of enemies at every corner, even on city streets.

The cumulative effect is a bunkered worldview, in which orders to kill unarmed civilians are to be followed without question. While the soldiers say there is some dissatisfaction with the coup, they regard a wholesale breaking of ranks as unlikely. That makes more bloodshed likely in the coming days and months.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader deposed and locked up in last month’s coup. Her father, Gen. Aung San, founded the Tatmadaw.

Today, the Tatmadaw’s foes are again domestic, not foreign: the millions of people who have poured onto the streets for anti-coup rallies or taken part in strikes.

On Saturday, which was Armed Forces Day, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief and instigator of the coup, gave a speech vowing to “protect people from all danger.” As tanks and goose-stepping soldiers paraded down the broad avenues of Naypyidaw, the bunker-filled capital built by an earlier junta, security forces shot protesters and bystanders alike, with more than 40 towns seeing violence.

intensity of opposition to the putsch. Officers trained in psychological warfare regularly plant conspiracy theories about democracy in Facebook groups favored by soldiers, according to social media experts and one of the officers who spoke with The Times.

In this paranoid world, the thumping that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy delivered to the military’s proxy party in last November’s elections was easily portrayed as electoral fraud.

A Muslim cabal, funded by oil-rich sheikhdoms, is accused of trying to destroy the Buddhist faith of Myanmar’s majority. Influential monks, who count army generals among those praying at their feet, preach that the Tatmadaw and Buddhist monkhood must unite to combat Islam.

In the Tatmadaw’s telling, a rapacious West could conquer Myanmar at any moment. Fear of invasion is thought to be one reason that military rulers moved the capital early in this century from Yangon, near the coast, to the landlocked plains of Naypyidaw.

subvert the country with piles of cash for activists and politicians. A military spokesman implied during a news conference that people protesting the coup, too, were foreign-funded.

Captain Tun Myat Aung said that in his first year at the Defense Services Academy, he was shown a film that portrayed democracy activists in 1988 as frenzied animals slicing off soldiers’ heads. In truth, thousands of protesters and others were killed by the Tatmadaw that year.

One of Captain Tun Myat Aung’s men was recently struck in the eye by a projectile from a protester’s slingshot, he said. But the captain acknowledged that the casualties were remarkably lopsided in the other direction.

Tatmadaw Facebook feeds may show soldiers besieged by violent protesters armed with homemade firebombs. But it is the security forces who have assaulted medics, killed children and forced bystanders to crawl in obeisance.

According to the soldiers who spoke with The Times, a suspension of mobile data access over the past two weeks was aimed as much at isolating troops who were beginning to question their orders as it was at cutting off the wider population.

most notoriously against Rohingya Muslims, but they have also targeted other ethnic groups, like the Karen, the Kachin and the Rakhine.

When the 77th Light Infantry Division was fighting in Shan State, in northeastern Myanmar, Captain Tun Myat Aung said he could feel the disgust of people from various ethnic groups. As a member of another ethnic minority, the Chin, he understood their fear of the Bamar majority.

Although he says he shot only to wound, not to kill, Captain Tun Myat Aung spent eight years on the front lines. He developed a rapport with just one group of ethnic minority villagers during that entire time, he said.

“People hate soldiers for what the soldiers did to them,” he said.

But the Tatmadaw also saved him. His mother died when he was 10. His father drank. He was sent to a boarding school for ethnic minority students, where he excelled. At the Defense Services Academy, he studied physics and English.

“The military became my family,” he said. “I was automatically happy when I saw my soldier’s uniform.”

On Feb. 1, in the pre-dawn torpor of Yangon, Captain Tun Myat Aung clambered onto a military truck, half asleep, strapping on his helmet. He didn’t know what was going on until a fellow soldier whispered about a coup.

“At that moment, I felt like I lost hope for Myanmar,” he said.

Days later, he saw his major holding a box of bullets — real ones, not rubber. He cried that night.

“I realized,” he said, “that most of the soldiers see the people as the enemy.”

View Source