Dine in or walk away? How to tell if a venue is COVID safe in NSW



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Lisa Bricknell, CQUniversity Australia

New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has called for more businesses to register as COVID Safe, as the state recorded 19 new cases of coronavirus in the 24 hours to 8pm Tuesday night. Berejiklian said:

If I walk into a venue and I’m not comfortable with how COVID safe that venue is, I’d leave. I expect patrons to do the same.

Good advice — and timely, too. As NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty said on Wednesday, NSW is “at a knife’s edge, a critical point”.

Here’s what to look for when you walk into a bar, cafe or restaurant to know if it’s COVID safe — and how to know when to walk out the door.




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What to look for

Familiarise yourself with the rules business must follow to register as a COVID Safe business in NSW. The rules are here.

Screenshot of the steps to become a COVID Safe business.
Steps to become a COVID Safe business, according to NSW Health.
NSW Health

Check to see the venue’s COVID Safe certificate is clearly displayed and that they are taking every patron’s contact details. If a patron is dining in, the venue must be recording their contact details or checking they are registered with the COVIDSafe app.

If they’re not recording people’s details in some way, leave. If a COVID-19 positive case visits that venue, contact tracers are unable to do their job unless all patrons’ details are recorded.

Check if tables are appropriately spaced and that cutlery, napkins, glasses, plates, bowls or straws aren’t left lying on tables — even if they are disposable. Nothing should be on the table for people to pick up (or in a tub for patrons to collect themselves). Cutlery and other utensils should be brought out by staff when your order is ready. The idea is to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 positive person handling your utensils.

Your table should be 1.5m away from other tables but I’d even be trying to keep 1.5m from friends at my own table. Personally, I’d also want to see my friends wearing masks (it’s different if you’re dining with people with whom you live). Even if you or your friend had a COVID-19 test yesterday and it came back negative, that doesn’t mean you’re negative today. You could have been infected in the past 12 hours.




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Watch what happens when a patron leaves. Are staff appropriately sanitising tables and chairs with spray and, ideally, disposable paper towel? They should be.

Look around to see if the venue provides hand sanitiser for patrons — and keep an eye on the staff to make sure they are using it too.

Staff, ideally, should be wearing masks, in my view. I know that’s not yet compulsory in many places, but masks provide a barrier if a staff member is unknowingly positive. It’s hard to make patrons wear masks, because they have to eat, but I’d be looking for the staff to be wearing them (all staff, not just a couple).

Check if the venue is enforcing contactless transactions to reduce the handling of money, cards and pin pads. I know the evidence about the role of surfaces in spreading this coronavirus is still emerging but we should stick to universal precautions — if something can be avoided, it should be.

Staff should be limiting the number of patrons at the venue, and the number of patrons allowed in the venue at any one time should be clearly displayed. If people are lining up outside, make sure they are being spaced out too.

In general, aim for an open-air setting if you can, such as a beer garden or an open-air cafe. The more fresh air flow you have around you, the more transmission risk is reduced. Any sort of indoor socialising, where air flow is limited, is inherently risky at the moment in NSW.

People sitting in a restaurant with coronavirus restrictions
Eating out? Check to see if staff are sanitising surfaces, wearing masks, using contactless payment, and spacing out customers.
Shutterstock

When to leave

Breaches of any of the above would be enough to make me want to leave. But here are some more triggers that would make me think, “I’m getting out of here.”

If you see staff or patrons with symptoms — they have a cough, or cold, or seem unwell — leave.

If they are not wiping surfaces or tables, or allowing patrons to come in and seat themselves, leave. Patrons should be shown to tables that have been sanitised.

If the place is starting to fill up and you sense physical distancing is not being observed — leave.

A critical point

NSW is at an especially critical point. I’d be very, very careful right now. If I was in a Sydney hotspot, I wouldn’t be going out to dinner at all.

NSW is doing a good job of putting out spot fires but any one of those spot fires can flare up if people aren’t taking precautions.

If you thinking of going out, and you are wondering if it is risky, then you are better off not doing it. If you feel you have to go, then mitigate your risk by moving the event outside or making sure everyone is distancing and wearing masks.

COVID-19 is a really serious disease that affects young and old. You can get sick or even die, even if you are young and healthy — and the evidence on long term effects is worrying. And of course, healthy people can pass it on to someone who is in a high risk category. It’s so important that everyone continues to observe the appropriate protocols — today. This week. This weekend.

Until COVID-19 either burns out globally or we get a vaccine — and neither of those are right on the horizon and may not happen at all — then this may become the new normal, sadly. Infection control measures remain our best chance of keeping the pandemic in check.The Conversation

Lisa Bricknell, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Health, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 reasons it’s safe for kids to go back to school



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Asha Bowen, Telethon Kids Institute; Christopher Blyth, University of Western Australia, and Kirsty Short, The University of Queensland

In mid March, cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 – dramatically increased in Australia and the government responded with an effective public health strategy. People who could, shifted to working from home, social distancing measures were applied and Australians experienced life in isolation.

Somewhere in the mix, kids stopped attending school. While the federal government has consistently maintained it is safe for schools to remain open, other states like Victoria and NSW told parents to keep their children at home if they could.

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We are now in a different phase of the pandemic in Australia. With cases dropping, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced students would be making a staggered approach back to classrooms from the third week of the second term – initially for one day a week, then for more time on campus as the term progresses. Schools in Western Australia reopen on Wednesday April, 29.

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the same social distancing rules as in the community did not apply in the classroom. He said:

The 1.5m in classrooms and the four square metre rule is not a requirement of the expert medical advice for students in classrooms.

Closure of schools has meant kids not seeing their friends and a disruption to their usual education routine.

For some children fears of violence, hunger and lack of safety, that are usually modified through school attendance, have become more real. Inequality and mental health needs have likely become more apparent for some children.




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The federal and state governments who say it is safe for children to return to school are working off the latest evidence. Here are five reasons we know it’s safe.

1. Kids get infected with coronavirus at much lower rates than adults

This is the case in Australia and throughout the world. There are no clear explanations for this yet, but it is a consistent finding across the pandemic.

Although SARS-CoV-2 can cause COVID-19 in school-aged children, it rarely does and children with the disease have mild symptoms.

Fewer than 150 children below 15 years have been infected with SARS-COV-2 in Australia since the pandemic began. This is compared to the 6,695 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia at 25 April, 2020.

2. Children rarely get severely ill from COVID-19

Data from around the world and Australia have confirmed children very rarely require hospitalisation, and generally only experience mild symptoms, when infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Deaths in children due to COVID-19 are incredibly rare. Very few children globally have been confirmed to have died from the virus (around 20 by our calculations), in comparison to more than 200,000 overall deaths.

Many parents have worried their kids’ friends could be infected with the virus without showing symptoms. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. A study in Iceland showed children without symptoms were not detected to have COVID-19. No child below ten years of age without symptoms was found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in this study.

3. Children don’t spread COVID-19 disease like adults

During the yearly flu season, children spread the flu to friends and grandparents alike. But COVID-19 behaves differently. In household clusters in China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Iran, fewer than 10% of children were the primary spreader – meaning the virus goes from adult to adult much more effectively than from children to other children, or even children to adults. The same has been found in new studies in The Netherlands.

We still don’t know why this is. It takes us all by surprise as kids with snotty noses are always blamed (and probably responsible) for driving the annual round of winter coughs and colds.

4. School children in Australia with COVID-19 haven’t spread it to others

Schools where cases have been diagnosed in Australia have not seen any evidence of secondary spread.

This means even with kids sitting right next to each other in the classroom, they are very unlikely to infect their friends.

5. There is no evidence closing schools will control transmission

Modelling shows only a small incremental public health benefit to closing schools in the case of usual respiratory viruses such as influenza. But COVID-19 is quite different to flu, so any of the benefits seen for influenza are likely to be even less in the case of COVID-19.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, school transmission was not found to be a significant contributor to the outbreak and school closures did not influence the control of transmission.

Back to school doesn’t mean back to normal

Schools reopening does not mean a return to education as it was before. Other measures may also be put in place, like staggering lunch breaks, limiting face to face contact between staff and parents and regular hand-washing breaks.

Kids with a cold or other symptoms must stay home from school. And older teachers or those with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of complications if infected with SARS-CoV-2 will have altered responsibilities.

It is important parents and the public differentiate between schools reopening from all the other important strategies used to reduce transmission still in place. These include social distancing, travel restrictions, case isolation and quarantine, and banning of large gatherings.




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But returning to schools is safe. Our leaders are advised on this issue by some of the best infectious diseases, public health and microbiology physicians in Australia, who have repeatedly said that schools can safely remain open.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has provided sensible advice for schools to reopen. It makes sense to get our kids back to doing what they do best.


Correction: the article originally stated children in NSW would start returning to schools in term one.The Conversation

Asha Bowen, Head, Skin Health, Telethon Kids Institute; Christopher Blyth, Paediatrician, Infectious Diseases Physician and Clinical Microbiologist, University of Western Australia, and Kirsty Short, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is cruising still safe? Will I be insured? What you need to know about travelling during the coronavirus crisis



DANIEL DAL ZENNARO/EPA

David Beirman, University of Technology Sydney

The coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) has now reached more than 80,000 recorded cases, largely concentrated in China, with a death toll over 2,700 and rising.

There are few signs the epidemic is abating. In fact, new cases have emerged in a host of European countries in recent days, while significant outbreaks have continued to grow in number in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

For the global tourism industry, the impact of the outbreak is likely to be severe. Many countries, including Australia and the US, are continuing their bans or severe restrictions on arrivals from China, which is having massive repercussions.

China accounts for one in 10 of the world’s international tourists, or about 150 million people per year. And Chinese tourists spent US$277 billion in outbound tourism in 2018, the highest in the world and nearly double the amount spent by American tourists at number two.




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Many governments, including Australia and the US, have also had “do not travel” warnings in effect for China for weeks – the highest warning level possible.

Australia is also now advising travellers to take a high degree of caution when visiting other countries with outbreaks, including South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong, and is advising people to reconsider travel to Iran. The warnings are updated frequently, so it’s best to check the Smart Traveller website before making plans.

The last significant disruption to global tourism on this scale occurred after the September 11 terror attacks, when a widespread fear of flying led to a major four-to-five-month decline in global aviation travel.

But despite the fears over coronavirus, travel is still generally safe at the moment provided you get the right advice and take sensible precautions.

A passenger gets her temperature taken after disembarking the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA

Is cruising still safe, and if so, where?

The recent quarantining of the Diamond Princess (Japan), the World Dream (Hong Kong) and the Westerdam (Cambodia) has raised concerns about the safety of cruising during the epidemic.

While the crisis is unprecedented in scale for the cruise sector, ship operators have extensive experience in dealing with the challenge of containing disease outbreaks. In fact, along with aviation, the cruising industry has the strictest health and safety controls of any tourism industry sector.




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The International Maritime Organisation has had a convention in place since 1914 known as SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), and updated versions now include a range of protocols for the cleaning of cabins and public areas of a ship and food hygiene.

It is standard practice in cruising to isolate passengers when a passenger is identified with an on-board illness. The difficulty with COVID-19 is that it may take up to 14 days and in some cases even longer for symptoms to develop after exposure.

According to my contacts in Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s global association representing over 90% of cruise ship operators, members are now developing a common approach to respond to the outbreak.

This involves informing passengers and training travel agencies about the measures that companies are taking to minimise risk and exposure to the virus. One measure being examined, for instance, is enhanced passenger reporting of medical vulnerabilities at the time of booking. This a top priority for CLIA.




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But the good news is that apart from the three quarantined ships in Asia, no evidence of COVID-19 has been found on cruise liners thus far.

The global cruise industry also has a relatively small exposure to China, which should counter some concerns about the safety of cruising. According to CLIA, all of Asia accounted for just 10% of the world’s cruise deployments and about 15% of the world’s 30 million passengers in 2019.

About half of the world’s cruising passengers are from North America (mainly the US). Nearly a third of global cruising takes place in the Caribbean and 28% in the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe. (However, the new coronavirus outbreak in Italy is becoming a more serious concern for cruise operators there.)

Will you be covered for cancellations?

Many travellers are also concerned about the travel insurance implications of the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to CHOICE, the Australian consumer advocacy agency, less than half the travel insurers cover cancellation as a result of a pandemic or epidemic.

However, travellers who booked their trips prior to the announcement of the epidemic (what is called a “known event”) should be able to obtain cancellation coverage.

Allianz, for instance, says the virus became a known event on January 22 for travel to China. Cover More Travel Insurance, which issues over 80% of travel insurance policies in Australia, is using the date of January 23 for its policies.

However, travellers who booked and paid after the “known event” announcement may find themselves out of luck.

A man in Casalpusterlengo, one the Italian towns under lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Andrea Fasani/EPA

Insurers also have different exclusions when it comes to epidemics. For instance, most (but not all) insurers will deny any coverage to travellers who visit a country their national government advises citizens not to visit, such as China at the moment for Australians.

However, some policies (especially those for corporate and government travellers) will offer coverage at a premium price for any loss not related to COVID-19 or standard travel insurance exclusions, such as injuries incurred while intoxicated.

Bottom line, travellers should research their travel insurance cover very carefully or seek professional advice to understand the full implications of the virus on their plans.The Conversation

David Beirman, Senior Lecturer, Tourism, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How big alcohol is trying to fool us into thinking drinking is safer than it really is



Australia’s drinking guidelines are currently under review.
From shutterstock.com

Peter Miller, Deakin University

Over recent weeks, the alcohol industry has been drumming up media discussion around Australia’s new drinking guidelines.

Australia’s guidelines on alcohol consumption are under ongoing review by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with new draft guidelines expected to be released in November.

The alcohol industry has labelled the current guidelines (two standard drinks per day and four in any heavy episode of drinking) as harsh, and voiced concern the guidelines may be tightened further.




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The global alcohol industry has been increasingly proactive in trying to undermine the ever-improving science on the harms associated with the product they make money from manufacturing, promoting and selling.

This is somewhat unsurprising given the industry would be significantly less profitable if we all drank responsibly.

Drinking guidelines

Panels of scientists develop drinking guidelines around the world by assessing the best and most up-to-date evidence on alcohol and health, and determining consumption levels which might put people at risk.

They then provide the information to health professionals and the public to allow people to make informed decisions about consumption. The guidelines are neither imposed nor legislated.

The current 2009 Australian guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce their lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. They recommend no more than four standard drinks on one occasion to reduce a person’s risk of injury and death.

So how are the industry players trying to protect our drinking culture from such “harsh” guidelines?

Alcohol Beverages Australia: who they are and what they’re claiming

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) is an industry body for global alcohol producers and retailers, including Asahi Brewers from Japan, Diageo Spirits from the UK, Pernod Ricard from France, Coca-Cola Amatil from the USA, and many others. Bringing together multiple industry groups to lobby government was a key strategy developed by the tobacco industry.

The NHMRC review of Australia’s drinking guidelines was open to public submissions on the health effects of alcohol consumption until January 2017. At this time, the ABA submitted a report claiming drinking alcohol carries health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They requested the review take this into account in drafting any new guidelines.

In their communications with the media this month, the ABA resurfaced their 2017 submission to the process. It seems they have not updated the information to reflect the latest evidence.




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The most up-to-date evidence has shown previous research was substantially flawed in terms of the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease, blood pressure, breast cancer and overall mortality.

We know consuming any type of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer of the bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver and breast. The World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a class 1 carcinogen, along with asbestos and tobacco, for decades.

Any health benefits the ABA demonstrated evidence for is outweighed by the risks.

The current drinking guidelines in Australia recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for healthy adults.
From shutterstock.com

Alongside claiming the benefits of drinking alcohol need to be considered, to make their case, the ABA have compared drinking guidelines across different countries. In doing so, they are seeking to highlight Australia’s guidelines are ‘stricter’ than those of most other countries.

In making sense of these figures, the difference in drink driving levels is worth considering. It takes the average male four standard drinks to reach 0.05 in two hours and around seven standard drinks to reach 0.08. This is a big difference for most of us.

Those countries with 0.08mg of alcohol per L of blood as the legal limit are willing to accept more than triple the risk of having a car accident than Australia’s 0.05.

We need to ask whether these are countries whose health and safety models we want to follow.




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This is not a new problem

The industry is using language like “harsh” and “strict” to ferment public opposition to any tightened guidelines.

This spin strategy is predictable. The alcohol industry has been fighting for many decades to preserve profits over public safety, disregarding consumers’ rights to know the contents of their products, and the harms associated.

They fought against the 0.05 drink driving limit in the 1950s, and have successfully stopped Australian governments telling us about the cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption. For example, while policymakers have proposed warning labels with information about cancer risk be placed on alcoholic drinks, this is yet to eventuate.

The ABA is currently resisting a push to explicitly warn consumers drinking is harmful to unborn babies by means of mandatory labelling on all alcohol containers, suggesting it’s “too much information”.

These examples show how the industry continues to actively muddy efforts to educate the public of the harms of alcohol consumption.




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Notably, we’ve seen all of this before, particularly in the tobacco industry, or “big tobacco”, which has previously employed strategies to minimise health concerns and delay effective legislation.

So it’s hard not to wonder if the ABA are worried about the bottom line of their corporate masters, and therefore trying to influence deliberations through a media campaign, similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry.The Conversation

Peter Miller, Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We can design better intersections that are safer for all users



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When cars, trucks, bikes and pedestrians come together at an intersection, design makes the difference between collisions and safety.
pxhere

Paul Salmon, University of the Sunshine Coast and Gemma Read, University of the Sunshine Coast

This is the sixth article in our series, Moving the Masses, about managing the flow of crowds of individuals, be they drivers or pedestrians, shoppers or commuters, birds or ants.


A major issue for road safety is collisions at intersections between vehicles and vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians.

In such collisions, often the driver is momentarily unaware of either the vulnerable road user or of their planned path through the intersection. While many factors can cause this lack of “situation awareness”, the design of the intersection is critical. With numbers of vulnerable road users increasing, how intersections are designed requires urgent attention.

The status quo

If you look at the intersections in your local area, many appear to have been designed primarily with drivers and efficiency in mind. The designs show little consideration of the needs of vulnerable road users. Typically, we see high speed limits, no dedicated bicycle lanes through the intersection, no filtering lanes for motorcyclists, and short crossing times for pedestrians.

This can make it difficult for vulnerable road users to pass through safely. And critically, the lack of overt protection for these vulnerable users also reduces drivers’ expectation of encountering them. This can lead to something that we call a “looked-but-failed-to-see error”: drivers are not aware of vulnerable road users even though they may have looked at them (this phenomenon is explained here).

In response to these problems, we recently completed research using a series of on-road studies to understand:

  1. how different road users interact at intersections

  2. what they need to know to support safe interactions.

Our next step involved using a sociotechnical systems-based design process to create new intersection design concepts. A sociotechnical system is any system in which humans and technology interact for a purposeful reason. Our aim was to develop a series of new intersection designs that better support the “situation awareness requirements” of all users.

Understanding the diversity of users

The most important finding from our on-road studies was that different road users experience the same intersection situations differently. Critically, these differences can create conflicts.

For example, drivers tend to be concerned with what is ahead of them, and specifically the status of the traffic lights. In contrast, cyclists and motorcyclists are concerned with working out a safe path and then filtering safely through the traffic. Thus, drivers who are not expecting them are often not aware of them or of what they might do next.

A key implication of our findings was that intersections should be designed to cater for the diverse situation awareness needs of all road users. The environment should facilitate safe interactions by ensuring that all road users are aware of each other and understand each others’ likely behaviours.

Based on this, we set about designing a series of new intersections using a sociotechnical systems design approach. Among other things this approach aims to create systems that have adaptive capacity and can cope with a diverse set of end user needs.

To achieve this, it proposes several core values, including that:

  • humans should be treated as assets rather than unpredictable and error-prone
  • technology should be used as a tool to assist and not replace humans
  • design should consider the specific needs and preferences of different users.

Designs for better intersections

We used these values as part of a participatory process to create three intersection design concepts. The design brief was to replace one of the intersections from the on-road studies (see below).

Figure 1. Bird’s-eye view (above) and first-person view (below) of the intersection to be replaced with new design, Map data ©2012 Google.
Author provided

When we evaluated the designs with drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians, two of the designs performed best against key criteria: alignment with sociotechnical systems values, attainment of key intersection functions (such as to minimise collisions, maximise efficiency, maximise compliance, optimise flexibility), and user preferences.

The first design is known as the “turning team” design. It works on the premise that different road users could work effectively as a team when proceeding through the intersection. To do this the design aims to make drivers explicitly aware of other forms of road user (to connect the team) and provides each with a clear and dedicated path through the intersection.

Like all good teams whose members function based on different roles, the design aims to clear cyclists from the intersection before allowing motorised traffic to enter. Other features include a pedestrian crossing path wide enough to accommodate cyclists who are not comfortable with using the road, motorcyclist filtering lanes, and phasing of traffic lights based on road user type and direction of travel.


CC BY-ND

The second design is the “circular” concept. It explicitly separates motorised and non-motorised traffic. A circular pathway around the intersection is provided for pedestrians and cyclists to use. This pathway links with cycle lanes running down the centre of the road, separated by a kerb from the roadway.

On the roadway, this design provides a separate bus lane and a motorcycle zone at the front of the intersection to encourage motorcyclists to filter to the front. Finally, the design incorporates signs warning motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists and for motorcyclists filtering through the traffic from behind.


CC BY-ND

The way forward for intersection design?

The road transport systems of the future will be markedly different to those of today. Intersections will become intelligent, with the capacity to “talk” with vehicles, and driverless vehicles will negotiate intersections for us.

This is a long way off, however. In the shorter term, intersections will likely comprise a complex mix of standard vehicles, driverless vehicles and partially automated vehicles, as well as cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and perhaps new forms of vulnerable road user. Without change, intersections will continue to kill and injure at an unacceptable rate.

Our research provides important messages for how the intersections of the future should be designed. Designers should equally consider the needs of all users, rather than considering drivers first and the rest afterwards. Critically, this should extend to driverless vehicles and automated systems. What, for example, are the situation awareness needs of a fully driverless vehicle when negotiating an intersection? How can intersection design support these needs as well as those of human users?

Designers should not fall into the trap of assuming that all road users require the same information when negotiating intersections. While separating them physically, the intersection of the future should aim to connect its users cognitively.


We would like to acknowledge our colleagues and collaborators who have contributed to this research, including Professor Mike Lenne, Associate Professor Guy Walker, Professor Neville Stanton, Dr Natassia Goode, Dr Nick Stevens and Dr Ashleigh Filtness.

The ConversationYou can find other articles in the series here.

Paul Salmon, Professor of Human Factors, University of the Sunshine Coast and Gemma Read, Research Fellow in Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The New Payments Platform may mean faster transactions, but it won’t be safer


File 20180213 170650 4w5mem.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The New Payments Platform could lead to more fraud and abuse.
Shutterstock

Steve Worthington, Swinburne University of Technology

Australians will finally enjoy the ability to send each other money in “real time”, with the launch of the New Payments Platform (NPP) today. The platform is a mixture of new processes for settling transactions between banks, guided by the Reserve Bank of Australia.

But while this may make payments faster, it could also make them less safe.

And data from the United Kingdom’s real-time payments platform, Faster Payments, show the take-up of Australia’s system may not be that strong. Although it was launched 10 years ago, Faster Payments has not yet become the most popular payment method in the UK. The most popular is still the traditional system, which takes three days to clear.

Research into the Faster Payments platform shows it is rife with fraud and scams. Part of the problem in the UK is that banks have trouble identifying potentially fraudulent transactions.




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The New Payments Platform will also change how you transfer money. BSB and account numbers will still exist, but individuals and businesses can create other identifiers, called “PayID”. This means mobile numbers or email addresses can also be used as a way to identify yourself, both to pay and be paid by others.

The platform will also remove the delays caused by weekends and public holidays and mean you can make transfers after business hours.

The impetus for a real-time payment platform came from a 2012 review by the Reserve Bank of Australia. It found that Australia’s payment system lagged behind even less developed nations, such as Mexico.

But not all banks have signed on to the new payments platform. Those taking a wait-and-see approach include Bank of Queensland, Suncorp and Rabobank. Even some of the subsidiaries of one of the big four banks, Westpac (such as Bank of Melbourne and St George), will not be involved in the launch of the New Payments Platform.

Fraud and abuse in real time

Before the New Payments Platform, numerous safeguards were built into Australia’s payment system that limited fraud and abuse. For instance, if you were planning to buy a car, you would likely go into your bank and ask for a bank cheque. This cheque would be made out to the name of the dealership or person selling the car.

A number of protections are built in to this system. The money is guaranteed by your bank and will clear within three days once deposited. If someone with a different name tries to deposit the cheque, then the cheque will not be accepted and hence the payment will be revoked.

Under the terms and conditions issued by one of the participating banks, banks are not liable for losses that are a result of you giving the wrong account information. Furthermore, a transfer instruction given by you, once accepted by your bank, is irrevocable.

This also applies if you were fraudulently induced to make a transfer via the New Payments Platform. In this case your bank might be able to help you recover the funds, but the recipient of the funds (potentially a fraudster) will have to consent to repay your funds. So if you have a dispute with a recipient of your funds transfer, you will need to resolve the dispute directly with that person or organisation under the new scheme.

It is likely that similar terms and conditions will apply to all the institutions that are members of the New Payments Platform.

The problem will only get worse as the “cap” on transactions is lifted. This happened in the United Kingdom once the Faster Payments cap was raised to £250,000 in 2015.

According to the managing director of the UK Payment Systems Regulator, Hannah Nixon: “There is no silver bullet for [authorised push payment] scams and some people will still, unfortunately, lose out.” Nixon added that account holders also need to take “an appropriate level of care” in protecting themselves.




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The UK experience shows that the New Payment Platform is likely to speed up transactions. It took two years for Faster Payments to pass 500 million transactions, but it sped up and passed 5 billion transactions in just over seven years.

In June 2017, Faster Payments processed 135.7 million payments, which was a 15% increase on the previous June. These payments amounted to a total of £115 billion for that month.

But Faster Payments is still not the biggest payment platform in the United Kingdom. Although we don’t know exactly why, there are many possible reasons – including customers not wanting to switch from something they are used to and a fear of fraud.

It could also be that British financial institutions are not promoting Faster Payments to their customers as they can charge higher fees on the traditional payment platform.

The ConversationAbove all, the big concern is detecting fraudulent activity in real time – something that will concern banks’ risk management and which may have led to some choosing to hang back. Payments on the New Payments Platform may be faster and easier to make, but will they be safer? It could just make fraud faster and easier for fraudsters, and harder to undo for victims.

Steve Worthington, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Plinky Prompt: Share the Most Dangerous Thing You've Ever Done For Fun



Waterfall

Hmmm, I generally play it safe I have to admit – but occasionally I do do something stupid and/or dangerous during my normal activities. This generally happens when I’m out bushwalking, though I find myself being more cautious these days.

Some of the most dangerous situations I have found myself in while bushwalking have been when trying to ascend/descend waterfalls. I have fallen on several occasions now and on one occasion suffered some injuries that required me to abandon the rest of my walk/climb on that day.

On another occasion I fell and landed far too close to what was effectively a spear, right beside by throat.

Some falls like these do tend to lead you to more caution in future times.

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Detained Pakistani Christian Released – But Two Others Held


Christian falsely accused of ‘blasphemy’ taken into custody, released – and detained again.

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 18 (CDN) — A Christian illegally detained in Faisalabad on false blasphemy charges was freed last night, while two other Christians in Gujranwala arrested on similar charges on Friday (April 15) were also released – until pressure from irate mullahs led police to detain them anew, sources said.

Masih and his family have relocated to a safe area, but just 10 days after he was falsely accused of desecrating the Quran in Faisalabad district of Punjab Province on April 5, in Gujranwala Mushtaq Gill and his son Farrukh Mushtaq were taken into “protective custody” on charges that the younger man had desecrated Islam’s holy book and blasphemed the religion’s prophet, Muhammad. A police official told Compass the charges were false.

Gill, an administrative employee of the Christian Technical Training Centre (CTTC) in Gujranwala in his late 60s, was resting when a Muslim mob gathered outside his home in Aziz Colony, Jinnah Road, Gujranwala, and began shouting slogans against the family. They accused his son, a business graduate working in the National Bank of Pakistan as a welfare officer and father of a little girl, of desecrating the Quran and blaspheming Muhammad.

The purported evidence against Farrukh were some burnt pages of the Quran and a handwritten note, allegedly in Farrukh’s handwriting, claiming that he had desecrated Islam’s holy book and used derogatory language against Muhammad. A Muslim youth allegedly found the pages and note outside the Gills’ residence.

Inspector Muhammad Nadeem Maalik, station house officer of the Jinnah Road police station, admitted that the charges against the accused were baseless.

“The initial investigation of the incident shows Mr. Gill and his son Farrukh are innocent,” he told Compass.

The two were kept at a safe-house, instead of the police station, out of fear that Islamist extremists might attack them; their subsequent release led to Islamic protests that compelled police to detain them anew today, sources said.

Despite police admitting that the two Christians were not guilty, a First Information Report (No. 171/2011) was registered against them under Sections 295-B and C in Jinnah Road Police Station early on Saturday (April 16).

“Yes, we have registered an FIR of the incident, yet we have sealed it until the completion of the investigation,” Inspector Maalik said, adding that the police had yet to formally arrest Gill and his son. “We registered the FIR for their own safety, otherwise the mob would have become extremely violent and things could have gone out of control.”

The police official said that after the Muslim youth made the accusation, he gathered area Muslims together.

“It seems to be a well thought-out scheme, because the perpetrators chose the time of the Friday prayers for carrying out their plan,” Maalik said. “They were sure that this news would spread quickly, and within no time people would come out of the mosques and react to the situation.”

He added that police were now inquiring of the Gills why they might suspect anyone of wanting to harm them.

“We are also looking for any signs of jealousy or old enmity,” Maalik said.

Soon after the Muslim youth found the alleged pages, announcements blared from the area’s mosques informing Muslims about the incident and asking them to gather at the “crime scene,” sources said.

There are about 300 Christian families residing in Aziz Colony, and news of the alleged desecration spread like jungle fire. Announcements from mosques sparked fear in the already shaken Christian families, and they started packing their things to leave the area, fearing the kind of carnage that ravaged Gojra on Aug. 1, 2009, killing at least seven Christians.

“It’s true…the news of the accusations against Gill and his son and the announcements being made from the mosque calling on Muslims to avenge the desecration sent shivers down our spines,” said Pastor Philip Dutt, who has known the Gill family for several years and lives in the same neighborhood. “The charges are completely baseless. I’m sure no person in his right frame of mind would even think of committing such a vile act. Someone has clearly conspired against the Gill family.”

He added that most of the area’s Christians had left their homes overnight, fearing an attack by Muslims.

Dutt said that a large police contingent arrived in time and took Gill and his son into custody after assuring the enraged mob that a case under the blasphemy laws would be registered against the two men. Police remained stationed in the area to provide protection to area Christians, but the atmosphere was tense.

According to some reports, a group of angry Muslims wanted to torch Gill’s house, but timely police intervention thwarted their plan.

At the same time, a group of Muslim extremists stormed into the house of Anwar Masih, a Christian factory owner in Aziz Colony, and started beating him and his son, sources said. The family managed to save themselves by calling the police and now they too are in “protective custody.”

The Rev. Arif Siraj, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, which also oversees the functioning of the Christian Technical Training Centre in Gujranwala, said the accusations against Farrukh were yet another example of how the country’s blasphemy laws are misused against innocent people.

“We have been engaged with the police and local Muslim leaders throughout the day to resolve this issue amicably,” Siraj said. “An eight-member committee comprising six Muslims and two Christian pastors has been formed to probe the incident, and they will make a report on Friday.”

The names of the Christians of the eight-member committee are Pastor Sharif Alam of Presbyterian Church Ghakarmandi and the Rev. Joseph Julius.

A large number of Muslims, including members of religious parties and banned outfits, came out to the roads of Gujranwala on Saturday (April 16) to protest the alleged desecration of the Quran and pressure police to take action against Gill and his son. The protestors reportedly gelled into one large demonstration on Church Road and headed towards the CTTC. Siraj said that some participants threw stones at a church on the road, but that Muslim elders immediately halted the stone-throwing.

“The district administration and Muslim leaders have now assured us that no one will target Christian churches and institutions,” he said, adding that both communities were now waiting for the committee’s report.

Sohail Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry expressed concern over the accusations.

“This case is a classic example of how Christians and Muslims continue to be charged with blasphemy on false accusations,” he said. “Isn’t it ridiculous that the accuser is claiming that Farrukh has confessed to burning the Quran in his note and thrown the burnt pages in front of his house – what sane person would even think of saying anything against prophet Muhammad in a country where passions run so deep?”

Arif Masih, the falsely accused Christian released last night, has reportedly been relocated along with this family to a safe location.

The original blasphemy law, introduced in British India in 1860, imposed a prison term of up to two years for any damage to a place of worship or sacred object carried out “with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion…”

The current provision in the Pakistan Penal Code, as amended in 1986, introduces both the death penalty for insulting Muhammad and drops the concept of intent. According to Section 295-C of the Penal Code, “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also
be liable to fine.”

The laws have drawn condemnation across the world, and two senior government officials – Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, a liberal Muslim, and Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, have been assassinated this year for demanding a review of the legislation.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Pakistani Christian Falsely Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ Illegally Detained


Policeman says Arif Masih, held at an undisclosed location, is innocent.

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 15 (CDN) — Police in Punjab Province, Pakistan have illegally detained a Christian on a “blasphemy” accusation, even though one officer said he was certain an area Muslim falsely accused 40-year-old Arif Masih because of a property dispute.

On April 5 Shahid Yousuf Bajwa, Masih’s next-door neighbor, initially filed a First Information Report (FIR) against “an unidentified person” for desecrating the Quran after finding threatening letters and pages with quranic verses on the street outside his home in Village 129 RB-Tibbi, Chak Jhumra, Faisalabad district. Desecrating the Quran under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

“Some identified person has desecrated the Holy Quran and has tried to incite sentiments of the Muslims,” Bajwa wrote in the FIR. Clearly stating that he did not know who had done it, he wrote, “It is my humble submission to the higher authorities that those found guilty must be given exemplary punishment.”

Bajwa charges in the FIR that when he went outside his home at 9 p.m. and found the pages, he looked at them by the light of his cell phone and thought they were pages of the Quran. Masih’s uncle, Amjad Chaudhry, told Compass the pages look like those of a school textbook containing quranic verses.

Chaudhry said Bajwa and his two brothers are policemen. After Bajwa found the pages and the threatening letters, Chaudhry said, he arranged for an announcement to be made from the loudspeaker of the area mosque.

“The message urged all the Muslims of the village to gather there due to the urgency and sensitivity of the matter,” Chaudhry said.

He said initially local Muslims were very angry and suggested that Christian homes be set ablaze, but that others said the Christians should be first given a chance to explain whether they were responsible.

“Then some Muslims began saying that because Arif Masih lived on this street, he would be the person who could have done this crime,” he said. “However, most of the people who gathered there said that they knew Arif Masih well and they could not imagine he could do such a vile thing. But others insisted that because Masih was the only Christian who lived on the street, only he could be suspected of the crime.”

At about 10 p.m. on April 5, Chaudhry said, Bajwa’s brother Abdullah Bajwa called Masih to the Siyanwala police station, where he was arrested; Masih’s family members were unaware that he had been arrested.

According to Section 61 of Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code, an arrested person must be produced within 24 hours before a court; Masih has been detained at an undisclosed location without a court appearance since April 5, with police failing to register his arrest in any legal document, making his detention illegal. Investigating Officer Qaisar Younus denied that Masih was in police custody, but Superintendent of the Police Abdul Qadir told Compass that Masih had been detained for his own safety.

Younus told Compass that he was sure Masih was innocent, but that he had been falsely accused because of a land dispute.

 

Property Conflict

According to Chaudhry, about two years ago Masih bought a plot next to his house that another villager, Liaquat Ali Bajwa (no relation to Shahid Yousuf Bajwa) wanted to buy – and who despised Masih for it, telling the previous owner, “How come a Christian can buy the plot that I wanted to buy?”

The parcel owner had given Masih preference as he knew him well, and he understood that the homeowner adjacent to the property had the first rights to it anyway.

At the same time, Ali Bajwa was able to seize about five square feet of the house of a Christian named Ghulam Masih after the wall of his home was destroyed in last year’s flooding. Feeling he was not in position to challenge Ali Bajwa, Ghulam Masih sold the land to Arif Masih so that he could take charge, Chaudhry said.

Arif Masih subsequently filed a civil suit against Ali Bajwa to evict him from his property. Chaudhry said Arif Masih was about to win that case, and that Ali Bajwa thought he could retain that property and obtain the one Arif Masih had purchased by accusing him of blasphemy with the help of police officer Shahid Yousuf Bajwa.

Ali Bajwa had been threatening Masih, saying, “You will not only give me this plot, but I will even take your house,” Chaudhry said.

Chaudhry said he had learned that Shahid Yousuf Bajwa felt badly after villagers criticized him for falsely accusing an innocent man of blasphemy, but that Bajwa feared that if he withdrew the case he himself would be open to blasphemy charges.

 

Neighbors

Arif Masih’s family has remained steadfast throughout the case, refusing to flee the area in spite of the possibility of Muslim villagers being incited to attack them, Chaudhry said.

“It all became possible because of Muslim villagers who sided with us,” he said.

Chaudhry said that when police arrived at the scene of the Muslims who had gathered with the pages and the threatening letters, the villagers told officers that they had not seen who threw them on the street. He said that the letters included the threat, “You Muslims have failed in doing any harm to us, and now I order you all to convert to Christianity or else I will shoot you all.”

The letters did not bear the name of the person who wrote them, he added.

On Monday (April 11), Chaudhry managed to meet with Masih, though Masih’s wife has yet to see him. Chaudhry told Compass that the first thing Masih asked him was whether everyone was safe, as there are only three Christian families in the area of about 150 Muslim homes.

“If the mob had decided to harm our houses, then it would have been very devastating,” Chaudhry said.

After Masih was arrested, at midnight police came to his house and began beating on the main gate, Chaudhry said. When Masih’s wife, Razia Bibi opened the door, the officers rushed into the house and searched it.

“They were looking for some proof, but thank God they could not find anything that could even be remotely linked with the incident,” he said.

Chaudhry added that police have not mistreated Masih, but he said the matter has lingered so long that he feared police may involve him in the case, or that “things may go wrong like in most blasphemy cases.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org