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Inside the Waymo-Zeekr robotaxi, Bird spirals and layoffs come to Nuro

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The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. This is a shorter version of The Station newsletter that is emailed to subscribers. Want all the deals, news roundups and commentary? Subscribe for free

Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. 

It was great seeing everyone in Los Angeles, whether it was the Waymo-Zeekr event, CoMotion-related or the LA Auto Show. The LA Auto Show had more life than the previous year, but it still wasn’t the same level as those pre-COVID days.

Still, there was a bit of action on the news front — the Toyota Prius is actually good looking! — lots of execs to chat with, investors, startup founders and even design teams from other automakers (ahem, hey Rivian folks!).

On the ‘future of transportation’ front, Waymo and Geely Holding Group company Zeekr held an event in downtown Los Angeles to show its Autonomous Mobility Platform in person. 

The vehicle isn’t quite a present-day minivan nor is it a sci-fi vehicle. It’s somewhere in between with some interesting details, a wisp of Swedish-inspired design thanks to partner CEVT and features meant to make it more accessible.

Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

Here are a few details. The vehicle starts with SEA-M architecture, a refined version from Zeekr’s original Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) meant for “future mobility products” like robotaxis and logistics vehicles. 

There are some interesting design features of the SEA-M, including the lack of a B-pillar, which might cause some to raise an eyebrow. Execs at the event assured me that the doors, when closed, provide the stiffness and security that a traditional B-pillar would. The result is a pair of doors that open at a seam and allow easy ingress and egress. 

The all-electric vehicle is equipped with the self-driving system developed by Waymo, including a primary and redundant on-board compute system and loads of sensors. There’s an electric motor in the rear and a battery “capable of a full day of operation on a single charge.” Execs didn’t provide an estimate range. The vehicle is 15.1 feet in length, 5.9 feet in height, 6.5 feet in width and has a 9.8-foot wheelbase. 

waymo zeekr robotaxi

Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

Inside the vehicle is a flat floor and two rows of seating — two seats in the front, where there is not a steering wheel, and one row of seats in the back. Execs at the event told me that everything is configurable and a steering wheel can be added in. That’s important if Waymo wants to launch this vehicle in the U.S., which execs said was the plan. 

The seats, all of which face forward and not towards each other like the Zoox robotaxi and Cruise Origin do,  are wider and lower than you might find in a traditional vehicle. The shoulder height of the seats are also lower.  The seats can recline and tilt. Users may also notice braille buttons throughout the interior as well as phone charging, and adjustable AC vents. Touchscreen displays face passengers. 


A bit of housekeeping: There will not be a newsletter next weekend. Enjoy your Thanksgiving if you celebrate that holiday; I’ll see y’all the following week.

Got a news tip or inside information about a topic we covered? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. Or you can drop us a note at tips@techcrunch.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Well it’s been a pretty low week for Bird. The company told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had been overstating revenue for the past two years, which means the company went public using partially incorrect historical data.

This came just hours before the micromobility company released its third quarter earnings report, nestled in which was a going concern warning. Bird, which is already on thin ice with the New York Stock Exchange for trading too low, said that it may not have enough funds to continue operating for the next 12 months. The company closed out the quarter with just $38.5 million in cash.

You can read a deep dive from Alex Wilhelm on how Bird clipped its own wings on TC+ (subscription).

For what it’s worth, Helbiz didn’t perform much better. The company has somehow made less revenue in Q3 2022 than it did last year. Its ride revenue took the biggest hit, despite Helbiz’s constant social media presence claiming new markets. But on the bright side for the company, revenue from its sports streaming platform is up YoY. Helbiz closed the quarter with a paltry $3.3 million in cash, but it hasn’t issued its own going concern warning just yet. The company might be crossing its fingers that its Wheels acquisition will bring in some decent revenue ASAP, even though we’re coming into the winter months which means less ridership.

New York City has decided to extend and expand the Bronx e-scooter pilot, possibly to other boroughs. The city released a Request for Proposals to find the next company(ies) to go deeper into the Bronx and beyond. Sounds like good news, but I have my concerns. For one, Lyft-owned CitiBike still has a chokehold over the city as the sole micromobility vendor in most desirable operating locations. That’s the reason the e-scooter pilot was relegated to the east Bronx. CitiBike is all over Manhattan, half of the Bronx and a good chunk of Brooklyn and Queens. If the e-scooter pilot gets extended, it will have to go where CitiBike isn’t, which is way in the outskirts — or worse, Staten Island. Great for equity and accessibility, bad for profitability.

Rad Power Bikes sent me their RadRunner 2 and RadExpand 5 to try out. The company has told me in the past that one of their target customers is people over 50 who aren’t necessarily bike riders but want to find an alternative to cars. So I put my mom on one. Read about how Rad’s bikes stack up for a millennial and a boomer.

Meanwhile Paris is considering not renewing the licenses of Lime, Dott and Tier, which expire in 2023, and instead banning e-scooters entirely. Counting on Mayor Anne Hidalgo to keep the program in some shape or form.

Voi partnered with WMG and Bumblebee Power to trial wireless e-scooter charging at the University of Warwick campus for six months. Voi scooters will be retrofitted with technology that allows them to be charged when parked over Bumblebee’s wireless charging pads

LA-based e-scooter company VoroMotors has opened a distribution center in Hawaii.

Deal of the week

money the station

Just a list of deals this week! Here’s a whole bunch of them.

Better Trucks, the logistics tech startup, raised $15 million to advance its platform that delivers next-day and two-day parcel shipping.

ECARX Holdings reached a deal with SPDB International Limited and CNCB Investment Limited for $65 million of convertible senior notes due 2025. The $65 million convertible note financing adds to the company’s $45 million in capital raised, that was announced concurrently with the merger agreement entered into on May 26, 2022 between ECARX and COVA Acquisition Corp.

EV Realty raised $28 million to develop its grid-scale charging infrastructure designed for fleet customers in key commerce hubs and along last-mile routes.

Faraday Future could receive up to a $350 million lifeline to help launch its first vehicle. The company signed a deal with an affiliate of Yorkville Advisors Global for an equity line of credit up to $350 million. The financing, which entails an initial commitment of $200 million from the New Jersey-based investment firm, will be “key” to producing the company’s long-awaited first model, the FF 91 sports car.

Lilium, the eVTOL developer, agreed to issue and sell shares to existing shareholders,new investors and strategic partners to raise $119 million. Participants include Honeywell and Aciturri as well as LGT and its affiliated impact investor Lightrock, Tencent, B. Riley Securities and certain affiliates thereof. Lilium’s new CEO, Klaus Roewe, as well as three additional board members, Barry Engle, David Wallerstein and Niklas Zennström, also participated.

Parallel Domain, a startup that has built a data-generation platform for autonomy companies, raised $30 million in a Series B led by March Capital, with participation from return investors Costanoa Ventures, Foundry Group, Calibrate Ventures and Ubiquity Ventures.

Revel got an additional $50 million in debt from BlackRock that it will use to grow its network of EV fast charging hubs, with an eye towards building more in NYC.

Swoop Aero was also recently awarded $1.5 million in USAID Development Innovation Venture Funding. The funding will be used to help the drone logistics scale into new areas.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise expanded its driverless ride-hailing service in San Francisco to daytime hours. Its just for employees right now and will open up to the public at a later date.

Motional and Lyft say their second robotaxi market will be Los Angeles. Although when that will happen is hard to say since Motional still only has a drivered testing permit with the California DMV. The AV company will need to score a driverless testing permit and then a deployment permit before it can start carrying passengers for free. Being able to charge them is a whole other kettle of fish.

Nuro, the autonomous vehicle delivery startup backed by SoftBank, Google and Tiger Global Management, is laying off about 300 people, or 20% of its workforce. Nuro co-founders Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu sent employees an email detailing their decision. Tl;dr: during the fundraising frenzy in 2021 they doubled down on hiring. With economic headwinds the company is forced to scale back.

Waabi unveiled its first generation of self-driving trucks that are purpose-built for OEM integration. The trucks are powered by the Waabi Driver, a combination of Waabi’s software, sensors and compute.

Waymo detailed in a recent blog how the company uses data collected from its vehicle sensors and high quality ground-truth data from weather visibility sensors to turn each Waymo vehicle into a “mobile weather station.”

Speaking of Waymo, the company has finally received the driverless pilot permit from the California Public Utilities Commission. That means Waymo can now bring the rider-only experience to San Francisco residents. No human safety operator required.

Zoox had a crash in Las Vegas. A 2016 Toyota Highlander outfitted with fully autonomous driving technology and operated by Zoox rear-ended a tractor-trailer owned by Las Vegas Paving, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported. It seems that the human safety driver, who was driving it manually at the time, still expected the vehicle to stop on its own.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Archer Aviation unveiled its production eVTOL aircraft, Midnight. The company is working to certify Midnight with the Federal Aviation Administration in late 2024 and then use it to help launch its urban air mobility network in 2025.

General Motors’ e-delivery van subsidiary BrightDrop said it’s on track to reach $1 billion in revenue next year. The company also said at an investor conference that supply chain constraints won’t hinder its goal of reaching electric vehicle profitability by 2025.

Redwood Materials will supply Panasonic Energy of North America with cathode material for battery cells produced at a new factory currently under construction in Kansas. The new $4 billion Panasonic factory, which will be larger than the Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, is expected to begin mass production of its “2170” cylindrical lithium-ion batteries by March 2025. The deal is worth several billion dollars.

In-car tech and ADAS

Tesla reported two new fatal crashes that are tied to advanced driver assistance systems.

Ride-hailing, car-sharing etc.

The Amazonification of Uber

Finn is bringing its car subscription platform to New York and Rhode Island.

Lyft partnered with SpotHero to help customers and drivers find and reserve a parking spot through the Lyft app.

Uber and Lyft will have to increase the minimum pay rates for drivers in New York City by the end of the year. The fare increase comes amid a driver shortage post-pandemic, in large part due to rising operational costs.

LA Auto Show recap

A few more bits of coverage are still coming, but here is some of what we saw.

► Toyota unveils all-electric SUV concept under ‘beyond zero’ badge

The new 2023 Toyota Prius plays up power, not fuel economy

Genesis teases its EV future with the Genesis X convertible

Stellantis is bringing the all-electric Fiat 500e to North American in early 2024

Fiat CEO teases car subscriptions, car-sharing for all-electric 500e launch in U.S.

Hyundai launches home charging ecosystem

Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell concept hints at N performance brand ‘s future

Vinfast bid to attract US buyers includes 4 electric SUVs and maybe even a sports car

Everything we know about the 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 6

And finally, Lucid had an event in Beverly Hills to hand over the first of its Air Touring model. The company also teased the all-electric SUV, called the Gravity, and said reservations are opening in early 2023. A little insider tip: the model lineup that Lucid carved out for the Air sedan will be represented in the Gravity range as well, which would include a Sapphire version, possibly multiple versions of it.

People

Skyryse appointed former Delta Airlines pilot Bill Warlick as head of Flight Test Operations to oversee the planning, coordinating, and monitoring of the company’s aircraft and flight test operations as the company brings its technology, FlightOS, to market.

 

Inside the Waymo-Zeekr robotaxi, Bird spirals and layoffs come to Nuro by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

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International

Call For Investigation Into Mortality Rates As Australia Sees Death-Rate Spike

Call For Investigation Into Mortality Rates As Australia Sees Death-Rate Spike

Authored by Victoria Kelly-Clark via The Epoch Times,

Australia has…

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Call For Investigation Into Mortality Rates As Australia Sees Death-Rate Spike

Authored by Victoria Kelly-Clark via The Epoch Times,

Australia has seen a spike in its mortality rates in 2022, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) stating that by the end of August 2022, 128,797 deaths had been registered, which is 18,671 deaths, or 17 percent, more than the historical average.

In the data release on Nov. 25, the ABS noted that of registered deaths; there had been a rise in the number of Australians dying from dementia (18.9 percent above the baseline average), diabetes (20.8 percent higher than the baseline average), cancer, and COVID-19.

Karen Cutter, a spokesperson for the Actuaries Institute of Australia (AIA) said in a media release (pdf) that even after the Institute’s COVID-19 Mortality Working Group removed all “from” and “with” COVID-19 deaths, it was not clear why Australians were dying in larger numbers from other diseases such as ischaemic heart disease, cancer, and cerebrovascular disease in 2021 and 2022.

In an analysis (pdf) from Nov. 3, the AIA noted that 1,200 more Australians had died from ischaemic heart disease than expected, while cerebrovascular disease had 450 more deaths than normal. Meanwhile, mortality rates from diabetes increased by 400 deaths, and dementia saw an extra 800 deaths.

According to the ABS, between January and August this year, 7,727 Australians died from COVID-19.

“It is not clear what might be driving this, although we expect that at least part of the excess will be in respect of people who otherwise may have succumbed to respiratory disease in 2020 and 2021,” said Cutter.

They also said that diabetes deaths have generally been higher than expected throughout the pandemic.

Cutter noted that the AIA had also noticed that of the excess deaths in the 0-44 and 45-64 age bands were small, and the number of women dying was higher than expected.

She has called on the federal government to launch an inquiry into the cause of the spike.

“The differences are worth investigation, although the small numbers mean that there is considerable natural variation,” she said.

Spiking Mortality Rates a Global Phenomenon

The spike in mortality rates is being experienced globally, with the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty, as well as Sir Patrick Vallance, the country’s Chief Scientific Adviser, declaring the country is facing a “prolonged period” of excess deaths after people differed treatment during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the UK’s health secretary Steve Barclay said that the government needed to come clean about the excess deaths.

In a speech to the Spectator Health Summit in London on Nov. 28, Barclay said that the government must share the scale of the COVID backlog, which he estimated was now “around now 7.1 million patients.”

We know from the data that there are more 50-to 64-year olds with cardiovascular issues. It’s the result of delays in that age group seeing a GP because of the pandemic and, in some cases, not getting statins for hypertension in time,” he said.

“When coupled with delays in ambulance times, we see this reflected in the excess death numbers. In time, we may well see a similar challenge in cancer data,” Barclay said.

COVID-19 Lingering Effects

The AIA agrees that delayed medical treatment may be a cause behind Australia’s rising death rate.

In an analysis of the pandemic in 2022, they said that it was highly likely that delays in medical care was a contributing factor to the excess death rates from other diseases.

“Pressure on the health, hospital and aged care systems, including ambulance ramping and bed block, could lead to people not getting the care they require, either as they avoid seeking help, or their care is not as timely as it might have been in pre-pandemic times,” they said.

“There is some evidence that this may be affecting cancer deaths. It may also be a factor in higher deaths from other causes, such as ischaemic heart disease, diabetes, and the large ‘other’ category.”

They also noted that COVID-19 lingering health effects could also be contributing to the increased rates.

Studies show that coronavirus is associated with increased mortality risks from heart disease and other causes. However, because doctors certifying the death would not necessarily know of the infection if it had occurred months prior, this could demonstrate a causative link several months after recovery from COVID-19.

Tyler Durden Thu, 12/08/2022 - 21:00

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Government

Federal Pandemic Program Forgave $809 Million In PPP Loans To White-Shoe Law Firms: Watchdog

Federal Pandemic Program Forgave $809 Million In PPP Loans To White-Shoe Law Firms: Watchdog

Authored by Mark Tapscott via The Epoch Times…

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Federal Pandemic Program Forgave $809 Million In PPP Loans To White-Shoe Law Firms: Watchdog

Authored by Mark Tapscott via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Federal officials forgave $809 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans handed out during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to more than 100 of the nation’s top law firms and another $635 million given to hundreds of elite accounting offices, according to a new analysis of government spending to be made public on Dec. 2.

A worker protests outside the closed Four Points by Sheraton LAX hotel as they call for an investigation by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) into the use of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan funds in Los Angeles, Calif., on April 7, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

As described by the Department of Treasury, the PPP was established in 2020 to provide “small businesses with the resources they need to maintain their payroll, hire back employees who may have been laid off, and cover applicable overhead.”

The program was administered by the federal Small Business Administration, which made $787 billion in federal loans to companies and firms spanning all industries. The vast majority of the “loans” were subsequently turned into grants, which didn’t require repayment.

An investigation by Open the Books found that hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars went to top law and accounting firms even though most of them didn’t qualify as small businesses and didn’t have to lay off employees.

Open the Books is a nonprofit watchdog that uses public information laws such as the federal Freedom of Information Act to make government spending public, including “every dime online, in real time.”

The Epoch Times obtained an advance copy of the investigative report.

Auditors “found an astonishing $1.4 billion in forgiven PPP loans that flowed to the largest and most successful law and accounting firms across America,” the report stated.

Today, it is an open question whether many of the firms needed a taxpayer subsidy to ‘save’ any jobs during the Covid-pandemic. Many racked up record revenues while their equity partners made millions of dollars.

“For example, in the years 2020 and 2021, we found equity partners individually received $7 million in profits while their law firms received $10 million in forgiven PPP ‘loans.’ The Guam office of Ernst & Young, a Big Three accounting firm with 365,000 employees, took a $750,000 forgiven loan.

“In 2020, millions of mom and pop businesses on Main Street had to shut down during the forced economic lockdown [occasioned by the pandemic]. So, Congress created the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) to compensate those businesses for their economic losses.

“Firms with 500 employees or fewer met eligibility requirements. However, Congress didn’t anticipate that Biglaw and the largest accounting firms would cash in so profitably.”

Among the biggest winners was Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, the New York City-based law firm of Democratic superlawyer David Boies, which received a forgiven $10.14 million PPP loan.

Boies first came into national prominence in 2000, when he headed Vice President Al Gore’s legal team during the Florida presidential election recount. The election wasn’t decided until the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, which put Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the Oval Office.

Boies also gained national notoriety by representing the Department of Justice in its successful prosecution of Microsoft, and he headed a legal team that challenged California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages. The proposition was approved in 2008 by voters, but the Supreme Court effectively nullified it in a 2013 decision.

His firm’s PPP debt was forgiven in October 2021 under the Biden administration, even though during the period covered by the loan “the firm’s equity partners earned $4.5 million each in profit compensation—receiving $2.219 million (2021) and $2.283 million (2020). The firm billed clients $480 million during this two-year period,” Open the Books found.

The second-biggest law firm beneficiary of PPP loans was the Birmingham, Alabama-based Maynard Cooper & Gale, which received $10.13 million under the pandemic relief program. Even so, the firm’s workforce increased from 247 in 2019 before the pandemic, to 260 in 2020 during the pandemic, and 283 in 2021.

No. 3 among the white-shoe law firms getting tax dollars via the PPP program was the New York-based Kasowitz Benson Torres. The firm’s “revenues grew from $216.8 million (2019), to $219.4 million (2020) and then $238.4 million (2021). In April 2020, the firm received a $10.13 million PPP loan that was forgiven in July 2021—while profit per equity partner averaged $2.418 million (2021),” according to Open the Books.

Among the big accounting firms getting tax dollars, Prager Metis CPAs in New York City received $10.2 million, which was forgiven in June. Revenues for 2021 reached $139 million, an increase from 2020’s total of $123.9 million.

Withum’s of Princeton, New Jersey, was next, getting a PPP loan worth $10.1 million that was forgiven in June 2021. Withum’s revenues were $425.3 million in 2021, up significantly from its 2020 total of $257 million, according to Open the Books.

Tyler Durden Thu, 12/08/2022 - 20:20

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International

Chinese Health Official Admits 80-90% Of Population May End Up With COVID

Chinese Health Official Admits 80-90% Of Population May End Up With COVID

After just within the past week China’s government dramatically…

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Chinese Health Official Admits 80-90% Of Population May End Up With COVID

After just within the past week China's government dramatically pivoted from its ultra-harsh 'zero Covid' policy - a policy which had triggered unprecedented widespread protests against communist authorities and health officials as in some instances they barricaded whole neighborhoods into strictly controlled quarantine zones - toward what appears a full embrace of a more lax 'Swedish model' type approach, national health authorities are prepping the population for the coming Covid wave, which could impact an estimated 80 to 90% of the Chinese population, according to a fresh projection by Feng Zijian, a former deputy chief at China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"It’s going to be inevitable for most of us to get infected once, regardless of how the Covid-fighting measures are adjusted," Feng said Tuesday during a virtual conference discussing the zero Covid offramp at Tsinghua University in Beijing. As a senior health official, Feng is part of the central government's task force in implementing new policies which has moved away from the 'one size fits all' mentality that guided Beijing's health response since the pandemic began.

"Some 60% of Chinese people may be infected in the first wave, before the curve flattens, Feng predicted," as cited in Bloomberg. "By comparison, about 58% of the US population had been infected by February this year, according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis released in April. That was up from 33.5% in December."

Via Associated Press

So it seems two years too late, China is learning the lessons of a number of countries that embraced a more flexible stance based on understanding herd immunity early, also centered on protecting the most vulnerable demographic, the elderly and the infirm, while not shuttering the economy wholesale.

Further, as of Thursday morning in China (local time), health authorities are reporting "more than 20,000 new cases a day at the moment, as outbreaks flare from Beijing to the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou. That’s up from less than 100 a day in June, and zero for long periods of 2020."

But China says it's ready amid its more localized approach which will seek to prep hospitals, civic authorities, and the citizenry on "proper protective measures" - such as greater deployment of at home rapid antigen test kits. "It is better to direct the flood than block it," Lu Jiahai, a senior expert at the state drug regulator National Medical Products Administration (NMPA), said.

As for this approach looking more like a Swedish model policy (though don't expect anyone in Beijing to call it that), Caixin Global recently captured the following quotes which illustrate an astounding about-face in thinking on the pandemic among Chinese officials

Although there are challenges in the implementation of home quarantine, the infection risks should not be exaggerated, said University of Hong Kong’s Jin.

"Scientific guidelines should be provided for everyone to follow with a clear accountability mechanism, as there have been many examples that even couples in the same room didn’t infect each other," said Jin, citing the experience in Hong Kong, where home isolation has been widely adopted after the worst outbreaks hit in the spring.

One resident in Beijing agreed. "I think it is more important to eliminate the irrational fear of being infected, and at the same time learn how to reduce the risk of cross-infection," Ma Qiao, who has studied preventative medicine, told Caixin.

Some of the new measures from the communist government call for isolating asymptomatic or mild Covid cases at home rather than in quarantine camps or hospitals for seven days. Anyone in contact with the infected would have to quarantine at home for five days instead of eight days at a camp and then at home.

The State Council further disbanded the rule for people to show negative Covid tests before entering public places. As the SCMP summarized of the new approach this week: "The new policy stressed that basic social and medical services need to be provided. People's movements, work and production should not be restricted in low-risk areas." 

Tyler Durden Thu, 12/08/2022 - 20:40

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