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Welcome to Wednesday, where the Omicron variant triggers toughened travel restrictions, Putin warns NATO of Ukraine “red line,” and school’s in for Santa. For Amsterdam-based daily De Volkskrant, Daphne van Paassen also reports on how some Dutch hairdressers are being trained to recognize signs of domestic violence among their customers.
New variant, same story? The vicious circle of our COVID world
As we learn yet another Greek letter through the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, around the world the new wave is starting to sound very familiar, writes Anne-Sophie Goninet:
It’s been another 72-hour global moment.
It came in the days after the news first broke last Friday that B.1.1.529, named Omicron, had been identified by scientists in South Africa and assessed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “variant of concern.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has supplied a series of these collective worldwide “moments:” from the first wave of lockdowns to the discovery that the vaccines were effective to the Delta variant’s new wave of infections.
Early evidence suggested the variant was spreading fast and scientists warned Omicron was the most heavily mutated version of the virus they had seen yet, raising questions about the efficacy of vaccines against it. But little is known so far and it will take weeks before we can be certain of the variant’s contagiousness and the actual danger it poses.
Still, the discovery has nonetheless prompted a number of countries to quickly enforce bans on travelers from several southern African countries. Since then, several cases of the virus strain have been detected around the world, which is likely to prompt even more countries to implement restrictions as the heated debates over vaccines (both anti-vaxxers and access in the developing worlds) get even hotter.
Yes, it all starts to sound familiar. Just like when the Delta variant was discovered and with each new wave, history seems to repeat itself.
New cases and deaths, overwhelmed hospitals, restrictions, closed borders, the vaccine conundrum and the debate over mandatory vs incentive approach, protests ... which is likely to evolve to the point of declining case numbers, reopenings, discovery of a new variant and repeat all over again.
“We are living through a cycle of panic and neglect,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a special three-day meeting of the organisation to discuss the handling of the new virus strain. But how do we break the cycle?
The news of the variant has once again highlighted inequalities in access to vaccines. While Western countries, already largely vaccinated, are debating plans about mandatory vaccination and speeding up booster shots, a large portion of the African population remain unprotected, giving time to the virus to spread and mutate.
China’s daily The Global Times has pointed fingers at Western countries’ selfishness and mismanagement, saying that while they control most of the resources needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, “they have failed to curb the spread of the virus and have exposed more and more developing countries to the virus.” The Beijing newspaper touted China’s zero-COVID strategy as the “best line of defense” as Xi Jinping pledged to provide 1 billion doses to Africa.
For some, these inequalities and the reactions to the Omicron discovery have proved that despite being nearly two years into the pandemic, “there is still no global plan for getting out of it,” writes Jason Horowitz in The New York Times.
The WHO is now calling for a “coherent global approach” and the creation of a treaty to ensure sharing of data and technology, and equitable access to vaccines. For French daily Le Monde, “the fight against COVID-19 and its avatars cannot be conducted against the sole national framework. This global threat requires a response that is equally so, to avoid planetary uncertainty, disorganization and anxiety.”
In the meantime we need to “keep calm,” says Pia Heinemann in German daily Die Welt, as Omicron is “the new player in the pandemic” and there are still uncertainties about its dangerousness. Colombian daily El Espectador calls for “caution” on its Dec. 1 front page, reminding readers that the pandemic has also caused millions of cases of depression around the world.Whatever the solution to his new challenge, one thing is certain for journalist Mathieu Bock-Côté writing in Canada’s Journal de Québec: “COVID must no longer be granted the right to serve as the main backstory of our collective life.”
• Putin warns NATO against crossing “red lines” in Ukraine: President Vladimir Putin has warned NATO countries that deploying weapons or soldiers to Ukraine would cross a “red line” for Moscow, and trigger a strong response, including the potential deployment of Russian missiles targeting Europe. Meanwhile, Ukraine urged NATO to prepare economic sanctions on Russia to dissuade a possible invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops concentrated within reach of its border. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said direct negotiations with Moscow were essential to end war in eastern Ukraine.
• COVID update: Amid uncertainty around the virulence of the Omicron variant, U.S. President Joe Biden will announce tighter COVID restrictions for people flying into the United States. Malaysia has temporarily banned travelers from countries deemed at risk, while Japan and Hong Kong said they would expand travel curbs. South Korea reported a new daily record of 5,123 new coronavirus cases, as it battles to contain a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms. Meanwhile, Fiji will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated tourists on Wednesday.
• Michigan school shooting: A 15-year-old opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol his father had bought days earlier, killing three fellow students and injuring eight others including a teacher, in a high school shooting in the U.S. state of Michigan.
• China “hunts” Taiwan nationals through forced deportation: A new report by human rights group Safeguard Defenders revealed that over 600 Taiwanese arrested overseas have been deported to China in recent years. The report accused China of "hunting" down the people, and said the practice was being “used as a tool to undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty and bolster Beijing’s influence abroad”.
• UN pushes financial support to advert mass poverty in Afghanistan: The United Nations announced on Wednesday that a program to pay $300 million a year in cash to Afghan families with children, elderly or people with disabilities is “the best shot at halting a this massive collapse into near universal poverty,” which could affect more than 90% of the country’s 39 million people by mid 2022.
• Google to ban political ads ahead of Philippines election: U.S. tech giant Google announced political advertising will be banned on all its platforms, in the run-up to next year’s elections in the Philippines to choose a successor to President Rodrigo Duterte.
• Tel Aviv named as world’s most expensive city to live in: Overtaking Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore, Israel’s capital Tel Aviv becomes the world’s most expensive city to live in, as soaring inflation has pushed up living costs globally, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Michigan-based daily The Oakland Press reports on a school shooting which left three students dead and eight injured in Oxford. The suspected attacker, a 15-year-old pupil, used a handgun bought by his father last week.
NASA satellite data shows there were 90,984 fires from crop stubble burning in three Indian states between October 1 and November 28 — which is believed to be one of the main causes behind New Delhi’s record air pollution last month. The Indian capital city saw its worst levels of air pollution this November in at least six years.
Face in the mirror: Dutch hairdressers trained to recognize domestic violence
Early detection and accessible help are essential in the fight against domestic violence. Hairdressers in the Dutch province of North Brabant are now being trained to identify when their customers are facing abuse at home, reports Daphne van Paassen in Amsterdam-based daily De Volkskrant.
💇 According to Irma Geraerts, 45, who has her own salon in Reusel, a village in the North Brabant region, they're part-time psychologists. "A therapist whose hair I cut explained to me that we have an advantage because we touch people. We are literally close" That intimate contact is one of the reasons why The Netherland's Child Abuse Taskforce and the Sterk Huis (Strong Home) aid organization want to make use of hairdressers to detect domestic violence. People often go to the same hairdresser for years, exchange remarkably intimate stories, and feel a strong bond of trust.
💬 Nowadays, those who have lived experience of abuse are the new experts who are sitting at the table and contributing. "They told us over and over again: the baker, the teacher, the neighbor, they all knew, but nobody ever asked if they could do anything," says Teun Haans, cluster manager at Sterk Huis. That is why in the southern region of North Brabant they are aiming for a broad approach: domestic violence should not be an issue that only professionals deal with, but one for society as a whole.
📉 Does this broad approach help to bring down the figures? Based on a 2020 report (The long-winded issue: can domestic violence and child abuse really be stopped?), one could make a cautiously optimistic prediction. Researcher Katinka Lünnemann and her colleagues at the Verwey-Jonker Institute followed over the course of three years 576 families who had been reported to Veilig Thuis. In one third of the families that received help, the violence eventually stopped.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"Don't freak out."
— BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, reassuring vaccinated people who are worried about the Omicron variant that they will likely remain protected against severe illness. “The plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot,” he added.
Ho ho ho! The annual Santa School, held at the Ministry of Fun, an entertainment company in London, has resumed in-person training after being forced to move online last year due to the pandemic. The school offers training to wannabe Santas, covering different aspects of the role, from costume to voice and make-up. — Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin
Are you “freaking out” about the new variant? Or maybe the cost of living in your city? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world: firstname.lastname@example.org
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