Geopolitics

Bracing For A Second Wave Next Winter

Not a routine flu season...
Not a routine flu season...
Kat Bohmbach

PARIS The rate of transmission and death toll of the coronavirus finally seem to be slowing, and various national and local lockdown measures are beginning to loosen. In a best-case scenario, both commerce and public confidence pick back up and social distancing measures help the virus to fade away by the summer. But even if that's the case, health officials are warning that a second wave of infection later in the year, as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, is not only possible but probable.

A seasonal link: Though the behavior of the current coronavirus is still fairly unknown, researchers have reasons to believe that this virus shares many characteristics of other (less-deadly) coronaviruses we have faced before, including the one which causes the common cold, where transmission is much higher in the fall and winter than in the summertime, which may also be linked to the strength of the body's immune system. Most disease specialists have come to believe that the coronavirus will also follow a similar seasonal pattern. Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told The Los Angeles Times: "I suspect this will come back and if we do get any kind of lull in the summer that this will likely pick up in the fall, just like other coronaviruses do."

Reaction time: Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci says that a second wave of the coronavirus is "inevitable" in the fall or winter, the only difference is that there is still time for the government to put countermeasures in place that would curb the spread. Last week, researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) released a report with at least three possible outcomes for COVID-19's future spread across the country.

Worst case: CIDRAP's worst-case scenario prediction, and also the most likely according to them, is not only that there will be a second wave of the pandemic in the fall and wintertime, this second wave is also estimated to be even larger than what we have been witnessing. According to the author of the report and director of the CIDRAP, Michael Osterholm, the disease will not stop spreading until it has infected at least 60-70% of people (which has been estimated to take anywhere from 18 to 24 months and assumes that these people survive the disease). He says, "The idea that this is going to be done soon defies microbiology."

Control & prevention staff working in the snow in Suifenhe, China, on April 22 — Photo: Zhang Tao/Xinhua/ZUMA​

View from Iran: In Iran, one of the countries initially hardest hit by the coronavirus, doctors are warning authorities that they may be in for another viral winter. Though Iranian officials have been suggesting that the pandemic is currently peaking nationwide, like the Health Ministry's calculations from May 4, which show a decline in infection rates in some provinces and the possible approach of a peak in others, physicians in Tehran predict that next winter will not be anything like a routine flu season. Mas'ud Mardani, an infectious disease doctor and member of the capital's coronavirus headquarters, told the daily Aftab-e Yazd that if the country imported "two million flu vaccines last year, this year it must import between 10 and 20 million vaccines at least," to cover all "vulnerable" people.

French low immunity: As reported by Le Figaro, with France beginning to lift the strict confinement measures that have been in place since mid-March, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe reminded citizens of the difference between loosening restrictions and being in the clear when it comes to the spread of the virus. "The risk of a second wave, which would hit a weakened hospital system, would impose a return to quarantine," he said. "That would ruin the efforts and the sacrifices made." And this risk is very real, according to research published by France's Institut Pasteur, the confinement measures put in place successfully reduced the transmission of the coronavirus by 84%. However, they predict that by the time measures begin to loosen on May 11, only 5.7% of the population will have been infected, meaning that when control measures are loosened, population immunity will be insufficient to prevent a second wave.



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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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