BBC

COVID Death Toll At 1.5 Million: A World United By Those We Lost

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached every corner of the planet, and we remember those we lost from more than 20 different countries.

Walking with a face mask in Montreal, Canada
Walking with a face mask in Montreal, Canada

PARIS — It's a staggering number, one that in the early days of the pandemic, few would have even dared to imagine. And yet, here we are: The worldwide COVID-19 death toll is now set to pass 1.5 million.

Those we've lost include some of the biggest and most advanced countries, including the United States, which has registered the most deaths (271,000+), followed by Brazil (174,000+) and India (138,000+). But this pandemic, the first of this amplitude in the era of airline travel and full-throttle globalization has reached virtually every corner of the world. That means 27 have also died in Iceland and 29 in Singapore, alongside the more than 39,000 in Argentina, 57,000 in Italy and 49,000 in Iran. And so on ... sadly.

Even with a vaccine on its way, current forecasting models say it is likely that the final toll will include an additional one million lives taken by the coronavirus.

The impact of all of this death — on nations, cities and neighborhoods, on governments and economies — is immeasurable. But nowhere, of course, is the absence of all those lost lives felt more acutely than among the families and friends of those we've lost. National and local media have spent the past nine months chronicling their departed citizens and neighbors. Now, as a reminder of how this pandemic has connected the whole world in grief, here is just a small sample of COVID-19 victims from different countries and different backgrounds, from an aging bodybuilder in China to a Brazilian mother who died while seven months pregnant to a Congolese-born star student in Quebec.

CANADA (12,000+ deaths)

Don Béni Kabangu Nsapu, 19

Montreal

Don Béni Kabangu Nsapu, just 19, became Quebec's youngest coronavirus victim when he died on Aug. 16 from complications due to COVID-19. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he lived in the Montreal area where he received last year's award for the high school student who demonstrated the most academic and athletic perseverance.

He was first brought to hospital when he contracted a fever. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 and sent home to quarantine.

Three weeks later, his state of health deteriorated, explained his father, Alain Lukinda Nsapu: "It was at the end of the third week that it got worse," he said. "We took him to the hospital. Nine days later he died."

This young death shocked the local community. Stéphane Kalonga, the teenager's former soccer coach at École secondaire de la Pointe-Aux-Trembles, described him as "an exemplary boy, very polite and very courteous. He had a lot of dreams and then it was all over just like that."

U.S.A (274,000+ deaths)

Bethany Nesbitt, 20

Winona Lake, Indiana

Image

Bethany Nesbitt had hoped to pursue a career as a child health specialist, "helping children and families navigate the process of illness, injury, disability, trauma, or hospitalization," according to the Grace College website in Winona Lake, Indiana. The youngest of nine siblings, Nesbitt was expected to graduate next spring.

This Grace College student died on October 29 in her dormitory room. She had been isolating there for ten days after her COVID-19 diagnoses, said her brother, Stephen Nesbitt, a journalist with The Atlantic.

He tweeted that "the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism—the result of a blood clot—widely recognized as a common cause of death in COVID-19 patients."

She began showing symptoms and was tested for the virus. She also monitored her oxygen saturation levels, as she was asthmatic. When her oxygen levels dropped, she went to the emergency room, but doctors said she did not have a severe case of the virus and seemed to be recovering, so they sent her back to her dorm. Her oxygen levels stabilised and she was fever-free on October 28. She felt the worst was past. On October 29, she watched Netflix and went to bed. She was found dead the next morning.

"Bethany was a selfless and loving friend, a source of constant encouragement to all those around her," said her family in a statement. "She had a passion for helping others, especially children, and her sassy sense of humor and wonderful laugh put them at ease."

MEXICO (107,000+ deaths)

Jesús Ricardo Ríos Rivera, 50

Atizapán

By the time Jesús Ricardo Ríos Rivera finally got his test results, on April 8, it was too late. The 50-year-old pediatrician in Atizapán, just outside of Mexico City, had been feverish and struggling to breathe. Just two days after being admitted to hospital, the father of two was gone.

His widow, Ivonne Santana Olguín, never had a chance to say goodbye. She only saw his corpse from a distance as he was taken in a body bag to be cremated, Mexican daily La Silla Rota reported.

To date, the pandemic has taken more than 100,000 lives in Mexico. Ríos Rivera was one of the early victims. At the time, the protective gear provided to health workers was minimal, and there weren't many testing kits on hand at the hospital where he worked.

Even though the pediatrician hadn't been treating COVID-19 patients, all practicing doctors are at higher risk than most. And back in March, when Ríos Rivera was feeling sick and suspected that he'd been in contact with an infected person, colleagues twice declined his request to be tested because of a shortage of tests. "Unfortunately, my husband's isn't the only such case," Santana Olguín later said. "A lot of people complain that they're not given the test because they don't have all the symptoms, and that's not good."

BRAZIL (174,000+ deaths)

Celma Castro, 39

Venda Nova do Imigrante

foto de Celma Castro

Celma Castro had always dreamed of having two children. After giving birth a year earlier to a boy, the native of the coastal Brazilian town of Venda Nova do Imigrante got the good news from the doctors: "She was ecstatic about the arrival of the girl," Rosi Cruz, a longtime friend told Folha de S. Paulo daily.

On May 18, seven months into her pregnancy, Castro tested positive for COVID-19. Three days later, with her condition deteriorating, she was taken to the hospital and intubated.

Marcela was born the day after by caesarean section. The mother of two died on June 7, having never recovered consciousness, unable to say goodbye to her loved ones — or meet her newborn daughter, who tested negative for COVID.

ECUADOR (13,000 deaths)

Giovanni José Coppiano Campoverde, 54

Guayaquil

Giovanni José Coppiano Campoverde was an Ecuadorian radiologist, a serious job. But it was as Copito the clown that most people remember him.

A pioneer in children's entertainment nationwide, Coppiano studied radiology and later earned a master's in Management of Health Services After beginning to work in a children's hospital in Guayaquil in the 1990s, he wanted to entertain sick children and, more importantly, lift their spirits — so he started doing small gags and telling jokes. In doing so, he discovered his calling. Coppiano became famous across Ecuador as the "payaso Copito," a chubby clown who wore bright-colored suits, white gloves, and a painted face.

Copito organized shows with assistants, magicians and animated birthdays, children's parties and other celebrations. People who knew him say he was very proud of his work as a clown. "Every child is unique, every family different and every party special," he wrote about his passion on his website.

Coppiano contracted COVID-19 right as the illness began to overwhelm Ecuador's fragile health system. He died on April 5, aged 54, one of too many people for the hospital to handle all at once.

U.K. (60,000+ deaths)

Rachael Yates, 33

Monmouthshire, Wales

Image

Rachael Yates worked as a prison officer at Usk prison in Monmouthshire when she passed away, this past April. Before taking her role at the category C prison, she had worked at the town's post office. She is the fourth prison employee known to have died in the UK after falling ill with COVID-19.

A Facebook post from from the Usk town council said: "Many of you will remember Rachael and her cheery nature working alongside Jane behind the counter at the old post office in Bridge Street — often in Victorian costume — and some of you may have seen her recently around Usk, where she had been working at Usk prison."

A prison service spokeswoman said: "An officer at HMP Usk sadly passed away on 21 April and our deepest sympathies are with her loved ones and colleagues at this difficult time."

Like so with so many victims of the virus, Yates's family never had a chance to say goodbye. That was "the worst thing of all," said her mother, Julie Jacques.

"I just want people to be aware that this can happen to anybody, and they must remember social distancing. We should never be having these problems in our world in 2020," she said.

IRELAND

Helen Dillon, 87, and Brendan Dillon, 91

Dublin

Helen and Brendan Dillon lived all their married life in Clontarf.

Helen and Brendan Dillon grew up less than a mile from each other in Dublin's north inner city. They were married for 61 years and died within two weeks of each other. They now lie together in Glasnevin Cemetery. She was 87 and he was just three weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.

Helan and Brendan met in their 20s when both worked for then State agency the Land Commission. They married in 1958 and Brendan moved to the department of social welfare. Helen, because of the traditional ban on women working after marriage, had to give up her job. She stayed home to mind their five children but got involved in business again when her husband started a company creating form sheets for horse racing.

Always active, Helen and Brendan had different but complementary interests. Brendan played a bit of cricket in his younger days and greatly enjoyed pitch and putt. But his favourite pastime was classical music, about which he was a true expert.

Brendan was always a walker who up to the age of 89 walked 10-12 miles a day. Helen's favourite pastime was watching westerns.

One evening Brendan went for his usual walk, came home for dinner and enjoyed a glass of wine. The next day he was in the Mater hospital where he died five days later, on April 21.

Helen could not attend the funeral and her last sight of her husband was looking out the window and waving at his coffin as the hearse passed their Castle Grove home where so many of their neighbors stood and applauded in tribute.

Some days later Helen began to display symptoms and was admitted to hospital, where she died on May 3, five hours before the birth of her great-granddaughter Ruby.

SWEDEN (7,000+ deaths)

Hanna Altinsu, 81

Södertälje

Image may contain: 1 person, phone

In the Altinsu family home north of Stockholm, Hanna spent all of his later days caring for his sick wife Fehime, starting long before the pandemic struck. So when Fehime's condition deteriorated in March, and she suddenly stopped eating, the family had no idea it was COVID-19.

When Hanna soon fell ill too, the customary Sunday dinners with the couple's two sons, Gabriel and Daniel, turned into hospital visits. Three weeks after Fehime died from complications connected with the virus, Hanna followed her on April 9.

"Their fate was to never part, they were always together," their son Gabriel said.

ITALY (57,000+ deaths)

Federico Castellin, 34

Milan

When he died last March, Federico Castellin claimed two grim titles: he became Italy's 10,000th COVID-19 victim, but also, at the age of just 34, the country's youngest.

Castellin was particularly well known in the town of Cinisello Balsamo, located about 10 kilometers northeast of Milan, in Lombardy, the Italian region hit hardest by the pandemic.

Castellin started life helping behind the counter of his father's tobacco shop in the Borgomisto district. He took over the running of the Zen bar in Piazza Gramsci a year and a half ago, with the aim of restoring the town's most historic bar to its former glory. But then, with frightening speed, he succumbed to the coronavirus, dying on March 27.

Castellin left behind his wife, Anna, and a one-year-old son.

"A sunny and kind young man." That's how Paolo Tamborini, president of the Cinisello town council, remembers him. "He was a beautiful person. Always ready to give himself generously to others."

GREECE (2,600+ deaths)

Bishop Ioannis, 62

Lagadas

Serbia Mourns Aged Patriarch

Bishop Ioannis of Lagadas, a senior clergyman in Greek's Orthodox Church, was an outspoken advocate of maintaining communion during the pandemic. He argued that there's no risk of transmission in the ceremony, in which worshippers are personally handed bread and wine with a shared spoon.

He died on Nov. 15 after contracting the coronavirus and was buried a day later.

Critics were quick to highlight the bishop's stance on the communion issue. But the church's governing body, the Holy Synod, continues to defend him.

"Certain aspiring leaders of public opinion are insisting in a neurotic manner on concentrating exclusively on Holy Communion," a statement from the Synod said. "They cite unscientific correlations with the spread of the coronavirus, in defiance of epidemiological evidence."

Greek health experts have mostly avoided commenting on church practices but have noted that World Health Organization guidelines list saliva droplets as a leading means of contamination. The town of Lagadas, outside Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki, is a northern region experiencing the highest rate of infection in the country.

GERMANY (17,700+ deaths)

Metin Aslan, 63

Braunschweig

When Metin Aslan arrived in Germany from Turkey with his father at age 15, he spoke hardly any German and struggled to integrate. He was a hard worker, however, and after finding his first job as a kitchen assistant, he juggled several jobs and changed paths frequently.

In his life, he was a glassblower, a steel cooker, a boxer, a locksmith and a truck driver. But it was only when he opened a Turkish-Kurdish restaurant in Braunschweig, near Hanover, that he finally landed on his life project.

The former dishwasher made a name for himself as Braunschweig's cult restaurateur. Even with the success of his restaurant, he was a man without airs, someone who sweated in the kitchen and still delivered food himself to the local junior hockey teams.

When Aslan died on April 5, aged 63, local media reported that the entire city mourned. The soccer club Eintracht Braunschweig wrote that they had lost a friend. "He was a Braunschweig man, body and soul," the mayor said.

Aslan leaves behind a widow and their children. They still run his restaurant, which continues to do well despite the restrictions. Local media says they haven't forgotten how to smile.

RUSSIA (41,000+ deaths)

Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, 57

Moscow

UFC

Nicknamed the "Father of Dagestan MMA", Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov was a former wrestler and specialist in the Soviet martial art of sambo. After retiring, he earned a reputation as a maker of champions in southern Russia and even helped his son Khabib to become UFC champion and one of the greatest ever mixed martial arts fighters in history, having yet to be defeated in the spring.

In April, Abdulmanap was treated at home in Kirovaul for a suspected case of pneumonia. He tested negative for COVID-19, but shortly after his condition worsened and he was rushed to a hospital in Moscow.

The pneumonia led to a heart attack, an emergency bypass surgery, then to induced coma. While in the ICU, Abdulmanap eventually tested positive to COVID-19, and the virus began to alter the functioning of his heart, brain and kidneys. He died in Moscow on July 3.

His son Khabib stepped back into the octagon to pay tribute to his father and won the match — before shocking the UFC world by announcing his retirement. Coached by his father, Khabib Nurmagomedov has fought 29 matches in his career. He remains undefeated.

ZIMBABWE (277 deaths)

Zororo Makamba, 30

Harare

TV with Thinus: Coronavirus: TV presenter Zororo Makamba (30) dead as  Zimbabwe

Cooped up in an isolation ward, a young Zimbabwean man who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, pleaded with his family to get him more help. Zororo Makamba, 30, was "alone and scared," his older brother told Zimbabwe's privately owned Daily News newspaper.

Makamba was being treated in the Wilkins Hospital, designated as the main isolation facility for coronavirus patients in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. Shortly after he talked to his family, he was dead. The death of Makamba, a well-known journalist, came swiftly — less than three days after his diagnosis on March 23.

Famous for his online social and political commentary, Makamba wrote under the banner "State of the Nation." His death marked an unwanted milestone: He was the country's first coronavirus casualty and it shocked Zimbabwe. The fact that Makamba came from a wealthy, high-profile family was not enough to save him, and family members have argued that his death has exposed the inadequacies of the country's medical response to the threat of coronavirus.

Makamba had undergone surgery last November to remove a tumour from under his lung and was in recovery. While his family admit that his immune system was compromised, they insist that his death could have been avoided.

SOUTH AFRICA (21,000+ deaths)

Gita Ramjee, 45

Umhlanga

Gita Ramjee spent her life looking for solutions to prevent HIV, focusing on women in South Africa. Born in Kampala, Uganda, she became an internationally recognized expert in the field of microbicide research, and was notably at the forefront of attempts to find an effective HIV vaccine.

Ramjee's pioneering career — during which she worked in close relationship with UNAIDS, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust — led to her receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for HIV Prevention in 2012. She was also awarded the "Outstanding Female Scientist" award from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership in 2018.

Gita Ramjee fell ill after returning to South Africa in mid-March from a work-related trip to London.

Shortly after landing back in South Africa, she was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. She died from COVID-19 complications on March 31 in a hospital in Umhlanga, near the coastal city of Durban.Deputy President of South Africa David Mabuza mourned Ramjee's passing by saying, "In her, we have indeed lost a champion in the fight against the HIV epidemic, ironically at the hands of another global pandemic".

ALGERIA (2,000+ deaths)

Moussa Benhamadi, 67

Algiers

Former Algerian Minister of Telecommunications Moussa Benhamadi, close to the family of deposed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, died on July 17 of coronavirus in Algiers. He had contracted the virus in prison, where he was being held on corruption charges.

"Moussa Benhamadi contracted the virus on July 4, but he was only brought to hospital nine days later, where he died," his brother Hocine Benhamadi said.

Born on Jan. 4, 1953 in Ras El Oued, in eastern Algeria, Moussa Benhamadi started his career as a computer engineer before he was elected in 2002 as a deputy of the National Liberation Front, an allied party in power.

He had been held in pre-trial detention at El Harrach prison since September 2019 as part of an investigation into corruption involving the Algerian high-tech firm Condor Electronics headed by his brother Abderahmane.

Abderahmane, also suspected of corruption, was released from detention in April. Another brother, Omar, Condor's managing director, is still behind bars.

IRAN (49,000+ deaths)

Parviz Purhosseini, 79

Tehran

Actor Parviz Pourhosseini dies at 79

Iranian actor Mohsen Tanabandeh recently wrote on his Instagram account about the daily "dread of turning on the mobile phone" to discover that another friend or relative had died. On Nov. 27, the name was Parviz Purhosseini, a noted screen and stage actor who died of the coronavirus after spending two weeks in hospital, the Tehran daily Hamshahri reported.

Purhosseini's son, Purang, published pictures of his father on his Instagram account, saying he had "fought to the end" and praised doctors and nurses for striving "day and night" to save his life. "They were truly extraordinary," he said in gratitude to staff at the Firuzgar hospital in Tehran.

Purhosseini was a graduate of Tehran University's fine arts faculty. He had played in Iranian television series and plays including local versions of productions by Britain's Peter Brook. He also had parts in vintage films from the 1980s and 90s, including Kamal ol-Molk, on the life of a prominent artist of the 19th century.

ISRAEL (2,000+ deaths)

Yehuda Barkan, 75

Jerusalem

Yehuda Barkan, l

Actor Yehuda Barkan not only helped define Israeli comedy in films like Hagiga B'Snooker but was also a lifelong practical joker. Barkan, who was from the coastal city of Netanya, died last month of COVID-19.

Born to Yiddish-speaking parents from Czechoslovakia and Poland, he began acting after his military service, but was expelled from the Beit Zvi School of Performing Arts. He instead developed his passion for humor, pranking people on an Israeli radio show.

He gained fame in the 1970s starring in "bourekas' movies. These eventual cult classics explored ethical tensions between Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews. In the film Lupo!, Barkan — then aged 25 — starred as a middle-aged secondhand furniture dealer.

In a 1971 New York Times review, critic Vincent Canby wrote, "Under all those layers of make-up and charm, Mr. Barkan is, I suspect, an actor of real talent."

He became religious and left the entertainment industry, but returned to acting in the 2010s. In the television series "Yellow Peppers," he played the grandfather of a boy with autism.

He also never lost his sense of humor, taking part in hidden camera shows, including one where unsuspecting couples were set up on blind dates. For his last role, he starred as the romantic lead in the 2019 movie "Love in Suspenders." Upon his passing, Prime Minister Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Barkan, "brought joy to generations of Israelis."

CHINA (4,000+ deaths)

Qiu Jun, 72

Wuhan

Coronavirus: The noted victims of the virus in Wuhan - BBC News

Qiu Jun was in his early 40s when his life took an entirely different direction. That's when the railway maintenance technician started bodybuilding.

Qiu was born in 1948 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, where he studied at a local technical school and then started working in railway maintenance in the Wuchang Vehicle Factory — a line of work he kept at for his whole life.

But in 1990, when Qiu was 42, he found bodybuilding and never looked back. He participated in Hubei Province's first-ever bodybuilding competition, where he finished fifth. And yet, he only began working out seriously after his retirement from the factory in 2003, in the middle of the SARS epidemic.

Qiu survived SARS, but his wife did not. He was known for hitting the gym religiously and for participating in bodybuilding contests, even at age 70. In 2019, he won second place in the elderly category of the international "Olympic World Night" tournament. He became famous on social media after pictures surfaced, showing enviable form for his age.

He was scheduled to take part in another competition in June, but started showing symptoms on Jan. 23 and was taken to hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. He died on Feb. 6.

His son is quoted as saying, "The father who never got sick could not escape this disaster."

INDIA (138,000+ deaths)

Jamal Khan, 41

Bijnor

When Jamal Khan, a 41-year-old farmer, developed a fever in August local doctors failed to recognize the risk of COVID, his brother said. It was only when he was transferred to Delhi, 10 days after he first became ill, that he was tested. By then, his lungs were badly damaged, and he died soon after, Asim explained.

"If he would have been diagnosed on time in his own native place, he would have surely survived," the victim's brother said.

India's rudimentary healthcare system has at times struggled to cope with the huge number of coronavirus cases. Many of the victims' relatives have come out to claim there were missed opportunities to cure the infected.

NEW ZEALAND (25 deaths)

Christanthos "Christo" Tzanoudakis, 87

Wellington

Coronavirus: A timeline of the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand and  globally | Stuff.co.nz

Christo Tzanoudakis was something of a legend in the Greek community in Wellington. The 87-year-old, originally from Crete, had lived in the New Zealand city for 50 years.

He contracted the coronavirus when he attended his son Manoli's wedding … along with at least 95 other guests. They formed what became known as the Bluff wedding cluster.

Christo had worked on the wharves and owned a fish and chip shop.

One of the founders of the Cretans Association of New Zealand, he served as the president for some years. The group's current president, Stamatis Nikitopoulos, announced Tzanoudakis' death with "a heavy heart" on Facebook.

"He was a very much-loved man by all his family and friends and a well-respected member of the Cretan Associations and the broader Greek Orthodox Community in Wellington."

Christo had planned to move back to Greece after the wedding. But shortly after the event, a first guest tested positive for COVID-19. Then the bride and groom tested positive. On the Thursday after the wedding, Christ got very sick, his son Manoli said.

"He got rushed to hospital. He was going up and down, and then he started deteriorating." Speaking in Greek, Manoli told him to "be strong, and we will get through it."

It was the last thing he said to his father, who died on April 10.

AUSTRALIA (908 deaths)

Maureen Preedy, 70

Perth

Coronavirus Australia: plea for empathy as COVID-19 patients face their  final hours

Maureen Preedy was a mother of two and grandmother of three, an "extroverted" and "vibrant" person, and a keen traveller. She and her husband Barry were due to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary next year, and they loved going on trips around the world with friends every year.

The couple was on a cruise in Italy when news broke that a coronavirus outbreak had flared up on the Costa Victoria cruise ship they were on. Like the other 200 passengers, Maureen and Barry were quarantined in their cabins as the ship docked north of Rome.

Maureen started to feel sick on the ship, and the couple's daughter Simone campaigned for the government to bring them back. When this happened at the end of March, Maureen seemed to be getting worse. After landing, the couple was taken to two different hotel rooms to continue to isolate.

The next day Maureen was rushed to the hospital, where she tested positive for COVID-19 and was put into an induced coma. She never woke up. Barry couldn't see her again — he tested positive but survived, and is devastated by the loss.

"I wish I had said more," daughter Simone told Guardian Australia. "I wish I had pushed on the health stuff. Maybe if she got medical attention sooner things might have been different."

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January 15-16

  • Kazakhstan’s vicious circle of strongmen
  • COVID school chaos around the world
  • The truth behind why we lie to ourselves
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. What extreme measure did the Canadian province of Quebec take to encourage people to get vaccinated?

2. What caused a massive power outage in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, leaving 700,000 in the dark for hours?

3. Norwegian soldiers were asked to return what piece of clothing at the end of their military service, so that future recruits can reuse them?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: rules & power in pandemic times

It was the phrase of the week down on Fleet Street, the historic HQ of the London press corps: “Bring your own booze” — BYOB — the instructions secretly sent around for the garden party held at 10 Downing Street in blatant violation of the first coronavirus lockdown, back in May 2020.The revelations of the event (the second such scandal to emerge in the past two months) has left British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely holding on to his job after his admission to Parliament this week that he was there … and he was, well, quite sorry.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the former British empire, Australians are following how their public representatives will resolve the latest twist in pandemic policy that has captured the sporting world’s attention. Back and forth, like a tennis match. By the end of the week, Australia had reversed a Monday court decision, and canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa that would have allowed him to defend his Australian Open title. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the visa was revoked on the grounds that the presence of the unvaccinated Serbian star risks fueling anti-vax sentiment on home soil.

This is high-stakes political gamesmanship indeed. The unprecedented health crisis, and associated restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, requires our elected leaders to react to ever-changing information and a chain of lose-lose public policy choices. COVID continues to make the hard job of being a public representative that much harder. The best, we can agree, are doing the best they can. The worst, well … are the worst.

The British public has rightly taken offense to the idea that the very people charged with making and enforcing COVID rules, were also busy breaking them. In the Djokovic saga, skeptics of vaccination mandates — in Australia, Serbia and beyond — will have new ammunition if the world’s top tennis player is kicked out of both tournament and country.

The good news is that in our eternally flawed democracies, the public eventually (though not always!) finds out what goes wrong, and ultimately has the final say of who’s in charge. The same can’t be said everywhere, including the country that has been cited for having the most successful methods for controlling the virus and limiting death tolls. That is, of course, China … where it all began.

Yet the authoritarian regime's “Zero COVID policy” comes with deeper questions that largely mirror the downside of authoritarianism in general: ruthless enforcement, quelled dissent and the sometimes blind following of the masses. It’s hard to imagine that Xi Jinping has had any “BYOB parties” in the past two years. But if he did, you can be sure we’d never know.

— Jeff Israely


🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Makar Sankranti 2022: The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is celebrated on January 14 and 15 in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. The festival marks the end of winter, the beginning of a new harvest season, and has ancient religious significance.

• Parthenon fragment returns to Greece: A marble fragment from the Parthenon temple has been returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily. Authorities hope the move will rekindle efforts to force the British Museum to send back ancient sculptures from Greece's most renowned ancient landmark.

• 400 years of Molière: France honors its seminal playwright on the 400th anniversary of his birth. His influence, comparable to that of Shakespeare in the anglophone world, is such that French is often referred to as the "language of Molière."

• Vinyl surpassed CDs sales for the first time in 30 years: For the first time since 1991, annual sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs in the U.S, according to MRC Data and Billboard, with an estimated 41.72 million vinyl records sold in 2021 (up 51.4% from 27.55 million in 2020). This means that vinyl is now the leading format for all album purchases in the U.S.

• Kendrick Lamar teams up with South Park creators: Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and his former longtime manager Dave Free are working with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce a live-action comedy for Paramount Pictures.

📚😷 COVID SCHOOL CHAOS AROUND THE WORLD


The decisions to close schools have been some of the toughest choices made during the pandemic, with students suffering both academically and socially from online learning or no education at all. It’s universally acknowledged that children most succeed with in-person classes, but the question still remains whether the health risk to students and those around them is worth it.

The Omicron wave has only caused this debate to heighten, with teacher strikes in France, rising drop-out rates in Argentina and shortages of staff in South Africa. But there are signs of hope: Uganda has finally reopened schools, ending the world’s longest shutdown, and some American parents have decided to offer more personalized education with homeschooling.

Read the full story: COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

🇰🇿  KAZAKHSTAN’S VICIOUS CIRCLE OF STRONGMEN


The real transition of power in Kazakhstan was supposed to have taken place in 2019. Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power.

However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor. For Russian daily Kommersant, Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov ponder why strongmen are able to keep power in Kazakhstan — but can't ensure its peaceful transfer.

Read the full story: Kazakhstan, When One Strongman Replaces Another

🐟 DENMARK, A SMALL FISH IN THE SALMON INDUSTRY’S BIG POND


Things are getting fishy over Nordic fishing regulations, as the Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. In Danish newspaper Politiken, marine biologist Johan Wedel Nielsen explained why Demark’s policy has given Norway a de facto monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry. This is particularly significant as changing diet habits are increasing demand for the nutritious pink fish, and Norway has taken advantage, accounting for about half of the world’s salmon production.

Nielsen argues that environmental concerns aren’t warranted, as fish have an inherently small impact on the environment. Denmark has the potential to establish 150 salmonid (a family of fish including salmon and trout) farms in the Baltic Sea, producing some 500,000 tons of trout per year with a value of 2.7 billion euros and employing tens of thousands. But the Danish government has so far given no indication of allowing any addition to Denmark’s 19 existing farms.

Read the full story: Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

French start-up Airxôm has unveiled its unique respiratory device at Las Vegas’ CES tech event. Their plastic and silicon face mask is the first capable of destroying particles of all sizes and has inbuilt decontamination properties, hence protecting against pollution, bacteria and viruses including COVID-19. Oh and, as a bonus, it also prevents your glasses from fogging.

#️⃣ TRENDING


Boris Johnson memes flooded social networks this week, mocking the UK’s prime minister's excuse for attending what was quite obviously a party at the height of the pandemic: “I believed implicitly that this was a work event.” The quote was shared alongside a toe-curlingly bad 2013 video of BoJo dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” which resurfaced on Instagram, while Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair puts its own spin on the lame explanation.

🤦‍♀️🛴🤦‍♂️ FACEPALM OF THE WEEK


A Belgian national was intercepted by the French police while riding his e-scooter on a highway in eastern France. The confused trottinette user said it was his first time riding in France, and that he’d failed to select the “no toll roads” option on his GPS.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Climate, COVID, Costa Concordia: why humans are wired for denial

This past week marked 10 years since the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany. Writing in Italian daily La Stampa, Guido Maria Brera sees connections between the way passengers and crew reacted in the minutes and hours after the ship ran aground to other calamities we face that may seem to be moving more slowly:

In 2012, the same year the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off of Giglio Island, David Quammen published his book Spillover, which predicted that somewhere in Asia a virus would be attacking the human respiratory tract on its way to becoming a global pandemic. And so it was. This terrible shipwreck, which the world watched in slow-motion exactly ten years ago on January 13, 2012, now appears to us — just like the COVID-19 pandemic, like the trailer of a horror film we are now all living for real.

Millions dead, ten of millions sick, and the psychological collapse of entire generations, the youngest and most defenseless. In the meantime, climate change is spiraling out of control: sea levels are rising, land is drying out, ice caps are melting, not to mention hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts, famines, wars, migration.

The correlation between climate change and the pandemic has been demonstrated countless times by scientists. Soaring temperatures, intensive livestock farming, deforestation and the devastation of the natural animal kingdoms have led to zoonosis: Species-hopping, in which a bacterium or virus escapes from its host and spreads to another, creating a chain reaction with devastating results.

Finding the correlation between the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the current situation is more a subtle exercise: by looking at the decisions we made to respond to the disaster — or rather, how we failed to take action.

"The Concordia has become a maze of choices in the dark, deciding whether to open a door or not, whether to move or stay put, can be the difference between life and death,” Pablo Trincia said recently in his podcast “Il Dito di Dio.” (The Finger of God). A cruise ship with more than 4,000 people, including passengers, crew and ship personnel, is a microcosm in itself: it contains everything. And indeed, in these very long and slow moments, when time seems suspended, a tragedy was in the making.

There were reported many notable demonstrations of solidarity, as strangers helped each other. There were also those who fled as quickly as possible, seeking their personal safety at the expense of others. There were those who, between the ship crashing into the rocks and the dropping of the first lifeboats, seemed not to care.

If it is true that there are lessons to learn even from the worst tragedies, then we must make sure that the terrible wreckage of this small world can help us understand and identify the rocks we are heading towards today: the climate crisis and the pandemic. Time is the discriminating factor, as always. Director Adam McKay explains it well in his movie Don't Look Up, showing us how people react as they face slow-motioned tragedies.

In this scenario, the slowness of the film is the central narrative choice: there is initially plenty of time before the comet would hit the earth, ineluctably ending human life, and there remains plenty of time to live and love and enjoy.

Hence, we also have time to expect that the asteroid is still far away, to imagine that it will deviate from its course. We even have time to forget that the impact is inevitable, and to continue to live as if nothing is happening.

This is the most common reaction to pandemics and environmental disasters. Turn your head away, pretend you don't see, don't look up.

Denial is the work of politicians incapable of questioning the only development model they know, of the billionaires who built bunkers to survive in New Zealand, (where it seems that the crisis will have less impact), of the Silicon Valley gurus have already bought coolers to preserve their bodies for eternity by cryogenics.

On the Costa Concordia, refusal to look the disaster in the eye wasn’t just the work of those who were supposed to give the alert and manage the evacuation: we are all in the same boat when it comes to denial. When a disaster happens in slow motion, it feels as though there is still too much time to bother rushing for solutions now.

We tend to think about the time we have left, about the costs and benefits to our tiny lives, without even realizing that never has the need for salvation been more collective.

Ten years ago, as today, we convinced ourselves that we are absolved of responsibility precisely because we know that everyone shares the same responsibility.

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set next week as the ultimatum for a confirmation that NATO will neither expand nor deploy forces to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations.

• Next Sunday will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared during an emergency meeting that COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

• On Tuesday, a 3,400-foot-wide asteroid will make a safe flyby of Earth, whooshing by our planet at the equivalent of five Earth-Moon distances (still pretty close from a cosmic point of view).

• Monday is Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, so you still have a few more hours to decide whether that gym membership really was a good idea.

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