EL ESPECTADOR

How Pandemic Shutdowns Can Turn Into A Political Weapon

The pandemic, and especially the fears whipped up by states and the media, may be pushing society toward greater submission to the world's powers.

Policemen patrol a street in Soacha, Colombia.
Policemen patrol a street in Soacha, Colombia.
William Ospina

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — We all know that confinement has been a valuable means of slowing contagion long enough for governments to ready the health care systems they had been neglecting for the immediate challenge of coronavirus. But we also knew from the start that quarantine could not be permanent.

It can last for three or four months at most, and regardless of the need for alternatives like rigorous and voluntary social distancing, and new forms of production and exchange, confinement will unravel because of its own, internal tensions, in spite of government instructions. States cannot keep on paying subsistence payments to all without some form of productivity, nor can a community exist if citizens are deprived of initiative and freedom.

The gravest error might be to think that the alternatives are inevitably incompatible with one another. Quarantine in cities, which protects us from gatherings, congestion on public transport and thus hospital saturation, differs from locking down villages and towns where contagion is more easily contained by other means, or from immobilizing people in the countryside who produce a good deal of our food. There you can be confined and alone, with nature as your only company.

Why are citizens not finding a way of being an active part of the solution? Why have they instead accepted confinement and passivity as their only contribution? What is the state? Why does its undoubtedly sincere efforts to save lives always end up taking punitive forms?

The elderly among us are precisely those who do not need more quiet and sedentary living: What is the sense of harming their health to protect them from death? Or the policemen who issue fines and are working hard on the street — are they not as likely as anyone else to spread the virus?

My brother Juan Carlos rightly suggested to me the idea of social distancing "managers' circulating in neighborhoods and instructing people in the new civil practices. That itself would constitute work and income for youngsters in those neighborhoods.

How to rid ourselves of so many paradoxes? How can we accept calls to adore science as our only savior, when we hear stated with increasing intensity suspicions about the virus slipping out of some hermetic laboratory?

colombia_oppression_coronavirus_EE

The inhabitants of a neigborhood of Ciudad Bolüvar block the roads in protest of not having received aid from local or national governments Photo: El Tiempo/GDA/ZUMA

Nothing is free of suspicion in our world today, not even the powers that claim to protect us against all dangers, and impose a health routine on us and insist death must come in an orderly fashion. With a generous, universal health care system, citizens wouldn't have to bear the entire weight of their own health, and life would not become so risky to some and profitable for others.

Each planetary situation is raising more questions. One sometimes has the impression that, like an iceberg, a good deal of the truth is hidden beneath this pandemic. One wonders how China managed to protect the world's biggest population from the virus and come out with fewer than 5,000 fatalities. Nor do we know why India, with a similar population, has so few infections and deaths. It would seem we also have a lot to learn from Vietnam, with a population of 91 million, a 1,281-kilometer border with China and not a single virus death yet. Why do mortality rates vary so much between countries with equally abundant elderly populations and health systems that are still working?

One sometimes has the impression that, like an iceberg, a good deal of the truth is hidden beneath this pandemic.

Are certain people right to observe that the pandemic's 250,000 deaths so far have made us forget the half-million deaths every year from AIDS, 200,000 seasonal flu deaths, 278,000 deaths due to dirty water or the 450,000 deaths in traffic accidents so far this year. The media is aroused by this pandemic, which is not the same as being sensitive to or understanding of avoidable situations of human suffering, like some 20,000 daily deaths from hunger.

The pandemic and its healthcare crisis are certainly not as surprising as their emerging social reactions. In our case at least, poverty will soon end confinement, in spite of the contagion risks involved. People do not go scavenging for refuse or discarded material for fun, but as the only survival option that politics and society have left them.

The pandemic has undoubtedly uncovered a trough of injustices, madness and paradoxes in our modern, daily reality. Colombia, for example, derives a good part of its income from three tragedies: oil, mining and drugs, plus remittances from Colombians who had to leave. Does all this not force us to design an economy based on work — a powerful alliance of farming and national industry — and to make the country a homeland to its people again?

Why are people who wish this pandemic could lead to historic changes told to stop dreaming, or reminded that nothing will, or should, change? Remember, the only way to get nothing is to ask for little.

The pandemic has undoubtedly uncovered a trough of injustices, madness and paradoxes in our modern, daily reality.

What a shame we had to lock down just when people around the world were starting to mobilize and youngsters were finally taking to the streets in their fight against climate change. Why do illnesses compound power, and citizens become society's least visible elements? Why does the state recover its initiative just to administer an emergency and confine people, when it had none to save the climate, curb the destruction of nature and industrial pollution, or to moderate consumption?

Finally, one wonders if the communication overdrive is intended to make us feel that our existence depends on it. Is this the culmination of the ideal of using comfort to weaken humanity so it can be easily dominated with fear? Heeding the lessons of this situation, we may soon have to choose between security and freedom.


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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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