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.

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.

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Omicron Guidance For The World From A South African Epidemiologist

A South African researcher of infectious disease sees specific steps that governments should and shouldn’t be taking in light of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.

South Africa reacted with outrage to travel bans, first triggered by the UK, imposed on it in the wake of the news that its genomics surveillance team had detected a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa has been monitoring changes in SARS-CoV-2 since the pandemic first broke out.

The new variant – identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation and assigned the name Omicron.

The mutations identified in Omicron provide theoretical concerns that the variant could be slightly more transmissible than the Delta variant and have reduced sensitivity to antibody activity induced by past infection or vaccines compared to how well the antibody neutralises ancestry virus.

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New COVID Variant, Black Friday Amazon Strikes, Tiny IKEA Flat

👋 Selamat pagi!*

Welcome to Friday, where a new fast-spreading coronavirus variant has been identified in South Africa, Amazon is hit by global protests on Black Friday and IKEA is renting a tiny apartment for a tiny rent in Japan. Meanwhile, boars, jaguars, pumas and bears invade our newsletter as we look at how wildlife is moving into cities around the world.


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The Rush To Reverse Africa's Dismal Vaccination Rate

As many parts of the continent face a brutal third wave, the urgency to vaccinate is growing. But the obstacles are many, including a stubborn strain of vaccine hesitancy.

Vaccination against COVID-19 remains a challenge in Africa. The Delta variant is spreading on the continent and the third wave of the pandemic is causing fears of more sudden and concentrated arrivals of severely affected patients in hospitals. The situation is all the more worrisome given the lack of capacity to care for them. Some facilities are already saturated. The situation is particularly problematic in South Africa, where it's winter now, in North Africa (especially Tunisia), and in Uganda, so much so that the specter of an "Indian-style" scenario is increasingly being raised.

So far, just over 6 million cases and 155,000 deaths have been recorded on the continent. But these figures could be underestimated, as the data is fragmented. In all, 51 countries on the continent (including the Maghreb) have received roughly 70 million doses from various sources, and 18 million people are now protected by two jabs. That means that less than 2% of the African population has been vaccinated, numbers that are simply "unacceptable," the World Bank's director of operations, Axel van Trotsenburg, recently said.

"The Covax system was supposed to provide us with doses, but we can see that it not functioning very well," laments Dr. Moumouni Kinda, executive director of the NGO Alima, which has just launched a vaccination support and awareness campaign in six countries.

"The situation is very disparate. In some countries, there is a shortage of doses, in others people have received the first dose but are unable to get the second," he adds. "We must change our methods, otherwise the third wave that is hitting southern Africa will also arrive in West Africa and this will be a failure for everyone. We must opt for active vaccination, that is to say, we must sensitize the populations and go to them, not wait for them to come to the centers."

Complicating matters is the fact that a large part of the African population is also reluctant to be vaccinated. This mistrust is even fueled by some leaders. In addition to legitimate questions, there are prejudices and conspiracy theories about alleged attempts at poisoning or even disguised sterilization. Last December, only a quarter of respondents of a survey conducted by the African Union's Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 18 countries across the continent believed that coronavirus vaccines were safe. At the same time, 79% of respondents said they would accept an injection if it was proven safe.

We must stop thinking that in Africa, we do not vaccinate properly!

"Too much fake news is circulating, especially on social networks," says Dr. Amavi Edinam Agbenu, who works with the WHO's Africa division. "Citizens don't necessarily have all the data to analyze it and we are working to bring them information as soon as we can."

Media campaigns, creating informational videos, and support for state communication are now among the organization's priorities on the continent.

"Resistance to the vaccine has many sources: confusion in communication, lack of clear information, the reputation of AstraZeneca, which some European countries have suspended for a while," Alima's Dr. Kinda explains. "So we use community networks, people who are able to explain things to people. But we also need to be transparent about the side effects of vaccines, document them and inform seriously, to reassure people."

Complicating matters is the fact that a large part of the African population is reluctant to be vaccinated — Photo: Robert Bonet/NurPhoto/ZUMA

The NGO director also deplores what he calls "contradictory messages," explaining that some people who send doses to Africa refuse to allow nationals of our countries, even though they have been vaccinated, to enter their country. "This is very regrettable and does not reassure people," he says. "The suspicion must stop. We have a good experience with mass vaccinations. If necessary we are able to go to villages, to go door to door… We know how to do it. We must stop thinking that in Africa, we do not vaccinate properly!"

Amavi Edinam Adgbenu, a pharmacy doctor and expert in immunology, agrees. "African countries may have a limited income, but their health systems are often well trained and able to carry out large-scale vaccination campaigns," he says. "They are used to vaccinating more than 10 million people in one week against yellow fever, meningitis, or polio, for example."

In addition to the Covax package, which announced 31.5 million Pfizer doses for Africa by the end of August, the African Union has secured 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one injection. The shipments are expected to arrive in the third quarter of 2021. According to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for the continent, the number of available doses are expected to be much higher in July and August. The WHO says that 25 million will be sent from the United States in the next few weeks and another 3.5 million from Norway, Sweden, France and the United Kingdom.

The rate of the use of vaccines received varies considerably from one region to another

The World Bank and several African leaders met earlier this month to discuss the development aid expected for the next three years, especially to fight the pandemic. But NGOs are concerned that donated doses will expire too quickly for countries to have time to roll out their campaigns.

Paradoxically, despite the shortage, batches of the vaccine have recently expired in the DRC, Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani announced on July 14. And this is not an isolated case. Other countries are failing to administer them in time. In May, Malawi destroyed nearly 20,000 expired doses. The DRC, South Sudan and South Africa have also sent back doses, either because they were about to expire or because they refused the AstraZeneca vaccine, which did not work against the South African variant. Cameroon, seeing the deadline for its doses approaching, stepped up its vaccination campaigns last week. In all, some 20 sub-Saharan countries are still at risk, with some doses expiring by the end of the summer.

The WHO and CDC centers in Africa have been supporting governments for months in organizing their vaccination campaigns. Regular monitoring of stocks and their expiration dates has been put in place. "In some countries, the use of certain brands of vaccine has been frozen to clear priority uses," says Edinam Agbenu. Vaccination has also been opened earlier than planned to non-priority targets.

But the rate of the use of vaccines received varies considerably from one region to another. According to the latest figures available to WHO, Morocco, Angola and Rwanda have administered all their doses, followed closely by Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Tunisia, Ghana, Uganda and South Sudan, which have exceeded 90% use. Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, and Eswatini are at around 80%

Some 30 countries have been less quick to develop their vaccine campaigns and have used between 30% and 80% of their doses, while seven others are really lagging behind. Some started their campaigns late. And it is possible that not all data has been reported.

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Christian Putsch

In Rural South Africa, A Murder Rekindles Racial Tensions

The killing of a white farmworker near Senekal is dividing people once again along racial lines, even if most victims of violent crime — and not just in urban areas — are black.

SENEKAL — Two weeks later, there are still traces of dried blood in the grass.

"He was a hard worker with good manners, a great guy," farmer Gilly Scheepers says, kneeling down and pointing to the spot where his employee Brendin Horner was killed — strangled and stabbed.

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30 Years Later: Looking Back on Mandela's Release From Prison

Like the entire story of his life, Nelson Mandela's release from Victor Verster Prison exactly 30 years ago helped define the 20th century. Having served 27 years for leading the opposition to South Africa's racist system of Apartheid, his release brought to an end white minority rule. Four years later, Mandela would be elected president as the nation sought to find peace and reconciliation after decades of oppression.

But it was his release on February 11, 1990 became the iconic moment marking the change. After nearly three decades behind bars between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison, the trained lawyer and activist triumphantly marched to freedom, walking hand-in-hand with his wife Winnie Mandela and surrounded by supporters.

There were many photographers on hand for the historic moment, but the best shot was captured by New York-based photographer Allan Tannenbaum. A veteran war photographer and chronicler of the New York City music scene, Tannenbaum had covered earlier uprisings in South African townships. When word came that Mandela was going to be released, the photographer got the call from his Sygma agency to cover the event. And with a steady hand and a bit of luck got the shot seen around the world.

OneShot is a new digital format to tell the story of a single photograph in an immersive one-minute video.

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Archishman Raju

Gandhi, A Singular Guide For MLK And Civil Rights Movement

At the 150th anniversary of the Indian independence leader and philosopher of non-violence, looking back long line of African-American leaders influenced by his ideas.

NEW DELHI — This year, we mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. A person's ideas and actions can only be judged by seeing their role over the course of world history. Even as we see the myriad aspects of Gandhi's life and associated ideas a century and a half after his birth, we should not forget his prime importance to history and to his time: as the leader of the Indian anti-colonial struggle, the culmination of which led to the first break from the chain of Western colonialism.

It is for this struggle in all its aspects and complexity, that India cemented its place in the 20th century inspiring leaders ranging from Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah who coined the term "positive action" based on his study of Gandhian satyagraha to Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh who called himself a "disciple" of Gandhi.

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Bertrand Hauger

Up The Ibis Tree

The fauna and flora of South Africa rank among the most impressive I've seen anywhere in the world. Near Durban in the east of the country, I caught them both on vivid display, as a tree filled with white ibis.

Adrien Barbier and Emeline Wuilbercq

Female Condoms: A Way For African Women To Take Power

Designed in the 1980s to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, female condoms are now increasingly available throughout Africa. And the world.

CAPE TOWN — Just out of her car, Nomaxhosa Pendu gathers a small group of women in a street in the township of Mfuleni, a suburb of Cape Town. "You've all heard about the female condom, right?" she asks. The women nod half-heartedly. The health worker inflates a plastic cube with a hole in the middle to get the demonstration started. She pulls out the condom with the two rings and inserts it into a model of a vagina. "First, always check the expiration date. Then, settle down in a comfortable position, relax and there you go, just insert it!"

The female condom, which first appeared in South Africa more than 20 years ago, is working wonders for different reasons in the continent's largest market for this product. Every year, the government distributes more than 40 million units, free of charge, to hospitals, university campuses and communities. South Africa has the world's largest HIV-positive population, with nearly one-fifth of adults aged 19 to 45 infected. The government provides 80% of the funding for the fight against AIDS and condoms remain the preferred method of prevention. They also work against other sexually transmitted diseases and early and unwanted pregnancies.

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Barbara Klimke

Why It's Time For Sports To Adopt The Third Gender

Caster Semenya's case shows that the sport world must have an open debate about intersexuality, and finally step up.

"Hell no": This is how double Olympic champion Caster Semenya responded to the news that she will have to take medication to lower her testosterone levels if she wants to compete again in women's races. New rules by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which come into effect on May 8, have been criticized as discriminatory.

The South African middle-distance runner says she won't take any medication even though the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected her appeal against the IAAF's new regulations. Up to 1.7% of the world's population are born with intersex traits, according to the United Nations. This means they have both male and female characteristics. Semenya is a woman but she was born with the intersex trait of high testosterone.

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Bertrand Hauger

My South African Spider Safari

Our trip to South Africa took us to Kruger National Park, where we got great views of zebras, crocodiles, giraffes — you name it. But we got closest of all to this little guy in a Durban hotel room.


Watch: OneShot — Mandela's Walk To Freedom

The world is marking the centennial of one of history's towering figures. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born 100 years ago, on July 18, 1918, in a small village on the eastern cape of South Africa.

The man known as "Madiba" would go on to lead the struggle against Apartheid, before being sentenced to life in prison in 1964, on charges of treason and conspiracy. Mandela would wind up spending 27 years at Victor Verster Prison as his writings and the cause of black South Africans slowly began to spread around the world. Mandela's release on Feb. 11, 1990 was one of the great moments of the 20th century, paving the way for the end of Apartheid, national reconciliation and Mandela's election as South African president.

Mandela's Walk to Freedom — © Allan Tannenbaum / OneShot

The moment was captured most powerfully by New York-based photographer Allan Tannenbaum. A veteran war photographer who had covered earlier uprisings in South African townships, got the call from his Sygma agency to cover Mandela's release for TIME magazine.

Tannenbaum — who is otherwise best known for capturing the downtown New York City music scene in the late 1960s and 1970s — knew that following Mandela's release was a chance to witness history. Of course, he would hardly be the only photographer there; but with a quick eye, steady hand and a bit of luck, he walked away with the iconic shot.

See the OneShot video above for Tannenbaum's memory of that day.

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Bertrand Hauger

Looking For Mandela's Gold

These "birds of paradise" flowers are native to South Africa. And indeed, they thrive near the Drakensberg mountain range. Alas, these one are not of the Mandela's Gold variety — the rare yellow form named after the anti-apartheid leader a year before we went there.


Cape Town, Bogota, Sao Paulo: When Cities Run Out Of Water


Good news for the people of Cape Town: "Day Zero," when South Africa's second most-populated city is expected to run out of water has been pushed back. But it's only a very temporary reprieve. The city is now expected to go waterless — and confront all the chaos that it implies — on July 9 rather than June 4 as previously expected.

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Bertrand Hauger

The Royal Doorman Of Durban

Our first and only visit to South Africa was three years after the end of Apartheid. In Durban, we stayed in five-star style at The Royal, the city's oldest hotel, which first opened in 1845.

Stuart Richardson

O Mandela, Where Art Thou?


Exactly four years have passed since Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon, died at the age of 95. Over the course of his remarkable life, the South African became the embodiment of moral political leadership, forgiving his jailers and rising to the nation's presidency.

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