Coronavirus

Keep Calm And Travel On? Why We Can't Return To Global Shutdowns

The Omicron variant has sparked a new wave of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but the chances of returning to worldwide shutdowns are slim for a series of reasons.

SOFIA — Two weeks ago, I was swabbing my nose in a minuscule London hotel room, trying to navigate the faulty app that came with my COVID-19 home-test kit. Home ... as in, I need this damn test to be able to fly home.

After re-installing the app and re-reading the instructions, I called the phone number for the support line and got a friendly female voice with a Cockney accent. I asked if they'd had similar glitches in the past. “We get a lot of calls,” she said. “Bit of a pain, innit?

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Omicron Origins, Barbados Reborn, Messi’s 7th

👋 Tashi delek!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Barbados is finally fully independent, we learn more about the origins of the Omicron variant and Santa gets a boyfriend in Norway. Chilean-based business magazine America Economia also looks at how airlines are reconfiguring cabins and enlarging seats in hopes of boosting a recovery in air travel.

[*TIbetan]

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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.

[*Indonesian]

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When Singling Out The Unvaccinated Is OK

Lockdowns can be justified on an ethical basis to achieve an important public health benefit, even though they restrict individual freedoms. Whether selective lockdowns are justified, though, depends on what they are intended to achieve.

COVID is surging in some European countries. In response, Austria and Russia are planning to reimpose lockdowns, but only for the unvaccinated. Is this ethical?

Some countries already have vaccine passport schemes to travel or enter certain public spaces. The passports treat those who have had vaccines – or have evidence of recent infection – differently from those who have not had a vaccine. But the proposed selective lockdowns would radically increase the scope of restrictions for the unvaccinated.

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Society
Parth Pandya

What Football Reveals About The Depth Of European Racism

It's not just England and not just the reaction against the team's loss in the European final. Europe's football culture, and culture in general, reflect deep-seated prejudices that require a real response.

When the final of the Euro 2020 between England and Italy went into the penalties, there was an uncomfortably familiar feeling in the air. Italy had been the slightly better team during the 120 minutes played but there wasn't all that much to choose between the two sides. And the penalties would inevitably lead to one team having to deal with agony and despair despite having come so close to touching the glory.

England arguably were under more pressure in front of a packed Wembley stadium and the weight of the enormous buildup to their entire campaign. Despite the early advantage they gained after Italy's Andrea Belotti failed to convert his kick, England went on to lose the shootout with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missing theirs.

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Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Vaccines v. Variants: When Can We Put The Pandemic Behind Us?

As the first coronavirus wave finally abated late last spring, experts warned us that the pandemic was far from over. Second and third (and more) waves were likely, and new restrictions would be necessary to limit the death toll. There was only one sure way out of these pandemic times, a vaccine, which could take years to develop.

And yet today, despite the seemingly miraculous arrival of effective vaccines, and more than three billion doses already administered around the world, we still find ourselves asking the Question: When will it end?

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Geopolitics
James Waller*

Northern Ireland: Born Of Strife, Erupting Again In Violence

After a century-long history of political strife, Brexit risks undoing the hard-earned two decades of reconciliation.

Sectarian rioting has returned to the streets of Northern Ireland, just weeks shy of its 100th anniversary as a territory of the United Kingdom.

For several nights, young protesters loyal to British rule – fueled by anger over Brexit, policing and a sense of alienation from the U.K. – set fires across the capital of Belfast and clashed with police. Scores have been injured.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling for calm, said "the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality."

But Northern Ireland was born of violence.

Deep divisions between two identity groups – broadly defined as Protestant and Catholic – have dominated the country since its very founding. Now, roiled anew by the impact of Brexit, Northern Ireland is seemingly moving in a darker and more dangerous direction.

The island of Ireland, whose northernmost part lies a mere 13 miles from Britain, has been contested territory for at least nine centuries.

Britain long gazed with colonial ambitions on its smaller Catholic neighbor. The 12th-century Anglo-Norman invasion first brought the neighboring English to Ireland.

In the late 16th century, frustrated by continuing native Irish resistance, Protestant England implemented an aggressive plan to fully colonize Ireland and stamp out Irish Catholicism. Known as "plantations," this social engineering exercise "planted" strategic areas of Ireland with tens of thousands of English and Scottish Protestants.

Plantations offered settlers cheap woodland and bountiful fisheries. In exchange, Britain established a base loyal to the British crown – not to the Pope.

England's most ambitious plantation strategy was carried out in Ulster, the northernmost of Ireland's provinces. By 1630, according to the Ulster Historical Foundation, there were about 40,000 English-speaking Protestant settlers in Ulster.

Though displaced, the native Irish Catholic population of Ulster was not converted to Protestantism. Instead, two divided and antagonistic communities – each with its own culture, language, political allegiances, religious beliefs and economic histories – shared one region.

Over the next two centuries, Ulster's identity divide transformed into a political fight over the future of Ireland.

"Unionists' – most often Protestant – wanted Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. "Nationalists' – most often Catholic – wanted self-government for Ireland.

These fights played out in political debates, the media, sports, pubs – and, often, in street violence.

By the early 1900s, a movement of Irish independence was rising in the south of Ireland. The nationwide struggle over Irish identity only intensified the strife in Ulster.

The British government, hoping to appease nationalists in the south while protecting the interests of Ulster unionists in the north, proposed in 1920 to partition Ireland into two parts: one majority Catholic, the other Protestant-dominated – but both remaining within the United Kingdom.

Irish nationalists in the south rejected that idea and carried on with their armed campaign to separate from Britain. Eventually, in 1922, they gained independence and became the Irish Free State, today called the Republic of Ireland.

In Ulster, unionist power-holders reluctantly accepted partition as the best alternative to remaining part of Britain. In 1920, the Government of Ireland Act created Northern Ireland, the newest member of the United Kingdom.

In this new country, native Irish Catholics were now a minority, making up less than a third of Northern Ireland's 1.2 million people.

Stung by partition, nationalists refused to recognize the British state. Catholic schoolteachers, supported by church leaders, refused to take state salaries.

During the Troubles in Belfast in 1970 — Photo: Fribbler

And when Northern Ireland seated its first parliament in May 1921, nationalist politicians did not take their elected seats in the assembly. The Parliament of Northern Ireland became, essentially, Protestant – and its pro-British leaders pursued a wide variety of anti-Catholic practices, discriminating against Catholics in public housing, voting rights and hiring.

By the 1960s, Catholic nationalists in Northern Ireland were mobilizing to demand more equitable governance. In 1968, police responded violently to a peaceful march to protest inequality in the allocation of public housing in Derry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city. In 60 seconds of unforgettable television footage, the world saw water cannons and baton-wielding officers attack defenseless marchers without restraint.

On Jan. 30, 1972, during another civil rights march in Derry, British soldiers opened fire on unarmed marchers, killing 14. This massacre, known as Bloody Sunday, marked a tipping point. A nonviolent movement for a more inclusive government morphed into a revolutionary campaign to overthrow that government and unify Ireland.

The Irish Republican Army, a nationalist paramilitary group, used bombs, targeted assassinations and ambushes to pursue independence from Britain and reunification with Ireland.

Longstanding paramilitary groups that were aligned with pro-U.K. political forces reacted in kind. Known as loyalists, these groups colluded with state security forces to defend Northern Ireland's union with Britain.

Euphemistically known as "the troubles," this violence claimed 3,532 lives from 1968 to 1998.

The troubles subsided in April 1998 when the British and Irish governments, along with major political parties in Northern Ireland, signed a landmark U.S.-brokered peace accord. The Good Friday Agreement established a power-sharing arrangement between the two sides and gave the Northern Irish parliament more authority over domestic affairs.

The peace agreement made history. But Northern Ireland remained deeply fragmented by identity politics and paralyzed by dysfunctional governance, according to my research on risk and resilience in the country.

Violence has periodically flared up since.

Then, in 2020, came Brexit. Britain's negotiated withdrawal from the European Union created a new border in the Irish Sea that economically moved Northern Ireland away from Britain and toward Ireland.

Leveraging the instability caused by Brexit, nationalists have renewed calls for a referendum on formal Irish reunification.

For unionists loyal to Britain, that represents existential threat. Young loyalists born after the height of the troubles are particularly fearful of losing a British identity that has always been theirs.

Recent spasms of street disorder suggest they will defend that identity with violence, if necessary. In some neighborhoods, nationalist youths have countered with violence of their own.

In its centenary year, Northern Ireland teeters on the edge of a painfully familiar precipice.

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Geopolitics

Photo Of The Week: This Happened In Kent

News broke last weekend of a new, extra contagious strain of the coronavirus rapidly spreading in the UK, prompting several countries to suspend travel from the country. After France deciding to shut its UK border for 48 hours, thousands of trucks were unable to pass through from the Port of Dover via the Eurotunnel, and ended up stuck along the route in Kent County, in southeastern England.

A mass testing program is underway to allow drivers to cross the border, but the gridlock could continue for days that may reduce deliveries and leave drivers unable to return home in time for Christmas.

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Geopolitics
Daniel Fortin

Boris Johnson And The Collapse Of Chaos-As-Leadership

As the sudden arrival of harsh new lockdown restrictions and the closing of borders in European countries coincides with down-to-the-wire Brexit talks, BoJo is facing an all-time low in public confidence.

For nearly a year now, we have been cautious — even indulgent — when it comes to criticizing the way political leaders are handling this exceptional pandemic with the malicious whims that come with a novel virus. But whether we like it or not, the scale of this crisis also serves as an incomparable tool for measuring the leadership skills of any given head of state or government.

Most observers now agree that Donald Trump's casual handling of the pandemic probably cost him his reelection. And now, another prominent leader is coming under fire for adding chaos upon the chaos. We will remember for a long time the pictures of British or foreign travelers rushing this weekend to the stations to try to escape London where a new lockdown was introduced without warning on Saturday night. Only a few, including in his own party, still defend Prime Minister Boris Johnson who seems once again to be indecisive and inconsistent.

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YLE
Anne Sophie Goninet

The World Prepares For A Very Different Kind Of Christmas

After a year that's been as trying as it is troubling, the holidays are finally upon us, and for many there's a temptation to treat the upcoming festivities as a welcome catharsis. But for governments, this "most wonderful time of the year" represents a real conundrum: How to allow for some much-needed Yuletide joy while at the same time, taking steps to keep the New Year from beginning with a new surge of coronavirus cases.

Christmas bubbles: The UK will also allow people to gather, but only for five days, between Dec. 23-27, with a larger window for Northern Ireland to give more time to people to travel between the nations.

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LA STAMPA
Eugenia Tognotti

Boris, Brexit And That Petty Claim Of Vaccine 'Victory'

Britain's race to be the first deploy the vaccine may be an attempt to whitewash their initial disastrous handling of this pandemic — not to mention the debacle of leaving the European Union.

-Analysis-

TURIN — What is there to say? Let's give the UK and its Prime Minister Boris Johnson the satisfaction of being the first country to have approved a COVID-19 vaccine and to start mass inoculation. The news broke on Wednesday, when the UK government announced that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been fully approved, beating even the US across the finishing line, and the country would start to deploy it within days.

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Sources
Ahmad Ra'fat

Hashtag Activism And Human Rights In Iran

Iranian authorities have proven themselves amenable to online pressure. But to effect lasting change in the Islamic Republic, people also need to engage in real-world action.

-Editorial-

Social media platforms like Twitter are providing Iranians a place to do what they can't do in the actual, physical spaces of Tehran and other cities: gather together and unite around a cause, even if it's just for a few hours. And the cause that underscores all others right now is the defense of human rights.

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Sources
Ahmad Ra'fat

After Arab-Israeli Deal, Iran Must Face Its Own Isolation

As Israel and the Arab world roll toward a major rapprochement, Iran continues to resist pressure to start talking to its own nemesis, the United States.

-Analysis-

LONDON — It's impossible to deny the weight of the diplomatic victory for Donald Trump in Tuesday's agreement between two Arab countries and Israel to normalize relations. And it's impossible to ignore what it means for Iran. Still it comes amid a flurry of efforts, mostly in vain, to push Iran toward negotiations with Washington.

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Geopolitics
Elahe Boghrat

Europe On Iran: Why The Appeasement?

The European Union should explain why it is doggedly conciliatory with a regime in Iran that represents everything opposed to Europe's liberal democratic values,

-OpEd-

LONDON — Are we repeating a mid-20th century moment? We may indeed be in a state of war, though one that is undeclared and lasting considerably longer than World War II. Like any such sprawling conflict, it has left nations damaged and forced millions of people to face violent death or life as a refugee. Yet it is not considered a "great" or a "world" war, because it is not happening in Europe but in distant lands. Are conditions in our time not like the years in which Western democracies and the communist Soviet Union sought to "appease" Hitler's Germany, while remaining indifferent to its countless victims?

Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran, nothing it has done over four decades could seem to alarm the Europeans to its inherent danger. Not the killings perpetrated since 1979 nor the callous shooting of protesters on the streets, nor senior officials brazenly threatening Europe or its long-range missiles or steady emission of refugees, drugs and terrorists ... Perhaps Europeans do not want to see a threat that is surely a greater menace to the EU than to Iran's more vociferous enemy, the United States.

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Coronavirus
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

The Kids Are Alright: What's Missing In The COVID-19/Youth Narrative

In the rush to vilify 'irresponsible' young people, we too often overlook the efforts they're making every day to help us through the pandemic and make the world a better place.

The headline is being repeated around the world: Young people are disregarding social distancing guidelines and sparking a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

The narrative fits within stereotypes that seem to come around with each new generation: Self-centered youth have little regard for the well-being of others and, despite the real risk, believe themselves immune to disease and other mortal threats. But while some Millennials are seeking solace in large-scale gatherings (from a birthday party in Melbourne to a rave in central France and karaoke bars in Japan), many others are using their privilege to aid in the crisis response.

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food / travel
Manon Dambrine and Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

How Countries Are Coping With A Tanking Tourism Industry

From Bali to Mexico and everywhere in between, countries that have come to rely on a steady stream of tourism revenue are experiencing serious fallout from the pandemic.

Through 2019, international tourism was soaring. Lower plane ticket prices and rising incomes in many developing countries had created a new class of globetrotters, and as far as anyone could tell, it was sky's the limit for the travel industry.


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