Welcome to Tuesday, where Biden and Putin go face-to-face on Ukraine, China threatens U.S. over Olympic boycott and the world marks 80 years since Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, we go back to the small town that recorded Italy’s first coronavirus death back in February 2020, which is now a stronghold for vaccine skeptics.
[*M-boh-teh – Lingala, Democratic Republic of the Congo]
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• Biden-Putin high-stakes call: U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are expected to address the escalating conflict in Ukraine in a video call today. Biden reportedly intends to warn Putin that if he orders Russian troops massed on the border to attack Ukraine, the U.S. and its European allies may cut his country off the international financial system and sanction top Russian banks.
• China threatens U.S. over Olympics diplomatic boycott: China angrily denounced the United States’ planned diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, accusing the country of violating political neutrality in sport and threatening to retaliate. The White House will not send any diplomatic or official representation given China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” though U.S. athletes will still be able to complete.
• Explosion kills several in Iraq’s Basra: At least four people have been killed and dozens injured in an explosion caused by a motorcycle rigged with explosives in the center of Iraq’s southern city of Basra.
• German parties sign coalition deal before handover of power: Taking office this week, Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats have signed a coalition deal that includes plans to modernize Europe's biggest economy and to accelerate the green transition. SPD’s Olaf Scholz is expected to be sworn in as Germany’s new chancellor tomorrow.
• Rohingya refugees sue Facebook for $150 billion: Dozens of Rohingya refugees in the U.S. and the UK have sued the social media giant and are demanding more than $150 billion in compensation, claiming Facebook allowed hate speech against the persecuted minority to spread on its platforms.
• Ethiopia claims recapture of two key towns: Ethiopia’s government says it has recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, north of the capital city Addis Ababa, from forces aligned with Tigray’s People Liberation Front. The TPLF spokesman claims instead that it was a planned withdrawal.
• Pearl Harbor’s 80th anniversary: To commemorate 80 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. National Archives is organizing a YouTube live screening of the 1943 short film December 7th, which won an Academy Award in 1944.
Indonesian daily Jawa Pos reports on the ongoing rescue efforts to find survivors following the eruption of Mount Semeru, the highest volcano on Indonesia’s Java Island. The death toll has risen to at least 34 and thousands have been forced to evacuate as mud and ash swallowed houses and vehicles in several villages.
The CEO of U.S. mortgage firm Better.com is under fire after reportedly firing 900 employees on a single Zoom call. “If you are on this call, you are part of the unlucky group being laid off,” said the CEO Vishal Garg on the call, which was later uploaded to social media. He argued that staff performance and drops in productivity, alongside market changes, lay behind mass-firing, representing 15% of the firm’s workforce. However, the CEO failed to mention the $750 million cash infusion the company received from Softbank, a Japanese firm and key investor, last week.
The Vo' paradox: Home of Italy's first COVID death is no-vax stronghold
The small Italian town of Vo’, near Padua, is remembered well for being on the front line in the fight against COVID-19. Now it faces vaccine hesitancy, reports Francesco Moscatelli in Turin-based daily La Stampa.
😷 Out of 101 municipalities in the province of Padua, Vo’ ranks 100th in vaccination rates. This northeastern Italian town is the "weakest link," where the percentage of citizens "not vaccinated-not registered" is 18.7%, six points higher than the national average. The other statistic about Vo' worth noting: As of last week, this town of 3,277 residents ranks the 18th highest number of cases in the Padua region. The paradox of the town is all in these numbers. Italians remember it well, with Vo’ mourning the first Italian victim of the coronavirus, Adriano Trevisan, a 78-year-old retiree, back when Italy became the first country in the West hit by the pandemic in February 2020.
📉 But eventually, Vo' became a place that had plummeted to the bottom in the ranking of localities that are following the guidelines in confronting the new wave. "A sociological analysis rather than a clinical one should be done,” quipped a local doctor. “In fact, we might even need an anthropologist."
💉 The relatively low percentage of people vaccinated is not the only paradox of Vo'. There is another, which perhaps also explains the first one. Health workers are the primary influencers, especially in small places, and have been particularly needed in recent weeks to encourage the most reluctant to get vaccinated. In mid-November, one of Vo's three doctors left his position. He has long made no secret of his skepticism to government measures, writing on Facebook that "whoever decided to make green passes mandatory at weddings is brain dead.”
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The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying.
— Austria’s new Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced Tuesday that the country’s two-week-long COVID-19 lockdown would be lifted, but only for those who are vaccinated. As cases have spread over the past two months, Austria had been on the forefront in requiring vaccinations for public activity, until it was forced last month to return to a partial lockdown for all citizens. That nationwide measure will now be lifted for the vaccinated in the coming days. "For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated," the Chancellor added. Nehammer took office on Monday, replacing 35-year-old Sebastian Kurz, who is being investigated for corruption.
Colombian Gen Z wins battle for the right to have blue hair at graduation
It may not be remembered alongside same-sex marriage or racial justice, but count it as another small (and shiny) victory in the battle for civil rights: an 18-year-old Colombian student whose hair is dyed a neon shade of blue has secured the right to participate in her high school graduation, despite the school's attempt to ban her from the ceremony because of the color of her hair.
Leidy Cacua, an aspiring model in the northeastern town of Bucaramanga, launched a public battle for her right to graduate with her classmates after the school said her hair violated its social and communal norms, the Bogota-based daily El Espectador reported.
Cacua took the matter to social media last week, as well as filing complaints with the ombudsman's office and regional Education Ministry. The school, she wrote online, had initially given her the choice: graduate in absentia, or "paint my hair or put on a wig."
In her legal complaint, Cacua argued that the school was violating her constitutional right to freedom of expression and was blocking the development of her own personality. In the face of both the legal and media pressure, she said the school's headmaster called to tell her — in an angry tone — that she could indeed graduate with her fellow students.
Speaking last week with Colombian broadcaster Blu Radio, Cacua said this wasn't the first time the school targeted her hair: "Two years ago, they made me cut my hair. I had it with Californian wicks, in a chocolate tone, nothing weird." She says if she hadn't cut it, the school was threatening her with expulsion.
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