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“Milder” Omicron, Tiananmen Statue Dismantled, Dylan’s Decorations

“Milder” Omicron, Tiananmen Statue Dismantled, Dylan’s Decorations

A woman inside a bus receiving a dose of vaccine against COVID-19

Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 העלא*

Welcome to Thursday where some hopeful reports on the effects of the new COVID variant, a new symbolic crackdown takes place in Hong Kong and the Bard of Malibu phones it in when it comes to Christmas decorations. We also feature a report from Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza on the deteriorating conditions for LGBTQ people in Poland.

🎄⏸️ *Also, a quick heads up: Much of our team will be taking a break next week, so we’ll see you tomorrow for the final edition of Worldcrunch Today of 2021…!

[*Hela - Yiddish]


This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

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COVID update: Three separate teams of researchers in South Africa, Scotland and England find that Omicron infections seem “milder” and less likely to lead to hospitalizations. Concerns remain high about the COVID-19 variant, with the UK recording more than 100,000 daily cases for the first time. To combat the new wave of cases, Belgium announced it would close cinemas and theaters while Spain is bringing back compulsory mask-wearing outdoors. Ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, China is putting 13 millions in lockdown following a spike in cases in the northern city of Xian — the country’s biggest lockdown to date.

Former Tunisian president faces 4-year sentence: Ex-Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, who now lives in France, was charged with “assaulting” the security of the state. Marzouki has criticized current President Kais Saied and called for protests in Tunisia.

Putin uses year-end speech to warn on Ukraine: Russian President Vladimir Putin had more tough words for Washington, saying that he wouldn’t rule out an invasion of Ukraine unless the Western alliance reverses its presence in the region. “Any further NATO movement to the east is unacceptable,” he said in the annual end-of-year speech and press conference.

Brussels launches legal action over Polish rulings against EU law: The decision to potentially prosecute Poland is the latest escalation in the rule of law dispute between the EU and its Eastern European member country.

Madagascar shipwreck death toll rises to 85: The ship, which sank on Monday with 138 people on board, departed from the village of Antseraka for an approximately 60-mile journey south to Soanierana-Ivongo. Maritime officials have so far retrieved 85 bodies, including five children, and are saying the accident was potentially caused by a technical problem with the engine.

Intel backtracks on asking suppliers to not use Uighur labor: U.S. chip manufacturer Intel has apologized for blacklisting China’s Xinjiang region over abuses against the Uighur minority. After its initial announcement, Intel faced backlash from Beijing, which called for a boycott of its products. Intel said its decision was based on compliance with U.S. law, not its position on the issue.

A critical analysis of Bob Dylan’s Christmas lights: For more than a decade, comedy writer Merrill Markoe has offered serious (and otherwise) thoughts on the Christmas lights outside her famous neighbor’s house in Malibu, California. Here’s what she has to say (she vows: for the last time!) about Bob Dylan’s unimpressive holiday display is looking this year.


$6 billion

A $6-billion proposal to transform Indonesia’s Kualanamu International Airport in North Sumatra into a regional hub comparable to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is raising eyebrows among local tour operators who question the relevance, transparency and general feasibility of the project. The plan is expected to increase airport passenger numbers by a factor of five, making it one of the region’s busiest airports with 50 million passengers each year.


Spanish daily newspaper ABC reports on the government’s decision to make mask-wearing outdoors mandatory once again, with the prime minister set to push through the law by decree.


“Five years of hate”: being LGBTQ in Poland has gotten worse

With Poland's ruling Law and Justice party and the Catholic Church using gay rights to stir up a culture war, the country's LGBTQ community is feeling the effects. Depression and suicide are rising dramatically, and many now feel they have no choice but to leave, writes Polish-language daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

⚠️ Suicidal thoughts, violence and lack of support from state institutions. This is the grim reality faced by Polish lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual people outlined in the report "The Social Situation of LGBTQ Persons in Poland." Gay rights have become a divisive issue in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has used the issue to galvanize supporters, declaring it "a great danger" and an "attack" on the family and children.

🏳️🌈✋ In 2019, almost 100 regions in Poland passed resolutions declaring themselves free of "LGBT ideology." The authors of the study point out the harm caused to LGBTQ residents of those zones: "Regardless of their individual characteristics, people living in counties that were declared ‘LGBT-free zones’ experience suicidal thoughts with greater intensity than respondents living in counties where such resolutions were not adopted." At the beginning of last year, according to data collected by the creators of the "Map of Hate" – an interactive map documenting such places – 31% of the country's population already lived in these zones. In fear of losing EU funding, some local governments recently began withdrawing from those resolutions.

📈 Mikołaj Winiewski, from the Center for Research on Prejudice of the University of Warsaw says, “Opinion polls show that negative attitudes toward LGBT people have increased in Poland in recent years. The media are full of stereotypes and homophobia, and, importantly, various figures of authority, such as Church personalities or politicians, often openly spread hatred.The results of our research show that this open hatred, often manifested by aggression, has a huge impact on almost every sphere of life of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual and queer people.” Nearly 69% of the survey participants experienced violent behavior related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



The Pillar of Shame (in Chinese, 國殤之柱, literally “Martyrs' Pillar”), an 8-meter-tall concrete statue depicting 50 torn and twisted bodies symbolizing the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, was removed from the University of Hong Kong, officially over safety concerns.

✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Tell us how your neighbors decorate their houses for the holidays, and let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!


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The Last Of Us? How Climate Change Could Spawn A Deadly Zombie Fungus

The TV series “The Last of Us,” where a fungal infection creates a pandemic that turns people into violent zombies offers hints of what could become more possible as global warming creates the conditions for the spreading of killer fungi.

Image of Zombie in "The Last Of Us"

Zombie in "The Last Of Us"

Natalia Pasternak

Let's face it: having just gone through a pandemic where denialist political discourse turned a significant part of the population into something resembling zombies, the prospect of a new pandemic where a microorganism itself devours the victims' brains is an unsettlingly real prospect.

The TV series, based on the video game of the same name, begins with an interview program from the 1960s, where a scientist argues that humans should be less concerned about viruses and bacteria, and more afraid of fungi, which can control the behavior of insects, and with global warming, could in theory adapt to a temperature closer to the human body and infect us.

With no current way to develop drugs or vaccines for such an infection, we would be lost.How much of this is a true story? There really are fungi that infect and alter the behavior of insects. One of these, the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, inspired the creator of the videogame "The Last of Us." Popularly known as Cordyceps, the fungus produces spores – reproductive cells – that infect ants and multiply in the haemolymph, an insect's blood. After a few days, ants begin to show changes in behavior.

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