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WHO On Vaccines & Omicron, NASA Touches The Sun, Edible Metro Tickets

In Mexico nearly 100,000 people are registered as missing

Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

👋 Halito!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the WHO says vaccines may be less effective against the Omicron variant, a spacecraft “touches” the Sun for the first time and the Berlin metro is offering edible tickets. Warsaw-based daily Gazeta Wyborcza also looks at shocking practices multiplying in Poland’s booming and unregulated funeral business.

[*Choctaw, Native American]


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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

COVID update: Released on Wednesday, the WHO's latest data suggests the Omicron coronavirus variant can better evade existing vaccines and carries a higher risk of reinfection. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wins a Parliamentary vote on so-called “Plan B” COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine passport requirements, which triggered the biggest rebellion from within his Conservative Party since he took office. Meanwhile, the U.S reached a tragic milestone of 800.000 deaths from the coronavirus, the highest national death toll from the pandemic.

U.S. House holds former Trump chief of staff in contempt: The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to hold former President Donald Trump’s then Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, in contempt of Congress, paving the way for prosecution. The vote was 222 to 208, with just two Republicans joining Democrats in backing the measure.

French military leaves Timbuktu, after nearly 9 years: French forces left a key military base in the Northern city of Timbuktu in Mali late on Tuesday, the latest sign the former colonial power is scaling down its presence in the country nearly nine years after Paris first intervened in response to rising power of jihadists.

Hong Kong high-rise rescue: More than 1,200 people have been rescued from Hong Kong’s World Trade Center as dozens of firefighters managed to douse a fire that broke out through one of the city’s busiest buildings, trapping about 150 people on its roof. At least 13 people were injured.

Malta to legalize cannabis for personal use in Europe first: Malta has become the first EU country to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Adults will be allowed to carry up to seven grams of cannabis, and grow four plants at home.

NASA enters the solar atmosphere for the first time: For the first time in history, a spacecraft has touched the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has now flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere and sampled particles and magnetic fields there. The new milestone marks a giant leap for solar science.

Berlin metro’s edible hemp tickets: Berlin's public transport network has come up with a new strategy to ease the pandemic and Christmas induced stress of commuters as they travel, providing them with edible tickets laced with hemp oil.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

“Omicron under the Christmas tree,” Austrian daily Neue Vorarlberger Tageszeitung, reporting that the coronavirus variant, which is spreading at an unprecedented rate across the world, “should soon dominate in Austria as well,” just ten days before Christmas.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

COVID, nail in the coffin of Poland's underground funeral industry

A total lack of regulation has meant that virtually anyone can sell funeral service in Poland, even people without refrigerated rooms, hearses or pandemic safety measures, reports Justyna Sobolak in Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

⚰️ The law governing the funeral market in Poland is nearly 100 years old, and de facto the industry has long been unregulated. As the gray market has continued to grow through the pandemic, shocking practices multiply. “Companies keep corpses in garages or barns," says Robert Czyżak, president of the Polish Funeral Industry Board. "This is what has been happening in Poland." It is very easy to organize funerals in Poland. Almost anyone can do it, without any certificate, training or official permission.

📈 During the pandemic, many people started a funeral business. “We are dealing with a very large multiplication, especially now, during the pandemic, of one-person companies that strangely enough provide funeral services without employing anyone. This is a phenomenon on a national scale,” notes Czyżak of the Funeral Industry Board. The data Gazeta Wyborcza obtained from the Polish Funeral Industry Board shows that the sector is worth over 9.1 billion PLN ($2.2 billion), an amount calculated on the basis of the average cost of a ceremony, and funeral and cemetery services.

⚖️ Although the problem is not new, it is only now that the authorities decided it was necessary to amend the current law regarding the funeral industry. Perhaps the government was influenced by the numbers: The Funeral Industry Board, together with the Center for Legislative Analyses and Economic Policy, have calculated that the gray zone may cost the state budget 960 million PLN ($235 million) a year. The bill is already written and has returned from consultations, and the ruling PiS party is expected to address the issue right after the new year.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis."

— World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet, urging countries to act against the spread of the Omicron variant by continuing to promote the use of masks, social distancing, ventilation and hand hygiene.

📲🤭 IN OTHER NEWS

Public sector trolls? 7 "institutional" social media accounts that let it rip

From good humor to hate speech, you can find just about anything on social media. And it’s not just entertainers, or the anonymously angry: Our would-be public servants of the world have long since jumped into the fray, with provocateur presidents from Donald Trump to Jair Bolsonaro to Rodrigo Duterte.

But Twitter and Facebook and Instagram are also full of plenty of painfully careful (though sometimes very useful) accounts of public institutions, from offices of the prime minister to national weather services to local police stations.

Yet there are the rare occasions when such high standards of seriousness and neutrality from institutional social networks are tossed out the virtual window. This week, with rumors of war circulating between Ukraine and Russia, the already famously ironic Ukraine government Twitter account was at it again, posting a meme about the stress created by having Russia as a neighbor.

Because the institutional accounts are not attached to a name, one can only imagine what and who is setting them on the path to social media fame, or infamy.

➡️ Check some of the spiciest examples around the world on Worldcrunch.com

💬  LEXICON

몰카

Seoul Milk, the leading company in South Korea's dairy industry, has been forced to apologize after broadcasting an advertisement that appeared to compare women to cows and displayed a man secretly filming them. The disturbing scene reminds of "molka,” (몰카, which translates to “secret camera”) the illegal practice of secretly filming women to capture voyeuristic images and videos that have plagued the country.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Any local bureaucrats out there having fun on Twitter? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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Geopolitics

The Days After: What Would Happen If Putin Opts For A Tactical Nuclear Strike

The risk of the Kremlin launching a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukraine is small but not impossible. The Western response would itself set off a counter-response, which might contain or spiral to the worst-case scenario.

An anti-nuclear activist impersonates Vladimir Putin at a rally in Berlin.

Yves Bourdillon

-Analysis-

PARISVladimir Putin could “go nuclear” in Ukraine. Yes, this expression, which metaphorically means “taking the extreme, drastic action,” is now literally considered a possibility as well. Cornered and humiliated by a now plausible military defeat, experts say the Kremlin could launch a tactical nuclear bomb on a Ukrainian site in a desperate attempt to turn the tables.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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In any case, this is what Putin — who put Russia's nuclear forces on alert just after the start of the invasion in late February — is aiming to achieve: to terrorize populations in Western countries to push their leaders to let go of Ukraine.

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