Welcome to Wednesday, where the World Health Organization asks rich countries to supply the funding required to end COVID-19, European scientists make a major fusion breakthrough and an Indonesian crocodile is captured for good reasons. In weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique, Manon Laplace takes us to Timbuktu, Mali's “mysterious city,” where a new generation is learning to restore and preserve the city’s centuries-old books.
[*Xhosa - South Africa]
Hey people, the pandemic isn’t over yet
Yes, COVID fatigue is real, as are the deep impact of restrictive measures on everything from the economy to mental health to education. But we should remain vigil in making sure we minimize the worst health effects of a still aggressive and deadly virus, write Professors Karen Mossman and Matthew S Miller:
This is no time to give in to COVID-19.
It’s understandable that after two years, everyone is tired of being afraid, staying home, wearing masks and queueing up for rounds of vaccines and tests.
With the virus finding the unvaccinated in greater numbers — as expected — and breakthrough infections affecting the vaccinated, a spirit of resignation threatens to take hold.
Some are even suggesting it would be best to stop trying, or even accelerate the spread of the virus to get it over with, in the same way parents of yesteryear used to put healthy and infected kids together to get chickenpox and be done with it.
They had no idea their “chickenpox parties” would ultimately lead to painful, sometimes debilitating, shingles outbreaks for many later in adulthood.
Even if Omicron infections are typically milder than previous variants, there remains considerable uncertainty around the long-term consequences of COVID-19.
Further, the impact of a huge wave of any infection is severe, even when it is mild for many. We are seeing the devastating effects of infected workers being absent, not only in health care and long-term care, but also in businesses and schools that can’t run properly or in some cases at all.
As researchers in molecular virology and viral immunology, we are here to say in no uncertain terms that it would be wrong to give up now.
Vaccines have helped us to avoid near certain disaster during the current Omicron wave. The number of deaths and devastating illnesses would be much, much higher without them.
Already, we know that long COVID, with its sometimes very serious physical and mental health consequences, is shockingly common among COVID-19 patients, with symptoms affecting as many as one in three. We are also seeing some evidence that children are more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes after COVID-19. Those are not risks we can afford, either.
Our society may have become complacent about infectious diseases, even without COVID-19. Here in Canada, we have been lucky to live in a time when vaccines are so successful that almost no other public health measures have been necessary to protect us from infections like smallpox, polio and tetanus that have plagued humanity for most of its natural history.
Pandemics have always changed and improved the way people live afterwards. Cholera led to sewers and clean water. Yellow fever and influenza pandemics gave rise to the concept of public health.
Our new “normal” can be much healthier, with only the most subtle of changes.
Last year there was barely any influenza, and the common cold went on hiatus because COVID-19 precautions also happened to provide a barrier to those familiar infections. The near absence of influenza probably saved about 3,500 lives in Canada alone, and those benefits can continue.
If we normalize mask-wearing by vulnerable people during peaks of influenza or other seasonal infections, we can save thousands of lives globally, even after the threat of COVID-19 recedes.
We learned early in the pandemic to wash our hands better and more frequently, which protects us from many forms of infection. Let’s keep it up. Likewise, improvements to building ventilation are long overdue and will continue to benefit our collective health going forward.
We have learned to stay home when we are sick, perhaps finally shedding the warrior mentality of slogging through infections as if it were somehow more productive than staying away from the workplace. It isn’t, especially when one outbreak can pull down a whole organization.
Now, there are much better ways to work remotely for those whose jobs permit it. The requirement to isolate when ill has also renewed public discussion around the need for improved paid sick leave policies to support vulnerable workers. Adopting these policies would improve the lives of many in the years to come.COVID-19 has exponentially raised public awareness of infection control due to its constant intrusion into our everyday lives over the past two years. That can pay off in other ways, if we decide to take advantage of all the tools we have and lessons we have learned out of necessity.
All of this is certainly not to say COVID-19 is good. Far from it. But we can benefit from what we have learned so far, and we certainly should not give up now.
We have proven, effective tools. Using these tools effectively can keep us healthy, protect the most vulnerable members of our communities, allow businesses to operate safely and accelerate our return to “normal.” Simply being tired of the pandemic is not reason to let it burn through the population.
— Karen Mossman and Matthew S Miller / The Conversation
• Europeans show united front on Russia-Ukraine: Leaders from France, Germany and Poland pledged unity in their aim to avert war between Russia and Ukraine, following French President Emmanuel Macron’s talks in Moscow and Kyiv. There is a renewed focus on the Minsk accords to settle standing disputes in the Donbas region. Meanwhile, the first U.S. troops arrived in Romania to reinforce NATO allies on the eastern flank.
• Belarusian skier flees after being targeted for links in pro-democracy movement: A 17-year-old Belarusian cross-country skier has fled the country after being banned from competing in the Olympics for having supported the country’s pro-democracy movement. Darya Dolidovich is now in Poland with her family, including her father and coach Sergei Dolidovich, a seven-time Olympian.
• COVID update: The World Health Organization has urged 55 of the world’s richest nations to pay their fair share of the $16 billion needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic, as a global health emergency effort. Sweden puts an end to wide-scale testing for COVID-19 even among people showing symptoms, reserving free PCR testing for health care and elderly care workers and the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the discovery of the Omicron variant in white-tailed deer in New York has raised concerns that the virus could mutate among the species, which number 30 million in the U.S., creating new coronavirus strains.
• Scientists declare breakthrough in nuclear fusion: European scientists say they have taken a major step in their quest to develop practical nuclear fusion. The UK-based JET laboratory doubled its own standing record for the amount of energy extracted by squeezing together two forms of hydrogen.
• Syrian soldier killed in Israeli attack: One Syrian soldier was killed and five others were wounded after Israeli missiles targeted areas near Damascus early Wednesday, Syrian news agency reported. The Israeli military said it carried out a counter-strike in response to the launching of an anti-aircraft missile from Syria into northern Israel.
• Indian state close schools after hijab protests: The southern Indian state of Karnataka has shut high schools and colleges after clashes between Hindu and Muslim students linked to a ban on wearing hijab for Muslim women in the classroom.
• Crocodile tears of joy: A crocodile on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, nicknamed Buaya kalung ban (“Crocodile with a tire necklace”), has lived with a motorcycle tire stuck around his neck for the past six years. But now the crocodile will need a new name after a local animal lover managed to temporarily capture it, and remove the tire.
“History repeats itself,” titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the landslide that killed at least 14 people and injured 35 in the city of Dosquebradas, central Colombia. The daily, quoting geologist Deliana Cardozo, writes that the disaster was predictable, as the zone was declared a risk area in 1989.
"And let’s not forget. War is madness."
— Speaking at the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis called for peace and multilateral dialogues as a way to reduce tensions between Kyiv and Moscow. Russia has amassed 70% of the military firepower it needs to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, anonymous U.S. officials said, but denies Western accusations that it is planning an attack.
An epic mission, preserving the ancient books of Timbuktu
Mali's "mysterious city" welcomes a new class of students trained in looking after ancient books. From conservation to digitization of these works, a colossal task awaits them to preserve this endangered heritage and the secrets they contain, reports Manon Laplace in weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique.
📚 In the workroom of the Ahmed-Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, six students hold in their hands one of the most precious heritages of the region. Ceremoniously, they repeat the same gestures: lifting the pages, one by one, with the tip of a thin wooden spatula, then, with the flat of the brush, ridding the inks and the centuries-old papers of dust. There are about 30 of them, coming from all over the country to be part of the second class of book and ancient manuscript professionals within this emblematic establishment in Timbuktu.
🔭⚖️ Mohamed Diagayete, director general of the Ahmed-Baba Institute, says of the unique role of the city in central Mali: "In Timbuktu, we find manuscripts from all over the region, witnesses of the richness of the exchanges that took place here at one time. Beyond saving these manuscripts, it is a question of highlighting the history they tell. They are wells of science and knowledge, dealing with astronomy, medicine, arithmetic, theology or law.”
💬 The precious works, which date back to the 9th century, provide a historical correction to the redundant narrative that has always reduced Africa to just oral traditions, denying the continent its rich written history. This ethnocentric version is contradicted by hundreds of thousands of pages of travelogs, poems and scientific treaties. Long left to the mercy of time and wear, these relics have been the subject of a safeguarding plan since 2015, under the impetus of several international partners such as UNESCO.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
With a Best Picture nomination for West Side Story for the upcoming 94th Academy Awards, U.S. filmmaker Steven Spielberg broke a new record, with 11 nominations in the top category. He also became the first person to receive Best Director nominations in six different decades.
U.S. Army vehicles being transferred from Vilseck, Germany, to Romania, to support NATO troops in Eastern Europe. — Photo: Armin Weigel/dpa/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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