DER SPIEGEL
Der Spiegel (The Mirror) is among the most highly respected weekly magazines in the world, known both for its investigative journalism and global coverage.
A group of representatives of the anti-vaccine movement protesting in Buenos Aires, Argentina
EL PAIS
Alessio Perrone

How Anti-Vaxxers Will Try To Sabotage The COVID-19 Vaccine

-Analysis-

MILAN — Now that Pfizer and Moderna appear to have viable COVID-19 vaccines, a range of legitimate questions are being posed — cost, supply, logistics — in order to carry out what we hope would become the fastest and widest vaccination effort in history.


But three days ago on Facebook, Italian Parliament member and political provocateur Gianluigi Paragone was focused on other questions: What were the potentially ugly side effects of the vaccine? Wasn't this simply a profit play by the pharmaceutical industry?


Paragone didn't have to wait long to get answers, as many of the hundreds of comments that followed amounted to rhetorical red meat of what has become known globally as the anti-vaxxer movement. Users warned that the vaccine would change our DNA; that it was poison; that it would help install microchips in our heads.


It is telling, and ominous, how quickly such a message stuck. The anti-vaxxers have mastered the tools of social media, spreading conspiracy theories as its own kind of digital virus. Over the past five years, basic scientific facts are disputed by a growing number of our neighbors. That vaccines remain one of the most important scientific discoveries ever, largely responsible for the longer life expectancy and public health gains of the last century, is now an open question for more and more people.


Until now, anti-vaxxers have been blamed for a few pockets of outbreaks of diseases that had long been vanquished by vaccines, most notably measles. But now we may be faced with a much greater risk: that the public mistrust that has flowed from between the anti-mask and COVID-deniers dovetails with the anti-vaxxer movement — and potentially undermines the global vaccination campaign against coronavirus.

The anti-vaxxers meld in with other conspiracy theory proponents — Photo: Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA

We are still likely months away from the full-fledged implementation, but in the latest opinion polls, only about one-half of the respondents in France and Italy and 40% in Germany said that they would get the shot.


The Lancet reports on a new study by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate that blames social media companies for allowing the anti-vaccine movement to remain on their platforms. The report's authors noted that social media accounts held by so-called anti-vaxxers have increased their following by at least 7 million people since 2019, and 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook.


There are legitimate reasons to be cautious about the new vaccines for now — for one, they still have to get safety approval from institutions before we even weigh our options. But spreading public distrust risks jeopardizing our chances to eradicate COVID-19, which depends on a sizable part of the population getting vaccinated.


A decade into the social media age, we are reminded again that digital information is both the poison and the cure — and a vaccine against its worst effects will take years to discover.

On the beach in Italy
food / travel
Alessio Perrone

Summer Holiday Can’t Quite Escape The Virus, Or The Office

Earlier this week, as I packed my things for my first post-pandemic vacation, my eyes and mind dwelled on the object I spend more time with than any other: my laptop.


Of course many things have changed since last summer's break. Instead of flying, I'll drive from my home in the northern city of Milan to the southern island of Sicily (along with a short ferry ride). I'm also avoiding August, the most unbearably crowded month to travel in Italy. And I will be camping instead of staying in an AirBnb apartment.


And yet, what's surprising is how much will stay the same. Look around, after months of pandemic mourning and lockdowns, European countries seem to be relishing more than ever the place that tourism has in their lives — and economies. Some countries are racing to lure back masses of visitors, worried by the absence of traditionally big-spending Americans and Russians. Sicily has even promised to pay for one of every three nights in hotels, and to subsidise tours and museum visits.


The reasons why we travel haven't changed much, either. With borders reopening and the virus seemingly receding in Europe, many of us are planning vacations almost compulsively, as if they were a duty dictated by our Instagram feeds. According to the Wall Street Journal, some top destinations are already selling out for 2021.


Not particularly interested in seaside discos — which remain closed — my 2020 itinerary looks like it would any other year: drives through the island's rolling hills, Greek temples and sizzling Baroque cities, some sea, some sand, great food.

Many of us are planning vacations almost compulsively — Photo: Josi Donelli/TheNEWS2/ZUMA

Another thing that hasn't fundamentally changed is that many will have to check work emails as they travel. This has always been the case for millennials, in Italy and beyond, where the expression "work-life balance" can be met with a giggle. The most extreme case that comes to mind is from a friend of mine, whose boss wished him a great vacation, but added that as soon as he needs him to work, my friend will have to rush back to his desk immediately.


As the German historian Valentin Groebner said in an interview with Der Spiegel, perhaps the pandemic was our opportunity to rethink all this. The word "vacation" has Latin origins, meaning respite from duty and work. But "vacations have long been a consumption ritual — not a discharge from duty, but just another kind of duty," Groebner said.


Perhaps, he suggested, we should use the pandemic to reexamine what "discharge from duty" means, and ask ourselves if we really want to go back to joining the summer vacation herds.


Having finished writing this article, this opportunity seems to have already passed. I packed my laptop and took it with me.

'Out with coal, Frau Merkel'
Germany

More At Stake Than Merkel In Germany's Political Crisis

-Analysis-

Are we witnessing "the twilight of Angela Merkel"? The question, asked Tuesday in Le Figaro"s lead editorial, is on everybody's mind, both inside and outside Germany. To be sure, in her 12 years as German Chancellor, Merkel has never been as vulnerable as she now appears to be. The collapse of post-election talks to form a coalition with the liberal party FDP and the Green party have revealed Merkel and her own party's showing in the September vote for what it really was: a Pyrrhic victory.

Foreseeing a possible "miserable ending", Der Spiegel"s columnist Jakob Augstein writes that "the woman who, like no other, has stood for stability and predictability has maneuvered herself into a hopeless situation. Because she could not let go of power in time, she will now experience how it is to see it slip through her fingers."

But the focus on Merkel and the intra-party negotiations as a mere ego-driven tussle risks missing the bigger picture. What is at stake with the future German government extends well beyond one woman's personal legacy and affects the whole of Europe, if not more.

What stood at the center of the coalition talks were real issues, with real-world consequences. Chief among them was immigration. Much like in the rest of Europe, the anti-immigration movement in on the rise in Germany, a fact most visible by the entry of a far-right party, the AfD, in the German Parliament for the first time since World War II. There is now a sort of consensus in Germany that any future government that refuses to take into account people's concerns about the effects of immigration will be exposing itself, and the country, to a far more extremist alternative gaining ever more ground at the next election.

What is at stake with the future German government extends well beyond one woman's personal legacy.

Just how far the government can or should go in its attempts to stem the influx of migrants is a question the three parties engaged in coalition talks were unable to agree on. Whatever the outcome, whether Berlin opts for more or less drastic measures will send an important signal throughout Europe.

Environmental policy was another source of genuine antagonism in the coalition talks — more particularly the issue of a planned elimination of coal power in the coming years. Though the country is often described as a model for green political action, Germany's energy mix still relies heavily on coal, all the more so since the 2011 Fukushima disaster and Merkel's subsequent decision to phase out nuclear energy. As Deutsche Welle reported on Monday, Germany is set to miss its 2020 target for CO2 emissions' reduction and it will likely miss the goals it pledged two years ago at the Paris Climate Conference.

Germany's reliance on coal was plain to see at the UN climate conference that ended this weekend in Bonn, where it refused to join a 20-country alliance led by Canada and the UK that pledges to rapidly phase out coal. Besides the signal it sends to other countries, such discrepancy between its public stance and its actions is like music to the ears of Donald Trump and the like.

Will Merkel be able to form a coalition? What price will be paid in the process? As melodramatic as it may sound, the future of the planet is always on the negotiating table — and in the voting booth.

Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière in Brussels on Sep. 22.
Germany

German Interior Minister Criticizes Merkel On Immigration

BERLIN — German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has leveled harsh criticisms of Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow refugees to enter the country from Hungary earlier this month, describing the migrant situation in the country as chaotic, the weekly Der Spiegel reports.

Speaking on the television network ZDF (at 33:30), de Maizière, a member of the Merkel-led Christian Democratic Union, said the situation "had gotten out of control because of the decision to bring people from Hungary to Germany."

He added that "it was such a large number that it became impossible to count." In early September, Merkel allowed thousands of refugees blocked in Hungary, mostly fleeing the violence in Syria and Iraq, to enter Germany, before closing the border with Austria in mid-September.

"We will now do things in a more orderly way," de Maizière explained. This includes limiting the influx of asylum seekers into the country and respecting migrant quotas across EU countries.

At a summit in Brussels on Wednesday, EU leaders agreed on closer cooperation to stem the flow of refugees into the EU, and pledged at least $1.1 billion to help UN agencies handle the refugee crisis. "If we reach full quotas, then we say that they cannot come to Europe for now, maybe next year," said de Maizière.

With the current law, he added: "there is no limit for asylum seekers."

Merkel also faced criticism on her decision to welcome refugees by its sister party the Christian Social Union earlier this month. The head of the party Horst Seehofer described it as a "mistake that will we will have to deal with for a long time."

Seehofer has also led an anti-Merkel movement regarding immigration, supported by Hungary's conservative-nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Merkel later strongly rejected this criticism and refused to apologize for welcoming refugees: "If we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in response to emergency situations, then that's not my country."*

Thursday night, the German Länders and the federal government agreed on several measures to address the refugee situation. Additional funds — 670 euros per refugee and per month — will be released for the German regions in charge of taking in refugees. Merkel also promised an acceleration of the asylum seeking process and a reduction "disincentives."

Greece

Extra! German Weekly Der Spiegel Depicts Merkel With Nazis In Athens

The cover of this week's issue of the German weekly Der Spiegel shows a smiling Angela Merkel spliced into a photograph of Nazi officers standing by Athens' Parthenon during the German World War II occupation of Greece.

Along with the headline, "How Europeans see Germans — the German Supremacy," the controversial cover was published two days before the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' first official visit to Berlin Monday to meet the German chancellor.

The far-left Greek leader, who was elected two months ago, is expected to present a list of precise reforms that Greece would be ready to carry out. Tsipras has blamed Germany and its austerity policy for the poverty and mass unemployment in his country. On the other hand, Berlin, Greece's largest single creditor nation, insists more cuts and reforms are required from the new Greek government.

The controversial cover was also a reference to the emergence in recent weeks of the dormant issue of German World War II reparations to Greece. Der Spiegel also says the Greek Treasury had compiled a 194-page report on the amount of money the country should receive, which is said to include an 11 billion-euro compensation for the "Distomo massacre," in which 214 people were killed by Nazi soldiers.

Although relations between the two European countries are strained, Tsipras told the Greek daily Kathimerini that Monday's visit would be the opportunity to talk "without the pressure of any negotiation."

ABOUT THE SOURCE: Der Spiegel (The Mirror) is among the most highly respected weekly magazines in the world, known both for its investigative journalism and global coverage.