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New Variant, Same Story? The Vicious Circle Of Our COVID World
Coronavirus
Anne-Sophie Goninet

New Variant, Same Story? The Vicious Circle Of Our COVID World

As we learn yet another Greek letter through the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, around the world the new wave is starting to sound very familiar.

It’s been another 72-hour global moment.

It came in the days after the news first broke last Friday that B.1.1.529, named Omicron, had been identified by scientists in South Africa and assessed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “variant of concern.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has supplied a series of these collective worldwide “moments:” from the first wave of lockdowns to the discovery that the vaccines were effective to the Delta variant’s new wave of infections.

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Old Folk v. Nature: 6 Endurance Conquests By World's Most Amazing Seniors
Society
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Old Folk v. Nature: 6 Endurance Conquests By World's Most Amazing Seniors

M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart just became the oldest person to complete the Appalachian Trail...at the ripe young age of 83. He is just one of many of the graying outdoor pioneers to set mind-boggling records that redefine staying power.

At 83, M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart has just become the oldest person to complete the Appalachian Trail, a 2,193-mile journey in the Eastern United States, setting off much well-deserved amazement among Americans.

Of course Eberhart is far from the first senior citizen to tackle a natural feat that virtually everyone, of any age, would never think of even trying. From mountain climbers to long-distance swimmers, here's a look at six hardcore adventurers to inspire young and old to get off the couch, and conquer the world...or at least go for a walk!

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at 89

Anne Lorimor on a training walk with her dog Kevan

imwatchinganne/Instagramimwatchinganne/Instagram


Anne Lorimor might not be a professional climber, but that didn't stop the Arizona woman from walking up and down the tallest free-standing mountain in only nine days. The great- grandmother is the oldest person to do so and in fact, it was the second time Lorimor climbed the almost 20,000-foot-tall Tanzanian mountain, the first back when she was a spry 85.

Although, after a slightly older man set a new age record, Lorimor knew she had to reclaim her title, and for a good cause. Her climb was a fundraiser for Creating Exciting Futures, a foundation she founded to aid disadvantaged youth. And she's not done yet: Lorimor has set her sights on hiking the Appalachian Trail, Machu Picchu and the Pacific Coast Trail.

Skiing to the North Pole at 77

A 1990 North Pole expedition

Matti&Keti/Wikipedia


Before his death in 2017 at age 95, Jack MacKenzie led an accomplished life, making more than 30 trips across the North Atlantic during World War II to bring aircraft to Britain and later helping set up Canada's pension system. He was inspired to trek to the North Pole after hearing a talk from Canadian explorer Richard Weber. Weber first took MacKenzie into the Canadian wilderness in midwinter to make sure he could handle an Arctic trip.

A Russian helicopter took the group to the 89th parallel, where they skied one degree, the equivalent of 100 kilometers, to reach the North Pole. Weber later told the Globe and Mail that MacKenzie handled skiing over ice ridges and near open water with ease, despite the negative 30 degree temperatures. Not to be outdone, then 71-year-old Zdenĕk Chvoj from the Czech Republic became the oldest person to ski to both the North and South Pole in January 2020.

Scaling El Capitan at 70

Dierdre Wolownick began climbing to connect with her son

dierdre_wolownick_honnold/Instagram


While extreme rock climber Alex Honnold might have garnered global attention for his death-defying stunts captured in the 2018 Academy award-winning documentary "Free Solo," his mother is now making a name for herself as an age-defying climber. On her 70th birthday earlier this year, Dierdre Wolownick climbed the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California, for the second time.

Wolownick started climbing a decade ago to better relate to her son and prepared for the climb up the granite rock face by training for 18 weeks. The former author, language teacher and musician tells the New York Times, "I learned how to suffer through all kinds of discomfort because what you get from it makes it worthwhile. It's the same for anybody who wants to follow a path of bliss. There's a lot of suffering. With climbing, you just have to deal."

Climbing Mount Everest at 80

Yuichiro Miura (right) and his son after they climbed Mount Everest in 2013

Sunil Pradhan/Xinhua/ZUMA


Japanese skier alpinist Yuichiro Miura has beaten his own Everest record three times, most recently reaching the peak of the world's highest mountain in 2013. Deemed the "grandfather of extreme skiing," Miura is the son of one of Japan's most famed skiers and made a name for himself taking on increasingly dangerous feats, first skiing down Mount Fuji in 1966 and then Everest in 1970. He skied with oxygen tanks and a parachute to slow down when he reached maximum velocity.

How does he stay calm through these life-threatening feats? Through practicing meditation to reach Mu, "a Zen-like feeling of nothingness." As Miura has gotten older, he's set his sites on traversing these mountains at a slightly slower speed, summiting Everest previously in 2003 and 2008 with his son, passing on the adventurous spirit to the next generation.

Swimming the English Channel at 73

Otto Thaning swam across the English Channel in 2014

William Cheaney/PA Wire/ZUMA


Otto Thaning, a heart surgeon from South Africa, decided to swim the approximately 21 miles separating England from the European continent to show what older people who stay in good health are capable of. While currents mean this journey often ends up being closer to 24 miles, Thaning said the hardest part was the cold waters, though he was particularly lucky to have an average temperature of a balmy 64°F the day he swam in September 2014.

It wasn't Thaning's first time across, having made the journey nearly 20 years earlier. Since Thaning's swim, Linda Ashmore, from the United Kingdom, became the oldest woman to swim across the channel at age 71 in 2018.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail at 83

Eberhart has been hiking ever since his retirement, 25 years ago.

Nimblewill Nomad


For M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart — who is from Alabama and is known by the trail name "Nimblewill Nomad" — serious hiking began after retiring as an optometrist more than 25 years ago, and hasn't slowed down since. While he's logged tens of thousands of miles, the Appalachian Trail provided a particular challenge over often precarious terrain from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, which he completed Sunday after beginning last February

"You've got to have an incredible resolve to do this," he said in an interview shortly before finishing.

Truth be told, the route was well short of the longest south-to-north journey for the aging hiker, who has previously walked 4,4000 miles from the Florida Keys to northern Quebec. He wrote about that hike in a book entitled, for anyone who's counting: Ten Million Steps.

Spiderman To Jewish Stars: Global Vaccine Protests Get Ugly
Society
Rozena Crossman

Spiderman To Jewish Stars: Global Vaccine Protests Get Ugly

More protests are bound to spread after President Biden announced that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of U.S. workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

Vaccines used to be a quiet thing: someone getting a flu shot or UNICEF shipping off jabs to children in a faraway country. No longer. COVID-19 has put vaccinations at the center of both global health policy and national partisan politics — and plenty of noise has ensued.

After some initial demonstrations earlier this year critical of slow vaccination rollouts, protests are now firmly focused on local and national policies that require vaccines, including obligatory jabs for medical workers and the so-called "green pass" vaccine-required access to certain locations and activities. No doubt more protests are bound to spread in the United States after last week's announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

Still, the protests have been nearly as global as the pandemic itself. Throughout much of the summer, France has had a weekly rendezvous on Saturday to protest against vaccine requirements. In Berlin, thousands took to the streets last month chanting, "Hands off our children!" In New York City, a smattering of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals protested compulsory vaccination, chanting "I am not a lab rat!"

Here are some of the typical and atypical ways the anti-required-vax protesters are being seen and heard:

CANADA: Upside down flags + stars of David + hazmat suits

World Wide Walkout Protest, Sept 1, 2021 — Photo: GoToVan

Canada has witnessed steady, and often offbeat or controversial, forms of protest against the vaccine requirements in provinces and cities for those who want to enter restaurants, theaters and workout classes. On Sept.1 a large crowd in the northwest city of Vancouver expressed their displeasure with vaccine requirements by marching on City Hall carrying their nation flag upside down, which according to the Canadian government, is a "signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life," the Vancouver Sun reports.

Meanwhile in Montreal, protesters compared governmental health rules to the Holocaust by wearing yellow Jewish Star of David patches; while in Toronto, Fairwiew Mall regulars would have spotted protesters in hazmat suits and white masks entering the premises. They carried a loudspeaker that blurted out a deep voice uttering eerie slogans: "Questioning masks is murder," "Big business is essential," and "Everyone loves pharmaceutical companies."

FRANCE: ‘Spiderman" scales office tower

Alain Robert and others climbers scaling up a tower in Paris — Photo: Midi Libre

As much of France was returning to work after summer vacation, one of the nation's tallest office skyscrapers was the sight of an unexpected protest against the country's stringent vaccine requirements. Alain Robert, dubbed the "French Spiderman" for his free solo climbing of urban landmarks, led the way up the 187-meter (614 foot) headquarters of energy giant TotalEnergies to protest the health passports currently required to enter bars and restaurants. "It's an attack on fundamental liberties," said the 60-year-old, who was subsequently arrested for endangering the lives of others.

ITALY: Anti-vaxxers arrested

Police car in Rome — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"If they find out what I have at home, they'll arrest me for terrorism," an Italian man named Stefano boasted on Telegram, the encrypted instant messaging platform. He was one of about 200 Italian anti-vaxxers preparing for a violent demonstration in Rome, where they were talking about using Molotov cocktails against TV trucks and attacking parliament with a drone.

Police not only found what Stefano packed at home — a katana sword, several pepper sprays and a nightstick among other things — but also what the others allegedly hoarded: brass knuckles, guns, as well as smaller weapons, such as razor blades to be hidden between fingers. ("They're not visible, but cut throats open," a Telegram user said.)

Alas, Stefano was right: he and seven other anti-vaxxers were arrested on Sept. 9, La Stampa reported.

POLAND: Anti-vax terrorism attack at vaccine point

Photo: notesfrompoland.com

An Aug. 2 arson attack on a COVID vaccine point in the Polish city of Zamość, which follows other acts of aggression by opponents of vaccination in Poland, has been condemned by the health minister, Adam Niedzielski, as an "act of terror." During the night, both a mobile vaccination point in the central square of Zamość, a city of 65,000 in southeast Poland, as well as the local headquarters of the health authorities, which are responsible for enforcing coronavirus restrictions, were set alight.

Marek Nowak, a sociologist at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, told Gazeta Wyborcza that the pandemic has "intensified the formation of radical movements" and led "anti-vaccination movements to use terror to convince others to share their views."

U.S.: Pro-Trump group piggybacks COVID protests

Proud Boys confrontation — Photo: Flickr

A growing number of mask and vaccine mandates in some U.S. states are being met with protests, which have occasionally turned violent. This is in part due to the reappearance of some far-right groups behind the Capitol Hill insurrection in January like the Proud Boys gang, who after lying low for a few months have begun attending rallies, according to USA Today.

Some of the starkest scenes were observed in Los Angeles in August: Proud Boys members and other agitators attacked counter-protesters and journalists, sending a veteran reporter to the hospital. But some non gang-affiliated civilians are also responsible for the violence: in northern California, a parent fuming after seeing his daughter come out of school with a mask barged into the building and assaulted a teacher.

NEW ZEALAND: Down Under, one is the loneliest number

Plenty of sheep show up in New Zealand

Photo: Pixabay

Other nations have seen anti-vaccine protesters gather by the thousands, and the police in Auckland, New Zealand were ready when posts on social media alerted them about a potential gathering. They successfully managed to engage in talks with the protesters and shut down the demonstration — or, rather, the protester, as only one person showed up.

Taliban End Game, Texas Protects Abortion Clinics, El Salvador’s Legal Bitcoin
In The News
Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Taliban End Game, Texas Protects Abortion Clinics, El Salvador’s Legal Bitcoin

Welcome to Tuesday, where the Taliban end game is playing out in Panjshir valley, the U.S. Justice Department vows to protect abortion clinics in Texas and El Salvador becomes the world's first country to authorize the use of bitcoin as legal currency. French daily Le Monde also looks at how artificial intelligence could make the dream of automatic live translation come true.


• Taliban says they took Panjshir, but resistance holds on: The Taliban say they have officially captured the Panjshir valley, north of Kabul as of Monday but resistance groups have vowed they would continue fighting. Meanwhile, protests taking place on the streets of Kabul were met with heavy gunfire as the Taliban tried to stop it.

• U.S. Justice Department to protect Texas abortion clinics: In response to Texas' recently enacted law that imposed a near-total ban on abortions, the U.S. Justice Department said it would not tolerate any attacks against people seeking or providing abortions in the State. A spokesman said they would provide protection via the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE).

• Maria Kolesnikova sentenced to 11 years in prison: Maria Kolesnikova, a Belarusian musician and prominent opposition figure, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. A Belarusian court had charged that Kolesnikova and another opposition activist, Maxim Znak, with extremism and conspiring to "seize state power in an unconstitutional way."

• German federal police also used Pegasus: The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the German federal police, secretly purchased the Pegasus spyware and used it for surveillance of suspects, German newspapers revealed. This follows revelations that the software had been used on a large scale in many countries, with some 50,000 politicians, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists spied on.

• COVID-19 update: In Vietnam, a man was jailed for five years after breaching the country's strict quarantine rules and passing the virus to at least eight other people. Meanwhile, Chile has just approved China's Sinovac vaccine for children as young as six — although those younger than 12 will not be vaccinated for a while.

• El Salvador first country to make Bitcoin legal currency: From today, businesses in El Salvador will be obliged where possible to accept the controversial blockchain-backed currency as payment as the country has just become the first to make Bitcoin a legal tender. Millions of people are expected to download the government's new digital wallet app which gives away $30 (€25) in Bitcoin to every citizen.

• Australian talking duck calls you a "bloody fool": According to a new study, Australian musk ducks can imitate human speech as first touted by the recording of a duck named Ripper saying "you bloody fool" that went viral. Ripper was four years old at the time of the recordings, which researchers say he picked up from his previous caretakers, and made his vocalizations during aggressive mating displays.


French daily Le Figaro pays tribute to iconic actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, the "Ace of Aces" (a reference to his 1982 hit movie) who died yesterday in Paris at age 88. After his breakout role in Jean-Luc Godart's high-brow New Wave staple "Breathless," Belmondo went on to become one of France's most famous actors, with roles in popular comedies and action films through the 1970s and 80s.

AI, translation and the holy grail of "natural language"

In the crucial area of translation, services such as Google Translate, which has expanded its offer to 104 languages, or the German competitor DeepL now make it possible to translate entire paragraphs in a coherent and fluid manner. The dream of a machine translating live conversations is now within reach, writes French daily Le Monde.

📲 The barriers between text and image are disappearing. With the augmented reality application Google Lens, students can scan a page from a textbook or a handwritten sentence with their smartphone and translate it or get additional information online. It's all because software has learned to recognize subjects in images. Tomorrow, we could launch a search with a photo, Google believes. The American company OpenAI is exploring the creation of images from a text description. Its DALL-E prototype offers disturbing representations of invented objects: an alarm clock in the shape of a peach, a pig lamp…

👀 These innovations help make digital technology more accessible to the disabled and illiterate. With the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria), Facebook is studying the simplification of forms, with pictograms and synonyms. In January, the company presented an automatic image description tool for the blind and visually impaired. Google has a voice recognition project for people with speech difficulties, called "Euphonia."

🤖 The prospects are promising, but also dizzying because these technologies will be used in headphones, in homes, in cars. The concerns have been gathered in an article co-authored by Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, two researchers in ethics whose dismissal by Google has caused controversy. The main concern is about the "biases" — racist, sexist, homophobic — that these softwares can reproduce, or even amplify, after training on masses of texts from the internet.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



Report: U.S. arms abandoned in Afghanistan moved to Iran

Weaponry belonging to the Afghan army is moving into Iran, though it is not clear if it is smuggled, or moved in a deal between the Taliban and Iran's regime, Kayhan London reports.

With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, much of the U.S.-supplied military hardware formerly used by the country's armed forces have fallen into their hands. This terrorist group that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and gave refuge to other terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, now has its hands on advanced military weaponry and know-how.

It has also become clear that neighboring Iran was keen and ready to get its own hands on this material, either to use directly or to copy the weapon design.

And this has happened amid reports that armaments including tanks and armored vehicles have been moved into Iran. Sources say Iranian dealers are particularly looking for arms and missiles the Americans abandoned in suspect circumstances, without destroying them.

It is not clear whether the Taliban or fugitive members of the armed forces are handing over the weaponry to the Islamic Republic of Iran, or if this is the work of middlemen exploiting the disorderly state of the country.

War booty is not the only thing moving into Iran though. Thousands of Afghan citizens have left their homes and towns, fleeing toward neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

These include the elderly and pregnant women, who are risking their lives on a desperate flight, though it seems they prefer this to living under the Taliban. Meanwhile, Western states are preparing for a new wave of refugees from Afghanistan, knowing that regional instability will push them toward Europe and beyond, even if they first pass through Pakistan, Iran or Turkey.

This is increasingly of concern to them as the refugee crisis may last a while, in spite of the contradictory positions of different Western countries, particularly those in the European Union.




$71.4 million

The first Asian superhero film by Marvel, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, broke the record for a Labor Day weekend opening and did better at the North American box office than predicted, collecting $71.4 million. With a predominantly East Asian cast, inspired by Chinese folklore, and several martial arts action sequences, the film is the latest sign that Hollywood is starting to listen to calls for more Asian representation on screen.



The people of Brazil have struggled for decades to secure democracy from military rule. Bolsonaro must not be permitted to rob them of it now.

— More than 150 left-leaning ministers, party leaders and former prime ministers wrote an open letter warning of a possible "coup" by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Ahead of Tuesday's Independence Day demonstrations and next year's national elections, Bolsonaro called his supporters to protest against the country's Supreme Court and Congress. The open letter (signed by the likes of former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and former UK Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn) declares that the rallies amount to a replay of the U.S. Capitol attack on January 6.



✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Kabul Blast Aftermath, Nigerian Students Freed, Hummingbirds Vs. Harassment
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Kabul Blast Aftermath, Nigerian Students Freed, Hummingbirds Vs. Harassment

Welcome to Friday, where evacuation flights resume at Kabul airport after yesterday's deadly attack, dozens of kidnapped Nigerian students are freed, and female hummingbirds evolve so that males get off their feathers. We also boldly explore the surprising crossroads between science fiction and real-life military strategy.





• Kabul airport blast aftermath: The death toll in yesterday's attack on Kabul's international airport rose to 90, mostly Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. military personnel. President Joe Biden promised retaliation after the attack was claimed by the country's Islamic State offshoot, saying: "We will hunt you down and make you pay." The United States said evacuation flights would continue ahead of the planned Aug. 31 American pullout.


• Dozens of Nigerian students released: Dozens of pupils who had been kidnapped from an Islamic school in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger by gunmen last May have been freed by their captors. Six of the original group of 136 died, while 15 managed to escape about a month after they were abducted.

• COVID-19 update: A UK study — the largest of its kind, with close to 30 million participants — found that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines present a significantly lower risk of forming blood clots than COVID-19 itself. Meanwhile in New Zealand, which is on the highest lockdown level, police broke up an Auckland protest that drew one demonstrator.


• China cracks down on celebrity fan culture: In an effort to tackle online bullying and protect children, China is barring platforms from publishing popularity lists and are regulating the sale of fan merchandise. The decision comes amid calls for popular online artists to rethink the influence they have over minors.

Apple allows developers to make money outside of iPhone apps: The tech giant agreed to a settlement that allows app makers to avoid commissions and gain greater autonomy in how they receive payments. Apple will also provide $100 million in payouts to small app developers while agreeing not to raise the commission rate they have to pay.


• Air pollution linked to more severe mental illness: A small rise in exposure to air pollution, such as nitrogen dioxide, seems to be linked to an increased severity of mental illness, according to the most comprehensive study of its kind.

Female hummingbirds avoid harassment by looking like males: According to new research, female hummingbirds are found to have evolved with bright feathers, to try and avoid being attacked by the male of the species who tends to prefer a greyer plumage. The flashy attire leaves the females with more time to search for food and protect their supply, the biologists suggest.



International newspapers devoting their Friday front page to the deadly terror attack that rocked Kabul's international airport yesterday, killing scores of people and temporarily halting the evacuation of Afghans fleeing in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Italian daily Il Messagero describes scenes of "ultimate horror" after the blast killed at least 90.


Why the world's military leaders are drafting science fiction writers

Space exploration, extraterrestrial life, time travel ... All common science fiction tropes that are as fascinating and they are mindboggingly fun — but not exactly useful in the real world, right? The military may beg to differ:

🖋️ Le Monde recently reported on the unusual collaboration between the French Ministry of Defense and the University of Paris Sciences and Lettres (PSL) that has just launched the second season of a project involving scenarios drawn up by science writers hired by the French military. The army is devising ways to make the practice as useful as possible: there's a "Red Team" consisting of authors, who have wide freedom in coming up with scenarios. They can put ideas on the table that the French army typically excludes for ethical reasons, such as Autonomous Lethality Weapon Systems (ALWS), or augmented humans.

🚀 The truth is that the practice has long existed, in different forms and sectors. Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon indirectly influenced politics and military decisions in the United States. The story is about a group of men who decide to launch themselves to the moon in a cylinder-shaped projectile. This fictional shell has striking similarities to the Apollo 11 command module used to bring the first humans to the moon 104 years later: it was hollow, made mostly of aluminium, crewed by three people, launched from Florida, and it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Verne's tale inspired real people to work on the challenges of space travel, eventually prompting the 20th century space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

📚 Instead of hiring science fiction writers, the German military has opted for researching existing literature and in 2018 teamed up with a handful of academics. Their plan is to use novels to pinpoint the world's next potential conflict. As German weekly Die Zeit reports, this collaboration, dubbed "Project Cassandra" after the Trojan priestess of Greek myth who had the gift of foresight, doesn't solely focus on science fiction and future technologies, but takes into account human behavior. They look for social trends, moods, and conflicts that arose in response to political decisions and technological breakthroughs (whether real or fictional).

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com




$20 billion

Microsoft has promised to invest 20 billion dollars over the next five years to improve cybersecurity in the United States and will offer the equivalent of 150 million dollars in technical services to the federal government, states and local authorities. Google also pledged $10 billion for this same period and will train 100,000 Americans in data analysis and IT support.


"Our country is doing badly and we need a change-over."

— Former Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier told French TV as he officially entered the French presidential race as a member of the right-wing Republicans party. Barnier, 70, said his experience with Brexit taught him the importance of getting the job done, and not just talking about it in public.



Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Algeria Cuts Ties With Morocco, COVID Plateau, RIP The “Ultimate Drummer”
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Algeria Cuts Ties With Morocco, COVID Plateau, RIP The “Ultimate Drummer”

Welcome to Wednesday, where tensions build between Algeria and Morocco, WHO reports that global COVID cases plateau, and Rolling Stones lovers mourn the passing of drummer Charlie Watts. Meanwhile, New Delhi-based daily The Wire looks at the patriarchal prejudices still surrounding motherhood and so-called "non-custodial mothers" in India.


Afghanistan update: President Joe Biden is sticking to the Aug. 31 pullout of the remaining 5,800 American troops, despite criticism from its G7 allies to extend the timeline for more airlifts. Meanwhile, the World Bank has announced it was ending its financial support to Afghanistan, over concerns about its development prospects, particularly for women. This comes as the UN says it has received "harrowing and credible reports" of human rights abuses that include summary executions of Afghan soldiers and civilians.

• Algeria severs diplomatic ties with Morocco: Algerian Foreign Minister Ramdane Lamamra has accused Morocco of not upholding bilateral commitments and supporting the MAK separatist movement. Lamamra also said its neighbor used Pegasus spyware to monitor Algerian officials, which Morocco denied. Diplomatic ties between the countries have grown tense in recent years, largely over the sovereignty of the Western Sahara.

• COVID update: The World Health Organization reports that global COVID-19 cases "seem to be plateauing," with 4.5 million new cases and 68,000 deaths reported last week. Meanwhile, Japan has extended its state of emergency to at least eight more prefectures, as the country reported 21,610 new cases yesterday and 42 deaths.

• Nicaragua cracks down on opposition leaders: Lawyer Roger Reyes is the 34th opposition figure who has been arrested in the lead-up to the country's Nov. 7 general election, which will see President Daniel Ortega run for a fourth term in office. Reyes, who said he anticipated the arrest, has been charged with attacking "Nicaraguan society and the rights of the people."

• Supreme Court rejects "remain in Mexico" repeal: The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Joe Biden's bid to rescind an immigration policy put in place by Donald Trump, that requires thousands of asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting U.S. hearings.

• Charlie Watts tribute: From bandmates to peers, the music world is paying homage to seminal Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who died yesterday in London at age 80.

• Nevermind the lawsuit: Spencer Elden, who as a four-month-old was featured naked on the cover of Nirvana's iconic album Nevermind, is now suing the remaining members of the grunge band, as well as Kurt Cobain's widow Courtney Love and record labels, over "commercial child sexual exploitation."


Daily Mirror

Newspapers in the UK and abroad are paying front-page homage to Charlie Watts — "the ultimate drummer" as the Daily Mirror remembers him — a day after the passing of the stylish Rolling Stones member in London at age 80.


In India, when mothers live without their children

The stigma around so-called "non-custodial mothers" has prevented us from expanding our own imagination of what motherhood can, or does, look like when it is practiced by non-residential mothers, as Pritha Bhattacharya writes in Indian daily The Wire.

Three years ago, Shalini, a 35-year-old media professional based in Bengaluru, gave up custody of her daughter. Her child grew up in a joint family and she was very attached to her paternal grandparents. Shalini couldn't imagine taking her child away from the people she loved. But she is now on the path of discovering a new relationship with her 8-year-old daughter. Shalini is one of many women in India who are defined as non-custodial mothers, those who either decide to or are unable to live with their offspring. Despite the social stigma of giving up being a daily presence in their childrens' lives, many parents make the choice based on what they believe is best for their families.

Census data on female-headed households provides some clues into the number of existing single mothers in India. But these statistics do not reveal the full picture, as most single mothers continue to live with their extended families. A 2019-2020 report by UN Women attempted to fill this gap, highlighting that in India, the number of "lone mothers' is rising, with 4.5% (approximately 13 million) of all Indian households run by single mothers. It also found that around 32 million single mothers are estimated to be living with their extended families. Unfortunately, the report failed to include single, non-custodial mothers in its sample design, suggesting as if to give up or lose custody of one's children is enough to render someone a non-mother.

Both mothers and fathers are affected by the patriarchal ideology that promotes mothers as nurturing, selfless caregivers and fathers as peripheral providers. Sociologist Jackie Krasas argues that the horror that underlines the negative reactions to non-custodial mothers partly rests on our low opinion (and expectations) of the capabilities of fathers. It is a commonly held notion that non-custodial mothers are putting their children in harm's way by choosing not to live with them. Nevertheless, women are increasingly resisting these ideas by leaving unhappy marriages and, in some cases, by either giving up the physical custody of their children or striving to lead a full life in spite of losing custody.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

习近平思想

China's Ministry of Education has announced the introduction of a new political ideology guide in its national curriculum, to be integrated from primary school up to university. Called Xi Jinping Thought ("Xi Jinping sixiang"), it aims at helping "teenagers establish Marxist beliefs," according to governmental guidelines.

No more monkey business: Antwerp Zoo bans woman from seeing her chimp chum

There's only so much monkeying around the Antwerp Zoo will tolerate. Belgian woman Adie Timmermans learned this recently, having developed what she called a "special relationship" with Chita, a 38-year-old chimpanzee whom she visited almost every day for four years. Zoo authorities now think the bond might have grown too strong and decided to ban Timmermans from visiting her monkey friend.

Whenever Timmermans came to the zoo, Chita would walk over to the glass enclosure, blowing kisses and scratching his head. So why separate the interspecies pals? Sarah Lafaut, the zoo's mammal curator, tells Belgian news channel ATV that Chita ended up paying too much attention to Timmermans and was at risk of being excluded from his primate peers.

The Belgian woman received a letter from the zoo, saying that she could still visit, but was only allowed to take a quick look at the chimpanzee habitat. As curator Lafaut explains to ATV, "Of course, we are happy when our visitors connect with the animals, but animal welfare comes first here."

Chita's interest in humans likely comes from her growing up as a household pet until the age of 8, when he was given to the zoo because of behavioral issues. While he eventually learned to live among other chimpanzees, his attachment to people remained.

As for Timmermans, she believes she is being unfairly singled out, as she tells Flemish newspaper the Nieuwsblad: "That animal really loves me and I love him. Why would you take that away?"

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com


A catastrophe on top of a catastrophe.

Speaking with Al Jazeera, UN World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley warned that 14 millions of Afghans, including two million children, were facing food insecurity following the Taliban's takeover of the country.

Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

The Latest: China Blocks WHO, Taliban Take Kandahar, Russian Bear Mistake
Geopolitics
Worldcrunch

The Latest: China Blocks WHO, Taliban Take Kandahar, Russian Bear Mistake

Welcome to Friday, where China blocks the WHO on COVID origins, the Taliban capture Kandahar and a Russian politician makes a deadly bear error. We also have a Die Welt article on the tiny country that isn't afraid to take on China.


• Taliban capture three more provincial capitals: In southern Afghanistan, insurgents have taken control of Kandahar (the site of much fighting over the past two decades), as well as Herat and Lashkar Gah, spreading their control to over two-thirds of the country. The U.S., Britain and Canada have all sent in troops to evacuate their embassies as the Taliban moves closer to the capital, Kabul.

• Six killed in Plymouth, England shooting: Three women and three men, including the suspect, died, making it the worst mass shooting in the UK in over a decade. An eyewitness tells the BBC that the shooter kicked in the door of a home and randomly started firing; police confirm it is not terror related.

• China rejects renewed WHO efforts on coronavirus origins: Following a January 2021 investigation that failed to conclude how the pandemic started, the World Health Organization has called on China to release data on early COVID-19 cases. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu says the country opposes "political" over "scientific" disease tracing.

• U.S. Census results released: The 2020 Census shows that American population growth has slowed significantly in the past 10 years, while the country's racial diversity has risen. Asian and Latino populations saw the largest increases, as the number of Americans identifying as multiracial more than doubled.

• New influx of opposition figures arrested in Belarus: A year after protests erupted following the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, more than 20 activists, lawyers and journalists have been detained in the past two days. In response, Britain, Canada and the U.S. increased sanctions on Belarusian entities and individuals; others are calling on the International Monetary Fund to limit its financial support.

• Britney Spears' dad steps down from conservatorship: The American pop singer scored a big win in her ongoing legal battle as her father, Jamie Spears, agreed to no longer be in control of her estate. Britney Spears, who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars during her 13-year conservatorship, says she wants her father sent to jail for abusing his position.

• Millionaire Russian politician kills man he says he mistook for bear: Igor Redkin, a member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, was given a two-month house arrest sentence for killing a man outside a dump; he said he was trying to scare away the "bear."

The Canadian daily newspaper, Toronto Star, reports on the country's expected upcoming snap election, set to take place on September 20. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, losing parliamentary support, is slated to make the formal announcement Sunday for a vote two years ahead of schedule.

The tiny country taking on the Chinese Goliath

With one of the lowest populations and smallest economies in the block, Lithuania has a reputation of being a minor actor on the European political stage. But under Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomenas, it's breaking from the pack, attempting to strong arm China as the People's Republic vies for increasing global dominance, Germany's Die Welt reports:

The relationship between Lithuania and the People's Republic currently resembles the Old Testament confrontation between David and Goliath. No other European state is adopting a more self-confident tone toward the billion-strong empire than the country of three million people.

So far, the Lithuanian parliament has not only declared the oppression of China's Uyghur Muslim minority to be a genocide and protested in favor of democracy in Hong Kong, but the country has also donated 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca to Taiwan. Lithuania even went on to announce that Taiwan would open a representative office in Vilnius — with the name "Taiwan" in the title. All of these actions have successfully angered the "Goliath."

But Lithuania's boldness is unlikely to be mirrored by its fellow European States. Germany, who is economically intertwined with China, categorically rejected a tougher stance toward Beijing. Nonetheless, Adomenas is hopeful and wants to see "European leadership" from the new German government after Angela Merkel's departure in September.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


57%

The number of Americans who identify as white has dropped by six percentage points, from 64% of the population to 57%, according to new census data. For the first time in the country's history, white Americans now represent under 60% of the total population, with people of color now making up 43% of the U.S. population.

Can we ever return?

— Carol Poon, an accountant who recently left Hong Kong with her husband and young family, told The Guardian she wishes she could go back. They had decided to move to the UK, taking up the country's offer for a route to citizenship, after the national security law was introduced, a "catch-all law that has no limits." She says Hong Kong is not the same anymore and therefore doesn't want her children to grow up in an environment where you "have to lie or be two-faced to survive."

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Genevieve Mansfield

The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold
In The News
Worldcrunch

The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold

Welcome to Thursday, where the Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city, Google tightens its remote work policy and a Japanese mayor gets the medal for post-Olympic bad taste. We also feature an Initium reportage on the lives and competing identities of Chinese adoptees in the United States.


• Kabul within site for Taliban: The Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city that brings them closer to the capital Kabul following the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops. The Afghan army chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, has been removed just two months after his appointment. In the past month alone, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed as the Taliban have taken 10 of the country's 34 provincial capitals.

• COVID-19 down under: As the delta variant spreads in Australia, Sydney has entered another lockdown, even while neighboring New Zealand is carefully making plans to open up its borders for the fully vaccinated early next year. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are expected to announce the authorization of booster shots for the immunocompromised.

• Google pay cuts if working fully remote: Employees of Google are facing a pay cut if they decide to switch to working from home permanently. The decision is part of a pay calculator which determines salary based on where employees live; the less expensive your area is, the lower the salary.

• Fires rage around Mediterranean: Fires continue to burn in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia. Temperatures hit a high of 120°F in Tunis and 104°F in southern Italy, where thousands of acres of land have been scorched. In Greece, more than 580 fires are currently prompting evacuations throughout the country; in neighboring Turkey, 300 blazes have ravaged in the past two weeks.

• Election in Zambia: Incumbent Edgar Lungu and businessman Hakainde Hichilema face off for the third time today in Zambia's presidential with 16 candidates. The impacts of the pandemic, especially on the East African country's economic outlook, have weighed on the election, which is expected to result in a runoff.

• Polish lower house passes media reform bill: Polish lawmakers advance a bill that prevents non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. According to the opposition, the legislation, which earlier led to the collapse of the right-wing ruling coalition, aims to silence a U.S.-owned news channel critical of the government.

• Medal-biting Japanese mayor begs for forgiveness: Takashi Kawamura, Mayor of Nagoya, bit the gold medal of Japanese softball player Miu Goto. The celebratory gesture usually reserved for the winners themselves, received a lot of backlash on social media, especially in light of COVID hygiene practices. The Mayor apologized for the biting shenanigans and offered to have the medal replaced.

"Environmental Eviction" headlines the Colombian daily, El Espectador, as it reports on the government's recent decision to modify legislation that will allow police to evict people from 'environmentally important' areas. Legislators argue the amendment is intended to curb cartel activity, while others fear it could be used against thousands of others living in protected zones.

For Chinese adoptees in the U.S., identity comes in layers

For Chinese adoptees, like Mary Ruth Tomko (Mei), discovering their identity can be especially challenging, particularly for those who are raised in predominantly white areas. Chinese-language online media, The Initium, explores the stories of Mei and other Chinese adoptees as they search to understand their triple-layered identity: interracial adoptee, Chinese American and Asian American."

The United States has more adopted Chinese children than any other country in the world — more than 170,000 since 1992. Most of these children grow up in white communities and are raised by white families. As such, many develop a complicated understanding of race and often experience identity crises because they do not see themselves or their experiences reflected in the people around them.

For Mei, who was raised in a predominantly white part of Pennsylvania, finding community with other Asian Americans and Chinese-adoptees at university helped her to learn more about her "triple-layered" identity. Others have sought this community out in other ways - one adoptee even created an internet software to connect families and adoptees.

C.N. Le, a researcher on Asian Americans at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, commented on how interracial adoptees tend to have a flight or fight response when confronted with racial discrimination. But in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, he hopes that Chinese-born adoptees will use their experiences to unite with other groups who experience racism in the United States. Mei is doing just that, by engaging with both her university and Pennsylvania community.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


Yet another drama for Copenhagen's Little Mermaid sculpture

Since its unveiling in 1913, the Little Mermaid sculpture has become one of Copenhagen's main tourist attractions. But Edvard Eriksen's five-foot unassumingly perched homage to Christian Andersen's fairy tale has also had its fair share of drama.

The first came in 1964, when the bronze sculpture became the victim of an abandoned lover's rage and was beheaded with a hacksaw. Then, in 1998, it happened again; this time by an extremist feminist group. The list of survival events also includes a severed and stolen (but then returned) arm, being launched off her rock and into the water (explosives), stabbed in the neck and in 2015 — perhaps most brutal of all — getting banned from Facebook for breaching nudity guidelines.

Now, according to the Eriksen hiers, Den Lille Havfrue is now under fresh attack. In a letter to Mikael Klitgaard, mayor of the northern municipality of Brønderslev, the heirs claim that a more recent sculpture, put in place four years ago in Asaa Havn, bears too much resemblance to the original, and demanded that the copy be demolished.

It's not the first time the heirs have taken legal action to protect their ancestors' heritage. Several publications have been charged with copyright infringement after publishing pictures of the mermaid, there among daily Berlingske Tidende that was fined 285.000 Danish kroner ($45,000) last year for a caricature depiction of the Eriksen work.

While Brønderslev Mayor Mikael Klitgaard questions the heirs' motives in claiming patent right "for a whole animal species," the Little Mermaid's century-long fight for survival has no doubt earned her a special place in Danish society. Many of the less violent attacks seem to be an outlet for locals' expression, including spray paint and political messaging: For a while she wore a burqa — apparently a protest against Turkey joining the EU — and last year she had both "Free Hong Kong" and "Racist Fish" scrawled across her base.

Meanwhile, the defendant in the plagiarism case, Palle Mørk, dismisses the claim that his work isn't original. Responding to the charge that his creation is perched in the same position, Mørk said to Danish TV2: "Well, how the hell else should a mermaid sit on a rock? She doesn't have legs."

$2,567.71

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding, a slice of their wedding cake has sold for £1,850 (2,567.71 USD) at auction. Auctioneers expected the tasty treat to go for at least £500, so they were very pleasantly surprised when it caught such a high price.

I worry my daughters will never know peace.

— Rahima, a 60-year-old Afghani woman, discussed her fears of the Taliban as the Islamist group continues to gain ground in Afghanistan. Rahima, who uses her home in west Kabul to provide shelter for women fleeing violence, told The Guardian that her house has been full of displaced women and girls for the last two weeks.

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Genevieve Mansfield

Supporters of Britney Spears take part in #FreeBritney protest in Los Angeles
BBC
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Britney Spears To Princess Latifa: Hashtags And The Patriarchy

The new documentary "Framing Britney Spears' explores how both tabloid and mainstream media outlets first framed the American megastar as a hypersexualized Lolita, then a bad role model and finally an unstable mother. The film, produced by The New York Times, explores how the news coverage may have led to Spears being placed under a legal conservatorship in 2008 — giving her father Jamie Spears control over her fortune.

The filmmakers follow the #FreeBritney movement, an online protest of fans and supporters pushing to give back control to Spears of her approximately $60 million in net worth. Many in the movement have called out supposed encrypted cries for help in posts on the now 39-year-old pop star's Instagram feed, one of her few seemingly uncensored outlets for expression. Since the documentary's release, the movement had a significant victory when a judge allowed the establishment of Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator, taking some power away from her dad.

The Princess has accused her father of holding her hostage — Photo: FreeLatifa Instagram page

As much as this reads like a very American show biz tale, across the world in the United Arab Emirates, a rather more extreme version of the same father-daughter dynamic is also playing out across social media. The BBC has published videos that Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai's ruler, secretly recorded from a locked bathroom in which she says she fears for her life.

The Princess, 35, has accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of holding her hostage in Dubai since she tried to flee the UAE city in 2018. Amidst global outrage (including by the campaign #FreeLatifa), the United Nations said it will question the UAE about her situation.

While Dubai has become a rich, global capital under Sheikh Mohammed's rule, many women still face harsh restrictions on their personal liberties. And the Sheikh himself is said to have "at least" six wives, including one, Princess Haya, who also fled in 2019, going to London after hearing about Latifa's abduction.

A decade ago, social media was hailed as a new tool to lead pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and give voice to those traditionally shut off from the public sphere. But lately Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have been seen more and more as a toxic public square of fake news, violence and a threat to democracy.

The coinciding hashtag campaigns on behalf of #Britney and #Latifa show that the internet still has the power to move events in a positive direction. But the stories of these two very different princesses are also a reminder that the patriarchy is still firmly in control just about everywhere in the real world.

Joe Biden and his inauguration teleprompter
eyes on the U.S.
Alessio Perrone

Behind Biden's Message Of Unity, A Shattered America

MILAN — The first day of Joe Biden's presidency bore clear traces of some of the recent wounds inflicted on the United States. After being sworn in, Biden arrived at the White House protected by thousands of troops and barricades just two weeks since deadly violence engulfed the Capitol.

Thousands of flags stood in for the typical inauguration day crowds to prevent gatherings during the pandemic — and also the possibility of more violence. In his inaugural address, Biden appeared to compare the Trump presidency to a calamity, saying his country needs to "start afresh" and get together like it had after the Civil War, the Great Depression, World Wars, 9/11.

Headlines around the world echoed his words with optimism and relief. "Biden can heal what Trump broke," wrote a member of the New York Times"s editorial board. "Comeback for America," said Germany's biggest-selling tabloid Bild. "Democracy has prevailed," titled France's Le Monde.

But a different picture emerged on social media, where the silence of the flags standing in for cheering crowds were mirrored by other American silences. I have many friends in and around Pueblo, Colorado, where I spent much of my high school junior year. It's a part of America built on steel and coal that has struggled to flourish after the industries' decline. I was looking yesterday on my Facebook feed for the voices on this new presidency that might rise like a phoenix out of those ashes in southern Colorado.

I had grown used to checking the wide-ranging posts of a Baptist pastor to try to better understand Republican voters in rural America. But then he disappeared overnight. Furious that Twitter had temporarily suspended Trump's account, the pastor told his Facebook followers he was joining an alternative social media platform, Parler, and encouraged them to do the same. In the last few weeks, thousands of right-wing extremists have seen Parler as an opportunity to continue to organize and spread hate speech under the radar, escaping regulations and social media bans.

My old friends' feeds remained silent.

Most of my old friends' feeds remained silent for inauguration day, as they had for weeks. I'd seen years of bitter arguments play out in their comment sections — over Trump, over guns, over police killings of African-Americans. But, now, nothing. No jubilation, no talk of new beginnings, no skepticism or bitterness. Nothing.

This new silence makes for an eerie coda to end an otherwise noisy presidency — after Trump was banned from social media, he promised Wednesday to "be back in some form" as he bid farewell to Washington.

For all the talk of coming together with the dawning of a new democracy, the United States has been wrenched apart. It will take a lot more than the optimistic words of a new president to bring it back together again. I'll keep my eye out for news from my old friends in Colorado.

Israel remains the only country to have reimposed a country-wide lockdown
The Times of Israel
Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID: The Second Wave Looks Just (And Nothing) Like The First

From Brazil to Canada, Finland to Israel, and well beyond, the impact of the new uptick in coronavirus is being measured across virtually every aspect of society.

Since the first round of lockdowns ended and people around the world were let back into the open, governments have been forced to constantly assess and reassess choices of how much freedom to grant their respective populations. No doubt, we know more about the virus than during the pandemics deadly peak in April and May, but the most important questions (What containment measures are the most efficient? When will we have a vaccine? Masks!?) are still cloaked in uncertainty. Authorities are still grappling with the same life-and-death policy choices as six months ago, though updated the second time around. Here are five key things governments must weigh as a possible second wave looms:


THE ECONOMY With international organizations and individual countries still assessing the economic impact of the pandemic, most governments have ruled out the possibility of a second round of full lockdowns. But national leaders are still walking the tightrope between economic recovery and limiting loss of life, while also having to manage popular opposition and unrest.

  • In France, where President Emmanuel Macron has said that the French economy could not withstand another strict nationwide quarantine after the March-to-May lockdown, partial restrictions have been rolled out instead. Bars and restaurants were closed in southern cities Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, while in other big cities such as Paris, Lille, Bordeaux and Lyon, a partial closure has been imposed between 10 pm and 6 am. Le Figaro reports that the closures have prompted protests in Marseilles, with 100 workers blocking a tunnel on Monday and other bar and restaurant owners threatening to defy the ban.
  • Israel remains the only country to have reimposed a country-wide lockdown, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing a three-week quarantine in mid-September. The move prompted the resignation of ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who said the measures would prevent Jews from attending synagogue over the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holiday, The Times of Israel reports.
  • In Manaou, the largest city in Brazil's Amazon region, bars and river beaches have been closed to contain a new virus outbreak. Manaou is one of the cities hardest-hit by the pandemic, with so many residents dying in April and May that hospitals collapsed and cemeteries ran out of grave slots. As nearly half the city's population tested positive in June, many hoped that Manaou would have reached herd immunity. But Mayor Arthur Virgílio Neto recently proposed a new two-week lockdown, as new infections reached 1,627 between September 24 and 28 — a 30% increase compared to the same period in August.

FACE MASKS The first months of the pandemic were a constant alternation between mask on and mask off, partly because of scientific uncertainty and partly because of supply shortages. Today, most governments view strong pro-mask policies as a viable way to limit the spread, but are choosing different approaches.

  • In Finland, where deaths have remained low throughout the pandemic, 800 people have been infected in the last two weeks. As the national health authorities predict a continued spread in the near future, mask-wearing has been made mandatory in most parts of the country.
  • In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has picked the more surgical approach of making masks compulsory in certain locations, including shops, supermarkets, takeaway restaurants, places of worship, cinemas and museums. This week, as cases continued to surge, the government added taxis to the list. "Your harmless cough can be someone else's death knell," Johnson declared on Tuesday.
  • A third approach has been taken in Italy, where Corriere Della Sera reports that masks are now obligatory in certain regions. Last week, the region of Campania was added to the list, which includes Italy's third-largest city, Naples.

In the UK, masks compulsory in certain locations — Photo: Alex Lentati/London News Pictures/ZUMA

NURSING HOMES Nowhere is infection control more of a life-or-death matter than in elderly care centers. In Sweden, nearly half of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes; while in the U.S., The New York Times reported in June that nearly 40% of total deaths were linked to nursing homes. But with no end to the pandemic in sight, governments and local authorities are forced to balance the risk of letting people visit elderly family and loved ones in the face of the prospect of isolating them again.

  • In Sweden, where nursing homes have been opened to visitors October 1, no major breakouts have occurred. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has assessed the risk of spread as very low, granted that sanitary guidelines are followed — adding that infections have shifted to occur mostly among young people, reports Dagens Nyheter.
  • In Italy, authorities have chosen to open common areas to visitors while still holding that the best way to protect the elderly is for visitors to not enter. Yet, opening the doors was deemed a necessity, partly because residents won't be able to enjoy the gardens and outdoor spaces when winter arrives, Il Post reports. The visits still have to be organized beforehand, and extra precautions like frequent testing and rigorous safety protocols are kept in place.

SCHOOLS Denmark was the first country in Europe to reopen its primary schools in mid-April after containing the virus, with only 650 deaths to date. The Nordic country's successful strategy of split classes, outdoor lessons, and strict rules for hand-washing and distancing has become a global model. But there is no accepted model right now as the threat of a second wave coincides with the back-to-school season and the virus increasingly spreading disproportionately among younger people.

  • In the South Korean capital Seoul and nearby areas, schools resumed in-person classes on September 21 following a month-long closure. While daily COVID-19 cases have dropped to the lowest levels since mid-August, students are still under a hybrid regimen of in-person and online classes, with in-person classes limited to once or twice a week, Channel News Asia reports.
  • France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy even as cases have shot above 10,000 per day. Indeed, the highest proportion of so-called "clusters' of COVID concentrations, approximately one-third, are in schools and universities, reports Le Monde.
  • In South Africa — the country with most deaths on the continent — schools were reopened Aug. 1 following delays as teachers' unions claimed schools lacked sufficient health and hygiene measures to keep educators and pupils safe. While students have now returned to the classroom, many public schools are in poor shape and analysts say that a quarter of them have no running water, making adequate hand-washing impossible, according to Africa News.

France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy — Photo: Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua/ZUMA

BORDERS Beyond the choices about what to do nationally is another key question: opening up international borders. dilemma as other countries pondering the reopening of their borders.

  • Morocco implemented one of the world's strictest border lockdowns, but the country's economy has been dealt a serious blow, especially its tourism industry, which accounts for 7% of its GDP. Tourism professionals have been urging the government to allow travelers back into the country, as the industry experienced enormous losses during the lockdown, with a drop of $1.2 billion in revenue in the first half of 2020. The city of Marrakech, empty of tourists, looks like a "ghost town," Le Monde reports.
  • On Sept.19, Finland finally eased the tightest travel restrictions in Europe and now allows low-risk countries as well as important trade partners to enter the country, Finish site Yle reports. The loosened restrictions now allow travelers arriving from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, Germany and Cyprus, as well as residents of Australia, Canada and Japan traveling from their home country to Finland.
  • Despite economic pressure, others are not so keen to reopen their borders. This is the case for Canada, as its neighbor, the U.S. is registering the highest number of cases in the world with over 7.4 million infections and highest number of deaths with over 210,000 fatalities. In mid-September the six-months-long closure of the world's longest land border, between the two countries, to "discretionary" travel was extended to at least until Oct. 21.
The container ship Ever Given arrives at the ECT Delta terminal in the port of Rotterdam, more than four months after it got wedged in the Suez Canal for six days, blocking shipping in one of the world's busiest waterways
BBC

The Latest: China-Taliban Meeting, Alaska Tsunami Alert, Earth Overshoot Day

Welcome to Thursday, where a Chinese official meets with Taliban leaders, an earthquake triggers a tsunami alert in Alaska, and rock fans mourn the death of a bearded icon. With the Tokyo Olympics finally underway, Hong Kong-based digital media The Initium also asks a tough question: Do we even still need this sporting event?

• Chinese official publicly meets with Taliban: China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, began two days of talks with Taliban leaders on Wednesday in the Chinese city of Tianjin. After the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops, Afghanistan has seen significant fighting between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban. China hopes to use the meetings to assist in this peace process, as well as to warm ties with the Islamist group.

• Earthquake in Alaska triggers tsunami alert: After an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Alaskan peninsula on Wednesday, U.S. officials have released tsunami warnings for the surrounding area and encouraged increased monitoring across the Pacific. So far there have not been any reports of loss of life or serious property damage.

• Vocal Chinese billionaire sentenced to 18 years in prison: Sun Dawu, a billionaire pig farmer and outspoken critic of the Chinese government, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges that include "picking quarrels and provoking troubles." He has also been fined 3.11 million yuan ($480,000).

• COVID update: Australia's largest city, Sydney, has seen a record daily rise in cases, leading the government to seek military assistance in enforcing the ongoing lockdown. In contrast, the United Kingdom announced that fully vaccinated travelers coming from the EU or the U.S. no longer need to quarantine when entering England, Scotland and Wales. Meanwhile, Google has mandated that employees be vaccinated to return to in-person work in October.

• Macron sues billboard owner for depicting him as Hitler: French President Emmanuel Macron is suing a billboard owner for depicting him on a sign as Adolf Hitler. The poster shows Macron in Nazi garb with a Hitler-esque mustache and the phrase "Obey, get vaccinated." This comes after several protesters who see France's new health-pass system as government overreach invoked the yellow star that Nazi Germany forced Jewish people to wear during WWII.

• ZZ Top bassist dead at 72: Dusty Hill, the bassist for the Texas blues-rock trio ZZ Top, died in his sleep on Tuesday at the age of 72. Hill, known for his trademark long beard, played with the band for over 50 years.

• Earth Overshoot Day: Today marks the day that humanity has exceeded its yearly allotment of the planet's biological resources. Last year, Overshoot Day fell on August 22, after carbon emissions dropped during COVID-related lockdowns. But this year carbon emissions and consumption rose again, and Overshoot Day moved forward by almost one month.

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