A nurse performing a PCR test in Paris
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

PORTLAND — I'm far from the first American living in Europe to extol the virtues of universal health care. It's almost a cliche at this point, but may have renewed relevance as the pandemic has laid bare the failures in medical systems around the world. After living through COVID-19 in France, a trip home would give me at least a glance at how that old comparison is holding up.

Working for several years as a freelance journalist in the United States, I had experienced the struggle of obtaining health insurance. The cheapest plan (determined by my limited income) under the Affordable Care Act still cost over $100 a month with few benefits. When I needed a dental procedure, I had to pay out of pocket and went to a student at a dental college instead of a licensed professional to save hundreds of dollars.

My move last year to Paris as a graduate student granted me immediate access to full coverage from France's national health insurance, even though I'm not a citizen. I now pay pennies for the pills I take for my chronic illness and, contrary to the stereotypes back home, I have never had to wait long to make a doctor's appointment.

When the virus hit, I'd read about all the American hospitals — working within an economic model of scarcity and having just enough materials at hand — having to bid against each other to acquire PPE, ventilators and other equipment. Meanwhile, hospitals in France and Germany developed emergency procedures to triage resources. Of course, the situation in France hasn't been perfect: President Emmanuel Macron was slow to promote widespread mask wearing (partially because of a shortage) and the country's much touted StopCovid app failed to facilitate widespread contract tracing.

Luckily, I haven't gotten sick, and never even needed a COVID-19 test during the first wave. But as I prepared to fly back to my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I knew I would have to get tested — twice.

People in cars line up to receive free COVID-19 rapid tests at a drive through site in Florida — Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Before leaving Paris, as would be expected, getting a coronavirus test was bound to be smooth. After a quick phone call, I had an appointment at a clinic down the street from my apartment. I showed up to the outdoor site and had a free test completed in less than five minutes. My negative result came in less than 24 hours.

After landing safely on the West Coast, I would need a test in order to limit the time quarantining in my childhood bedroom (with my mom delivering meals on trays). But hours of research yielded confusing results. I no longer have health insurance in the U.S. and can't join my parents' plan because I am over age 25. I could go to a clinic but that could cost more than $100.

The only free solution: a large-scale testing site in a convention center parking lot, where the waiting time was more than three hours. But even more importantly, unlike France, it would take up to five days for a result.

Some of the delay was due to the virus spreading exponentially in Oregon and around the country, with the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. topping 200,000 for the first time this past Friday. And while France has also struggled to limit the toll, the second wave of the coronavirus looks to have slowed after a series of government measures, including national face mask requirements.

Perhaps the hour for cliches and comparisons have passed.

Eight months or so into a pandemic, there is no "model" management to cite anywhere in the West. Still, the view arriving back in the U.S. is particularly troubling, and made more so in my mind as the hours passed in the dark concrete lot, breathing in the car fumes as I waited for my test.

A momentary burst of light arrived the minute I was in the hands of the healthcare staff. They were efficient, friendly and made any nervous test taker at ease. It was the only part of the experience that mirrored my test in Paris: Despite months of heartbreaking and exhausting work, the nurses, doctors, cleaning staff of often broken healthcare systems around the world continue to shine on the frontline of the pandemic.

Indeed, perhaps the hour for cliches and comparisons have passed. And I wonder if this crisis (and a new president in the White House) will finally be the tipping point for Americans to decide that good medical treatment should not only be reserved for those who can afford it. France and the rest of Europe will be asking their own questions about how the crisis has been handled. Yet there is nothing like a highly contagious, potentially fatal illness to confirm what has always driven universal health coverage: if my neighbor is sick, it is of priceless value to me that she is taken care of.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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