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Coronavirus
Jag Bhalla*

It's The Access, Stupid: Why Leaving Vaccines To Capitalism Will Never Work

The U.S. will stop funding vaccines but says it wants equitable access. That’s not possible in a predatory system.

-OpEd-

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. federal government has supervised the purchasing and distribution of vaccines, tests, and treatments. Many Americans saw for the first time what publicly funded healthcare could do as citizens were able to access prevention and treatment without for-profit constraints.

But a few weeks ago, Dawn O’Connell, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, announced that COVID-19 “countermeasures” – meaning vaccines, tests, and treatment – would transition to the commercial market sooner than previously planned, with program funds set to run out as early as January 2023.

O’Connell noted that “while the federal government has been pleased to play this role, we have always known that we would not be in this business forever.” She emphasized the administration’s goal of “continued equitable access” for all Americans.

Her statement expresses an astonishing display of ill-founded confidence in the idea that the private sector will do the right thing — like handing over henhouse security to a fox and expecting higher egg production in return.

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Coronavirus
Nike Heinen

Why China's COVID Coverup Raises The Risk That New Variants Will Spread

No one knows the true number of coronavirus infections in China, but it could be up to 4 million a day. Experts fear that new variants could emerge undetected that may prove dangerous for the rest of the world. Time is ticking.

Ravindra Gupta, an internationally recognized coronavirus expert from Cambridge, UK, is worried by what he can't see.

“We are unfortunately blind to what is happening there right now.” The what and the there Gupta is referring to is the rapid spread of COVID-19 in China. In his lab, Gupta researches how viruses develop under certain conditions. In order to better understand how new coronavirus variants evolve, he incorporates new mutations into so-called pseudo-viruses, then analyzes what these changes mean from a medical perspective.

In this way, he was able to predict that the dangerous Delta variant that first appeared in India in 2021 would spread across the world so quickly.

And now? “The Chinese government is not only preventing us from knowing the transmission pattern and death rate of the outbreak there.," Gupta says. "We are also not receiving any representative data about the variants in circulation.”

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Coronavirus
Edda Grabar

Why Long COVID Is Still Such A Mystery To Researchers

Both long and post-COVID are still misunderstood by the general public and the scientific community. This can cause even more suffering for those affected, who already fear their symptoms being dismissed as psychosomatic.

Christoph Kleinschnitz chooses his words very carefully. He knows that he can’t afford to put a foot wrong, otherwise he’s going to cause all sorts of trouble. So his first sentence is unequivocal: “Long COVID and post-COVID both exist. There is no doubt about that.”

Kleinschnitz has good reason to be cautious. The director of neurology at Essen University Hospital recently appeared as an expert in a controversial documentary by doctor and TV presenter Eckart von Hirschhausen, where he pointed out that for some patients who are apparently suffering from long COVID, their symptoms may be intensified – or even fully explained – by psychological causes. Since that appearance, sufferers have branded him a long COVID and post-COVID denier.

Nothing could be further from the truth, says Kleinschnitz. The only thing he questions is the apparent frequency of long COVID and post-COVID cases – and a colleague’s claim to have cured herself with a highly controversial treatment: flushing antibodies, which she believed were causing her symptoms, out of her blood. Depending on the number of treatments required, this can cost up to €10,000.

Kleinschnitz’s appearance in Hirschhausen’s film only lasted two minutes. But it was enough to spark attacks against not only him but also his family.

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China
Dominique Moisi

Why Xi Jinping Can't Escape His Failures On COVID

Like unpopular leaders in democracies, Chinese President Xi Jinping has decided recently to increase his trips abroad to project an image of power and distract from the ills at home. But the debacle of the country's strategy on the pandemic is not going away, and there may be real long-term consequences.

-Analysis-

At the end of 2022, building new alliances around the world seems easier to the Chinese government than convincing its own population that Chinese vaccines will prevent a new surge in COVID cases.

Or put another way: the Middle East and Africa seem to trust China more than Chinese people themselves. It looks like trust toward China increases only with distance. So, it's reasonable to ask if the Chinese leaders themselves are aware of this dual evolution.

It wouldn’t hurt Chinese leaders to give a read to that essay entitled “Foreign Policy Begins at Home”, written in 2013 by the Council on Foreign Relations’ President in New York, Richard Haas. The book’s thesis is summed up in its title.

Haas is convinced that making the necessary reforms at home, economically and socially, is a crucial objective in any foreign policy. Without those structural reforms, he explains, the United States won’t be able to face the world’s new challenges.

But now, can we also apply this thesis to China?

After more than two years of self-imposed confinement, President Xi Jinping has started to travel more around the world. But his own freedom of movement deeply contrasts with the common fate of the Chinese people today.

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Coronavirus
Shuyue Chen

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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Coronavirus
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi

Mongolian Herbal Medicine, A COVID Revival Takes Root

Traditional medicines, once banned, have regained favor. Government and health officials are endorsing them alongside COVID-19 vaccinations.

ERDENET, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — The water steams, then bubbles to a boil. Bayarjargal Togmid takes the pot off the stove and stirs in a bright yellow grass, known as manjingarav.

“This plant is excellent against coughing,” she says. “I drink it now and mix it with water so that my children often gargle their throats and mouths with it. It is far more effective than regular medicines.”

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Geopolitics
Dan Wu

What Happened To China's Protests — And Missing Protesters?

Protests that engulfed China quickly faded as the government made a U-turn on its strict Zero-COVID policies, even as police sweeps of demonstrators have left families where their vanished loved ones are. Still, the "Blank Paper Revolution"'s cry for democracy may have quietly left its mark.

Dali Chan, a filmmaker and music lover, joined the protesting crowds in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and was arrested on Dec. 4. He hasn't been seen since.

Dali is hardly the only "disappeared" protester, according to independent Chinese media NGOCN. Dianxin, a 25-year-old university student, is being held in prison in Guangzhou and denied access to a lawyer or her family members.

“Now that the Zero-COVID has been loosened, why is my daughter still in jail ?," asks her mother. "What crime has she committed?"

Charles, a 24-year-old Uyghur protester in Chengdu, was held by the police after joining a peaceful protest. His father, who barely speaks Mandarin, took a four-hour flight from Xinjiang, only to find out that his request to meet a lawyer was denied by the police. “My son is of a gentle personality,” his father says.

Because many of the arrests have been made in secret, it's impossible to know the number of protesters who have been jailed. Police are also still tracking down protesters in many cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou, where large-scale protests broke out.

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Coronavirus
Alice Facchini

Italy's Orphans Of COVID: Children Who Lost Parents Are Also Left Alone By The State

In one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, thousands of Italian minors lost a parent or caregiver to COVID. However, unlike other places, Italy has yet to set out a clear plan to support them, leaving them more vulnerable to mental health issues, and even abuse.

ROME — Julia was 13 years old when her father was hospitalized for COVID. It was March 2020 and very little was known about the virus. When they loaded him into the ambulance, the girl had no idea that she would never see him again.

The following days at home were rough: her mother was very agitated because she could not get any information, while her little sister did not understand what was going on. And then came the news: Julia’s father had died, but no one knew if and when it would be possible to see him and conduct his funeral. Julia did not allow herself to cry. Instead, she told the psychologist who was seeing her: "Now I have to be strong, dad would have wanted it that way."

Her mother fell into depression, she had no job, and the entire family was left without financial support. "Can I get a job to help mom?," Julia asked the psychologist. For a moment she even thought of quitting school, but then changed her mind and got a part-time job as a babysitter.

After a few weeks, however, she broke down: she no longer felt like leaving her room, quit volleyball, and no longer wanted to go to school.

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Coronavirus
Yi Dong, Ren Yang

Escape From Foxconn: Inside The COVID Lockdown Chaos Blocking China's iPhone Production

Around China, Zero COVID policy has shut down entire towns and workplaces. But in the high-tech Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, famous for cranking out iPhones, employees were forced to work even if they tested positive. Exclusive testimony from some of those who fled Foxconn premises last week.

ZHENGZHOU — Luo, a newcomer at the Foxconn factory in this central Chinese city, was genuinely frightened when she heard her workplace would be an "experiment field" for new COVID-19 policies: Even during outbreaks, some employees won't stop their production work. Luo was chosen as one of the experiment subjects.

By the end of October, things were getting out of control at Foxconn: chaotic COVID testings, spreading infections, workers quitting their jobs. And Luo felt trapped inside the five million square meters of the Foxconn factory, China's largest producer of Apple's iPhones, which was falsely described as a COVID-free zone.

On Oct. 29, videos of Foxconn workers returning by foot to their hometowns began to spread on the internet. Some workers claimed that due to the company's chaotic quarantine system and poor logistical support, they had chosen to leave on their own and walk for several days back to small towns outside the city.

It would only deepen the delays piling up for iPhone deliveries around the world, and raise new questions about China's policy for dealing with the spread of COVID.

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Coronavirus
Duncan Robertson

Why Making COVID Predictions Is Actually Getting Harder

We know more about COVID than ever before, but that doesn't make it easier to predict what will happen this year. It also remains to be seen if we'll put the lessons we learned into practice.

In 2020, we knew very little about the novel virus that was to become known as COVID-19. Now, as we enter 2023, a search of Google Scholar produces around five million results containing the term.

So how will the pandemic be felt in 2023? This question is in some ways impossible to answer, given a number of unknowns. In early 2020, the scientific community was focused on determining key parameters that could be used to make projections as to the severity and extent of the spread of the virus. Now, the complex interplay of COVID variants, vaccination and natural immunity makes that process far more difficult and less predictable.

But this doesn’t mean there’s room for complacency. The proportion of people estimated to be infected has varied over time, but this figure has not fallen below 1.25% (or one in 80 people) in England for the entirety of 2022. COVID is very much still with us, and people are being infected time and time again.

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This Happened

This Happened—January 23: The First COVID Lockdown

On this day three years ago, the Chinese government imposed a lockdown in Wuhan in what marked the unofficial beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Economy
Alan Shipman

Rishi Sunak — It's The Economy, Smarty

Nobody questions the new British Prime Minister's intelligence, or even his performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the economic conditions after the debacle of his predecessor Liz Truss leaves little margin for error for Rishi Sunak.

As the incoming UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak has the immediate advantage of perceived success in his two years as chancellor.

His tenure ended last July when he resigned due to a difference of opinion with then-prime minister Boris Johnson over the economy. But during his time as chancellor, he is credited with rescuing households and businesses from the effects of the COVID pandemic lockdowns by launching an innovative and impressively timely furlough scheme. He reversed a “small state” approach to become the private sector’s temporary paymaster, spending an unprecedented £70 billion to shorten the recession.

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