Welcome to Wednesday, where New Zealand is set to reopen to foreigners after nearly two years, Sweden elects its first ever female Prime Minister and climate change has unexpected consequences on albatross couples. Die Welt journalist Steffen Fründt meets undertakers preparing for a new coronavirus wave as Germany becomes one of the world's worst-hit COVID hotspots.
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• President Joe Biden invites Taiwan to Summit for Democracy: In a move that is likely to anger China, the U.S. president will include Taiwan in the virtual gathering next month, which will bring together 110 participants. The first-of-its-kind event will explore how to bolster democracy around the world during a time of rising authoritarianism. Invitees do not include representatives from Russia or China, which considers Taiwan as part of its own territory.
• COVID update: New Zealand has set 2022 reopen dates for vaccinated visitors after nearly two years of border closure. Next week, Singapore and Malaysia will also reopen their land border crossing — one of the busiest in the world — to vaccinated travelers. Meanwhile, the World Health Organizations warns that 700,000 more people could die of COVID-19 in Europe and parts of Asia by March 2022.
• Ukraine begins "special operation" on the border with Belarus: With fears of Belarus sending migrants across its border and Russia gathering troops nearby, Ukraine is also stepping up its military force, with airborne units, monitoring drones and military drills. Ukraine said the special operation is meant to prevent an attack and being drawn into the migrant crisis between Poland and Belarus.
• Curfew in Solomon Islands as anti-government protests flare: Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, is under curfew after protesters attempted to storm the Pacific island nation's parliament. Among the protester grievances was the government's decision two years ago to switch diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China.
• Swedish parliament elects first female prime minister: The Parliament in Sweden voted Magdalena Andersson, the leader of the Social Democrats and the current finance minister, as the head of government. The agreement followed days of tense negotiations with the Left Party.
• NASA space mission launched to crash into an asteroid: The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will see whether colliding into an asteroid at 15,000 miles per hour can change its directory. The results will help scientists in the case such a tactic is needed in the future to avoid a space rock crashing into the Earth.
• Climate change increasing albatross divorce rate: Climate anxiety is so palpable that it's causing tension in relationships, including in the animal kingdom. A new Royal Society study found that albatrosses in New Zealand are having to travel farther for food and experiencing increasing stress as their environment changes. While the black-browed albatross typically mates for life (with a breakup rate of below 3%), the percentage of couples splitting has increased to 8% over the past 15 years.
"Protests become more radical," titles Austrian daily Neue Vorarlberger Tageszeitung as the movement opposed to coronavirus-related restrictions is getting stronger in several COVID-hit European countries, with fears of "escalation."
A patch of virtual real estate in 3D virtual reality platform Decentraland has sold for a record $2.4 million worth of cryptocurrency. Decentraland is an online environment, part of the so-called "metaverse," which consists of more than 90,000 parcels of land where avatars can visit buildings, buy plots and meet people.
Pandemic omens revisited: Undertakers prep for Germany's fourth wave
Funeral homes are getting ready to deal with more infectious bodies this winter as Germany has become a COVID-19 hotspot. They require more time and money for safety measures — the cost of which is passed on to relatives. But the true cost for friends and family lies elsewhere, writes Steffen Fründt in German daily Die Welt.
📈 Stephan Neuser, general secretary of the Federal Association of German Funeral Directors, says many funeral homes — there are around 5,500 in Germany — have stocked up on protective gear and adjusted their plans. Even under normal circumstances, November marks the start of the season when they see a lot of deaths. But given the direction the pandemic is taking, Neuser fears that this winter will bring particular challenges for the sector. "Undertakers are preparing to deal with rising numbers of infectious bodies."
🦠 Michael Hartl, a second-generation undertaker who runs a large funeral home in Rosenheim, was one of the first undertakers in Germany to deal with a death from the new virus. "It was in March 2020, my first COVID-19 case," he says. The deceased was an elderly man from Rosenheim who had been admitted to hospital two weeks earlier and died there, alone, with his relatives not allowed to visit. "I then had to explain to his widow that she wasn't allowed to see her husband's body before it was cremated," says Hartl. In April 2020, during the first wave, Hartl dealt with 70% more deaths than that same month in previous years.
⚰️ In the Rosenheim area, there have already been more than 650 deaths from COVID. Hartl says that some people think the pandemic has been good for his business. But while he has dealt with more deaths over the past year than in previous years, his turnover has been lower. With funerals canceled, delayed or restricted to close family, many of his services haven't been required. From a personal perspective, he finds that sad, but from a commercial one, he can live with it. "This isn't a situation where you want to make a profit."
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"Let's meet at the war front. The time has come to lead the country with sacrifice."
— Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has announced that he will go to the front lines of the country's war against ethnic Tigray rebels. State-affiliated media is reporting that a government spokesman announced the transfer of some powers to Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen, after Ahmed made his proclamation to "lead the country with sacrifice" on Twitter earlier this week, vowing to lead the fight against Tigrayan forces and their allies.
✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin
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