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TOPIC: covid 19

Coronavirus

As COVID Explodes, An Inside Look At China's Gray Market Of Generic Drugs

COVID infections have skyrocketed since China eased restrictions as public health policy has not been able to keep up. Unable to find medications, many have turned to generic drugs of questionable safety. It's the culmination of a longstanding problem.

BEIJING — When her grandfather joined the millions of infected Chinese, Chen quickly decided to buy COVID-19 drugs to limit the effects of the virus. She woke up early to shop on Jingdong, one of China’s biggest online shopping websites, but failed in snatching the limited daily stocks made available.

Fearing COVID's effect on her grandfather, who suffers from dementia, she contacted an independent drug agent and bought a box of generic pharmaceuticals.

With China having suddenly ended its zero-COVID policy, infections have peaked. According to the latest estimates by Airfinity, a British medical information and analysis company, severe COVID outbreaks happened over Chinese New Year with 62 million infections forecast for the second half of January.

In a press conference held by China's State Council on Jan. 11, COVID-19 pills were mentioned as part of the new epidemic control mechanisms. In late 2021, Pfizer developed Paxlovid, the world's first potent COVID drug, with one 100 mg white ritonavir and two 150 mg light pink nirmatrelvir tablets taken every 12 hours. China imported the first batch of Paxlovid for clinical use in March 2022 and included it in the ninth edition of the treatment protocol.

But the first 21,200 boxes of Paxlovid were dispersed to only eight provinces, and no further information is available on where the drug ended up and how much it was used.

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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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Joshimath, The Sinking Indian City Has Also Become A Hotbed Of Government Censorship

The Indian authorities' decision to hide factual reports on the land subsidence in Joshimath only furthers a sense of paranoia.

MUMBAI — Midway through the movie Don’t Look Up (2021), the outspoken PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is bundled into a car, a bag over her head. The White House, we are told, wants her “off the grid”. She is taken to a warehouse – the sort of place where CIA and FBI agents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in Hollywood movies – and charged with violating national security secrets.

The Hobson’s choice offered to her is to either face prosecution or suspend “all public media appearances and incendiary language relating to Comet Dibiasky”, an interstellar object on a collision course with earth. Exasperated, she acquiesces to the gag order.

Don’t Look Up is a satirical take on the collective apathy towards climate change; only, the slow burn of fossil fuel is replaced by the more imminent threat of a comet crashing into our planet. As a couple of scientists try to warn humanity about its potential extinction, they discover a media, an administration, and indeed, a society that is not just unwilling to face the truth but would even deny it.

This premise and the caricatured characters border on the farcical, with plot devices designed to produce absurd scenarios that would be inconceivable in the real world we inhabit. After all, would any government dealing with a natural disaster, issue an edict prohibiting researchers and scientists from talking about the event? Surely not. Right?

On January 11, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), one of the centers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), issued a preliminary report on the land subsidence issue occurring in Joshimath, the mountainside city in the Himalayas.

The word ‘subsidence’ entered the public lexicon at the turn of the year as disturbing images of cracked roads and tilted buildings began to emanate from Joshimath.

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Ardern Resigns, Chopper Crash Probe, French Strikes

👋 नमस्कार*

Welcome to Thursday, where New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces her surprise resignation, a probe is opened into the helicopter crash that killed Ukraine’s interior minister and French workers go on a nationwide strike. Meanwhile, feminist digital media outlet LatFem reports on a women-led agricultural program that offers valuable lessons on sustainable farming methods in southern Ecuador.

[*Namaskār - Marathi, India]

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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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Geopolitics
Pierre Haski

Davos, The Slow Melt Into Irrelevance

The Davos Forum was once a true shaper of our collective future in a globalized world. Today it is beyond its expiry date, even if global solutions to global problems are needed more than ever.

-Analysis-

PARIS — For almost three decades now, perched in the Swiss Alps, has been the sunny face of a globalization that works.

It was the place, in the 1990s, where I understood for the first time the impact of the digital revolution. Davos was a place where one could meet Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk or Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, up close, and far away from South Africa or the Middle East.

It was also there that the new democracies of Eastern Europe took their first steps into the free-market economy and where emerging countries could be paired up with international investors.

This era, we must say, is now truly over. The dream-like world of Davos, the world of the free flow of goods and capital, the world of globally integrated supply chains, and technology designed for the common good, has run into perils it did not or could not predict.

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Ideas
Pierre Haski

China's COVID Coverup Is The Perfect Script For One-Party Rule

That it fools nobody is essential to the plot. That people are dying turns it into tragedy.

-Analysis-

Rarely has the gap between official information and reality been so wide. Every night at 8 p.m., China's newscast opens with a long montage devoted to the daily activities of the country's leaders, by order of importance: Xi Jinping at an economic meeting, Xi Jinping publishing a new book ... Then, after 20 minutes or so, some images about COVID, just in passing, and mainly to highlight that the Party line is the right one.

Among the Chinese population, it is exactly the opposite. COVID dominates conversations: the race for drugs, saturated hospitals with beds set up outside, endless waits at crematoriums working non-stop. And death, with the number of pandemic casualties unknown since the government has changed the definition of what constitutes a COVID victim.

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In The News
Emma Albright & Ginevra Falciani,

Russians Take Soledar, Brazil Crackdown, California Floods

👋 မင်္ဂလာပါ*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Russian forces claim control of Soledar, Brazil’s Supreme Court orders the arrest of two top security officials and a new “optimistic” planet has been discovered. Meanwhile, Nike Heinen in German daily Die Welt worries about the danger posed by China’s secrecy surrounding its COVID-19 situation.

[*Mingalaba - Burmese, Myanmar]

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Future
Benoît Georges

Listening For Illness: Your Voice May Soon Help Detect Health Problems

Applying Artificial intelligence to vocal cues is increasingly being used to detect a range of illnesses from COVID-19 to asthma and even depression. But such technology also comes with serious ethical concerns.

PARIS — Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), your voice can already be used to dictate messages to your smartphone, give commands to your Bluetooth speakers, or chat with your car's dashboard. But soon, it may be able to evaluate the state of your health by detecting respiratory (asthma, COVID-19) or neurodegenerative illnesses. It could even pick up mental health struggles, such as depression or anxiety.

The concept is simple: every pathology that affects the lungs, the heart, the brain, the muscles, or the vocal cords can lead to voice modifications. By using digital tools to analyze a recording, it must be possible to detect vocal biomarkers, the same way vocal recognition algorithms learned to understand a spoken language based on millions of sound samples.

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In The News
Ginevra Falciani, Emma Albright, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

400 Arrested In Brasilia Riots, Resilient Bakhmut, COVID Grand Slam

👋 Salamalekum!*

Welcome to Monday, where calm is restored in Brasilia after opposition supporters stormed key government sites yesterday, Ukraine forces repel “constant attacks” in Bakhmut, and the Australian Open will allow COVID-19 positive players to compete. And as the world bid adieu to Benedict XVI, Friedrich Wilhelm Graf in German daily Die Welt looks at the German-born pope’s very Protestant legacy.

[*Wolof, West Africa]

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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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