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Fire at Rio de Janeiro's National Museum on Sept. 3
Fire at Rio de Janeiro's National Museum on Sept. 3
John Knych

RIO DE JANEIRO — Protests are expected to continue after the fire early Monday that largely destroyed Brazil's National Museum. The public's anger at the blaze, which is estimated to have destroyed nearly all of the 20 million works and artifacts at the Rio de Janeiro museum, comes amid rising economic and political unrest as the country approaches presidential elections in October.

The citizens of Rio de Janeiro knew the museum was in bad shape, with paint peeling from the walls. But its vulnerability to fire is only now being exposed. The museum lacked a sprinkler system and nearby fire hydrants were empty, reported Folha de S. Paulo. Several Brazilian commentators have noted that cultural institutions have been routinely underfunded since the government began spending millions to build stadiums for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. In 2015, the Museum of the Portuguese Language in Sao Paulo was also destroyed by a fire.

Folha de S. Paulo"s Sept. 4 front page

The National Museum was the repository for top indigenous artwork, as well as centuries of recorded history, which is now almost entirely lost, including Egyptian artifacts and one of the oldest human fossils found in South America.

National Geographic reported on the extensive loss for science, which included paleontologist laboratories and audio recordings of indigenous languages.

Extra"s Sept. 3 front page

The fire has been a wakeup call for cultural institutions around the world. Museums are responding to the tragedy with their own review of how they are protecting their artistic and historical treasures. Brussels-based Le Soir, wrote about how Belgium museums are protecting their holdings. Patrick Semal, director of the Belgian Royal Institute of Natural Sciences, said prevention is the key. Yet, while there are fire alarms everywhere, automatic sprinklers are not recommended in a cultural institution: "The worst damage from a fire typically comes from water rather than fire," Semal said.

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Coronavirus

Will China's Zero COVID Ever End?

Too much has been put in to the state-sponsored truth that minimal spread of the virus is the at-all-cost objective. But if the Chinese economy continues to suffer, Xi Jinping may have no choice but to second guess himself.

COVID testing in Guiyang, China

Cfoto/DDP via ZUMA
Deng Yuwen

The tragic bus accident in Guiyang last month — in which 27 people being sent to quarantine were killed — was one of the worst examples of collateral damage since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China nearly three years ago. While the crash can ultimately be traced back to bad government policy, the local authorities did not register it as a Zero COVID related casualty. It was, for them, a simple traffic accident.

The officials in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, of course, had no alternative. Drawing a link between the deadly crash and the strict policy of Zero COVID, touted by President Xi Jinping, would have revealed the absurdity of the government's choices.

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