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The Latest: AstraZeneca Is Back, U.S./China Duel, Blonde Billie

Syrians in the city of Idlib celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Syrian revolution against the regime of leader Bashar al-Assad.
Syrians in the city of Idlib celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Syrian revolution against the regime of leader Bashar al-Assad.

Welcome to Friday, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe (again), tensions flare in U.S. and China talks and snow on the Alps offers a cold measure of climate change. Italian weekly L'Espresso also explores the grueling and psychologically damaging work of social media content moderators.

Damage done: AstraZeneca overcaution will kill many

The official announcement came yesterday that, as virtually all competent doctors and scientists had been saying, the AstraZeneca vaccine is indeed safe. And most European countries will recommence distributing the jab, as the vaccination campaigns continue to be far slower than promised. For Guy Vallancien, a member of the French Academy of Medicine, even the temporary suspension, is akin to a death sentence for thousands — and an example of public policy at its weakest. Here's his piece for Les Echos:

Hans Jonas, the inventor of the concept of the "precautionary principle," has left us with the worst of bad ideas, and politicians have eaten it up to protect themselves against lawsuits. Even if it has since been lifted, how can we not protest the French state's decision to temporarily suspend the vaccine developed and tested by scientists at Oxford and AstraZeneca?

Understandably, certain medical scandals in the past could make our leaders wary. When applied to vaccines, however, this principle of extreme precaution cannot stand. As a preventive approach, the ratio between risks and benefits has still resulted in hundreds of millions of lives saved.

This is indeed very different from the sale of medication produced by private companies that give severe side-effects and offer only mediocre benefits — reimbursed, of course, by our healthcare system.

If all innovations come with risks, then vaccinations come with extraordinarily few, usually benign and temporary. A fire chief stopped vaccinating his team because one of his firefighters had one heart arrhythmia two days after the injection. What right did he have to deprive everyone else of protection, all the more useful since the main variant in France is now characterized as the more transmissible and dangerous strain? If we continue with this little game of "who won't take the risk," we will end up vaccinating only the dead. It works 100% and it is safe!

We have the data: The frequency of thrombosis (blood clots) following the injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine is 0.0004, i.e. about 30 cases out of 9.7 million people vaccinated, and for the Pfizer vaccine it's 0.0002 for every 10 million individuals. To date, there has been no proof that this is a cause-and-effect relationship, merely a coincidence that does not seem to be greater than that of keeping the population unvaccinated.

The quality of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been verified by independent experts, so what else can we do? Continue to vaccinate relentlessly.

This absurd decision to suspend their usage, which has spread like wildfire around the world, and particularly around Europe, shows how politicians are seriously lacking basic science and statistics in decision-making.

This matter will leave permanent scars. First of all, who will want to be vaccinated now with AstraZeneca's product? Excessive media coverage on its side-effects had already tainted the confidence of candidates who were waiting impatiently for the vaccine.

Politics in Europe is locked in a paralyzing state of acute precaution. Nobody needed this absurd decision. The governments in European Union countries give us a terrible example of how to conduct business. While I have supported the action of the team in power, I am aware of the extreme difficulty of managing this war against an invisible and insidious enemy and can share the hesitations inherent in such a complicated battle. Yet I cannot remain silent regarding this incomprehensible and harmful decision to withdraw a vaccine. Yes, precaution will kill an additional 3,000 Europeans per day, while the vaccine has already protected more than 25 million without any significant risk. Do the math!

Guy Vallancien / Les Echos

• AstraZeneca safe, UK PM to get jab: Germany, France, Spain and Italy will resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the EU drug regulatory agency announced that the jab is "safe and effective" and does not raise the risk of blood clots. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, (who has already recovered from COVID-19) will take the vaccine in an attempt to reassure the public.

• Mexico massacre:Thirteen law enforcement officers were killed in an ambush near Mexico City while carrying out a regular patrol of an area plagued with gangs in one of the most violent attacks in Mexico in recent years.

• U.S.-China talks get heated: Tensions flared during the first high-level, in-person talks between the two global superpowers, with both nations accusing each other of political attacks.

• Tanzania first woman president: Following the death of president John Magufuli, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan has been sworn in as the first woman to be president of Tanzania.

• Myanmar junta kills nine people: In another day of increasing violence, Myanmar military forces open-fired to clear protestors, killing nine.

• Goldman Sachs sweatshop: First-year analysts have revealed an abusive workplace with 95 hour work weeks on average in a new bombshell survey.

• Princess Diana letters on auction: 36 handwritten letters between the late Princess of Wales and her friend Roger Bramble are up for auction in Cornwall — each one costing an estimated $41,000.

"Every day a new record," titles Greek daily Nea Kriti as the country breaks daily records in both new daily cases and intubations, reaching levels equivalent to what Greece experienced in November.

For Facebook moderators, the soul-crushing job must go on

Underpaid and overexposed to what in some cases can be truly disturbing content, moderators are the invisible, human grease that keeps the social media machine running. It's grueling but essential work that happens behind the scenes, reports Maurizio Di Fazio in Italian weekly news magazine L'Espresso.

Because technology fails to grasp the way we mean some of our words — and who knows if it will ever understand them — platforms still need someone to hide the dirt under the carpet in the eyes of the billions of subscribers and advertisers. Social media content moderators, in other words, need to take that stuff down before it infects too many monitors and smartphones. Such content includes child pornography, hate messages, fake accounts, hoaxes, revenge porn, cyberbullying, torture, rape, murder, suicide, local wars and live massacres.

It's essential and misunderstood work. It's also, in many ways, barbaric. "I was paid 10 cents per piece of content," writes Tarleton Gillespie in his Custodians of the Internet. "For this amount I had to catalog the video, published by ISIS, of a boy who had been set on fire." The custodians work at a frenzied pace, deleting up to 1,500 pieces of content per shift. This happens one at a time, following the guidelines provided by the companies, the changing Community Standards (which the moderators refer to as the Bible).

In 2020, Facebook paid $52 million to thousands of moderators who had developed psychological problems due to their work. Few last more than a few months on the job before being fired for disappointing performances or leaving by their own volition because they are no longer able to observe the evil of the world without being able to do anything other than hide it. The aftermath can be heavy. The accumulation of bloody visions traces a deep furrow. Who else has ever plunged so deeply into the abysses of human nature?

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

Bogotá burglars form circus-style human ladders

Thieves in Bogotá have been displaying impressive gymnastic prowess by forming human ladders to break into homes. Security footage from one incident shows a seamless, efficient thieving chain as a television is passed out the window to an accomplice below.

This circus-style robbery took place in the district of Usaquén. The understandably stunned homeowner, Daniela Piracón, told Colombian broadcaster RCN that in four minutes, one of the thieves snatched the television and had time to look around "to see what else he could take."

Robbers seem to favor the capital's typical detached or semi-detached homes, as shown in footage of a similar incident in Aug. 2020, broadcast by the news channel Caracol.

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com


The snow season in the Alps is between 22 and 34 days shorter compared to 50 years ago, according to a new study coordinated by Eurac Research, tabulating the effects of higher temperatures caused by climate change. Researchers collected and evaluated data from 2,000 measuring stations in Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland and France — the first study of such scale in Europe.

Pinch me.

— That's how megastar American singer Billie Eilish captioned the Instagram post of her stunning new blond look. The selfie has quickly become the 4th most liked publication on the platform … still many millions behind that world-record egg.

Al Jazeera is a state-funded broadcaster in Doha, Qatar, owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network. Initially launched as an Arabic news and current-affairs satellite TV channel, Al Jazeera has since expanded into a network with several outlets, including the Internet and specialty television channels in multiple languages.
Reuters is an international news agency headquartered in London, UK. It was founded in 1851 and is now a division of Thomson Reuters. It transmits news in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Urdu, and Chinese.
L'Espresso is one of Italy's leading weekly magazines, co-founded in Rome in 1955 by typewriter magnate Adriano Olivetti. It is noted for its investigative pieces, and is considered center-left politically.
The BBC is the British public service broadcaster, and the world's oldest national broadcasting organization. It broadcasts in up to 28 different languages.
Founded as a local Manchester newspaper in 1821, The Guardian has gone on to become one of the most influential dailies in Britain. The left-leaning newspaper is most recently known for its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks.
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
France's top business daily, Les Echos covers domestic and international economic, financial and markets news. Founded in 1908, the newspaper has been the property of French luxury good conglomerate LVMH (Moet Hennessy - Louis Vuitton) since 2007.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Militarization Of Russia's Economy, And The Demise Of The Oligarchs

By putting the economy on a war footing, Putin risks returning Russia to the days of Stalinist totalitarianism, where there will be no oligarchs or businesses left, only loyal administrators.

The Militarization Of Russia's Economy, And The Demise Of The Oligarchs

In December, Putin, with Tula Region governor Alexei Dyumin (left) and Alexei Visloguzov, general director of Shcheglovsky Val (right), visiting the Instrument Design Bureau in Tula.

Russian Presidential Press Offic / Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire
Boris Grozovsky


MOSCOW — The war with Ukraine has not gone according to Vladimir Putin's plan. Eleven months have passed, but less than 17% of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, is under Russian control.

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