Welcome to Friday, where Brazil's health minister has good and bad news about the local COVID variant, China bans the BBC and another boomer bungles his zoom filters. We also have a closer look at how the pandemic is altering the meaning of freelancing in the world of work around the world.
• COVID-19 latest: The Australian state of Victoria orders its third lockdown, even as the Australian Open tennis tournament carries on in Melbourne, without spectators. Players will be cocooned in biosecure bubbles. The U.S. has secured 200 million more vaccine doses. Brazil's health minister says the variant found in the Amazon is three times more contagious.
• Myanmar military coup update: Protesters defy the military's plea to "join hands' in the seventh straight day of protests, while the tourism sector and ethnic minorities also join forces in civil disobedience. The U.S. has announced sanctions against military officials including blacklisting the jewel industry and freezing of assets. Amnesty International has released the results from their analysis of social media footage and has found that forces deployed machine guns against peaceful protesters.
• Trump's trial: House Democrats wrapped up their case against former President Donald Trump by appealing to the Senate that simple "common sense" is all that's necessary to see that Trump should be convicted of betraying his oath to the Constitution.
• China bans BBC News: In an apparent tit-for-tat over coverage of the Uighur concentration camps, China has blocked BBC from broadcasting.
• RIP Chick Corea: The beloved Jazz singer with 23 Grammy Awards has died of cancer.
• Lunar New Year kicks off: Across China and many parts of Asia are celebrating amidst contact tracing apps, COVID tests, masks, and temperature checks. While some are enjoying treats at markets and others are worshipping in temples, spending habits show that many more have chosen instead to stay home. Soothsayers are predicting the Year of the Ox to be a good and prosperous one.
• Congressman floating head: Just days after the Texas attorney appeared as a cat in an important Zoom call, Minnesota GOP Congressman Thomas Earl Emmer appeared as a floating, upside-down head in a Zoom congressional hearing.
Lisbon-based daily Jornal i dedicates a dossier to sex during the pandemic. Psychologists advise to "appeal to imagination," and resort to music and love letters.
Work → In Progress: Freelancing changes afoot
Vaccines are slowly arriving, but many of the shifts COVID has created will be lasting. These reverberations are much deeper than just working from home or increased digitization — society's priorities have evolved. This edition of Work → In Progress explores how these changes in ethos are manifesting in business and labor. In a world rethinking everything from agricultural models to freelance contracts, here are some of the latest trends in the workplace:
AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION Agriculture in India, which accounts for about 58% of the population's livelihood, is in distress. Farmers in the subcontinent have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, a symptom of conditions of extreme poverty. An op-ed in the Delhi-based news outlet The Wireargues that in order to improve the agricultural sector, governmental policies should "have a clear vision of what our future villages should be" and plan accordingly to ensure the stability of local populations. It's an idea that could ensure employment for farmers around the world.
REMOTE VS. 5-DAY WORKWEEK Old habits die hard, and that includes the five-day work week and daily 9-to-5 grind. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, Fast Company argues, it's that standard practice isn't necessarily the best practice. For one thing, worker engagement and performance tends to start strong on Mondays but gradually drop during the week. Also, remote work and digital technologies mean we hardly stop checking our screens at 5 p.m. — and people relinquish hours of unaccounted work in the hope of some downtime in the weekend. What if companies instead allowed employees to get the work done "whenever they can," logging their hours when they'd like — including early mornings, late, nights, weekends?
URBAN ARRIVEDERCI An increasing number of young Italians are leaving cities and offices to rediscover a love for the countryside. The biggest farmer's association in Italy reports a 14% rise in the number of young farmers over the last five year. The group said the rise was partly propelled by the coronavirus crisis. Many of these young farmers came from different professional backgrounds, allegedly looking to reconnect with nature and a more genuine lifestyle.
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Powering through appendicitis for perfect score on Chile's national exam
The two-day, standardized exam that Chilean high school students must take to gain entry into university is grueling enough to make anyone a bit sick to their stomach.
Antonia Schmohol, 18, was no exception, although in her case, the abdominal aches that began bothering her on the eve of the dreaded PTU, as the test is called, turned out to be more than just a case of nerves, the Chilean dailyLas Ultimas Notícias reports.
Despite her discomfort, the teenager — who hails from Chiguayante, a small city about 500 km south of Santiago — soldiered through the long, first day of the exam. That night, the pain only worsened, but still, Schmohol's family kept insisting that she was probably just anxious.
Having barely slept, the bleary-eyed young woman returned to the testing center the next day, Jan. 9, doubled over in pain at times, nonetheless completed the final portion of the test, the mathematics section.
Relieved to finally have the PTU behind her, Schmohol felt sure, nevertheless, that she'd missed at least a few of the answers. She also knew at that point that something was seriously wrong in her stomach area, and soon after went to a nearby hospital, where she was diagnosed with appendicitis and operated on right away.
The determined young Chilena has since made a full recovery. But this week — just over a month after her gut-wrenching ordeal — the individual story became national news.
On Wednesday, Schmohol received a call from the Education Ministry informing her that she was one of just 218 students nationwide to earn a perfect score on the PTU's math section. Talk about grace under pressure.
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According to statistics from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), some 800,000 house cleaners in Mexico have lost their jobs during the pandemic — that's nearly one-third of all workers in this sector registered in the country in 2019 (2.4 million).
It's been a triple whammy for Japan.
— The widely anticipated resignation Friday of Yoshiro Mori, who had served as chief of the Tokyo Olympics, was the latest piece of bad news for the Japanese hosts of the Summer Games, notes Simon Chadwick, a sport industry expert at Emlyon Business School in France. First, the pandemic prompted the 2020 Games to be postponed, which was followed by last year's resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and now Mori's scandal over his use of sexist language. Despite the continued battle against COVID-19 and the search for Mori's successor, the Games are still scheduled to begin July 23.