Welcome to Friday, where the global COVID-19 death toll exceeds 4 million, ousted Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo is back in town and Joe Biden makes Juneteenth official. We also go to Hong Kong where so-called "vaccine hesitancy" is particularly high as a direct result of rising mistrust of the government.
• Global COVID-19 death toll exceeds 4 million: It took more than a year for the death toll to hit 2 million while the next 2 million were recorded in just 166 days. The number of coronavirus cases are decreasing in countries like the United States and Britain but in many other places cases are soaring due to new variants and vaccine shortages.
• New Israel-Hamas exchange of fire: For the second time since last month's ceasefire, Israel conducted dozens of air strikes on the Gaza after Palestinian militants launched incendiary balloons. There are no immediate reports of casualties.
• 80 students abducted in Nigeria school attack: Gunmen killed a police officer and kidnapped at least 80 students (mostly girls) and five teachers from a school in the Nigerian state of Kebbi. The attack is the third mass kidnapping in three weeks, which has been attributed to bandits seeking ransom payments.
• Ousted leader Gbagbo returns to Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo, former President of the Ivory Coast who was ousted during a 2011 civil war, returned home after a decade of exile. Gbagbo was recently acquitted of war crimes in the Hague, and was greeted by a crowd of supporters upon landing late Thursday.
• North Korea is preparing for "dialogue and confrontation" with the U.S.: North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un outlined his strategy for relations with Washington and warned the U.S. to get ready for a "fast-changing" security situation. The country has previously accused Joe Biden, who refuses to meet Kim unless there is a concrete plan for negotiating Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal, of pursuing a "hostile policy."
• Iranians vote in Presidential elections marred by disqualifications: Opinion polls suggest that Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative Shia cleric who is head of the judiciary, is the clear favorite. But dissidents and reformists have called for a boycott, arguing that the barring of several contenders left Raisi with no serious competition. Turnout could be a historic low which would pose a problem for the country's leaders, who see voting as a sign of legitimacy.
• World's third largest diamond found in Botswana: A 1,098 carat diamond, believed to be the third-largest of its kind, has been discovered in Debswana, Botswana. It's behind the 3,106-carat Cullinan stone recovered in South Africa in 1905 and the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona unearthed in Botswana in 2015. The finding comes at a perfect time for Botswana, which receives 80% of the income from Debswana's sales.
German news magazine Der Spiegel focuses on how the revolutionary mRNA tech behind the vaccine successes of BioNtech and Moderna could lead to the creation of a "Superdrug" that would prove crucial in the fight against cancer, allergies, heart attacks and dementia.
Juneteenth (a portmanteau of the words "June" and "nineteenth ""), also called Juneteenth National Independence Day, marks the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865. On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill that officially makes it a national holiday. Calls to make Juneteenth a federal holiday increased last year during the Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd by the police. Biden said signing the law was one of the greatest honors he will have as president.
Politics helps explain Hong Kong's low vaccination rates
Vaccine hesitation in Hong Kong is not only about science, but also linked to questions of history, identity and current politics. The standing widespread mistrust toward the Hong Kong administration and the central government in Beijing has combined with false information about China's own SinoVac vaccine constantly circulating online among those from Hong Kong.
First Draft, a research agency tracking disinformation, recently released a study on the challenges of vaccine hesitancy in Hong Kong. It concludes by stating that if the government wants to achieve its goal of a 70% vaccination rate by the end of 2021, it must carefully analyze the types of information circulating and understand people's fundamental concerns before it can improve its public health campaigns and vaccination.
However, despite the fact that vaccination is free for Hong Kong citizens and there are sufficient supplies, vaccination rates remain low. According to the Hong Kong government, as of June 9, over 2.74 million vaccines were delivered, with about 1.14 million citizens out of the total 7.5 million population receiving both injections, with the vaccinated rate of only 17.4%.
While the Hong Kong government is pressing ahead with vaccination, First Draft came to the conclusion that Hong Kong's skepticism about vaccines comes not only from safety and efficacy concerns, but also derives from a deeper distrust of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. Hong Kongers are not convinced that the government in Beijing is acting in the interest of the people, but for pure political considerations instead.
Incomplete or inaccurate headlines or reports in the media about adverse reactions to vaccinations may further discourage people from getting vaccinated. First Draft found that from February to the present, headlines such as "Vaccine Victim — Another Death from SinoVac" and "12th Person Dies from SinoVac" were widely shared on social media platforms.
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According to a UNHCR report, the number of displaced people worldwide in 2020 has increased to 82.4 million. The report also says that most refugees are located in border crisis areas or low-and middle-income countries.
French church installs COVID-compliant, automatic holy water dispenser
The pandemic has radically changed the way we manage hygiene in public spaces. Some new things are added, like hand sanitizer distributors at the entrance of shops; some are taken away, like holy water from the decorative font of your local church. But what if the former concept were applied to the latter?
In Rennes, in western France, Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine Church invested in some sacred innovation: a holy water automatic distributor. According to French newspaper Ouest-France, the device works just like any disinfectant distributor, with a religious twist: when a believer puts their hand under the machine, a sensor detects it and delivers a few drops of holy water.
The cupola-like device is forged with modern, minimalistic elements: a curved hand symbol, the words eau bénite explaining its nature, and an inscription: "In the name of the Father, and the Holy Spirit."
A local priest, Father Nicolas Guillou, explains that the 1,200-euro metal font container has a 10,000 drops capacity for each refill. "And the water that doesn't fall into people's hands is collected in a small tank," to prevent any waste of the holy liquid.
While the device helps you clean your soul, regular washing of your hands with soap is still recommended against COVID-19.
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✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Meike Eijsberg, Clémence Guimier, Dan Wu & Bertrand Hauger