Welcome to Tuesday, where Italy surpasses 100,000 coronavirus deaths, Lula is cleared of corruption charges, and the trial of the former police officer accused of murdering George Floyd starts. We also look at how the pandemic has impacted fertility rates in developed countries.
• COVID-19 latest: Italy passes 100,000 deaths mark, as it announces it will be the first EU country to start producing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. Meanwhile, Latin America hits 700,000 fatalities, and the U.S. records less than 1,000 daily deaths for the first time in months, as the country's $1.9 trillion recovery bill is on the brink of becoming law.
• Myanmar coup: Three people were killed yesterday, as police used tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets to quell protests. Thousands defied curfew to demand the release of protesters held by security forces.
• Equatorial Guinea explosion update: The death toll from Sunday's explosions at a military compound has risen to 98, with another 615 injured. Spain has pledged to send humanitarian aid to the former Spanish colony.
• George Floyd murder trial: The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minnesota police officer accused of killing George Floyd, is set to begin.
• Judge annuls Lula's convictions: A Supreme Court judge has annulled Brazilian ex-President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva's conviction in a corruption scandal, opening the door to a possible run for president next year.
• Royal Wall of Silence: The tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey in which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex discuss racism within the royal family has been met with silence from Buckingham palace.
• "Major" incident: U.S. President Joe Biden's two dogs were sent back from Washington to the Biden family home in Delaware after Major, a 3-year-old German Shepherd, was involved in a "biting incident" with a member of White House security.
Italian daily La Repubblica marks the bleak milestone of 100,000 official coronavirus deaths, by displaying portraits of COVID-19 victims on its front page under the terse headline "One Hundred Thousand". Italy has become the second country in Europe after the UK to surpass that number of fatalities from the pandemic, despite imposing the world's first national lockdown a little over a year ago. The country is now bracing for a new peak in infections.
Why the pandemic baby boom is turning into a bust
With young couples locked together for weeks in the spring of 2020 due to a rampant global coronavirus outbreak, France was expecting a baby boom, just like in the post-war years. But those days and nights in lockdown didn't result in an upswing of bouncing babies, reports Jean-Marc Vittori in French daily Les Echos.
In all developed countries, the pandemic is upsetting fertility. For practical reasons, many couples ended up living apart during lockdown. Others discovered that their relationship was strained when stuck together at home, or their homes were too small to accommodate a child. Assisted human reproduction centers have closed their doors. One night stands, which do sometimes result in a baby nine months later, were impossible. There was also a clear psychological impact. The virus dampened the mood.
Beyond that, the high level of uncertainty has forced many young couples to reconsider their plans for the future. During the first lockdown in Europe, a team of Italian statisticians conducted a survey for Ipsos on child plans. Their conclusion? Fertility plans have been revised in all countries. Some couples have postponed plans in hopes of a better future, but others have completely abandoned hopes for making a family.
The real question is what will happen when the pandemic ends and the economy returns to somewhat solid growth. After the Spanish flu, the birth rate rebounded sharply as postponed projects finally came to fruition and others desired to compensate for deaths. After the great financial crisis of 2008-2009, however, it did not return to its previous level.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Speeding driver asks police to bail him out of mother-in-law's wrath
There are some things more terrifying than facing police arrest.
In Märkisches Kreis, Germany, a driver had a special kind of ask from the officer who had pulled him over for speeding, according to German weekly magazine Stern. As the local police department reported on its official Twitter account, here's how the conversation went:
— Police officer: "You were driving too fast."
— Driver: "Sorry, but I've got to pick up my mother-in-law. If I'm late, I'm going to have even less fun than here with you!"
The speeding son-in-law proceeded to ask if he could have a written "late note" he could show his mother-in-law. "For proof."
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Police and activists clashed in Mexico City during a march to mark International Women's Day, with protesters calling for the authorities to address Mexico's poor record on the murder of women. According to government figures, last year an estimated 939 women were victims of femicide in the country.
The revolution has already started and nobody can stop it.
— Senegal's main opposition leader Ousmane Sonko said, speaking in Dakar after his release on bail pending trial. Sonko's arrest last week following rape accusations, which he denies, sparked violent protests across the country against what his supporters saw as a ploy by President Macky Sall's government to smear the challenger.
The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.
Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.
Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."
Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.
Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.
Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.
Oppressive home situations
As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.
Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.
Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.
Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.
"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."
Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."
Lack of spaces
Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.
"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.
The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out
Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.
Lockdowns force coming out
According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.
"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.
Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.
"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.
The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling
In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.
"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."
Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.
Medical care is dismal
Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.
Isolation triggered my depression
"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.
What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.
During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.
As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."
Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.
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