Welcome to Thursday, where more North Korean missile tests are revealed, Brazil joins U.S. in grim COVID toll and Mexico thinks nose-masks should be a thing. We also go up close with the remote world of work, thanks to our "Work → in Progress' special.
One year of pandemic leadership: The "tragedy" of no good choices
Recalling the moments when the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis first became real, some point to the first televised appearance by our respective national leaders to talk about the pandemic. Italian photographer Tommaso Bonaventura captured this shared experience in Address To The Nations, a visual collection of the faces of dozens of world leaders at the instant they appeared on screen to confront this new invisible enemy.
One year later, with the virus still very much hiding among us, it is worth looking again at those faces. Several have since contracted the coronavirus, from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to French President Emmanuel Macron; others have lost power, like Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and U.S. President Donald Trump. Last week, Tanzanian President John Magufuli died at age 61 among unconfirmed reports that COVID was the cause of death.
But the collection of prime ministers and presidents, royals and supreme leaders is even more relevant as a reminder of how inadequate political leadership has been in the face of a global health crisis. From mask policy and lockdown rules to health care and vaccine distribution, governments have been accused of mismanagement, incompetency ... and worse.
Some leaders will be judged cruelly by history (and the death counts on record) for having downplayed the threat of COVID-19, be it Bolsonaro calling the virus a "fantasy" of the media, Donald Trump repeatedly comparing it to the flu, or Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saying amulets and prayers were enough to protect him from the virus.
The great success of the pandemic was scientific, as researchers developed vaccines in record speed, offering hope that the crisis could soon come to an end. But even as the global situation seems to improve and become more manageable, governments are still failing to act adequately. In Slovakia, Prime Minister Igor Matovic is accused of a secret deal to purchase 2 million doses of Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, which hasn't been approved by European health agencies. Peru had its own "vaccine-gate" after it was revealed that the then-president Martin Vizcarra, his wife and other politicians secretly received doses in October 2020, before shots were made available to the nation.
At stake are both the emergency of saving lives today and the citizen trust of governments eroding over the long-term. Still, one year into the crisis, it is worth putting the challenge in perspective and acknowledge the impossible dilemmas our leaders have faced: saving lives vs. saving the economy, imposing restrictions vs. allowing freedom.
For French philosopher Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, citizens who are so quick to criticize their leader ought to ask themselves, "In his place, what would I do?" In an interview with France Culture, Tavoillot noted the extreme solitude of political leadership and the "tragic" nature of making decisions on behalf of the public: "In politics, the choice is never between a good and a bad decision, but between a bad and a worse one. If that choice existed, there would be no need for politics."
In times of emergency, not taking decisions is not an option. "Are they good, are they bad? The problem doesn't arise at that moment, it will afterwards. Our leaders are accountable for their actions," says the philosopher. In March 2022, we hope, we'll be able to look back at the pandemic as a closed chapter of history. But no matter when or how it ends, we'll be studying the way we were led, and followed, for years to come.
— Anne-Sophie Goninet
• New AstraZeneca results: AstraZeneca lowered efficacy rate of its COVID vaccine from 79% to 76% after being criticised for using outdated data. Health officials around the world continue to assure the public that the vaccine is safe and effective in preventing severe effects of the virus.
• More North Korea missiles: North Korea conducted a second weapons test this past week, Japan and South Korea have confirmed after the missiles landed in the sea within Japan's exclusive economic zone.
• Nike & H&M v. China: H&M, the second largest clothing manufacturer in the world, has stopped sourcing cotton from Xinjiang. Two Chinese TV stars have cut ties with Nike after the brand raised concerns over forced labour, and Alibaba has retaliated by dropping H&M from their site.
• Billions in trade blocked by grounded Suez ship: The container ship which ran aground in the Suez Canal has caused a traffic jam in both directions is being blamed for an estimated $9.6 billion worth of marine traffic (or 12 percent of world trade) being halted per day. Shipping experts believe it could take "days to weeks' to dislodge the vessel.
• Navalny in declining health: Alexei Navalny has complained of a "sharp deterioration" in his health in prison and has been blocked from meeting lawyers.
• New Zealand grants paid leave after miscarriages: After a unanimous vote by lawmakers, mothers and their partners will be granted paid leave even after miscarriage or stillbirth.
• Nose masks: Researchers in Mexico create the first nose-only mask, designed to be worn when dining out.
Brazilian daily O Dia features the grim milestone Brazil has reached with 300,000 coronavirus deaths, the second nation to do so after the United States. The explosion of cases is blamed on the local variant of the virus, believed to be more contagious.
Work → In Progress: Telework is changing how we see the office
The enduring pandemic has forced the world to develop new ways of working. What once were casual chats at water coolers are now endless WhatsApp group message chains, while cubicles and corner offices have been replaced by everyone's home kitchen table. The good news is that the health crisis should begin to ease in the coming months, and most of us will be able to return to the office. Still, nothing will ever be the same after the taste we've had of — and the innovation sparked by — our remote reality. This edition of Work → In Progress explores how the new work environment is bound to be an ever and always evolving process.
ARTIFICIAL ATTENDANCE Zoom filters, avatars at online conferences … Microsoft is taking virtual meetings to the next level with its development of holograms. Its newest platform, Mesh, aims to facilitate "mixed reality," allowing employees from all over the world to meet via "holoportation." In a post-pandemic world where offices reopen, Mesh could change the need for workers to be based in a specific city, as these holograms mean rays of light simulate their body in real-time and allow them to interact with objects and people in a physical space far away from their headsets.
WATCH THIS WORD "Workspitality": a post-pandemic trend where hospitality merges with work and hotels use their spaces as co-working stations and rentable offices. The basic premise asks why would you work from home when you can work from a hotel. This took off in India first, with the lifting of travel restrictions creating a new trend of taking work-from-hotel vacations (nicknamed "workations'). Next stop "workspitality". Apparently, nothing is safe from work these days, even your holidays.
VIRTUAL INSANITY Being left out of team WhatsApp chats, not being included in a Microsoft Teams session, being dropped from the weekly Zoom apero ... From French media Welcome to the Jungle to The New York Times, there are more and more reports of increased paranoia among remote workers. When a suggestion on Slack is left unanswered, it is possible to read a lot between the lines and imagine all kinds of slights. Small moments are becoming amplified when all the communication is virtual. Maybe you need to change your virtual background!
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Bulls photoshoot escape caught on video
Close brushes with bulls are part of the culture of Arles, which maintains a strong tradition of bullfighting in local Roman amphitheaters and annual festivals with well-organized courses of the bulls through the streets of the southern French city.
But on Tuesday, it was the bulls who chose the time and place to brush with the locals. French broadcaster France 3 reports that three bulls escaped from the city's bullring where they were taking part in a photoshoot for a promotional poster, advertising the upcoming Cocarde d'Or bull racing events.
Although two of the bovines were promptly captured, videos published on social media show manadiers cowboys giving chase to the third one, which managed to evade rescue services a while longer, even crossing the Rhône River and hiding in a grove. Police forces had to resort to a drone to locate the bull, eventually catching it around noon according to local daily La Provence.
During its hour-long taste of freedom, the animal knocked over a 69-year-old jogger, who had to be hospitalized for a shoulder injury. It gives new meaning to running with the bulls.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
The Tokyo Olympic torch starts its journey from the city of Naraha today, one year after the relay was postponed, along with the Games, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The torch will travel 9,653 kilometers (5,998 miles) through 859 municipalities across Japan and will be carried by approximately 10,000 torchbearers. After 121 days, it will arrive in Tokyo for the Opening Ceremony on July 23.
I ask forgiveness from all citizens.
— German Chancellor Angela Merkel backtracked on plans to impose a five-day lockdown in the country over Easter, a proposal that had triggered considerable anger from the population.
Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite. A growing number of tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town.
BELCHITE – Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Belchite in northeastern Spain became a strategic objective for the forces of the Republican government, before their assault on the nearby city of Zaragoza. Belchite seemed a simple target, but its capture took longer than expected. More than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting, and the town was decimated, with almost half the town's 3,100 residents dying in the struggle.
The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one. The streets remained deserted. Stray dogs were the only ones to venture into the weed-covered, pockmarked ruins. A sign written on one wall reads, "Old town, historic ruins." Graffitis scrawled on the doors of the Church of San Martín recall better times: "Old town of Belchite, youngsters no longer stroll your streets. The sound of the jotas our parents sang is gone."
Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, must remain exposed.
For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.
Haunting the filming of Baron Munchausen
The journalist and researcher Carlos Bogdanich decided to find out whether such claims made any sense, and visited Belchite on a cold October evening in 1986. He went with a crew from the television program Cuarta Dimensión (Fourth Dimension). Toward dawn, he related, a force seemed to pull and control them for several hours. They moved as if someone were guiding them, unaware of what they were doing. He recalled later, "We went up the Clock Tower. We thought we'd go right to the top. The next day, when we saw what we had done, we couldn't believe it. We could have gotten ourselves killed, and still, something enticed us to do this."
The true sounds of war reappeared.
They didn't see anything strange. But listening back to the recordings, they discovered sounds that could be easily identified with the war: planes, bombs, tanks, shots or army songs. The mysterious recordings made a big noise at the time, in Spain and around the world.
The legend began to take off then and has yet to subside today. Another example of paranormal events took place in the town during the filming of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). Some members of the film crew saw two women dressed in traditional clothes who vanished when approached.
Belchite's mysterious ambiance also inspired the Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who shot parts of Pan's Labyrinth here; and Spain's Albert Boadella, who had his grotesque version of General Francisco Franco in Have a Good Trip, Your Excellency returns to Belchite.
Ruins of the village of Belchite, in Zaragoza, Spain
Tourists drawn to unexplainable phenomena
Ordinary visitors have also encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends.
Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.
There are four zones where the experiences have been more intense: the Plaza de la Cruz, the mass grave, and the town's two churches. In fact, there are mass graves in all four spots, both from the Civil War and the plague epidemic that hit the area in the Middle Ages.
Whatever the truth of the accounts, Belchite has become one of the most visited sites in the province of Zaragoza in recent years. And regardless of ghosts, its streets were the setting of horrible acts and a history that should not be repeated. The streets of Belchite are the open wounds of a town that had to reinvent itself to go on living.
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