Welcome to Friday, where Pope Francis arrives in Baghdad, Youtube shuts down Myanmar military channels and a Thai cat rescue is captured in photos. We've also got a reportage from China, translated from The Initium, on how the "One-Child-Only" generation is opting out of kids of their own.
Whatever it takes, Mario Draghi: vaccine wars and Europe's burdens
It was nearly nine years ago that Mario Draghi first burst onto the world stage. The Italian-born Draghi, who had recently taken over as the President of the European Central Bank, declared that he would do "whatever it takes' to save the Euro from speculative attacks. "And believe me," he added, "It will be enough."
That statement, on July 26 2012, and the policies to back it up, were aimed at helping multiple European countries — Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece — survive a severe debt crisis that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. Many came to see Draghi's bold action as an essential turning point in the Eurozone — and the stuff to earn the dapper economist a place in the history books.
His skills in crisis management for the European economy also explains why Draghi, 73, was hand-picked last month by a wide range of Italian political leaders to step in to rescue his native country as a caretaker Prime Minister in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic crisis.
Yesterday, Draghi's first major decision as Italy's leader had a different flavor than his famous "whatever it takes' line: blocking the shipment to Australia of 250,000 Italian-made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The same day, large swathes of Italy were put under new coronavirus restrictions and experts said the new variants risked again overwhelming the country, exactly one year after it became the first Western epicenter of the pandemic.
The Italian government said the shipment was blocked because Australia was doing relatively well to contain the spread of the virus, and because of AstraZeneca's long-running delays to deliver vaccine doses to EU countries.
The decision comes as most European countries have stumbled in their vaccine rollouts, particularly compared to other Western nations such as the U.S., Israel and notably the UK following Brexit. Draghi is the first leader of an EU country to apply new rules to give member states teeth to fight back against unfulfilled orders by the manufacturers of the different vaccines.
"Something has changed" headlinedLa Repubblica, while conservative-leaning dailyIl Foglio had a blunter take: "Welcome to the global vaccine war."
Today's health crisis is of course very different from the debt crisis of nine years ago — it's far too early to tell whether Draghi's vaccine strategy will also be vindicated by history. But for Europe, there's a certain deja vu in seeing its own particular vulnerability to the latest illness spreading around the world. "Whatever it takes…" and whatever that means for a continent still trying to figure out how to be stronger than the sum of its parts.
— Alessio Perrone
• COVID-19 latest: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo aides altered a report to obscure the true number of people killed by COVID-19. An Austrian company is under investigation for commercial fraud for labelling FFP2 masks as "Made in Austria" when they were actually made in China. Meanwhile China has come under fire over subjecting foreign travelers to anal swab covid tests. In a world's first, nine apes in a California zoo get vaccinated.
• Pope in Iraq:Pope Francis has arrived in Baghdad for a historic visit, as the first Pope to travel to Iraq, a country fractured by modern wars but with a central role in the holy bible.
• Myanmar coup: YouTube removes five channels run by Myanmar's military, and townships have started forming their own governing bodies. The junta is reportedly "very surprised" by lack of support.
• Beijing's new Hong Kong electoral rules: A Beijing-controlled election committee would give itself power to veto any Hong Kong candidate, effectively overhauling its own legal system.
• Honor killing in India: Police in India arrest a man who beheaded his teenage daughter and carried her severed head to the police station after seeing her with a man.
• New Zealand earthquake: An 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck the Kermadec Islands this morning.
• UK royal family drama: The Crown, Season 5?? As the world is set to watch Oprah Winfrey's blockbuster interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) is under investigation following the surfacing of a bullying complaint made in October 2018.
Swedish daily Göteborgs-Posten displays the "shock" of Vetlanda's inhabitants, after a 22-year-old man attacked and injured eight people with an axe. His motives remain unknown.
China's generation of only children choose cats over babies
China's total fertility rate is lower than most developed countries, despite the fact that the country lifted its one-child only control in 2016. Why are young Chinese couples hesitant to become parents? For Yang Jinyan, writing in Hong-Kong based media The Initium, there are a number of reasons: astronomical housing prices and exorbitant education expenses, but also a new desire to pursue personal happiness and the lifestyle choices of a generation raised to be self-centered as their family's only child.
In Beijing, housing prices range from 60,000 to 100,000 RMB (€7,000 - €12,850) per square meter. This financial pressure is too high for some couples. "The cost of a mortgage to buy a home is a natural contraceptive," says 29-year-old Cangcang. She and her husband share the financial burden of their mortgage. "What we earn essentially completely disappears just paying off our loan. When you have to carry such a financial burden, it's natural that you lose any real interest in having children," she says.
Meanwhile, the cost of raising a child and the fierce competition for education is also daunting for younger generations. "Sending a toddler to a kindergarten costs more than 10,000 RMB a month, which is my total salary. I'd prefer to just get a cat. It doesn't need to go to school, so I don't have to buy an apartment in a district with good schooling," says Menglin, a Beijinger of 31.
For a generation of only children, as is the case for both Cangcang and her husband, young people today in China also face a harsh reality – the burden of care when their parents become old. The responsibility of supporting and caring for the four parents on both sides is hard enough, "yet it would be even harder for our child, if we were to have one, since he or she will be faced with six older people!"
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Praise Putin! Pandemic diplomacy in a small Argentine town
For a brief, strange moment this week, the geopolitics of the COVID-19 pandemic shifted from world capitals and pharmaceutical giants to a small town in Argentina.
That's where Juan Carlos Gasparini, district mayor of Roque Pérez, population 10,000, went for his second dose of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine with the intention of sending a message to the world and ... Vladimir Putin!
To express his appreciation of Russian-made vaccine, the 72-year-old official arrived for his injection carrying a large framed photo of the controversial Russian president, whom he credits for saving countless lives in Argentina.
"I brought the picture because I am proud of him," the Argentine daily Clarín cited the 72-year-old mayor as saying. "For some time I've been wanting to pay homage to Putin… Today everyone wants to be vaccinated with the Russian vaccine. I said it three months ago: we'd all be fighting to get the Sputnik V."
Photographs of Gasparini carrying the image of Putin made national news in a country known for its gaping grieta, as Argentina's deep political divide is called. While the previous government, under conservative president Mauricio Macri(2015-2019), kept close ties with the United States, the administration of current President Alberto Fernández, a member of the Peronist party, has shifted its focus to strengthening ties with Russia and China.
After speaking with reporters, Gasparini also shared his thoughts (and photo) on Twitter.
"I received the vaccine. Thank you!!" he wrote. "They said they would poison us but they're saving our lives."
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According to a report by the United Nations, a global average of 121 kilograms of food is wasted per person every year (around 931 million tons in total). Nigeria tops the list of countries, with an average of 189 kg wasted per inhabitant every year — a paradox as the United Nations also registers nearly 700 million people around the world suffering from hunger.
Stop whining. How long are you going to keep crying about it?
— Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said at a public event, criticizing the measures to curb the virus, a day after Brazil recorded its highest-ever daily death toll.