Staff Writer

South America, record deaths and coronavirus contagions in Chile despite 41% population vaccinated
Americas

South America, record deaths and coronavirus contagions in Chile despite 41% population vaccinated

The coronavirus continues to spread and make victims in Latin America and there is also a paradox, that of Chile. Since February 3, when the anti-Covid immunization campaign began, over 41 percent of the inhabitants have received at least one dose. Only Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States have done better. Of the more than thirteen million people reached, nearly seven – about one-third of the population – are fully vaccinated. At the rate of the current 300,000 injections per day, the goal of 80 percent of those immunized by the end of June does not seem so far off.

Yet, in the last month, the South American country has seen a dramatic surge in contagions and deaths. Since the end of March, the new cases have not dropped below 6 thousand. And there is an average of one hundred victims a day. On Friday, with nearly 7,000 infected and 179 deaths, Chile seemed to have plunged back into the nightmare of a year ago.

The apparent inconsistency is the result of a mix of factors, from the penetration of the so-called “Brazilian variant” – more lethal and contagious – to the type of serum used. Only 10 percent of the time Pfizer-BioNTech was administered: the rest – 90 percent – to be distributed was Coronavac, produced by the Beijing Sinovac laboratory, whose effectiveness is the subject of international controversy.

The product has not yet been included in the emergency list drawn up by the group of strategic consultants of the World Health Organization. This reticence is due to the non-publication by the Dragon of the data collected in the last phase of experimentation. To raise doubts, the recent statement by Gao Fu, director of the Beijing Disease Control Centers, admitted “a not very good protection rate” by his antidotes. A severe blow for the whole of Latin America, the one where the Chinese preparations of Sinovac, Sinopharm, and CanSino are most widespread. Not so much by choice as by necessity. Faced with the difficulties of obtaining supplies from US and European pharmaceutical companies, the countries of the continent – primarily Chile – have turned to the help of the Dragon, very skilled in using vaccines as a soft-power tool.

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To explain the resurgence of the pandemic in Santiago is also the excess of “government triumphalism” – as stated by a study of the Icovid platform, carried out by the University of Chile, the Pontifical Catholic University, and the Concepciób University – which, given the good performance of the immunization campaign, since the beginning of the year, has removed the restrictions. Except, now, being forced to abruptly back off.

Since April, the nation has closed its borders until May 1, imposed a curfew from 9 pm, and confinement in many regions. Above all, the escalation of contagions caused local elections to be postponed again as well as those to designate the 155 members of the Constituent Assembly, including 17 representatives of native minorities. Initially scheduled for 25 October, the consultations had been postponed to 26 April, only to be delayed now to 15 and 16 May. And it is not certain that even this time, people will not be able to vote.

A further postponement, however, would risk raising the political temperature. On 25 October last year, over 78 percent of citizens expressed their support for the drafting of a new Constitution. Precisely with the referendum, the country had managed to give an institutional outlet to the anti-inequality protests at the end of 2019. The square – whose movement does not recognize itself in traditional parties – is ready to battle against other delays. Meanwhile, Piñera’s popularity, rising from the initial success of the vaccination campaign, is once again in free fall.

New record of Covid-19 contagions in Germany, Parliament approves new restrictions
Americas

New record of Covid-19 contagions in Germany, Parliament approves new restrictions

Germany registered a new record in coronavirus contagions which forced the Parliament to approve an emergency package of new restrictions, including for the first time a national curfew. All while mounting the protest against the lockdown, with demonstrations also yesterday in Berlin. The growth of new cases does not stop: according to data from the Robert Koch Institute, the German epidemiological center, 29,518 infections were registered in 24 hours, with an incidence of more than 161 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days.

In parallel, there are 259 deaths related to COVID-19, which brings the total number of victims in the Federal Republic, from the beginning of the pandemic to 80,893, while the total number of people who contracted the Coronavirus exceeded 3.21 million.

The third wave of the coronavirus worries chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government. The Bundestag, the federal Parliament, yesterday passed that “emergency brake” which has been talked about for days by majority vote. Now, there is only the green light from the Bundesrat which will examine the measures today. The big news is that the measures will have a national character, removing for the first time from the beginning of the pandemic some specific competencies from the Laender, and will automatically trigger where the incidence rate will exceed 100 infections per 100 thousand inhabitants.

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Among the restrictions, there is also a night curfew at 10 pm. The text also provides for the closure of most of the shops, a limit to gatherings: in practice, only family members plus an outsider can be brought together; children under 14 are excluded. And be careful: because if the incidence were to break through 165, actually 161 at the national level, schools should resort to distance learning. A maximum of 30 people would be allowed to attend the funerals and public ceremonies.

In such a critical context, the campaign on anti-Covid vaccines continues unabated. To speed up the vaccination campaigns, three Laender (Mecklenburg, Bavaria, and Saxony) have decided to ‘liberalize’ AstraZeneca administration by allowing anyone to get vaccinated regardless of age and other priorities. There is no dose to lose, much less waste. The green light comes despite the recommendation of the health authority for the administration of the vaccine doses only to the over 60s. A specific medical evaluation will suffice and those under 60 years old will be able to receive the Anglo-Swedish vaccine.

Bolivia’s former President Jeanine Anez gets arrested over alleged coup charges
Americas

Bolivia’s former President Jeanine Anez gets arrested over alleged coup charges

On Saturday, Bolivia’s Bolivia’s former interim President Jeanine Anez got arrested as officials of the opposition charged her of helping in the coup and oust socialist leader Evo Morales in 2019. 

Supporters of Morales alleged Anez had a hand in the coup. She got arrested from Trinidad and was flown to the capital La Paz, where she had to appear in front of the prosecutor.

“This is an injustice and abuse,” she told journalists after the appearance. “There was no overthrow, but a lawful succession,” she added. 

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Anez, many ministers, and security officials are facing charges of conspiracy, sedition, and terrorism over an alleged coup on Bolivia’s 13-year long served government, as per the arrest warrant which she posted on social media.

Anez headed Bolivia for around half a year after when Evo Morales left office following election results, violence, and protests.

In letters to the European Union and the Organization of the American States, Anez pleaded for observer missions to probe her case and other ministers’ arrest.

On Saturday, Government Minister Eduardo del Castillo affirmed that the Public Prosecutor’s Office had confined Anez for association in a coup that happened in 2019.

According to Reuters, America’s Human Rights Watch director, Jose Miguel Vivanco stated that the arrest warrants contained no proof to state any kind of terrorism.

Lula’s criminal convictions annulled, paves the way to challenge Bolsonaro with restored political rights
Americas

Lula’s criminal convictions annulled, paves the way to challenge Bolsonaro with restored political rights

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is all set to make a dramatic comeback after a supreme court judge moves to annul multiple criminal convictions against him. With this, the leftist icon will have restored his political rights and thus give a right-up challenge to the current controversial president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. 

Analysts note that this move is a “political bombshell” as Lula is incumbent to challenge Bolsonaro for the 2022 presidential election. Thomas Trautmann, a political observer said, “The election starts today … It’s virtually impossible Lula won’t be a candidate. In American terms, it’s going to be like Sanders versus Trump.” 

A leading Brazilian financial newspaper, Valor Economico said, “Lula is back in the game.” 

Lula, as he is fondly called, was president of Latin America’s leading economy for straight two terms, between 2003 and 2011. His leadership brought in commodity-led growth and poverty reduction in Brazil. The 75-year-old Workers’ Party leader was seeking for a third term in 2018 but his dreams were squashed after he was jailed over corruption charges. This paved the way for Bolsonaro’s landslide victory in the presidential election. Lula was later released in November 2019 but was stripped off of his political rights. 

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Lula has been outspoken about Bolsonaro’s controversial leadership amid the Coronavirus pandemic. He has accused far-right leaders of pushing Brazil to “slaughterhouse” with his “reckless” response against Covid-19. In an interview last year Lula had said, “You can be certain the left will be governing Brazil again after 2022. We will vote for someone who is committed to human rights and respects them, who respects environmental protection, who respects the Amazon … who respects blacks and the indigenous. We’re going to elect someone who is committed to the poor of this country.” 

Social media is flooded with Lula’s supporters rejoicing over the development using hashtag #LulaPresidente2022. 

Biden commemorates ‘Bloody Sunday’, calls Congress to restore voting rights act
Americas

Biden commemorates ‘Bloody Sunday’, calls Congress to restore voting rights act

On Sunday, US president Joe Biden calls Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965 after a violent protest in Selma, Alabama also called ‘Bloody Sunday’

He signed an executive order aiming at assisting to guaranteeing all Americans the right to vote by expanding access to voters’ information and registration services.

In 1965, over 600 civil rights activists were violently beaten by state police as they attempted to march for voting rights in Selma, AL. The occasion usually brings thousands of people to Selma for recognizing the 1965 march. The incident shook the entire country and started the support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

In 2021, lawmakers honored Lewis, who represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District decades in Congress, and three other late civil rights pioneers, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, and lawyer Bruce Boynton, with wreaths at the bridge. They all passed away last year. 

The online event showed a video film from the 1965 March, cited speakers who present, and showed Birmingham artist Alvin Garrett who sang “It Starts in the Heart.” 

Biden stated in a virtual address “Each eligible voter ought to have the option to cast a ballot and have it included in his remarks to Sunday’s Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast before marking the order”. If you have the best plans, you don’t have anything to hide, but let people decide.

Biden’s signed executive order directs federal organizations to grow access to citizen election information and registrations, pushes updates of the government’s Vote.gov website, and approaches the heads of offices to concoct plans to give government representatives time to cast a ballot or volunteers as a nonpartisan poll worker.

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Democrats are endeavoring to cement support for House Resolution 1, which addresses every part of the discretionary interaction. It was affirmed Wednesday on a close to the partisan principal vote, 220-210. 

Other current and former heads tended to the occasion in online media posts, including former US President Barack Obama

“56 years after ‘Bloody Sunday’, our walk isn’t yet ended,” he said. There are more strides to be taken; we have to cross many bridges. That’s the reason the Obama Presidential Center is intended to respect the honorable people who carried us and inspired the upcoming generations to lead us forward, he added.

Texas and Mississippi lift the obligation to wear Covid protections, Biden furious: “Primitive reasoning, Neanderthal stuff”
Americas

Texas and Mississippi lift the obligation to wear Covid protections, Biden furious: “Primitive reasoning, Neanderthal stuff”

Texas and Mississippi lift the obligation to wear Covid protections by March, 10. The two states follow the example of Montana, Iowa, North Dakota, Louisiana, and Michigan.

They have already loosened their ties, while in the other 10 states there has never been mandatory, the only recommended masks, and the imposition left to the initiative of counties and cities, as happened in Miami in Florida and Phoenix in Arizona. But, above all, from today all commercial activities will reopen one hundred percent: as if the epidemic, in short, was over.

Texas ran out of patience with Covid-19. Less than a year after the introduction (albeit very loose and very tormented) of closures, masks, and social distance, the governor Greg Abbott who, a bit like his state, is Trumpian but first of all, Texan, has made it known that, although it concerns him, the emergency is over. “From next week we start again with the month nothing had happened: no masks, no elbow greetings, no closures”. 

“The numbers of the contagion are dropping, we vaccinate at full speed: certain measures are no longer needed,” Greg Abbott added, in difficulty due to the disastrous way in which he handled the frost emergency in mid-February. The resulting blackout left the citizens of the Lone State without electricity and water for days. Now, he hopes to find the support of the voters by giving a little push to the economy with the reopening. Immediately imitated by the governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves, a party colleague.

Too bad that only on Monday the Cdcp, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the government body dealing with the prevention and monitoring of infectious diseases, had made it clear: “It is not yet time to let our guard down.” Sure, the numbers are falling across America. In a country that has exceeded 29 million infections, new cases have fallen for the first time in months to an average of about 65 thousand a day. Together with the number of deaths, “collapsed”, at an average of about two thousand: “Thanks to vaccines, of course, but also to basic precautions such as the widespread use of masks” repeats Dr. Rochelle Wilensky, head of the CDC.

In the meantime, it is launching a new alarm: there are too many variants in circulation and the vaccines still do not cover a sufficient number of people. We risk, shortly, the fourth wave. The forecasts are already alarming, there could be a new peak in deaths within the next three weeks.

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That is about 50 thousand new deaths between now and March 27, numbers that would bring the dramatic record of American deaths to about 565 thousand by Easter. That is why the choice of those states also opposes President Joe Biden. “This is a serious mistake. Now more than ever everyone must follow the directions of scientists. We must resist at least until the summer. If we are about to beat the virus it is because we are following the rules”.

Texas becomes the first US state to lift mask mandate
Americas

Texas becomes the first US state to lift mask mandate

Texas becomes the first US state to end the mask mandate amid the pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday. Making it the most populous state to end one of the most useful methods to slow down the virus spread.

Abbott stated at a news meeting on Tuesday, “It is currently an ideal moment to open Texas 100%. However, “Covid-19 has not abruptly vanished,” he added. 

As per the AP news, the sudden announcement in Texas has startled doctors and big-city leaders, as the coronavirus has killed over 43,000 individuals in the city. One hospital administrator in Houston told his frontline workers that they would soon require more ventilators and medical staff. 

Many health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have advised against reopening the states fast. On Friday, at a White House press meeting, Dr. Fauci cautioned against easing coronavirus protocols until the U.S. new covid cases are below the average baseline. 

White House senior coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt told CNN on Tuesday that he hopes that Abbott will reconsider the removal of restrictions, particularly ending wearing of the facial masks. 

Eatery owners have started worrying whether they would also relax the coronavirus protocols while dining as they were already permitted to be completely open.

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Abbott’s official order will be fully implemented on March 10, abrogating a past chief request gave in October. As per the new orders, if hospitalization rates surpass the 15% medical bed capacity within a week, the county judges may utilize relief methodologies in their jurisdictions. 

On the contrary, on Tuesday, Texas has reported 2.6 million cases and 43,918 deaths, as per Johns Hopkins University.

What will a $300 child benefit in the US equalize to?
Americas

What will a $300 child benefit in the US equalize to?

The United States in Biden’s presidency is planning something that has never been done in America – providing child benefit of $300. This will prove to offer a considerable seismic shift in the US that has one of the highest rates of child poverty in developed countries.

In a stimulus of up to $300 per child per month, the Democrats are planning to include this under the larger coronavirus spending package. Biden’s spokesperson has relayed that though current plans are to concentrate on ‘emergency’ funding and not on a permanent directional shift, anti-poverty advocates argue that a program of offering monthly child benefit will work towards more lasting change in demolishing poverty in the country. Michelle Dallafior of First Focus on Children said, “Child poverty in this country has been persistently high and once we get a program into place and iron out those wrinkles, then we’re going to keep pushing to make sure that it is permanent.” 

He added, “It is an emergency and not a temporary one.”

Child benefit is offered in most of the countries, including the UK and Canada for decades together now. US has its fears that such ‘social welfare programmes’ would discourage people from working, and that these would rely chiefly on annual tax credit. In US, the programme that was introduced in 1997, currently equates to $2000 per child. But how much a family gets per child depends on how much it makes, and thus owes tax. This complex design leaves the children and families who need this benefit the most. The group that do not receive full benefit comprise of poor, black and Hispanic predominantly. 

What’s the Democratic plan & what would the changes do?

Under Democratic plan, tax credit would enable families to receive up to $3,600 per child per year under 6 years and for up to 18 years age $3000. The benefits would be computed monthly and would be provided to no and low income families, further extending to single parent households that earn over $75,000 and for couples earning over $150,000. 

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This plan will potentially reduce poverty among children and improve their quality of life. This will also benefit families and improve country’s birth rate that has been declining rapidly, as envisioned by Senator Mitt Romney who proposes monthly allowance per child.  

Switzerland asks for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, how has Swiss neutrality changed?
Geopolitics

Switzerland asks for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, how has Swiss neutrality changed?

Switzerland is applying for a seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The elections for membership in the period 2023/2024 will take place in June 2022. With a virtual event held in New York, to which the President of the Confederation, Simonetta Sommaruga, and Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis participated with a speech each, the candidacy is entering the final stage.

Switzerland officially presented its candidacy for the UN Security Council as early as 2011. After the election of its direct predecessor within the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) regional group for the period 2021/2022, it is now starting for Switzerland, the final phase of the candidacy. Which, with the slogan “A Plus for Peace”, was virtually presented to representatives of all UN missions on the evening of 29 October in New York. On Friday 30 Oct., the President of the Confederation and Federal Councillor Cassis informed the media in Bern about the event and the state of implementation of the candidacy. A seat on the Security Council will enable Switzerland to commit itself to its foreign policy objectives and to demonstrate its capabilities for peace and security.

President Sommaruga and Federal Councillor Cassis originally planned a trip to New York. Due to the restrictive measures on entry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event took place exclusively in a virtual manner. In her video speech, the President of the Confederation highlighted the strengths of the Swiss political system. “We are looking for consensual solutions both in our domestic and foreign policy. The only way to create consensus is dialogue.” Cassis underlined, highlighting the positive contribution that Switzerland would like to make to the Security Council. “We have a reputation for being reliable partners with a long tradition of promoting peace.” He added, also reiterating Switzerland’s commitment to the rule of law, democracy, peace, and security. When it comes to running for important UN bodies, it is customary for candidate states to present themselves appropriately to the electoral body.

Who would have thought that the highly reserved Switzerland, which entered the United Nations only in 2002, thanks to a referendum in which a little more than half of the voters agreed, had in the meantime gained such momentum as to demand a seat in the UN Security Council? The non-permanent seat coveted by Bern is one of the two vacating for the two years 2023-2024, and the Swiss government is exercising discrete lobbying to win it. However, this ambition for observers would clash with Swiss neutrality. 

The United Nations Security Council has to take positions in the ongoing conflicts. For a State being neutral means keeping out of armed conflict. Swiss neutrality dates back de facto to 1516, when one year after the battle of Marignano, the last armed conflict fought by the troops of the Confederation of the XIII and, which ended with a bitter defeat by the French army. Switzerland signed with king Francis I of France a peace treaty destined to make a school. Considered posterior as the birth certificate of Swiss neutrality, this treaty provided, among other things, for a court of arbitrators chosen by both parties to settle any future disputes. Thanks to this pact, Switzerland managed to keep a low profile in foreign policy for over two centuries. Only in 1798, with the country’s occupation by the French army, the old Confederation was forced to temporarily abandon its neutrality.

Officially, Swiss neutrality was recognized for the first time by the great European powers in the Treaty of Paris of November 20, 1815. On that occasion, Austria, Great Britain, Portugal, Prussia, and Russia undertook to respect Switzerland’s will not to interfere in future military operations and, at the same time, guaranteed territorial inviolability. Neutrality is a principle of international law. The rights and obligations, linked to a neutral country status, first written codification dates back to the 1907 Hague Conventions. Among the obligations, in addition to non-belligerence during a conflict and self-defense, also among the rights stands the inviolability of its territory. Neutrality is not one of the aims of the state in the Swiss Constitution but is mentioned in the list of duties of the National Assembly.

Throughout history, Swiss neutrality has taken on different forms and connotations. Faced with international conflicts, the Confederation cannot avoid questioning itself on the behavior to adopt and on the meaning to attribute from time to time to the concept of active and armed neutrality. At the end of the First World War, Switzerland joined the League of Nations and was also willing to adopt economic sanctions.

When the Second World War then broke out, to consolidate its neutrality, the country decreed the general mobilization of the army, thus sending a strong and clear signal to the potential aggressors who, in the event of an attack, would defend the own territory.

Is the vaccine passport really a good idea for Europe? Experts raise doubts
Europe

Is the vaccine passport really a good idea for Europe? Experts raise doubts

In Europe, the idea of ​​granting benefits to travelers who have been vaccinated is gaining ground. However, the idea of ​​a European vaccination passport seems at least premature, if not downright reckless, at this stage of the pandemic. Initially proposed by the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and welcomed by political leaders of other countries with a significant tourist economy, the vaccine passport should serve in the coming months to overcome the limitations of travel within the Union. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, welcomed it as a medical requirement necessary to keep borders open.

As Alberto Alemanno chair of European Union Law at the Grande École des Hautes Etudes Commercials (HEC) in Paris, and Luiza Bialasiewicz chair of European Governance at the University of Amsterdam, write in an editorial published on the Italian “La Repubblica,” the adoption of this measure, risks having a series of unintended consequences. Because it is based on wrong premises from a legal, scientific, and territorial point of view. Also, instead of uniting Europe by reducing travel restrictions, the vaccine passport would simply create new frontiers between people registered as safe and those who are not safe.

Experts point out that, in the first place, the certificate bases on the assumption that those who will be allowed to travel are no longer carriers of the virus. The data currently in our possession suggest that vaccines for Covid-19 block the manifestation of symptoms but, as regards the transmission of the virus, only slow it down. So, the scientific premise behind the passport seems at least questionable.

But it is not only the erroneous scientific premises that cast doubts on the proposal aimed at introducing a pan-European vaccination document. The prerequisite for making freedom of movement within the Union conditional on vaccination should be equal access to the vaccine. At the moment, the strong differences in the course of the vaccination campaign among EU Member States make the probability of being vaccinated for the citizens of some countries much higher than in others. The Danes would be much freer to move than the French.

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The Germans would be many months before the Dutch. There are also significant geographical differences within member countries, where those who live outside large urban areas are less likely to access the vaccine, while the ability of individual regions to organize the first phase of administration is highly variable.

In addition to these differences, depending on the residence country or region, individual Member States are free to choose the people’s categories to be vaccinated as precedence. Apart from the rightly given priority to the categories most at risk, such as medical personnel and the elderly, each Member State is free to choose the next groups of “essential” individuals who will receive the vaccine: teachers, transport workers, journalists, and so on. In short, the people defined as “essential” or “on the front line” in each EU country do not necessarily correspond to the same groups of people.

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