The World Today for February 23, 2021

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Division, Disease and Doubts

South Africa was going to launch a massive campaign to inject its citizens with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. But researchers discovered that the vaccine wouldn’t prevent the spread of the country’s variant of the coronavirus. So, as the Associated Press reported, those plans had to be scrapped.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine might not be as effective against the South African variant as it is against other versions of the virus either, according to studies cited in a Reuters story. South Africa is therefore pinning its hopes on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, CNN wrote. It’s the first country to approve the use of the drug.

Meanwhile, of course, the pandemic continues to ravage the country, one of the hardest hit on the African continent.

Lee McCabe lost both his parents only a few weeks before the government rolled out the Johnson & Johnson inoculations. He had placed them in a cottage on his property to keep them safe. But they insisted on going home. Somewhere in between they caught COVID-19 and died.

“Maybe if we didn’t let them go home, they’d still be around,” McCabe told CBS News. “If this [a vaccine] arrived a few months earlier, their lives would have been saved. That makes me angry, because I feel that we have delayed so long in getting much needed help to people that need it.”

To many South Africans, there is a discrepancy between wealthy countries that can harness their formidable medical research infrastructure to care for their citizens and others that must scramble to survive the smacks of Apartheid, the racist system of segregation that South Africans overthrew in the early 1990s.

Thabo Cecil Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, evoked Apartheid when he spoke to the Intercept to publicly request that President Joe Biden allow South Africans to use the Moderna vaccine by waiving patent protections that now keep the country from administering it.

The legacy of Apartheid is also affecting public health efforts within South Africa. People celebrated when white-minority ruled ended. But governments since then have been corrupt and incompetent. Consider this Maverick piece on an alleged plan to defraud the South African police, for example.

Trust in officials is at a low, Agence France-Presse reported. Many people are skeptical of vaccines and hesitant to take them.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said he hoped South Africa could become self-reliant in manufacturing vaccines, according to Eyewitness News, a local outlet.

Self-reliance would certainly help the country’s efforts to fight the virus. But reaching that milestone is easier said than done.



Still Here

Thousands of Algerians rallied in the capital, Algiers, and other cities Monday to mark the second anniversary of the “Hirak” anti-government protest movement that ousted longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019, France 24 reported.

The rallies were the first ones in nearly a year, after the movement halted its bi-weekly marches following the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some protesters hope that Monday’s rally will restart those regular demonstrations, in which tens of thousands of people would take to the streets of Algerian cities.

Others, however, remain skeptical that will happen, because of a lack of a clear opposition leadership.

Monday’s demonstrations come after Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a limited government reshuffle in a bid to head off renewed rallies.

The reshuffle only saw a few major changes by Tebboune, who also signed a decree to dissolve parliament in order to clear the way for early elections.

No election date has been set yet.

Last Thursday, Tebboune tried to appease demonstrators by pardoning nearly 40 pro-democracy activists, but Hirak members said they were unimpressed with the president’s reshuffle and his call for early polls.


Wave of Violence

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and two other people were killed Monday during an attack on a humanitarian convoy, the latest incident in a wave of violence in the country’s east, the New York Times reported.

Ambassador Luca Attanasio and the other two victims were traveling north to a food initiative at a school as part of a United Nations convoy before they were ambushed by unknown gunmen.

The World Food Program said the attack “occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.”

Italian officials offered their condolences for the diplomat’s death, and Congo’s government vowed to find the perpetrators.

The killings occurred in the North Kivu province near the border with Rwanda, an area known as a hotbed for violent activity by dozens of armed groups.

The province’s governor, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, said that initial investigations suggested that the attackers spoke Kinyarwanda, an official language in Rwanda.

Authorities suspect that the attack might have been perpetrated by members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a rebel group with links to the 1994 genocide in that country.

The attack comes amid a wave of violence in the area in recent weeks, including a deadly attack by a different militia in Virunga National Park that left six people dead last month.


Reporting for Duty

Women in Saudi Arabia will in the future be allowed to join the military, the latest profession the conservative kingdom has opened to females, Bloomberg reported.

Under the new rules, Saudi women can now be employed as soldiers, lance corporals, corporals, sergeants and staff sergeants. Female applicants can enlist as long as they have at least a high school diploma and are not married to a foreigner.

The new employment opportunity is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to reform the traditional country and transform the Arab world’s largest economy.

Jobs have gradually opened up for Saudi women since 2018, when the country abolished restrictions that prevented women from driving.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia took a major step in ending its male guardianship system by allowing women to leave the country without the permission of a male relative.

Last month, officials said that the kingdom will start appointing female court judges “soon.”

The new reforms have come even as women activists have been targeted by the crown prince’s crackdown on dissent, which tarnished his reputation as a reformer.


Funeral Beer

Ancient Egyptians loved beer so much they developed large factories to mass-produce it, according to a recent find.

An American-Egyptian team discovered what could be the world’s oldest known beer factory, dating back about 5,000 years, the BBC reported.

Located in the ancient burial ground of Abydos, the ancient factory had a production capacity of about 5,000 gallons of beer, archeologists believe. It comprised eight large areas, each 65 feet long and each containing about 40 earthenware pots used to heat a mixture of grain and water to make beer.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said that the old brewery dates back to the era of King Narmer, who ruled more than 5,000 years ago.

Narmer was responsible for the unification of Egypt and for founding the First Dynasty.

The ministry said in a statement that the old brewery “may have been built in this place specifically to supply the royal rituals that were taking place inside the funeral facilities of the kings of Egypt.”

While beer was important for funerary and sacrificial rites, it was also the perfect treat – and pay – for the workers that assembled the large pyramids, archeologist Patrick McGovern told Smithsonian Magazine in 2011.

“The pyramids might not have been built if there hadn’t been enough beer,” he said.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 28,190,403 (+0.20%)
  2. India: 11,016,434 (+0.10%)
  3. Brazil: 10,195,160 (+0.27%)
  4. Russia: 4,142,126 (+0.35%)
  5. UK: 4,138,233 (+0.19%)
  6. France: 3,669,354 (+2.00%)
  7. Spain: 3,153,971 (+0.67%)
  8. Italy: 2,818,863 (+0.34%)
  9. Turkey: 2,646,526 (+0.31%)
  10. Germany: 2,399,499 (+0.21%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

Correction: Monday’s NEED TO KNOW section on Afghanistan incorrectly suggested that a recent UN report attributed the killings of journalists and human rights activists in the country to the Taliban. The UN report urged “the Taliban to adopt, publicize and enforce policies that prohibit the killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers,” and “underscored the role of all actors in preventing such killings.” 

We apologize for the error.

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