The World Today for March 10, 2021

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Muscle Memory

Officials in Guinea are quickly vaccinating citizens to stop a dangerous virus from killing people. Covid-19 isn’t the big problem in the small, poor West African nation, however. It’s a potentially far deadlier threat – Ebola.

“Our collective, quick action is crucial to averting an uncontrolled spread of Ebola,” World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti told the New Scientist, a British magazine.

Ebola struck Guinea seven years ago. It spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone until 2016. More than 11,000 people died in the region. Since then, outbreaks have also occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 50 people died in that country last year due to Ebola. Another outbreak there is ongoing now. Tracking infected folks who have the disease is difficult in countries where migrancy, poverty and other social ills are common. In the Congo, add a dangerous and violent conflict into the mix.

Ebola claims around half of those whom it infects, the UN noted. The US is requiring airlines to provide information about anyone who has been in either DRC or Guinea before they can enter the US, reported CNBC.

Ebola is back because it never went away, wrote National Institute for Communicable Diseases Senior Medical Scientist Jacqueline Weyer in the Conversation. It is ever-present in nature, particularly in fruit bats, where it evolves and mutates into new strains that sooner or later find their way into humans. Body fluids transmit Ebola. Many humans are exposed to the virus when they butcher infected animals, CNN reported.

The good news, argued Weyer, is that Guineans have a lot of experience combating Ebola. Scientists have developed vaccines to help stop the virus, too, giving doctors a leg up in handling the scourge. Doctors Without Borders warned, however, that many people won’t receive the vaccine, so depending on it to stop Ebola could be a misguided approach.

Of course, Guinea is also fighting the coronavirus at the same time. Weyer wondered if Guineans could tap into their “muscle memory” from the 2014-2016 outbreak to squash this outbreak quickly. The answer might be yes but it probably won’t be a resounding yes.

Guinea’s Minister of Health, Remy Lamah, noted how officials identified Ebola and launched a response within days of the first suspected case, Reuters wrote. In 2014-2016, months passed before they understood what they were facing.

Still, the country’s rickety healthcare system and treasury are buckling under the responsibilities. “There is a systemic shortage of health-care workers…because of the lack of training centers and because the pay is horrendous.” Amer Sattar, a doctor in the capital of Conakry, told the Washington Post.

The world is developing strategies for pandemics, say observers. Hopefully, humanity will be wise enough to use them.



The Three Musketeers

The European Parliament voted Tuesday to strip former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and two of his ministers from parliamentary immunity, a move that could see them extradited and prosecuted in Spain on charges that include sedition, Euronews reported.

The lawmakers’ vote follows a recommendation by a European parliamentary committee last month to lift immunity for the trio because the events involving the three parliamentarians took place before they entered the European Parliament.

In 2017, the three former officials fled to Belgium to evade arrest in relation to their role in organizing that year’s independence referendum in Spain’s region of Catalonia. Spanish authorities say the vote was illegal and have tried to issue European warrants for their arrest.

The three leaders later gained immunity when they were elected to the European Parliament in 2019, the Guardian reported.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s vote was welcomed by Spanish authorities. The former Catalan officials said they would appeal the decision at the European Court of Justice – that would extend the legal wrangling for at least a year.

The appeal will not impede Spanish courts from issuing new warrants for their arrest. Even so, in 2018, a Belgian court rejected a warrant for Puigdemont and another minister, saying the charge of rebellion did not exist in Belgian law. Earlier this year, another Belgian court denied extradition for another Catalan politician, Lluís Puig, ruling that the Spanish Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to hear his case.

Regardless, Puigdemont faces charges in Spain for sedition and misuse of public funds related to the 2017 referendum and the unilateral declaration of independence, which he made as the then-leader of Catalonia.

In Spain, nine Catalan pro-separatist leaders and activists have already been found guilty of sedition and given prison sentences of between 9 and 13 years. Puigdemont and the other two ministers were supposed to be part of that same trial.


Back in the Game

A Brazilian Supreme Court judge voided the convictions of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a verdict that will allow the popular left-wing leader to run again in Brazil’s 2022 presidential elections, the Telegraph reported Tuesday.

In a surprise decision, the judge ruled that a court in the southern city of Curitiba had lacked the authority to try Lula on corruption charges and that he must be retried in federal courts in the capital Brasilia.

In a controversial 2017 trial, Lula was sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption and money laundering charges.

While in prison, the leftist icon ran for Brazil’s highest political office in 2018 but a court barred his candidacy, which later allowed his opponent, Jair Bolsonaro, to win the election.

Lula was later released in 2019 after evidence emerged that prosecutors and judges illegally collaborated to convict him.

Monday’s ruling was welcomed by international leftist figures with Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez saying that “justice has been done.”

Bolsonaro, meanwhile, expressed surprise at the verdict but said that Brazilians wouldn’t vote for the former president in next year’s elections. However, a recent IPEC survey found that 50 percent would choose Lula in 2022.

Lula served as Brazil’s leader from 2003 to 2010 and his presidency was marked by a period of growth and poverty reduction in Latin America’s largest economy. Analysts now say his release would polarize voters between President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, and Lula, his greatest opponent on the left, likely driving Bolsonaro to abandon economic reforms he ran on in 2018 and further embrace populist measures to shore up support, Reuters wrote.


For the People

Delegates at China’s most important conference made numerous social policy proposals this week including “romance and marriage lessons” in schools and ending compulsory English lessons, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Deputies proposed new changes during the two-session Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which primarily focuses on high-level geopolitical and national issues.

Among the changes, representatives suggested mandatory lessons at universities to strengthen “emotional education” in relationships, an initiative aimed at tackling China’s aging population: The world’s most populous country is facing a crisis of declining birth and marriage rates, as well as a rising number of divorces.

Other delegates also suggested linking China’s controversial social credit system – a set of databases and initiatives that monitor and assess the trustworthiness of individuals, companies and government entities – with pet ownership to punish individuals that abandon their animals. The proposal would include the microchipping of animals to identify owners.

Many Chinese netizens welcomed the suggestions but some remained wary about pet tracking.

China’s social credit system has received criticism from privacy rights groups but a 2019 study from the University College London in Britain found that many in China saw the system as important “to boosting public morality through the fighting of fraud and crime and combatting what is currently seen as a nationwide crisis of trust.”


Know Thyself

Dogs pick up human emotions and sometimes, they deceive people for treats – and they know they are doing it.

In fact, a new study suggests the animals are self-aware, that they are conscious of their bodies and recognize the consequences of their actions, according to New Scientist.

A research team conducted a test for body awareness on 32 dogs to determine if the pooches understood that their bodies were acting as obstacles to achieving their goals.

In one experiment, the team instructed each pet to retrieve a toy that was attached to a mat the dog was standing on – meaning that the dog had to first move off the mat to retrieve the toy.

Their results showed that about 80 percent of dogs left the mat when attempting to complete the task.

Lead author Rita Lenkei explained that the canines figured out their bodies were hindering them from completing their task, suggesting a sense of body awareness.

But she added that this form of awareness is just “a piece of the puzzle.”

Dogs can’t recognize themselves in the mirror – unlike elephants or manta rays. That suggests that self-awareness varies across species depending on their evolution and ecology.

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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: 29,096,053 (+0.17%)
  2. India: 11,262,707 (+0.16%)
  3. Brazil: 11,122,429 (+0.64%)
  4. Russia: 4,293,750 (+0.00%)**
  5. UK: 4,241,858 (+0.14%)
  6. France: 3,992,755 (+0.58%)
  7. Spain: 3,164,982 (+0.13%)
  8. Italy: 3,101,093 (+0.64%)
  9. Turkey: 2,807,387 (+0.49%)
  10. Germany: 2,521,024 (+0.25%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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