The World Today for May 25, 2021

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Worry and Leisure

Americans Shivani Pathak and Bo Sutton were both vaccinated when they went to the Seychelles for a vacation. But, as the Denver Post reported, the married couple recently had to go into quarantine after they tested positive for the virus.

Their plight and the experience of other tourists led the World Health Organization to launch an investigation into coronavirus data in the Seychelles after officials found that 37 percent of those who tested positive for the virus in the country between April 30 and May 8 had been vaccinated, Reuters wrote.

The numbers are concerning, to say the least. An island nation in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa, the Seychelles has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world – more than 60 percent have received two doses of vaccines while more than 70 percent have had at least one shot, according to CNBC.

Yet the country with a population of less than 100,000 has seen a surge in cases this month, raising additional questions beyond the data, like why its vaccination efforts have not yielded better results.

“It is providing a critical case to consider the effectiveness of some vaccines and what range we have to reach to meet herd immunity,” Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Global Health Yanzhong Huang told the Washington Post.

Experts are wondering about the role of the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, whose vaccine has been used to inoculate almost 60 percent of the Seychelles’ citizens who have had a jab, in the country’s experience, the New York Times added.

Many observers were already raising questions about Sinopharm’s late-stage clinical trial data. Now they are wondering if Sinopharm executives oversold its benefits. China donated 13.3 million Sinopharm doses to countries as part of a “vaccine diplomacy” policy designed to improve China’s global relations.

Researchers need to figure out who is truly coming down with the virus, whether they are vaccinated and when they might have been infected because, even if they have both vaccine shots, immunity doesn’t occur immediately, explained BioWorld.

On the positive side, few people are dying from Covid-19 in the Seychelles, CNN reported. It seems that the vaccines might not halt the spread but they could dramatically improve the chances of survival for those who are sick. Chinese state news service Xinhua made a similar point in a news story.

Meanwhile, the country’s economy is reeling due to a decline in tourism, the government-controlled Seychelles News Agency reported. The country’s leaders keep stressing that they want tourists to come despite the uncertainties over the virus.

That’s a hard sell. If people want to relax, they’ll need to know for sure whether they are safe from Covid-19.



Straws and Backs

The European Union and the United Kingdom banned airlines from the bloc from flying over Belarussian airspace Monday, dealing a “crushing blow” to the country’s economy a day after the government forced down a passenger jet to arrest a dissident journalist, the Washington Post reported.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko provoked international condemnation after he ordered Irish carrier, Ryanair, which was flying from Greece to Lithuania over Belarussian airspace Sunday, to land in Minsk, CNBC reported. The flight was intercepted by a MiG-29 fighter jet and told to divert to the capital because of a potential security threat on board.

Once the plane landed, Belarus authorities arrested journalist Roman Protasevich, co-founder and former editor of the Nexta channel on the social media platform Telegram, a must-read for the political opposition in Belarus. He faces 12 years in prison. Four other people remained in Belarus for reasons still unclear.

His arrest was swiftly criticized by the United States and the European Union, describing Belarus’ move as a “hijacking” and “an act of state terrorism.”

Protasevich, who has been living in exile since 2019, has been instrumental in the protests against Lukashenko following last year’s disputed presidential elections.

His Nexta channel has regularly reported on the anti-Lukashenko protests when thousands of people demonstrated over polls widely believed to have been rigged in the president’s favor.

Lukashenko denies the allegations but his government has launched a violent crackdown against demonstrators and opposition leaders. The Belarus government has designated Nexta as an extremist organization.

European leaders also imposed a new round of economic sanctions with the US to follow. Analysts, however, said sanctions won’t be very effective since Lukashenko has strong backing from Russia. Even so, Lukashenko borrowed $1 billion in December. Analysts believe the leader will become more dependent on Russia, something he tried to avoid just a few years ago.


Bloodless Coup

The Pacific island nation of Samoa entered another political crisis Monday when the newly elected prime minister was locked out of parliament by her opponent to prevent her swearing-in ceremony, the Washington Post reported.

Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the country’s first female prime minister, was not allowed to enter the legislative body under the orders of outgoing Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has ruled the country since 1998.

The recent crisis follows political deadlock that resulted from the April 9 parliamentary elections, which required the Supreme Court to resolve the stalemate.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mata’afa’s FAST party but on Saturday, head of state Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aleto’a Sualauvi II canceled the seating without explanation. When Samoa’s top court overruled him on Sunday, the house speaker — another Malielegaoi ally — postponed the opening of parliament.

Mata’afa called the move “a bloodless coup”: She and her supporters set up a tent on the statehouse lawn, where she took the oath of office instead.

The new constitutional crisis could have broader geopolitical ramifications in the nation of almost 200,000 people.

The new leader has been a vocal critic of Malielegaoi’s plan for a Chinese-funded wharf: Mata’afa has said she will continue close relations with Beijing but does not want to add to the more than $150 million Samoa already owes China.


Nothing to See Here

Protesters and police clashed Monday in at least one city in Oman over layoffs and deteriorating economic conditions, the first major unrest in the Gulf nation since the new sultan ascended the throne last year, the Associated Press reported.

Images and videos posted on social media showed massive riot police presence in the city of Sohar, with protesters throwing stones and officers firing teargas and arresting individuals.

The country’s Labor Ministry tweeted that people gathered in Sohar to try to “find new job vacancies and to solve the problems of those who were fired.” It remains unclear whether there were any layoffs in Sohar, which is home to a key port, as well as plants producing aluminum and steel.

Oman’s tightly controlled media did not immediately report on the protests but acknowledged that the unemployed had been coming to Labor Ministry’s offices to “expedite the treatment of their conditions.”

Police officials denied making any arrests.

The protests are the first major signs of unrest since Sultan Haitham bin Tariq took over in January 2020 after the death of the country’s long-time ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Oman faces looming loan repayments, including to China, and needs economic growth to provide for its proportionally huge population of young people who are seeking employment: The oil and gas sector is the most economically important especially after tourism declined due to the coronavirus pandemic.


Bottom Breathers

Researcher Takanori Takebe and his team discovered a novel way to make vertebrates “breathe” through their behinds, a technique that could help keep people with breathing difficulties alive.

In fact, in the animal kingdom, researchers found that pigs and mice can breathe through their butts if certain assistance is provided, the Economist reported.

Meanwhile, some species of fish – such as the weather loach – are also able to breathe through their bottoms.

Guts in vertebrates are supplied with blood vessels, which allow them to absorb digested food. But this means they can also, in principle, absorb oxygen.

In his study, Takebe’s team used liquid perfluorocarbons, which can absorb large amounts of oxygen and are often used as a blood substitute or to assist in the ventilation of premature babies.

In their experiment, researchers pumped oxygenated perfluorocarbon into the intestines of anesthetized mice. They then put the animals in chambers with a restricted oxygen supply and monitored them.

The findings showed that mice receiving rectal oxygen maintained high levels of oxygen in their blood for upwards of an hour – more than four times longer than control animals that were not treated.

The team later replicated the procedure with rats and pigs and found it also worked on them.

While the method won’t replace conventional breathing, Takebe explained that it could become an alternative to tracheal intubation.

Generally, doctors use tracheal intubation to help patients with respiratory problems but the process can be very uncomfortable and traumatic to the human body.

Takebe’s team is now planning to start trials on healthy human volunteers.

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: 33,143,747 (+0.08%)
  2. India: 26,948,874 (+0.73%)
  3. Brazil: 16,120,756 (+0.23%)
  4. France: 5,667,331 (-5.23%)**
  5. Turkey: 5,194,010 (+0.15%)
  6. Russia: 4,952,412 (+0.17%)
  7. UK: 4,480,760 (+0.05%)
  8. Italy: 4,194,672 (+0.06%)
  9. Germany: 3,659,990 (+0.06%)
  10. Spain: 3,647,520 (+0.30%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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