June 01, 2021

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

NEED TO KNOW

SWITZERLAND

Alpine Exceptionalism

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset recently admitted that he should have been more skeptical about the advice of scientists during the coronavirus epidemic. A year ago, for example, Berset advised against wearing masks after scientists told him they could prove ineffective. Later, he reversed course, reported Swissinfo.ch, a state-owned news outlet.

Many Swiss voters might see Berset’s mea culpa as too little too late. His and his government’s response to Covid-19 has angered and disillusioned plenty of the Swiss.

Over 100,000 voters signed a petition to put a referendum on the June 13 ballot that could undercut the government’s special emergency powers enacted to combat the public health emergency, the Local reported. Referendum supporters said previous laws worked just as well, while the newer powers could give the state the right to force people to accept vaccinations.

Switzerland was hit relatively hard during the pandemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, still recommends Americans not travel to the Central European country.

Still, the country is slowly reopening and rescinding pandemic lockdown measures, as Agence France-Presse wrote. High-risk groups were expected to be vaccinated by the end of May. Restaurants are welcoming indoor diners again. Employees are no longer required to work from home. The government is also winding down its special aid to businesses and families, Bloomberg added.

The Swiss people’s concerns that coronavirus restrictions may impinge on their rights arguably exemplify how the country is also out of step with the European Union.

Switzerland recently pulled out of negotiations with EU leaders after seven years of talks that were supposed to update the two sides’ diplomatic relations, Euronews explained. Instead, Swiss politicians rejected the EU’s insistence on allowing European citizens freedom of movement in the country as well as other aspects of a proposed deal.

EU diplomats might have been hard on the Swiss, Politico suggested, to avoid being perceived as soft as negotiations with British officials over the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc are also still underway. Meanwhile, however, a lack of agreement on myriad rules – like the correct labeling on products, for example – will likely hurt trade between Switzerland and the EU.

The far-right Swiss People’s Party has been especially outspoken about its opposition to a new agreement with the EU. The party has said that the EU has been too quick to allow migrants into the bloc and use centralized power to erode the unique cultures of EU members.

They also support the June 13 referendum, Foreign Policy magazine wrote.

Critics might say the Swiss People’s Party is seeking to change the progress of history. Presumably, neither the party nor many Swiss would disagree with that sentiment.

WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Working Out Differences

Israeli politicians are hashing out a power-sharing agreement that would unseat longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with only two days before the deadline to form a government, the Associated Press reported.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party met Monday with politicians from various political aisles, including Naftali Bennett of the hardline conservative Yamina party.

The small Islamist party, Raam, is also attending the negotiations.

Lapid said that the potential coalition faces “a great many obstacles,” but maintained that they are trying to overcome their differences “for the sake of the big aim.”

The centrist leader was tasked by Israeli President Reuben Rivlin to form a government earlier this month after Netanyahu failed to do so following the inconclusive March 23 elections – the fourth in two years.

Netanyahu blasted the potential coalition as a threat to Israel’s security. The long-serving leader has held onto power despite being indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in 2019.

He has denied any wrongdoing and has refused to step down from office while on trial.

Lapid and Bennett have until Wednesday to reach an agreement, which is most likely to involve Bennett serving as prime minister for the first two years and Lapid the following two.

Meanwhile, two senior Palestinian politicians told the Times of Israel that they welcome a change of government, but added that a Bennett administration would not be beneficial to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Bennet’s Yamina party counts West Bank settlers as one of its strongest voter bases and would be less willing to make concessions with Palestinians.

However, other politicians noted that the proposed government would be too fragile to deal with controversial issues.

CHINA

Baby Spark

China will allow couples to have three children and provide more government support to parents raising them, as the country faces a worsening demographic situation that presents a host of social and economic challenges, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The Politburo, China’s top decision-making body, announced a series of decisions aimed at addressing the country’s aging population and falling birthrates.

Among the proposed changes, the government plans to offer more educational resources and reduce educational expenditures for families in a bid to encourage them to have more children. The reforms will also include raising the national retirement age and increasing investment in its senior population.

The announcement comes more than five years after China scrapped its infamous one-child policy and allowed parents to have two children. It also follows the release earlier this month of census figures showing China’s population may peak and begin to decline sooner than previously expected.

Analysts said that it remains unclear if the proposals will coax couples to have more children and noted that the changes will do little to alleviate the short-term pressures on the country’s labor force, which is projected to decline precipitously over the next two decades.

Only about half of Chinese couples said they are willing to have children, according to a 2017 study by the state-backed All-China Women’s Federation.

AUSTRIA

Mapped Out

Critics say an Austrian government “Islam Map” website that shows the locations of hundreds of mosques and Muslim associations across the country will lead to hate crimes and stigmatization of Muslims, the Washington Post reported.

Integration Minister Susanne Raab said the map is intended “to fight political ideologies, not religion,” and to create more transparency. She added that there was “no general suspicion” of Muslim organizations.

Other officials have described the map as a tool to fight against “political Islam,” but the more than 600 organizations listed include cultural centers and youth organizations with no links to extremist groups.

Various Austrian politicians, advocates and Muslim groups warned that the map could put Muslims under a further cloud of suspicion and potentially endanger them.

The controversy has also raised tensions in the ruling coalition between the Austrian People’s Party, which was behind the map, and their Green Party partners.

Anti-Muslim attacks in Austria have increased since an Islamic State sympathizer killed four people in a November mass shooting in the capital, Vienna.

DISCOVERIES

Smell Rehab

Patients who have recovered from Covid-19 can experience a temporary loss of taste and smell that may persist even after other symptoms have disappeared.

For some people, the problem lasts only a few weeks, while for others it may last significantly longer, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Such was the case for 13-year-old Sahil Shah, who lost his sense of smell and taste in November.

The teen’s parents consulted doctors and specialists about their child’s olfactory senses, Reuters reported.

Eventually, they came across New York fragrance expert Sue Phillips, who has helped develop and market perfumes for various brands, including Lancôme and Tiffany & Co.

Now working with patients like Shah, Phillips uses a set of 18 custom-blended fragrances on patients to trigger their senses. The perfumes range from lighter notes such as rose to stronger scents such as spice or musk.

Phillips explained that she was not a medical professional or scientist but said that her method helps people to “smell with [their] brain.”

Her treatment has helped Shah regain about 25 percent of his sense of smell.

“It’s better than zero,” said Pratik Shah, Salih’s father.

Harvard University neuroscientist Venkatesh Murthy said Phillips’ treatment has potential because some smells can trigger memories and emotions.

A recent paper published in January recommended that Covid-19 patients who have lost their sense of smell receive a form of “smell rehab” known as olfactory training.

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: 33,264,415 (+0.01%)
  2. India: 28,175,044 (+0.45%)
  3. Brazil: 16,545,554 (+0.18%)
  4. France: 5,728,788 (+0.01%)
  5. Turkey: 5,249,404 (+0.12%)
  6. Russia: 5,013,512 (+0.17%)
  7. UK: 4,503,231 (+0.07%)
  8. Italy: 4,217,821 (+0.04%)
  9. Argentina: 3,781,784 (+0.75%)
  10. Germany: 3,690,221 (+0.07%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours