The World Today for June 22, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

Deadly Impatience

The Taj Mahal reopened to visitors recently. Officials closed the 17th-century mausoleum honoring the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his late wife in April during a strict lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Al Jazeera reported. Only 650 tourists will be allowed to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site at a time, however. Around 20,000 people visited the site a day before the pandemic.

Covid-19 claims thousands of lives every day in India, prompting public health experts to call for greater emphasis on mask-wearing and other relatively easy measures to reduce infections. Still, compared to the recent wave of infections and deaths – which peaked at more than 4,500 deaths in a day in May – the number of new cases has declined, and officials have been easing lockdowns. In Delhi, for example, shops and malls have fully reopened while restaurants and commuter trains can operate at 50 percent capacity.

Mall goers were happy even as some experts were uneasy. Only 5 percent of India’s 950 million adults have received vaccines. “Delhi’s top #mall saw a footfall of 19,000 people last weekend as soon as it reopened. Have we gone totally mad?” wrote Ambrish Mithal, a New Delhi doctor, in a tweet quoted in Reuters. “Wait for #COVID19 to explode again – and blame the government, hospitals, country.”

The stories coming out of India personalize a pandemic of epic proportions in the world’s largest democracy. Many logically lead to anger over the country’s corrupt and inadequate health system.

Writing from India in the Washington Post, correspondent Niha Masih movingly described how her mother felt helpless as her grandfather succumbed to Covid-19 but had no time to mourn because she and everyone else, including Masih, was battling the virus, too. “The story of my family – overwhelmed by the virus and failed by a broken system and complacent government – mirrors that of countless others in the country,” Masih wrote.

Speaking to National Public Radio, Jaspreet Singh talked about how he wheeled his father through a packed hospital lobby in order to get the 83-year-old man to his chemotherapy. Nobody was wearing masks. Both the son and father contracted Covid-19 but miraculously managed to survive.

Experiences like those might be one reason that corruption in the health system is now attracting attention. For example, Indian authorities recently announced an investigation into local officials faking coronavirus tests in order to allow pilgrims to attend a massive Hindu festival that led to 100,000 cases of infection throughout the country, the New York Times reported.

The pandemic has changed Indians. How is still to be determined.

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Race to the Bottom

Both French President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche and its rival, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally failed to secure enough votes in the first round of regional elections in a poll marked by a very low turnout, CNBC reported Monday.

Exit polls suggested that the right-wing National Rally received around 19 percent of the national vote while La Republique en Marche only won about 11 percent. The center-right Les Republicans received almost a third of the vote.

Meanwhile, about 68 percent of voters stayed home, a stark contrast to the 50 percent of voters who turned out during the 2015 regional polls, according to the Telegraph.

The regional elections were regarded as a major test for Le Pen as she prepares to face Macron in the presidential elections next year.

Analyst Mujtaba Rahman told CNBC that the results showed voters saw Le Pen as a way to “express anger with mainstream politicians but do not take her seriously as a national leader.”

Other observers, meanwhile, noted that Macron’s party appeared very weak.

Macron was elected in 2017 on a reformist and pro-European agenda but since then has come under fire over his pro-business policies which also sparked the “yellow vests” protest movement.

ARMENIA

Forgive and Forget

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan won the snap parliamentary elections in a victory that also signaled grudging acceptance by Armenians of a peace settlement negotiated with Azerbaijan last fall, the New York Times reported.

The election commission said Monday that Pashinyan’s party won nearly 54 percent of the vote, defeating the opposition headed by former President Robert Kocharyan.

Kocharyan alleged that the results were tainted by fraud but Pashinyan called the victory “a mandate of steel.”

The victory was surprising because Pashinyan’s government has become very unpopular following a six-week war between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan last year over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. The territory is located inside Azerbaijan but is ruled by ethnic Armenians.

Forced by battlefield losses, Pashinyan agreed to a Russian-brokered settlement with Azerbaijan that ceded territory which hosts centuries-old monasteries integral to Armenian national identity.

The peace deal sparked mass protests in Armenia and calls for the prime minister to resign, prompting him to call elections.

Analysts said that the victory showed Armenian voters were apparently willing to accept Pashinyan’s agreement. They added that other factors contributed to his victory including his fight against corruption and focus on transport infrastructure such as roads.

SWEDEN

The First

Swedish lawmakers approved a no-confidence vote against the government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, making him the first Swedish government leader ever to lose such a motion, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The vote plunges the Scandinavian country into new political uncertainty: The last election in 2018 created a parliament deadlock and led to months of negotiations to produce a minority government.

Lofven’s government – made up of his Social Democratic Party and the Green party – relied on the votes from the small Left Party to pass laws.

The no-confidence motion was called by the rightwing populist Sweden Democrats but it ultimately succeeded after the Left withdrew its support from the government over proposed legislation to tackle a housing shortage.

The bill would abolish rent controls on newly built properties and deregulate Sweden’s tightly controlled rental market. Sweden’s current policy is aimed at keeping prices affordable in larger cities but critics say it makes property developers less willing to invest in building new homes for the rental market.

Under the constitution, the prime minister now has one week to decide whether to call a new election or ask the parliamentary speaker to create a new government.

DISCOVERIES

Healing Moves

Violence has gripped the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern borderlands since the official end of a civil war in 2003.

Among the problems, the issue of sexual violence remains widespread in the region, according to the United Nations mission in the country. Last year, it documented more than 1,000 cases of conflict-related sexual violence with the majority affecting women.

The situation convinced dance teacher Amina Lusambo to do something to help, Reuters reported.

Lusambo has set up special dance sessions for rape survivors at a rehabilitation center attached to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in eastern Congo. The purpose of the sessions is to help the women heal from the trauma and reconnect with their bodies.

“I started doing this because of the girls who came to us in a state of silence,” she said. “They were raped at a young age and they didn’t know how to express themselves. They were so withdrawn.”

“You can do more in one month of dance than in three months of psychotherapy,” she added.

One of the participants, an unnamed 20-year-old woman, said that the classes had helped overcome the trauma she experienced when she was raped three years ago. She can sleep and smile again, she said.

“… I felt dirty looking at myself,” the survivor said. “Dance therapy helped me to take away all the bad things I had inside me. The sadness and fear I had all went away.”

The Panzi hospital and rehabilitation center was founded by gynecologist Denis Mukwege, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has worked to end sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.

According to hospital officials, the institution has treated more than 60,000 survivors of sexual violence in its 20 years of operation.

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: 33,554,339 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 29,977,861 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 17,966,831 (+0.22%)
  4. France: 5,819,584 (+0.01%)
  5. Turkey: 5,375,593 (+0.10%)
  6. Russia: 5,272,328 (+0.33%)
  7. UK: 4,656,536 (+0.23%)
  8. Argentina: 4,277,395 (+0.20%)
  9. Italy: 4,253,460 (+0.01%)
  10. Colombia: 3,968,405 (+0.59%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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