The World Today for August 02, 2021

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Papers, Please

Imagine a lamp-lit cobblestone street on a dark, foggy night in Paris. As an innocent civilian walks down the street with the intent of boarding a bus out of the city, a uniformed man approaches from the shadows. “Your papers, please,” he says, adding that compliance is a matter of national security.

This cartoonish vignette does not depict life in a police state. It’s an example of the sort of checks that are occurring as Europe adopts vaccine passports in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

French lawmakers passed a “passe sanitaire” that would require proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test to access cultural and entertainment sites that host more than 50 people, with restaurants, cafes and shopping centers to follow this month, France24 reported. Mask mandates remain in force.

Italian officials recently announced that a health pass would be necessary to visit museums, dine indoors at restaurants, attend theater performances and other public activities, the Washington Post added. In announcing the measure, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said he wanted to prevent the kind of suffering that plagued Italy last year at the height of the pandemic. He also wanted to avoid another punishing year for the Italian economy.

The passes are controversial, however, because they evoke a slide into authoritarianism that observers such as those at the Centre for European Reform have claimed has occurred since the pandemic erupted.

More than 160,000 people in France took to the streets to protest the passes recently and again over the weekend, a protest that descended into violence, Newsweek reported. Building on the activism of the so-called Yellow Vests who demonstrated against fuel price increases starting in late 2018, the protesters enjoy the support of more than one-third of the French public, according to polls. Italians and Greeks also staged protests, Deutsche Welle wrote.

Criticism of the passes is why German officials are mulling them but don’t expect to require them unless Covid-19 cases increase, Euronews reported. Regardless, protests erupted over the weekend over anti-covid measures, Euronews reported in another story.

Meanwhile, European leaders have offered cash, extra phone data, football arena tours and even “free grilled meat” to incentivize their citizens to receive vaccines, CNN explained. And while 70 percent have been vaccinated, European leaders want to increase that as cases rise, Politico reported. So they are considering strong-arm tactics.

One can imagine the complications. As the New York Times described, Americans trying to travel to Europe must negotiate a web of rules if they want to move around freely. Brits who are no longer European Union citizens due to Brexit are facing similar challenges, the BBC said.

Perhaps these passes are draconian. Unvaccinated folks who feel that way can always stay home. Still, as the Economist noted, the demand for vaccinations spiked immediately after France and Italy passed their restrictions. In these countries, staying away from cafes proved to be too much.



Vaccine Weaponry

Myanmar’s military junta will extend the country’s state of emergency until August 2023, a move that will prolong the army’s rule following a coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected government earlier this year, the BBC reported.

Junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, announced the formation of a caretaker government and named himself the country’s prime minister.

He pledged to hold a “free and fair multi-party election” in two years, while also denouncing the previous elected leaders the army ousted as “terrorists.” Human rights advocates, however, said the general’s pledge was “a lie and it’s not going to be happening.”

His announcement comes six months after Myanmar’s army removed the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and arrested its leaders. Suu Kyi currently remains imprisoned and faces numerous criminal charges.

The Feb. 1 coup immediately sparked mass protests in the Southeast Asian country that have continued until this day, despite a violent crackdown from the junta. Hundreds of people have died in the ongoing demonstrations, with protesters demanding the return of the democratically elected government.

Meanwhile, Myanmar is facing a surge in coronavirus infections amid a collapse of the healthcare system. Many healthcare workers have been demonstrating even as the military has monopolized oxygen supplies and stalled vaccinations to those who oppose its rule, the New York Times reported.



New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern formally apologized to the members of Pacific Island communities for the racially charged immigration raids the government conducted in the 1970s, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Ardern’s announcement relates to the Dawn Raids that began in 1974: Faced with an economic downturn, New Zealand’s then-Labour government targeted Pacific Islanders for overstaying their work visas. The raids were later continued by the National Party on churches, workplaces and homes – including in the middle of the night. Thousands of Samoans, Tongans and other Pacific Islanders were arrested and deported, according to Voice of America.

The prime minister said the government offered its “deepest and sincerest apology” to all the affected people that continue to “suffer and carry the scars.”

Ardern also offered a series of initiatives, including a program to teach about the Dawn Raids in schools, as well as scholarships and fellowships to Pacific Islanders.

It is rare for the Kiwi government to make formal apologies for past injustices, VOA noted.

The apology was a big moment for many Pacific Islanders, who blamed last century’s raids for the mistrust between the community and those in authority such as members of the police and government.


Redundancy Politics

Mexicans voted Sunday in a referendum on whether the country’s former leaders should be investigated for past crimes while in office, a vote that analysts and opposition politicians see as a political stunt by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Los Angeles Times reported.

López Obrador championed the plebiscite as a moral imperative, particularly in a country where former chiefs of state have eluded prosecution on allegations of corruption and other misconduct.

The vote would target five former Mexican presidents, three of whom have been accused of corruption by Emilio Lozoya, a former chief of Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state energy behemoth. Lozoya was extradited to Mexico from Spain last year on bribery and other charges.

Even though Mexico does not have any laws that bar the prosecution of former leaders, analysts expect that many Mexicans will vote in favor of the law.

Critics, however, called the referendum a sham and an attempt by López Obrador to distract voters from his shortcomings, including his handling of the pandemic and failure to curb crime in Mexico.

Others have also criticized the hazy wording in the text, which does not name any of the former presidents, or any alleged crimes.

Observers also noted that it’s unclear whether the referendum, if passed, will lead to prosecutions. Even so, some say it could encourage the creation of a national truth commission to investigate past crimes by former officials.


A Little Special

Modern humans might have outlived their Neanderthal and Denisovan relatives but they are not special, a new paper says.

Researchers found that less than seven percent of the human genome is unique to Homo sapiens, Business Insider reported.

In a new paper for the journal Science Advances, scientists sequenced and compared the genomes from 279 modern humans from all over the world with those from Denisovans and Neanderthals.

They then used an algorithm to determine how each individual is related to each other and came across some staggering results.

H. sapiens shared most of their genome with other extinct hominins, with about 1.5 percent to seven percent of our genetic material unique to our species.

While it seems small, researchers underscored that these special regions of the genome were “incredibly enriched for genes that have to do with neural development.”

They suggested that the genetic material came about during two bursts of evolution thousands of years ago and set the foundations for brain development, as well as human communication.

The findings also came across something even more mysterious: H. sapiens also mingled with an even older, unknown ancestor that lived some half a million years ago.

This mysterious group likely gave rise to modern humans and other hominins and might have interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans at some point.

Regardless, the conclusions are clear: Humans might not be very unique but they are very complex.

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: 35,003,546 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 31,695,958 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 19,938,358 (+0.10%)
  4. France: 6,209,934 (+0.40%)
  5. Russia: 6,207,513 (+0.28%)
  6. UK: 5,907,594 (+0.41%)
  7. Turkey: 5,747,935 (+0.36%)
  8. Argentina: 4,935,847 (+0.12%)
  9. Colombia: 4,794,414 (+0.19%)
  10. Spain: 4,447,044 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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