October 11, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

The Iberian Model

SPAIN

Spain has decided to give third doses of coronavirus vaccines to seniors and others who might be vulnerable to the deadly virus. The move specifically targets folks living in nursing homes as well as Spaniards undergoing cancer treatment and others with compromised immune systems, reported Reuters.

Meanwhile, very few people in Spain are not immunized. As El Pais explained, around 80 percent of the country’s citizens have received at least one jab. Around 11 percent of the population is younger than 12 so they can’t receive vaccinations yet. Only around four percent of the country describes themselves as “anti-vaxxers” who are refusing shots.

“Anti-vaxxers are absolutely marginal here, a minority group, and they will not have a big impact (on) Spain’s vaccination campaign,” Spanish Vaccination Association President Amós García told the Local Spain.

The rest are likely migrants or others who are outside of mainstream society and therefore hard to reach, so-called “fence-sitters” who are in no rush to be inoculated and are waiting to see how the pandemic plays out and people who had the virus recently and now must wait.

The vaccination efforts have worked. Spain was an epicenter of the pandemic. But recently, the number of Covid-19 cases over a two-week period has fallen below 100 per 100,000 people. The infection rate hit a peak of 900 per 100,000 in January, noted Al Jazeera.

Neighboring Portugal has seen similar successes. The country has nearly run out of people to vaccinate, the Washington Post wrote. Nightlife and commerce are rebounding in the capital of Lisbon as infection rates and deaths fall. Portugal’s death rate is half the European Union’s average and nine times less than that of the US.

The obvious question is, how did these Iberians do it?

Henrique Gouveia e Melo, the vice admiral and former submarine commander who oversaw Portugal’s vaccination drive, was clear about his success. He worked hard to keep politics out of the issue, he said in an interview with the New York Times. Gouveia e Melo always wore his military uniform when discussing shots in public, eschewed the appearance of cooperating with politicians and forcefully argued against the misinformation about vaccines that was rampant in the country.

A similar dynamic occurred in the Spanish capital of Madrid, the conservative City Journal noted. Officials did not impose a general lockdown during the pandemic because they realized such a polarizing move might trigger a backlash. Instead, they locked down neighborhoods where outbreaks occurred. The largest Spanish city’s death rate is now below the national average.

At the same time, close family ties in both countries play a role. Many adult Spaniards – 55 percent of people between the age of 25 and 29 – still live with their parents, wrote Agence France-Presse. Alejandro Costales, a 30-year-old lawyer, told AFP that getting vaccinated was a way “to care” for his family. “It gives the guarantee that I can go home and not infect them,” he said.

And while the national healthcare system in Spain is held in high regard, a symbol of modernity, which led to deep trust, the country’s traumatic experience with polio in the 1950s played a key role.

Then, as many countries began polio vaccinations, dictator Francisco Franco waited for nearly a decade. As a result, thousands of children got polio leading to physical disabilities and deaths. The Spanish government recently commemorated those infected as victims of the Franco regime, AFP said.

The Spanish remember.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Seesaw

AUSTRIA

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned over the weekend amid an ongoing corruption investigation that has rocked the country’s political establishment, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Kurz said that he would step down but continue to remain as chairman of his conservative Austrian People’s Party and keep his seat in parliament. The party picked Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg as his replacement.

The corruption probe has plagued Kurz’ ruling coalition for months but escalated last week after authorities searched both the party’s offices and government ones, including the chancellery, according to Politico

Prosecutors said they are investigating Kurz and nine other officials for breach of trust: Officials allege that the chancellor and his aides used finance ministry funds to bribe pollsters and journalists to serve his political agenda.

Following the allegations, his coalition partner, the Greens, said they would not support a government with Kurz as chancellor. He later stepped down saying that remaining in power would have been “irresponsible.”

The young populist leader has denied the charges, saying that the new accusations derive from a series of text messages, which depict him as a ruthless politician willing to do anything to gain power.

This is the second time that Kurz has resigned due to corruption scandals. In 2019, his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party collapsed after the latter was involved in a separate scandal – known as the Ibiza affair.

The scandal, however, did not affect Kurz, who went on to win that year’s snap polls and form a coalition with the Greens.

However, his resignation marks another blow for other struggling conservative parties in Western Europe, many of whom have tried to follow Kurz’ personality-driven populist style.

Turned Tables

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bomber killed more than 46 and injured at least 140 others in northeastern Afghanistan over the weekend, underscoring an escalating security situation facing the country’s new leaders who were until recently the main cause of such violence, Al Arabiya reported.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Friday attack that targeted Shia worshippers in Kunduz province. The attack is the deadliest in the Central Asian nation since the terrorist group bombed Kabul airport on Aug. 26, killing 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen.

Islamic State has ramped up its attacks on civilian targets following the US withdrawal and the Taliban takeover in August. The new government has downplayed the Islamic State threat in the face of multiple bombings across Afghanistan over the past month.

Islamic State seeks to destabilize the Taliban’s rule, analysts say.

Meanwhile, US and Taliban representatives met in Qatar over the weekend, the first meeting since the withdrawal, CBS News reported.

The meeting primarily focused on the deteriorating security situation in the country, including strategies to tackle the threat of terrorist groups. Even so, Taliban officials said they do not want US anti-terrorism assistance and warned against any so-called “over-the-horizon” strikes on Afghan territory from outside the country’s borders.

The two parties also discussed the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country and aid delivery amid concerns of a severe economic contraction. Aid has mostly been frozen in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

Meanwhile, US recognition of the new Afghan government remains off the table to date.

The New Order

WORLD

More than 130 countries agreed over the weekend to overhaul international tax rules in a groundbreaking deal aimed at fighting tax avoidance by large multinationals, Fox Business reported.

The agreement – orchestrated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – includes policies to prevent companies from using tax havens while also ensuring the new policies collect more than $150 billion a year from multinationals.

Under the deal, the countries will impose a 15 percent global minimum corporate tax rate and impose new rules to force multinational firms to declare profits and pay more in the countries where they do business, according to the Financial Times.

The minimum rate will exclude companies with annual turnover below $866 million.

Negotiations over the deal had lasted for years before some countries last week agreed to drop their opposition to the landmark agreement.

Ireland, a beneficiary of low corporate tax rates, had initially resisted but later relented after changes were made to the original text including a provision that precludes an increase over the 15 percent rate at a later date. Hungary, another skeptic, also changed its tone after receiving reassurances there will be a lengthy implementation period.

The agreement is set to come into effect in 2023 to give nations enough time to change their tax laws.

OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said the deal will make the international corporate tax system “fairer and work better.” Even so, he noted that it will not be easy to put the agreement into law and that countries need to “work swiftly and diligently to ensure the effective implementation of this major reform.”

DISCOVERIES

Among The Stars

Space, the final frontier, has had its shares of visitors over the past decades, from animals to billionaires.

Recently, a Russian movie star and director became the latest individuals to visit space – but the first to shoot a movie around the Earth’s orbit, CNET reported.

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying actor Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko along with veteran cosmonaut, Anton Shkaplerov, successfully docked at the International Space Station last week following a short flight from Earth.

The two artists will be filming a Russian film called “the Challenge” during their 12-day stay. The movie is about a surgeon – played by Peresild – sent to the space station to treat a cosmonaut – played by another veteran cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky – after he suffered a heart attack during a spacewalk, according to Space.com.

Both Peresild and Shipenko had to undergo months of training to ensure a successful mission, which they described as “psychologically, physically and morally hard.”

Even so, the fact they visited space still astounds them.

“I still feel that it’s all a dream and I’m still asleep,” Peresild, an award-winning actor, told Russia’s Channel One.

The Russian film crew became the first to shoot a feature film in space, beating actor Tom Cruise: Last year, Cruise and director Doug Liman announced they were working with NASA on a movie to be filmed in space, according to CNN.

One day, space epics such as Star Wars and Star Trek might be filmed on location.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 237,879,741

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,852,328

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,474,095,922

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 44,339,830 (+0.05%)
  2. India: 33,971,607 (+0.05%)
  3. Brazil: 21,575,820 (+0.04%)
  4. UK: 8,192,589 (+0.41%)
  5. Russia: 7,658,923 (+0.00%)**
  6. Turkey: 7,444,522 (+0.38%)
  7. France: 7,156,086 (+0.06%)
  8. Iran: 5,702,890 (+0.20%)
  9. Argentina: 5,265,859 (+0.01%)
  10. Spain: 4,973,619 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country