November 22, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

A Spoon Full of Salt

EUROPE

Austria recently instituted a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated, forbidding anyone without a shot over the age of 12 to leave their home unless they’re working, shopping, exercising or seeking a vaccination, the BBC reported. Violating the lockdown means a fine of almost $600.

Then it decided to shut down the country, reported CNN, who detailed how its famed ski resorts and Christmas markets will close for the second year in a row. “It’s beginning to look a lot like…lockdown,” its headline read, noting how Austrian measures are a first in Europe, even as other countries mull them.

Then came the protests.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people hit the streets of Vienna and elsewhere – the Netherlands and Belgium, for example – to protest, sometimes violently, against vaccine mandates and other anti-covid measures.

The country’s estimated two million unvaccinated people were already banned from restaurants, bars, hotels, other businesses as well as gatherings of more than 25 people, noted France 24. But Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is worried about the Central European country’s embattled health system which is buckling under the strain of surging Covid-19 cases.

Sixty-four percent of Austria’s nine million people are vaccinated, three percentage points under the European Union average. Infections have been on the rise, increasing to more than 11,500 new cases in the second week of November compared to around 8,500 in the first week.

Paraphrasing another CNN headline, Austria’s moves were one example of Europeans “turning the screws” on their unvaccinated constituents. Germany, for example, was considering ordering proof of vaccination or a negative test to ride public transit. Berlin has already taken away eligibility for those with a negative test to enter restaurants – only those who can prove vaccination or covid recovery can enter. Around 50,000 new Covid-19 cases appear in Germany on daily a basis. That’s the most transmissions since the start of the pandemic and double the number compared to early November.

There’s little doubt a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic is upon Europe, the New York Times wrote. Warning that 500,000 people could die in the next few months, the World Health Organization called the continent the “epicenter of the pandemic.” Covid-related deaths in Europe, meanwhile, were up 10 percent while infections rose by seven percent throughout the region.

In Bulgaria, where the coronavirus is raging, hospitals have temporarily suspended non-emergency surgeries in order to allow doctors to treat Covid-19 patients. In Ireland, a midnight curfew on bars, restaurants and nightclubs took effect Thursday, just a few weeks after nightclubs reopened for the first time since March 2020. Italy has mandated booster shots for healthcare workers, the Local reported. Strictures on the unvaccinated riding public transport have also been put into place in the country. Meanwhile, Latvia, where resistance to vaccines is very high, already instituted a lockdown last month, the New York Times reported.

The cold weather is one reason why the virus is spreading. People go inside, where they are more likely to breathe in the virus, especially if people don’t wear masks. But, as Euronews noted, vaccination rates have also remained stagnant.

Meanwhile, anti-vaccine sentiments are prevalent in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, with its history of misinformation during communist times. At the same time, these sentiments have been given rise to a new militancy: the Associated Press wrote about how Italian police raided locations affiliated with activists who were part of the “Basta Dittatura” (Enough of the Dictatorship) chat room on Telegram for allegedly seeking to incite violence against the government.

Europe is on fire, an official recently noted. “We are back…where we were a year ago,” said a UN health official. He added that this time around, Europe has the tools to fight effectively against the pandemic. But it hasn’t found the right remedies to defeat the side effects of fear, fatigue or resentment.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Post and the Fury

CHINA

A rising, worldwide furor has erupted over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after the 35-year-old champion accused a senior government official of sexual assault and then disappeared from the public eye, with some now questioning whether China is the appropriate host of international sporting events, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Peng, a three-time Olympian and two-time Grand Slam champion, posted on social media earlier this month that former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her three years ago. Her post and the discussion that followed were immediately censored. Soon after, she disappeared.

Since then, many star athletes and international officials have demanded proof of her safety.

Over the weekend, Chinese state media showed images and videos of Peng at a restaurant and attending a tennis match but many human rights advocates have questioned their authenticity.

Women’s Tennis Association Chairman Steve Simon said, “it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference.” He threatened to pull tournaments out of China – and with them millions of dollars – if authorities do not investigate Peng’s sexual allegations.

The fate of Peng is putting more pressure on China as it prepares to hold the upcoming Winter Olympics. The United States is “considering” a diplomatic boycott of the games, over China’s human rights abuses.

However, the International Olympic Committee has not indicated plans of pulling out of the 2022 Beijing Games, saying that “quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution.”

Even so, IOC officials warned that if the case does not get “resolved in a sensible way very soon it may spin out of control.” Late Sunday, IOC officials added that they held a video call with Peng and that she is “safe and well.”

Back by Popular Demand

SUDAN

Sudan’s military leaders agreed over the weekend to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, nearly a month after ousting him in a coup that shook the country’s fragile transition to democracy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Under the agreement, Hamdok will form a technocratic government and the military will release the political prisoners arrested following the Oct. 25 coup.

The deal comes after weeks of deadly unrest following the coup: Thousands of Sudanese took to the streets to protest the military takeover and demand a restoration of civilian rule. The Sudanese doctors’ union said that security forces have killed at least 40 protesters and injured hundreds more since the coup.

The restoration of civilian rule, meanwhile, follows weeks of international pressure from the United States and other Western nations, with the US suspending $700 million of aid following the coup.

Sudan was led by a fragile military-civilian transitional government after the ouster of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The new government was able to reintegrate Sudan into the international community after years of pariah status, and it was removed from the US list of states sponsoring terrorism – this allowed the country to access deeply needed economic aid.

In spite of the army’s move, many protests leaders said demonstrations will continue, rejecting agreements with the military.

A Deep Thirst

IRAN

Thousands of Iranians protested in Isfahan in central Iran over the weekend to protest conditions brought about by a deep drought that has gripped the region and demand the revival of a major river that has dried up, Al Jazeera reported.

Protests have been taking place in the province for more than a week but the large weekend demonstrations attracted the attention of the government.

Farmers have been gathering on a huge barren strip of dirt where the major Zayandeh Rud River used to flow. The river has faced numerous periods of drought over the years and farmers say, the government has ignored the issue. However, the drying up of the river directly affects hundreds of thousands of farmers in the province, as well as the environment.

Following the protests over the weekend, Iran’s government vowed to “seriously” follow up on the issue and has proposed a number of solutions, without going into future detail. Even so, attempts by previous governments to resolve the drought issue have gone nowhere.

Iran has been affected by droughts for decades but they have intensified in recent years and expanded to impact much of the country.

DISCOVERIES

Into the Great Wide Open

Renowned physicists Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen theorized the existence of “wormholes,” a hypothetical shortcut that connects two separate points in space-time.

Better known as the “Einstein-Rosen bridge,” it stipulates that a person – or spacecraft – could jump into one black hole and show up in a different part of the galaxy or universe, according to Futurism.

Scientists have debated their existence and questioned whether the speculative structures are stable enough to traverse them.

Now, a new study by researcher Pascal Koiran suggested that wormholes might be more stable than previously believed, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Previous research speculated that a type of theoretical exotic matter would be needed to keep a wormhole accessible, or else the structure would close because there would be no force to keep it open.

Researchers in the past have also used the Schwarzschild metric to analyze black holes, which says that the latter collapses once an object reaches the event horizon – the crossing point into the wormhole.

However, Koiran utilized the Eddington-Finkelstein metric to mathematically model an object’s travel into a black hole and through a wormhole rather than breaking down at the event horizon.

His findings suggest that wormholes not only are stable but could be used for interstellar travel.

Even so, scientists haven’t detected a real wormhole. And even if they did, it would be very risky to dive into a black hole.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 257,579,393

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,151,560

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,393,954,032

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

  1. US: 47,730,591 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 34,518,901 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,017,276 (+0.02%)
  4. UK: 9,897,206 (+0.40%)
  5. Russia: 9,170,898 (+0.00%)**
  6. Turkey: 8,573,524 (+0.25%)
  7. France: 7,517,669 (+0.26%)
  8. Iran: 6,077,438 (+0.07%)
  9. Germany: 5,400,688 (+0.49%)
  10. Argentina: 5,315,348 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country