The World Today for December 06, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Blame Game

WORLD

If only those incompetent, disease-ridden Africans had worked harder to combat the spread of Covid-19, the world might not be facing yet another threat in the form of the omicron variant. Or at least that’s the line of false and unproductive thinking that arguably has animated much of the response to this latest turn in the coronavirus pandemic.

Soon after the new variant was detected in South Africa, Britain banned flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the BBC reported. Other countries soon followed suit. At first, these moves seemed to make perfect sense. Some believe omicron is perhaps the worst variant that scientists have yet discovered.

But South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla believed the travel bans – which surely hurt his country’s shaky economy – were unjustified. “Covid-19 is a global health emergency. We must work together, not punish each other,” Phaahla told CNBC. “Witch hunts don’t benefit anyone. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world.”

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In hindsight, Phaahla was probably right. It turns out that the rush to isolate omicron in southern Africa was potentially motivated by negative biases toward the region. As CBS News reported, omicron was surely in Western Europe and elsewhere before anyone detected it anywhere.

Perhaps the world should be thanking Africa. The Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership did everyone a favor by discovering omicron, wrote the Boston Globe. Researchers at the top-notch facility are now wondering if the variant came from somewhere else rather than their backyard.

South African officials also appeared to have behaved exceedingly responsibly in reporting the variant to the World Health Organization, the New Yorker added. President Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t let politics color his judgments about it. His country was possibly punished for doing the right thing.

Of course, omicron could have incubated in Africa, where vaccination rates are very low. South Africa even rejected American offers of more vaccines. As the Washington Post explained, however, the country’s officials declined the jabs because they face distribution problems and other headaches, not a shortage of doses.

Experts in South Africa and its neighbors, meanwhile, have been begging developed countries to help. They’ve argued that the West has been hoarding vaccines and ignoring the hurdles that poor nations face in vaccinating people while forgetting that viruses don’t respect political boundaries.

“Told you so,” said Francois Venter, a University of the Witwatersrand researcher in Johannesburg, in an interview with the New York Times. “It feels like these rich countries have learned absolutely nothing in terms of support.”

The bottom line is that no one is safe until we are all safe.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

No, I Don’t

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban released a decree over the weekend declaring that women cannot be forced into marriage and should not be considered “property,” a move that was met with praise and skepticism by women’s rights activists, Al Arabiya reported.

Officials said the decree aims to set rules in regard to marriage and property for women: Under the new regulations, women can only be married if they have given their consent and widows are entitled to have a share of their late husband’s property.

The decree also requires courts to consider the new rules when making decisions, while religious affairs and information ministries should promote these rights.

The Taliban’s move is intended to highlight their commitment to protecting women’s rights, following their takeover in August. The group has also allowed the opening of high schools for girls in some provinces.

The new rules are seen as an attempt to reassure the international community, which has frozen billions in central bank funds and development aid, that the Taliban has changed and respects women’s rights.

Women’s rights advocates welcomed the move but noted that the new decree makes no mention of allowing women access to education or employment.

Gun-shy

MEXICO

Mexico agreed this week to restart the controversial asylum program created by former US President Donald Trump that would require certain migrants to wait in Mexico while their cases are being reviewed by the United States, the New York Times reported.

The move came after the Biden administration – which had initially tried to end the program – was ordered to restart it under an order from a federal court. Doing so would have required cooperation from Mexico but the latter had expressed a reluctance to cooperate with the US over humanitarian concerns.

Mexican officials said that Mexico agreed to restart the Migrant Protection Protocols program – better known as Remain in Mexico – after the US government agreed to improve humanitarian conditions at the border, including providing vaccines for migrants.

Other changes also include limiting the immigration proceedings to six months per asylum applicant, as well as excluding unaccompanied minors and vulnerable asylum seekers from the program. US officials also vowed to improve access to attorneys for migrants fearing persecution if forced to stay in Mexico.

However, the changes did not convince critics, who worry that the program was “a disaster waiting to happen.”

In 2019, the Trump administration launched the program in an attempt to limit who can seek asylum in the United States. Supporters maintain that the program helped curb illegal migration but opponents lamented that it forced migrants to stay in unsanitary tent encampments that put them at risk of sexual assault, kidnappings and harsh weather.

Mexico’s decision came as the US agreed to start a joint development program in Central America to address the root cause of migration. At the same time, more than two million coronavirus vaccine doses were sent by the US and arrived in Mexico this week.

Mexican officials denied the program in Central America or the vaccine shipments influenced the government’s decision.

Mother Ship Calling

CHINA

China’s ride-hailing giant Didi will delist from the New York Stock Exchange, a move seen as an effort by Beijing to prevent Chinese tech companies from falling under the jurisdiction of the United States, CNBC reported.

Didi’s announcement came less than six months after the company was listed in the US. The decision jeopardizes the large stakes held by SoftBank and Uber, which combined own more than 30 percent of Didi.

Analysts said that the firm’s move came after Chinese regulators reportedly asked Didi’s executives to delist from the US due to concerns about leaks of sensitive data. Chinese authorities had criticized the company for pushing ahead with an initial public offering on June 30 without resolving outstanding security issues.

The announcement also came less than 24 hours after the US Securities and Exchange Commission issued rules that allow it to delist foreign stocks for failing to meet audit requirements.

Aaron Costello, regional head of Asia at Cambridge Associates, noted that Didi’s delisting underscores China’s concern about scrutiny from US regulators directed at its tech firms. He added that many of these US-listed tech companies will relist in either Hong Kong or mainland China in the future.

In the past year, China has cracked down on its tech giants: Authorities have imposed a series of antitrust fines and introduced new rules, such as tougher data protection laws.

DISCOVERIES

Early Choppers

Neanderthal babies also had milk teeth – or baby teeth – just like modern human infants.

Meanwhile, a new study on Neanderthal choppers discovered that their baby teeth emerged much earlier than those of modern humans, Phys.org reported.

Milk teeth usually grow in human babies when they are about seven to 10 months old and remain in place for about six years – they then are replaced by permanent teeth.

Previous studies have shown that the enamel covering these teeth has neonatal lines that record the point where the enamel was produced before and after a baby is born.

It’s similar to the growth rings in tree trunks.

“Milk teeth are a unique window on the prenatal life and early childhood of past populations,” co-author Alessia Nava told New Scientist. “They grow as part of a developing organism. So, we can use teeth to get information on the growth rates of children,”

In their paper, Nava and her colleagues studied the milk tooth of a Neanderthal child who lived 120,000 years ago in what is now Croatia.

They found that the tooth emerged when the child was between four and seven months old, which suggests that Neanderthal babies began eating solid food sooner than modern humans.

The team noted that our extinct relatives needed to have a more diverse diet earlier to feed their large brains – prior research has shown these were larger than those of modern humans.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 265,932,082

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,257,985

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,179,281,957

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

  1. US: 49,085,383 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 34,641,561 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,143,091 (+0.02%)
  4. UK: 10,523,320 (+0.41%)
  5. Russia: 9,661,865 (+0.33%)
  6. Turkey: 8,903,087 (+0.22%)
  7. France: 8,021,237 (+0.53%)
  8. Germany: 6,200,938 (+0.37%)
  9. Iran: 6,134,465 (+0.05%)
  10. Argentina: 5,340,676 (+0.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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