The World Today for January 03, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Once More Unto the Breach

WORLD

As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus spread around the globe, the Netherlands instituted a nationwide lockdown that made the Dutch feel like it was 2020 all over again.

Non-essential businesses, bars and restaurants are closed until mid-January, the Associated Press reported. Educational institutions are shuttered until Jan. 9. Only two visitors are allowed in private residences. On Christmas Eve and New Year’s, four visitors were allowed.

A chef in the Hague named George told the BBC that he would throw away all the fresh food he had purchased in expectation of serving customers during this busy time of year.

Ireland ordered bars and restaurants to close early and instituted restrictions on groups, Bloomberg wrote. Germany is considering mandating vaccines. Starting in January in France, only vaccinated people will obtain health passes to allow them to visit bars, restaurants and other locations. Israel banned travel from the US, Canada and eight other countries to stop the spread, even as they are rolling out a fourth shot.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand are loosening restrictions, the Washington Post wrote. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who postponed her wedding due to the pandemic, is planning to get hitched in January. The singer Lorde is scheduled to perform.

Cases in Australia, where officials shut their borders in March 2020, are spiking. But the country in the southern hemisphere is heading into the summer, Reuters explained. Around 90 percent of Australians older than 16 have been fully vaccinated. Health officials said the important metric is how many people are in intensive care, not the overall infection rate.

That doesn’t mean all is well Down Under. Some Australian states require negative test results to enter, but surging demand means that waiting times have stretched to as long as five days for results, the Guardian added. Many folks weren’t able to receive their test results in time to travel home for Christmas.

China was in a particular pickle, announcing travel restrictions that would prevent many people from joining loved ones for the Lunar New Year festivities, CNN reported. The measures were part of a “zero-Covid” strategy intended, however, to avoid harsh restrictions during the Beijing Olympics in February when a flood of athletes and other visitors will visit the city, potentially carrying the virus.

Japanese leaders took the opposite tack. In their country, which has enjoyed remarkable success in suppressing the virus, as National Public Radio wrote, they are denying entry to all foreign non-residents in a bid to prolong their good fortune.

This patchwork of efforts might bear some best practices. Of course, best practices mean little if few follow them.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A New Center of Gravity

ASIA

An Asia-Pacific trade agreement took effect Saturday, creating the world’s largest trade bloc and ushering in a new phase of economic integration in the region, Nikkei Asia reported.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is comprised of 15 Asia-Pacific nations that cover about 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and population: It includes China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand, which completed ratification of the deal last year.

The deal’s launch comes as countries attempt to turn around their economies from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic while shoring up supply chains. The treaty is also significant for China, which is trying to increase its profile in Asia’s integration push.

One of the main benefits of the RCEP will be tariff concessions – members plan to remove levies on more than 90 percent of products traded within the bloc. This would particularly benefit Asia’s biggest economies – China, Japan and South Korea – which are expected to see an increase in exports from the partnership.

Still, the deal is possibly disadvantageous for Vietnam and Indonesia, which could see their exports to China replaced by imports from Japan.

Trade analysts said the agreement can “significantly enhance regional economic connectivity.” The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development explained in a study last month that the large size of the new bloc will “make it a center of gravity for global trade.”

It remains to be seen whether new members will join the RCEP such as India. The South Asian nation withdrew from the negotiations in 2019 over concerns the deal would impact its domestic industries and has not hinted it plans to return.

Meanwhile, the United States – not a member of the RCEP – is closely monitoring the agreement as it prepares its own economic “framework” for the Indo-Pacific region that would cover areas such as the digital economy and clean energy.

Paint It Green

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union’s executive arm plans to label nuclear energy and natural gas as “green,” a proposal that Germany has criticized as “greenwashing,” saying it will undermine the bloc’s environmental targets, Politico reported.

The European Commission put out a draft “taxonomy” list this week, which will be integral in routing billions of euros in investments toward building clean power plants and decarbonizing the EU’s economy.

The taxonomy said that nuclear plants should be considered “sustainable” if the host country can ensure they cause “no significant harm” to the environment. The proposed text added that natural gas can also receive the green label for a limited time, as long as certain criteria such as a carbon dioxide emission level of 270g of CO2 per kilowatt generated are met.

Germany, however, disparaged the proposal, saying it “waters down the good label for sustainability.” It warned that labeling nuclear energy as “green” could result in catastrophic environmental disasters and leave behind large quantities of hazardous high-level radioactive waste.

The text is particularly problematic for Germany’s Green Party, which is part of the new governing coalition. The Greens strongly oppose nuclear energy.

Alongside Germany, Austria and Luxembourg have also voiced opposition toward nuclear energy.

Even so, France and Poland have supported the inclusion of nuclear energy on the list, noting that it is a critical low-carbon technology that will be required to guarantee energy security as the EU transitions to renewable energy over the next decades.

EU countries and the European Parliament will now review the draft text before making a final decision – likely in the next few months.

Going Solo

MEXICO

Mexico will stop crude oil exports in 2023 as part of an ambitious plan by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to make the country more self-sufficient in fuel production, Bloomberg reported.

The state-owned producer Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) will reduce its daily exports in 2022 by more than half to 435,000 barrels before completely phasing out sales to international customers. The company also said it aims to refine 1.51 million barrels of crude a day this year and 2 million in 2023.

Pemex’s future exit would signify the departure of a major player in international oil markets. In 2004, the oil firm exported almost 1.9 million barrels a day to refineries abroad such as in Japan and India and has also participated in OPEC meetings as an observer.

Mexican crude also plays a significant role in the US’ oil refining heartland along the Gulf Coast where plants were built to handle heavy, sulfur-rich oil.

However, many analysts remain skeptical about the company’s ability to refine all of its own crude oil as the country lacks the processing capacity: They noted that Pemex’s refineries have been operating at a fraction of their total capacity for half a decade after years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance.

The company is also holding a whopping $113 billion debt, more than any other oil exporter in the world.

DISCOVERIES

Cosmic Blast

A recent study on massive solar flares could reveal new information about the early days of the solar system, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Last year, astronomers began observing EK Draconis, a star located dozens of light-years from Earth, which makes it relatively close in distance.

EK Draconis is younger than the sun – about 100 million years old, compared to our star’s 4.6 billion years. The team explained that they monitored the young star to determine whether it was more prone to releasing massive bursts of energy and charged particles, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).

To their astonishment, researchers saw that EK Draconis was capable of blasting a monster-sized CME that could travel at nearly one million miles per hour. They described EK Draconis’ superflare as 10 times larger than the most powerful ejection ever recorded from an older star, such as our sun.

Co-author Yuta Notsu noted that CMEs can be particularly dangerous if they hit Earth because they would completely fry all electrical systems, causing blackouts and disruptions.

He warned that a mass ejection as seen in EK Draconis “could, theoretically, also occur on our sun,” but added that our star’s advanced age makes an apocalyptic CME less likely.

Even so, Notsu and his colleagues suggested that the CME study could explain how the celestial events helped shape the early solar system and planets such as Earth and Mars.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 290,168,801

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,443,812

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,180,344,363

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

  1. US: 55,121,185 (+0.48%)
  2. India: 34,922,882 (+0.10%)
  3. Brazil: 22,297,427 (+0.01%)
  4. UK: 13,309,653 (+1.02%)
  5. Russia: 10,358,099 (+0.17%)
  6. France: 10,355,369 (+0.57%)
  7. Turkey: 9,554,771 (+0.35%)
  8. Germany: 7,208,790 (+0.18%)
  9. Italy: 6,328,076 (+0.98%)
  10. Spain: 6,294,745 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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