The World Today for January 18, 2022

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Unbending Science

WORLD

Australia deported Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic after federal court judges upheld the immigration minister’s decision to override an earlier court decision to allow him to play in the Australian Open. As the Associated Press wrote, officials kicked him out because he is not vaccinated, as Australian law mandates for noncitizens. Djokovic maintains that he doesn’t need a vaccination because he recently recovered from Covid-19.

The incident showed how Western governments in much of the world can be unbending when it comes to coronavirus vaccinations.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently told the French press that he would not jail unvaccinated people or force them to receive jabs, according to Axios. But he said he would mandate Covid passports for anyone seeking to ride public transport or commercial airliners or to dine or participate in group activities in public. He’s not worried about the passports angering French anti-vaxxers.

“I really want to piss them off,” said Macron. “And so we will continue to do so, to the bitter end. That’s the strategy.”

Writing in the Local, journalist John Litchfield didn’t see Macron suffering much among voters due to his pugnacious attitude. More than 90 percent of those eligible for vaccines have received two shots in France.

Italian police were checking Covid passports and masks recently on public transport to enforce similar measures, Euronews noted. Remembering how their country was an epicenter of the virus in 2020 – the Italian death toll of 140,000 was one of the highest in the world – most Italians supported the measures.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently signaled his support for local officials who barred unvaccinated folks from government-operated alcohol and cannabis stores, the Washington Post added. People were putting off cancer treatments and elective surgeries because Covid-19 sufferers who didn’t receive vaccinations were occupying beds in overwhelmed hospitals, he said.

German lawmakers in the new Social Democratic government, as well as members of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, expect to go farther, proposing to make vaccination mandatory in March, Reuters wrote. Their move follows in the footsteps of Austria, where officials made vaccinations compulsory for everyone age 14 and over starting in February.

Thousands turned out to protest the Czech government’s proposed vaccine mandate, which would make Czechs 60 and older as well as some people in high-risk professions receive inoculations, according to the Hill. Carrying signs in Wenceslas Square that said “Freedom“ “Cowards” and “Hands off our children,” the protesters lamented how they were being forced to participate in a massive scientific experiment, reported Radio Prague International.

Of course, their critics would say that while the need to vaccinate is massive, the process is no longer an experiment.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Not the First Rodeo

FRANCE

A French court convicted far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour Monday for inciting racial hatred, a verdict that observers worry might leave a lasting mark in French politics ahead of a high-stakes presidential election, the Financial Times reported.

The court found Zemmour guilty for comments he made during a television debate in 2020. During the debate, the former political commentator called unaccompanied child migrants “thieves,” “killers” and “rapists.”

It ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of more than $11,000 or risk facing 100 days in prison. The candidate criticized the ruling as “stupid and ideological” and said that it was an attempt to silence him. His lawyer said he would appeal the case.

The relatively unknown Zemmour rose to prominence last year after the possibility of a presidential run captivated French media, the Washington Post noted. His electoral program is focused on “immigration zero” and calls for France to eliminate most of the present paths to immigration – including provisions that allow foreigners to join family members or enter France to study.

Although he has since fallen from second to fourth place in the polls, critics say that his presidential bid – even if unsuccessful – could contribute to the normalization of racially charged statements and make the country more susceptible to far-right proposals.

This isn’t the first time that Zemmour’s public remarks have landed him in hot water for violating France’s laws against inciting racial and religious hatred. He has been accused in 16 such legal cases over the years.

Currently, he has a separate case pending for playing down the role the French government had in deporting Jews during the Holocaust.

It’s Complicated

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban said it would open girls’ schools across Afghanistan by late March, in an announcement that has drawn praise and skepticism from outside observers, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a government spokesman and deputy minister of culture and information, said that classrooms for all girls and women will open in the Afghan New Year, which starts March 21.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mujahid stated that boys and girls will have to be completely segregated in schools. He added that one of the biggest obstacles has been finding or building enough dorms to accommodate the girls.

His statements come months after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. Although they have not officially banned girls’ education, Taliban fighters have closed girls’ secondary schools and prohibited women from attending public universities in some parts of the country.

Mujahid noted that the Islamist group is “not against education” for girls and women. He added that it was “a question of capacity,” as well as the economic crisis that has plagued the country since the takeover.

The international community has yet to formally recognize the Taliban government out of fear that the group may impose harsh measures like those of its previous rule more than two decades ago.

Afghanistan’s economy is also facing collapse after the United States froze nearly $10 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank following the collapse of the Western-backed government.

The recent announcement was welcomed by women’s rights groups, but some questioned whether the ultraconservative Taliban will keep their pledge.

Last month, the Taliban imposed new regulations that would prevent women from traveling long distances unless accompanied by a male relative. Meanwhile, United Nations officials expressed concern the Taliban are “institutionalizing large scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.”

A Shelter For All

ECUADOR

Ecuador will expand the area of protected waters off the Galapagos Islands, a move intended to protect one of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems, the Los Angeles Times reported.

President Guillermo Lasso issued a decree to expand the 51,352-square-mile Galapagos Marine Reserve by nearly 50 percent and boost a chain of nature reserves that countries along the Pacific coast have built.

The new reserve will extend north to Costa Rica’s southern maritime border, as well as prevent long-lining and other types of fishing out of a section that animals use as a “subway” to cross this environmentally-rich area.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve has become a shelter and nursery for various marine creatures – including sharks, tropical fish, sea turtles and penguins – protecting them from pollution, shipping traffic and overfishing.

Analysts and officials said that the expansion will help “reduce fishing pressure over the Marine Reserve of the Galapagos.” They noted that the fishing industry cooperated with the government to create the reserves.

Ecuador’s fishing fleets are among the largest in South America, and the country is the largest tuna producer in the Western Hemisphere.

DISCOVERIES

Spotting a Difference

A novel study found that dogs – like humans – are extremely puzzled when they hear a foreign language, according to NPR.

When study lead author Laura Cuaya moved from Mexico to Hungary, she wondered if her two border collies – Kun Kun and Odín – noticed the change of languages.

Together with her colleagues, Cuaya took 18 volunteer dogs – including her own – and analyzed their brain activity to determine if the pups could differentiate between languages.

While Kun Kun and Odín understood Spanish, all the other dogs were used to hearing Hungarian.

In their experiments, the dogs sat within an MRI machine while listening to the Spanish and Hungarian versions of the story “The Little Prince.”

The team found that the dogs’ secondary auditory cortex region would show contrasting activity when the animals heard the two different languages.

Co-author Attila Andics said the findings show that pets’ brains “can differentiate between these two languages.”

Although the pooches figured out they were hearing a new language, researchers noted that they did not understand it, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Andics said that the study is the first to show “that a nonhuman species brain can discriminate between languages.”

However, he added that further research is needed to determine whether the ability to spot foreign languages is present among all nonhuman species or only canines.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 330,889,125

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,546,954

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,672,842,205

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

  1. US: 66,421,749 (+1.10%)
  2. India: 37,618,271 (+0.64%)
  3. Brazil: 23,089,509 (+0.32%)
  4. UK: 15,406,953 (+0.59%)
  5. France: 14,288,800 (+0.03%)
  6. Russia: 10,682,826 (+0.58%)
  7. Turkey: 10,524,029 (+0.62%)
  8. Italy: 8,790,302 (+0.96%)
  9. Spain: 8,424,503 (+4.10%)
  10. Germany: 8,104,159 (+1.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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