The World Today for February 04, 2022

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Holding the Nose


Costa Rican leaders face hard choices. Their constituents, meanwhile, feel as if they are being left with none.

Costa Rican tourism this year is expected to reach 40 percent of 2019 levels, before the coronavirus pandemic, the Costa Rica News reported. American officials recently warned US citizens to steer clear of the country, noting that Covid-19 levels were extremely high, added the Washington Post.

The pandemic-triggered downturn has added economic worries to Costa Rican voters’ preexisting concerns about politics as they prepare to cast ballots for a new president on Feb. 6. The country, incidentally, is a solid democracy with a history of well-organized elections, according to Freedom House.

The plunge in tourism dollars has caused unemployment to soar, the gap between rich and poor to grow wider and the national debt to skyrocket to 53 percent of gross domestic product – not high in relative terms compared to North American or European countries but a burden for a small nation like Costa Rica, explained the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. In Latin America, only Argentina and Brazil are more indebted.

Incumbent President Carlos Alvarado of the Citizens Action Party (PAC) is not permitted to run for a second term. He wouldn’t likely win if he could. His popularity stands at 15 percent.

But those who can assume office aren’t well-liked, either. Alvarado won in 2018 after voters lost confidence in the two parties that traditionally vie for power in Costa Rica: the left-leaning National Liberation Party (PLN) and the conservative Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC). Their candidates, former President José María Figueres and ex-Vice President Lineth Saborío, enjoy around 17 and 15 percent support respectively, reported Agence France-Presse.

The PLN and PUSC lost power in 2018 in part because the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a controversial ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, dividing the electorate, and because both parties consistently enact policies that help big business while ignoring the plight of workers and the poor, argued the NACLA Report on the Americas.

Alvarado arguably continued those policies, enacting a tax reform bill that he claimed was designed to reduce the country’s debt but which drew the ire of protesters who said it would disproportionally hurt the poor. More protests erupted recently when Alvarado announced but then rescinded new taxes as part of an International Monetary Fund bailout, Al Jazeera reported.

Something must be done. But voters can’t coalesce around anyone to do it.


Bad Fences


Poland and the Czech Republic signed an agreement Thursday to end a long-running dispute over a lignite mine on the border, a facility that has cost Poland millions of euros in fines from the European Union, the Associated Press reported.

The matter is related to Poland’s Turow open-pit mine and the adjacent power plant located on the border between the two countries. The Czech Republic has complained that the mine has been draining water from Czech villages and causing environmental harm.

Last year, Prague took the dispute to the European Court of Justice, saying that Poland had ignored its protests.

The court ordered Poland to close the mine pending its ruling and imposed a $570,000 fine in September for each day the mine continued to operate.

Poland has refused to pay – a debt that has grown more than $77 million currently – and said that the mine supplies a power plant that generates nearly nine percent of the nation’s energy.

The new agreement stipulates that the Turow mine and power plant can continue to operate without obstacles. The two neighbors also agreed to monitor the operation of a deep barrier that Poland is erecting in the area to prevent water drainage on the Czech side.

Poland will also pay the Czech Republic about $51 million in compensation.

The leaders of both countries hailed the agreement as a success.

Meanwhile, the European Commission said that the penalties will continue to accrue until the Czech Republic withdraws the case. Prague said it would do so when Poland pays the compensation.

Strike Two


The leader of Islamic State died Thursday during a US military operation in northwestern Syria, dealing a blow to the jihadist group as it attempted to stage a comeback in recent weeks, NBC News reported.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi detonated a bomb during the raid in the Atmeh area of the rebel-held Idlib province. At least 13 people died in the operation, including women, children and members of the terrorist leader’s family.

Al-Qurayshi became the head of Islamic State in 2019 following the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, his predecessor and the group’s founder.

Al-Baghdadi died during a US-led raid in the Syrian village of Barisha – located about 15 miles from the site of Thursday’s raid, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The recent operation is considered the largest in northwestern Syria since al-Baghdadi’s death more than two years ago. It comes as the group has been attempting a resurgence in the region after launching a series of recent attacks.

The most prominent was an attempted jailbreak in northeastern Syria, which resulted in 10 days of conflict breaking out between IS and US-backed Kurdish forces.

Syria has been plagued by civil conflict for more than a decade, resulting in the displacement of millions and the deaths of hundreds of thousands: The United Nations warned in September that more than 350,000 people have died and called the figure “an undercount.”

Papers, Please


Austrian lawmakers approved a law this week that would make it compulsory for every Austrian resident above the age of 18 to get vaccinated, described as the strictest Covid-19 vaccine mandate in the European Union, CNN reported.

The government said the law will take effect Friday but added that authorities will only begin checking people starting on March 15.

Exemptions will apply to pregnant women and those who cannot be vaccinated because of health reasons. Those recovering from the virus will be exempt for 180 days from the date they received their first positive PCR test.

Failure to provide a certificate or proof of an exemption could lead to fines of up to $4,000.

The vaccine mandates were originally proposed last year as officials tried to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The new law is expected to last until Jan. 31, 2024, and will be implemented in stages.

The legislation has been described as the toughest and most punitive effort by Western lawmakers as they try to ameliorate the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic.

At the same time, the new law is part of an effort to boost vaccination rates in the country. Currently, nearly 76 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, Bloomberg noted.

Austrian officials have also introduced a lottery to incentivize vaccinations.


Bionic Grandma

An 88-year-old woman became the first person in Britain to receive a “bionic eye” implant that would allow her to see better, Sky News reported.

The octogenarian from Dagenham, London suffers from geographic atrophy in her left eye. The condition is a very common form of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which causes a blind spot to develop in the middle of the eye.

It is estimated that more than five million people around the world are affected by the condition.

As part of a Europe-wide clinical trial, scientists surgically implanted a 2-millimeter-wide microchip behind the center of the woman’s retina. The patient will then wear special glasses fitted with a video camera that is linked to a tiny computer attached to her waistband.

Researchers explained that the “revolutionary” chip will capture the video feed provided by the glasses, which is then transmitted to the computer. The algorithms then process this data and guide the glasses’ focus.

Finally, the glasses display this image as an infrared beam back through the eye to the chip, which converts it into an electrical signal that travels back via the retina cells and into the brain. The brain will then interpret this signal as natural vision.

The woman and the researchers hope that this “revolutionary” device will help people who lost their vision because of dry AMD.

“I am thrilled to be the first to have this implant, excited at the prospect of enjoying my hobbies again and I truly hope that many others will benefit from this too,” said the bionic grandma.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 388,124,697

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,713,295

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,012,585,982

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

  1. US: 75,994,966 (+0.42%)
  2. India: 41,952,712 (+0.36%)
  3. Brazil: 26,107,894 (+1.11%)
  4. France: 20,275,999 (+1.38%)
  5. UK: 17,727,681 (+0.54%)
  6. Russia: 12,090,707 (+1.30%)
  7. Turkey: 11,940,695 (+0.91%)
  8. Italy: 11,348,701 (+1.01%)
  9. Germany: 10,723,644 (+2.37%)
  10. Spain: 10,199,716 (+0.73%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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