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Sensemaker: Covid nations

Monday 21 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Brazil’s official Covid death toll passed 500,000 – second only to the US – as thousands protested against Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
  • The US is set to impose more sanctions on Russia in response to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the country’s imprisoned opposition leader.
  • Pope Francis put Robert Schuman, a founder of what came to be the European Union and Nato, on the path to sainthood, citing his “heroic virtues”. Two miracles would have to be attributed to Schuman to complete the process.

Covid nations

The Delta variant of Covid is becoming the globally dominant variant of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated Delta to a “variant of concern”, one with higher transmissibility and more severe disease. It now accounts for around 10 per cent of American Covid cases, but its geographical spread is highly uneven. 

The reason is simple: vaccination rates across states are uneven. The range is wide: 

  • In Vermont, 74 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated. 
  • In Mississippi, the number drops to 37 per cent. 

Researchers are warning that “two Covid nations” are emerging: vaccinated and unvaccinated. In many ways, the two nations reflect the country’s partisan divide. The broad map is that vaccination rates are low in Republican states, like Mississippi, and high in Democrat ones like Vermont. The map shouldn’t surprise us, according to a recent survey:

  • 52 per cent of Republicans said they had received at least one vaccine dose while 77 per cent of Democrats said they were already vaccinated.
  • 29 per cent of Republicans said they had no intention of getting a vaccine compared to 5 per cent of Democrats.

There are efforts to boost vaccination rates in underperforming states. In Ohio, where 54 per cent of adults have received at least one dose, a vaccine lottery offered five adults the chance to win $1 million. It boosted vaccinations for a week, but dropped to below its initial level a month later.

Ohio state representatives have been hearing testimony on a bill that seeks to prohibit mandatory vaccinations. One witness, anti-vaccination activist and osteopath Sherri Tenpenny, told the lawmakers that Covid vaccines were magnetising people. A nurse at the same hearing tried to prove this magnetic effect using a key and bobby pin. The key rested on her chest. “Explain to me why the key sticks to me,” she told the lawmakers.

She then put the key on her neck, but it fell off. The same thing happened with the bobby pin. Despite this, she said: “It sticks to my neck too. Yeah so if somebody can explain this, it would be great. Any questions?” None from me.

In a statement on Friday, Joe Biden pleaded with Americans who have not yet received a vaccine to do so quickly. The Delta variant, he said, leaves unvaccinated people “even more vulnerable than they were a month ago”.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Stitched up
In seeking to avoid a social media pile-on, the Royal Academy of Arts, one of Britain’s leading cultural institutions, created another kind of mess for itself. Last week it received eight complaints that it stocked work by an artist accused of transphobia. Jess de Wahls, a textile artist whose work is politically charged and feminist, wrote a blog post in 2019 that said she had “no issue” with somebody expressing themselves as the other sex – her father does (£) – but couldn’t accept “unsubstantiated assertions that they are in fact the opposite sex to which they were born and deserve to be extended the same rights as if they were born as such”. It was this blog post that formed the basis of the complaints. The Royal Academy responded by saying it would no longer stock work by de Wahls, “an artist representing transphobic views”, and that it was “committed to equality, diversity and inclusion”. There are now calls for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate whether the Royal Academy has breached de Wahls’s right to protected beliefs.


New things technology, science, engineering

Coelacanths
The coelacanth, a big and strange fish that predates the dinosaurs, got weirder. Scientists found that these nocturnal, deep-sea creatures live about five times longer than previously believed – about a century – and that females carry their young for five years, which is the longest-known gestation period of any animal. Coelacanths first appeared in the Devonian Period – 400 million years ago and about 170 million years before the dinosaurs. They are sometimes called living fossils, a description scientists now shun. “By definition,” biologist Marc Herbin of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris told Reuters, “a fossil is dead.”


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Cuban hope
Cuba is testing five domestic Covid vaccines. It seems a large number for a country whose population of 11 million is short of basic goods like rice and paracetamol. But it has a long history of medical research, which began after thousands of doctors fled the country during the revolution and Fidel Castro ramped up funding for medical work in response. The sector proposed during the pandemic. It announced that its Soberana 2 vaccine, developed by state-owned BioCubaFarma, showed an efficacy rate of 62 per cent after two of the intended three doses, even against variants.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Okavango elephants
Plans for an oilfield stretching across Botswana and Namibia threaten the lives of 130,000 elephants who use the region as a home range. ReconAfrica, a Canadian oil and gas company, leased more than 34,000 sq km of land in the Okavango Basin. It started its seismic exploratory work, but doesn’t have production operations licences yet. The company said the project would bring huge economic benefits to the area and generate between 60 billion and 120 billion barrels of oil. Hundreds of the elephants have already died in the past year, likely because of growing toxic algae – a product of global warming – in their waterholes. “There’s a profound irony here,” Rosemary Alles from Global March for Rhinos and Elephants told the Guardian. “Here we are with hundreds of elephants dying from an algae bloom caused by climate change, and a few kilometres away they want to start drilling for yet more oil.”


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Music money
Music companies are gaining value because of rising royalty payments from streaming services like Spotify. Investors see those companies – or, simply, music – as a stable asset in what’s been a turbulent year for the markets. The latest news is a company backed by Pershing Square, the American hedge fund run by Bill Ackman, bought a 10 per cent stake in Universal Music Group, worth about $4 billion. What did Ackman get in return? In December, Bob Dylan had sold the rights to his music catalogue to UMG for a reported $300 million. Taylor Swift is another UMG artist, so is Lady Gaga. According to its last earnings report, UMG’s revenues increased 9.4 per cent – thanks to the growth in subscription and streaming revenues, which were up 19.6 per cent.

The week ahead

UK
21/06 – ‘Freedom Day’ in England comes and goes, with only wedding, wake and care home restrictions eased; NHS infected blood inquiry continues and turns to a school where dozens of pupils died; Dominic Cummings participates in Substack Q&A, 22/06 – Joint Committee on Human Rights publishes report on Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill; England play Czech Republic in their final Euro 2020 group game, 23/06 – former education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins, who resigned from the post earlier this month, delivers keynote at The Telegraph Festival of Education; High Court hearing over legal challenge against proposals to build a dual carriageway near Stonehenge, 24/06 – Met Police officers appear in court charged over photographs taken at double murder scene of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, 25/06 – Scottish Parliament goes on summer recess, 26/06 – Democratic Unionist Party leadership election; Armed Forces Day

World
21/06 – Amazon Prime Day; United Nations Conference on Trade and Development launches annual world investment report; Yulin Dog Meat Festival begins in Guangxi, China, 22/06 – Mercer releases annual report ranking the cost of living in 209 cities worldwide; US secretary of state Antony Blinken travels to Europe, 23/06 – pop star Britney Spears appears at conservatorship hearing; trial begins for Tong Ying-kit, first man charged over new Hong Kong security law, 24/06 – trial continues in Netherlands for four men charged over downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, 25/06 – Derek Chauvin, former police officer convicted of murder of George Floyd, set to be sentenced; Joe Biden hosts Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani at the White House, 26/06 – former US president Donald Trump holds ‘Save America’ rally in Ohio, 27/06 – New York City Pride March

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Xavier Greenwood
@XAMGreenwood

Photographs by Getty Images


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