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Sensemaker: New lockdowns

Sensemaker: New lockdowns

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Saif Gaddafi, son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, registered as a candidate in the country’s first direct presidential election even though he is wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.
  • The EU said it will escalate its sanctions against Belarus in response to an “intensifying”migrant crisis at its Polish border.
  • A Tesco TV advert in which Santa Claus has a vaccine passport triggered over 1,500 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority alleging the advert is coercive and encourages medical discrimination.

Key number: 114,000 – Russian soldiers assembling around the Donbass, a mostly Russian-speaking region in Ukraine.

New lockdowns

Unvaccinated Austrians aged 12 and older can only leave their homes for work, medical reasons or to get groceries. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg’s order, an attempt to raise his country’s Covid vaccination rate of 65 per cent, affects about two million people. But Austria is far from alone in resorting to tough new restrictions on the unvaccinated.

  • Some states in Germany – where infections are rising sharply and 67 per cent of people are fully vaccinated – has barred those who are eligible for vaccination but choose not to get it from indoor venues.
  • Latvia – vaccination rate of 59 per cent – reimposed lockdown last month. It has banned parliamentarians who refuse the vaccine from voting on laws and participating in debates until mid-2022, and docked their pay.
  • New Zealand – vaccination rate of 67 per cent – has mandated firms to ensure all staff are vaccinated in order to remain open for business. The order will cover 40 per cent of the country’s workforce.

New restrictions aren’t only being imposed in countries with low or middling vaccine uptake. In countries where uptake is already high, governments are concerned with waning vaccine efficacy and the need for boosters.

  • Government sources in Britain – vaccination rate 80 per cent – briefed journalists on plans to change the definition of fully vaccinated, so that three Covid jabs from those eligible for boosters are needed to qualify. At a press conference yesterday, Boris Johnson said “getting three jabs-getting your booster-will become an important fact and it will make life easier for you in all sorts of ways”.
  • In the Australian state of New South Wales, where the vaccination rate is 91 per cent, unvaccinated people aged over 16 are no longer allowed to visit another person’s house.
  • Singapore – vaccination rate of 83 per cent – said it will stop covering medical bills for those “unvaccinated by choice”.

The gains from these policies are expected to be significant. Covid is five times more likely to infect unvaccinated people than vaccinated ones. It’s more than 10 times likelier to kill them. But with vaccine-rich countries now pursuing booster shots, low-income countries that have long been vaccine poor will suffer: there is enough vaccine for everyone, but prioritising boosters in rich countries will inevitably mean slower delivery to poor ones.

belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Stopped and searched
London police stopped and searched a Black child about 30 times in the last two years, according to a complaint filed by his mother to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The boy, now 14, was never charged with any offence. “Every time I hear sirens I think the police are coming for me,” he told the Guardian. “I just don’t want the police to stop me any more.” It’s been two decades since an independent inquiry found the Met to be “institutional racist”, less than half a year since another inquiry found the force to be “institutionally corrupt”, and there are now calls for its commissioner Cressida Dick to resign because of institutional “sexism”. Join the Tortoise Policing Inquiry on Friday to discuss what needs to change at the Met.

New things technology, science, engineering

Space junk
Astronauts on the International Space Station woke to evacuation alarms yesterday because of a deadly field of over 1500 pieces of debris created when Russia shot down one of its own satellites. The seven people currently on board the ISS, including two Russian cosmonauts, had to shelter in the space station’s ‘lifeboat’ pods until teams on the ground deemed it safe to re-enter the main station. Feathers were ruffled in Washington, where the secretary of state Antony Blinken called the missile test “reckless and irresponsible”. Nasa administrator Bill Nelson called it “unconscionable”. But Russia’s own cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov seemed unphased, tweeting: “Friends, everything is regular with us! We continue to work according to the programme.” Perhaps “regular” was lost in translation. 

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

Covid and pregnant women
Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, called the low Covid vaccination rate in pregnant women a “major concern”, citing data showing an increased risk of severe illness during pregnancy. 98 per cent of the 1,681 pregnant women admitted to ICUs between February and September were not vaccinated. Whitty isn’t the only one worried. In the US, the CDC has issued “urgent” health advisories calling for higher vaccine uptake. It’s not an easy battle to fight, especially when doctors are contesting previous government advice. Because of long-standing caution prompted by adverse events like the Thalidomide scandal, pregnant women were initially left out of clinical trials for Covid vaccines. This meant the UK only started advising pregnant women to get the vaccine in April, and the US in August. And last month the Guardian reported that pregnant women were still being turned away from vaccine centres. Not everyone has got the message.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Delhi lockdown
The dust has barely settled from Cop26 and India’s supreme court is considering a lockdown in New Delhi because of dangerous air pollution. Schools and building sites were already closed as particulate levels hit four times the safe limit over the weekend. The pollution is a toxic seasonal mix of smoke from stubble being burned by farmers to clear fields after Diwali, and diesel emissions from trucks. A city-wide lockdown is an extreme measure but when air quality is this bad it can be fatal. Last year, an estimated 54,000 people died prematurely from air pollution in Delhi. 25,000 have died from Covid. There is an overlap between the two groups, but air pollution increases vulnerability to cancer, stroke and asthma as well as Covid.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Private jets return
Wealthy travellers are using private jets more than ever as the return of scheduled flights remains patchy. There have been over 4.2 million private jet flights this year with a record number in each of the past six months. The sector is struggling to keep up with demand. FlexJet’s European managing director Marine Eugene tells the FT the company’s chief executive “pretty much spent the last nine months shopping for aircraft”. Good news for the private jet companies; bad news for the climate. Terrapass, a carbon-offset firm, says a flight from London to Paris in a half-full business jet produces ten times as much CO2 per passenger as a scheduled flight.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Phoebe Davis

Edited by Xavier Greenwood and produced by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images, Nasa