Today's newsletter is all about Omicron, Ghislaine Maxwell's trial, the unexpected death of a fashion heavyweight, and the beginning of Hannukah.
Here's the podcast version of today's newsletter.
OMICRON ON OUR MINDS
The new variant - called Omicron - has undoubtedly been the number one headline over the weekend.
At the moment, symptoms from the variant seem mild, but more time is needed to really be able to tell its impact.
Remember: Variants are now being named after letters of the Greek alphabet, to avoid stigma towards the countries where they might have been detected. The system was introduced when a new variant - first detected in India - was renamed the 'Delta variant'.
Interesting to note: The World Health Organisation skipped two letters in the Greek alphabet in naming this variant Omicron. The first was 'Nu' to avoid confusion of people thinking they were saying 'new'. The second was Xi, the same name as the president of China, Xi Jinping.
Here are some of the angles over the last few days;
- Japan has closed its borders to all international flights
- Israel closed its border to all foreigners
- Two rugby teams - Cardiff and Munster - are stranded in South Africa, both teams have people who tested positive for Covid
Flights bans and 'Afrophobia';
- According to CNN, at least 44 countries have imposed temporary travel restrictions on the southern African region
- South Africa's President Ramaphosa urged countries not to introduce flight bans, saying it will do further damage to their economy
- The president of Malawi accused Western countries of 'Afrophobia'
- The head of the World Health Organisation in Africa called on countries to follow science rather than imposing flight bans
Below is a fascinating must watch interview with the co-chair of the African Union's vaccine delivery alliance.
"Had the first SARS Covid virus, the one that we first identified in China last year, originated in Africa, it is now clear that the world would have locked us away, and thrown away the key. There would have been no urgency to develop vaccines because we would have been expendable... Africa would have become known as the continent of Covid. What is going on right now is inevitable, it's as a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner. It's as a result of hoarding by high income countries, and quite frankly it is unacceptable. These travel bans are based in politics and not in science." - Dr. Ayoade Alakije
Worth noting: According to The Washington Post, just 6% of the population on the continent of Africa have been vaccinated. As the article noted, vaccine producer Moderna has refused to share how they produced the vaccine, citing intellectual property. As The WP pointed out, if another producer had the formula they could replicate the vaccine within a year. Without it, the process could take three years.
What's happening today?
- G7 Health ministers will meet virtually today to discuss the spread of the new variant. Remember: The G7 is comprised of the world's seven richest democracies - the US, the UK, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada. It used to be the G8, but Russia was expelled back in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea.
- From 4am Tuesday in the UK, mask wearing in shops and on public transport will be mandatory once again. Also, passengers flying into the UK will need to show a negative PCR test. Ireland is exempt from this requirement.
- In Ireland, government leaders are to meet with NPHET today to discuss the situation. However, RTÉ News reported new restrictions are not expected to introduced, "at this stage at least". Meanwhile, The Irish Times reported there may be an obligation for those arriving into Ireland to have a pre-travel negative PCR result. Those arriving from the UK are not expected to be exempt, should it be introduced.
BEING PRESIDENT IN A PANDEMIC
What do you do when you have tested positive for coronavirus but you've still got quite a big job to do?
Well, Czech President Milos Zeman - who was hospitalised in October at a moment of political change in the country - found a way around it.
Wheeled into an acrylic glass box by aides in hazmat suits, the president appointed the country's new prime minister.
Context: President Zeman spent weeks in hospital recently with non-Covid-related issues , collapsing a day after the country's consequential election. Given the president plays a key role in appointing a new prime minister, his ill health left the country in a political deadlock. According to CNN, he spent 46 days in hospital only to be released on Thursday - and then sent back later that day after testing positive for coronavirus.
ON TODAY'S AGENDA...
Ghislaine Maxwell's trial is scheduled to begin today, in what some media outlets are referring to as "the trial of the century".
Maxwell, a close associate of the late Jeffrey Epstein, has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of sex trafficking. If convicted, she could face up to 35 years in prison.
There is a lot of anticipation around whether or not any of the high profile figures who mingled with Epstein will be mentioned during the trial, which is expected to last around six weeks.
Here is a link to our latest NewsFix piece all about Maxwell and the trial.
KEEPING AN EYE...
Sweden might reappoint Magdalena Andersson as the country's prime minister - for the second time in a week.
Andersson made history last week - becoming the country's first female prime minister, only to resign seven hours later after the government collapsed over a budget issue.
If reappointed as expected, Andersson will face an uphill battle - a minority government that has to govern with the opposition's budget.
WHAT ELSE HAPPENED OVER THE WEEKEND?
The Creative Director of Louis Vuitton - 41-year-old Virgil Abloh - died following a private two-year battle with cancer.
The New York Times described him as a "barrier-breaking Black designer whose ascent to the heights of the traditional luxury industry changed what was possible in fashion".
- BBC News: Scientists to announce advice on booster rollout
- The Guardian: Boy, 14, charged with murder of Ava White in Liverpool
- The Financial Times: Boris Johnson announces measures to contain spread of Omicron variant
- Al Jazeera: 'Hate won': Indian Muslim comic says he's 'done' after shows axed
- The Irish Times: Pricewatch: 'cold and unsympathetic' Ryanair staff dispute passenger complaint
LAST NIGHT MARKED...
The beginning of Chanukah/Hannukah, the Jewish holiday.
Worth noting: As a CNN article once noted, while Hannukah is not the most sacred holiday in the Jewish calendar, the fact that it occurs roughly around Christmas time is why it is often the most well known - particularly in the West - as "companies are only too thrilled to capitalise on the timing".
Here is a great explainer of the significance of the holiday, and what it is all about.
New Zealand MP Julie Anne Genter went viral over the weekend after a photo of her cycling to the hospital at 2am while in labour was circulated.
"My contractions weren’t that bad when we left at 2am to go to the hospital - though they were 2-3 min apart and picking up in intensity by the time we arrived 10 minutes later."
ON A LIGHTER NOTE...
No Diggity, No Doubt... no question, no sing.