Weekly RoundUp (5/3-5/9)


Protests have broken out in Colombia over a tax reform that increases taxes on businesses and individuals amid an economically damaging pandemic. The mostly peaceful protesters clashed with police, leaving at least 37 protesters and one police officer dead. Police fired multiple shots, used teargas, hit people with shields, and rammed motorcycles into the crowds. Shortly after sending troops to the scenes of protest, President Iván Duque was forced to do away with the proposed tax reform. Oregon State Rep. Mike Nearman has been charged with official misconduct and criminal trespass for allowing protesters into the Oregon State Capitol sixteen days before the insurrection at the US Capitol. Security camera footage shows Rep. Nearman stepping out of the building and letting rioters protesting the new COVID-19 restrictions  gain entry. The Biden Administration has announced that construction of Trump’s southern border wall has been halted. Border wall funds will be diverted to other projects including addressing issues with flood control in the Rio Grande Valley and soil erosion in San Diego that were caused by construction of the wall. 


The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its plans to phase out hydrofluorocarbons. Hydrofluorocarbons are commonly used in refrigerants and are a potent greenhouse gas. This is expected to prevent up to a 0.5 °C increase in global temperature by 2100 and reduce the use and importation of hydrofluorocarbons in the US by 85% in the next 15 years. A deadly subway accident in Mexico City has left at least 23 dead and dozens more injured. A subway overpass collapsed while a train was traveling over it, locals have reported seeing cracks in the bridge following a strong earthquake in 2017. The cities of Cabell and Huntington County in West Virginia are seeking to hold McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health accountable in court for their role in the opioid epidemic. The three companies are the three largest drug distributors in the US and have defended themselves by blaming doctors, drugmakers, and regulators. Huntington and Cabell County are seeking $2.6 billion in settlement to heal their communities. 


According to a scientific advisor to the Indian government, K. Vijay Raghavan, a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is “inevitable” in India. Vijay Raghavan said a second wave of infections — which continues to paralyze the world’s second-most populous country — was predicted but “such a much larger second wave with the ferocity we are seeing” was not predicted.  “A phase three is inevitable, given the higher levels of circulating virus but it is not clear on what time scale this phase three will occur,” said Vijay Raghavan at a news conference, asking authorities to be prepared for new waves. President Biden says the federal government has failed to allocate the necessary resources to prevent the thousands of unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native Americans. He pledged his administration’s support to address what he calls an “ongoing tragedy” in Indian Country. “Our treaty and trust responsibilities to Tribal Nations require our best efforts, and our concern for the well-being of these fellow citizens require us to act with urgency.  To this end, our Government must strengthen its support and collaboration with Tribal communities,” reads the proclamation.


Georgia lawmakers have passed a law expanding voting restrictions throughout the state. The law changes over a dozen aspects of voting in Georgia, some of which strengthen ID requirements and ban people from handing out food or drink in voting lines. Republican legislators in other states, such as Florida and Texas, have followed suit. These efforts give greater control of the electoral body to the Republicans in certain states following their loss during the most recent elections. Joe Biden has expressed his support for waiving vaccine patents from vaccine manufacturers, reversing a previous U.N. stance. However, changes to international intellectual property rights requires a unanimous vote, and the European Union has not yet changed its mind. The pharmaceutical industry has responded angrily to Biden’s decision, stating it will enforce the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines and strain global supply chains. Public health activists, on the other hand, strongly support the President’s decision. Nevertheless, they still acknowledge that a simple waiver cannot increase global supply. Activists and experts from the public health field believe the waiver must be supplemented by a sort of “tech transfer,” wherein manufacturers must share necessary technical information and supply infrastructure and personnel. 


In one of the deadliest police shootings in Brazilian history, at least 27 people were killed in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Jacarézinho. 26 civilians and one police officer lost their lives. Rio police launched the mission after receiving reports that a local drug trafficking gang had begun recruiting children for jobs. However, these reports are nothing new: it is common knowledge in Brazil that trafficking gangs routinely recruit minors. This information, along with the police force’s track record, has caused many to be speculative of the justification given for the invasion. As a result, protests have broken out throughout the city, and the United Nations has called for an official investigation of the shooting. Scientists in the Netherlands have developed a method of rapid-COVID testing using honeybees. A group of 150 bees were given a few drops of sugar water as a reward each time they were exposed to the scent of COVID-positive particles, and given no reward when exposed to a sample without COVID-19. By the end of the study, the bees had learned to identify positive COVID-19 cases with a 95% accuracy rate when using multiple insects. Dutch company InsectSense in Wageningen has begun developing a machine that could train bees to identify scents, as well as a biochip containing smell-detecting information from bee DNA, which could circumvent the need to use live bees. Professor Wim van der Poel at Wageningen University claims that if successful, the InsectSense products could become instrumental in future COVID-19 testing. 


In Jerusalem, violent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian civilians have left over 200 dead during the holy month of Ramadan. The past few weeks have been especially tumultuous in Jerusalem as Israeli forces continue to block off popular Islamic and Palestinian gathering sites. These past few days, protests became riots as Israel threatens to evict dozens of families from Sheikh Jarrah, one of Jerusalem’s most predominantly Palestinian neighborhood. At one point throughout the conflicts, Israeli police in riot gear invaded the third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa mosque. The international community has expressed serious concern over Israel’s actions. COVID-19 cases in the United States have reached a new 7-month low, largely due to the country’s mass vaccination efforts. Though Joe Biden backs waiving patents on the vaccine, many manufacturers have expressed hesitation due to potential loss of profits. Meanwhile, American vaccination rates begin to slow, infections in India continue to soar, garnering material and moral support from the international community. The vaccine rollout continues, but shortages have increased as hundreds of millions of Indian people seek a jab, despite India being the world’s largest vaccine producer. 


A Chinese space rocket booster was accidentally launched a few weeks ago and has now returned to Earth’s orbit, crashing in the ocean near the Maldives on Sunday. When launched, the booster weighed 22 tons and measured over 100 feet, but luckily, most of its body burned up in the atmosphere. New York City has approved the use of vaccines for tourists in an effort to rebuild tourism and in anticipation for its gradual larger reopening. The city has set up mobile vaccine stations in popular tourist spots such as Times Square and Central Park to provide the Johnson & Johnson 1-shot vaccine to all U.S. residents, not just those in New York State. Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes the initiative will project a safe, trustworthy image for the city, stating “[NYC is] a great place to be and we’re going to take care of you.” As India battles a massive surge in COVID-19 cases, its neighboring countries (namely Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan) have also seen rising levels of infections. Nepal is of particular concern with a shocking 40% positivity rate, indicating that many positive cases are going unreported. Experts believe this concerningly high jump in cases is due to the country’s long border shared with India, which many regularly cross for family and business reasons. The former king Gyanendra had even contracted the virus after a visit to India. Nepalese authorities have been instructed to conduct stricter border checks, and restrictions have been imposed nationwide. In Pakistan, the rapid growth of cases has led to widespread unease regarding the country’s already strained healthcare system. 

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