About –the stories of the world this week, 18 December to 24 December: return of the mask – a country overwhelmed; a warship sinks; a President visits a President – Europe to America; no education for girls; Football World Cup; and Christmas – the gift of the magi.
While the world is gradually stepping-out of the pandemic, China finds itself locked in a terrific battle with the Covid19 causing coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 variants. Cases of infection have been recorded in 31 of its provinces and there is an explosion of people struck by the virus.
Meanwhile, it’s tails-up for the world, as we brace for another possible virus invasion from China. The masks are out again, and all the colourful terms we learnt during the pandemic could be put to use one more time. Call it a deja vu? Return of the Mask?
China lifted its most severe Covid policies attributed to the Zero Covid Policy – including forcing people into quarantine camps – just a week after landmark protests against the strict controls. People with Covid can now isolate at home rather than in state facilities if they have mild or no symptoms. They also no longer need to show tests for most venues, and can travel more freely inside the country.
But, the country is currently experiencing a surge in cases, and recorded its highest number of daily Covid numbers since the pandemic began in the year 2020. Several major cities including the capital Beijing and the southern trade hub Guangzhou are experiencing outbreaks. And there are serious concerns about a fresh Covid19 wave hitting the country.
The abrupt shift in China’s stringent Covid policy has left its people and health facilities ill-prepared to deal with the huge wave of infections, leading to widespread shortages of common drugs, and other essentials.
One of the reasons for the present outbreak is that vaccination levels are lower – though China claims 90% of its population has been fully vaccinated – than in other countries and only half of people aged over 80 have received three doses of vaccination. China has refused to import vaccines despite evidence that its homemade vaccines have been proved to be less effective in protecting people against serious Covid illness and death.
Experts predict that 60% of China is likely to be infected over the next 90 days, with deaths likely in millions.
China should get its act together and do everything possible to contain this wave of Covid19 and prevent its spread. For a start it should be more open about the data of infections and death, which, at the moment, only fuels scepticism about the real impact.
Thailand’s warship HTMS Sukhothai, a 76 metres long corvette (small warship) had been on Day Two of a routine patrol, east off South-Eastern Thailand when it got caught in a storm, this week’s Sunday night. The waves were as high as 3 metre and caused the water to climb the decks, flood the hull and then the electricity room, cutting off power, and ultimately sinking the ship with a crew of 105 on board.
Other naval ships were immediately alerted and sent to help, but only the HTMS Kraburi frigate reached the vessel before it sank, about 32km east of Bang Saphan in the Prachuap Khiri Khan province, off the Gulf of Thailand.
Rescuers have saved about 75 people so far, scouring the rough seas with boats and helicopters. Survivors have been found after floating for hours, some in an unconscious state.
The warship was commissioned in 1987 and built in the United States of America.
The two events that occupied this year’s headlines and refused to go away are, one – the Russia-Ukraine War, and two the fact that it’s over 455 days since the Taliban banned teenage girls from school in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan remains the only country on the planet banning children from getting an education. It only got worser this week when in another devastative, regressive action, the Taliban imposed a ban on university education for women: they cannot enrol themselves in public and private universities in Afghanistan. This comes three months after thousands of girls and women across the country took university entrance exams. The universities are currently closed for the winter and were to reopen in March 2023.
Before Afghanistan reached this stage, following the Taliban’s takeover of the country, universities were compelled to implement new rules, such as gender-segregated classrooms and entrances. Women were only permitted to be educated by women professors or old men.
Being rich in knowledge, full of dreams, no matter where they live, women of Afghanistan feel empty as the world has betrayed them.
Denying women the right to education is soul-crushing. A murder of the mind?
This week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky flew to the United States, his first visit outside the country since the war began. He addressed the US Congress and in a well-crafted speech said, “Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
The extraordinary measures taken to transport President Zelensky from Ukraine to the US capital are a sign of just how crucial the two countries’ relationship is for both sides. After visiting the front line in Eastern Ukraine this Tuesday, Zelensky’s journey to Washington DC began with an overnight train journey to Poland before boarding a US Air Force plane, reportedly supported by a NATO spy-plane and an F-15 fighter jet. Hands-off Russia? Finally they are veering around from calling the ongoing invasion of Ukraine a special operation, and admitting it is indeed a war. And they want to end it!
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Ends
The football World Cup finals were played this Sunday, and we witnessed one of the best-ever football final matches, in a long time. It was a slow-start thriller, building up the momentum to a nail-biting climax, which kept one on the edge. And rolling memories, long after it was over.
Argentina stepped in confidently and the ball seemed stuck to their legs for most of the first half of play and the beginning of the second – in about 75 minutes of probably the most dominated finals ever. Superstar Lionel Messi shot the first goal on a penalty and assisted another – a deft pass to Di Maria- to give Argentina a solid 2-0 lead before half-time. We could not see any vibrant signs of France – appeared drugged out, but just when we were beginning to give up on them, emerging superstar Kylian Mbappe copied Messi, scoring in a penalty and then a field-goal himself. Suddenly the game seem to be anybody’s after the second half scoring by France to equalise.
The game went in to extra time and Messi again delivered in a field goal scramble, making in 3-2. But the spirit of France had woken-up and Mbappe scored yet another goal – a hattrick- on a penalty shot making it 3-3 and driving the game to a penalty-shot decider.
Both stars, Mbappe and Messi got the first kicks inside, but Argentina’s goal-keeper stopped the next from France and the third shot from France missed the goal completely. The fourth went home. But Argentina kept their cool scoring all their shots making it 4-2. Argentina won, taking the Cup home after 36 years.
Team Argentina, moulded by coach Lionel Scaloni, has delivered to expectations and it is a well-deserved victory.
The jubilant homecoming of team Argentina was beyond measure with millions turning up to welcome their heroes. And Argentina declared a national holiday for people to watch the nation team ride an open bus during a parade in Buenos Aires centred around the iconic Obelisk that was built in 1936 to commemorative the quadricentennial of the first foundation of the city. It was sight to behold: looked like a huge beehive filled with honey from up above.
Indian Women’s Hockey Strikes Gold
The inaugural International Federation of Hockey (FIH) Hockey Nations Cup 2022 held in Spain saw India’s Women’s Team beat Spain 1-0, at Valencia, on 17th December, to win Gold.
The competing teams were Chile, Italy, South Africa, Indian, Japan, Spain, Ireland, and Korea.
This wonderful win was drowned in the drum-beats of the Football World Cup, but it is something to cheer about and ‘sticks out’ in journey of women’s hockey in India. Way to go!
Beware: a Warning
In Qatar two mass gathering events were held simultaneously, one, the FIFA World Cup 2022 and two, the Camel Mzayen Club’s Camel Beauty Pageant Festival. These attracted hundreds of thousands of people from within the Middle East and across the world. Many are attending both events, interacting closely with each other and with camels, creating ideal conditions for the transmission of camel-associated zoonotic pathogens with epidemic potential. These pathogens include the highly lethal MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus). Dromedary camels in the Middle East are a major reservoir of MERS-CoV. Humans sporadically become infected through direct or indirect contact with MERS-CoV-infected camels or camel dairy products. People need to stay alert and watchful: we started the year trying to get off riding the coronavirus ride and need to shake it of least we take a Camel ride and drive ourselves into another pandemic.
Christmas is upon us and it’s a wonderful time of the year to spend time with family, loved ones, give and receive dream gifts – especially from Santa Claus and to un-wind and crank-up our engines to travel the new year ahead. Children would be looking in excitement at the stockings on the Christmas trees to see if Santa indeed came down the chimney in the middle of the night and made good promises sought .
There’s no better season to just curl-up on your favourite sofa, probably with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand, and read the day away. And what’s nicer to read during the holidays than stories about Christmas itself?
One of my all-time favourite Christmas stories has been O’Henry’s, ‘The Gift of the Magi’, a beautiful short story about the personal sacrifices we are willing to make for the ones we love with the might of our heart.
It’s Christmas Eve, and the young very much in love couple, Mrs & Mr James Dillingham Young – Jim and Della – find that despite their best efforts over the past months they could not save enough to buy each other a Christmas Gift.
O’Henry begins the story with Della counting her savings to one dollar and eighty-seven cents and fretting on how to buy Jim a gift – a worthy platinum chain for his gold watch to replace the present ‘unworthy leather strap’.
There were two possessions that Jim and Della took mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch – a family heirloom handed down from Grandfather to Father to him. Two, Della’s beautiful hair, which fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters, reaching below her knee. King Solomon (despite all his treasures) and Queen Sheba (despite all her beauty) would have burnt with envy on the respective possessions of Jim and Della.
In an awkward moment, Della decides to cut and sell her hair to buy Jim a watch chain. On returning home- with her head covered with a scarf- Jim is stunned when he finds out that she had cut her hair to buy him a watch chain. Della wonders whether Jim will love her the same despite the hair? On his turn, Jim had sold the gold watch to buy her the most beautiful set of combs: pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims, which she had secretly worshipped for long on a Broadway window (and Jim had noticed).
Despite losing their most valued possessions, the husband and wife in this story realize that their mutual sacrifice signifies a much greater gift: their eternal love and devotion to one another. Jim asks Della to keep aside the gifts and celebrate Christmas – “they’re too nice to use at present. And now suppose you put the chops on”.
Wrote O’Henry in the Story – I quote- “The magi, as you know, were wise men-wonderfully wise men-who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones, possibly bearing on privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi”.
Merry Christmas: Be wise, be a magi when you give or receive a gift. And cherish your love.
More soulful stories coming up in the weeks ahead. Watch the watch and keep the hair. Celebrate with World Inthavaaram.