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What We're Watching: The Omicron variant sparks panic and restrictions

The Omicron wars: Can we really afford to lock down again? In response to the new omicron variant first discovered by South African scientists, many countries have reintroduced pandemic travel restrictions that we thought were long behind us. Israel and Morocco have banned all foreign visitors, while tougher rules on quarantining and travel have also been enforced in the UK, Australia, Singapore and parts of Europe. Meanwhile, travelers from southern African countries have been banned from entering almost everywhere. Scientists say that it is still too early to say how infectious the new variant is, or how resistant it might be to vaccines. This disruption comes just as many economies were starting to reopen after more than 20-months of pandemic closures and chaos. The new restrictions are already triggering a fierce debate: some say that we are now in the endemic stage of the pandemic and that it is both unsustainable – and economically and psychologically harmful – to keep locking down every time a new variant surfaces. Others, like Israel's PM Naftali Bennett, say we are in the throes of a new "state of emergency," and that we can't afford to take any chances. What do you think?

A person holds a placard as supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters march to demand a rollout of COVID vaccines, in Pretoria, South Africa.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

What We’re Watching: African vaccine hub, Russia woos Taliban

Moderna plans African vaccine hub: Vaccine maker Moderna will spend $500 million to build a new facility in Africa that can produce 500 million annual doses of the company's COVID jab, which along with Pfizer, uses complex mRNA technology that can't be easily transferred. (Pfizer is already constructing a similar vaccine hub for local production in South Africa). Indeed, this is great news for the continent, where barely 4 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, due to lack of supplies coming in from wealthy donor countries and the COVAX facility. What's more, Moderna plans to use its hub to develop other vaccines against other infectious diseases rife across Africa like Zika or regular influenza. Still, the facility won't be ready for at least two more years, so in the near term African countries will continue relying on foreign suppliers to inoculate their populations against COVID, prolonging the pandemic.

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The photo, published on September 29, 2021, by the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), shows the launch of what North Korea claims to be a new hypersonic missile, from Toyang-ri, in the Ryongrim region, in the province of Jagang, which was carried out this Tuesday.

REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Kim goes hypersonic, confident Europeans, Japan’s new safe hands

Kim Jong Un breaks the sound barrier: North Korea has announced the successful test of a "strategic weapon" that travels five times faster than the speed of sound. The Hwasong-8 missile, which is believed to be nuclear-capable, is a hypersonic weapon which is much harder for missile defense systems to track than conventional ballistic missiles. The US, China, Russia, and India are the only other countries known to be working with this highly sophisticated technology. And although experts aren't quite sure how developed the Hwasong-8 actually is, this is the third missile test that North Korea has conducted in the last month, suggesting that Pyongyang is getting plucky again as nuclear negotiations with the US remain in a deep freeze.

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Are We Really Building Back Better After COVID? Experts Weigh In | Global Stage | GZERO Media

Are we really building back better after COVID? Experts, policymakers weigh in

Eighteen months later, some countries are already recovering from COVID, while others are still in the thick of it. What's the current state of play on vaccines, what's holding up distribution, will the world emerge stronger or weaker, what should the private sector do, and has Biden delivered on US leadership expectations?

Top leaders from the United Nations, the WHO, the World Bank, and Microsoft weighed in during a Global Stage virtual conversation hosted by GZERO Media in partnership with Microsoft during the 76th UN General Assembly, moderated by The New Yorker's Susan Glasser.
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UNGA WATCH: Who's gonna vaccinate "the world"?

Well, we're in the thick of "high-level week" for the United Nations General Assembly, known as UNGA. As always, the busiest few days in global diplomacy are about more than just speeches and hellish midtown traffic in Manhattan. Here are a few things we are keeping an eye on as UNGA reaches peak intensity over in Turtle Bay.

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The Graphic Truth: Who relies on India's COVID vaccines?

Five months after halting vaccine exports amid a catastrophic COVID wave, India now plans to resume vaccine exports next month, vowing to produce some 300 million vaccine doses in October alone. Until then, India had exported more than 66 million doses, which were sold, given as grants or snapped up by COVAX, the UN-backed initiative to vaccinate low- and middle-income countries. COVAX had been relying on Indian manufacturers to deliver the bulk of its supply, and the export ban has been a massive blow to the program, which is well behind its target. We take a look at which countries have gotten the most shots from India to date, and their respective vaccination rates.

UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) during the Norwegian Parliamentary Election on September 13, 2021 in Oslo

Jon Olav Nesvold / BILDBYRÅN

What We’re Watching: Left wins Norway’s climate vote, everyone wants India’s jabs, junta denied Myanmar’s UN seat

Norway's climate election result: Most votes have now been counted from Norway's parliamentary election, and the left-leaning Labour party, headed by former FM Jonas Gahr Støre, has reaped 46 out of 168 seats up for grabs, ousting the conservative government led by PM Erna Solberg. Støre will now try to form a coalition government that's expected to include the agrarian Centre Party as well as the Socialist Party. The election was broadly seen as a referendum on climate change policy, given that oil accounts for more than 40 percent of Norway's exports and employs 7 percent of the entire workforce — though Norway itself has rolled out an ambitious green agenda at home. Støre says that he'll limit new oil explorations, but has ruled out getting rid of fossil fuels, saying that oil revenues could help fund the transition away from oil in the long run. Importantly, the Greens, the only political party that called for an end to all oil exploration, reaped only 4 percent of the vote, and is therefore unlikely to yield enough (or any) influence. Regardless, Støre may need to incorporate some smaller left-wing parties in his coalition that could force him to take a more forceful stance on climate change, like raising carbon taxes.

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