Jacinda Ardern’s post-pandemic burnout and fighting Covid in China with canned peaches
Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro faces mounting pressure as official investigations are launched into the storming of the Brazilian parliament by his supporters. The “Bolsonaristas” could be looking at up to 30 years’ jail time, and Brazil’s new president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he suspected the rioters had inside help. The inquiries follow last year’s probes into Bolsonaro’s alleged mismanagement of the pandemic, which he called a “little flu.” He was charged with nine offenses including charlatanism and crimes against humanity. The charges were shelved in July, leading to calls for the prosecutor involved to be investigated herself.
As I write this, news is breaking that Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, has resigned. Arguably the face of global progressivism, Ardern’s strict Covid policies — dubbed “fortress New Zealand” — left her country deeply divided, albeit uniting the hard right and Covid conspiracy movements against her. A “Freedom Movement” against Ardern’s tough vaccine mandates grew in popularity, allowing the far right to pick up new members from the vaccine-hesitant community. For months now, the tag #resignJacinda has been spray painted on the walls and streets of Auckland. Ardern has said her government had tried hard to “have conversations with people and move through” vaccine hesitancy but that it remained a “fractious issue” in New Zealand. And, as Ardern said in her resignation speech, she no longer has “enough in the tank” to continue the fight.
I have been trying in vain to avoid the gas stove insanity that has been dominating some of my timelines. So let me bring you a potted version of events in all their madness. It started when a study came out in December, attributing 13% of pediatric respiratory diseases to gas stoves. Cue panic. A member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that the agency was considering regulating gas stoves. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” he said. This came as shocking news to foodies and right-wing politicians alike, not to mention my mother, who recently fitted a brand new gas stove, after decades of using electric. The debate escalated, with Republican politicians claiming that the right to cook on an open flame should be likened to the right to bear arms. “I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” tweeted Texas congressman Ronny Jackson. Gas stoves, all of a sudden, were the latest symbol of the American culture wars — and though there’s mounting evidence that they are indeed bad for the climate, and our health, it’s quickly become political poison to call for their regulation.
Even as China expects to see 36,000 deaths a day over the Lunar New Year, Chinese health officials have been accused of vastly underreporting virus-related deaths between December 8 and January 12. Rumors are swirling about overwhelmed funeral homes and astronomical fees at crematoria. A rather dark video has been doing the rounds on Weibo, garnering millions of views and showing a “departure board” that displays the progress of cremations to those waiting for the ashes of their loved ones. Meanwhile, Chinese citizens are scrambling for any protection they can get — and posts about the healing powers of canned peaches have been proliferating online, as Manya Koetse writes for What’s on Weibo. One popular hashtag describes the sweet preserved fruit as the “Mysterious Power from the East.” Covid experts have told citizens that peaches have no power against the virus — but are less keen to dissuade them from taking Chinese traditional medicine, which Xi’s government regularly pushes as part of its ongoing public health policy. At the beginning of January, a new announcement from China’s Covid taskforce urged for greater use of traditional remedies alongside conventional treatments. In Hunan, health workers have been delivering free traditional medicine packages to the elderly.
While China is busy letting go of its hardline Zero Covid policy, the same can’t be said for North Korea. Covid-19 is continually used as an excuse to crush basic human rights, and increased repression is exacerbating the existing humanitarian crisis in the DPRK, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2023 report. “The North Korean government, by sealing its borders, restricting imports, and limiting food distribution, is making life worse for North Koreans,” said Lina Yoon, senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch. Pfizer has offered to sell vaccines and medicine to North Korea at not-for-profit prices, but it’s unlikely Kim Jong Un will accept, having already turned down multiple offers of vaccines during the pandemic from both South Korea and the global Covax initiative. Meanwhile, the hermit country continues to prioritize its nuclear weapons program — it conducted no fewer than 30 long-range missile tests in 2022, a record number.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Simon and Schuster is set to release a book in March that, according to one AIDS activist, promotes AIDS denialism. Read Jason Rosenberg’s essay about it for “The Body,” which argues that we “cannot end the epidemic with major publishing houses choosing profit over public health.”
- The Intercept has published an investigation into how drugmakers have pressured Twitter to censor activists who are pushing for low-cost, generic vaccine development at equitable prices.