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A New Coronavirus Wave Hits Chile, Despite Vaccine Success

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SANTIAGO — Having negotiated early access to tens of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, Chile has been inoculating its residents faster than any other country in the Americas and appears poised to be among the first in the world to reach herd immunity.

But experts say the country’s speedy and efficient vaccination drive — only Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Seychelles have vaccinated a larger share of their populations — gave Chileans a false sense of security and contributed to a sharp spike in new infections and deaths that is overloading the health care system.

The surge in cases, even as more than one third of Chile’s population has received at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, serves as a cautionary tale for other nations looking to vaccination drives to quickly put an end to the era of beleaguered economies, closed borders, and social distancing. The rise in cases triggered a new set of strict lockdown measures that have restricted mobility for nearly 14 million people.

“When transmission rates are high, the vaccine does not rein in new infections right away,” said Dr. Denise Garrett, an epidemiologist at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington D.C. “And with the new variants, which are more contagious, we’re not likely to see a big impact until the vast majority of the population is vaccinated.”

The severity of the crisis in Chile became clear Sunday, as President Sebastián Piñera asked Congress to delay by six weeks a vote scheduled for early April to elect the representatives who will draft a new Constitution and other officials.

“Protecting the health of our compatriots has always been our first priority,” Mr. Piñera said in a statement Sunday, arguing that the current state of the pandemic was not conducive to holding a vote that was “democratic, inclusive and safe.”

While more than six million of the country’s 18 million people have been vaccinated, a surge in infections has left intensive care units operating with few beds to spare and the system at a breaking point.

Last week Chile recorded 7,626 new Covid-19 cases in a single day, a record, and the pace of new infections has doubled in the past month. The main hospital in the coastal city of Valparaíso had to create an overflow morgue over the weekend. Health officials in Chile have identified cases of new variants that were first identified in the United Kingdom and Brazil.

Dr. Francisca Crispi, a regional president of Chile’s medical association, said that 20 to 30 percent of medical professionals in the country have gone on leave because they are so exhausted. Many are experiencing mental health problems and suicidal ideation, she added.

“No one questions that the vaccination campaign is a success story,” she said. “But it conveyed a false sense of security to people, who felt that since we’re all being vaccinated the pandemic is over.”

The government moved too quickly as it reopened its borders in November and eased restrictions on businesses, said Dr. Crispi. In January, after tightly restricting the flow of people across provincial borders, the country created a permit system for Chileans to go on summer vacation.

“There was no control or traceability of the people who arrived in the country and many people traveled abroad on vacation” said Dr. Crispi. She called the vacation permits a “seriously misguided measure.”

Soon, Chile also allowed gyms, churches, malls, restaurants and even casinos to reopen. Even as experts urged caution, the government stuck to its plan to reopen schools on March 1.

As people began moving and consuming with greater ease, doctors grew concerned, especially because the government did not have an effective contact tracing system in place.

“The situation we’re in is one we saw coming,” said Dr. Claudia Cortés, an infectious disease specialist who teaches at the University of Chile and has been treating Covid-19 patients at a private clinic in Santiago. “More than four million people traveled around the country. That led the virus, which had been largely contained to some major areas, to spread across the country.”

Health minister Enrique Paris has defended the vacation permits system, but acknowledged that the government should have been more emphatic about conveying that the virus remained a big threat as Chileans became more lackadaisical about mask wearing and gatherings.

“The mistake was perhaps to not have communicated the evident risk so the people who obtained those permits could have had the necessary instructions,” he said in early March.

Several other countries in the region are struggling to rein in contagion. In Brazil, hospitals in several states have waiting lists of gravely ill patients. Doctors in Paraguay say they are facing shortages of basic drugs as the virus spreads briskly.

Chile is better equipped than any of its neighbors to get the virus under control. Rodrigo Yáñez, a senior foreign ministry official who oversaw the vaccine procurement program, said Chile was successful in securing a large quantity of doses soon after manufacturing began by acting decisively and early.

The government has relied mainly on the Chinese-made CoronaVac and on Pfizer’s shot, but it has also placed orders from other suppliers to ramp up the pace.

Mr. Yáñez said the government’s campaign to encourage Chileans to get vaccinated has been effective at reducing the percentage of people who have expressed reservations about the vaccines in public opinion polls.

“We expect that the effect of the vaccines will be felt by mid-April,” he said in an interview.

Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago. Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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Joyce Carol Oates slams Brandeis over ban on ‘picnic,’ other words

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Even liberal novelists aren’t buying Brandeis University’s “Oppressive Language List,” which contains head scratchers like “picnic,” “rule of thumb” and “everything going on right now.”

Pulitzer Prize winner Joyce Carol Oates took to her popular Twitter account on Thursday to poke fun at the list, which was developed by the school’s Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center.

“What is strange is that while the word ‘picnic’ is suggested for censorship, because it evokes, in some persons, lynchings of Black persons in the US, the word ‘lynching’ is not itself censored,” Oates said in one post.

“Picnic” disappeared from the online Oppressive Language List sometime last week as reports of its existence spread, according to reports.

The university-sponsored website previously said the word “has been associated with lynchings of Black people in the United States, during which white spectators were said to have watched while eating.”

But other ultra-woke corrections remain — including suggestions to say “friends” instead of “tribe,” “give it a go” instead of “take a shot at” and “content note” instead of “trigger warning” — the latter because “the word ‘trigger’ has connections to guns for many people.”

Oates, 84, is a prolific tweeter who often uses her account to promote liberal politics and her opposition to former President Donald Trump.

Brandeis University released at list of “potentially oppressive language” from its Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center.
Brandeis University released at list of “potentially oppressive language” from its Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center.
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In another post on Thursday, the “Black Water” author worried what would become of professors and educators who disavowed the list’s recommendations.

“What sort of punishment is doled out for a faculty member who utters the word ‘picnic’ at Brandeis?–or the phrase ‘trigger warning’?” she asked.

“Loss of tenure, public flogging, self-flagellation?”

The university in a prepare statement last week said the “was developed by students” and was “in no no way an accounting of terms that Brandeis students, faculty or staff are prohibited from using or must substitute instead.”

“It is simply a resource that can be accessed by anyone who wants to consider their own language in an effort to be respectful of others who may have different reactions to certain terms and phrases,” spokesperson Julie Jette said.

About dis year BET Award

“Di BET Awards na di ultimate celebration of Black culture, and we dey look forward to spotlighting and celebrating Black women during dis year show

“Recognizing dem for everything wey dem don accomplish and applaud dem for what to come.”

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Belgian artist’s ‘portable oasis’ offers COVID protection — and fresh air

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When governments around Europe told people to create a “bubble” to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a “portable oasis” – a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

“It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly,” Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his "Portable Oasis" in Brussels, Belgium.
Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his “Portable Oasis” in Brussels, Belgium.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting,” he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops – mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions – encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his "Portable Oasis"  more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his “Portable Oasis” more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don’t know, but it’s a good idea,” Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his “Portable Oasis” while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.

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Chad’s longtime president Idriss Déby dies after fight against rebels

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President Idriss Déby died from wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels.

Chad President Idriss Déby — who ruled the central African country for over 30 years — died Tuesday of wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels, the military announced.

The stunning announcement on national media came just hours after officials had declared the 68-year-old the winner of the April 11 election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years.

The military said Déby had taken “the heroic lead in combat operations against terrorists who had come from Libya.”

After being wounded in battle, he then was taken to the capital, Gen. Azem Bermandoa Agouma said.

“In the face of this worrying situation, the people of Chad must show their attachment to peace, to stability and to national cohesion,” Agouma said.

Chad President Idriss Deby
A supporter carries a picture of Chad President Idriss Deby during a Peace Process rally in Darfur.
REUTERS

An 18-month transitional council will be led by the late president’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, the military said, as it imposed a nightly 6 p.m. curfew.

Déby, a former army commander-in-chief, first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses.

Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
AFP via Getty Images

He had survived several armed rebellions over the years and managed to stay in power until this latest insurgency led by a group calling itself the Front for Change and Concord in Chad.

The rebels are believed to have armed and trained in Libya before crossing into Chad on April 11.

President of Chad Idriss Deby
Deby first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre.
EPA

Déby was a major French ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in Africa, hosting the base for the French military Operation Barkhane and providing forces to the peacekeeping effort in Mali.

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