Thursday. 4/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Vax avoidance

It’s a tactic we saw over and over again during Brexit talks: when the UK found its back against the wall, British ministers resorted to convenient soundbites that played well to the home crowd but were, in fact, deeply misleading. Now, in an unexpected twist, it’s European leaders who are playing fast and loose with the truth as they face escalating pressure over the EU’s sluggish vaccine rollout.

Late last week Emmanuel Macron (pictured) told reporters that the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” for anyone over the age of 65; in fact, the European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine for use in all adults later that day. He also condemned the UK’s strategy of spreading out doses to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible; in fact, a new study shows that a single dose is 76 per cent effective up to 12 weeks after the shot. Meanwhile European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen this week defended the bloc’s delays by saying the EU had “agreed not to compromise with safety and efficacy requirements” when approving vaccines. The implication being, of course, that other countries had.

The problem isn’t that this kind of rhetoric is bad for diplomatic relations (though it certainly doesn’t help). The real issue is that it sows seeds of distrust in public health policies abroad and at home. How many elderly Europeans are now going to refuse the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine out of an unfounded concern that it won’t work? How many people will be tipped to the dark side of anti-vaxxer propaganda now that prominent EU leaders are falsely questioning the effectiveness of vaccines? European leaders are in a very difficult situation. But careless communication now may dramatically escalate everyone’s problems in the future.

Business / Europe

Spending power

Retail sales in many European countries held up better than expected last year despite the closure (and bankruptcy) of many high-street shops. UK retail sales fell just 0.3 per cent in 2020, while the consulting group GfK reported yesterday that spending in Switzerland rose a staggering 7.8 per cent on the previous year. Even Swiss non-food sales climbed 2.6 per cent, thanks to a strong franc as well as increased demand for home electronics and DIY, as people spent big on home upgrades for the first time in years. But don’t let the good numbers fool you: 2020 marked “a year of extremes” for the industry, according to German retail association HDE, which reported a 5.7 per cent jump in overall retail sales but noted that clothing sales plummeted by a quarter. Expect more pitfalls ahead if lockdowns can’t be ended swiftly. After all, hoarding home goods will only prop up retail for so long.

Aviation / Norway

Flying fish

Virgin Atlantic launched its first route from Britain to Norway yesterday – only there won’t be any passengers aboard the company’s shiny Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Instead, the flights between Heathrow and Norway’s northern Harstad/Narvik airport are cargo-only, helping the Norwegian seafood industry to get its produce out to the world. The new twice-weekly departures are welcome news for entrepreneurs operating in Norway above the Arctic Circle: the lorry journey alone from the region to Oslo airport can take 20 hours.

The airline says that, thanks to its new flights, cargo can now reach US destinations up to 72 hours faster. Virgin Atlantic is not alone in looking at Norwegian salmon and seafood: just a couple of months ago Qatar Airways Cargo opened a new route from Doha to Harstad/Narvik, helping Norwegian seafood exports reach destinations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In a tough time for the industry, it’s good to see airlines finding ways to fill the bellies of planes and people alike.

Arts / Japan

Pencil case

Mitsubishi Pencil is beloved for its series of colouring pencils that draw fine lines and use graphite powder that is less likely to crack and smudge on paper. Though many creations in the professional animation industry are now done digitally, some still start as analogue drawings. The pencils, originally released as a set of 12 colours, were discontinued by the Japanese company in 2015 due to a scarcity of raw materials – but strong demand from animators led them to bring four colours back to the fold. Yesterday, Mitsubishi Pencil announced that it will halt production of three more of these much-loved implements in June. Appropriately enough, the last remaining colour is red and the industry should heed the warning signs. Analogue drawing leaves an impression with customers and the Japanese would do well to draw up plans to keep their popular lines in production.

Society / Global

False belief

None of us is immune to a little wishful thinking. During the pandemic, who among us can honestly say that we haven’t entertained the idea of booking a table or far-flung holiday that never had a hope of materialising? According to Tim Harford, senior columnist at the Financial Times and author of new book How to Make the World Add Up, we’re hardwired to look on the bright side. “It doesn’t matter how expert you are or how many facts you have,” Harford told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “If you want to believe something, we’re all capable of convincing ourselves of things that aren’t true.” It’s known as motivated reasoning – processing the facts with a particular conclusion already in mind – and as social animals, it all comes down to fitting in. It’s why your friends’ stance on climate change can sway you more than any heat map ever could. His advice? Take a pause to notice your emotional reaction – and be aware of what you wish for.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 220: Recipe edition, John Chantarasak

A top recipe that creatively combines British and Thai flavours.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Guide to Building Better Cities

Sometimes all you need to make a better city is some humanity, a sense of scale and keen citizens. Tune into this visual manifesto, which celebrates our latest book release.

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