Tuesday. 2/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

OPINION / Megan Gibson

Undiplomatic immunity

Photos of state leaders and politicians being vaccinated have become something of a genre this year but some images say far more than others. Take the snap (pictured) that Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán posted to social media on Sunday, which showed him receiving a jab of Sinopharm, a coronavirus vaccine made in China.

Although Sinopharm and the Russian-made Sputnik V have not yet been cleared by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Orbán – long a thorn in the EU’s side – has diverged from most other countries in the bloc by granting both vaccines emergency approval in Hungary. While Orbán has been noisily criticising Brussels’ strategy when it comes to approving and distributing vaccines (and in this he’s not alone), the approval of the Russian and Chinese products means that Hungary has the potential to pull ahead of other EU nations when it comes to vaccinating its citizens.

If only it were that simple. Like many things in Hungary, the topic of vaccines has become highly polarised. The opposition party is advocating that citizens avoid any jab that hasn’t been approved by the EMA, namely those that are made in Russia or China. (It should be noted that although reliable data is still missing on Sinopharm’s efficacy for the elderly, a report in The Lancet medical journal found that Sputnik V appears to be safe and effective against coronavirus.) Critics are also quick to point out that Orbán is not only perpetually antagonistic towards Brussels but that his government has political and economic ties to both Moscow and Beijing. All this mixing of geopolitical and health concerns is unfortunate. While the politics of vaccination distribution seems to be getting uglier by the day, so too is the pandemic for those who haven’t yet received a jab.

Image: Getty Images

Business / Japan & Myanmar

Friends like these...

Japan has invested more than $1.7bn (€1.4bn) in Myanmar since 2011 and more than 400 Japanese businesses operate in the country, so the military coup in the Southeast Asian nation has put Tokyo in a tight spot diplomatically. Japan signed up to a G7 statement condemning the military takeover but there’s a reluctance to sever ties and also a fear of pushing Myanmar’s rulers further towards China. The ripples are being felt regardless: Toyota has reportedly postponed opening a new assembly plant south of Yangon, while drinks company Kirin has ended its two joint ventures in the country. Further pressure was piled on last week by Human Rights Watch, among others, which called on Japan to join other countries in targeted sanctions and an arms embargo. The Japanese government has signalled that it could be an effective intermediary, having cultivated strong relations with Myanmar’s military leaders, and is being urged to leverage these connections to press for a return to democracy. Whether anyone in Naypyidaw will listen is another matter.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Chile

Booster jabs

Although much of South America is struggling to vaccinate its population, Chile’s programme is one of the most successful in the world – more than 17 per cent of its citizens have been inoculated with a first dose to date. One of the main reasons for this is good planning by the government, which was quick to secure as many vaccines as possible, aided by a strong free-trade tradition that has left little room for nationalist sentiment in the procurement process. Chile’s robust healthcare system has helped with the distribution as well.

This pragmatic approach and speedy government response could be good news for president Sebastián Piñera (pictured, centre). Although he has been suffering low approval ratings, faced a wave of major protests last year and is not seeking a new term, the next presidential candidate to emerge from his centre-right coalition (to be determined in July) now has a revived chance of winning the election in November. It’s the latest sign that an effective pandemic response can prompt a reversal of political fortunes for leaders and their parties.

Media / UK

Prints of Wales

Newsstands across Wales welcomed a new title to their racks in time for the country’s St David’s Day celebrations yesterday. The National – launched by the Newsquest Media Group, whose parent company is the US-based Gannett – is an online news source with occasional print editions that’s anchored by a monthly subscription model. Its goal is to offer an alternative to a media landscape dominated by newspapers aimed at the whole of the UK. With just one other national daily, Wales’s media market is relatively small for a country of 3.1 million people. Scotland, by contrast, has four national dailies, as well as Scottish editions of some UK-wide broadsheets and tabloids, serving its population of 5.4 million. News coverage in Wales has traditionally been anchored by the BBC’s English and Welsh-language services, so a new private-sector player is welcome. Conversations around Wales’s status in the UK have sharpened during the pandemic, so The National’s launch could prove to be a timely one.

Image: Alamy

Retail / Switzerland

Sunday service

Switzerland is known for its Sunday shopping restrictions: it normally allows retailers to open on just four Sundays every year. But as the Swiss parliament returns this week for its spring session, the topic of Sonntagsverkäufe is up for debate. Initiated by an economic commission in the city of Zürich, some parliamentarians are now pushing for 12 Sunday openings per year in 2021 and 2022 to give retailers a boost after a difficult year. Plans to extend the relaxation further could be possible too. “The current labour laws and shop opening times no longer correspond with our reality,” says Carmen Walker Späh, a Zürich councillor who heads its economics department. In her opinion the current situation is the perfect time to have a renewed discussion about opening times. After all, flexible working arrangements have been key for a lot of companies and employees this year.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 233: Little Moons

Vivien and Howard Wong co-founded mochi ice-cream brand Little Moons in 2010 after leaving careers in finance. The brother-and-sister team grew up watching their parents run a family bakery, and loved to eat the traditional Japanese mochis. They began by selling directly to London restaurants and are now stocked by Whole Foods, Selfridges and Amazon.

Monocle Films / Madrid

My life as a minibus

We hop aboard the M1 in Madrid to see how the nifty Wolta Rampini offers a helping hand to those who need it most: residents in the steep, historic borough of Lavapiés.

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