Thursday. 1/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Lucinda Elliott

Under the influence

What to do when you live next door to a country that’s ravaged by coronavirus? I’m physically closer than most to Brazil but I couldn’t feel further away in neighbouring Uruguay, a notable exception in South America when it comes to its management of the pandemic. Early tracing, a smaller population and favourable demographics are partly behind Uruguay’s success (it’s easier to socially distance in a capital city of 1.3 million residents, who benefit from a spacious 14 mile-long coastal promenade). People wear masks. Shops are open. Life has felt fairly normal.

When the first case was confirmed in March 2020, president Luis Lacalle Pou, the youngest Uruguayan head of state since the country’s return to democracy in 1985 and the first conservative to govern in more than a decade, declared a “voluntary quarantine”, asking the public to stay home if possible. There was never an official lockdown or forced business closures, though industry furloughs and the closing of schools and borders were introduced as preventive measures. Uruguay has also consistently topped the testing league tables, tracking more suspected cases per capita than any other country in South America. I can get one at my local petrol station. Case numbers remained low (about 100 daily through to November). At one point in August, the only cinema open across the entire continent was in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital.

But that nice-looking data chart is slowly shifting upwards. A more contagious Brazilian variant has meant that this March, Uruguay recorded more than 1,000 daily cases and hospital admissions are making headlines, prompting widespread criticism that a border closure with Brazil wasn’t tight enough. In fact, the duty-free shops that line the land frontier with the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul have been open for months and trade between the two never stopped. One thing lifting the Easter mood as many stay home voluntarily is vaccines. I popped my details into an app on Monday. This weekend, I and the other under 40s will begin joining the 500,000 Uruguayans inoculated since 1 March.

Lucinda Elliott is Monocle’s Latin America Affairs correspondent and a regular contributor to Monocle 24

Defence / Italy

Bye spy

Two Russian officials were expelled from Italy yesterday, after an Italian navy captain and a Russian attaché were detained by the Carabinieri following allegations of espionage. Though details are still murky, the captain and military official were caught in the act during the handover of a document in exchange for money. While Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s (pictured, on left) ministry has reportedly said that the expulsion won’t threaten bilateral relations, it’s likely that the incidents will have a ripple effect within Italy’s borders and beyond – particularly as early reports from Italy’s wire agency point to the classified information in question being about Nato activities. Russian officials were also recently expelled by Bulgaria and the Netherlands on similar suspicions but this is the first time that a Russian official has been caught red-handed. Such a situation hasn’t occurred in Italy since the cold war and offers yet another sign that relations between Europe with Russia are at a dangerous low.

Politics / Belgium

Brussels’ doubts

Belgium is famous for getting by with caretaker governments and executive orders, thanks to a rather unpredictable system of multiple political parties, which often sees the different ideologies, languages and regions of the country struggling to agree to form viable governing coalitions. So it’s not surprising that Belgium’s pandemic policy of lockdowns and other restrictions over the past year has been largely at the whim of the executive, rather than being underpinned by laws approved by parliament.

Yesterday a Brussels court forced the issue, striking down the country’s lockdown measures and giving the government 30 days to either lift the lockdown or establish a more appropriate legal basis. The onus is now on the country’s divided parliament, where a law to govern the restrictions has been languishing since earlier this year. The court case serves as yet another reminder that governments can’t run roughshod over the people’s representatives – even if those representatives can’t get along. The need for “emergency” measures to stop coronavirus is no longer a good enough excuse.

Business / Japan

Photo finish

Yesterday, Fujifilm announced the end of an era. Its chairman and CEO, Shigetaka Komori (pictured), is stepping down and passing on the baton. Having joined the company in 1963, the 81-year-old has led this Japanese company, which launched in 1934 as a maker of photographic film, through a tough market for 21 years, as its main business shrunk massively due to the rise of digital photography. As a response, Komori pushed into the pharmaceutical and medical-equipment industries to make the enterprise survive and thrive. Astalift, a skincare label launched by Fujifilm, is a case in point: it was produced using the company’s know-how and the technology that it accumulated in its film business. The remake of Fujifilm under Komori should serve as a reminder in challenging times, such as those we face today, that sharp entrepreneurial minds and ideas can help any company adapt to the future.

Fashion / Global

Power plants

On the same day that Kering-owned brands Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga made public their vow to stop using fur, New York-based manufacturer Ecovative Design announced that it has secured $60m (€51m) in funding to expand its production of plant-based materials including faux leather. Given the very modest amounts of fur used in fashion nowadays and the comparative importance of the leather industry, the latter deserves the lion’s share of praise for innovation. Ecovative was founded in 2007 by Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, and creates materials using mycelium, a fungus that, when combined with agricultural byproducts such as woodchip or cornstalks, can be useful for manufacturing clothes. “It’s able to perform like a plastic during its lifecycle,” Bayer told Monocle in an interview last year. “Then it actually breaks down and can be returned to the earth as a nutrient.” This is particularly good news for the luxury-goods sector, which has long struggled to find a plentiful, eco-friendly substitute for leather.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Ikea art, Sunspel and Rudolph de Harak

We explore how Ikea is bringing products created by renowned artists and designers to the masses, and take a trip to the Sunspel clothing factory. Plus: modernist graphic design and the latest design news from the southern states of the USA.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle’s digital decency manifesto

Technology is everywhere but that ubiquity can come at a cost to our health, wellbeing and the quality of our conversations. View our manifesto for a more dignified relationship with all things digital and learn to be a little kinder and more cautious online.

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