Wednesday. 5/5/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Unfair shot

With coronavirus vaccine programmes rolling out and several nations now with more than half their populations at least partially vaccinated, there has been no shortage of calls for the West to do more to help lower-income nations. Some of these pleas have been heeded – the West responded to India’s crisis in the form of aid, oxygen and raw materials for vaccines – but it’s become glaringly obvious that it’s not just the charity of wealthy nations that’s needed to ensure that the rest of the globe is safely inoculated.

At the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s General Council meeting today and tomorrow, members will discuss a proposal to suspend intellectual property protections that are preventing many nations from making their own coronavirus vaccines. Such a measure would allow developing countries to dramatically increase their own production and ensure that a greater number of people are vaccinated more quickly. So far, a total of 60 WTO member countries have backed the proposal but the US, UK and Canada, among others, have voiced objections. Unsurprisingly, so have pharmaceutical companies.

The most widely touted argument against lifting patent protections is the claim that, without them, private firms would be less motivated to pursue innovation that leads to the creation of such vaccines in the first place. This ignores the fact that pharmaceutical companies’ innovation was aided in this case by Western governments, who gave vast subsidies to vaccine-makers throughout the pandemic. Beyond that, one just needs to look at the numbers: of the 1.18 billion vaccine doses administered globally, just 17 per cent have gone to developing nations and only 0.3 per cent to the world’s poorest countries. Some estimates predict that populations in the latter won’t be fully vaccinated until 2024. Borders might be opening back up but, as new variants continue to emerge, it’s still true that until the pandemic is over everywhere, it’s not fully over anywhere.

Media / Myanmar

Law unto itself

Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi has been arrested in Myanmar on the grounds of spreading “fake news”, making him the first foreign journalist to have been charged since the coup began in February. It comes as press freedom in the country has already been considerably eroded with about 80 Burmese journalists detained and at least 20 of them prosecuted. Despite calls from the Japanese embassy to release Kitazumi (pictured), who had been reporting on the situation in Myanmar for a number of prominent Japanese news outlets, he faces a potential three-year prison sentence if found guilty. It’s worrying that such vaguely worded charges “can be used against any reporter who Myanmar’s junta would find annoying, without even having to explain what kind of ‘fake news’ is at stake,” Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific desk at Reporters without Borders, tells The Monocle Minute. “It’s very likely that the military will use this charge against journalists in the future.”

Politics / USA

Trigger happy

So far this year, almost 15,000 Americans have been fatally shot, by others or themselves. There have also been 180 events classified as mass shootings. It might seem perverse, then, that the right of Americans to carry firearms in public could be expanded when the US Supreme Court, which has a six to three conservative majority, has agreed to hear arguments against New York state’s restrictions on carrying concealed weapons.

“The Supreme Court seems to want to carve out a Second Amendment right for Americans to carry guns, in some respect, in public,” Robert Spitzer, political scientist at the State University of New York and author of The Politics of Gun Control, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Although legal considerations are paramount in any court case, Spitzer suggests keeping an eye on public opinion as well. “If the outcome produces more violence then the court is going to find itself in a pretty precarious position.”

Retail / China

Creature comfort

Chinese rabbits are a little happier today after the central government changed the rules on animal testing for imported cosmetics. The amendment, which came into force at the beginning of this month, means that most make-up and skincare products manufactured overseas will not have to be tested on animals before being sold to Chinese consumers. Animal-welfare groups, such as the UK’s RSPCA, have welcomed the move. Ethical cosmetics companies will also be jumping with joy. Many foreign beauty brands have hitherto been forced to shun the world’s second-largest make-up market for fear of losing their cruelty-free status – a key requirement for many consumers in the US and Europe. Although China still demands mandatory animal testing for imported hair dyes, sunscreen and certain other so-called “speciality” cosmetics, the recent rule change is a hop in the right direction.

F&B / UK

Can’t get the staff

A flurry of new restaurant openings is planned across the UK as the industry prepares for the resumption of indoor drinking and dining from 17 May. Pent-up demand from patrons starved of an evening dining out, together with cheaper property options, are giving restaurants reason for optimism. But it’s also becoming evident that finding staff is a challenge – so much so that it might threaten some openings. “The industry has seen a large amount of European staff go back to their home countries and they are now unlikely ever to return,” Adam Hyman of UK consultancy Code Hospitality tells The Monocle Minute. “A lot of hospitality staff have also moved to other industries – logistics and supermarkets being popular choices – where working hours and pay are often more appealing.” It’s worth thinking about the next time you enjoy good hospitality: the pandemic should have taught us how much we rely on it.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Soulwax

Belgian brothers David and Stephen Dewaele are the masterminds behind indie-electronic band Soulwax. They chat to Robert Bound about their handsome studio in Ghent, their latest release, Foundations, and – having been grounded in their hometown for the first time in their 25-year career – the places they miss the most.

Monocle Films / Italy

Venice Biennale: art of nationhood

In our second report from this year’s Venice Biennale, we head to the national pavilions to meet the artists and curators who are raising their countries’ profiles on the world stage.

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