Tuesday. 17/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Clarissa Wei

Parallel pandemic

In years to come I’ll be able to tell the tale of how I spent the bulk of the pandemic in an alternate reality. Last year, while much of the world was in lockdown, I was frolicking among crowds in Taipei, attending rock concerts without a mask and regularly grabbing dinner with large groups of friends. And in the summer of 2021, as the Western world was finally opening up, I was in lockdown.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Taiwan managed to avoid lockdowns through rigorous contact tracing and home-quarantine measures for all arrivals. Life was relatively normal – until it wasn’t. This May, with more than a year of pandemic normality under its belt, the country began to let down its guard. In late April the virus escaped from a quarantine hotel; cases exploded for the first time and Taiwan was put into a soft lockdown.

The timing could not have been more inopportune. It was a moment when the rest of the world seemed to be opening up and Taiwan was forging travel bubbles with its allies – but vaccine supplies began dwindling here as a result of failed contracts and politicking. Most notably the Taiwanese government refused to buy vaccines from China, which holds regional distribution rights to Pfizer-Biontech shots. When Taiwan sought to buy them directly from the German biotechnology company, China blocked the deal.

But nearly three months after the crisis began, the situation seems to have abated once again, with fewer than 20 coronavirus cases a day and a robust inoculation campaign thanks to vaccine donations from allies such as the US, Japan, Lithuania and Slovakia. The lockdown has finally been lifted but out of an abundance of caution, pandemic measures remain strict: all arrivals to Taiwan are put into mandatory hotel quarantine and must take three coronavirus tests within the span of two weeks before being released. Masks are required at all times both indoors and out, and while indoor dining has technically resumed, many restaurants are still voluntarily halting service. In three months, Taiwan’s first-dose vaccination rate has risen above 30 per cent. It has become clear that no matter how diligent a country is in suppressing cases, vaccines are the only way to end this pandemic once and for all.

Clarissa Wei is a Monocle contributor in Taiwan.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / Afghanistan

Force to be reckoned with

Afghans living in the country’s capital, Kabul, woke up on Monday to a reality almost unimaginable a week ago. The Taliban are back in charge, after sweeping into the city unopposed and seizing the presidential palace. Thousands of desperate civilians have swarmed the tarmac at Kabul’s international airport to try to board any departing flight. “We’ve seen further chaos at the airport,” Kabul-based journalist Charlie Faulkner tells Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “Commercial flights have been grounded, largely because the US has prioritised evacuation flights and has taken over the runway.” The country, which was propped up by the US and its allies for 20 years, is now poised to revert to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as it was named by the regime in the late 1990s. Taliban leaders are seeking to shore up both domestic and international legitimacy but certain Nato allies, including Boris Johnson, are calling on countries to unite against the latter. The Taliban, however, will not be completely isolated on the world stage. Russia, Pakistan, Iran and China have in recent weeks increased their diplomatic ties to the group, so long as it might further their own national interests.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Canada

Poll positions

Campaign season is officially underway in Canada, following Justin Trudeau’s call for a snap vote on 20 September. The prospect of an early general election has been the worst kept secret in Ottawa for some time – yet it is a gamble for the Liberal prime minister, whose party lost its parliamentary majority in late 2019. Since then, however, his government’s handling of the pandemic and Canada’s high vaccination rate have buoyed the Liberals’ electoral prospects, while eroding those of the opposition Conservative Party, whose new national leader, Erin O’Toole, has failed to gain traction.

The timing of the vote seems tactical: recent polls suggest that it could restore Trudeau’s majority. Among the issues likely to dominate the campaign are vaccine passports, climate change, the cost of living, the plight of three Canadians incarcerated in China and even the question of whether a vote should be held amid a pandemic.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Australia

Waiting in the wings

The operator of Sydney Airport has turned down a second takeover offer worth AU$22.8bn (€14.2bn). The unsolicited bid, which was first proposed by a consortium of investors last month, had since been sweetened with a 2.4 per cent hike to the original share-price offer. Although the current airport owner has said that the bid is not in the best interest of shareholders, it has left the door open for another proposal. The bidder, known as the Sydney Aviation Alliance, has yet to declare a “final” offer. Both sides are betting on a resurgence of travel but extended lockdowns, due to a surge of the Delta variant, have dampened expectations of how soon that will be. If a deal is struck, however, it could go down as one of the biggest buyouts in Australian history.

Society / Brazil

Power source

Foreign observers of Brazilian politics might be surprised at the profusion of Arabic surnames among the nation’s lawmakers. Leftist Fernando Haddad and former president Michel Temer play a big role on the national stage, while São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, has had three mayors of Arabic descent in the past 25 years, including Haddad. The majority of these politicians are of Syrian or Lebanese extraction. Experts estimate that there are between seven and 10 million people of Lebanese origin in Brazil – that’s more than Lebanon’s current population. Brimos: Imigração sírio-libanesa no Brasil (Brimos: Syrian-Lebanese Immigration in Brazil and its Way to Politics), a new book by journalist and writer Diogo Bercito, looks at their stories, asking why Lebanese-Brazilians have done so well in fields such as politics. “What’s interesting [about Lebanese immigration] is that it was so geographically dispersed,” Bercito tells Monocle 24’s The Stack. “There was also an exceptional investment in education.” To learn more about the book and the Lebanese-Brazilian community tune in to The Stack on Saturday at 10.00 London time.

M24 / The Menu

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Monocle Films / Global

The beauty of stairs

Staircases can trigger conversations, provide a sense of arrival and dazzle with ingenuity, so why are they often overlooked?

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