The Soapbox: Delta Variant, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Olympics

The Soapbox is a new weekly column by WSN’s news desk, examining the major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

By Suhail Gharaibeh, Deputy News Editor

In the U.S., worrying developments in the fight against COVID-19

New guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that even fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public areas with substantial or high transmission rates — which include all five New York City counties — and that fully vaccinated people should be tested for the virus, even if they have no symptoms. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged all New Yorkers to return to wearing masks indoors — but stopped short of issuing a mandate.

This comes after recent data from July showing that the deadly and highly-transmissible Delta variant can be spread even by the fully vaccinated. An internal CDC slide presentation obtained by The Washington Post this week advises public health officials to “acknowledge the war has changed” amid the spread of the variant.

Meanwhile, the CDC announced a new, limited COVID-19 eviction moratorium Tuesday that will ban evictions in high-transmission areas of the country until early October. The decision follows five days of protest by Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and others, who slept outside the Capitol after the CDC’s original federal moratorium expired without intervention from Congress or the White House. Only $3 billion of the $46.6 billion allocated for COVID-19 rent relief has actually reached tenants, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In Afghanistan, a new wave of conflict amid U.S. withdrawal

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are fleeing their homes in Afghanistan as the Taliban advances rapidly across the country in the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal. It is estimated that at least 241,000 people have died in the war since 2001, including over 47,000 Afghan civilians.

The BBC reports that Taliban forces have seized more territory in the past two months than they have controlled at any time since the U.S. invasion ousted them from power in 2001. The first American evacuation flight brought 221 Afghans to the U.S. out of a backlog of 20,000 Afghans eligible for a Special Immigration Visa because of their work for the U.S. government during the war. The bulk of fleeing civilians, however, are left to seek asylum without U.S. support.

In Myanmar, a one-man “election”

Exactly six months after seizing power in a coup d’etat, Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing took to state TV on Aug. 1 to declare himself Prime Minister under a new “caretaker government” — an action that has historically preceded long periods of military rule in Myanmar. Hlaing said there will be multi-party elections and an end to the state of emergency by August 2023, extending a previous timeline given by the military government which promised an end to military rule in one year. Activists on the ground in Myanmar report that since taking power in February, the junta has killed more than 940 civilians and jailed thousands more.

In Tokyo, Biles’ return, and a Belarusian in danger

The U.S.’ star gymnast, Simone Biles, will compete in the balance beam final, her last possible event at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, USA Gymnastics announced on Twitter Monday. Biles had previously withdrawn from the competition, citing struggles with mental health.

After criticizing her country’s Olympic coaches on Instagram, 24-year-old Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says she was taken against her will to Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Sunday, where she refused to board a flight to Minsk, fearing reprisal from Belarusian authorities upon landing. The International Olympic Committee said late Sunday that Tsimanouskaya is with Japanese officials and an IOC representative at the airport and “feels safe.” 

Poland has granted Tsimanouskaya a humanitarian visa after Reuters, who broke the story, reported that she was seeking asylum in several European countries. Belarus’ Olympic Committee is headed by the eldest son of authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko. In May, President Lukashenko forced a commercial flight to land in Minsk so that authorities could jail Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich.

Contact Suhail Gharaibeh at [email protected]