“If South Korea or China announced the same thing, I’m sure that the Japanese government and the vast majority of the Japanese people would also object,” she said.

Governments in the region most likely feel domestic pressure to take a strong stance, said Eunjung Lim, an associate professor of international relations at Kongju National University in Gongju, South Korea, who specializes in Japan and South Korea.

Whether their worries are rational or not, many people in the region “are going to be very, very anxious about what would happen if this radioactive material came into our near seas and contaminated our resources,” she said.

Even under the best of circumstances, Japan would find it “really difficult to persuade its neighbors to accept this kind of decision, because obviously, it’s not our fault. It’s Japan’s fault, so why do we have to experience this kind of difficulty?” she added.

Regional tensions have made surrounding countries even less receptive to the plan. In recent years, territorial disputes and disagreements over trade and historical issues related to World War II have strained Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, with spillover effects on government dialogues across a broad range of issues.

China warned Japan on Tuesday against taking any decision without further consultation with the international community, saying that it “reserved the right to take further action.”

In its statement, South Korea accused Japan of taking “unilateral action” without seeking consultation and understanding with South Korea, which “lies closest to Japan.”

Some in Japan believe that such complaints should be met with more than scientific arguments. Shunichi Tanaka, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said that the criticism smacked of hypocrisy.

South Korea itself operates four heavy-water reactors that routinely discharge water containing tritium at higher levels than those planned in Fukushima, he said in a recent interview.

“When South Korea makes claims like this, we shouldn’t be quiet, we need to properly refute them,” he said.

But the challenge Japan faces is not just on the global stage. At home, many are reluctant to trust the government or Tepco, the nuclear plant’s operator.

A parliamentary commission found that the meltdowns had been the result of a lack of oversight and of collusion between the government, the plant’s owner and regulators. And Tepco was forced to retract assertions that it had treated most of the wastewater. In fact, it had completely processed only about one-fifth, a problem that arose from a failure to change filters in the decontamination system frequently enough.

Ultimately, Japan is in a battle to alter perceptions, whether of the trustworthiness of its own government or of the risk posed by the treated water, said Hirohiko Fukushima, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University specializing in local governance issues.

In Fukushima, the government’s response to local concerns has often come across as highhanded, he said. Changing that view will require the authorities to improve transparency around their decisions and build new relationships, he said.

“From my perspective,” he added, “it’s probably difficult for Japan to convince foreign countries when it can’t even convince its own people.”

Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul. Albee Zhang contributed research from Shanghai.

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After months of near-total lockdown, Britain begins to reopen.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following separate but similar timetables, under which some restrictions eased on Monday in England will remain in place a while longer.

Despite chilly weather with occasional snow flurries, the moment was greeted with an enthusiasm born of more than a year of deprivation — as the once unimaginable notion of conscripting to government decree has become a way of life.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “a major step forward in our road map to freedom.”

In the first weeks of the global health crisis — when the World Health Organization was still debating whether to call the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic — a new word entered the popular lexicon.

Lockdown in English. Le confinement in French. El confinamiento in Spanish. But first came fengcheng in China, literally meaning to lock down a city.

At the time, as images from ghostly streets of Wuhan, China, started to grab the world’s attention and it became clear that the virus respected no national borders, there was a debate about whether Western democracies could — or should — resort to such extreme measures.

As hospitals struggled to deal with a flood of patients and death tolls soared, the debate was overtaken by the reality that traditional methods of infectious disease control, like testing and contact tracing, had failed.

Britain, which held out longer than many of its European neighbors, entered its first national lockdown on March 26, 2020.

Since then, lockdown has come to mean many things to many people — dictated as often by individual circumstance and risk assessment as government decree.

While no country matched China’s draconian measures, liberal democracies have been engaged in a yearlong effort to balance economic, political and public health concerns.

Last spring, that meant that much of the world looked alike, with about four billion people — half of humanity — living under some form of stay-at-home order.

A year later, national approaches to the virus vary wildly. And no region has relied on lockdowns to the extent Europe has.

Although it is difficult to compare lockdowns, since the use of the word differs in different places, researchers at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government have developed a system ranking the rules’ stringency. They found that Britain has spent 175 days at its “maximum stringency level.”

“In this sense, we can say that the U.K. is globally unique in spending the longest period of time at a very high level of stringency,” said Thomas Hale, an associate professor of global public policy at Oxford.

Though there was still a winter chill in the air Monday morning, people in Britain flocked to stores and restaurants. After so many false dawns, there was a widespread hope that, this time, there would be no going back.

Treating a Covid-19 patient in an intensive care unit at Homerton University Hospital in London, in January.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The British lockdown that is being eased on Monday is the nation’s third. But it was first aimed at containing a variant of the coronavirus — offering an early warning to the world of the threat posed by the evolution of the virus and the difficulties in trying to control this particular form.

When the variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first discovered late last year in the southeastern English county of Kent, much about it was a mystery.

It appeared to be more contagious, but to what degree? Was it more deadly? How far had it spread?

The picture is becoming clearer. The most recent estimates suggest it is about 60 percent more contagious than the original form of the virus, and significantly more deadly.

That same variant is now spreading across continental Europe, prompting governments like those of France and Italy to impose new national lockdowns. The variant has also added urgency to the vaccination campaign in the United States — which is getting doses into millions of arms every day but still might not be fast enough to avoid yet another wave.

The vaccines being used in many countries have shown to be effective against it.

Britain’s vaccination campaign was launched with an urgency dictated by the moment, prioritizing first doses to spread a degree of protection as quickly and widely as possible.

Even after the lockdown was put in place, the variant propelled the country’s daily fatality rates to levels not seen since the peak of the pandemic’s first wave in April.

On Friday, the number of people with Covid-19 on their death certificate was just shy of 150,000.

But another statistic now offers hope. Nearly 32 million people have been given at least one dose of a vaccine — roughly half the adult population.

Officials are confident the combined effects of the lockdown and mass vaccination will provide a wall of protection. But, as England’s chief medical officer Chris Witty warned, it is a “leaky wall.”

A large majority of people under the age of 50 have yet to be offered a jab. And with supplies constrained around the world, eligibility is unlikely to be expanded for weeks or more.

A line outside an athletic wear shop in central London early Monday. 
Credit…Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press

The once-routine act of visiting a clothes store or shoe merchant took on a new meaning for the first shoppers who made an early-morning pilgrimage to Oxford Street, London’s busiest retail road that in recent months has been a desolate stretch of boarded up shops and empty stores.

Outside Niketown, JD Sports and Foot Locker, crowds were lining up by 7 a.m. as groups of mostly young men waited in line for a chance to get their hands on new sneakers.

Julian Randall, a dedicated collector who has spent the last 15 years amassing sneakers, left his London home at 2 a.m. to be there. He said he preferred to buy in store, rather than online, where it was harder to find specific shoes at a reasonable price.

“It’s virtually impossible to hop online and buy the shoes online — you don’t even have a chance,” he said. “In this day and age, we are in a recession, and I don’t want to be paying resell prices for shoes. I want to buy retail.”

The shops have remained mostly shuttered since the week of Christmas, when nonessential stores were forced to close across the region, but elsewhere in England, the closures have been in place even longer after coronavirus cases surged.

Retailers hope that there will be a splurge in spending by people who have amassed a record amount of savings — nearly $250 billion according to government estimates, roughly 10 percent of the Britain’s gross domestic product.

But for many stores, it is too late.

The flagship store of the British retailer Topshop on Oxford Circus, once a destination for fashion-hungry young adults, permanently shut its doors after its parent company, Arcadia Group, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Plywood boards cover the front of Debenhams, another retail chain that floundered during the pandemic, its extensive window displays now bare. The two companies crumbled within days of one another, as the country bounced from one lockdown to the next and the pandemic hastened the end of British high-street brands that were already teetering on the edge.

But the shuttered windows stood alongside some hopeful signs. Plastered in big letters on the shop front of John Lewis, a British department store, there was a clear message: “Come on in London, brighter days are coming.”

(Even that retailer has struggled, and it has explored converting parts of its Oxford Street store into office space.)

For those stores that did reopen, coronavirus precautions seemed to be front of mind, at least as the day began. Bokara Begum wanted to be as safe as she could during her shopping outing to Primark, so she arrived as doors swung open to beat the crowd.

“It’s just after 7 a.m., so I took advantage of that and came out here early,” she said, two brown paper bags in tow. “I was a bit panicky, really — I thought there would be a massive queue.”

Customers with their first pints of beer outside The Kentish Belle in London shortly after midnight on Monday.
Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

One man showed up in his robe. Another couple had made a two-hour trek from a neighboring county.

A little over a dozen patrons, shivering in the Arctic chill gripping England, stood at the ready as Nicholas Hair, owner of The Kentish Belle, counted the seconds until the clock ticked over to a minute past midnight.

“Ladies and gentlemen, take your seats!” he said to applause.

Then, for the first time in months, he poured and served a pint.

“I mean, I’ve not seen my friends like this together for so long,” said Ryan Osbourne, 22. “When we have an opportunity like today to bring my friends together, it’s incredible.”

Not all pubs will be allowed to reopen on Monday — only the estimated 15,000 with outdoor space, for outdoor service only. And most of those will open later in the day.

But Mr. Hair had secured a special license to open The Kentish Belle, a small pub specializing in artisanal beers in a quiet southeast London neighborhood, at the earliest possible opportunity.

Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

He was circled by news crews as he prepared to open.

The past year had been “dreadful,” he said, adding that he had not been able to access government funding for the past two months. “There are a lot of businesses like this that won’t survive.”

Uma Nunn, 43, traveled from Surrey to attend the night’s festivities. “We just wanted to show our support,” she said.

Her husband, Benjamin Nunn, a beer writer who spent the last open day for pubs at The Kentish Belle, said he thought it only fitting to return for the first. “This is one of the big things in my life, beer and music,” he said. “Now to be able to get that started up again, it’s energizing, it’s exciting.”

“It’s the middle of he night but hey, hopefully this will never happen again,” he added.

Decorating a restaurant before its reopening on April 12.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

For the past year, the British economy has yo-yoed with the government’s pandemic restrictions. On Monday, as shops, outdoor dining, gyms and hairdressers reopened across England, the next bounce began.

The pandemic has left Britain with deep economic wounds that have shattered historical records: the worst recession in three centuries and record levels of government borrowing outside wartime.

Last March and April, there was an economic slump unlike anything ever seen before when schools, workplaces and businesses abruptly shut. Then a summertime boom, when restrictions eased and the government helped usher people out of their homes with a popular meal-discount initiative called “Eat Out to Help Out.”

Beginning in the fall, a second wave of the pandemic stalled the recovery, though the economic impact wasn’t as severe as it had been last spring. Still, the government has spent about 344 billion pounds, or $471 billion, on its pandemic response. To pay for it, the government has borrowed a record sum and is planning the first increase in corporate taxes since 1974 to help rebalance its budget.

By the end of the year, the size of Britain’s economy will be back where it was at the end of 2019, the Bank of England predicts. “The economy is poised like a coiled spring,” Andy Haldane, the central bank’s chief economist said in February. “As its energies are released, the recovery should be one to remember after a year to forget.”

Even though a lot of retail spending has shifted online, reopening shop doors will make a huge difference to many businesses.

Daunt Books, a small chain of independent bookstores, was busy preparing to reopen for the past week, including offering a click-and-collect service in all of its stores. Throughout the lockdown, a skeleton crew “worked harder than they’ve ever worked before, just to keep a trickle” of revenue coming in from online and telephone orders, said Brett Wolstencroft, the bookseller’s manager.

“The worst moment for us was December,” Mr. Wolstencroft said, when shops were shut in large parts of the country beginning on Dec. 20. “Realizing you’re losing your last bit of Christmas is exceptionally tough.”

He says he is looking forward to having customers return to browse the shelves and talk to the sellers. “We’d sort of turned ourselves into a warehouse” during the lockdown, he said, “but that doesn’t work for a good bookshop.”

With the likes of pubs, hairdressers, cinemas and hotels shut for months on end, Brits have built up more than £180 billion in excess savings, according to government estimates. That money, once people can get out more, is expected to be the engine of this recovery — even though economists are debating how much of this windfall will end up in the tills of these businesses.

Monday is just one phase of the reopening. Pubs can serve customers only in outdoor seating areas, and less than half, about 15,000, have such facilities. Hotels will also remain closed for at least another month alongside indoor dining, museums and theaters. The next reopening phase is scheduled for May 17.

Over all, two-fifths of hospitality businesses have outside space, said Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of U.K. Hospitality, a trade group.

“Monday is a really positive start,” she said. “It helps us to get businesses gradually back open, get staff gradually back off furlough and build up toward the real reopening of hospitality that will be May 17.”

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Myanmar Coup Puts the Seal on Autocracy’s Rise in Southeast Asia

Late last month, foreign officials in army regalia toasted their hosts in Naypyidaw, the bunkered capital built by Myanmar’s military. Ice clinked in frosted glasses. A lavish spread had been laid out for the foreign dignitaries in honor of Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day.

That very day, the military, which had seized power on Feb. 1, gunned down more than 100 of its own citizens. Far from publicly condemning the brutality, the military representatives from neighboring countries — India, China, Thailand and Vietnam among them — posed grinning with the generals, legitimizing their putsch.

The coup in Myanmar feels like a relic of a Southeast Asian past, when men in uniform roamed a vast dictators’ playground. But it also brings home how a region once celebrated for its transformative “people power” revolutions — against Suharto of Indonesia and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines — has been sliding back into autocracy.

From Cambodia and the Philippines to Malaysia and Thailand, democracy is languishing. Electoral politics and civil liberties have eroded. Obedient judiciaries have hobbled opposition forces. Entire political classes are in exile or in prison. Independent media are being silenced by leaders who want only one voice heard: their own.

alliance of democracies.” With China and Russia involved, the United Nations Security Council has done nothing to punish Myanmar’s generals.

Covid-19 with them.

A scheduled special meeting on Myanmar by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations offers little hope of action. That consensus-driven group avoids delving into members’ internal affairs. Earlier negotiations among regional foreign ministers didn’t result in a single policy that would deter Myanmar’s coup-makers.

Besides, many of the region’s leaders have no wish to uphold democratic ideals. They have used the courts to silence their critics and met protest movements with force.

But if authoritarians are looking out for one another, so, too, are protesters. In Thailand, students have stood up to a government born of a coup, using a three-fingered salute from the “Hunger Games” films to express defiance. The same gesture was adopted after the putsch in Myanmar, the leitmotif of a protest movement millions strong.

its first commoner president, and Malaysia would shunt aside a governing party bloated by decades of graft and patronage. Thailand’s generals had managed to go years without a coup. Even in Vietnam, the Communist leadership was pushing forward with liberalization.

The most significant transformation seemed to be in Myanmar. The military had led the country since a 1962 coup, driving it into penury. In 2015, the generals struck a power-sharing agreement with a civilian leadership fronted by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who spent 15 years under house arrest. President Barack Obama went to Myanmar to sanctify the start of a peaceful political transition.

Now Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is again locked in her villa, facing possible life imprisonment. Her supporters have been arrested and tormented. Soldiers picked up one of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s followers and burned a tattoo of her face off his arm.

Much of the rest of Southeast Asia is in full-fledged democratic retreat. The leader of Thailand’s last coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is still the prime minister. His government has charged dozens of student protesters, some in their teens, with obscure crimes that can carry long sentences. Thai dissidents in exile have turned up dead.

After a brief interlude out of government, Malaysia’s old establishment is back in power, including people associated with one of the largest heists of state funds the world has seen in a generation. Vietnam’s crackdown on dissent is in high gear. In Cambodia, Hun Sen, Asia’s longest-ruling leader, has dismantled all opposition and set in place the makings of a family political dynasty.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines may enjoy enduring popularity, but he has presided over thousands of extrajudicial killings. He has also cozied up to China, presenting it as a more constant friend than the United States, which once colonized the Philippines.

Protesters in Thailand, who gathered by the hundreds of thousands last year, have resumed their rallies, even though most of their young leaders are now in prison.

As the riot police fired rubber bullets near the Grand Palace in Bangkok last month, Thip Tarranitikul said she wanted to erase the military from politics.

army chief, appears to have underestimated the people’s commitment to democratic change. Millions have marched against him. Millions have also joined nationwide strikes meant to stop his government from functioning.

There is little reason to believe the military will back down, given its decades in power. Over the past two months, it has killed more than 700 civilians, according to a monitoring group. Thousands have been arrested, including medics, reporters, a model, a comedian and a beauty blogger.

But the resistance has demographics on its side.

Southeast Asia may be ruled by old men, but more than half its population is under 30. Myanmar’s reforms over the past decade benefited young people who eagerly connected to the world. In Thailand, this same cohort is confronting the old hierarchies of military and monarchy.

Regional defenders of democracy, including the besieged dissidents of nearby Hong Kong, have formed what they call the Milk Tea Alliance online, referring to a shared affinity for the sweet brew. (Twitter recently gave the movement its own emoji.) On encrypted apps, they trade tips for protecting themselves from tear gas and bullets. They have also bonded over the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on young workers, in countries where income inequality is growing wider.

“The youth of Southeast Asia, these young digital natives, they inherently despise authoritarianism because it doesn’t jibe with their democratic lifestyle. They aren’t going to give up fighting back,” said Mr. Thitinan of Chulalongkorn University. “That’s why, as bad as things may seem now, authoritarianism in the region is not a permanent condition.”

In Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, protesters have faced the military’s rifles with a sense of an existential mission.

“I’m not afraid to die,” said Ko Nay Myo Htet, a high school student manning one of the barricades built to defend neighborhoods. “I want a better life for the future generation.”

Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.

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Social Media Etiquette Review

Additionally, remember that any message you share, even with close family members, will be amplified to your entire online community. (The tension may also be amplified around vaccines, health measures and the stress of a not-normal year.) If you are replying to your sister online about something, that doesn’t mean you can speak to her as harshly as you might privately. Ms. Gottsman advises taking a heated family debate offline.

“Don’t start a family feud on social media,” Ms. Gottsman said. “It can affect the next family holiday.”

If you are soliciting donations for a particular cause or charity, or asking for money to pay someone’s rent or medical bills with a GoFundMe campaign, recognize that the financial situations of many people have changed this past year and there may be many other appeals compared to times past. Skip shaming phrases, like “How can you not help this person?” Instead, Ms. Gottsman said, use ones like “If your heart moves you, I’m sharing this.”

Think less vigilance is needed, because your text group is small or your settings have been changed to private? Think again. When Heidi Cruz, the wife of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, shared her family’s plans to flee a devastating winter storm in Texas for a vacation in Mexico, she texted only a small group of neighbors and friends. Screenshots of the messages ended up with journalists. Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert and founder of the School of Protocol in Carlsbad, Calif., points out that it wasn’t just one person who shared the chat with The New York Times; there were others who confirmed it.

“Even if you think it’s just your inner circle, there’s always somebody there who isn’t 100 percent on your team,” she said. “That’s the person who takes the screenshot before you delete whatever it is.”

Posting about food and fitness may be even more tempting than usual, given that a lot of people have changed what they eat and how much they exercise during the pandemic. But confine your commentary to how these lifestyle changes make you feel, not how they make you look. Among other things, not all people have had the luxury of more time to exercise during the pandemic — or if they did, they might not have had the energy to do so.

Dr. Lindsay Kite is a founder of Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit that promotes body image resilience, and an author of “More Than a Body.” She noted that your “before” photo — talking about how fat you look — may be someone else’s “after.”

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In Haifa, Israel, Wild Boars Encroach on Human Turf

HAIFA, Israel — The wild pigs of Haifa might not fly, but they seem to do almost everything else.

The boars snooze in people’s paddling pools. They snuffle across the lawns. They kick residents’ soccer balls and play with their dogs. They saunter down the sidewalks and sleep in the streets. Some eat from the hands of humans, and they all eat from the trash.

The wild boars of Haifa, in short, are no longer particularly wild.

Once largely confined to the many ravines that slice through this hilly port city on the Mediterranean, the boars have become increasingly carefree in recent years and now regularly venture into built-up areas, undeterred by their human neighbors.

“It became like an everyday thing,” said Eugene Notkov, 35, a chef who lets his dog play with the boars that putter around the local parks. “They’re a part of our city,” he added. Bumping into one is “like seeing a squirrel.”

animal sightings increased after the pandemic began and people deserted public spaces. But Haifa’s boars started their conquest well before the coronavirus wrought its havoc. In 2019, residents reported 1,328 boar sightings to the city authorities — almost 40 percent more than the 2015 total. The Haifa City Council declined to release data for 2020.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, who form about 10 percent of the city’s population. It is the home of the leader of the country’s largest Arab political party, and its residents elected a female mayor before Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

“I wish we could all in Israel learn to live like they live in Haifa,” said Edna Gorney, a poet, ecologist and lecturer at the University of Haifa. “It’s an example of coexistence — not only between Arabs and Jews, but also between humans and wildlife.”

For dreamers like Ms. Shahar, the painter, it feels almost unsurprising that boars should live cheek by jowl with Haifa’s humans. After moving to Haifa in 2008, she found a city that lends itself to the surreal, and began a series of paintings and drawings that explored what it would look like if the city were overrun with friendly tigers.

“I just had no idea there would actually be wild animals roaming the streets,” said Ms. Shahar. “It seems appropriate in some way.”

highly aggressive, particularly when with their young. In January, a boar bit a pensioner in the leg — the day after another boar made off with a schoolgirl’s pink school bag.

“They are controlling the streets now,” said Assaf Schechter, 43, a port worker confronted recently by a boar on his porch. “It’s a very crazy situation.”

Mr. Schechter’s teenage daughter sometimes calls him for moral support after late-night boar encounters, he said. His mother-in-law, Esti Shulman, has taken to carrying a stick in the street, after being run off the sidewalk recently by a pack of boars.

“They should collect the little ones and put them in a park,” said Ms. Shulman, 75, a retired bookkeeper. “Or take them to the Golan Heights! Or shoot them!”

This ire has been increasingly aimed at the mayor, Einat Kalisch-Rotem. At a recent public meeting convened by the Council to discuss the boar issue, hundreds of residents showed up to harangue her for three hours.

“This past Saturday,” said an Sarit Golan-Steinberg, a lawyer and Council member, “my husband came running back home because he ran into a 150-kilogram female boar!”

“Tell me,” Ms. Golan-Steinberg demanded, “do you think this is funny?”

Ms. Kalisch-Rotem has hardly been idle in the face of these powerfully built animals, which can top 300 pounds. Under her watch, the Council has fenced off parks and ravines, to choke the access points to the city — and fixed chains to trash cans, to limit access to food waste. But since the municipality has declined to release more recent data about the presence of boars, it is unclear whether these strategies have had an effect.

In the meantime, amateurs have attempted their own solutions. One group tried to build an app that could deter boars with subsonic sound waves. Others discussed leaving lion dung near boar hot spots, in the hope that the smell would deter the pigs.

Prof. Dan Malkinson, a wildlife expert at the University of Haifa, investigated whether boars could be repelled with urine, conducting his own informal experiment beside the lemon and loquat trees at the bottom of a friend’s garden.

“At night, I would go out, after a drink, and recycle the beer,” Professor Malkinson said. “It’s two for the price of one — you fertilize the trees and you try to deter the wild boars.”

Sadly, however, the boars kept coming.

But Professor Malkinson, who has researched the boars for years, and even tracked them with collars fitted with GPS devices, wonders if the boars are really Haifa’s biggest problem.

The tension that most needs a solution, he said, is not between boars and humans — but among the humans themselves.

“Essentially the conflict is between those who oppose having wild boars in the city and those who don’t,” Professor Malkinson said.

“It’s not an ecological problem,” he added. “It’s a social problem.”

Myra Noveck and Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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‘No More Parties’: Mexico’s Piñata Makers Badly Bruised by Pandemic

The piñata industry, dependent on social gatherings, has seen sales plummet. Some artisans, in a creative bid to survive, have added coronavirus figures to their lineups of superheros and princesses.


MEXICO CITY — The sight is jarring against the backdrop of smog and concrete that marks this part of Mexico City, a tangle of freeways and overpasses with old buses rumbling by and belching smoke.

But there, bursting like flowers amid the ashen buildings, they hang in row upon row: piñatas, painted every color, from bright fuchsia to midnight blue to Baby Yoda green. On the sidewalk, a Spiderman piñata stands beside Batman, while Mickey Mouse leans against Sonic the Hedgehog.

And included among the copyright-be-damned cartoon characters, superheros and doe-eyed Disney princesses is a more recent addition to the Mexican piñata repertoire. Painted lime-green with a gold crown, spikes erupting in all directions, the coronavirus glares at passers-by.

devastated whole communities.

“We Mexicans laugh even at death,” Mr. Mena said. “It’s become just another monster.”

Piñata makers, often close-knit families whose business depends on the social gatherings that have largely halted during the pandemic, have, like much of the country, suffered both financially and personally for the past year.

Mr. Mena said that his sales had plummeted, putting him in a dire economic situation, but that the personal losses had been even worse. Eleven members of his extended family have died of Covid-19, as well as more than two dozen others he knows of in the industry.

“It’s so hard for a lot of us,” he said. “It just never crossed your mind that there would be so many dead in so little time.”

updated its official figures, showing that the virus may have claimed more than 300,000 lives, an astonishing toll for the country of 126 million people.

The effect of the pandemic on the economy has been almost as ruinous. Last year, Mexico suffered its biggest annual economic slump since the Great Depression, and the financial fallout may push millions into poverty.

a piñata store in the city of Reynosa, near the U.S. border. He said he had gone from selling 20 to 30 piñatas a week before the pandemic, ranging from about $15 to $125 each, to just one or two some weeks.

Mr. Mena, in Mexico City, is the fourth-generation piñata maker in a family that he said had been in the business for almost a century. His great-grandparents, he said, were among the first to set up shop in this part of the capital.

“We are the piñata pioneers,” he said proudly.

Mr. Mena made his first piñata when he was just 6. On his work desk is a photo of him at 9, when he made some of his first large-scale piñatas in the shape of a seven-pointed star, a central part of Mexico’s Christmas tradition.

shut down at the end of March last year, sales dropped by 90 percent, he said. Five workers had to leave Mexico City after being furloughed.

To survive, Mr. Mena began improvising. Along with the coronavirus piñata, his shop began selling effigies of Susana Distancia, Mexico’s social-distancing superhero, as well as of Hugo López-Gatell, the country’s coronavirus czar who has been much maligned for vastly underestimating the pandemic’s toll on Mexico.

People “would beat him but because he wasn’t telling the truth,” Mr. Mena said of the López-Gatell piñata.

To boost sales, Mr. Ramírez, the shop owner in Reynosa, also decided to diversify his store’s offerings. He began learning how to bake cakes, while his sister learned how to make arrangements with balloons.

“If we don’t have work in one thing, well, let’s help by making something else,” he said.

But despite the ingenuity of these craftsmen, sales have risen little, and the Mexican government has given businesses next to nothing in terms of stimulus to get by.

Sitting between a Wonder Woman piñata and a portrait of the Virgin Mary, Mr. Mena wiped away tears as he recalled how things got so desperate last summer that his clients and neighbors began adding food parcels to their payments for piñatas to help him, his family and other piñata makers who supply his business get by.

“People already knew us, thank God, good people,” he said. “They helped us.”

The family had hoped sales would pick up around Christmas, usually the busiest season, but in mid-December, the capital entered another lockdown and the store was forced to close. Still, far from being bitter at the authorities, Mr. Mena said he understood the need to “sacrifice our earnings for the good of the people.”

The enforced slowdown brought on by the pandemic has also given him more time to appreciate the craft of creating piñatas. “We’re going to make them with more patience,” he said. “Going back to creating and teaching and feeling that love for what you do.”

In Reynosa, Mr. Ramirez, who recently became a father for the first time, is also experimenting with new types of piñatas, the inspiration for which can often be personal as well as from popular culture.

“I’m a dad, and I have a daughter, so now I have to make piñatas that are more cute,” he said.

While the present situation remains grim, Mr. Mena is feeling more optimistic about the future. With vaccines rolling out, although slowly, he believes his business, and the centuries-old industry he is so proud of, will finally start to recover.

“Like a phoenix from the ashes,” he said, “the piñata trade is starting to pull through.”

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AstraZeneca Vaccine Faces New Setbacks in U.K. and European Union

LONDON — Britain said on Wednesday that it would curb the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in adults under 30 because of the risk of rare blood clots, a blow to the efforts of scores of countries reliant on the vaccine to stamp out the coronavirus pandemic amid a global surge in cases.

Adding to the unease, the European Medicines Agency outlined a “possible link” between the vaccine and rare clots, even as it said that Covid-19 remained the far greater threat, leaving decisions about how to use the vaccine in the hands of the 27 member states of the European Union.

Taken together, the decisions represented a considerable setback for the AstraZeneca shot, which has been seen as the principal weapon in the battle to reduce deaths in the vaccine-starved global south.

The world’s most widely administered coronavirus vaccine, it is far less expensive and easier to store than some of the alternatives, spurring its use in at least 111 countries, rich and poor. AstraZeneca, based in Britain, has promised to deliver three billion doses this year, enough to inoculate nearly one in five people worldwide.

Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have already delayed injections of AstraZeneca’s vaccine amid mounting concerns in Europe. Any further hesitation, scientists said, could cost lives.

“In developing countries, the dynamic is to either use the vaccine you have, or you have nothing,” said Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London. “In which case, carnage ensues.”

For the vast majority of people, British and European regulators said on Wednesday, the benefits of AstraZeneca’s shot far outweigh the risks. The clotting problems were appearing at a rate of roughly one in 100,000 recipients across Europe. Meanwhile, in Britain, the vaccine has driven down hospitalizations from Covid-19 — which can, itself, cause serious clotting problems — and saved thousands of lives, regulators said.

most people doubted the vaccine’s safety.

Over all, use of the shot has suffered: Across Europe, 64 percent of delivered doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been injected into people’s arms, markedly lower than the rates for other shots.

“One hoped there would have been collaboration, and more discussion, between regulators, instead of lots of different countries going off in all sorts of directions,” Professor Ward said. “That aspect has really been the most unhelpful.”

watch for certain symptoms, including severe and persistent headaches and tiny blood spots under the skin. Doctors’ groups have circulated guidance about how to treat the disorder.

As of March 22, regulators had carried out detailed review of 86 cases, 18 of which were fatal, they said.

Concerns about the shot became acute enough in Britain this week that the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine with AstraZeneca, stopped giving doses as part of a two-month-old trial in children.

“Safety has been our priority throughout the development of the vaccine,” Andrew Pollard, the Oxford researcher in charge of the trials, said on Wednesday. The identification of the clots, he added, “shows that the safety system works.”

In the United States, AstraZeneca is preparing to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. If and when they take up the application, that agency’s regulators are expected to scrutinize the clotting cases.

The United States, flush with vaccines from three other makers, may not ultimately need AstraZeneca’s shot. But any ruling by the F.D.A. is expected to hold considerable weight in some of the poorer nations that are relying on the shot.

The World Health Organization said a vaccine safety subcommittee had met on Wednesday and noted that “rare adverse events following immunizations should be assessed against the risk of deaths from Covid-19 disease and the potential of the vaccines to prevent infections.” It said that a link with the clotting problems, while “plausible,” had not been confirmed.

For Britain, the AstraZeneca vaccine has become a huge source of national pride, and the backbone of the country’s speedy inoculation program.

Even if younger people are at lower risk from severe Covid-19, scientists have said, inoculating them remains essential to creating enough protection in the population to end the pandemic.

Emma Bubola, Monika Pronczuk and Rebecca Robbins contributed reporting.

View Source

AstraZeneca Vaccine Faces Setbacks in U.K. and European Union

LONDON — Britain said on Wednesday that it would curb the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in adults under 30 because of the risk of rare blood clots, a blow to the efforts of scores of countries reliant on the vaccine to stamp out the coronavirus pandemic amid a global surge in cases.

Adding to the unease, the European Medicines Agency outlined a “possible link” between the vaccine and rare clots, even as it said that Covid-19 remained the far greater threat, leaving decisions about how to use the vaccine in the hands of the 27 member states of the European Union.

Taken together, the decisions represented a considerable setback for the AstraZeneca shot, which has been seen as the principal weapon in the battle to reduce deaths in the vaccine-starved global south.

The world’s most widely administered coronavirus vaccine, it is far less expensive and easier to store than some of the alternatives, spurring its use in at least 111 countries, rich and poor. AstraZeneca, based in Britain, has promised to deliver three billion doses this year, enough to inoculate nearly one in five people worldwide.

Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have already delayed injections of AstraZeneca’s vaccine amid mounting concerns in Europe. Any further hesitation, scientists said, could cost lives.

“In developing countries, the dynamic is to either use the vaccine you have, or you have nothing,” said Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London. “In which case, carnage ensues.”

For the vast majority of people, British and European regulators said on Wednesday, the benefits of AstraZeneca’s shot far outweigh the risks. The clotting problems were appearing at a rate of roughly one in 100,000 recipients across Europe. Meanwhile, in Britain, the vaccine has driven down hospitalizations from Covid-19 — which can, itself, cause serious clotting problems — and saved thousands of lives, regulators said.

most people doubted the vaccine’s safety.

Over all, use of the shot has suffered: Across Europe, 64 percent of delivered doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been injected into people’s arms, markedly lower than the rates for other shots.

“One hoped there would have been collaboration, and more discussion, between regulators, instead of lots of different countries going off in all sorts of directions,” Professor Ward said. “That aspect has really been the most unhelpful.”

watch for certain symptoms, including severe and persistent headaches and tiny blood spots under the skin. Doctors’ groups have circulated guidance about how to treat the disorder.

As of March 22, regulators had carried out detailed review of 86 cases, 18 of which were fatal, they said.

Concerns about the shot became acute enough in Britain this week that the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine with AstraZeneca, stopped giving doses as part of a two-month-old trial in children.

“Safety has been our priority throughout the development of the vaccine,” Andrew Pollard, the Oxford researcher in charge of the trials, said on Wednesday. The identification of the clots, he added, “shows that the safety system works.”

In the United States, AstraZeneca is preparing to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. If and when they take up the application, that agency’s regulators are expected to scrutinize the clotting cases.

The United States, flush with vaccines from three other makers, may not ultimately need AstraZeneca’s shot. But any ruling by the F.D.A. is expected to hold considerable weight in some of the poorer nations that are relying on the shot.

The World Health Organization said a vaccine safety subcommittee had met on Wednesday and noted that “rare adverse events following immunizations should be assessed against the risk of deaths from Covid-19 disease and the potential of the vaccines to prevent infections.” It said that a link with the clotting problems, while “plausible,” had not been confirmed.

For Britain, the AstraZeneca vaccine has become a huge source of national pride, and the backbone of the country’s speedy inoculation program.

Even if younger people are at lower risk from severe Covid-19, scientists have said, inoculating them remains essential to creating enough protection in the population to end the pandemic.

Emma Bubola, Monika Pronczuk and Rebecca Robbins contributed reporting.

View Source