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COVID-19: Outbreak at Kelowna church as three deaths reported over past three days

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Monday reported a five-case community outbreak linked to the Calvary Chapel Church in Kelowna.

This is the first community outbreak reported in over a week, though there continue to be community exposures in schools and other spaces.

The Calvary Chapel is located on the grounds of the Kelowna Christian School, however the outbreak only impacts people who attended the 10:30 a.m. service on Sept. 13 and 20.

Henry said there were 267 cases of COVID-19 reported between noon Friday and noon Monday (68/125/74) and three deaths. Those deaths occurred in Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Island Health regions bringing that grim toll to 233.

Henry said the person who died on Vancouver Island was in his 50s with underlying conditions and died at home. She said it was not known he had COVID until after his death.

There are now 1,302 active cases of the disease in B.C., of which 69 were being treated in hospital including 22 in intensive care. Henry said there were 3,372 people in isolation and being monitored by health authorities across the province after being potentially exposed to COVID-19.

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David, to be deported from his home country

When David* stepped into the headquarters of the Belgian Immigration Department to apply for asylum he immediately felt out of place. “I looked around and thought: ‘These people don’t speak French, they had to flee their country, they have good reasons for asking for protection. I’m going to get laughed at.’” The clerks at the welcome desk did not laugh, but they did give him “a weird look,”  David says. “When they heard my accent and saw my dyed blond hair, they seemed to think: ‘What are you doing here?’” 

David recounts that day last year with a flawless bruxellois accent. Born on the outskirts of Paris to parents of Congolese descent, he arrived in Belgium when he was still a toddler. He is now a slender 22-year-old with a seductive smile and big, velvety eyes of which he is rather proud. We meet close to where he lives, in Brussels’ university district, on a sunny mid-April afternoon. His outfit — black ripped skinny jeans, black polo shirt and two white wireless earbuds — is carefully chosen: David is set on a career in fashion. 

In the same month that he applied for asylum, January 2019, Belgium saw 2,765 applications, mainly from Palestinians, Afghans and Syrians. Why does David, who grew up in Brussels and never set foot outside the European Union, have to ask for international protection in what he feels is his home country? Because he is at serious risk of being deported to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country his parents left when they were children, following their own refugee parents. 

David’s mother was only seventeen when he was born. She soon separated from David’s father, who did not recognise David as his son. A few years later she left France for Brussels, where David’s father was living. The young, single mother entrusted her son to his paternal grandmother. “My mother wanted to live her life, my father was in jail by then,” David said. “But I had a happy childhood. I had a lot of cousins, uncles and aunts, I had my friends in school. I didn’t know anything about my immigration issues.”

Best estimates suggest between 100,000 and 150,000 undocumented people live in Belgium. No one seems to know how many of them are children, growing up with limited rights. “They have the right to education,” says Melanie Zonderman from the Platform for Minors in Exile, a network for migrant children’s rights, “and, like undocumented adults, the right to emergency medical services.”  That is it. 

Humanitarian permits

In Belgium, as in other European countries, the paths to legal status are confusing and difficult to navigate, let alone for a child. They can apply for humanitarian permits to stay in Belgium under article 9bis of the Belgian Aliens Act, but whether these are granted or not depends on opaque decision-making by the Belgian Immigration Department, which does not explain its criteria for success.  The process can take years, costs 358 euros for adults (it’s free for children), and in the meantime children are at risk of deportation. 

David’s situation was complex. His best option seemed to be “family reunification” with a parent living legally in the country. But his mother, who suffered from mental illness and addiction, had not kept up her residence permit. His father, who was released from prison when David was about 10 years old, still had not recognised him as his son. 

With David’s 18th birthday getting closer, his father finally accepted to do a DNA paternity test. When he was 16, David received a five-year permit based on “reunification” with his father. Two years later, he was informed there had been a mistake: as the child of a refugee, not a Belgian citizen, he was only eligible for a renewable one-year permit, which would become permanent after five years. David felt the blow, but told himself that he just had to hold on for a few more years. 

Then he did something that blew it all: coming out. “When my father got out of prison, he soon realised I was not the son he would have wanted,” David said. “I have always been effeminate. He started making comments: ‘Why is he like this, why does he dance like a girl?’ And I thought: ‘I don’t even know you, and you want to change me… I don’t like this.’” During his adolescence David felt like he had a split personality: “At school I was extroverted, sociable and good-humoured, while at home I was silent, almost embittered.” 

One day in January 2018, “I was fighting over the phone with my dad, and I just threw it in his face: ‘By the way, I’m gay!’ He hung up. I sent a group message to inform all my relatives and I started packing my things.”  In the following months, David felt relieved (“I started wearing make-up at school”, he tells me). But then October came, and he had to renew his residence permit. Among the criteria was that David’s father lived with his son and had a stable income. “When the clerk at the city council asked me for my father’s pay slip, I realised my situation,” he says. “I told him I wasn’t even talking to my father anymore.” David became undocumented, yet again.

“It was an extension of what I had gone through since entering the asylum system. The human side is totally lacking. All they see in you is a ‘sans-papiers’.” 

He tried applying for a permit under article 9bis, but his pro bono lawyer turned out to be not so pro bono: “He kept asking me for money.” The lack of transparent criteria also made this route risky. He went to France, his country of birth, to see if he could get papers there, but he was not eligible under French nationality laws.  

Until recently, a lot of families with children were rejected for “9bis” or asylum, says Selma Benkhelifa, a well-known lawyer and activist from the Progress Lawyers Network: “The minors weren’t even mentioned in these decisions. They were literally treated like part of their parents’ luggage.” So lawyers started filing separate asylum requests for the children, arguing that reintegrating in countries they barely knew, after spending their childhood or adolescence in Belgium, would not only be impossible but would also expose them to serious risks.

On Benkhelifa’s advice, David decided to apply for asylum, based on the persecution he would face in the DRC because of his sexuality.  Robin Bronlet, a colleague of Benkhelifa’s, is optimistic about David’s case. But he points out the absurdity of the rule by which children inherit the nationality of their parents. “As immigration lawyers, we must identify the risks David would be facing in case of ‘return’ to his ‘country of origin’, meaning the DRC,” he says, “even though David was born in Europe and never set foot in Africa.” 

Today, undocumented children are scattered all over Belgium. Some of them make the news when they suddenly disappear from school, are detained and sometimes deported. But most, like David, keep their worries to themselves and blend in with their classmates, hoping for some miraculous solution. 

None of David’s closest friends from school know that he has lost his residence permit and has applied for asylum. “If I told them, they would worry, and it would be too stressful”, he says, “and I don’t want to be pitied.” Since leaving his grandmother’s house, David has moved around a lot. He stayed with friends and even spent a few nights in a hotel when he didn’t have anywhere else to go. In September 2019, he moved into a flat with three other gay asylum seekers through Le Refuge, an organisation supporting isolated LGBTQI+ youth. 

Slowed down by corona

At the end of 2019, David’s mother was arrested following an identity check, and brought to Belgium’s only immigration detention centre for women in Holsbeek. While he remains estranged from his father and grandmother,  his mother accepted his homosexuality.  She spent six months in detention before the coronavirus outbreak forced Belgian authorities to release half of its immigration detainees.  David visited her several times. “To me, it was an extension of what I had gone through since entering the asylum system”, he says. “The human side is totally lacking. All they see in you is a sans-papiers.” 

David is now eagerly awaiting his interview with asylum authorities. “Everything is slowed down by the coronavirus, but I’m really sick of waiting. I feel stuck,” he says. And yet David is making plans for his future. He wants to start a YouTube channel offering advice on makeup, fashion, wigs, and how to “boost the confidence of LGBT young people.” Now that the coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, he will look for a job to save money and enrol in fashion school. “Will the asylum authorities believe me?” he wonders. “I will tell them my truth. If it’s not enough, too bad. If it’s enough, so much the better. I just want to get it over with.”

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

This article is part of the Europe’s Dreamers series, in partnership with Lighthouse Reports and the Guardian. Check the other articles of the series here.

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Greek police move thousands of asylum seekers displaced by fire to new camp – National

A Greek police operation is underway on the island of Lesbos to move thousands of migrants and refugees left homeless after a fire destroyed their overcrowded camp into a new facility on the island.

Police said Thursday morning’s operation included 70 female police officers who were approaching asylum-seekers with the aim of persuading them to move to the new camp in the island’s Kara Tepe area. No violence was reported as the operation began.

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Thousands of asylum seekers left homeless after fire at refugee camp in Greece

The notoriously squalid Moria camp burned down last week in fires that Greek authorities said were deliberately set by a small group of the camp’s inhabitants angered by lockdown restrictions imposed after a coronavirus outbreak.

The blazes have left more than 1,200 people in need of emergency shelter. The vast majority have been sleeping rough by the side of a road leading from Moria to the island capital of Mytilene, erecting makeshift shelters made of sheets, blankets, reeds and cardboard.

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Fire destroys Greece’s largest refugee camp

Fire destroys Greece’s largest refugee camp

The new camp consists of large family tents erected in a field by the sea. By Wednesday night, it had a capacity of around 8,000 people, according to the UN refugee agency, but only around 1,100 mostly vulnerable people had entered.

New arrivals are tested for the coronavirus, registered and assigned a tent.

“This is an operation for the protection of public health and with a clear humanitarian content,” the police said in a statement.

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Thousands flee fires at migrant camp in Greece amid coronavirus lockdown

Six Afghans, including two minors, were arrested on suspicion of causing last week’s fires at Moria. The blazes broke out after isolation orders were issued during a generalized camp lockdown, when 35 people tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Moria had a capacity of just over 2,700 people, but more than 12,500 people had been living in and around it when it burned down. The camp and its squalid conditions were held up by critics as a symbol of Europe’s failed migration policies.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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#CoronavirusGlobalResponse – EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to Peru and €30.5 million for Latin America and the Caribbean

As part of the EU’s global coronavirus response, an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge operation consisting of three flights to Lima, Peru this week is delivering a total of more than four tonnes of life-saving materials to humanitarian organizations active in the country. At the same time, the EU has announced €30.5 million in humanitarian assistance to support the most vulnerable in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2020.

“At this critical time, the EU continues to support those in need in Peru and in the whole of Latin America. The coronavirus pandemic places huge logistical pressure on the humanitarian community, while the needs remain high in critical areas. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the EU, Spain and the Peruvian authorities, vital assistance was delivered to help the people of Peru tackle this pandemic,” said Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič.

Of the funding announced today, €15.5m are for disaster preparedness of vulnerable communities across Latin America and the Caribbean and to ensure they are ready to face the multiple natural hazards hitting the region. The remaining €15m will continue supporting humanitarian projects in Central and South America and in the Caribbean. The full press release is available online.

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Opinion – Bolsonaro’s Green and Yellow Guards

Bolsonarismo, the movement led by Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, is complex and often contradictory, but one of its main declared goals is ‘purifying’ the country from left-wing and socially liberal ideas. From its members’ standpoint, leftists and socially liberals built a hegemony around educational and cultural institutions, the press, the state and international organisations, thereby hindering progress and corrupting traditional values and institutions. Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs, Ernesto Araújo, has argued that globalization has been hijacked by ‘cultural Marxism’ and that the country’s foreign policy should be guided by the ‘Christian faith’.

At the top of Bolsonarismo, there are segments of elites within and outside the state: politicians, military personnel, businesspeople, religious leaders and journalists, forming a network of like-minded people promoting each other’s interests. Helped by ‘market-friendly’ people like Paulo Marinho and Paulo Guedes, some of them managed to mingle with more traditional economic elites, which paved the way for Bolsonaro’s election in 2018 and contributes to keep him in power.

However, in contrast to other right-wing movements in Brazil’s recent past (and Latin America as a whole), Bolsonarismo has a large number of foot soldiers. These are people willing to produce/distribute propaganda and disinformation, destroy reputations, alert fellow members about anti-patriotic activities, and support the president whenever he needs. Their ranks are made of people with multiple origins and various contradictions, but they tend to support a militarized form of government, a traditional conception of family, the maintenance of a hierarchical social class structure, looser gun laws, a larger involvement of Christian churches in politics, and the end of affirmative action policies.

Targets are multiple, encompassing social movements, universities, the press, trade unions, NGOs, social democrats and ‘traitors’, including people as different as the parliamentarian Joice Hasselmann, former minister of justice Sergio Moro, and YouTuber Felipe Neto. Some of these targets are picked by the ‘office of hate’, an informal group of advisers who orchestrate a system of disinformation and propaganda.

Empowered and legitimized, these green and yellow guards (the widespread display of the national colours is their most distinctive symbol) are the eyes and mouths of this ‘cultural revolution’. They perform the role of what the literature calls a fire alarm system: instead of complex layers of bureaucratic control, political leaders use ordinary citizens to monitor the behaviour of people and institutions, who ‘press an alarm button’ (nowadays mainly through social media) whenever they come across something that the movement sees as deviant behaviour.

Social media is central as it facilitates the formation of networks and the emergence of a digital form of populism. As populists seek to communicate with people directly, social media both facilitates such communication and reinforces a narrative of the left’s cultural hegemony on mainstream media (which would prevent Bolsonarists of voicing concerns of the ‘true people’), multiplying the movement’s reach at an extremely low cost. This is especially important because Bolsonarismo lacks a solid political party base, in sharp contrast to left-wing social movements, which are backed by the Workers’ Party or smaller left-wing parties.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, such ‘cultural wars’ not only continued but also found a new stage. Ernesto Araújo argued that the ‘new communism’ is using the COVID-19 pandemic to build a world without nations, liberty and soul. Edir Macedo, one of the country’s main religious leaders (and important ally of Bolsonaro), argued that the media and Satan were promoting panic. During the pandemic, adversaries are anyone opposing Bolsonaro’s two main recommendations: ending strict social distancing policies and using hydroxychloroquine as treatment. Previous allies were converted into enemies after defending modern scientific medicine (Henrique Mandetta, former Minister of Health, for example) or the right of states and local governments to adopt social distancing measures (various state governors). Speeches by Bolsonaro about COVID-19 are extensively reproduced in social media, maintaining him and his ideas at the centre of debate and keeping a steady supply of new enemies.

These green and yellow guards have roles not fundamentally different from those of pro-government movements in authoritarian contexts. Differences are more of scale, organizational capacity and method than of essence. In Venezuela, the infamous colectivos have a symbiotic relationship with the state: while the government instrumentally uses them to fight against perceived enemies and remain in power, the colectivos power depends on the survival of the government, which is for them a source of protection, legitimacy and resources.

This is not to say that material gains are not relevant. Leaders of the movement have access to influential people and groups both within and outside the state. People like Bernardo Küster, a pro-Bolsonaro digital influencer, gained a level of access to influential people in government that he could not even dream of a few years ago. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has opened its doors to him and other like-minded people, giving them a political platform to present their ideas and network with elites. However, what distinguishes Bolsonarismo from other right-wing groups in Brazil is a combination of grassroots mobilization, focus on cultural issues and the existence of a leader perceived by many as a messiah. Their mission is to somehow purifying state and society from ‘communist’ values, ideas, policies and practice.

Whether these green and yellow guards will remain in existence for the time being depends in part on Bolsonaro’s capacity to maintain his reputation of strongman and produce political heirs, which he so far has managed to do.

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How the pandemic is transforming the illegal drug market

The illegal drug market has not suffered unduly from the coronavirus,  and in some countries it is booming due to the capacity of criminals to adapt. These are the conclusions of Europol, the EU police agency, after a study of recent years’ figures. The 2019 EU Drug Markets Report was co-released by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) on 29 May. Its data covers the periods prior to and during the pandemic lockdowns. According to EMCDDA director Alexis Goosdeel, “Online trade and the expansion of encrypted communication put a heavier weight on law enforcement. It is likely that competition and violence will rise in the case of drug trafficking”.

The report summarizes the information submitted by member-state authorities, while adding Europol’s own data. The initial pandemic lockdowns caught drug-market actors by surprise, particularly those involved in distribution – restrictions on face-to-face meetings hindered drug deliveries. This temporary turmoil led to an increase in prices as some drugs on certain markets became more expensive. But transport of goods via public transit remained possible during the restrictions, and smugglers took advantage of it to move large quantities of product from one country to another. 

A boost for darknet markets, social media and encrypted messaging

Cash payments for drug deals fell in favour of electronic money transfer. This trend has been so effective that experts anticipate it will  survive the pandemic. In the EU, money laundering regulations are regularly becoming stricter, but it is not yet clear how exactly they will work to hamper organised crime. 

Construction projects are also on hold due to the lockdowns, which is more bad news for criminals, who habitually launder large amounts of money in the real estate sector. The same applies to restaurants, casinos and beauty parlours. With the softening of the restrictions and the economic recovery, criminals are expected to go back to their old habits in these areas.  However, there has been renewed interest in art investment, another sector used for hiding wealth and laundering money, and one with the advantage of having no fixed prices.

As mentioned, there have been shortages of certain drugs, notably cannabis and heroin. This caused price increases, and it seems some consumers were pushed towards alternative drugs. In the short term there was lower demand for synthetic drugs, particularly MDMA (ecstasy), as venues closed and festivals were cancelled. At the same time, the retail price of amphetamine and MDMA increased in several countries. Synthetic drug production continued during the pandemic at its main European locations, in Belgium and the Netherlands, as confirmed by raids and seizures. 

The Belgian cocaine port

The European cocaine trade, centered on the port of Antwerp, presents an interesting picture. Belgian authorities seized more shipments in the first three months of 2020 (that is, mostly before the pandemic erupted in Europe) than in the same period last year. Maritime transport was mostly uninterrupted even during the restrictions, so that the cocaine  trade (among others) was mostly influenced by continental distribution issues. Some producer countries saw no shipments at all in January, February and March. Of those that did, Ecuador’s increased the most: 7.1 tonnes of container shipments arrived in the first three months compared to 1.7 tonnes last year. 

Made with Flourish

A significant number of shipments do not even leave as they were seized in the port of departure. The Colombian anti-narcotics intelligence data talks of discovering 1.5 tonnes of cocaine which was due to be smuggled into Europe by boat between 1 January and 16 May. The majority of it, 1.1 tonnes, would have passed through Antwerp. 150 people were detained in 26 countries during a six-week international cooperation. The clampdown is thought to have decreased overall crime in Europe. However, drug-related and gang violence may have been worsened, according to law enforcement in Denmark, Finland, France and Sweden.

Secret meetings in the Darknet

To facilitate distribution there has been more use of agreed secret locations for deliveries (dead drops). Cryptocurrency and encrypted communication channels such as Telegram, Wickr or Signal are often used for payment. This method has long been used for distribution in Russia and Eastern European countries such as Moldova and Ukraine. In certain EU member states, including Estonia or Belgium and the UK in the recent past, such methods were also reported to be on the rise. 

Online cannabis distribution increased by 27% in the first three months of 2020, according to the EMCDDA report summary. The accounted income decreased by 17 %, which implies that smaller transactions increased at the expense of larger ones. (This data is from the period before the restrictions.)

A number of research outfits are monitoring and analysing the so-called Darknet, an area of the internet accessible only with specialised software. The researchers rely on  “robots” that systematically collect and process data, which includes buyer feedback and information on the retail process, quantities and prices. Europol says that Covid-19 has shown an opportunity for EU agencies, international authorities and scientific circles to conclude more joint research activities such as these.

Criminal ingenuity has generated some intriguing outcomes. Drug traffickers adapted their methods to the lockdowns. Several reports tell of smugglers moving around with fake documents, disguised lorries, branded uniforms and vests, while transporting drugs rather than the food indicated on their travel documents.

In one case a mammoth shipment was intercepted by the Dutch police. The recipient was not named as they might not have had anything to do with the drugs. 

In another, in the UK in April, criminals hid 14 kg of cocaine in a consignment of masks.

From cannabis to synthetic substances

It seems that cannabis production has not been much affected by the pandemic, and production sites existing before the lockdowns have continued to operate. Some predict that new cannabis production sites will spring up in the Western Balkans as police focus their attention on pandemic control measures. The closure of the EU’s internal borders has reduced the availability of cannabis resin in some places, leading to a significant increase in price and a move to new maritime routes. 

Heroin production has remained somewhat unaffected by the pandemic, unsurprisingly given the timing of the opium poppy harvest. Experts believe the market did suffer limited disruption, with higher prices reported in some countries.

In the case of cocaine, and despite the generally unaffected maritime trade, the number of smugglers using air transport has fallen dramatically. In certain countries researchers observed an increase in cocaine prices along with a deterioration in quality, indicating problems with the local supply. Based on first-quarter data (i.e. partially before the pandemic) the table below shows record seizures of cocaine, and yet nothing suggests that Covid-19 has had a setback effect on the cocaine market. Belgium is the prime locus of detection, but this of course correlates to the amount of seized shipments at the port of Antwerp. 

The synthetic drug market (which includes amphetamine, MDMA and methamphetamine) declined significantly due to the cancellation of big music events and closure of nightclubs. This will remain unchanged in many countries in the coming months, amounting to a major impact on this sector of  the illegal drug market, and this despite the fact that the Belgian and Dutch production sites are still operating. Europol warns that the import of Chinese drug precursors is set to become more difficult, and that producers may turn to alternative chemicals.

In a survey conducted on 7-27 April the EMCDDA asked EU member states and Norway to share their experiences and answer questions about drug prices and availability, the results of which are seen below.Since Hungary was little affected by lockdowns  there were few changes in its local drug market.

In terms of prices, the most striking increases were in France and Norway.Cyprus, Denmark and Spain also saw rises. 

Made with Flourish

Access to drugs became significantly more difficult in Bulgaria, France, Spain and Norway, with smaller supply interruptions in Lithuania and Croatia. Hungary and Czechia remained mostly unaffected by the lockdown measures, both in terms of prices and access.

Made with Flourish

No quarantine for the underworld

Europol’s report establishes that drug trafficking is still the largest illegal market in Europe. The organised-crime groups are well-organized, and use different working structures, including clans, ethnically based groups, and loose collaborations. Tasks are carried out by discrete groups, and cooperation is often project-based. Police are particularly interested in “brokers”, who establish connections, mediate, and bring together groups to perform joint actions. They may also work on behalf of the end customer, and in certain cases have been responsible for contract killings. 

More generally, organized crime is characterized by violence. In Sweden the incidence of shootings increased from the same period of the previous year, for example, and similar trends were seen in the Netherlands.. Investigators also note that access to firearms during lockdowns was not a problem for organised criminals.

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#Kazakhstan proposes 15% tax on #Bitcoin mining to help combat #Coronavirus

Kazakhstan Proposes 15% Tax on Bitcoin Mining to Help Combat Coronavirus

Kazakhstan has proposed legislation that would see a 15% tax imposed on bitcoin mining firms. This is part of efforts to raise money to help with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Proposed by the country’s ministry of economy, the new tax plan requires bitcoin (BTC) miners to first file an application for registration with the authorities, according to a recent report by a local Russian publication.

After this, the taxpayer must then indicate the 15% tax on their annual tax calculations. The report notes that “the clause on registration makes the bill unique… the taxpayer working with cryptocurrencies stands apart from the very beginning of filing a tax return”.

Funds raised from the draft tax will be channeled toward building the infrastructure that is needed to combat COVID-19 while also giving the economy a boost. The disease has so far killed nearly 1,300 Kazakhs, with more than 100,000 infected, official data shows.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state in central Asia, accounts for about 8% of the global bitcoin hashrate total, says crypto research company Bitooda. Together with Iran and Russia, the country boasts the world’s third-largest BTC mining industry.

Miners are typically drawn to Kazakhstan’s cheap electricity, which averages 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In June, Kazakh Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry Minister Askar Zhumagaliyev revealed that a total of 14 bitcoin mining companies were operating in the country’s north.

Over the next three years, the country is targeting up to $738 million of investment from crypto-related activities, particularly mining, he said.

According to the Russian publication, the Kazakh government is also planning to introduce legislation to regulate the cryptocurrency industry. The new laws are expected to set new electricity tariffs for the crypto mining sector.

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The Virus, the Earthquake and the Bio-Economy of Tourism

Most of us have seen one of the popular Covid-19 memes that says “Can we reset 2020? It has a virus!” – or something along those lines. Croatia would, indeed, badly need such a reset. The country did not have much luck this year, haunted by several plagues, one after the other. First came the presidency of the Council of the European Union, which Croatia held from January to June. Then Corona hit. And, in the middle of all that, a major earthquake shook Zagreb, the country’s capital. Then followed the risky gambling with early parliamentary elections. And, finally, the challenges of (collapsing) tourism.

The Croatian presidency of the EU was a big challenge, with historical tasks such as Brexit and the immigration crisis on the Union’s south-eastern borders on the agenda. But Croatia’s over-sized ambitions of contributing effective solutions and the illusion of its power and importance ended in June, without any memorable result. It would be easy to blame the pandemic for the meagre outcome, but as critics put it, the positioning of Croatia was wrong from the start. Instead of choosing to take on a leading role in the region and help Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia with their problems and further their negotiations with the EU the government wanted to be on the equal footing with the big European players. The Croatian presidency left no mark on EU politics.

When the Croatian government declared the coronavirus pandemic on 11 March, it turned out to be the start of an exercise in returning to a police state. An expert body of allegedly politically non-allied scientists and managers of health institutions, which curiously included the minister of the interior from the governing party HDZ, was formed to manage the pandemic. Bypassing the parliament, this group issued orders for a lockdown and decided about everything else related to the coronavirus, from the closing down of schools and tram lines, to the isolation of groups and individuals, to the compulsory wearing of masks in shops and public transport.

The virus united politics

Interestingly, citizens obeyed the new rules without protest, regardless of their questionable legitimacy and anti-democratic character. Not even the opposition opposed! On the one hand, fear of the virus united them all. But on the other, this extraordinary obedience was prepared by Croatia’s authoritarian past as part of Yugoslavia. When in trouble, people not only flock together, but also resort to the type of political leadership they know and recognise. 

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the habitual willingness to delegate the responsibility for decisions to a higher authority – which used to be the Communist Party – because they are supposed to “know better”. It is as if this legacy of the communist system still prevents citizens to believe in their own rights or even to question any decisions. The experience of democracy has in this context just been one of a new form for the old way of party-dominant gover…

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False reports of pneumonia in #Kazakhstan

Some Chinese media outlets are claiming that Kazakhstan has reported cases of unknown pneumonia, more deadly than coronavirus.  The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan officially states that this information is FALSE.

It should be noted that the WHO introduced codes for pneumonia in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), while COVID-19 is diagnosed clinically or epidemiologically, for example through the symptom of ground-glass opacity and affected lungs, and it is not laboratory confirmed.

Kazakhstan, in this regard, like other countries, monitors and keeps a record of these types of pneumonia, which enables timely management-level decisions aimed at stabilising the incidence and prevalence of the coronavirus infection.

At a briefing on July 9, the Minister of Health of Kazakhstan Alexey Tsoi spoke about the overall number of pneumonia cases in the country: bacterial, fungal, viral origin, including “viral pneumonia of unspecified etiology”, as per the ICD-10 classification.

Therefore, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan emphasizes that the Chinese media reports are FALSE.

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Democracy, budget, solidarity, climate : what Europe post-Covid19 ?

In the long run, Europe has greatly contributed to the process of globalization that has been underway since the time of the great explorations. In a short time, Europe has been hit very hard by the pandemic and a historic recession is on the way.

Nothing prevents from reviving the plans of the European Community for Health  proposed in 1952. In economics, on the other hand, it is pointless to expect a new Marshall plan from the United States of America. 

This continent is not starting from scratch, Europe’s architects built a shared European house where peace, freedom, democracy, prosperity, the rule of law and a certain solidarity prevail. Determined, drawing their convictions from a shared trauma, that of the horrors of war, they were resistors and death camp survivors  and their ideals and values formed the backbone of the European Union. “Nothing is possible without men, nothing lasts without institutions” explained Jean Monnet who had imagined this organisation: a European Commission seeks the common European general interest and makes its proposals to the Ministers of States (Council) and citizens’ representatives (European Parliament) under the supervision of a Court of Justice. This revolutionary architecture – of shared sovereignty – has allowed to peacefully unite 27 countries, to conduct common policies (agriculture, Erasmus, trade, common currency, European GPS Galileo, research …) and to form regulations that inspire the whole world (data protection, energy efficiency, etc.).

Today the European Union needs progress to ensure autonomy and power to Europe. The time has come for new generations to live up to the European heritage. Taxation, budget, external or social action, the EU must decide more by (qualified) majority as unanimity is not democratic and does paralyze it. To move forward, energize industry and materialize a solidarity felt by everyone, its common economic capacity must be increased tenfold (the European budget weighs 1% of its wealth, against 24% for the American federal state) and the EU must be able to borrow.

A helping hand from Europe must definitively supplement the invisible hand – with shared unemployment insurance or a real supranational European reserve of citizens who can be mobilised during crises (doctors, firefighters, etc.) for example – to keep European peoples hopes up. The EU motto “United in diversity” could then be supplemented as follows: “United in diversity and solidarity”. Europeans have the means to be united without being uniform, in solidarity rather than solitary, democrats rather than vetocrats, but there is still an additional meaningful role to be found, an universal ambition to meet its historical greatness.

The Covid-19 has revealed Europe’s vulnerability. It should be better prepared for the crises on which scientists alert us, and climate change is the most frightening: collapse of ecosystems, inhabitable regions, fall in agricultural yields if we continue the current trajectory. Therefore the EU must urgently mobilise all its tools for economic recovery and debt to fight global warming through a decarbonised and fair transition. The EU has an historic opportunity to do so and a duty to the younger generations from whom budgets will be borrowed. The “never again” united its oldest ones, the “everything but not that” linked to an uncontrollable climate change unites all Europeans today (93% according to a survey).

Just seventy years ago, six European countries gathered around the shared management of coal to maintain peace between states, Europe must now clearly unite towards full decarbonisation in 2050 to save ecosystems, but also and above all convince and inspire the world to take action. There will be no prosperity, no resilience of humanity without protected ecosystems. Like Ulysses after a long journey, the European civilisation will only have a lasting existence by completing this last test which will bring it the recognition of all.

This generation is the last to be in capacity to act, so let’s be bold, ambitious and inspiring, keeping in mind the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children”.

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