World roundup: December 20 2021
Stories from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Ethiopia, and more
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
New research from the UK, which it must be stressed is preliminary, suggests—disappointingly—that COVID’s Omicron strain may not actually be any less severe than its Delta strain. Early information about Omicron from South Africa, one of the first countries where that strain became the predominant form of COVID, suggested that it could lead to less serious illness among those who were infected. But this study, from Imperial College London, shows that may not really be the case, especially when controlling for vaccine status and prior COVID infection, both of which seem to have an impact in reducing severity. This seems to have been a fairly limited study with respect to data on hospitalization and severe infection so it’s still too soon to draw any major conclusions. The study did reinforce previous research showing that Omicron spreads much more readily than Delta and that both vaccines and immunity from prior infections are less effective against it than they are against Delta. Despite their limitations these findings are likely to inform COVID policymaking in the UK and potentially elsewhere.
The Saudis claim that they shot down a Houthi drone heading for the city of Jizan early Monday morning. The coalition also conducted airstrikes on Sanaa, targeting in particular the Sanaa airport whence the drone had been launched. I haven’t seen any word on casualties.
It turns out that Kamel Jendoubi, who formerly chaired a United Nations committee tasked with investigating possible war crimes in Yemen, had his phone bugged back in 2019 with the NSO Group’s “Pegasus” spyware. Presumably that means he was targeted by Saudi Arabia, an NSO Group client and longtime purveyor of Yemeni war crimes. Coincidentally, it looks like Jendoubi was targeted shortly before his committee published a report on Saudi war crimes in Yemen. He doesn’t believe any of the committee’s work was compromised by the spyware.