The World and Everything in It - February 10, 2022
The radically different approaches countries have taken to COVID-19; the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; and a preview of Sunday’s big game. Plus: commentary from Cal Thomas, and the Thursday morning news.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Good morning!
Two years into the pandemic and we can now assess various government responses to it.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Also Afghanistan continues in crisis mode. We’ll talk about the humanitarian needs in that country.
Plus the Super Bowl! We’ll size up the matchup coming up on Sunday.
And commentator Cal Thomas wonders about those Covid test kits.
BROWN: It’s Thursday, February 10. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
REICHARD: And I’m Mary Reichard. Good morning!
KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: Russia begins joint military exercises with Belarus near Ukrainian border » Russia and Belarus are kicking off 10 days of joint military drills today.
Moscow has moved up to 30,000 troops, along with fighter jets and surface-to-air missile systems, into Belarus, near Ukraine’s border. That’s in addition to more than 100,000 Russian troops parked in western Russia near the border.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters…
PSAKI: We see this as certainly more of any escalatory, not a de-escalatory action as it relates to those troops and the military exercises. This is happening at the border as well. So that is certainly concerning to us.
Britain’s top diplomat flew to Moscow Wednesday, seeking to defuse tensions.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “Russia has a choice here. We strongly encourage them to engage, de-escalate and choose the path of diplomacy.”
Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Putin at the Kremlin … also pushing for a diplomatic solution.
Western nations say they will impose their toughest-ever sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.
Fauci: “full-blown” COVID almost over » President Biden’s top medical adviser says the “full-blown” pandemic phase of COVID-19 is almost over. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Financial Times that the data suggest the pandemic is entering a new phase. And he is hopeful that local, state, and federal governments will be able to wind down all restrictions within a few months.
Fauci said COVID-19 is here to stay and will never be eradicated. But he said—quote—"we are looking at a time when we have enough people vaccinated and enough people with protection from previous infection … that the Covid restrictions will soon be a thing of the past."
Daily infections have plummeted since the omicron wave peaked in mid-January. U.S. cases topped out at more than 800,000 per day, but that number has fallen to less than 200,000. That’s a drop of about 75 percent in just a few week’s time.
Hospitalizations and deaths are also declining.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.
Senators call for gas tax suspension to blunt rising prices » Gas prices are on the rise once again. But some Democratic senators up for reelection this year are pushing a plan to provide some temporary relief.
Americans are paying about $3.47 a gallon right now for regular unleaded, and prices could continue to climb.
With that in mind, Senators Mark Kelly and Maggie Hassan are floating a bill that would suspend the national gas tax for the rest of the year.
The federal gas tax is about 18 cents per gallon. The money goes into a trust fund that helps pay for highway construction projects and public transit.
Several senators quickly signed on as co-sponsors, but the bill still faces an uphill climb. Other lawmakers have proposed suspending the gas tax in the past, but couldn’t generate enough support to pass a bill.
SpaceX satellites downed by solar storm » Dozens of SpaceX satellites are tumbling out of orbit after being struck by a solar storm. WORLD’s Josh Schumacher has that story.
JOSH SCHUMACHER, REPORTER: As many as 40 of the 49 small satellites that SpaceX launched just last week have either reentered the atmosphere and burned up, or are on the verge of doing so.
Officials said a geomagnetic storm doomed the satellites.
SpaceX described the lost satellites as a “unique situation." Intense solar activity like solar flares can cause geomagnetic storms sending streams of plasma from the sun hurtling out into space.
The company said there is no danger from these newly falling satellites, either in orbit or on the ground.
SpaceX still has close to 2,000 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth and providing internet service to remote corners of the world.
The company’s founder Elon Musk envisions a constellation of thousands more satellites to increase internet service.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Josh Schumacher.
Canadian provinces roll back some pandemic restrictions » Four Canadian provinces announced plans this week to roll back several COVID-19 restrictions.
Alberta dropped its vaccine passport for places like restaurants and will lift its mask mandate by March 1.
The premier of Alberta Jason Kenney said it’s time to start lifting restrictions.
KENNEY: The point is simply this: That the restriction exemption program has served its useful purpose. It’s done its job.
Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island also announced plans this week to roll back some or all of their restrictions.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended federal mandates like requiring all truck drivers to be fully vaccinated.
Protesters with the so-called “Freedom Convoy” say they’ll remain parked in the streets of the capital until the government lifts those mandates. More than 400 trucks remain in downtown Ottawa, which is under a state of emergency.
I’m Kent Covington. Straight ahead: the different approaches countries have taken to the pandemic.
Plus, taxpayer-funded COVID test kits.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 10th of February, 2022.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: strategies used by governments to deal with COVID.
Mask mandates, lockdowns, border closures, vaccine passports. Governments used them all in an attempt to stop the virus. But it’s been two years and it’s still with us.
How have these strategies helped or harmed?
WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown reports.
PENATZER: When I got here in the summer, you needed a test to go just about anywhere or…vaccination card.
ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: Kyrie Penatzer moved to Vienna last summer. She’s not vaccinated, but she’s already had COVID.
PENATZER: In the beginning, they were also accepting antibody tests. And so I was able to get around pretty freely because I had an antibody test and you just had to update it every three months.
Then Omicron came around and cases started rising. In November, Austria instituted a blanket vaccine mandate for all residents. If you’d had COVID within the last six months, you could get an exception. But antibody tests no longer counted as proof of immunity. Penatzer was already testing daily. But without proof of vaccination…
PENATZER: You could basically go to work. And the grocery store and the pharmacy, and we could still go to church. But other than that, we couldn’t do anything.
About 75 percent of Austrians are fully vaccinated and cases have started to fall. But in January, the government doubled down on its vaccine mandate. Starting next month, police will be conducting “routine checks” of residents’ vaccination status. If you can’t prove you’re vaccinated or recently recovered, you’ll be fined anywhere from $600 to $4,000—every three months. Penatzer says the number keeps changing.
PENATZER: They’ve been so vague about how they’re going to enforce it. Like they said, at one point, you'd be fined 2000 euros. And then just today, I read 3000 euros. And you know that they are saying these huge numbers in order to scare people into getting vaccinated.
Austrian officials say the mandate and fines are necessary to avoid future lockdowns. Austria’s minister for the EU and Constitution says mandatory vaccination is an “interference with human rights." But in this case, she believes it’s justified as the only way to keep COVID at bay.
Austria has some of the strictest COVID policies in Europe. On the other end of the spectrum, the United Kingdom has some of the loosest. After cases peaked in early January and then plummeted dramatically, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made this announcement.
JOHNSON: The government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere. In the country at large we will continue to suggest the wearing of face masks, but we will trust the judgment of the British people.
The UK has no vaccine requirements, and no restrictions on travel or gatherings.
How did two countries come to such opposite conclusions?
ADALJA: I think it really stems from trying to be clear on what the goals are.
Amesh Adalja is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
ADALJA: There are many countries that I think have failed to come to terms with the idea of COVID-19 becoming an endemic respiratory virus, one that is with us year in and year out, and is going to be akin to other respiratory viruses. If you have a COVID zero idea as your goal, then there's a totally different means that are going to be employed. Even though they're going to be futile and non sustainable, you still see some countries clinging to it.
Adalja says “COVID Zero” isn’t possible or even necessary, as the severity of Covid continues to wane. And trying to achieve COVID Zero just creates more bitterness and division.
Kate Scheutze is a Pacific researcher for Amnesty International. She’s been keeping tabs on Fiji’s Covid policies. Instead of blanket vaccine mandates like Fiji has, she says educating people and providing information is a better strategy.
SCHEUTZE: I think the challenge with Fiji is the response is to shut down critics immediately, rather than to engage in open discussion around those who might have opposing views.
In August, Fiji instituted a “no jab, no job” policy: If you weren’t vaccinated, you couldn’t work. But people in Fiji didn’t have good access to the vaccines. And they didn’t have access to good information about the vaccines either.
SCHEUTZE: And the challenge with that, when you're talking about something with vaccines is, is people have legitimate concerns that might need to be addressed by medical professionals around, you know, what are the consequences if you're a pregnant woman? When should you get a vaccine if you've just recovered from COVID?
Amesh Adalja thinks vaccine mandates might actually do more harm than good.
ADALJA: And I think it's just going to continue to fester and build on it and we're going to have, you know, an anti-vaccine movement on steroids. It's being sort of aided and abetted by poor government policy.
Adalja says most governments had no idea what to do with a virus like COVID. So they resorted to blunt instruments like lockdowns. But new research shows that most lockdown policies weren’t effective.
Johns Hopkins just released a study about the effect of lockdowns on COVID-19 mortality rates. In other words, did lockdowns save lives? The study defined a lockdown as any non-pharmaceutical intervention, such as restricting travel, limiting gatherings, and closing schools. The conclusion? Lockdowns in Europe and the United States reduced COVID mortality by 0.2 percent. Even strict shelter in place orders only bumped that number to 2.9 percent. The study’s authors wrote that lockdowns are not effective at protecting public health. And they have “imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted.”
Many governments said mass vaccination would be the ticket to a normal life. But that depends on what you mean by “normal.” Amesh Adalja says that, even with vaccines, COVID is here to stay.
ADALJA: Because we know that Omicron’s immune evasive properties allow it to get around the protection afforded by vaccines, or get around the protection afforded by prior infection. So I don't think that vaccine passports or government issued vaccine requirements are the way to go about this at this point.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Afghanistan, in crisis.
Taliban officials recently wrapped up three days of talks with Western diplomats and others in Norway as a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan grows more dire by the day.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: The Taliban demands release of about $10 billion in cash from Afghanistan’s central bank. That’s money Western governments froze after the Taliban seized control of the country.
Western leaders say the group has failed to uphold human rights, especially for women. So that cash remains frozen, and sanctions against the Taliban remain in place.
REICHARD: In the end, the victims are the people of Afghanistan, who are suffering both the injustices of an extremist government and an economy in crisis.
The United Nations warns that millions of Afghans are now on the verge of starvation.
Joining us now to talk about it is Aaron Ashoff. He is Deputy Director of International Projects for Samaritan’s Purse. Aaron, good morning.
AARON ASHOFF, GUEST: Good morning, Mary. Thanks for having me.
REICHARD: How have conditions on the ground changed for the Afghan people in the months since the Taliban seized control last year?
ASHOFF: Well, it's hard to imagine that conditions could get worse when you think back to August of 2021. And you remember the chaos with the evacuations, the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the newly established regime. But over time, we didn't see a government form that was able to take care of the people. That is a problem that continues to compound. Weather has been a major problem, both in terms of drought and cold weather, that makes it tough from a humanitarian perspective. And then the conditions that worked there for many humanitarian groups changed a lot. So I think there are a few factors here that have made the situation much worse, to the point where they're millions and millions of Afghans, women, children, men who are in an emergency food state, different levels of it. And that is it's not a situation that will be getting better anytime soon.
REICHARD: The Taliban has not done enough to earn recognition by Western governments and remains under sanctions. So what kind of aid is able to get through to the Afghan people?
ASHOFF: Well, a lot of aid agencies are doing all they can to try to work with local NGOs to meet the needs of the population. But if you think of the complexities of getting large scale relief supplies in, that is a very difficult situation in terms of just think of the supplies of whether it's metric tonnage of food or medical supplies. It's not easy to get things in right now. And I think a lot of it falls on the shoulders of local NGOs to work with resources that are available, but scarce.
REICHARD: Aaron, I know Samaritan’s Purse has been involved in helping to resettle some of the Afghans who were evacuated or managed to flee Afghanistan. Tell us about that.
ASHOFF: Well, it's an incredible story of the fall of things in August and for us that was personal. We had an office in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2007 and former Samaritan's Purse staff had begun to reach out to us to see if there was a way we could help them to evacuate the country. And we've, from that point, been able to to help a significant number of our former staff, and family members and those who were not our former staff. And the Afghans that made it out, arrived at a number of different places in the world where I think, ultimately, many were hoping to get to America and thousands did. There were over 60,000, you're maybe aware of that, that came to America in the past few months, and were temporarily housed at military bases while resettlement agencies worked to resettle them. For us, it's meant deploying many disaster response specialists, medical protection, distribution teams to show up at these bases and to complement the work that's going on there to meet the basic needs. And we've seen incredible things happen. Emergency deliveries of babies, we have seen, we've done trauma counseling that has allowed people who hadn't talked to anyone in a long time about all the traumas they've been through, to talk to Christians who could listen and care for them. And we've heard great stories there from our team members about hope in people's lives through those conversations. And now where many Afghans have come off the bases and are being resettled, we're heavily involved in that. We got involved a few months ago with the Department of State and church world services, we’re an institutional co-sponsor with them to work to help resettle Afghans. And it's incredible, actually. It's a new way of working in America to expand the options when it comes to resettlement to allow through the program we've developed is to train and equip churches to welcome Afghans into communities. And we've been able to work with hundreds of churches in preparation and now we've seen over 120 Afghans welcomed into various towns in America where we have partner churches, who are who are helping them out. And it's incredible.
REICHARD: Final question, Aaron. Specifically, how can Christians pray for the Afghan people?
ASHOFF: Well, I think of two groups of Afghans. One, I think of the Afghans that are still in Afghanistan and life's hard. It's hard in so many ways. And I just think of praying for compassion and mercy from God on those who are still in the country and for their protection. And I think of the Afghans that have left. My prayer for them is that they would be cared for and that they would find hope in the Lord in their new life. Those would be my two main ways to pray.
REICHARD: Aaron Ashoff with Samaritan’s Purse has been our guest. Aaron, thank you so much!
ASHOFF: Thank you, Mary.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: We all know small businesses took a big hit with lockdowns imposed by governments. And now it’s hit a pub in England.
The reason this one’s making headlines is because it’s been around a long, long time. I mean it was open during the Hundred Years War in 1337, the Crusades, and the bubonic plague!
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub opened for business in 793 AD. Back when Vikings were attacking England!
Sadly, the pub couldn’t withstand this pandemic with all the financial troubles that went along with it.
Christo Tofalli has operated the pub for the last decade. He told CNN it’s emotional.
TOFALLI: It’s such an institution. We’ve created that. It’s an award-winning pub. That was always my dream, so it’s really hard to let go of that.
Tofalli is walking away. But maybe new owners will bring new life to this beloved public house.
It’s The World and Everything in It.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, February 10th, 2022. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the Super Bowl.
The matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams happens on Sunday.
BROWN: WORLD’s Paul Butler has a preview of the game and talks to a Cedarville University student who’s had a front-row seat to Cincinnati’s memorable season.
PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Sunday’s face-off between the 12 and 5 Los Angeles Rams and the 10 and 7 Cincinnati Bengals caps off an exciting season for the National Football League.
This year’s ratings saw a significant up-tick after years of decline.
TABOR: I love watching players that love playing the game, and love playing it at an elite level and are playing at an elite level.
Steven Tabor co-hosts the Tabor Gridiron podcast with his 13-year old son Isaac. Tabor enjoys football all season long, but especially during the postseason:
TABOR: I like the championship games better, because they sometimes are more entertaining, you know, the four teams battling out to get to the Super Bowl…
There have been a lot of good games this season. According to the NFL, 34 were decided by a game-winning score on the final play—the most in a single season. Another 49 games were decided by a game-winning score in the final minute of regulation or overtime. That tied the previous season record.
Tabor thinks that will continue into the Super Bowl this time around:
TABOR: I am really excited about the Super Bowl, because I think there's potential for it to really be a good game.
This year’s Super Bowl features two dominant defenses, so it could be a low scoring game. But Tabor thinks the stars of the show will be the offenses. The two quarterbacks are at very different points in their career—the Rams’ Matthew Stafford is a 13 season veteran—picked up last Spring from the Detroit Lions. He’s always been a good quarterback, but overshadowed...
TABOR: So I like now, putting him into a great coaching staff, a team that has surrounded him and has skills and it's allowed him to shine and really show everybody the skill that he's always had. So I'm super excited for Stafford.
For the Bengals, Joe Burrow is a very young quarterback. His first season was cut short by injury. But he returned this year and had a Cinderella second season.
TABOR: And I think that he has a potential to be a great quarterback. And I think really just that being coachable, and being able to learn quickly, like reading the defenses, understanding the plays, making those right decisions, and that is what has helped him kind of just advance quickly really in this league.
Of course an offense is much more than its quarterback. Tabor expects an exciting game from Rams wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp, plus running back Cam Akers - all with interesting stories. And Bengals wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have been exceptional all year long. Now Tabor is pulling for the Rams, but he finds the young Bengals team exciting to watch.
TABOR: The Bengals are really that kind of underdog team to say hey, let's let's root for them and really watch these young players shine and see what they can do. Can they handle the pressure? Can they handle the spotlight and continue to just have fun and play football the way that they know how to, and I’m made for this and I’m ready for this.
Someone who’s watched the Bengal’s season with great interest is Kurtis Gould. He’s a senior athletic training major at Cedarville University.
GOULD: There's friends of mine here at Cedarville that I’d tell them before the season, “we're going to the Super Bowl, we're gonna make it” and of course they all laughed and said, “Oh, there's no way on earth you're going to do that…”
Gould started a Bengals internship in May. As a student athletic trainer he helps keep the players hydrated, helps rehabilitate injured athletes, and maintains injury protective measures during practices so they don’t miss any games.
COVID restrictions have prevented student trainers from traveling with the team all season—and that’s continued into the postseason as well.
GOULD: (LAUGHS) Sore subject there. For the whole season, we haven't been able to go to away games, only home games. It’s been a little bit disappointing, but it's just how it is right now. So I'll have to watch them on TV just like everyone else.
Gould is a diehard Bengals fan. But he says ultimately, whether they win or lose, football isn’t the most important thing in life.
GOULD: These guys happen to have athletic abilities, which a lot of people praise and idolize. But it's not the biggest thing there is—it's not even the most important thing. A lot of people think it's their entire life when it isn't - they have families, they have kids, they have relationships, and that matters, honestly, to many of them more than football.
And for Kurtis Gould, that motivates him in his work as an athletic trainer.
GOULD: I feel called to use the abilities I have to help them, you'll help them perform at their top level. I can use it as a ministry to them, and be able to help them because when I'm working with an athlete and they have an injury that ends their season. Like it can be hard on an athlete when football is what they do, and so being able to work with them through that process and be able to get to know them on that personal level, be able to just talk with them, get to know them. It's their life, but ultimately isn't their entire life and being an athletic trainer with the Bengals isn’t my entire life. That is not how I define myself, because ultimately I am a child of God and that's more important to me than football.
Superbowl 56 kicks off Sunday, February 13th at 6:30pm Eastern.
Steven Tabor thinks the Rams will win by a touchdown. Kurtis Gould favors the Bengals by a last minute field goal. For what it’s worth, the annual EA Sports John Madden computer game simulation agrees…with Gould. It puts Cincinnati on top, winning 24-21. But it’s been wrong 3 out of the last 5 years—so only time will tell.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, February 10th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Here’s commentator Cal Thomas on those Covid test kits.
CAL THOMAS, REPORTER: Americans can now order at-home COVID-19 test kits from a website the government launched earlier this year. President Biden announced the program during a White House address in December. He kept reminding viewers that it’s all “free.” He sounded like those Medicare supplement ads that ended after open enrollment season closed.
I have several questions about these kits. The president said the government had a stockpile of 500 million. What happens when they run out? The at-home kits I’ve seen contain a limited number of swabs. When they’re gone, do you order more? How long will they be available? And will the government pay for the replacements, too? If so, for how long? Taxpayers have a right to know, given the deepening debt.
Second, because the tests are self-administered, will the airlines accept the results for international travel? Airport testing sites I saw at the end of last year charge up to $179 for a rapid test. On a trip to Italy in October, my wife and I paid $150 each for a rapid test at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. They were the most expensive Q-Tips we’ve ever purchased. Tents and vans have popped up, especially in major cities. They, too, often charge a lot of money. On a recent visit to a shopping mall, I saw a van in the parking lot that offered drive-thru testing for $150 a pop. Talk about price gouging. Will the free test kits put these places out of business?
Two things the president was right about. In a rare moment, he gave credit to “the previous administration,” meaning former President Trump, for its rapid development of a vaccine. The other was his denunciation of misinformation and conspiracy theories. Viruses don’t discriminate when it comes to parties, politics, or countries. The president made a compelling argument when he said his urging to get vaccinated and boosted “is not to control your life, but to save it.”
But, there’s a better way to approach this than to make test kits available to everyone, because not everyone needs or wants them. As with the initial rollout of vaccines, the government should have made the kits available first to the most vulnerable. Allow older people and those with underlying health conditions to go to the head of the line.
By acknowledging that people are “tired” of this virus, its variants, masks, and other limitations on our freedoms, at least the president was trying to tap into the emotions most people are still feeling. That’s what a good politician should do. There is still too much contradictory information coming from too many sources and too many Americans remain skeptical and not sure whom they can trust. This is a hurdle the president has yet to clear, and it may turn out that not even presidential powers are sufficient to get him over it.
I’m Cal Thomas.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Tomorrow: John Stonestreet is back for Culture Friday. We’ll talk free speech and the responsibility of men in the abortion debate.
Plus, the film Death on the Nile. We will review the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunnit.
That and more tomorrow.
I’m Mary Reichard.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.
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