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WHO Warns the West’s New Subvariant Is Most Transmissible

The organization has also raised concerns over the transparency and accuracy of China’s COVID-19 data.

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies director, attends a press conference.
Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies director, attends a press conference.
Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies director, attends a press conference at the group’s headquarters in Geneva on Dec. 14, 2022. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at warnings from the World Health Organization, backlash against the new Israeli government’s judicial plans, and the forestalled eviction of tens of thousands of people in India.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


WHO Warns of Most Transmissible Subvariant, Faulty Chinese Data

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at warnings from the World Health Organization, backlash against the new Israeli government’s judicial plans, and the forestalled eviction of tens of thousands of people in India.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


WHO Warns of Most Transmissible Subvariant, Faulty Chinese Data

The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that a new COVID-19 subvariant, XBB.1.5, is the most transmissible yet. Roughly 75 percent of new cases in the northeastern United States at the moment are cases of this subvariant.

At present, not much else is known about XBB.1.5, but early research suggests it is more “immune evasive” and contagious. On Wednesday, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said her organization was concerned about the subvariant’s “growth advantage” in the northeastern United States as well as in Europe.

The WHO had another warning too: Although the organization said no variants of concern have emerged from Chinese data, it admitted that it does not have “complete data” from China.

“We believe that the current numbers being published from China underrepresent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of [intensive care unit] admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths,” the WHO’s emergencies director, Michael Ryan, said, according to the Guardian. China, which recorded just 22 COVID-19 deaths since December 2022, insists that it is sending data in a quick and transparent manner.

Countries around the world are trying to figure out what China’s reopening should mean for their travel policies. On Thursday, Germany joined the ranks of countries—among them the United States, France, and Japan—with some entry requirements for travelers from China. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach announced that Germany will require Chinese travelers take “at least a rapid test” to come from China to Germany.

The Chinese government had an announcement of its own on Thursday: After nearly three years of being largely closed, on Jan. 8, its border with Hong Kong will reopen and up to 60,000 Hong Kong residents will be able to cross over into the mainland. Hong Kong residents have in turn rushed to get vaccinated, worrying that the reopening of the border will bring with it a surge of new COVID-19 cases.


What We’re Following Today 

Israel’s plan to weaken its Supreme Court. Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented his plan Wednesday, one day before justices met to debate a new law over whether a politician convicted of tax offenses could serve in a prime minister’s cabinet. The plan would allow legislators to pass laws after the high court has struck them down, overriding Supreme Court decisions with 61 votes. “We go to the polls and vote, choose, but time after time, people who we didn’t elect decide for us,” Levin said. “That’s not democracy.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid vowed to fight this plan “in every possible way” but flew to Paris on Thursday for a long weekend, drawing criticism. Lapid defended the vacation as much needed after the last year and a half of political work and said he would be back Sunday to “continue the struggle with all of my might.” Lawmakers from Lapid’s party joined hundreds of people outside the high court to protest the proposed changes.

India’s Supreme Court stays a mass eviction order. Government officials claimed that tens of thousands of people were on land that belonged to Indian Railways. Last month, the state high court in Uttarakhand asked railway authorities to clear the land. Reports estimate around 50,000 people would have been left homeless. India’s top court, however, put the high court’s decision on hold and said a “workable solution” needs to be reached. “Thousands cannot be uprooted overnight,” the Supreme Court said.


Keep an Eye On

Ebola in Uganda coming under control. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Uganda’s Ebola situation may be improving, as it has been 39 days since the last report of a confirmed case in the country as of Jan. 5. There have been 142 confirmed Ebola cases and 55 deaths so far in Uganda, according to the Africa CDC’s acting director, Ahmed Ogwell Ouma. He also told reporters that the outbreak could be considered over if there were no new cases by Jan. 10.

The number of populist world leaders at 20-year low. New analysis from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change put forth that there are fewer populist leaders now than at any point in the last two decades and that 800 million fewer people live under a populist leader now than two years ago. There are, per this research, 1.7 billion people under a populist leader now compared to 2.5 billion in 2020.

Populists Jair Bolsonaro and Janez Jansa lost elections in Brazil and Slovenia, respectively, in 2022. The report also notes that 2023 will be a significant year for populist leaders: There will be elections in both Poland and Turkey.


Thursday’s Most Read

Russia Is Afraid of Western Psychic Attacks by Lauren Wolfe

Lessons for the Next War by FP Contributors

• Iran and Russia Are Closer Than Ever Before by Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon


Odds and Ends 

Applied mathematics professors in the United Kingdom have determined that, if you want to skip stones successfully, you should use stones shaped like potatoes. The model, designed to interrogate stone-skipping, will apparently also be used to solve commercial problems.

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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