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New Zealand PM Delays Election by 4 Weeks After New COVID-19 Outbreak

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  • New cases of COVID-19 appeared in New Zealand last week, after 102 days without any known community transmission. So far, at least 69 active cases have been reported. 
  • Now the country is on lockdown, with the most strict measures set in the city of Auckland. 
  • The lockdowns sparked concerns about the upcoming general election, with citizens and politicians arguing that the delays in campaigning would not allow for a fair vote. 
  • In response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved the election back by four weeks, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 17.

New Coronavirus Cases Spark Concerns 

New Zealand is postponing its national election by four weeks in response to new coronavirus cases that have suddenly appeared. 

Last week, a new cluster of cases were reported in Auckland, the country’s largest city. As of Monday, there are believed to be at least 69 active cases.

Citizens quickly received confirmation of an outbreak and by last Wednesday the government had enacted a strict level three lockdown. Under it, people are required to stay home unless for essential activities, and public venues like museums, playgrounds and gyms are to remain closed. This was a huge deal for New Zealanders because they had just made it through 102 days without any known community transmission. 

When the virus first appeared in New Zealand in March, the country spent five weeks under one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. That quick action and public cooperation allowed New Zealand to effectively eliminate the virus. While border controls remained in place, the country was able to return to fairly normal life, so this new wave of cases has caught many by surprise. 

While Auckland has the most strict measures in place, the rest of the country was put into a level two lockdown, which caps gatherings at no more than 100, among other things. Both were extended until at least August 26 based on the most recent confirmed cases. However, that news made a lot of people concerned because the country’s general election was supposed to be just around the corner. 

The election was set for September 19, with campaigning expected to really pick up in the weeks before, following the dissolution of parliament. Because of the outbreak, both citizens and politicians felt it would be impossible to proceed with a vote in a way that was fair. Among the list of concerts were arguments that there wouldn’t be enough time to rebook venues, print materials, and reorganize the election workforce. 

Last week, National Party Leader Judith Collins, who is the leader of the opposition, called for the election to be delayed until November or potentially even until next year. Meanwhile, Winston Peters, deputy prime minister and leader of the New Zealand First Party, sent a letter to his coalition partner, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, also calling for a delay. 

At the time, he said that until the alert level is dropped, the “playing field is hopelessly compromised.”

Prime Minister Delays Election 

In a live-streamed press conference Monday, Prime Minister Ardern announced that she was delaying the election by four weeks, to October 17. 

Ardern said that while she had the sole authority to determine when people cast ballots, she did consult with all the major parties in the country before making such a major decision.

“In the end what matters most is what is in the best interests of voters and our democracy,” she said. “Any decision to review the election date must be as free from partisan political interests as possible.”

Ultimately, she said that this compromise “provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we could be campaigning under, for the electoral commission to prepare and for voters to feel assured of a safe, accessible and critical election.”

The new date keeps Election Day within the time frame set under New Zealand law, with the latest date possible being Nov 21. However, Ardern added that even if the outbreak gets worse, “we will be sticking with the date we have.”

The government can reassess if a further delay is needed, but there is currently no evidence to suggest it will be. 

Public Opinion of Ardern

With the election delayed, now the New Zealand government can focus primarily on the coronavirus cases. According to local reports, health officials are moving quickly to test thousands of workers at airports and other points of entry to figure out how the virus reemerged. 

So far, it seems that all of the cases appear to be linked through family or work connections and the infections outside Auckland were traced back to relatives in the city. Still, questions remain about whether or not this new wave could hurt Ardern. 

According to the New York Times, Ardern’s approval ratings skyrocketed after the country’s first lockdown. However, Ardern is facing some scrutiny as officials try to determine what recently went wrong and how long this new set of restrictions will last.

Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand told the Times: “If it transpires that there was a considerable oversight, lax regulation or flawed implementation, that could have a very significant impact on the narrative.”

Still, he noted that there “is a deep reservoir of good will toward the prime minister,” and it is possible that her handling of the upcoming election will actually help her stay in many’s good graces. 

“She might have just added 5 percent to her polling by making an announcement that many New Zealanders will think is reasonable, fair and sensible,” Shaw added.

In fact, a poll taken over the weekend from the New Zeland Herald-Kantar showed that 60% of New Zealanders favored a delay and early opinion polls indicate that Arbern’s Labour party is favored to win a second term.

Arderns response to the newest outbreak and any major decisions she makes in the next coming weeks could prove to be crucial for the Labour party.  

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Fox News) (BBC

International

Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah

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  • Tensions between Israel and Palestine have risen dramatically over the last month since Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa mosque, along with other religious and traditional sites during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.
  • On top of this, there are ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families out of their homes despite a 1956 agreement that stated they could keep their homes after three years.
  • The two situations have jointly fueled weeks of massive protests in Jerusalem, leading to hundreds of injuries.
  • Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to stop its actions. When the deadline passed Monday night, it launched over 400 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with its own airstrikes.

Actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah Fuel Anger

Dozens were killed across Israel and the Gaza Strip between Monday and Tuesday after both sides conducted airstrikes over rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

At play are two unique situations that have led to Palestinians becoming particularly frustrated at what they feel is unjust treatment by Israel. The first is what Palestinians describe as Israeli restrictions on religious and cultural practices during Ramadan. The other is the looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem.

The religious clashes began about a month ago at the start of Ramadan when Israeli security forces put up barriers to stop people from hanging out at the Damascus Gate, a popular spot during the holiest month in Islam.

The situation was made worse when Israel imposed a 10,000 person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The 10,000 person limit meant tens of thousands of Palestinians were turned away or forcibly removed in a series of raids into the mosque and compound, the most recent of which caused a fire in a tree in the area.

Israel tried to de-escalate the ongoing protests by removing the barriers at the Damascus Gate to little avail.

Sheikh Jarrah: Microcosm for Entire Conflict

On top of the situation at the al-Aqsa compound, there have also been also large demonstrations over evictions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The area was developed in the ’50s by Jordan when it controlled that part of Jerusalem as part of an agreement with Israel. Part of that agreement was that the families living there would be allowed to keep the homes after three years. Jordan eventually lost control of Sheikh Jarrah and seven decades later an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to leave their homes.   

The court agreed with the accusation that the homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land and should be returned to Jewish residents. In turn, Israeli settlers moved into the area and entered homes with families still living inside — a move that has been described as little more than blatant theft.

The evictions at Sheikh Jarrah have led to weeks of massive protests and this past weekend was no different with hundreds of injuries across both sides.

The entire situation was supposed to be settled, at least legally, during a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, but that was postponed until an unknown date, leaving many to feel like the situation won’t be resolved and fueling further protests.

Hamas Issues Ultimatum

In response to all of this, Hamas and its territory of the Gaza Strip decided to issue an ultimatum for Israel to leave the al-Aqsa Mosque complex and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or it would launch rockets. When that failed to happen at 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas launched a massive attack of over 400 rockets into Israel. Many fell short or were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

However, some did find their targets and injured at least 10 Israelis and killing two. Israel responded by conducting airstrikes against Gaza, reportedly killing 26. Both sides have continued to bombard the other through the last 36 hours with promises to escalate the situation further.

Over the next few days, it’s likely that the death tolls will rise and the bloodshed will be used as its own excuse to continue the violent cycle that the region has been locked in since the middle of the 20th century.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (Jersualem Post) (The New York Times)

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International

German Catholic Priests Defy Vatican by Blessing Same-Sex Unions

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  • Priests throughout Germany openly defied the Roman Catholic Church and blessed same-sex marriages over the weekend as part of an organized effort that has extended into this week.
  • In the past, the vast majority of willing priests would refuse to bless such marriages due to the ambiguity of the Church’s position, which was clarified in March 2021 as against blessing same-sex unions.
  • The effort by German priests has received some support in progressive nations but has been widely opposed by the greater Church.
  • The Vatican is unlikely to back down from its position; however, the challenge is large enough to potentially set off a debate on the issue within the Church.

Pope’s Stance on Blessing Same-Sex Unions

Catholic priests throughout Germany openly challenged a group of new rules by the Vatican this weekend and set the stage for a large debate over LGTBQ+ issues within the church.

At the center of the debate is a clear and complete ban on blessings of same-sex marriages by the Holy See from March of this year. Pope Francis’ official stance, and thus the Church’s official stance, is that priests cannot bless gay marriages because they are sinful, and the Church cannot “bless sin.”

Blessings are different from engaging in marriage ceremonies themselves and are used to bring marriages carried out by secular officials “into” the church.

The Pope’s stance received a lot of push back both within and outside of the church. Activists around the world felt it was overly restrictive and undermined Pope Francis’ other statements about loving LGBTQ+ members of the church. At the same time, hundreds of clergymen around the world, and especially in Germany, signed open letters with plans to defy the pontiff and bless same-sex unions anyways.

Such blessings weren’t completely unknown in the church because even without the Holy See’s official stance in March, it was assumed by clergymen that such blessings were forbidden; however, some carried them out anyways in secret.

Open Defiance of the Church

That secrecy largely came to an end this weekend in Germany. Sunday morning saw one of the first seemingly organized efforts in that defiance, with priests throughout Germany openly blessing same-sex marriages. The organized effort also includes another event planned for Monday, May 10, including live-streamed services.

Despite the progressive push by parts of the German church, most Catholic dioceses in the country back the Church’s official stance, and that support is even more widespread worldwide.

Beyond doctrinal differences, many German parishes are pushing for more progressive stances to cope with the fact that people are leaving the church in droves, partly because of its social stances. In some respects, those decisions have proven popular. 

As it stands, it’s unclear what will happen next to the priests and bishops who backed blessing same-sex unions, and whether or not other dioceses in progressive countries will take a similar stance and back them. It’s also unlikely that the church will change its stance on same-sex marriages.

In the meantime, hundreds of gay Catholic couples throughout Germany and neighboring countries plan to get their marriages blessed at a Catholic Church for the first time.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (BBC) (National Catholic Reporter)

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International

Mukbangs and Ordering Too Much Food Banned in China

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  • China recently passed a law that bans ordering too much food and sharing content online that portrays overeating.
  • Though food scarcity is not an issue in the country, the law is meant to combat food waste, with authorities pointing out that China tosses 35 million tons of food annually.
  • The law doesn’t penalize consumers at restaurants. Instead, it fines restaurants $1550 for allowing diners to order “more than they need.”
  • TV stations, media companies, or people who post overeating content, such as Mukbangs, can face a $16,000 fine.

The End of Mukbangs

Some of the most popular content across Chinese social media has effectively been banned under an anti-food waste law that authorities passed late last week.

The law bans diners from ordering more than they need, which could hurt an entire class of eating videos, including ones where people enter all-you-can-eat restaurants to consume thousands of dollars worth of food. While it could be argued that if the creators eat all that food, they’ve satisfied the “more than they need” clause, the law also bans binge eating and posting such content online, meaning no more mukbangs for Chinese fans.

Censors have already begun removing overeating content, and much of it went missing overnight from Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app.

The law also affects far more than a fringe group of people making food content. It’s so vague and open to interpretation that it could disrupt everyday restaurant-goers.

President Xi Jinping called food waste a “distressing” problem that threatens China’s food security, despite the fact that China is not facing any imminent food shortages.

Nearly 35 million tons of food go to waste every year in China, though that’s a relatively small amount for its population size. The U.S., for comparison, manages to throw away 66 million tons of food yearly.

Still, the legislation does not come as a complete surprise since Xi launched a food-saving campaign back in August claiming that COVID-19 was threatening the food supply chain.

Who’s Penalized?

Across China, restaurants have already begun to comply with the new rules. Some have set up scales at their entrance to give recommended food portion sizes to customers based on their weight. Meanwhile, others have promised to offer smaller-sized plates as an option.

One standard that many are seeking to enact is the “N-1” rule, which states that the number of dishes should be one less than the number of guests. The rule could be an attempt to curb a cultural practice that sees hosts ordering far more food than could be eaten in an effort to show off wealth.

Under the law, much of the blame towards a consumer wasting food is placed on restaurants, as there’s no clear cut fine for diners violating the law. Any establishment found allowing customers or misleading customers into ordering excessive amounts of food facing a $1550 fine. Showing content related to binge-eating could result in TV stations, online media companies, or even content creators facing a $16,000 fine.

Tuesday seems to have been the first time regulators went after a particular business, warning a Nanjing bakery to stop throwing away pastries that the business didn’t believe would sell because of visual defects. It has promised to donate them instead.

See what others are saying: (SCMP) (The Guardian) (Vice)

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