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European Countries Begin Issuing Digital COVID Vaccine Certificates for Travel

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The certificates are meant for use within the European Union and may eventually become available to vaccinated foreign travelers as well.


Digital Green Certificate

Some countries in the European Union began rolling out digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates on Tuesday.

The certificate is known officially as a digital green certificate and tracks whether someone has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, recovered from having the virus in the past, or tested negative within the last 72 hours. If at least one of those criteria is met, the person is free to travel within the E.U. So far, it’s only good in Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia, and Poland.

The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive body, plans for the system to be available for all 27 E.U. member nations starting July 1st. The bloc hopes that in the long-term, everyone within will have a certificate, and those who visit will be eligible for one upon arrival.

The certificates, beyond allowing someone into E.U. countries, may also have other benefits upon arrival in the near future, such as not needing to get a test or quarantine when entering a new E.U. nation.

The E.U.’s system currently is set up to specifically work within the bloc, but it could give a glimpse into how a so-called “vaccine passport” could work. Many nations, including the U.S., have suggested working with international partners on some kind of standard to prove someone is vaccinated to facilitate travel. To date, no widespread, multi-continent agreements have been made.

U.S. Inclusion

The first big step towards such a plan, beyond the E.U.’s efforts within the bloc, is among the U.S. and E.U.

The two are currently working on a system to verify the vaccinated status of Americans entering Europe to then qualify for the digital green certificate.

From the E.U.,’s perspective, secure verification is key to the system working. Its program uses QR codes “with a digital signature to protect it against falsification.” That signature is based on where the vaccine was given, as each institution has its own unique code and all of it is secured in databases within each nation. The difference in how it tracks vaccinations and testing versus how the U.S. does has been a sticking point in negotiations.

In the U.S, some states have considered digital passes to help prove vaccinated status. New York has the first actual program called the Excelsior Pass, and it’s billed as a way to easily attend events, games, and other activities that are likely to be highly attended. However, only 1.1 million passes have been downloaded by vaccinated residents out of the total 8.9 New Yorkers who are fully vaccinated.

Other states have done the exact opposite. Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia have all banned the use of vaccine passports, stifling efforts by states to enact a nationwide standard for use.

As the Biden administration continues negotiations, it’s possible that on July 1, vaccinated Americans will be allowed to travel to Europe without quarantining or virus testing.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The New York Times) (EU Digital COVID Certificate)

International

U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline

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There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.


Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations

A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.

The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.

The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.

The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.

It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.

When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.

Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.

More Ongoing Investigations

Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.

Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.

“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.

The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.

On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.

German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.

The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble

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A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.


A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes

The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.

Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.

At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.

Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.

“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.

He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.

“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.

The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.

Rescuers Race Against the Clock

After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.

Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.

In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.

With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.

In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.

The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Al Jazeera)

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Resigns

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“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now,” she said to reporters


Sturgeon Steps Down

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday. 

Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister and she is also the first woman to ever hold the position. She has been in politics since 1999, leading the charge for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Sturgeon also guided the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sturgeon made sure to mention that her decision was not in response to the latest round of political pressure she is facing after her recent controversies regarding gender reform. Rather, her reasons are rooted in her own personal struggle with whether she can continue to do the job well. 

 “To be clear, I am not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “My point is this – giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long.

For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long,” Sturgeon continued. “A First Minister is never off-duty. Particularly in this day and age, there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or going for a walk on your own becomes  very difficult.”

Sturgeon’s Political Future

Sturgeon’s approval ratings are reportedly the lowest they’ve been since she’s been in office. Regardless, many political figures in Scotland, as well as the U.K., have applauded her and her historic service as First Minister. 

There are still several unknowns moving forward. There is still no confirmation on who will take over the position. However, Sturgeon did say that she will serve until someone else is elected. 

The push for Scotland’s independence is hanging in limbo as well, and no one knows what it’ll look like without Sturgeon’s leadership. She did mention, however, that she does not intend to leave politics fully and will still fight for the cause as a lawmaker in Parliament. 

Sturgeon said the support for Scottish independence needs to be solidified and grow.

“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics,” she said. “And my judgment now is that this needs a new leader.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (The Washington Post)

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