Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs.
United Kingdom: Harry Street
House prices across the UK rose significantly in August, according to a report published by Nationwide. A 2.1 per cent increase makes it the second largest monthly gain in 15 years, and is thought to have been driven by the stamp duty break, which is shortly coming to an end. Furthermore, low economic activity due to the pandemic has aided this sharp rise in house prices; as retail and other industries were closed for so long, household savings improved greatly. This meant that people had greater savings available to use for mortgages and purchasing properties, leading to a rise in demand and pushing house prices up. As the UK economy also shifts towards a more hybrid working style and home working becomes more popular, it is reshaping the property market, with fewer people renting in cities and moving to larger houses in suburbs and towns.
The Labour Party has urged Boris Johnson and the UK Government to act imminently on household energy prices, as they continue to surge and are now predicted to increase dramatically in the coming months. By October, millions of households will see increases in energy prices by at least 12 per cent, which will likely jump again in Spring 2022. The UK’s energy regulator, Ofgem, has confirmed the price cap will rise in October, matching the continually rising costs of wholesale gas and electricity. This large increase in energy bills is causing backlash from Labour, as Ed Miliband and many MPs have called on the government to make policy changes and move the country away from heavy reliance on volatile gas markets and move towards zero-carbon energy sources. This transition may prove to be more stable in costs for households and, therefore, help consumer spending.
Europe: Cameron Fulton
The Russian Central Bank reported concern over global inflation this week, stating that if not checked there could be a financial crisis like the heights of 2008. This comes as the Fed began to pull back from pandemic monetary stimulus with raised interest rates. The surge in public and private spending due to 18 months of loose worldwide monetary policy has seen debt levels rise exponentially. The Bank of Russia suggest annual world GDP growth could slow to just 1.1%, as high rates begin to bite into consumer confidence and cause a dumping of riskier assets. In July, the central bank governor, Elvira Nabiullina, spoke of Russian fears that inflation was here to stay and not a temporary issue as other European leaders believe.
Armin Laschet has begun a reboot of his faltering campaign to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor. He hired eight new expert advisors to help the CDU/CSU campaign, ranging in specialty topics such as climate change and security. Last week, polls for the first time in decades had their competitors, the SPD, as frontrunners for the election later this month. The party’s claws are out as Merkel criticised the SPD’s leader, Olaf Schulz, this week in a rare public attack, condemning his party for ruling out a coalition.
The Irish data regulator gave out a €225 million fine to WhatsApp this week, for breaking EU data privacy laws. This is one of the biggest fines given under EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in reaction to WhatsApp failing to inform users of data sharing with Facebook. The fine is four times the expected amount, after pressure from other EU countries for heavier sanctions.
India: Rudra Sen
India’s economy had shrunk by 24% in the second quarter last year due to the imposition of a nationwide lockdown. But this year, during the devastating second wave, India did not impose a nationwide lockdown and allowed more economic activity than last year. It has resulted in the GDP growing by 20.1% from April to June compared to the same period in 2020. Nonetheless, consumer spending and other key sectors are not seeing a rebound yet.
For the first time in its history, nine Supreme Court judges took oath on the same day. The Supreme Court will now have four women judges at the same time which sets another record. Additionally, Justice Nagarathna who was sworn in along with eight others is poised to become India’s first woman Chief Justice in September 2027. However, the current Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana noted that representation of women is only 11% on the bench of the Supreme Court and expressed his concerns on the challenges faced by women in the legal fraternity.
India’s ambassador to Qatar, Mittal met Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban’s political office at the request of the new Taliban regime. Although there have been informal meetings between the two parties in the recent past, this meeting was the first formal meeting. India raised its concerns regarding the possibility of anti-India activities and terror activities operated out of Afghanistan. It also discussed the safe return of stranded Indian citizens in Afghanistan back to India. On the other hand, the Taliban conveyed its intention to continue economic and political relations with India. The talks were described as ‘reasonable’ and ‘reassuring’ by India’s Foreign Secretary.
Africa: Laura da Silva
South Africa now has the highest unemployment rate in the world (33.2%), according to a list released by Bloomberg this past week. Similarly, Statistics South Africa released a report on Tuesday which documented a rise in joblessness from 32.6% in March to 34.4% in the second quarter of this year. Moreover, unemployment according to the expanded definition, which includes people available for work but not looking for a job, now sits at 44.4%. South Africa’s economy has been hard hit by strict lockdown measures which have dampened economic activity significantly throughout the pandemic. Further, the eruption of deadly riots in July centered in the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, two key economic hubs, saw thousands of businesses looted and many South Africans put out of work. In total, the violence cost the country around $3.3 billion in output and put 150,000 jobs at risk, according to the South African Property Owners Association. The rising unemployment rate certainly increases pressure on the South African government to extend economic relief measures, at a time when the country is already stretched thin as it struggles to flatten a third wave of covid-19 infections.
Tanzanian police have arrested nine members of the country’s main opposition party, Chadema, in the government’s latest attempt to muzzle calls for constitutional reform within Tanzania. These arrests follows the detention of Chadema leader, Freeman Mbowe, on terrorism charges in July. Mbowe is due to appear in the High Court on Monday, although his legal team has challenged the legality of the charge sheet in their most recent attempt to delay court proceedings. Chadema issued a statement in response to the nine-person arrest which condemns the government’s “violation of the constitution and rule of law”, and the “suppression of democratic rights” by the police and other security forces. Further, the opposition has said that the recent arrests and the standing terrorism and conspiracy charges against Mbowe show that President Samia Suluhu Hassan is continuing the oppressive rule of her late predecessor John Magufuli.
Middle East: Dhruv Shah
Considered the last anti-Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, resistance forces in the Panjshir Valley, have continued to fight back and deny the Taliban forces a claim to controlling the whole country. The resistance includes local former Afghan security force members along with local militias. Former vice president of Afghanistan sent the BBC a message stating “his forces will not surrender.” However, difficulties have grown as the Taliban have continued their onslaught towards retaking the smallest province, cutting off electricity and phone service to the region.
In what is considered the first high level official meeting between Israel and Palestine in seven years, both countries have met to discuss regional security issues and economic progress. The meeting was attended by Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinan president. In the meeting, Gantz stated that Israel’s new government is very much interested in providing critical support to Abbas, in his rivalry against the Hamas group, who currently controls the Gaza strip within Palestine.
Business: Aoife Doyle
Over 8,700 British high street retail stores, shopping centres and retail parks were closed in the first six months of 2021, research suggests. The figures were collected by the Local Data Company on behalf of PwC. The impact of the pandemic and changing shopping habits is substantial as an average of 50 outlets a day close. City centres are suffering the most, declining quicker than suburban areas as people working from home support these areas. Despite the lockdowns and closures of stores, retail parks have done best – many of which are anchored by supermarkets, DIY, and furniture stores that all did well during the pandemic. Footfall in these parks is back to pre-pandemic levels, suggesting shoppers are happier to drive to larger stores with more options than to visit High Streets and shops in cities.
Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford University drop-out, founded a company once valued at $9bn which claimed to be a revolutionary company, Theranos, in diagnosing disease. The Edison test claimed to detect conditions such as cancer and diabetes quickly with a few drops of blood without the need for needles and extended tests. In 2015 the technology was exposed as a fake and by 2018 the company she founded had collapsed. Her trial, US v Elizabeth Holmes, et al, will be closely followed as Holmes is expected to plead not guilty with her lawyers arguing that her ex-boyfriend and business partner, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani sexually abused and emotionally controlled her at the time, impairing her mental state.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
In Texas, one of the most restrictive abortion laws the state has ever seen has just been implemented – abortion is illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detected. This is usually around 6 weeks when few women usually know they’re even pregnant, with no exceptions caused by rape or incest. With the Supreme Court not blocking this law (which effectively ends the rights that Roe v Wade granted), this allows for more red states to follow in suit, with Mississippi already proposing a law that would make aboritons illegal after 15 weeks.
On September 3rd, protests took place across Kabul in support of women’s rights to work, study and to be included in the government. Even though these protests started as peaceful, they quickly turned violent when Taliban soldiers fired shots in the air and were spreading tear gas across the crowds. The Taliban has stated that they would protect women’s rights (which is an accordance with Sharia Law), many warn that they’re interpretation of women’s rights has been very extreme. When the Taliban took rule in the 1990s, women’s basic rights were stripped, banning them from all employment and prohibiting all education for nearly all women.
Science & Technology: Abi Byrne
In India a world first DNA COVID-19 vaccine has been authorised for emergency use. The ZyCoV-D vaccine, developed by Indian pharmaceutical company Zydus Cadila, makes use of plasmids (circular strands of DNA) to prime the human immune system against SARS-CoV-2. Interestingly, this vaccine is administered to the skin instead of an injection. This DNA vaccine is the first of its kind to be used on humans, and although it has a relatively low efficacy of 67%, many hope that this is only the start of a wave of new DNA vaccine technology which will be used to combat a host of other diseases.
A large international study has found that rogue self-targeting antibodies participated in almost one-fifth of all COVID-19 deaths. The study led by immunologist Jean-Laurent Casanova at Rockefeller University, found that about 10% of severe COVID-19 cases had autoantibodies – antibodies that turn on our own immune system by attacking type 1 interferons that play a key role in fighting viral infection. These autoantibodies are also sometimes present in the healthy population, but their prevalence increases massively with age, which partially explains the higher risk that COVID-19 poses to the elderly population.
In good news from the latest update of the official tally of endangered species, following a full decade of conservation efforts the number of tunas in our oceans has started to recover, after many fears that they were approaching extinction. This shows that concerted efforts to make fishing practices more sustainable can deliver positive results. Head of the IUCN Red List, Craig Hilton-Taylor said “The take home message for the general public is that things like albacore tuna – which is the one that is widely on supermarket shelves – is of least concern now – it means that what they’re eating has been sustainably caught and is well managed,”. However, whilst this is good news for tuna, most of our marine species continue to be under increasing pressure.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has come out with new numbers on the incidence of climate-related disasters and their economic costs. Their scientists have posted that the number of severe weather disasters has increased five times over the last five decades, and that over the same period, $3.6 trillion has been lost, and 2 million deaths have resulted. Right now, we are seeing the impacts of this severe weather. Hurricane Ida, the fifth-largest hurricane to hit land in the US, had a rapid intensification process, rising from a Category 1 to Category 4 storm over 24 hours. A recent paper has found that the likelihood of tropical cyclones to become a Category 3 or above has increased over the last decades as a result of global warming. As these disasters increase in severity and in frequency, the fact that only half of the 193 members of the WMO have multi-hazard early warning systems is a great cause for concern.