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Peru has the world’s highest COVID death rate. Here’s why

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Peru has the world’s highest COVID death rate. Here’s why

Despite its remote location, the Peruvian city of Iquitos on the Amazon River was one of the first parts of the country to be hard hit by COVID-19.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

People in Iquitos, Peru, refer to their city as “una isla,” an island, even though it’s not an island. Iquitos is a port city of roughly 400,000 people on the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. Residents proudly note that it’s the largest city in the world that’s unreachable by road. You can only get there by boat or by plane.

In the early days of the COVID pandemic being isolated seemed like an advantage. It might delay the arrival of the virus. It might make it easier to contain. But that didn’t turn out to be the case for Iquitos.

The first COVID cases appeared in Iquitos in March of 2020 at a time when cases were starting to pop up in many parts of the world.

Raymond Portelli, priest and doctor, in his office in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru. In the early days of the pandemic, he says he wasn’t too worried about this new coronavirus. But his early optimism would quickly evaporate.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“We were hearing news about the pandemic in other countries,” says Catholic priest Raymond Portelli, who is also a physician. “But sincerely, we thought it wasn’t going to be that disastrous and it wasn’t going to come to Iquitos.”

The disaster unfolding in Iquitos would quickly play out across the South American nation. Peru’s death toll from COVID is now the worst in the world, far higher than any of its neighbors and twice the rate of the United States. In Peru COVID officially caused nearly 6,000 deaths for every 1 million Peruvians. In neighboring Ecuador the mortality rate is just over 1,800 per million. In the U.S. the COVID death rate is roughly 2,400 per million.

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Mariana Leguia, an infectious disease expert in Lima, says a combination of factors made COVID so deadly in Peru. “It was sort of a perfect storm,” says Leguia, who directs the genomics laboratory at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

COVID overtakes the ‘island’ city

Padre Raymundo, as he’s known, runs a medical clinic in Iquitos on the ground floor of his church 6 days a week.

“In the morning, I’m a doctor. And in the evening I’m a priest,” he says with a laugh.

In July 2020, priest and physician Raymond Portelli held a mass paying homage to local educators who died of COVID-19.

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Portelli, who’s originally from Malta, has been in Iquitos for the last 25 years.

He says that in those early days of the pandemic, he wasn’t too worried about this new coronavirus that was causing such a ruckus elsewhere in the world.

But that early optimism would quickly evaporate. On March 15, 2020, just as the first coronavirus cases started appearing in Iquitos, Peru went into a strict nationwide lockdown.

Flights linking Iquitos back to the capital were cancelled. Boat navigation on the Amazon River, the main source of traffic in and out of Iquitos, was also officially banned although some boats still moved surreptitiously on the massive murky brown waterway.

Raymond Portelli, priest and doctor, treats a patient in his clinic inside the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

Portelli says part of the problem at that point was that the region was also being hit with a spike in dengue cases.

“We were kind of like, ‘Is it dengue or is it something else?'” the doctor-priest says. “Then the whole thing erupted.”

Like much of the rest of Peru, Iquitos was ill-equipped to deal with an eruption of COVID cases. Doctors had no way to test for the virus. There was no known treatment.

Juan Carlos Celis Salinas, a doctor at the Loreto Regional Hospital, stands by a memorial to the medical staff who died from COVID-19 during the first wave in Iquitos, Peru.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

And at the time there were only 12 ICU beds in the vast Loreto Province, where Iquitos is the capital – an astonishingly low number for a region that stretches across 500 miles of rainforest, pushing up against Ecuador, Colombia and the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

Seven of those beds were at the Loreto Regional Hospital in Iquitos, which was designated as the hospital for treating COVID.

By mid-May of 2020 that hospital was on the verge of collapse. The hallways were filled with patients on Army cots.

Dr. Juan Carlos Celis Salinas inside a now empty COVID ward at the Iquitos Regional Hospital. In the early days of the pandemic, he says, that hospital was on the verge of collapse. Hallways were filled with patients on cots.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

Dr. Juan Carlos Celis Salinas, the head of infectious diseases at the hospital, says the facility was completely full. “Beds, beds, beds, beds,” Celis says, pointing out where cots had been set up in the main lobby of the hospital. Some people were even lying on cardboard on the floor.

Anatomy of Peru’s ‘Perfect Storm’

Mariana Leguia, the infectious disease expert at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, says part of the perfect storm that made COVID so bad in Peru was its dependence on imports. Like many middle-income countries, Peru doesn’t produce much of its own medical supplies.

“That means that all the PPE, all the tests, all the molecular tests, all the antibody tests, absolutely everything comes from someplace else,” she says. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it was basically impossible to compete for these things because everybody wanted them.”

Every country in the world was scrambling to buy up masks, protective gear, ventilators. Peru was not only competing against neighboring South American nations for pandemic supplies but against wealthy nations like Germany, the United States, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Peru didn’t have the cash or the clout to compete in that frantic market.

Other factors in Peru’s COVID storm were an underfunded public health-care system, overcrowded living conditions and a huge informal economy. An estimated 70% of Peruvians survive off informal jobs, making it nearly impossible for them to adhere to the nationwide lockdown. Nearly a quarter of Peru’s 33 million citizens live below the poverty line.

Boats anchored in the port of Indiana down the Amazon river from Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is only accessible by air or water. Residents thought that that isolation might slow the arrival of COVID-19, but that didn’t prove to be the case.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“So when the shutdown came, these people are completely out of a job,” notes Leguia. “In a situation like that, your priority becomes having something to eat for the day, not staying at home and trying not to get the virus.”

During the pandemic Peru also lacked the stable political leadership needed to address the crisis at home and negotiate for medical supplies from abroad.

“Last year, I think we had four presidents, five presidents. I lose count,” Leguia says. The correct number was four. But whether it was four or five, she says the political situation made it nearly impossible for the government to effectively respond to this huge medical, economic and social crisis. “Because there’s massive turnover of the authorities happening every three months,” she says.

This was the ultimate blow

The coup de grâce for Peru was a lack of oxygen. Peru not only didn’t have sufficient supplies of medical oxygen to treat patients, it had restrictive, cumbersome regulations on bottling oxygen that had limited the market to just a few local companies.

A shortage of oxygen contributed to Peru’s high death rate. Above: empty oxygen tanks in the medical office in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“In the context of the pandemic, the main driver of deaths was actually lack of oxygen,” says Leguia.

And that’s also what led to the avalanche of deaths in Iquitos, she says.

In Iquitos in early May of 2020, the sole oxygen plant at the regional hospital broke down.

Dr. Celis says it was the darkest moment of the pandemic.

“When a patient is without oxygen,” he says. “They don’t scream. They die as if a candle were being blown out.”

Patients who probably could have been saved just with supplemental oxygen instead slipped away, says Celis.

The surge in deaths led to chaos. The hospital’s morgue was full. The city’s crematorium also couldn’t keep up and eventually shut down. Mortuaries had been taking in bodies but then in the midst of the lockdown couldn’t schedule funerals. In addition, several funeral directors got infected and died.

A relative of a COVID-19 patient waits to try to refill a medical oxygen tank in Iquitos in mid-May of 2020. The main oxygen plant in the city broke down days earlier leading to a surge in COVID deaths.

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Cesar Von Bancels/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, staff at the hospital were working long shifts, sweating in the tropical heat with only a single mask. Doctors and nurses, including Celis, started getting infected. Sixteen staff members including 6 doctors from the hospital didn’t survive.

As oxygen tanks drained with no way to refill them, Celis says all his staff could do was try to make patients comfortable.

“You weren’t doing something heroic,” he says. “You were just resisting because you had to do your job. You felt responsible to be there but with this immense fear for your children, your wife, your family.”

A small miracle in Iquitos

In Iquitos, the story of an isolation center captures the mounting tragedy – and a possible path forward.

At that same time that the main hospital in Iquitos was overrun with COVID patients, Padre Raymundo Portelli was overseeing a church-run isolation center for what were supposed to be mild to moderate COVID cases.

“I was attending nearly 70 to 80 patients hospitalized there,” the doctor-priest says.

But more and more people kept testing positive. And many the patients in the isolation center were getting progressively sicker. Given that services at the main hospital had collapsed Portelli had nowhere to transfer them.

People wait outside the medical clinic of the priest and doctor, Raymond Portelli, located in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru. Portelli sees 30 patients a day and says he now rarely sees COVID cases.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

“Patients were dying for lack of oxygen,” he says. “And I was sitting here, I remember I’d said mass for them. But I didn’t know what to do.”

Then a friend in Lima suggested that Portelli should take up a collection to buy a new oxygen plant and bring it to Iquitos. Portelli laughs as he recalls the conversation. He was skeptical. He didn’t know how much an oxygen bottling plant would cost, or even if he could get hold of the industrial compressors and other materials needed for one as it was becoming clear around the world that oxygen was a key treatment for COVID. Nonetheless, he posted a request for donations on his Facebook page.

“And in one day, one day! there was a million soles in my accounts.” Portelli was amazed.

Volunteers sort medicines that are distributed free of charge at a medical clinic in the San Martin de Porres church in Iquitos, Peru. The pastor of the church was instrumental in bringing in a desperately-needed oxygen plant to the city in the worst days of the COVID pandemic.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

A million Peruvian soles is about $250,000. Within two weeks Padre Raymundo along with the local health department had bought the equipment in Lima for a new bottling plant, arranged to fly it to Iquitos and assembled it at the regional hospital. At first the demand for oxygen was so great from health workers and citizens lining up with cannisters for a sick family member that the city had to station police officers at the plant to keep a semblance of order.

Padre Raymundo’s fundraiser continued, and he eventually raised enough money for four more plants for Iquitos.

Health authorities also built a temporary 150-bed COVID ward on what used to be a soccer field behind the regional hospital. It wasn’t finished until after the first wave of the pandemic had subsided over several months, hitting a low in November. But Dr. Celis says it was literally a lifesaver during the second wave that swept in to the Amazon region in January 2021.

A mixed forecast for the future

Peru’s second wave of cases peaked in April of this year. Cases and deaths have now plateaued at relatively levels. Health officials say they’ve been bracing for a third wave that so far hasn’t arrived. The problem now, Dr. Celis says, is that the regional hospital is once again packed … but not with COVID patients. People with cancer, HIV, TB and other medical issues who’d put off seeking care for months are streaming in for care.

Yet the hospital has far fewer staff to treat them.

“Medical staff is not something that’s increased,” Celis says. “It’s decreased. Doctors have died. Nurses have died. And people are exhausted. Some don’t want to be in high risk areas anymore. So instead of more health personnel, you have less.”

The problem isn’t just in Iquitos. The first two waves of COVID were incredibly lethal in Peru. Despite having a population that’s less than half the size of the United Kingdom, Peru’s registered 50,000 more deaths than the U.K. The pandemic so far has killed more than 200,000 people in the South American nation.

The Violeta Carrera neighborhood in Iquitos, Peru. Crowded living conditions contributed to the rapid spread of the coronavirus across Peru.

Angela Ponce for NPR

Angela Ponce for NPR

The impact of the pandemic on families who lost loved ones and on Peru as a whole will likely be felt for years. The novel coronavirus exposed and exploited the vulnerabilities in the emerging South American country.

Despite this, Padre Raymundo says people are eager to move on.

“They want to forget,” he says. Forget the wave of death that arrived just a matter of weeks after many people in the city first heard about a disease called COVID-19 that was spreading thousands of miles away in Asia.

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Crypto enthusiasts want to buy an NBA team, after failing to purchase US Constitution

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Crypto enthusiasts want to buy an NBA team, after failing to purchase US Constitution

The Krause House DAO is a group organized by cryptocurrency fans that is raising money to attempt to purchase an NBA franchise.

Krause House DAO

Krause House DAO

Thousands of cryptocurrency investors recently raised more than $40 million and nearly — but ultimately fell short of — purchasing a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Now, a separate group of crypto fans is building momentum with another acquisition target: An NBA franchise.

In both cases, the crypto enthusiasts organized under what’s known as a decentralized autonomous organization, or a DAO, which is an online group with a collective bank account and a mission statement.

Calling itself Krause House DAO, a reference to the late Chicago Bulls general manager, Jerry Krause, the group of some 2,000 members raised the equivalent of $4 million U.S. in the cryptocurrency Ethereum in six days. The crowdfunding, in the form of an NFT sale, ended Thursday morning.

The idea isn’t exactly a slam dunk yet.

For one thing, it is no where in the universe of what the group would need to place a credible bid on even the least-valuable NBA team (The Memphis Grizzlies, estimated to be valued around $1.3 billion).

Second, convincing the NBA to be open to a collectively-controlled crypto investment might not be the easiest sales pitch.

Organizers of Krause House DAO are asking the public to please refrain from laughing.

“We understand the reader’s first instinct may be to scoff at this and say owners will never let this happen,” reads the group’s so-called “flightpaper,” a nod to the more traditional white paper research report.

“It’s important to understand that there was a time not too long ago where players were at the same place on the totem pole where fans are today,” it says. “There’s no reason fans can’t do the same if organized correctly.”

A co-creator of Krause House DAO, speaking to NPR only by his pseudonym on the social network Discord, said the money raised so far will be invested into future projects focused on becoming a serious NBA team bidder one day. The exact plan for all the new cash is light on specifics, however.

Members of the group will vote on where the money should be spent. The ultimate aim is to be able to prove to franchise owners that a DAO can be an effective way to run a professional basketball team.

In its Discord community, organizers sign off from updates about the group with “WAGBAT,” which stands for: “We are going to buy a team.”

The pandemic ushered in a new generation of crypto investors, but there were few ways to use the newfound riches. Some turned to acquiring NFTs — a kind of limited-edition digital collectible — but now there is a growing push to move on to loftier ideas, like trying to help create the next version of the Internet. This, dubbed Web3, seeks to give collective control of major online sites to the crypto masses. A DAO is part of that utopian dream, only now hoping for collective ownership of things in the real world, like an NBA team.

Investor Michael Lewkowitz, who put the equivalent of $100,000 into Krause House DAO, dismissed questions about whether the effort is just the latest crypto community publicity stunt.

“Kraus House is absolutely serious,” Lewkowitz said in an interview. “We’re used to thinking about a billionaire buying a team as a one-time event. But this will be different. It’s about people coming together and taking ownership of something they’re really passionate about. Sports should be in the hands of people who care most about it.”

In some ways, the DAO community is still licking its wounds from the ConstitutionDAO flop.

That group, which bid on a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution, has decided to dissolve, with investors now attempting to recoup as much of their money back as possible, some of which having been gobbled up by notoriously-high transaction costs known as gas fees.

But Lewkowitz, who invested in ConstitutionDAO, sees a silver lining. No surprise, since crypto fanatics tends to be an enthusiastic and optimistic lot.

“You can see it as a bid that was lost, or you can view it as thousands of people who came together around a common cause and almost doing something amazing,” Lewkowitz said.

While crypto fans taking control of an NBA franchise may be a pipedream right now, the group’s members do now have NFTs, of course.

With the NFTs, which are images that resemble a tickets to an an imaginary Krause House basketball game, comes voting power in the community, in the form of a $KRAUSE token.

But the disclaimer on the page, the proverbial fine print, concedes to what may be the end result of this movement.

“Neither this ticket NFT nor $KRAUSE are a promise for future ownership of a team,” says the group’s site.

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India’s farmers faced down a popular prime minister and won. What will they do now?

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India’s farmers faced down a popular prime minister and won. What will they do now?

Supporters of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a group of farmers’ organizations, hold flags during a protest to mark one year since the introduction of divisive farm laws and to demand the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill, in Hyderabad, India, on Thursday.

Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

GHAZIPUR BORDER, New Delhi — Every day for the past year, a sugarcane farmer in a bright-green turban has been chanting prayers inside a bamboo tent erected in the middle of a highway on the Indian capital’s outskirts.

Ramkumar Pagdiwale, who is in his 50s, has built a little shrine in this sprawling protest camp, with jars of water from the Ganges River, soil from his farm about 30 miles away and an oil lamp that holds special meaning for him. It belonged to his ancestors.

“This is an eternal flame that’s been burning continuously since 1947, during India’s fight for independence,” he explains. “It guides us during protest movements.”

Ramkumar Pagdiwale, a sugarcane farmer from India’s Uttar Pradesh state, has built a little shrine inside his bamboo tent at a protest camp erected in the middle of a highway on the eastern outskirts of India’s capital.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

This week, Pagdiwale believes the lamp brought good fortune again. On Wednesday, India’s Cabinet ratified the repeal of three controversial agriculture laws the farmers have been protesting against for the past year.

They’ve held tractor rallies, blocked highways and built encampments like the one Pagdiwale has been living in. Friday is the first anniversary of their mobilization — which morphed into the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule.

“A ruler needs to think about his subjects. But Modi didn’t consult us,” Pagdiwale says. “He brought these laws and thought no one would raise their voice?”

Now, with Modi backing down and repealing the laws, some farmers are packing up and going back to their fields. Others say they’ll hunker down and make more demands.

Theirs was a victory for nonviolent resistance, farmers say. Even as India tops lists of countries where democracy is backsliding, it’s a rare example of a popular grassroots movement effecting political change.

But analysts say Modi’s turnaround is also an astute political move, which could strengthen his hand in the end.

Portraits of famous Indian social reformers hang on the walls of an assembly tent in Ghazipur, eastern Delhi. The portraits include farmers during the struggle for India’s independence, as well as B.R. Ambedkar, a Dalit scholar (formerly known as “untouchable”) who was the chief author of India’s constitution.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Farmers mobilized the biggest challenge yet to a popular prime minister’s rule

Passed by parliament in September 2020, the three farm laws sought to deregulate Indian agriculture, lifting government supervision of crop sales and allowing corporations to negotiate directly with farmers. The government called them much-needed free market reforms. But many farmers feared they would cut into their already meager profits and favor big businesses instead.

In response, farmers waged one of the largest civil disobedience campaigns since India won its independence from Britain. More than half of Indians — as many as 800 million people — make a living, directly or indirectly, from farming.

Many of them are poor. Rising fertilizer, pesticide and seed prices have left a growing number of farmers in debt. There’s been an epidemic of farmer suicides.

But India’s farmers are the biggest agriculture workforce in the world. And when they gathered by the hundreds of thousands in the streets, they grabbed attention.

In January, India’s Supreme Court suspended the farm laws’ implementation, ordering the government to negotiate with farm unions. Then this month, Modi — India’s most popular prime minister in decades — capitulated.

“This is a great victory of the nonviolent people’s struggle, following the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi,” Medha Patkar, a renowned Indian social reformer, tells NPR by phone from her base in rural Maharashtra state.

Gandhi used nonviolent protest to fight a colonial power. The farmers used it to fight a powerful government that passed agriculture reform without consulting them.

“Across the world, democratic governance is collapsing. Yet we always have a ray of hope,” Patkar says. “Capitalist forces are challenged, and that challenge, in India, is coming from our farmers and laborers.”

Sparse crowds earlier this week at an assembly of farmer protesters in Ghazipur, eastern Delhi. Friday marks the first anniversary of the farmer protests.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

While the protesters were overwhelmingly nonviolent, some of their rallies were marred by clashes. On Jan. 26 — Republic Day, a national holiday — protesting farmers broke through police barricades in Delhi and scrambled atop the 17th century Red Fort, waving flags. Police charged after them, beating protesters with bamboo rods called lathis and firing tear gas. One farmer died in the chaos.

In October, the son of one of Modi’s government ministers allegedly rammed his father’s car into a crowd of farmer protesters, killing four of them. The politician’s son was arrested. The incident became a rallying cry for farmers and their supporters.

But while farmers celebrate their victory this week, analysts say there may be a silver lining for the prime minister, too.

Some see the government’s response as a shrewd political move

Elections are expected in early 2022 in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and in Punjab, another northern state. Both are agricultural bases where farmers have held huge protest rallies, and where farm unions hold sway. (Many farmers in other states, by contrast, have not been as involved in the anti-government protests; some even quietly supported the farm laws.)

While Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, is the incumbent power in Uttar Pradesh, farmers and observers say the party has been hemorrhaging support in farming areas in southern and western parts of the state.

“As the elections come closer, I think the government realized that they would have to give in,” development economist Jayati Ghosh, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, tells NPR during a recent visit to Delhi.

Likewise in Punjab, an opposition-ruled state, the BJP had little hope of making inroads without farmers’ votes. Punjab is known as India’s breadbasket, where rice and wheat farmers supply a disproportionate share of the country’s food staples. It’s also a Sikh-majority state, unlike most of India, which has a Hindu majority.

Pro-farmer graffiti on a highway barricade near Ghazipur, where Indian farmers have been camping out for a year, protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farm laws.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Modi first announced his intention to repeal the laws on Nov. 19 — a major Sikh holiday.

“This is entirely electoral. This is catering to the voters of Punjab, which has been the center of the farmers’ agitation,” Ghosh says. “[Modi] wants to wipe away the very bitter memory the farmers have of his own words. He called them ‘professional agitators.’ His ministers called them anti-national, disorderly. All kinds of abuse was thrown their way. He wants to make everyone forget this before the elections.”

As the BBC has reported, digital investigators also uncovered a network of fake social media profiles that sought to slander Sikhs and boost the image of the Indian government during the farmers’ protests. It bears the hallmark of previous BJP disinformation campaigns, though there is no evidence of a link and the government refused to comment on the report.

In his Nov. 19 speech, Modi called the farmers his “brothers.”

“I apologize to the people of the country with a true and pure heart,” Modi said in a televised speech. “There must have been some deficiency in our efforts that we could not convince some farmers.”

It was an apology some found ambiguous. But Modi may be hoping it helps win over farmers in the key states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. If it does, his farm laws may go down in history as the collateral damage of a turnaround that helps Modi solidify even more power.

Farmers aren’t sure whether to forgive the prime minister

Pagdiwale, the sugarcane farmer, says he’s unsure whether Modi’s apology is enough to win his vote. He’s from Uttar Pradesh and voted for the BJP once in the past, he says. Now he’s undecided.

“If this administration is ready to listen to farmers going forward, we can consider voting for them,” Pagdiwale says. “But if they come up with any such harsh laws for farmers in the future, then they will again lose our respect.”

Many economists say Indian agriculture is still in desperate need of reform. It employs about 60% of Indians, but amounts to less than 15% of the country’s gross domestic product. It’s possible that Modi’s government will come up with subsequent agriculture bills. But farmers will likely be wary.

Ramkumar Pagdiwale, in a green turban, smokes a traditional hookah pipe from his home state of Uttar Pradesh. Pagdiwale is a sugarcane farmer who’s spent the past year camping out in the Indian capital, protesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new farm laws.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Meanwhile, farm unions still have one big unmet demand around the issue of minimum support prices.

Currently, the government sets minimum prices for 22 crops that are considered staples, including wheat and rice. But it’s not technically illegal to sell those crops below the minimum support price, or MSP. Farmers want MSPs written into law, and better enforced. (With lax oversight, some wholesaler buyers ignore the minimum prices and cheat farmers into selling their crops at lower rates, often at a loss.) Some farmers also want the list of eligible crops expanded beyond those 22 staples.

Ghosh, the economist, says it’s a reasonable request. But she doubts the government will agree. She thinks Modi’s apology may be as far as he’s willing to go.

“I am amazed that the farmers have managed to win so far against an intransigent government that never likes to admit defeat. So they have achieved a lot. But will they be able to push the MSP into law? I doubt it,” Ghosh says. “The government may do the classic moves of governments that feel cornered: They will set up a committee, they will have discussions, they will prolong the whole thing — and focus on winning elections.”

Some farmers say they won’t budge from their protest camps until their MSP demands are met. But others are already packing up.

Farmers are deciding whether to stay in their protest camps or go home

The protest camp in Ghazipur, on the eastern edge of Delhi, may take some time to disassemble. There are thousands of tents, with tens of thousands of cots and sleeping bags. There are several mess tents with kitchens, and even a laundry station. Women hang clothes to dry on the edge of a highway flyover. Water tanker trucks deliver fresh supplies.

Residents say that at its fullest, the camp hosted more than 2 million farmers. Two even larger camps lie to the city’s north and west. The camps have been supported by donations to farmer groups and Sikh temples from as far away as California.

Scenes from a farmers’ protest camp on the eastern outskirts of India’s capital. At its fullest, residents say this camp held more than 2 million farmers. But crowds have thinned after a year of protests, and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi capitulated to the farmers’ demands, and indicated he will repeal three controversial farm laws.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Lauren Frayer/NPR

But when NPR visited this week, the Ghazipur camp had emptied. Only a few hundred farmers remained. They’re holding assemblies there this weekend to plan their next moves.

“Modi is thinking only about the elections. Maybe he’s thinking of power. But we are thinking about the country,” says Pardeep Hooda, 42, who hails from a farming family in Haryana state and works in the seed business.

He says he’s unsure whether to stay or go home.

“I will miss all these friends! It’s been one year. Now these [fellow farmers] are like my family,” Hooda says. “This has been the best year of my life. It really educated me how to fight, and how to live.”

Freelance producer Runjhun Sharma assisted with this report from New Delhi.

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More veterans with PTSD will soon get help from service dogs. Thank the ‘PAWS’ Act

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More veterans with PTSD will soon get help from service dogs. Thank the ‘PAWS’ Act

Danyelle Clark-Gutierrez and her service dog, Lisa, shop for food at a grocery store. Clark-Gutierrez got the yellow Labrador retriever to help her cope with post-traumatic stress disorder after she experienced military sexual trauma while serving in the Air Force.

Stephanie O’Neill for KHN

Stephanie O’Neill for KHN

It’s supper time in the Whittier, California, home of Air Force Veteran Danyelle Clark-Gutierrez. Eagerly awaiting a bowl of kibble and canned dog food is Lisa, a three-year-old, yellow Labrador Retriever.

Lisa almost dances with excitement, her nails clicking on the kitchen floor. In this moment, she appears more like an exuberant puppy than an expensive, highly-trained service animal. But that’s exactly what Lisa is, and she now helps Clark-Gutierrez manage her post-traumatic stress symptoms in the day-to-day.

KHN logo

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News.

“Having her now, it’s like I can go anywhere,” Clark-Gutierrez says. “And yes, if somebody did come at me, I’d have warning; I could run.”

A growing body of research into PTSD and service animals paved the way for President Joe Biden to sign into law the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act. The legislation, enacted in August, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to open its service dog referral program to veterans with PTSD, and to launch a five-year pilot program in which veterans with PTSD help train service dogs for other veterans.

Clark-Gutierrez, 33, is among the 1 in 4 female vets who’ve reported experiencing military sexual trauma (MST) while serving in the U.S. Armed Services.

MST, combat violence and brain injuries are among the experiences that put service personnel at greater risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The symptoms include flashbacks to the traumatic event, severe anxiety, nightmares and hypervigilance. Psychologists note that such symptoms are actually a normal reaction to experiencing or witnessing such violence. A diagnosis of PTSD happens when the symptoms get worse or remain for months or years.

A search for help leads to Lisa

That’s what happened to Clark-Gutierrez after ongoing sexual harassment by a fellow airman escalated to a physical attack about a decade ago. The lawyer and mother of three says she always needed her husband by her side in order to feel safe leaving home. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) prescribed her a cascade of medications after diagnosing her with PTSD. At one point, Clark-Gutierrez says, she was prescribed more than a dozen pills a day.

“I had medication and then I had medication for the two or three side effects for each medication,” she says. “And every time they gave me a new med, they had to give me three more. I just couldn’t do it anymore, I was just getting so tired, so we started looking at other therapies.”

And that’s how she got her service dog, Lisa. Her husband, also an Air Force veteran, found the non-profit group, K9s for Warriors, which rescues dogs – many from kill shelters – and turns them into service animals for veterans with PTSD. Lisa is one of about 700 dogs the group has paired with veterans dealing with on-going symptoms caused by traumatic experiences in the past.

“Now with Lisa we take bike rides, we go down to the park; we go to Home Depot,” says Clark-Gutierrez. “I go grocery shopping – normal-people things that I get to do that I didn’t get to do before Lisa.”

Research show service dogs relieve PTSD symptoms

That comes as no surprise to Maggie O’Haire, an associate professor of Human-Animal Interaction at Purdue University. Her ongoing research suggests while service dogs aren’t necessarily a cure for PTSD, they do ease its symptoms. Her published studies include one showing veterans partnered with these dogs experience less anger and anxiety and get better sleep than those without. Another one suggests service dogs improve cortisol levels in traumatized veterans.

“We actually saw patterns of that stress hormone that were more similar to healthy adults who don’t have post-traumatic stress disorder,” O’Haire says.

A congressionally-mandated VA study, published earlier this year on the impact of service dogs on veterans with PTSD suggests those who partnered with these animals have less suicidal ideation and more symptom improvement than those without them.

Until now, the federal dog referral program – which relies on non-profit service dog organizations to pay for these dogs and to provide them to veterans for free – required that the veteran have a physical mobility issue, such as a lost limb, paralysis or blindness, in order to participate. Those with PTSD but without a physical disability, such as Clark-Gutierrez, were on their own in qualifying and arranging for a service dog.

Training for PTSD service dogs costs about $25,000

The new effort created by the federal law will be offered at five VA medical centers nationwide, in partnership with accredited service dog training organizations – to give veterans with PTSD the chance to train mental health service dogs for fellow veterans. It’s modeled on an existing program at the Palo Alto, Calif. VA.

“This bill is really about therapeutic on-the-job training, or ‘training the trainer,'” says Adam Webb, spokesman for Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who introduced the legislation. “We don’t anticipate VA will start prescribing PTSD service dogs, but the data we generate from this pilot program will likely be useful in making that case in the future.”

The Congressional Budget Office expects the federal pilot program will cost the VA about $19 million. The law stops short of requiring the VA to pay for the dogs. Instead, the agency will partner with accredited service dog organizations which use private money to cover the cost of adoption, training and pairing the dogs with veterans.

Still, the law marks a welcomed about-face in VA policy, says K9s For Warriors CEO Rory Diamond.

“For the last ten years the VA has essentially told us that they don’t recognize service dogs as helping a veteran with post traumatic stress,” Diamond says.

For vets with PTSD, a service dog is like a ‘battle buddy’ for life

PTSD service dogs are often confused with emotional support dogs, Diamond says. The latter provide companionship and are not trained in a specific task to support a disability. PTSD service dogs, by contrast, cost about $25,000 to adopt and train a dog to understand dozens of general commands to assist veterans with PTSD and then to further train it for the needs of the particular veteran, he says.

“So ‘cover’ for example,” Diamond says, “The dog will sit next to the warrior, look behind them and alert them if someone comes up from behind. Or ‘block’ so they’ll stand perpendicular and give them some space from whatever’s in front of them.”

Army Master Sergeant David Crenshaw, of New Jersey says his service dog, Doc, a German short-haired pointer and Labrador mix, has changed his life.

“We teach in the military to have a battle buddy. Your battle buddy is that person you can call on any time of the day or night to get you out of every sticky situation,” Crenshaw says. “And these service animals act as a battle buddy.”

Just how much that’s true became evident to Crenshaw a few months ago. Because of persistent hypervigilance that’s part of his combat-caused PTSD, Crenshaw always avoided large gatherings. But this summer, Doc helped him successfully navigate big crowds at Disney World – a significant first for Crenshaw and his family.

“I was not agitated. I was not anxious. I was not upset,” Crenshaw, 39, says. “It was truly, truly amazing and so much so that I didn’t even have to even stop to think about it in the moment. It just happened naturally.”

PTSD rates vary among veterans of different wars

Crenshaw says because of Doc, he no longer takes any of his PTSD medications and he no longer uses alcohol to self-medicate. Clark-Gutierrez says Lisa, too, has helped her to quit using alcohol she long-relied upon and to stop taking VA-prescribed medications for panic attacks, nightmares and periods of disassociation.

“Lisa checks on me all the time,” Clark-Gutierrez says. “If she sees that I’m just kind of out of it, she’ll (do) whatever she has to do to bring me back. I can’t even put into words how helpful that is.”

We actually save the VA money over time,” Diamond says. “Our warriors are far less likely to be on expensive prescription drugs, are far less likely to use other VA services and far more likely to go to school or go to work. So it’s a win, win, win across the board.

The number of veterans with PTSD varies by war with up to 20 percent of those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq having the condition in any given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

This story was produced as part of NPR’s health reporting partnership with KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues.

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The EU wants to stop flights from southern Africa over a new COVID variant

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The EU wants to stop flights from southern Africa over a new COVID variant

A young woman reacts as she receives a Pfizer jab against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Denis Farrell/AP

Denis Farrell/AP

BRUSSELS — The European Union said Friday it is planning to stop air travel from southern Africa to counter the spread of a new COVID-19 variant as the 27-nation bloc is battling a massive spike in cases.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region.”

A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Germany said von der Leyen’s proposal could be enacted as soon as Friday night. Spahn said airlines coming back from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens home, and travelers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not.

Germany has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed the mark of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday.

A fourth spike of the coronavirus is hitting the 27-nation EU especially badly, with governments scrambling to tighten restrictions in an attempt to contain spread. The flight ban proposal came in the wake of similar action from Britain on Thursday.

The U.K. announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the dominant delta strain, and “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective” against it.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, he said.

The World Health Organization’s technical working group is to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.

The World Health Organization says coronavirus infections jumped 11% in Europe in the past week, the only region in the world where COVID-19 continues to rise. The WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned that without urgent measures, the continent could see another 700,000 deaths by the spring.

The EU’s emergency brake mechanism has been set up to deal with such emergencies.

Where the epidemiological situation of a third country or region worsens quickly, in particular if a variant of concern or of interest has been detected, member states should adopt an urgent, temporary restriction on all travel into the EU. This emergency brake should not apply to EU citizens, long-term EU residents and certain categories of essential travelers, who should nevertheless be subject to appropriate testing and quarantine measures, even if fully vaccinated.

Such restrictions should be reviewed at least every two weeks.

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New coronavirus variant in South Africa raises concern

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New coronavirus variant in South Africa raises concern

A vile containing Pfizer vaccine to be administered is seen ahead of the launch of the VaxuMzansi National Vaccine Day Campaign in South Africa on Sept. 24, 2021.

Rajesh Jantilal /Getty Images

Rajesh Jantilal /Getty Images

Virologists are rushing to learn more about a variant of the Covid-19 virus that was first identified in Botswana, and which is rapidly outcompeting other versions of the virus in the region of South Africa that includes Johannesburg.

The variant, currently denominated B.1.1.529, reportedly has twice as many of the mutations displayed by the Delta variant, which became the dominant variant in most of the world over the summer.

It’s not clear yet whether the mutations make this variant more infectious or whether it causes more severe illness, but researchers say the high number of mutations to the “spike proteins” — the focus of a body’s immune response — may make it more able to get past the body’s defenses.

Despite the spread of this variant, the number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa is still well below the Delta surge earlier this year. But numbers are beginning to tick up again.

Until more is known about the variant, health authorities in the United Kingdom are taking the precaution of cancelling flights from the six countries in southern Africa, adding them to the country’s “red list” for travelers.

The World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the variant. If it’s determined to be of special interest or concern, it’s likely to be named “Nu,” the next Greek letter in the current naming scheme.

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The woman from National Geographic’s famous ‘Afghan Girl’ photo is evacuated to Italy

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The woman from National Geographic’s famous ‘Afghan Girl’ photo is evacuated to Italy

In this file photo from 2016, a bookshop owner in Pakistan shows a National Geographic magazine with the cover photograph of Afghan refugee woman Sharbat Gula. She arrived in Italy as part of the West’s evacuation of Afghans following the Taliban takeover of the country, the Italian government said Thursday. The office of Premier Mario Draghi said she asked to be helped to leave the country.

B.K. Bangash/AP

B.K. Bangash/AP

ROME — National Geographic magazine’s famed green-eyed “Afghan Girl” has arrived in Italy as part of the West’s evacuation of Afghans following the Taliban takeover of the country, the Italian government said Thursday.

The office of Premier Mario Draghi said Italy organized the evacuation of Sharbat Gula after she asked to be helped to leave the country. The Italian government will now help to get her integrated into life in Italy, the statement said.

National Geographic’s famed green-eyed “Afghan Girl” Sharbat Gula poses for a photo in 2016. The office of Premier Mario Draghi said the Italian government will now help to welcome her and get her integrated into her new life in Italy.

Rahmat Gul/AP

Rahmat Gul/AP

Gula gained international fame in 1984 as an Afghan refugee girl, after war photographer Steve McCurry’s photograph of her, with piercing green eyes, was published on the cover of National Geographic. McCurry found her again in 2002.

In 2014, she surfaced in Pakistan but went into hiding when authorities accused her of buying a fake Pakistani identity card and ordered her deported. She was flown to Kabul where the president hosted a reception for her at the presidential palace and handed her keys to a new apartment.

Italy was one of several Western countries that airlifted hundreds of Afghans out of the country following the departure of U.S. forces and the Taliban takeover in August.

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A complete guide to what is — and isn’t — open this Thanksgiving Day

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A complete guide to what is — and isn’t — open this Thanksgiving Day

Shoppers wear protective face masks as they look for Black Friday deals at the Ellenton Premium Outlet stores Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ellenton, Fla.

Chris O’Meara/AP

Chris O’Meara/AP

Last year, stores, major retailers and fast-food chains closed their doors on Thanksgiving Day due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And for the second year in a row, the majority of major retailers and food places will keep their stores closed on Thursday.

Target announced Monday that its stores will no longer open on Thanksgiving Day — a move that started out last year as a one-off due to the pandemic but that is now a permanent change.

“What started as a temporary measure driven by the pandemic is now our new standard — one that recognizes our ability to deliver on our guests’ holiday wishes both within and well beyond store hours,” Target CEO Brian Cornell explained in a note to employees, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier this year, Walmart announced that its stores will be closed for Thanksgiving Day, as a “thank you” to all its associates for their hard work during the pandemic, said Dacona Smith, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Walmart U.S.

Other big retail chains, such as Best Buy, JCPenney and Kohl’s have also announced they will be closed this Thanksgiving — pushing instead for customers to start this year’s Black Friday shopping online.

Here’s a list of stores that will have will be closed this Thanksgiving Day, according to the website The Black Friday:

  • Abt Electronics
  • Academy Sports
  • Ace Hardware
  • Acme Tools
  • Ashley Furniture
  • At Home
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bealls
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Belk
  • Best Buy
  • Big 5 Sporting Goods
  • BJ’s
  • Blain’s Farm & Fleet
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Boscov’s
  • Build-A-Bear Workshop
  • Burlington
  • Campmor
  • Christmas Tree Shops
  • Christopher and Banks
  • Conn’s Home Plus
  • Costco
  • Dunham’s Sports
  • Farm & Home Supply
  • Five Below
  • Fleet Farm
  • Fred Meyer
  • GameStop
  • Guitar Center
  • Half Price Books
  • Harbor Freight
  • HEB
  • Hobby Lobby
  • Home Depot
  • IKEA
  • JCPenney
  • Joann
  • Jos A. Bank
  • Kohl’s
  • La-Z Boy
  • Lowe’s
  • Macy’s
  • Menards
  • Michaels
  • Micro Center
  • Music & Arts
  • NEX Navy Exchange
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom

This year, we’ll be closing Walmart U.S. stores on Thanksgiving as a way to thank our associates for their hard work throughout the pandemic. Read more: https://t.co/HrB0LvY12k pic.twitter.com/332pqGlTjC

— Walmart Inc. (@WalmartInc) June 4, 2021

  • Nordstrom Rack
  • Northern Tool & Equipment
  • Office Depot
  • Office Max
  • Old Navy
  • Paper Store
  • PC Richard & Son
  • Pet Supplies Plus
  • Petco
  • PetSmart
  • Pier1
  • Publix
  • REI
  • Sam’s Club
  • Sears
  • Sears Outlet
  • Sportsman’s Warehouse
  • Staples
  • Sur La Table
  • Target
  • Tractor Supply Co.
  • True Value
  • Ulta Beauty
  • Under Armour
  • Value City Furniture
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Walmart
  • West Marine
  • World Market

While most major retailers will have their doors closed Thursday, stores such as CVS, Whole Foods and Dollar Tree will remain open but with modified hours for customers.

Here’s a look at stores that will stay open on Thanksgiving Day:

  • Bass Pro Shops
  • Big Lots
  • CVS Pharmacy
  • Cabela’s
  • Dollar General
  • Family Dollar
  • Kmart
  • Meijer
  • Olympia Sports
  • PepBoys
  • Rite Aid
  • Rural King Supply
  • Walgreens

Retailers and other businesses, depending on the state, may have special rules and precautions in place due to COVID-19.

And if you’re not in the mood to cook this Thanksgiving, heads up — you may have slim pickings for choices, as some major restaurants and fast-food places are closed for business.

Here’s a list of restaurants and food chains that will stay open on Thanksgiving Day:

(Note: Depending on the location and region, some franchises will be open)

  • Bonefish Grill
  • Carrabba’s Italian Grill
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill
  • Chuck E. Cheese
  • Church’s Chicken
  • First Watch
  • Little Caesars
  • Olive Garden
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Panera Bread
  • Peet’s Coffee
  • P.F. Chang’s
  • Red Lobster
  • Taco Bell
  • Tijuana Flats

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Why Sen. Rubio is stalling Biden’s pick for ambassador to China

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Why Sen. Rubio is stalling Biden’s pick for ambassador to China

Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has placed a hold on President Biden’s pick to be the U.S. ambassador to China. Here’s what means for U.S. diplomacy.


ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tensions are high right now between the U.S. and China, but President Biden does not have an ambassador in Beijing because a key Republican senator is stalling his pick. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Three months ago, Biden nominated Nicholas Burns to represent him in Beijing. He’s a veteran diplomat and a former ambassador to NATO, who’s well-regarded in both parties. But Republican Senator Marco Rubio is standing in his way. The Florida senator told NPR that Burns won’t be tough enough on the Chinese Communist Party.

MARCO RUBIO: He’s kind of an old-school diplomat trained in the ways of a failed bipartisan consensus that’s put us at this point.

ORDOÑEZ: Rubio is known for his hard line on China. He said a weak ambassador is worse than no ambassador at all.

RUBIO: I’m more concerned that we send the wrong message. They’re not a competitor. They’re a potential adversary and a geopolitical rival, and we need to be clear about that.

ORDOÑEZ: The position is one of dozens of ambassador posts that are empty right now, due in part to Republicans blocking them. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said Republicans are playing with fire by leaving critical jobs unfilled.

CHRIS MURPHY: The Republicans are putting their hatred for Joe Biden ahead of the security of the nation, and it is unbelievably dangerous.

ORDOÑEZ: Tensions are high with China over human rights, Taiwan and a ramp-up in military action in the South Pacific.

BONNIE GLASER: We need to have an ambassador in place in Beijing.

ORDOÑEZ: That’s Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at The German Marshall Fund of the United States. She says it’s critical to have someone with the backing of the president in Beijing.

GLASER: There are areas of friction that, if not a dealt with, if they are left to fester, could potentially spiral out of control. We could end up in a confrontation with China if we have an accident, for example, between our two militaries in the South China Sea.

ORDOÑEZ: Glaser says Burns isn’t weak on China. During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, he took a tough stance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICHOLAS BURNS: There’s no question in the 21st century, given Chinese power – and we’ve talked about this morning – China is the greatest threat to the security of our country and of the democratic world.

ORDOÑEZ: The White House says Burns is eminently qualified for the job, and they need someone in place now to follow up on all the issues between the two countries. Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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British lawmakers want to change rules that ban babies in Parliament

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British lawmakers want to change rules that ban babies in Parliament

Labour member of Parliament Stella Creasy carries her son, Pip, during a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, London, on Tuesday, in a screen grab from House of Commons TV.

House of Commons/PA via AP

House of Commons/PA via AP

LONDON — Several British politicians demanded a change in parliamentary rules on Wednesday after a lawmaker was told she couldn’t bring her 3-month-old baby into the House of Commons.

Labour Party legislator Stella Creasy said she had received a letter from Commons authorities after she took her son Pip to a debate.

She said she had previously taken both Pip and her older daughter to Parliament without problems, but had been told the rules had changed in September. Members of Parliament are now advised that they “should not take your seat in the chamber when accompanied by your child.”

Creasy said the rule undermined efforts to make politics more family-friendly.
“There are barriers to getting mums involved in politics, and I think that damages our political debate,” she told the BBC.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, a Conservative, said he has “a lot of sympathy” for Creasy, but said the decision is for the House authorities to make.

“I think we do need to make sure our profession is brought into the modern world, the 21st century, and can allow parents to juggle the jobs they do with the family time that they need.” Raab said.

Green Party lawmaker Caroline Lucas said the baby ban was “absurd.” She said babies were “far less disruptive than many braying backbenchers.”

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said he had asked Parliament’s procedure committee to review the rules, and noted that there were “differing views on this matter.”

“The advice given yesterday … correctly reflects the current rules. However, rules have to be seen in context and they change with the times,” he said.

“It is extremely important that parents of babies and young children are able to participate fully in the work of this House.”

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