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Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? Omicron may be mild

And it won't ruin your booster. Meanwhile, Chile legalizes gay marriage, and Canada is close to banning conversion therapy.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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An encouraging STAT News article is currently making the rounds. As the writer, Helen Branswell, put it on Twitter, “Lots of caveats; too soon to know. But early info from South Africa provide tantalizing hints that Omicron may trigger milder illness.” These hints are from a South African Medical Research Council report on hospitals currently treating Covid-19 patients in South Africa’s most populous province, Gauteng. “Strikingly,” Branswell writes, these patients “did not need supplemental oxygen. Few developed Covid pneumonia, few required high-level care, and fewer still were admitted to intensive care.” 

The report includes information from a small number of patients, only 42. And since South Africa’s population skews younger than many countries’, it’s still too early to call it—the data may change when Omicron hits larger numbers of older people. Still, two weeks into Delta hitting the scene, the discussion was certainly not about whether the variant might be more mild. As Slate pointed out, no Omicron-related deaths have yet been reported, and we’re nearing the time when we would expect to see some.

Last week we wrote about why Omicron won’t send us back to square one, in part because we still have workable pills and tests. Now, too, there is at least one antibody treatment, GlaxoSmithKline’s, that is effective against Omicron

But if you’re going to read one article today about Covid, make it Katherine J. Wu’s in The Atlantic, “Omicron Won’t Ruin Your Booster.” Variants are going to keep cropping up. We don’t need to rehash the worry that the vaccines are going to be rendered useless every time they do. “Immunity isn’t a binary switch that some party-crashing variant can flip off,” Wu writes. “Even if a wily virus erodes some of the safeguards that our original-flavor vaccines have raised, it’s nearly impossible for a variant to wipe them away completely.” A precise but oddly fun explanation of how vaccines work follows, and a recommendation to go get boosted now, if you can and haven’t already. A little extra “quantity,” Wu says, can sometimes make up for a lack of “quality,” in the case that Omicron proves to be wilier, vaccine-evasion-wise, than previous variants. Boost us up, Scotty! 

Praise Canada
In a surprise result after multiple delays and pushbacks from Conservatives, last week Canada’s House of Commons voted through a bill that bans LGBTQ conversion therapy, a practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and is widely considered to be traumatic. If the bill passes through the Senate as well, Canada will join just five countries—Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, and Malta—that ban conversion therapy. “I dream of the day when LGBTQ2 issues are no longer political footballs,” parliament member Randy Boissonnault told The Guardian. “And we are one day closer to that future.”

Canada isn’t the only country with unexpected positive changes in the realm of LGBTQ rights. On Tuesday, Chile became the 31st nation to legalize gay marriage, the result of its conservative president, amid social tumult, suddenly changing his mind about the matter. The fight had progressed and regressed for a decade, coming up against different governments and the Chilean courts. The new law also confers parental rights over biological and adopted children to spouses and sets inheritance rules.

Now back to our northern friends, who are having a spectacular week. The Canadian province of Ontario has copied France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, passing a law that your boss can’t text you (or email you or call you or send you a carrier pigeon) after work hours anymore. The law mandates companies with over 25 employees to have a written policy about the workday ending . . . at the end of the workday. It also includes other humane improvements, like requiring business owners to let couriers use the bathroom when delivering or picking up packages.

And isn’t it just like Canada to give us the world’s first plant-based vaccine? Phase three trials of a new Covid vaccine from Quebec-based pharmaceutical company Medicago show an efficacy rate of 71%. That doesn’t include Omicron, as the trials were conducted pre-Omicron’s appearance. It is 75% effective against Delta, though, and it uses different technology than already existing Covid vaccines. 

Overdraft fees are so over
When markets, technology development, and activists meet to produce progress, it’s like music to our ears. Capital One is ending overdraft fees. “For years, banks have been under pressure from consumer advocates to eliminate overdraft fees because they often punish those who can least afford to pay them: Americans struggling to make ends meet,” CNBC reports. “The rapid growth and surging valuations of a new crop of fintech-enabled digital banks with no-fee models has added pressure to the industry, however.” 

If you read the fine print, so to speak, it’s not a blanket stop—you have to deposit money regularly into your bank account to receive the overdraft protection service—but the bank expects the vast majority of their customers to qualify for it. CNBC surveyed other major American banks, none of which meet the standard Capital One has now set, but we would love to see them get onboard in the future. We daresay that corporations have such a bad reputation in the States right now that the loss of $150 million in annual revenue may be worth the good press.

Before we go
Humans dumped a bunch of plastic into the ocean, and the mussels said, “bring it on.” You may remember when we wrote about Jenny, a plastic collector that is cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating expanse of 1.8 trillion plastic pieces. Scientists have just discovered that marine life is thriving on the plastic, reproducing, creating communities, and generally being unbothered. 

We’re coming up on the holiday season and so cannot resist linking to a few feel-good pieces to tug on your heartstrings. Try reading about the Human Library, where you can “borrow” a human to ask them questions about their lives; how music has returned to Mosul, Iraq, after some 15 years of prohibition; or Josephine Baker’s induction into France’s Pantheon, an accolade reserved for cultural heroes. Baker was a singer and dancer, who, hemmed in by racism in the United States, moved to Paris, where she found fame. Throughout her life, she refused to perform at segregated venues in the US, and eventually became a spy for the French in World War Two. 

Below in the links section, two new life-saving facilities open in New York, India expands its plastic waste management, Germany gets a gender-equal government, and more.


A new data explorer from Our World in Data shows a massive decrease in global deaths from disasters over the last 100 years.

From us: What if instead of being on the brink of disaster, we’re on the cusp of a better world? No one can deny the challenges the world faces, from pandemics to climate change to authoritarianism. But pessimism and despair are too easy a response. Each week, Progress Network Founder Zachary Karabell and Executive Director Emma Varvaloucas convene a diverse panel of experts to discuss the central issues of our era, including sustainability, polarization, work, and the economy, and make the case for a brighter future. They emerge from their conversations with a counterintuitive but informed take: progress is on its way. Interested? Listen to the first season of the What Could Go Right? podcast here.

Progress, Please

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Other good stuff in the news

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Bask in the glow of our long list of the week’s progress links.

Until Next Time

Panic, or don’t, but either way, don’t forget to hog some crypto.👇

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.