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The Maastricht Diplomat

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This week, the third successive week of sun rays becoming a part of our daily lives again, serves as an indicator that the pandemic is at least not capable of keeping Spring away from Maastricht. While watching children and teens playing outside might make you forget about the social restrictions for a moment, the Dutch government would very much like to remind you that the good weather does not erase the pandemic.

While hairdressers in the Netherlands were allowed to resume their services on 3 March, almost all other restrictions remained in place. As a form of symbolic protest against the restrictions, several cafes and restaurants across the Netherlands opened up their terraces on Tuesday afternoon. Sex workers also took to the streets in the Hague, staging a demonstration outside the Parliament building. The demonstration was in response to the government allowing other contact professions like hairdressers and masseurs to resume work this week, while sex work continues to remain prohibited.

In major vaccine-related news, the United States FDA formally approved the single-shot vaccine by Johnson-Johnson last week, which had previously only been approved by South Africa. Canada soon followed suit, approving the vaccine on 5 March. Johnson-Johnson becomes the fourth vaccine to join the ranks of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. While the vaccine only requires the administration of a single shot, its efficacy is also estimated to be lower than its two-shot counterparts, at 85 percent.

The week was also marked by significant non-Covid related events. The existence of a pandemic does not quite eradicate geopolitical tensions, and the latest example was witnessed over the course of the past one and half weeks. After the United States carried out airstrikes in Syria on 25 February, attacking a logistics station which the government claims was being used by Iranian-backed militia and which left 22 dead, a second series of airstrikes planned for 5 March were cancelled. The second airstrike was called off after a woman and children were spotted in the region. While it is a feeble consolation that United States military intends to avoid intentional killing of civilians, these airstrikes were in response to a February 15 rocket attack attributed to the Iranian-backed militia, which targeted a US military base in Northern Iraq. Tensions between the United States and Iran remain high as the Iraq-Syria region is once again caught in the crossfire.

As tensions in the region remain rife, Pope Francis began his historic visit to Iraq on 5 March. Though symbolic, the visit has been characterised with an inter-religious dialogue between Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most revered Shia Muslim cleric, and the leader of the Vatican. Both spiritual leaders had a private meeting at the Ayotallah’s home, where Pope Francis called for inter-faith unity, stressing that minorities like Christian Iraqis be accorded full constitutional rights inorder to live peacefully.

Moving slightly west, into Europe, Brexit may turn out to be the event that continues to occupy our minds even long after the pandemic has dispersed. The European Parliament on Thursday refused to set a date for voting on the EU-UK trade deal, after Britain violated the Northern Ireland Exit Regulations by extending the grace period for checks on food imports to Northern Ireland. While the EU has until the end of April to ratify the trade deal, the areas of contention only seem to multiply. Meanwhile in France, in what should serve as a reminder to the world that Presidents are not exempt from the law, former President Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges.

That was it for this week, as the author leaves you to bask in another day of comforting sun shine, just don’t forget the mask.

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