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“El Viejo Buzón” (The Old Mailbox) had been a very popular café in downtown Buenos Aires and a hanging spot for generations of Argentinians, common folk and celebrities alike, since it was founded 37 years ago. It’s the kind of old-style, corner café that is never empty. That was the case until March 20 when the coronavirus pandemic hit Argentina and the country shut down.

“It’s an unusual situation because the blinds are closed and the tables empty when the main thing about a place like this is people,” Evangelista said.

A normally boisterous establishment, the Old Mailbox is now mostly quiet — hanging on, hoping against hope it can survive. When CNN visited, the only sound to be heard was a coffee machine for the meager takeout business operated by the only employee around, one of eight in total. Evangelista says he has managed to avoid layoffs thanks to a government credit program that’s set to expire on September 20.

For Santiago Olivera, it’s already too late. The restaurateur had to shut down three establishments — two bars, “Bad Toro” and “Sheldon,” and “Clara,” a cafeteria — in the upscale Palermo district of the capital, laying off more than 60 people.

“We started accumulating debt since March that resulted from paying salaries and rents without generating any revenue. I had to take loans from banks. We accumulated more debt month after month from taxes, utilities and rents,” Olivera told CNN.

They are among the hundreds of cafés, bars and restaurants in Buenos Aires that have been forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic. Their demise is a troubling new chapter for Argentina’s battered economy, which was roiled by runaway inflation and stagnant growth even before Covid-19 slammed the door on businesses.

‘Argentina hasn’t grown since 2011’

The pandemic has been brutal for small and medium-size businesses around the capital Buenos Aires. According to the Commerce and Industry Federation of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (FECOBA, by its Spanish acronym), 24,200 of those businesses, roughly 22% of the total, had permanently shut their doors by mid-July.

“The shutdowns didn’t stop even when the country started to reopen,” according to FECOBA’s president Fabián Castillo, referring to a brief reopening in Buenos Aires last month that was rolled back due to a spike in coronavirus infection rates.

Jonatan Loidi, a financial analyst, author and economics professor, says the pandemic and the implementation of a lockdown aggravated an economy that was already in a recession.

“Argentina hasn’t grown since 2011. In the last three years there has been not only lack of growth but also a fall in the country’s GDP, as well as other macroeconomic indicators that are clearly not ideal,” Loidi told CNN.

Loidi pointed out the annualized inflation rate in Argentina, even before the pandemic, was 55%.

“Uncertainty is the word that best describes life in Argentina nowadays,” Loidi said, adding that business owners and people must put up with five different exchange rates for things like paying for imports in dollars or making purchases online.

Argentina has had its share of financial collapses. Rioting and civil unrest broke out in December 2001 after then-finance minister Domingo Cavallo announced a freeze in bank deposits, a crisis that would result in the resignation of Cavallo himself as well as his boss, then-president Fernando de la Rúa. By Christmas, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, De la Rúa’s successor, had been forced to resign after announcing that the country had defaulted on $93 billion of Argentina’s sovereign debt. The crisis left one out of every four workers unemployed and 55% of the population facing poverty.

Less than two decades later, Argentina faces another financial crisis that has been brewing for more than a year and already sparked protests last September and October due to its ongoing currency crisis, among other factors. The Argentine peso plunged by more than 35% against the US dollar in August 2019.

The US dollar currently sells in Argentina at well over 70 pesos, and the amount of dollars a regular Argentinian can buy is strictly limited.

The government of President Alberto Fernández reached a deal on August 4 with creditors who are owed $65 billion, roughly 20% of the nation’s crushing $323 billion total debt. The agreement gives some short-term relief by avoiding another default while retaining some access to foreign capital.

But Fernández says his priority is a venture involving the coronavirus vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca with the UK’s Oxford University that would be manufactured in Argentina and Mexico, which he hopes will put the country’s economy back on track.

Meantime, the President announced Friday that quarantine measures will remain in place across the country until the end of August.

Patience is running low.

About 25,000 Argentinians took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Monday to protest a judicial reform launched by Fernández aimed at adding more justices to the Supreme Court — which opponents say is a gambit to stack the court with allies — the economic crisis and the government’s handling of Covid-19. There were also similar protests in main cities such as Cordoba, Mar del Plata and Rosario.

Sitting at his desk at “The Old Mailbox” café, Felipe Evangelista fears developing a vaccine may take longer than the country’s economy can withstand.

“One of my main fears is that people won’t come back,” he said.

He says he wonders whether life will change so much that people will never return to the little corner café that has been a gathering spot for generations of Argentinians… but hope is the last to die.

“We hope that when this [pandemic] turns around, people will come back, fill the tables and sing again. We hope they will be willing to dance a tango again and return to what we once were.”

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India’s Ranjitsinh Disale wins 2020 Global Teacher Prize and splits it with runners-up

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The award, which is run by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, celebrates “exceptional” teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher at Zilla Parishad Primary School, in the village of Paritewadi in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, was chosen as winner from more than 12,000 nominations and applications, from over 140 countries around the world.

The award recognized his efforts to promote girls’ education at the school, whose pupils are mostly from tribal communities.

The Global Teacher Prize said he learned the local language of the village in order to translate class textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue.

He also created unique QR codes on the textbooks to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments, greatly improving school attendance. His QR technology is now being rolled out more widely across India.

The British actor and TV host Stephen Fry announced Disale as the winner at a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London on Thursday.

Rather than keeping all his winnings, Disale told Fry in an interview that he would share the prize with the other nine finalists, giving them $55,000 each — the first time anyone has done so in the award’s six-year history.

He told Fry: “I believe that if I share this prize money with nine teachers it means I can scale up their work. Their incredible work is still worthy… If I share the prize money with the rest of the teachers they will get a chance to continue their work… and we can reach out and lighten the lives of as many students as we can.”

His actions drew praise from around the world, including from the Dalai Lama, who said on Twitter and in a statement published online that he admired Disale for sharing the money.

“Educating young children, especially from poor and needy backgrounds is perhaps the best way to help them as individuals, and actively contributes to creating a better world,” he said.

The award’s nine runners-up are teachers working in the United States, Britain, Vietnam, Nigeria, South Africa, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia and Brazil.



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Pelosi eyes combining Covid aid with mammoth spending deal

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Pelosi said the $908 billion proposal released this week by a centrist group of Senate and House members helped restart the stimulus talks, which fell apart just before the election after months of dragging on with little real movement.

“There is momentum — there is momentum with the action that the senators and House members in a bipartisan way have taken,” Pelosi said Friday, in the latest sign that negotiators are closing in on a deal. “The tone of our conversations is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he’s “encouraged” by the $908 billion proposal, framing it as the type of bipartisan work that he hopes to foster as president. He cautioned that “any package passed in the lame duck session is not going to be enough overall.”

But hurdles remain. Government funding runs out in just one week, and there are still a sizable number of issues impeding an agreement on a massive spending package that would increase agency budgets for the rest of the fiscal year.

The sheer number of outstanding items at such a late stage makes it increasingly likely that congressional negotiators will require a brief stopgap spending bill to complete their work before leaving for the holidays. Such a decision could be made early next week if lawmakers fail to make significant progress over the weekend.

Pelosi demurred when asked about the possibility of a short-term stopgap to buy more time for talks, and dismissed the need for a longer term continuing resolution that would extend current government funding into early next year.

“We will take the time that we need,” Pelosi said, while acknowledging that a number of issues remain, including some outside of appropriators’ jurisdiction.

“Don’t worry about a date,” she added.

While appropriators in both chambers remain optimistic that they’ll finish their work before the holidays, Republicans and Democrats are still swapping offers and arguing over details, kicking some of the most difficult items up to congressional leaders.

For example, a House Democratic aide close to the talks said Republicans want to scrub any mentions of Covid-19 from the omnibus package entirely. Earlier this year, House Democrats added coronavirus relief to their slate of fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, while Senate Republicans have insisted that pandemic aid remain totally separate from annual appropriations measures.

Republicans are also objecting to funding for research on reducing racial and ethnic inequalities in the justice system, in addition to language that would require the Capitol Police to report on policies and procedures on eliminating unconscious bias and racial profiling during training, the Democratic aide said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of holding up omnibus talks by insisting on the removal of two Interior-Environment policy riders that have been included in annual spending bills for years. The provisions involve protections for the greater sage-grouse, in addition to a provision related to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass.

“Dredging these up right now is beyond counterproductive,” a GOP aide familiar with the talks said Thursday night.

Funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall also remains a perennial sticking point — Senate Republicans have proposed $2 billion for fiscal 2021, which began on Oct. 1. House Democrats have proposed no extra cash.

Lawmakers have also disagreed on detention beds for detained migrants in recent days, although Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — the top Senate Democrat who oversees funding for the Department of Homeland Security — said Thursday that issue may get solved without the help of leadership.

Also in question is whether the White House will ultimately support a package that classifies billions of dollars in veterans’ health care spending as “emergency” spending outside of strict budget limits. Both House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby are moving forward with their negotiations assuming that’s the case, since the White House has previously signed off on such an arrangement.

Pelosi on Friday also said that whatever coronavirus relief they include in the government funding bill will not be the last time Congress addresses the ongoing pandemic, which continues to devastate the U.S., killing more than 275,000 Americans and causing a sharp downturn in the economy. The U.S. saw the deadliest day ever on Thursday, with Covid-19 fatalities exceeding 2,700.

“President-elect Biden has said that this package would be, just at best, just a start. And that’s how we see it as well,” Pelosi said.

The speaker also defended her decision to hold out for months, demanding a larger deal in the ballpark of $2 trillion or more, only to agree to negotiate this smaller package now. McConnell, similarly, refused to come off his much smaller baseline over the summer — pushing a $500 billion package — resulting in a standoff between congressional leaders.

“That was not a mistake, it was a decision,” Pelosi told reporters, saying the dynamics have significantly shifted since the election of Biden and the quicker than expected vaccine development. “That is a total game changer — a new president and a vaccine.”

With cautious optimism about the prospect of passing some fiscal stimulus to buoy the American economy during a bleak pandemic winter, lawmakers remain hopeful that Congress will pull it together before leaving Washington, despite lingering omnibus headaches.

“You know this place — turns on a dime,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who was elected by the Democratic caucus on Thursday as the next Appropriations chair.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.

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Gavin Williamson Claims The UK Approved A Coronavirus Vaccine First Because It Is A “Much Better Country”

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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK is a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US


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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK’s speedy approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was due to it being a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US.

The UK become the first country in the world to approve a clinical vaccine for coronavirus on Wednesday after the medicines regulator, the MHRA, gave the green light for the jab to be rolled out from next week.

The Education Secretary said this is because the UK has the “best medical regulators”, dodging questions about the impact of Brexit on the approval process of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Speaking after the approval announcement on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “because of Brexit” the UK regulator had been able to approve the vaccine without having to wait for the European Medicines Agency to do so.

But his claims were later contradicted by both No10 and senior figures within the regulator, with a spokesperson for Boris Johnson insisting the approval was “thanks to the hard work of the MHRA”.

Meanwhile, Dr June Raine, head of the regulatory agency said the green light to roll out the vaccine from next week was made “using provisions under European law which exist until January 1”.

But pressed on the impact of Brexit on the approval process, Mr Williamson instead suggested the approval was down to the UK having “much better” medical regulators than France, Belgium and America.

“Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators,” he told LBC

“Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country that every single one of them, aren’t we.”

He added: “Just being able to get on with things, deliver it and with brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine.”

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