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A health worker collects a swab sample from a man during a rapid antigen testing campaign for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai
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What we should learn from omicron

Image copyright: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
The way out of this pandemic rests on vaccine equity.

The emergence of the omicron variant has led several nations to ban flights from countries in southern Africa. The knee-jerk response punishes places hard-hit by the pandemic and fails to address the real issue: If more people in poor countries were vaccinated, it would be more difficult for covid-19 to mutate and spread.

  • Rich countries should stop hoarding vaccines. A small group of countries—the US, UK, EU, Canada, and Japan—have bought 60% of the world’s vaccines, and between a third to half are stockpiled rather than used.
  • South Africa shouldn’t be punished for being transparent. The country’s prompt efforts to sequence and identify the new omicron variant allowed the world to react quickly—but the travel ban risks sending the wrong message on sharing data.
  • Even African countries aren’t immune to fears. Several have suspended flights from South Africa and elsewhere, or instituted other new restrictions on incoming travelers.

Vaccinating the world would be cheap, but not easy

One way to keep oil demand from cratering would be to expand covid-19 vaccination to the global population. The OECD estimates doing so would cost just 0.5% of what the world’s wealthiest countries have spent to weather the economic impact of the pandemic. But the ad hoc manner in which countries have donated vaccines to Africa, with little notice and with doses that have short shelf lives, shows money alone won’t be enough to get it done.

$50 billion: OECD’s cost estimate to vaccinate the entire world

$10 trillion: Amount G20 countries have spent to prop up their economies

<8%: Percentage of people from poor countries who have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine

944.7 million: Vaccine doses that have been pledged to Covax, most of which will go to Africa

90 million: Doses that have been delivered to Africa so far through Covax and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust

A different kind of public health issue

Despite a brief pandemic spike, tobacco consumption has been declining over the past few decades. That’s got tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI), maker of Marlboros, thinking about what comes next.

How does a company that makes billions off of nicotine addicts advance beyond it? PMI’s strategy is two-step:

  1. Smoke-free tobacco products. Heated tobacco products (HTPs) have built-in appeal for the world’s billion existing smokers. PMI currently has two types of HTPs, one that uses a heating blade and one that uses induction.
  2. Other smoke-free products. Imagine using an IQOS product—a stick that heats, rather than burns, tobacco—to inhale aspirin, or to treat a respiratory disease. PMI calls this phase “beyond nicotine,” and already has a few such products in the works. The company hopes to generate $1 billion in revenue from these products by 2025.

Big Tobacco’s big pivot was the focus of our most recent Company email, a weekly exclusive for members that profiles the players making waves in their industry.

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Québec’s strategic maple syrup reserve


Global pancake enthusiasts are breathing a sigh of relief. Québec’s strategic reserve announced it would release about 50 million pounds of syrup into the market to make up for the shortfall.

But why does it even have a strategic reserve?

There’s plenty of money at stake. In 2019, a barrel of maple syrup cost almost C$1,900 (US$1,485), 20 times the value of a barrel of crude oil. Canada exported about 135 million pounds of maple syrup in 2020, worth more than C$515 million (US$402 million), according to the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers, the OPEC-like “cartel” that runs the industry.

There’s also a trade union connection. The federation was formed in 1966 under Canada’s Professional Syndicates Act, which allowed trade unions to form. The union helped to professionalize the business of tapping maple trees for their sugary sap.

Two truths and a lie about Japanese whisky

Image copyright: Photography by Eric Helgas; styling by Alex Citrin-Safadi

After spending decades in relative obscurity, Japanese whisky is finally getting global appreciation for its masterful flavors. Which of these facts is actually a falsehood?

  • A buyer paid $435,273 for a bottle of whisky at a Sotheby’s auction last year
  • The cost of Japanese whisky keeps rising
  • All Japanese whisky comes from Japan

Find out in the latest episode of the Quartz Obsession podcast.

🥃 Drink up all this season’s episodes on Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher

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You can quit Amazon

In the throes of a heavy shopping season, it’s easy to forget about a company’s questionable ethics when it offers perks like next-day shipping. But quitting Amazon is doable.

Here’s some free advice—delivered instantly!—for those that can afford to rethink their shopping mindset. Ask yourself these questions:

1️⃣ Do I really need this?

If 👍, then ⬇️

2️⃣ Do I really need this within 24 hours?

If 👍, then ⬇️

3️⃣ Can I find this in a local store?

If 👎, then sure, hit up Amazon. If 👍, time to get yourself to a brick and mortar.

Find more advice for how to sever ties by checking out How To Quit Amazon.

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We’re obsessed with anosmia

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When the nose knows nothing. In the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, reports started coming in of patients experiencing loss of smell—or anosmia, as it’s known medically.

While it seems like one of the least troubling covid symptoms, loss of smell has far-reaching implications, from personal safety to intimacy and appetite issues. Yet not a lot is known about it. Maybe because anosmia isn’t a life-threatening disorder, the medical community has really whiffed on giving it the attention it deserves. There’s no cure for people born without a sense of smell—as yet, no one has invented a “smelling aid”—and the condition is unlikely to be covered by insurance.

Considering how essential smell is to human survival and enjoyment, there’s no sense in ignoring this sense. The Quartz Weekly Obsession gives you a sense of the problem.

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Image copyright: Giphy