Japanese contact tracing app breaks; North Korea requests vaccine doses; Tanzania urges citizens to use traditional medicine for COVID

A look at how COVID-19 is impacting life around the world

by Stranger’s Guide


A Japanese government contact-tracing app that is supposed to notify Android smartphone users if they’ve been in close proximity to people infected with the coronavirus — and which had been downloaded almost 25 million times — hasn’t worked since September last year. The bug was introduced in an update of the COCOA app that was designed to inform the user if they’d been within one meter of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes. Japan’s health minister, Norihisa Tamura, apologized for undermining users’ trust and pledged to fix the bug by mid-February. (The Asahi Shimbun)


The Norwegian government canceled a large international military exercise involving 1,000 US Marines after the country experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases. Around 3,400 troops from Norway, the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands and Britain were due to take part in the training exercises in Troms, near the Barents Sea, a waterway considered “Russia’s naval backyard.” More than 61,000 Norwegians have been infected with the coronavirus — including 14,637 new cases just last month — and the country’s defense minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said closing down the exercise was necessary to avoid the spread of the more contagious variant of the disease. (


Tanzania’s health ministry said the country has no intention of importing outside vaccines and is instead urging its citizens to practice good hygiene and use traditional medicine to treat COVID-19, putting it at odds with the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Dorothy Gwajima, Tanzania’s health minister, said the country would only turn to international vaccines when it was “satisfied they have been clinically proven to be safe.” Meanwhile, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the head of the WHO in Africa, tweeted: “Science shows that #VaccinesWork and I encourage the government to prepare for a Covid vaccination campaign.” In mid-2020, Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, announced that his country was COVID-free and that “God had answered the country’s prayers.” Despite WHO warnings, it also imported an unproven plant-based remedy for the coronavirus from Madagascar. (All Africa)

North Korea

North Korea, which claims to have zero cases of the coronavirus within its borders, has requested outside help with its vaccine program, asking for two million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab produced by the Serum Institute of India. The Gavi vaccine alliance, part of the World Health Organization’s vaccination program, confirmed it will distribute the doses to the isolated kingdom, whose healthcare system is crumbling and believed to be unable to deal with such a large-scale outbreak. The country shuttered its borders in January 2020 in order to protect against transmission. (Yahoo News)


Hundreds of Peruvians have been queuing — sometimes for days on end, sleeping on streets under blankets or in tents — to collect oxygen cylinders, as citizens succumb to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some factories have hiked the price of oxygen, supplies of which has been running low, by as much as 300 percent, which the country’s health minister described as criminal. Peru has registered more than one million cases of the coronavirus and more than 40,000 people have died. (Channel New Asia)


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Don’t Build the Wall

Plans to build an eight-foot tall fence around a tiny airport in northern California has ignited a fierce debate. Tulelake Municipal Airport in Modoc County is also the site where some 20,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forcibly interned in the 1940s at the Tule Lake Segregation Center. According to City Lab, many scholars say a more accurate name would have been the Tule Lake Concentration Camp. While the county wants to build a three-mile-long fence topped with barbed wire to keep wildlife out, activists say its tragic past should be respected and a huge fence will stop people from accessing the site.