How would you like to be paid to have a mortgage? Maybe you should buy a house in Portugal.
Some mortgage holders actually have negative mortgage rates – meaning their banks pay them interest. The Wall Street Journal’s Patricia Kowsmann reported on the phenomenon, which was rare pre-pandemic. Rates were originally allowed that low a few years back to help bolster the economy.
But in Portugal, mortgages are increasingly seeing negative rates, a consequence of low interest rates in general across the developed world. One consumer-rights group, Deco, told the WSJ that it estimated more than 30,000 mortgages had negative rates back in 2019, but that has more than doubled now. BPI, the bank for one of the negative mortgage holders profiled, said it has paid out over 1 million pounds in interest.
The negative rates aren’t just in Portugal; some mortgage holders in Denmark are also increasingly seeing interest. However, banks there have begun administering fees for deposits; in many instances, according to the WSJ, the fees can offset the interest that the mortgage holders are receiving.
Meanwhile, in the US, prospective buyers should be prepared to pay more than the asking price, as supply stays low and goes quickly. As Insider’s Taylor Borden wrote: “It’s actually a horrible time to buy a house.”
Yes, Borden writes, American mortgage rates are low, but prices are high, effectively pushing the American dream of homeownership out of reach. Also, as the American economy has started reopening this spring, mortgage rates have gone back above 3% again, and seem likely to keep rising.
But even for the lucky mortgage holders of Portugal, it’s not all smooth sailing. One person that the WSJ spoke to, Paula Cristina Santos, has had to halt her own plans for buying a house. One reason why: The charge from her bank to get a new mortgage is just too high – and can’t compare to her current negative rate.
Denmark, Norway, and Iceland suspended their roll out of AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine as a “precautionary” step Thursday, citing concerns about blood clots in people who had received the shot.
One person in Denmark who was immunized with the vaccine died from a blood clot, the Danish Health Authority said in a statement Thursday. At this point, it’s not known whether there is a link between the vaccine and blood clots, it said.
AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots: the stats so far
There have been a total of four reported cases in Europe of people getting vaccinated with a specific batch of AstraZeneca’s shot and then developing blood clots afterwards, according to the EMA. The batch of 1 million doses had been sent to 17 EU countries, including Denmark.
At least five countries – Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Latvia – have suspended the use of this particular batch. Norway, Denmark, and Iceland suspended the vaccine completely.
The EMA said Wednesday that one person in Europe had been diagnosed with multiple blood clots in vessels 10 days after vaccination. It was unclear whether this was the Danish case, although by that time Austrian authorities had already reported a death.
Insider contacted the Danish health authority for clarification, and a spokesperson said that they were “not at liberty to inform on the data that we receive from other authorities, national or international.”
Another person in Europe was hospitalized with a blood clot in the lung after being vaccinated, who was “now recovering,” the EMA said.
The time-frame between getting the vaccine and developing the clot for this person was not documented.
There were two other reports of blood clots, the EMA said. No further details were provided such as age, or whether they had medical conditions that made their blood more likely to clot.
No more blood clots than in general population
The EMA said in a press release that overall, as of Thursday, there had been 30 cases amongst more than 5 million who had been vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s shot overall. There was no indication that the vaccine caused blood clots, and this wasn’t a known side effect, they said.
Professor Jon Gibbons, director of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research at the University of Reading, said in a statement that blood clots in the general population were relatively common, and affected an average of between one and two people per 1,000 – a higher proportion than 30 in 5 million.
“Therefore if there is any association between the vaccine and clotting, the risk is likely to be very low indeed,” he said.
Dr. Phil Bryan, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) safety lead, said in a statement that the number of reports of blood clots received so far in the UK – where more than 11 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been given – were not greater than what would have occurred usually in a population that size.
The UK did not receive the batch from which the four most recent reports of clots arose.
Denmark’s approach ‘super’ cautious
Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement that the Danish approach was “super” cautious.
“Since we know with great certainty that the vaccine prevents COVID-19, and we are almost totally uncertain that the vaccine can have caused this problem, the risk and benefit balance is still very much in favour of the vaccine in my view,” he said.
Evans said that it was difficult to distinguish between coincidence and the vaccine’s side effects.
“This is especially true when we know that COVID-19 disease is very strongly associated with blood clotting and there have been hundreds if not many thousands of deaths caused by blood clotting as a result of COVID-19 disease,” he said.
Professor Anthony Harnden, Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the organization that advises the UK’s vaccine strategy – said in a statement that the public should have “confidence” that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was “safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease, including the prevention of blood clots caused by COVID-19.”
Today, Denmark said it was suspending its use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine while it was investigating several cases of blood clots among people who had received the jab. Norway followed a few hours later.
Let’s be clear. To date, all signs point towards AstraZeneca’s vaccine working and being safe. Multiple respected regulators cleared it for us, and millions of people have had the shot.
Countries have to investigate serious adverse events when rolling out vaccinates. This is not uncommon, and does not mean that the vaccine has caused the adverse event. Denmark has said the clots could be a coincidence.
Almost from the beginning, the AstraZeneca vaccine faced difficult questions over its clinical trials.
When the results came, they too caused confusion by giving two very different figures for how effective the vaccine was. It later became clear that a mistake led to half of their trial participants not receiving a full dose of the vaccine.
The vaccine efficacy it reported in its clinical trials is also lower than other vaccines. This has led to some patients in Europe and the UK, which are relying on the jab for a big part of their vaccine rollouts, to turn it down, thinking that it was not as effective.
Experts argued that the efficacy figures are not directly comparable – and that the imperative of getting out as many vaccine as possible outweighs the relatively small differences in trial results.
Another setback came as several European countries decided that they would not give the jab to those at most risk of COVID-19, those over 65.
They pointed to there not being a lot of data available in clinical trials for those over the age of 65, though some nations have started to reverse those decisions.
European nations, such as France and Germany, have since then been pushing to rebuild trust in the vaccine, but faced a difficult path.
As officials in Denmark have said, the suspension is a precaution. It may turn out that the vaccine was fine all along. But shaken confidence is hard to restore, and AstraZeneca’s already-difficult path is now a bit harder.
Conflict over land is as old as recorded history, but the world has never seen another quite like the Whisky War. Wars have been fought, violently and continuously, over the rights to territories across the globe. In the case of Hans Island, however, the two countries at odds had a different way of staking their claim.
If you’ve never heard of Hans Island, it’s probably because, well, there’s not that much to say about it. The half-square-mile island sits directly in the middle of the Nares Strait, a 22-mile-wide waterway that separates the most northern land of Canada, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland, an autonomous Denmark territory.
Hans Island itself lacks any real natural resources or territorial advantages. It’s essentially a giant rock, and the only thing that keeps perpetuating the ownership debate is the fact that it sits within the 12-mile territorial limit of both Canada and Greenland, making it close enough that each country involved can claim it under international law.
It started in 1880, when Hans Island got lost in the shuffle of the British transferring remaining arctic territories to Canada. Due to the use of predominantly outdated, 16th-century maps, the small island was not explicitly included in the transfer, and as such wasn’t even recognized until decades later.
In 1933, Greenland was declared the rightful owner of Hans Island, by the ironically named Permanent Court of International Justice. This organization was dissolved within a few years of this decision and effectively replaced with the UN, and the aforementioned ownership resolution was deemed no longer valid, so Hans was once again up for grabs.
Both World War II and the Cold War took precedence over more trivial conversations, and even after a maritime border negotiation in the early 1970s, the territory still sat simmering on the back burner.
The best part of the history of Hans Island comes in 1984, when Canadian troops visited the island and left behind something distinct to the Great White North, an erected Canadian flag, a sign that read “Welcome to Canada” and a bottle of Canadian Club whisky.
Not wanting to show up empty-handed to the party, Greenland’s minister took a trip to the island soon after, removing and replacing all the Canadian offerings with their own flag, a bottle of Danish schnapps, and a sign that read “Velkommen til den danske ø” or “Welcome to the Danish Island.”
And thus began the first chapter of one of the most neighborly and hospitable disputes (or elaborate drinking games) in history, known as The Whisky War. Since then, there have been continued trips by both sides to collect and replace the other party’s goods, and while what happens to the alcohol when it’s taken off the island has never been confirmed, the assumption is someone is out there enjoying it.
In more recent years, both Canadian and Danish representatives have called for the island to be declared a shared sovereignty, but it remains unclear if and when any official resolution to the Whisky War has been reached. Lawmakers have even cited this ongoing discourse as setting an interesting precedent or subsequently having ramifications for border negotiations, particularly international ones.
All in all, few things make for a better story than two allied countries fighting a battle over land for more than three decades with welcome signs and booze.
Editor’s Note: While the word “whiskey” is commonly spelled with an “E” preceding the “Y” in the United States, the “E” is notably absent from the word in nations like Canada, where this story takes place. There actually is a defined difference between the terms, but colloquially, they are often used interchangeably.
While not yet officially confirmed, Italian newspapers reported on December 18 that the government is due to announce a national lockdown active between December 24 and 27 and between December 31 and January 3.
“For the period from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, whether until the 3rd or 6th of January, the more restrictions there are, the better,” Francesco Boccia, Italy’s Minister for Regional Affairs, said Thursday.