News Timeline: May 2021

May 6 – North America: United States

U.S. population decline

According to a report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the birth rate in the United States fell in 2020 for the sixth consecutive year, a four-percent decline from the year before, with the lowest number of babies born since 1979.  Some experts say it is a trend across the world accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.  In 2020, the general fertility rate in the US was about 56 births per 1,000 women, about half of what it was in the early 1960s.[1]

More about the reasons of the drop in birth rate in the U.S. and worldwide

More on the global impact of declining fertility

May 7 – North America / Europe:

United States / Russia


A ransomware cyberattack shuts down Colonial Pipeline, one of the United States largest pipelines.  The attack affects computerized equipment that manages the pipeline; the company is forced to stop all its operations to contain the attack.  Colonial Pipeline is 5,500 miles long and carries 45 percent of the country’s gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from Texas through the southern states and up the East Coast.  The hackers, believed to belong to the criminal hacking group DarkSide that operates from Russia, hold the company’s data hostage demanding a ransom of $4.4 million in bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that makes it harder to track.  The interruption in the pipeline operations causes the gasoline prices to go up, as well as shortages and long lines at fuel gas stations. Cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure are more frequent, revealing the vulnerability of the Internet infrastructure.[2]

(June 7): The US Department of Justice says it was able to track the ransom money paid to DarkSide hackers by Colonial Pipeline and recovers about $2.3 million.[3]

More about recent rise in cyberattacks

May 7 – World

Global Health: Coronavirus, or COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) gives emergency authorization for China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 Vaccine, which will give access to coronavirus vaccinations in low- and middle-income countries.  The approval allows the Sinopharm vaccine to be included in WHO’s global initiative, Covax, that promotes equitable vaccine distribution around the world.  But so far China itself is facing a vaccine shortage like India, a major vaccine maker, that has stopped vaccine exports due to its worsening coronavirus crisis.[4]

(May 18): The coronavirus crisis in Latin America has taken a turn for the worse.  Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Colombia have hit record numbers of daily deaths from Covid-19.  Even authoritarian Venezuela known for hiding health statistics says its coronavirus deaths are up 86 percent since January.  Last week, Latin America accounted for 35 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the world, despite having just 8 percent of the global population.  Some of the reasons of the crisis are limited vaccine supply (Colombia has so far vaccinated only 6 percent of its population, with other countries in the region even less), weak and overburden health systems and poor economic situation that makes stay-at-home orders difficult to enforce.[5]

More about the Covid-19 situation in South America

(May 21): Vaccination against Covid-19 worldwide reaches about 1.5 billion people, which means that between 10 to 15 percent of the world’s population has received at least one shot.  But in poor countries of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia only a tiny share of people have received a shot.[6]

(May 27): India records 4,529 coronavirus deaths in one day, the highest known daily death toll for a single country.  Overall, India has had more than 25 million cases and more than 280,000 deaths so far.  Experts point out that the true number of deaths and infections in India are higher as many deaths are not officially counted.  Infections are slowing down in some big cities, but the virus is now spreading in the countryside where testing is limited and the hospitals are underfunded and overwhelmed.[7]

Just How Big Could India’s True Covid Toll Be?

(May 30): More than half of all adults in the U.S. have now been fully vaccinated getting closer to President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July 4. About 23,000 new infections are being reported daily, the lowest number in nearly a year.[8]

Four Kinds of People Holding Us Back From Full Vaccination

May 21 – Middle East: Israel / Palestinian Territories

Israeli-Gaza conflict

Pressured by the international community, including the United States and United Nations, Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt after two weeks of deadly fighting and rocket launching onto each other’s territories.   This crisis began when Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem in response to several police raids on the Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Muslims, and the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem.   Israeli airstrikes into Gaza kill more than 200 Palestinians, including over 60 children, and forces tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes.  They also cause extensive damage to homes, schools and medical facilities in Gaza.   Hamas launched over 4,000 rockets at southern Israel killing 12 people.  Most of these rockets were intercepted by Israel with some landing in unpopulated areas.[9]

In pictures: Destruction in Israel and Gaza due to recent conflict

Israel-Gaza conflict explained

Life in the Gaza Strip

May 23 – Europe: Belarus

State sanctioned kidnapping of a passenger plane

Belarusian fighter jets force a Ryanair passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania over Belarus’s territory to land in Belarus’s capital city of Minsk claiming there was a bomb threat.  The country’s authorities then arrest Belarusian exiled opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich who was on the plane.   Western countries accuse Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, of hijacking the plane, call for an immediate release of Protasevich, and ban Belarusian airlines from Europe’s air space.  They also promise more economic sanctions.  Called Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.  He recently has signed more punitive laws against protesters who take part in unauthorized rallies.  Hundreds of opposition supporters and journalists have been imprisoned or forced into exile.[10]   

Who is Roman Protasevich

What’s happening in Belarus?

May 24 – Africa / International Organizations:


Coup d’état

Just nine months after Mali’s Colonel Assimi Goïta ousted the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in a military coup and nominated himself vice-president of an interim government, he stages another coup d’état ousting this time interim President Bah Ndaw and the acting Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.  He says they failed to inform the military about plans to reshuffle the cabinet, as well as to resolve the ongoing strikes.  This time he declares himself president, but claims that elections will still take place next year as planned.  The Economic Community of West African States and the African Union (ECOWAS) suspends Mali’s membership, while France suspends its military operations in the country. French forces have been helping fight militants in the Sahel region.[11]

Mali – country profile

About coups in Africa

About the 2020 coup in Mali (video, 02:06 min)

May 26 – Middle East: Syria


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is announced to have won 95 percent of the vote in the country’s presidential election, with the turnout of over 78 percent.  His contenders, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmed Mari, won 1.5 percent and 3.3 percent of the vote respectively.  The election was only held in the area controlled by the Assad government.  Syria’s opposition dismiss the vote as a farce, while the US and European countries say it could not be free and fair without international monitors.  Assad has been president since 2000 when he succeeded his late father, Hafez, who had ruled Syria for more than a quarter of a century before that.  This will be Assad’s fourth term in office.[12] 

Why has the Syrian war lasted 10 years?

Syria: a failed state or narco state? BBC Radio

May 29 – Latin America: Colombia

Anti-government protests

Violent and deadly nationwide antigovernment protests in Colombia have been going on for over a month.  The protests began in April over a proposed tax increase.  Although the tax plan was withdrawn, the protests expanded to include grievances over police violence, poverty, and Colombia’s health crisis.   Dozens of people have been killed in clashes with police, and President Ivan Duque says he is deploying army troops to Cali, the epicenter of the protests, as well as to other cities.   During the pandemic, poverty in Cali increased three times more than in the rest of the country.[13] 

Why Colombia’s protests are unlikely to fizzle out?

May 31 – East Asia: China

Changes to one-child policy

After changing its one-child policy in 2016 and allowing couples to have two children, once again China changes the policy this time allowing three children.  The change comes after a new census showed that the country’s population grew at its slowest pace in decades.  In 2016, 18 million babies were born but in 2020, only about 12 million, the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s.  However, many young Chinese couples chose to have fewer children as part of different life choices and high costs of living.

Background: The one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979 to slow population growth.  Families that violated the rules faced fines, loss of employment and sometimes forced abortions.  The one-child policy led to a severe gender imbalance in the country. The traditional preference for male children led to large numbers of girls being abandoned or placed in orphanages, or to sex-selective abortions or even female infanticide.[14] 

The Chinese family in charts


[1] “US birth rate falls 4% to its lowest point ever.” BBC News. May 6, 2021. Accessed June 10, 21.

[2] David E. Sanger, Clifford Krauss and Nicole Perlroth. “Cyberattack Forces a Shutdown of a Top U.S. Pipeline.” The New York Times. May 8, 2021. Updated May 13, 2021. Accessed June 19, 21.

[3] Alexander Mallin andLuke Barr. “DOJ seizes millions in ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline.” ABC News. June 7, 2021. Accessed June 19, 21.

[4] Sui-Lee Wee. “W.H.O. approves China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use.” The New York Times. May 7, 2021. Accessed June 5, 21.

[5] Julie Turkewitz and Mitra Taj. “After a Year of Loss, South America Suffers Worst Death Tolls Yet.” The New York Times. April 29, 2021. Updated May 18, 2021. Accessed June 19, 21.

[6] David Leonhardt. “Weekend Briefing: The Morning.” The New York Times.  May 21, 2021.

[7] Mujib Mashal. “Covid News: India Reports Highest Daily Death Toll of Any Country.” The New York Times. May 28, 2021. Accessed June 18, 21.

[8] Remy Tumin and Marcus Payadue. “Weekend Briefing: The Morning.” The New York Times. May 30, 2021 and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Covid Data Tracker: COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.” 2021. Accessed June 10, 21 from

[9] Patrick Kingsley, Katie Rogers and Marc Santora. “Israel and Hamas Begin Cease-Fire in Gaza Conflict.” The New York Times. Updated May 25, 2021. Accessed June 3, 21 and

Patrick Kingsley, Katie Rogers and Marc Santora. “Cease-fires can be fragile, and short-lived, with underlying disputes unresolved.” The New York Times. Updated May 25, 2021. Accessed June 3, 21 and

Iyad Abuheweila and Adam Rasgon. “Hamas supporters in Gaza and West Bank celebrate ‘victory.” The New York Times. Updated May 25, 2021. Accessed June 3, 21.

[10] “EU agrees new Belarus sanctions after plane arrest.” BBC News. May 25, 2021. Accessed June 5, 21.

[11] “Mali’s coup leader Assimi Goïta seizes power again.” BBC News. May 25, 2021. Accessed June 15, 21 and “Mali’s coup leader Assimi Goïta declares himself president.” BBC News. May 27, 2021. Accessed June 15, 21 and “France suspends military ties with Mali over coup.” BBC News. June 3, 2021. Accessed June 15, 21.

[12] “Assad wins Syrian election dismissed as farce by critics.” BBC News. May 27, 2021.  Accessed June 5, 21.

[13] “Colombia protests: Duque sends military to Cali.” BBC News. May 30, 2021. Accessed June 15, 21.

[14] “China allows three children in major policy shift.” BBC News. May 31, 2021. Accessed June 5, 21.