Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand, is a vaccine expert who has worked on COVID-19 vaccine trials in South Africa. He recalls that when he first saw the sequencing data on omicron, he was fairly optimistic that the immunity built up by vaccines and past waves of infections would protect more people against severe disease. And he was right. “We’ve seen a dramatic decoupling of infections, hospitalisations and death,” says Madhi, in the latest episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast.

Madhi and his colleague Jinal Bhiman, Principal Medical Scientist at National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa spoke to us about their discovery of omicron. But Madhi is also critical of initial scepticism in many parts of the world about the early data coming out of South Africa, which he describes as a “manifestation of cultural imperialism”.

Joining our regular podcast presenters Gemma Ware and Daniel Merino for this episode is Ozayr Patel, digital editor for The Conversation based in Johannesburg. Also coming out of South Africa we have a report on a study showing that the herbal tea rooibos may help stave off anxiety – a cup or two of that could be just the job if you’ve had a big weekend, as another report we carry (from the UK) into “hangxiety” indicates that significant numbers feel extremely anxious when they have a hangover.

Elsewhere our colleagues in Canada have been providing rolling coverage of the “freedom convoy” that has brought roads and city centres to a standstill over the past couple of weeks. All their articles on the movement can be found here.

Stephen Khan

Executive Editor, The Conversation International

After South African scientists sounded the alarm about the new omicron variant, countries around the world closed their borders. Kim Ludbrook/EPA

South African scientists on the inside story of discovering omicron – and what their experience offers the world about future variants. Podcast

Gemma Ware, The Conversation; Daniel Merino, The Conversation

Plus, is the human emotional response to music innate or is it shaped by a person’s culture? Listen to The Conversation Weekly podcast.

A person holds a sign for the “freedom convoy” a cross-country convoy protesting a federal vaccine mandate for truckers, as people rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Whose freedom is the ‘freedom convoy’ fighting for? Not everyone’s

Gerald Walton, Lakehead University

Truckers and their supporters have asserted their right to assemble and oppose COVID-19 protocols imposed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Zebrafish research reveals green rooibos tea’s anxiety-busting properties

Carine Smith, Stellenbosch University

Zebrafish are ideal for drug discovery especially in the context of neurological and inflammatory conditions.

‘Hangxiety’: why some people experience anxiety during a hangover

Craig Gunn, University of Bristol

Some estimates suggest around 12% of people experience ‘hangxiety’.

The Conversation in Spanish and French

Man Ray y su influencia en la moda actual

Paloma Rodera Martínez, Universidad Nebrija

La androginia de Man Ray sigue presente en el mundo de la moda un siglo después.

Pêche, pollution, réchauffement : comment les sciences marines peuvent nous aider à sauvegarder l’océan

Anne Renault, Ifremer

À l’occasion du One Ocean Summit, qui se tient cette semaine à Brest du 9 au 11 février 2022, tour d’horizon des pistes de recherche prometteuses pour protéger le plus grand écosystème de notre planète.