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Forecast Podcast: Hajj begins, UK eases restrictions, US fast food workers strike, Colombia Congress resumes, Cuba protests

A protest against the Cuban government in Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts.

Listen to the full podcast episode here:


  • The annual Islamic pilgrimage to holy sites in western Saudi Arabia starts Sunday with participation restricted to just 60,000 pilgrims as the world continues to grapple with coronavirus.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed England will lift all coronavirus restrictions on Monday despite a rise in infections, while most devolved nations continue to take a more cautious approach.
  • Fast food workers plan to strike in nine U.S. cities Tuesday to demand a rise of the minimum wage amid a historical workforce shortage in the industry.
  • Colombia’s bicameral national legislature will resume Tuesday — roughly a week before the three-month anniversary of the unrest that gripped the country, resulting in hundreds of arrests and dozens of deaths.
  • Cuba protests — an interview with Factal editor Jeff Landset.

These stories and more are available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jimmy Lovaas, Jess Fino, Irene Villora, Alex Moore and Jeff Landset.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is July 15th.

In this week’s forecast we check in on the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, the UK easing coronavirus restrictions, a strike by some US fast food workers, Colombia’s Congress resuming and the protests in Cuba. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Hajj begins

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: On Sunday, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to holy sites in western Saudi Arabia will begin. Participation, however, will be restricted to just 60,000 people as the world continues to grapple with coronavirus.

Similar to last year, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has barred foreign pilgrims from performing Hajj due to the pandemic. That means only Saudi citizens and residents will be allowed to make the trip. 

Still, the number of pilgrims will be much greater than last year — which was capped at just 1,000 — but it will still be far below the two million Muslims that typically make the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. 

This year’s pilgrims are also required to be free of chronic diseases and be vaccinated. There will even be one health escort designated for every 20 pilgrims to “offer guidance” and verify precautionary measures are implemented.

Now, in previous years, Saudi Arabia’s economy earned up to $12 billion from Hajj. With around 97 percent fewer pilgrims than in years past, the country’s economy will certainly suffer. What’s more, the missing revenue also comes as the country tries to rebound from hits to its economy in 2020.

UK eases restrictions 

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: On Monday, England will lift all coronavirus restrictions, despite a rise in infections, while the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue to take a more cautious approach.

Scotland, for its part, said it too would ease restrictions on Monday, but face coverings will still be mandatory. Meanwhile, Wales and Northern Ireland have refused to follow Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan in relaxing restrictions.

Now, the UK has seen a jump in coronavirus cases across the country due to the Delta variant. Still, it plans to go ahead with its last phase of reopening, lifting limits on social gatherings and social distancing rules. 

Guidance to work from home will also be lifted, despite some ministers encouraging people to continue to do so if possible. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of sending mixed messages about what people are expected to do starting Monday. 

For example, the requirement to wear masks will be cancelled, but Johnson said he expects people to continue to wear face coverings in crowded indoor settings, like public transport. 

Additionally, the government says it also “reserves the right” to make coronavirus certificates mandatory in the future.    

Scientific advisers are also worried the country is not ready to lift rules yet, warning the move could result in more than 200 deaths-a-day

US fast food workers strike

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: On Tuesday, fast food workers plan to strike in nine U.S. cities. The workers will be demanding an increase to the minimum wage amid a historical workforce shortage in the industry.

Protests are planned as part of the strike to demand a minimum wage of $15 per hour for fast food workers. And the strike marks 12 years since the last time the federal minimum wage was increased. It’s been $7.25 an hour since 2009.

Similar protests were held earlier this year when employees of McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s took to the streets. 

Franchises like Chipotle and McDonalds have since raised wages in some of their locations, forced by a new trend of fleeing staff shaking the industry.

Now, April registered historical levels of hospitality workers voluntarily quitting their jobs in the United States, with 5.6 percent of the industry’s workforce seeking better opportunities and higher salaries. 

The current trend of fleeing employees — and the Biden administration’s push for improved working conditions — could translate into a more favorable climate for negotiations between employers and staff. 

On the other hand, experts argue that a one-time wage increase will not lead to lasting solutions in the industry.

Colombia Congress resumes

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Also on Tuesday, Colombia’s national legislature will resume — roughly a week before the three-month anniversary of the unrest that gripped the country and resulted in hundreds of arrests and dozens of deaths.

Protests in Colombia initially broke out in late April over President Iván Duque’s plan to raise taxes and continue funding “Ingreso Solidario”, a social program aimed at providing coronavirus relief. 

The protests continued despite Duque’s decision to withdraw the tax reform, with narrow grievances expanding to include the heavy-handed crackdown on protesters by Colombian authorities.

Officials have confirmed that bills will be filed on Tuesday to raise revenue, though tax reform measures will be less comprehensive than the initial efforts that prompted the protests. 

This round of measures will seek to generate $15 billion in revenue to fund social programs. Additional legislation concerning Colombia’s social safety net is also expected

Finally, while protests have continued across the country, with varying degrees of intensity, activists have announced plans for new marches with the resumption of congress.

Cuba protests

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast looks at the protests that recently broke out in Cuba. For more on that I spoke with Factal editor Jeff Landset. 

JIMMY: Hey, Jeff. 

JEFF: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Hey, let’s just jump right into this. What’s going on in Cuba? 

JEFF: All right. So, you may have seen some social media photos or videos about protests ongoing on the island nation. These are the largest anti-government protests that Cuba has seen in probably decades. If not, you know, more than that. Thousands of people took to the streets, you know, spontaneously on Sunday, basically singing anti-Castro songs, chanting ‘down with communism.’ Many people on the island, journalists and observers have said that they have never seen anything quite like this. 

JIMMY: What’s driving these protests? It’s not like communism is new to Cuba. 

JEFF: No, but Coronavirus is and so the situation there dealing with that has gone poorly. Instead of getting vaccines from other countries, they tried to develop their own — which, by all accounts, their vaccine is pretty good, but it’s taken them this long to get the vaccine out. And at the moment, they haven’t been distributing it very well. And then so because of this, and because Cuba is a nation that is based on tourism, their economy has collapsed. They are seeing a lack of food or lack of medicine, frequent blackouts — the situation is spiraling. President Miguel Diaz canal blamed American sanctions and the trade embargo for the ongoing situation. He also said the protests were caused by American-led social media campaigns and maybe even some American sympathetic people on the ground. He also urged his supporters to go out and confront these provocateurs.

JIMMY: ‘Confront provocateurs?’ Is he just calling for counter protests? 

JEFF: No, he’s actually calling for street fighting. ‘The order to fight has been given. Into the street, revolutionaries,’ he said. 

JIMMY: Is it safe to assume that the US has officially denied allegations it’’s involved in the protests? 

JEFF: Yes. So, President Biden has said that the US stands firmly with the protesters and called on Cuba to ‘hear their people and serve their needs’ rather than enrich themselves.

JIMMY: How has Cuba responded to the protests?

JEFF: So Cuban security forces have been out and about during the protests. There has been some violence. We are seeing reports of at least one person dead during the protests and some injuries. So, the Cuban government may start to crack down on these protests with more violence and, a little harder than we’ve seen so far, as they continue. If that happens, you know, we may be seeing kind of a history repeating itself situation. The last time Cuba saw protests this large was in 1994. So after that, tens of thousands of Cubans tried to flee the country on rafts and small boats. It led to then-President Bill Clinton installing the ‘Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot’ policy, which meant that if you’re caught on the water you were sent back to Cuba. If you’re caught in America, you’re allowed to stay. So if the recent protests escalate, more Cubans could be attempting to make the trip to South Florida. 

JIMMY: I see. Well, I guess we’ll see how all this plays out in the coming days. Thanks for walking us through it, Jeff. 

JEFF: No problem. 

JIMMY: Take care. 

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jimmy Lovaas, Jess Fino, Irene Villora and Alex Moore. Our interview featured editor Jeff Landset and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello at factal dot com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Top photo: A protest against the Cuban government in Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts. Source: Wikimedia