A snapshot of COVID-19 a year on

A woman wearing a face mask that says, "if you can read this it means you are too close."

We are now about to enter year two of the coronavirus pandemic, a saga that's been lingering far longer than many people first anticipated. As we near this grim milestone, it's worth reflecting on how the once-in-a-generation public health crisis is currently unfolding.

State of play. In many parts of the world, the situation is dire. Countries in the Americas and Europe, are dealing with raging second (or third) waves of infection that are dwarfing the numbers seen this past spring and summer.

The United States has now surpassed 10 million COVID-19 cases, the most of any country in the world. Midwestern states are being hit particularly hard, though the current wave stretches across the entire country, and hospitalizations have reached an all-time high. Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci recently warned of "a whole lot of pain" if current trajectories persist.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Peru remain major COVID-19 hotspots, recording some of the highest per capita mortality rates in the world.

A strong resurgence of the disease in former European hotspots like Spain and Italy is again testing the limits of healthcare systems. While in the spring the virus was mainly contained to northern Italy, now it is also ravaging the south. Across Europe, hospitalizations in the UK, France, and the Czech Republic continue to soar.

COVID fatigue. As the pandemic lingers, people's willingness to adhere to disruptive lockdown measures is waning. A recent poll of Americans conducted by Gallup recorded the lowest level of concern of contracting the virus since mid-June.

This presents a massive challenge for politicians who are trying to get a pandemic-weary public to mask up and comply with lockdown measures. Though the virus has played out differently in many places, local and state representatives from places as varied as Wisconsin, Jerusalem, Milan, and Berlin say that as "second waves" drag on, they are observing people's growing willingness to risk contracting COVID-19 either out of necessity or weariness. The problem is so pervasive that John Hopkins University and the World Health Organization have published blueprints for dealing with "coronavirus burnout" and "pandemic fatigue."

Economic pain deepens. The economic costs of the pandemic are well established, but as business closures are set to continue well into 2021, the burdens may become too hard for some people to bear. In the US, for example, those who supported earlier lockdown measures may not show the same willingness to comply as unemployment benefits completely dry up with no reprieve in sight.

Researchers point to "two recessions" in some advanced economies: while the financial pain may have largely dissipated for wealthy people, people of color, women, and low-wage earners are still finding it hard to put food on the table or pay their bills. Hundreds of small business owners and workers filed lawsuits against the state government of Victoria in Australia for having imperiled their livelihoods by enforcing strict lockdowns.

Vaccine distribution. The world rejoiced this week when US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that its coronavirus vaccine is more than 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. But some health experts were more subdued, warning that the main challenge of 2021 will be distributing the vaccine.

While the global COVAX initiative aims to ensure the vaccine distribution process is equitable, there are some stumbling blocks. The US has not joined because President Trump resents "the corrupt World Health Organization and China." To make matters worse, the US is also part of a select group of countries that has been prioritizing vaccine access for their own populations, increasing the risk that developing nations will be left behind.

Looking ahead: Just because you are sick and tired of COVID, doesn't mean it's sick and tired of you. Even as vaccine development appears promising, it's clear that many nations must brace for a rough few months ahead.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.

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What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.

Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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Would China really invade Taiwan?

The Red Pen

India’s COVID crisis hits home

GZERO World Clips
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal