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.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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Listen: A deep dive down the bottle to examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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