But aside from the coronavirus: Three big stories beyond Covid-19

The public health, economic, and political impacts of the rapidly expanding Covid-19 pandemic are soaking up most of the world's attention, and for good reason. But here are a few stories that you might have missed while you were washing your hands, watching the stock market, or nervously checking the latest CDC and WHO guidelines.

Lebanon had a major debt crisis: For the first time in its history, Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt payments when it failed to meet a March 9 deadline to make a Eurobond repayment of $1.2 billion. While defaulting could placate dissatisfied Lebanese protesters who have flocked to the streets for months, imploring the government to prioritize domestic affairs, this move will do little to ease the fiscal woes of one of the most indebted countries in the world. Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab – who took office after protests forced the former PM to resign – said he will negotiate with other creditors to restructure his country's remaining foreign currency debt, which totals a whopping $31 billion (its debt-to-GDP ratio has peaked above 150 percent). As its currency continues to plummet and unemployment surges, the main question is what options do the debt-strained country have now? Beirut has engaged in preliminary bailout talks with the IMF, but a deal could take months and Lebanon needs cash – fast – to avoid more public upheaval.


Myanmar's lawmakers refused to clip the army's wings: A decade into its fraught transition to democracy, Myanmar's parliament has blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the role of the military in politics. In 2010, military rule in Myanmar was replaced by a military-backed civilian government. But the country's constitution – drafted by the military junta in 2008 – continued to guarantee members of the military a quarter of seats in parliament. Now, lawmakers have blocked a bid from the political party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (the controversial leader who spearheaded Myanmar's pivot to partial-democracy) to reduce the number of military MPs over a 15-year period. Suu Kyi is feeling the heat when it comes to showing progress on constitutional reform after her country recently faced accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice. The court claims that the military establishment (the same one that vetoed the proposed constitutional amendment) was responsible for a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017 in northern Myanmar. Voting on other proposed constitutional amendments – including measures to override the head of the military's right to yield complete power during a state of emergency – will continue through March 20, although given the military's voting power, these are unlikely to pass.

South Africa's president beat a corruption rap: South Africa's High Court dismissed corruption charges this week against President Cyril Ramaphosa, a major boost for the beleaguered leader of the continent's largest economy. Ramaphosa had been accused of lying to parliament about the source of a $32,500 campaign donation, which allegedly came from a shady logistics company mired in corruption scandals. But in a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the donations to Ramaphosa's campaign were of a "private" nature, and therefore, outside the purview of the court. The case was seen by many as a manifestation of the intense political rivalry inside Ramaphosa's ruling African National Congress party, which has undermined his attempts at much-needed economic reform as the country deals with sky-high youth unemployment and weak business sentiment, exacerbated by the worst drought in living memory. When Ramaphosa replaced disgraced former president Jacob Zuma as head of the ANC in 2017, he pledged to bring "ethics into politics" and to revive the flailing economy. Now that this case is over can he consolidate control of a divided party and tackle his country's problems more effectively?

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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