Coronavirus Politics Daily: A different Ramadan, Chile issues immunity IDs, Africa lacks ventilators

Coronavirus Politics Daily: A different Ramadan, Chile issues immunity IDs, Africa lacks ventilators

Ramadan in the time of COVID-19: Many of the world's 1.8 billion Muslims begin marking the holy month of Ramadan on Thursday, but it will be a commemoration with little precedent as communities around the world have to rethink new ways of incorporating some of Islam's central traditions. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and it's customary to gather in mosques and hold communal meals to break the fast. But given quarantine orders in countries with some of the largest Muslim populations, including Pakistan, India, and Malaysia, ensuring compliance with social distancing measures while allowing citizens to observe the holiest month on Islam's calendar, will prove challenging for many governments. In Pakistan, for example, some influential Islamic authorities have instructed Muslims to defy government orders that limit the number of people who can attend mosque services and to gather for prayers. Some Arab countries are leaning heavily on clerics to enforce guidelines. Meanwhile, in Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19, supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei told Iranians to avoid public gatherings during Ramadan and to pray at home – hoping to prevent the chaos seen last month when some Iranian hardliners, bolstered by Shiite clerics, violently stormed shrines that were closed because of the pandemic. In Egypt, meanwhile, actors and production crews have flouted social distancing guidelines in order to produce the country's famed Ramadan soap operas, which are heavily anticipated and widely watched every year.


Africa's ventilator shortage: As countries vie to get their hands on an insufficient global supply of ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic, the entire continent of Africa has a critical shortage of the life-saving machinery. The World Health Organization says there are just 2,000 ventilators between 41 African countries, prompting some doctors in the region to say they feel "defenseless" against the spreading disease. With a population of over 206 million, for example, Nigeria has some 100 ventilators, while South Sudan has just four. Meanwhile, Somalia's health ministry says they don't have access to any machines at all. But even those countries that do have some ventilators stockpiled say that they don't have enough trained medical professionals who know how to operate them. While African countries have so far avoided the worst of the pandemic, the UN warned last week that as the number of COVID-19 cases in the region continues to rise, as many as 3.3 million people could die of the disease unless stricter measures are taken to prevent its spread.

Chile issues first immunity IDs: If we loosen quarantine restrictions, how will we know who is actually safe to work or socialize with? The Chileans have one answer: card everyone. As of yesterday, the government has begun issuing the world's first COVID-19 "immunity" IDs to people who can prove, via testing, that they have recovered from the disease. Chile, which has so far done more testing than any other Latin American country, is still moving toward an expected mid-May peak of infections, but the card scheme is one way that the government wants to balance public health and economic considerations. Critics point out that we still don't know for sure whether people who recover from COVID-19 are immune, and if so for how long. From a political perspective, we wonder how many other countries would be able to impose a system like this, with all the political considerations and privacy concerns that a national, centralized immunity ID systems like this would entail. Would you, reader, be in favor of something like this?

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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