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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?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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One result of the law enforcement crackdown on pro-Trump Capitol rioters following the events of January 6 is that many right-wing extremists have left public social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for encrypted apps like Telegram and Signal. But renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher isn't all that concerned. "The white supremacist stuff, it's like mold. They thrived in the light, actually." Now that these groups no longer have such public platforms, their recruiting power, Swisher argues, will be greatly diminished. Plus, she points out, they were already on those encrypted apps to begin with. Swisher's conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no doubt that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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