Coronavirus Politics Daily: Alaska's COVID dilemma, global child deaths set to rise, Spain fears second wave

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Alaska's COVID dilemma, global child deaths set to rise, Spain fears second wave

Alaska's brush with COVID-19: Until now, the US state of Alaska has been unscathed by the coronavirus crisis. But with the state's lucrative fishing season about to start, hundreds of fishing boat crews from around the country have descended on Alaskan villages, bringing the disease with them. The first coronavirus case was identified recently in the town of Cordova, when a Seattle-based worker tested positive. The pandemic puts Alaskan officials in a bind: they want to protect their residents, but they don't want to cripple the fishing industry, which generates $5 billion a year and accounts for 8 percent of statewide employment. But continuing with business as usual poses huge risks for workers, many of whom work in crowded fish processing plants – similar to the assembly line in meat-processing centers that have proven to be vectors of disease around the world. Local officials are weighing the dilemma at a time when Alaska has already taken a financial hit because of plummeting prices for oil, its main economic engine, as well as disruption to tourism, another big local industry.


Spain fears second wave: Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, has recently been slowly loosening lockdown restrictions as the peak of its outbreak recedes. But on Thursday, the country recorded 217 COVID-19 deaths, the highest daily toll in over a week, sparking fears of a second wave of infection. While things are significantly better than in early April, when almost 1,000 Spaniards died daily from the disease, preliminary anti-body testing across the country shows that only 5 percent of Spain's population, around 2.4 million people, have contracted the virus. Public health experts say that's well below the herd-immunity threshold that would allow society to return to something resembling normalcy. Whether the government will now move to slow or reverse the cautious reopening remains to be seen.

Global child mortality rates set to rise: Public health experts are warning that as lockdowns and travel restrictions reduce access to preventive care and vaccinations around the world, 1.2 million children could die over the next six months alone. This would be the first rise in global child mortality in six decades. Among the countries expected to be hardest hit are Brazil, Nigeria, Somalia, and Pakistan. At the beginning of the COVID outbreak, public health officials already warned of a resurgence of infectious diseases like measles and malaria. The UN, meanwhile, has warned that widespread hunger because of job losses could also compound health outcomes for millions of children and has appealed to the international community for $1.6 billion in aid. "We must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths, be lost," a UN spokesperson said.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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