Coronavirus Politics Daily: Argentina on the brink, Egypt's emergency law abuse, Hong-Kong's political fever

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Argentina on the brink, Egypt's emergency law abuse, Hong-Kong's political fever

Argentina's economy on the brink: Mired in economic crisis, Argentina is on the verge of defaulting on its international loans for the ninth time in its history. Years of economic mismanagement had pushed Argentina into a recession even before the government imposed one of the tightest coronavirus lockdowns in Latin America in late March. The country's already weak currency, meanwhile, has taken a further hit because of the health crisis, pushing up the cost of $500 million in interest due over the next few weeks. The country's leftwing government says that, given soaring healthcare costs and emergency financial aid being doled out to help Argentines weather the COVID-19 storm, it can't make the payment and has appealed to international creditors, including the World Bank and IMF, to delay or renegotiate about $65 billion in debt. Buenos Aires has the support of hundreds of respected international economists who have called on bondholders to take a "constructive approach" to Argentina's restructuring proposal. In normal times, Argentina would get little sympathy from international lenders fed up with its unreliability and political gamesmanship, but the global economic downturn could finally give the desperate country some leverage with economic heavyweights in Brussels and Paris.


Sisi tightens his grip: Egypt's authoritarian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is always ready to exploit a good crisis to tighten his grip on power. Last week, he amended the nation's expansive emergency laws to enhance the power of his government to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. While some of the amendments relate directly to the health crisis, others are more dubious, including laws allowing the state to restrict Egyptians from owning or exporting any goods and services, while also giving the government power to control prices. Critics say that Sisi has abused the emergency law in the past to crack down on journalists, dissidents, and political opponents. But even before last week's changes, Sisi had been using the pandemic as a guise for abuses, including the arrest of scores of Egyptians who criticized the government's response to the pandemic. Among the critics: medical professionals who complained on Facebook about a lack of protective gear. Egypt has so far registered just 9,400 cases in a population of 100 million, and only 500 deaths, but critics say the true numbers are likely much higher.

Hong Kong's political fever: The global pandemic has yet to break Hong Kong's political fever. In fact, large-scale protests have continued to erupt in response to proposed new laws that demonstrators say would restrict the right of citizens to speak their minds and fatally undermine Hong Kong's considerable autonomy from mainland China. On Friday, pro-democracy and pro-Beijing lawmakers ended up in a fistfight inside the Legislative Council building, a brawl that left at least one lawmaker on a stretcher and led police to force pro-democracy lawmakers out of the building. This follows the arrest of protest leaders late last month that again set the city on edge. Demonstrators in surgical masks have occupied shopping malls with the promise of more disruptions to come.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

Watch the GZERO World episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?

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55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

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