Coronavirus Politics Daily: Banging at Bolsonaro, warning for Africa, enlisting tech

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Banging at Bolsonaro, warning for Africa, enlisting tech

Banging pots at Bolsonaro – How do you protest your government while following social distancing guidelines? Grab a pot, head to the window, and bang it loudly. That's what millions of Brazilians did this week to vent frustration at President Jair Bolsonaro's poor handling of the coronavirus crisis. Bolsonaro at first derided the pandemic as a media-fueled "hysteria." Then, shrugging off social distancing recommendations, he egged on a mass pro-Bolsonaro demonstration last weekend. To top it off, despite being exposed to the disease during a recent trip to Donald Trump's Florida estate, he showed up at the event to glad-hand, fist bump, and take selfies with his supporters. With two of his ministers among the more than 500 positive cases of COVID-19 in Brazil, Bolsonaro's government is finally mounting a rear-guard action to squelch the outbreak and soften the economic blow. But we'll see if that stops the racket echoing through the streets of Sao Paulo and Rio. To date these are the largest protests against Bolsonaro since he took office just over a year ago.


WHO's stark warning for Africa – The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has told African nations to "prepare for the worst," warning that lax measures to curb transmission of COVID-19 will be catastrophic for the world's poorest continent and its 1 billion people. Africa's handling of the pandemic has received little global attention as Europe takes the spotlight. But medical experts are worried about the pandemic hitting African countries that have weak health systems, poor infrastructure, inept governments, and populations disproportionately affected by HIV and other infectious diseases. Though initially slow to act, Burkina Faso, which recorded its first death from the virus Wednesday, has now closed its schools and banned public gatherings. South Africa, the continent's largest economy and sub-Saharan Africa's worst hit country, has implemented travel restrictions, but commuters continue to cram into trains. Meanwhile, the country's health minister recently warned that cases are piling up at an "explosive" rate.

Tech fights coronavirus – Tech companies have joined the fight against COVID-19 in amazing ways: facial recognition is helping to enforce quarantines. Artificial Intelligence is being trained to detect, predict, and treat COVID-19 cases. Cellphone data is being used to track outbreaks. Social media platforms are deleting misinformation about the virus. Right now, it's all tech on deck to fight a pandemic that could cause a global depression. But these approaches raise big questions about privacy, personal data, and free speech that may arise more forcefully once the pandemic has passed.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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