Coronavirus Politics Daily: Burundi boots the WHO, vaccine squabbles, Haiti braces for an outbreak

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Burundi boots the WHO, vaccine squabbles, Haiti braces for an outbreak

Burundi expels the WHO: Just days before Burundians head to the polls to elect a new president and parliament, the government has expelled officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) who are in that country to help steer the government's pandemic response. Burundi's government did not give a reason for the dismissal, but critics say it was a reprisal against WHO personnel who had criticized the ruling party, currently led by President Pierre Nkurunziza, for holding large political rallies in recent weeks that have been banned in most parts of Africa, and for threatening citizens who called out the government's poor response to the outbreak. This isn't the first time that Burundi's ruling party, which won the vote in 2015 in an election that many say was illegitimate, has booted out UN representatives who raise human rights concerns. Burundi's officials, for their part, point to the country's low infection rate (there are currently around 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19) as proof of their success in handling the crisis, but critics say that's only because of the country's limited testing capacity. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, says that the health infrastructure in Burundi – where half the population of 11 million is food insecure – is so weak that the WHO's support and expertise are needed now more than ever.


Vaccines: who gets them? As labs around the world race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, a thorny question looms: who gets them first? It's a moral, medical, and monetary dilemma that spilled into the open this week when the head of French Pharma giant Sanofi suggested the US would get first dibs on vaccines from the company. His reasoning? Washington put up big money to fund the vaccine development, which isn't cheap. But his remarks provoked an angry response in France, with President Emmanuel Macron summoning the Sanofi boss for a meeting to ask him why les Americains should get the vaccine before, say, the French. Sanofi, the world's third largest vaccine-maker, has since walked back the idea, saying Friday that any vaccine would be available in all regions of the world at the same time. Still, the problem remains: with supplies of any vaccine sure to be extremely limited at first, what's the right criterion for whether you can get one – your passport or your wallet? Is a global rationing system possible? Tough questions with a silver lining: merely asking them will mean that a vaccine is finally close.

Haiti's border problem: Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island and a border, but so far, their experiences of the coronavirus pandemic have been markedly different. The DR, a popular tourist destination, has suffered the worst outbreak anywhere in the Caribbean, with about 12,000 cases, while Haiti, which has grown increasingly isolated after a year of political unrest, has registered just 230. But now as 150,000 Haitian migrants working in the Dominican Republic lose their jobs (and their legal status) and are forced to return home, they risk bringing the virus with them. At the moment, around 22,000 homeward-bound Haitians are crossing the border every week. Public health experts warn that Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, could not handle a serious outbreak of disease. The country's decrepit health care system would reportedly need an additional 8,000 hospital beds in order to accommodate a surge in cases. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Haiti had been rocked by a series of crises including perennial political corruption scandals, a catastrophic earthquake, and violent political protests. As coronavirus crosses the border, the challenges for the country will be immense.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

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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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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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.

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