Coronavirus Politics Daily: China's corona cases spike, Nicaragua's pres vanishes, Syrian refugees flee again

Coronavirus Politics Daily: China's corona cases spike, Nicaragua's pres vanishes, Syrian refugees flee again

China's COVID-19 cases jump again: Two worrisome stories have emerged from China in recent days. First, Chinese health officials, now working hard to prevent a second wave of COVID-19, reported the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases on Monday since March 6, with 108 new infections registered. State media blame this latest jump in cases, at least in part, on border crossings from Russia. Second, the central government has reportedly issued new rules that restrict the publication of academic research on the origins of COVID-19, which most experts say began in China's Hubei province. This appears to be part of an official effort to blunt criticism of the government's initial response to evidence of outbreak.


Nicaragua's president is MIA: Amid coronavirus fears, many heads of state are making weekly (if not daily) public appearances to address their government's pandemic response efforts. In the Central American country of Nicaragua, however, President Daniel Ortega has not been spotted in public for over a month. Ortega, the socialist leader of the Sandinista movement (who has been widely denounced for veering into authoritarianism in recent years) has not surfaced since March 12, prompting rumors that he is gravely ill, dead, or else engaging in some sort of bizarre publicity stunt. In Ortega's absence, his wife and vice president, regarded by many as Nicaragua's more powerful leader, has been leading the response to COVID-19 – which is to say, leading almost nothing: the government has done little to halt the spread of coronavirus, leaving schools and businesses open and even encouraging Nicaraguans to gather at public events. Official data report just one death from the virus and no community transmission to date – claims widely dismissed as farfetched by the healthcare community.

Syrian refugees flee to...Idlib: The Syrian government's onslaught in northwest Syria forced as many as 1 million Syrians to flee north to the Turkish border where they have since languished in ramshackle refugee camps. But now many of those displaced people are heading back to their homes in Syria's Idlib province, wagering that returning to war-torn northern Syria is safer than staying in overcrowded camps potentially rife with coronavirus. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in these refugee camps to date (though there's also been no testing there), but the scarcity of medical supplies, food, heat, and clean water would handicap any virus containment efforts, humanitarian aid groups warn. With a tentative ceasefire brokered by Moscow and Ankara more or less holding in Idlib province, over 70,000 displaced Syrians have reportedly returned there. While many are worried that the Syrian regime could start shelling their villages again at any moment, for now, a deadly coronavirus outbreak in a crowded camp seems like the bigger threat.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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