Coronavirus Politics Daily: COVID in the rainforest, Ethiopia ballot delayed, Norway feels different

Coronavirus Politics Daily: COVID in the rainforest, Ethiopia ballot delayed, Norway feels different

Coronavirus reaches the rainforest: Brazil has reported the first case of coronavirus within one of its more than 300 indigenous tribal communities, after a 20-year old medical worker deep in the Amazon rain forest has tested positive. Officials believe the woman, who lives more than 500 miles from the nearest major city, was infected by a doctor in the area who had recently returned from a vacation in southern Brazil, where the virus has already spread rapidly. Brazil's 850,000 indigenous are at high risk, as they live in highly communal fashion, in remote areas that lack extensive healthcare infrastructure. For some historical context, these people are, themselves, the descendants of the barely 10 percent of indigenous peoples who survived the scourge of infectious diseases brought by European colonizers half a millennium ago.


Norway feels different now: For decades, Norwegians have thought of themselves as annerledeslandet, "the different country." Between the smart use of oil revenues that began pouring in back in the 1970s, and the country's lucrative fishing industry, Norway has enjoyed a much-coveted quality of life and economic stability. But the recent tumble in oil prices, a result of a Saudi-Russian price war and coronavirus lockdowns, has thrown the economy of Europe's largest oil producer, into disarray. In the past month, Norway's currency, the krone, has fallen by about 15 percent against the US dollar, while around five percent of the population has filed for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks alone, producing the highest unemployment level since WWII. Luckily, Norway has the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, a rainy day cushion of around $950 billion, which the government can use to boost the economy. Still, the pandemic is a real test of one of the world's most well run social democracies. After this is all over, will Norway still be different?

Ethiopia elections stalled over COVID: Ethiopia's August presidential and parliamentary elections have been postponed as the country tries to rein in its growing coronavirus outbreak. The long-anticipated polls were largely seen as a referendum on the reformist agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising to spearhead a democratic awakening, and has since released thousands of political prisoners while lifting the country's ban on opposition parties. But Ahmed is also accused of cracking down on journalists and stifling dissent. Some observers warn that delaying the ballot could further inflame a recent resurgence of religious and ethnic tensions that has left dozens dead and displaced around three million people. Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous country, and one of its fastest growing economies, has an uphill battle in fighting the pandemic as it grapples with limited testing resources and a neglected medical system (there are just 0.3 hospital beds per every 1,000 people, and around 435 ventilators for a population of 114 million).

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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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

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

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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