Coronavirus Politics Daily: Ecuador as epicenter, Italians want answers, global vaccine effort without the US?

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Ecuador as epicenter, Italians want answers, global vaccine effort without the US?

Ecuador, a coronavirus epicenter: While the spread of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States has garnered media attention for weeks, the Latin American country of Ecuador has quietly been grappling with one of the worst outbreaks in the world. In recent weeks, suddenly overwhelmed morgues in the industrial hub of Guayaquil forced people to leave their dead wrapped in sheets on city sidewalks. The real death toll in the country is likely 15-times higher than the official count of 500, according to a chilling New York Times investigation, making the country the epicenter of the outbreak in Latin America. And that's not because of a coverup – government officials acknowledge that the statistics are likely a gross undercount because of their lack of capacity to test for and control the surging number of cases. Ecuador's case is a grim foreshadowing of how the pandemic may play out in other developing countries, where weak infrastructure, insufficient resources, and pre-existing political and economic challenges impede public health efforts.


Accountability in Italy: Even as the Italian government now wrestles with how to ease lockdown restrictions – flagged as "phase 2" of the crisis – many Italians are already preparing for "phase 3": the political and legal reckoning afterwards. With 25,000 COVID-related deaths, the highest official toll after the US, Italians who lost loved ones to the disease are strategizing on how to hold government officials responsible for failing to stop the epidemic sooner. One prominent journalist recently wrote that "the pandemic is going to turn into a big collective trial," as prosecutors probe health officials' responses and even mull manslaughter charges against directors of old-age care facilities where families say the true death toll was concealed. (The World Health Organization now says deaths linked to nursing homes make up around half of Europe's total COVID-19 death toll.) As Italy moves from mourning to accountability, the country's fragile coalition government will have to contend with the fallout.

Will the US join a global vaccine initiative? The World Health Organization has launched a global initiative to speed the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral drugs. France, Germany, the UK and the EU back the project, which aims to streamline testing and drug development so that all countries have equal access to life-saving treatments for a disease that has now infected some 2.7 million people worldwide. But the Trump administration, which recently cut funding for the WHO and has even floated plans to create an alternative, said it wouldn't take part in today's launch. It's unclear whether that means the US is blackballing the global initiative altogether – but the absence of the world's largest economy, home to some of the most advanced researchers on earth, would surely make things harder for the initiative.

Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints from people who've been victims of tech support scams. But it's not just Microsoft's brand that the scammers leverage; fraudsters have pretended to be from a number of other reputable tech companies and service providers. These scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about how they work and how to avoid them.

To measure the scope of this problem globally, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for a new 2021 survey across 16 countries. Results from the 2021 survey reveal that, globally, fewer consumers have been exposed to tech support scams as compared to the 2018 survey. However, those people who continued with the interaction were more likely to have lost money to the scammers than we saw in our previous survey. To read the highlights of the survey, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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Was the world so focused on climate change that warning signs about the COVID-19 pandemic were missed? Historian and author Niall Ferguson argues that, while the climate crisis poses a long-term threat to humanity, other potential catastrophes are much more dangerous in the near future. "We took our eye off that ball," Ferguson says about COVID, "despite numerous warnings, because global climate change has become the issue that Greta Thunberg said, would bring the end of the world. But the point I'm making in DOOM [his new book] is that we can end the world and a lot of other ways, much faster." Ferguson spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview for GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

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13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?

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