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.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

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Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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