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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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