Coronavirus Politics Daily: Epicenter in Indonesia, Ethiopia to the rescue, and sex in a pandemic

Indonesia becomes an epicenter: Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is now considered an epicenter of the pandemic, after it suffered its biggest daily surge in cases Thursday with over 900 new infections. The country of 260 million has the largest outbreak in Southeast Asia, recording about 20,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, though a recent study suggested that as few as 2 percent of the country's coronavirus infections may have been reported. When pressed on why Indonesia is experiencing a surge in cases while the curve appears to be flattening in neighboring countries, Indonesian health authorities blamed the public's flouting of social distancing guidelines. But critics say the government has sent wishy-washy messages on how to stop the disease's spread, as demonstrated by the fact that only four of Indonesia's 34 provinces have applied widespread social-distancing restrictions. Meanwhile, as the country's 225 million Muslims prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan this weekend, popular markets have been overwhelmed by shoppers buying food and clothing, with little guidance or enforcement of large-scale social distancing measures. Indonesia's public health system is grossly underfunded, and experts warn that given the shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and staff, the situation could deteriorate fast in the coming weeks.


Ethiopia to the rescue: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, has emerged as a critical transit hub for life-saving medical equipment sent to Latin America and the Caribbean. Why? The recipient countries say the stuff doesn't get stolen there the way it does when it goes through the US or Europe. Consider that authorities in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, one of the country's poorest and a major center of outbreaks in the Amazon, claim that two crucial shipments of respirators from China were recently confiscated during refueling stops in Europe and the US, creating a dearth of medical supplies as Brazil struggles to contain one of the world's worst outbreaks. Meanwhile, officials in the country's biggest city São Paulo, as well as Barbados, have reported similar instances of resource hijackings in recent weeks, and are now opting to have equipment cargos refuel in Ethiopia rather than Europe and the US. This is the latest example of cooperation among the world's developing countries during the coronavirus pandemic as many world leaders have come under fire for bungling both the national and global response to the crisis, leading – at least in some cases – to otherwise avoidable deaths and economic pain.

Sex in a pandemic: Governments have issued all sorts of guidelines on how the public should conduct itself during the coronavirus pandemic. Stay healthy. Eat well. Separate work life from playtime. Now, they are also weighing in on our sex lives, offering guidelines for how people should approach intimacy under various degrees of lockdown. Health officials in New York City and Los Angeles have offered a no-nonsense approach to sex in quarantine: "You are your safest sex partner," says a slogan touted by both cities, clearly encouraging masturbation. In Washington DC, meanwhile, the mayor's office cautioned against engaging in sex if either partner is feeling under the weather: "Sex and close contact will be waiting for you when you are feeling better," the office reassured residents. Unsurprisingly, many European countries adopted a laxer approach to sex in lockdown. After the Dutch Health Institute encouraged singles to find a seksbuddy for comfort during quarantine, a health official was forced to clarify that this should be restricted to people who were already acquainted with one another but don't live together. The Danish health ministry, for its part, went a step further in giving the green light to casual sexual encounters: "We are sexual beings, and of course you can have sex in this situation," one senior official said.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

British economist Jim O'Neill says the global economy can bounce back right to where it was before, in a V-shaped recovery. But his argument is based on a lot of "ifs," plus comparisons to the 2008 recession and conditions in China and South Korea that may not truly apply. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Robert Kahn take issue with O'Neill's op-ed, on this edition of The Red Pen.

Today, we're taking our Red Pen to an article titled "A V-Shaped Recovery Could Still Happen." I'm not buying it. It's published recently by Project Syndicate, authored by British economist named Jim O'Neill. Jim O'Neill is very well known. He was chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He's the guy that coined the acronym BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China. So, no slouch. But as you know, we don't agree with everything out there. And this is the case. Brought to you by the letter V. We're taking sharp issue with the idea that recovery from all the economic devastation created by the coronavirus pandemic is going to happen quickly. That after the sharp drop that the world has experienced, everything bounces back to where it was before. That's the V. Economists around the world are debating how quickly recovery will happen to be sure. But we're not buying the V. Here's why. W-H-Y.

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Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, provides his perspective on technology news:

Will the new audit of Facebook civil rights practices change the way the company operates?

Yes. It came under a lot of pressure from civil rights activists who organized an advertising boycott. And then an internal audit on Facebook's effect on civil rights came out. It was quite critical. Those two things, one after the other, will surely lead to changes at the company.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have recently become very different. Since the beginning of July, the average number of both new fatalities and new deaths per 1 million people is rapidly increasing in the US while it remains mostly flat in the EU. We compare this to the average number of new cases each seven days in both regions, where the US trend continues upward but is not surging like the death toll. EU countries' robust public health systems and citizens' willingness to wear masks and maintain social distance could explain the disparity.