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

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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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