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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.

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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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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