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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.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

UNGA Livestream