Coronavirus Politics Daily: India lags, Cali closes, Silver linings

Coronavirus Politics Daily: India lags, Cali closes, Silver linings

Read our roundup of COVID-19 themes and stories from around the globe.

India is way behind on testing – With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassing 250,000 globally, the World Health Organization has sent a clear message to countries around the world: "test, test, test." But to date, only 14,000 of the 1.4 billion people living in India have been tested, one of the lowest rates in the world. The government's official position is that the disease hasn't yet spread communally – but how can they know without testing? Medical experts say India is worried that its feeble healthcare infrastructure would collapse under the strain of on-demand testing. The country spends just 1.28 percent of GDP on healthcare, has only eight doctors per 10,000 people, and has few ventilators. Partial lockdowns in many Indian cities have already begun, but without broader measures and better testing, virologists warn that India, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, is about two weeks behind the infection rates in Italy and Spain.


The world's fifth largest economy is closed – Late yesterday, the world's fifth largest economy closed for business, ordering some 40 million people to go into lockdown. We're not talking about Germany or Japan here, but California, America's most populous state, with an economy bigger than India's and 50 percent larger than Italy's. All non-essential businesses in the state are now closed, and residents can leave their homes only for essential purposes like going to the grocery store or seeing a doctor. California is one of the world's biggest economies to implement a lockdown of this kind, and with up to 80,000 Californians now applying for unemployment every day, the move could hasten the United States' slide into recession. Meanwhile, New York State – no slouch with an economy the size of Canada's – implemented a similar directive today, as the state's caseload steadily creeps towards 8,000, making it the country's coronavirus epicentre.

One silver (greenish) lining for all of this – No, dolphins and swans have not suddenly re-appeared in the canals of Venice. If you saw that story and shared it, you – like us at first – were duped by another vector of misinformation that has gone viral about coronavirus. But what is true is that the increasingly polluted (and rising) waters of Venice are a lot cleaner now, because Italy's lockdown is keeping the city's boats docked. And it's not just Venice. Coronavirus-related economic shutdowns are reducing air pollution across the globe. NASA satellites have captured a visible decrease in air pollution over Wuhan, China, and northern Italy in recent weeks. In New York City, meanwhile, carbon monoxide emissions appear to have fallen by 50 percent in recent days. Global emissions also fell significantly during the global financial crisis ten years ago, only to rocket back up once the economy started humming again. But in the decade since, climate change has emerged as a much more urgent political issue. Will the COVID-19 scourge create an opportunity to change course on global warming? Or will the perceived economic trade-offs of capping emissions seem even more daunting given the economic wreckage that the pandemic is certain to leave behind?

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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