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?

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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