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Coronavirus Politics Daily: India locks down, hugs vs science in Mexico, Russia's low numbers

Coronavirus Politics Daily: India locks down, hugs vs science in Mexico, Russia's low numbers

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

The largest lockdown in human history: Nearly a fifth of humanity has now been ordered to stay home, the largest lockdown in human history – and that's in just one country. India has told its 1.3 billion people not to leave their houses unless absolutely necessary. The move, which shuts schools, non-essential businesses and most public transport for three weeks, comes after the Indian government was initially criticized for its lagging response to the coronavirus crisis. But health experts say 21 days is not enough time to prevent COVID-19 from sweeping one of the world's most densely populated countries. Plus, will people comply? In Telangan state, for example, an official said he'd issue "shoot on sight" orders if people flout lockdown rules. But social distancing and self-quarantines aren't conceivable for tens of millions of Indians who live in unsanitary slums where diseases already thrive.


Mexico's leader hugs his way to catastrophe: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's populist president known as AMLO, has faced international criticism for his flippant approach to the coronavirus pandemic. In early March, AMLO, who's pushed back against the social distancing measures that other governments have implemented, had this to say: "You have to hug people. Nothing will happen." Even as Mexico's doctors reported an increase in patients with COVID-19-like symptoms, the Mexican leader has continued to hold rallies around the country, shaking hands and embracing supporters. AMLO has urged Mexicans to resist "fear and psychosis," saying that his country has ample medical resources to care for an influx of COVID-19 patients. But in the absence of adequate testing it's impossible to know how far the virus has spread, and medical experts warn that Mexico has just 2,000 ventilators for a population of more than 125 million. According to the OECD, Mexico has fewer intensive care beds and nurses per capita than the US, South Korea, and Italy.

Russia's referendum postponed: Russian President Vladimir Putin today postponed an April referendum on constitutional changes that would make it possible for him to stay in power until 2036. He made the announcement in a speech where he also ordered the entire population to take a week of paid leave in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country. So far Russia has reported fewer than 500 infections and just one possibly coronavirus-related death, a curiously low mark for a European country of 140 million people. But yesterday, as Putin donned a meme-worthy yellow hazmat suit to visit COVID-19 patients in Moscow, the mayor cast doubt on the official figures, saying that the actual number of infections in the Russian capital is significantly greater than the official numbers suggest. Is a week off of work going to ensure that Russia has COVID-19 "under control" as Putin says – or does a grimmer reckoning await?

How to enforce a quarantine, Chechnya edition: Elsewhere in Russia, the Kremlin-backed dictator of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov – known for track suits, gold plated pistols, pet tigers, an a nearly medieval penchant for sadism – has announced a very on-brand way to keep quarantined people from leaving their homes: if they do, kill them.

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It's been four days since Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, died in a hail of bullets on a highway near Tehran. Iran has plausibly blamed Israel for the killing, but more than that, not much is known credibly or in detail.

This is hardly the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in an operation that has a whiff of Mossad about it. But Fakhrizadeh's prominence — he is widely regarded as the father of the Iranian nuclear program — as well as the timing of the killing, just six weeks from the inauguration of a new American president, make it a particularly big deal. Not least because an operation this sensitive would almost certainly have required a US sign-off.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody. Ian Bremmer here, have your quick take. Plenty going on this week. I could of course talk about all these new Biden appointees, but frankly, there's not that much that surprising there. Moderate, lots of expertise, not very controversial, almost all of which could get through a Republican controlled Senate, presuming that markets are going to be reasonably happy, progressives in the Democratic party somewhat less so. But no, the big news right now internationally, certainly about Iran. The Iranians started this year with the assassination by the United States of their defense leader, Qasem Soleimani. Everyone was worried about war. Now, closing the year with the assassination of the head of their nuclear program and historically the head of their nuclear weapons program.

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Joe Biden has had one of the longest political careers in American history, but his most important act is yet to come. Can decades of experience in Washington prepare him to lead the most divided America since the end of the Civil War?

Watch the GZERO World episode: What you still may not know about Joe


Ethiopia on the brink: After ethnic tensions between Ethiopia's federal government and separatist forces in the northern Tigray region erupted into a full-blown armed conflict in recent weeks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his forces had taken control of Tigray's capital on Saturday and declared victory. But the fugitive Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael quickly called Abiy's bluff, saying the fighting is raging on, and demanded Abiy withdraw his forces. Gebremichael accused Abiy of launching "a genocidal campaign" that has displaced 1 million people, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Sudan, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Tigray, who make up about five percent of Ethiopia's population, are fighting for self-determination, but Abiy's government has repeatedly rejected invitations to discuss the issue, accusing the coalition led by Gebremichael's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of "instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines." As the two sides dig in their heels, Ethiopia faces the risk of a civil war that could threaten the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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