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.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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