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.

As digital technology reshapes the workplace, a move toward skills-based training and employment will unlock opportunities for companies and job seekers alike. While automation and AI are already taking on many routine tasks, demand for people with technology skills is rising fast around the globe. Getting the right people into the right jobs within the right organizations is one of the biggest challenges facing the world of work. So how can it be overcome? To read some recent skills-related stories, visit Microsoft On the Issues.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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