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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran exports virus to Afghanistan, Beijing's crackdown in HK, Australia calls for global probe

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran exports virus to Afghanistan, Beijing's crackdown in HK, Australia calls for global probe

Iran exports virus to ailing Afghanistan: As Iran grapples with one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, thousands are fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan to escape the plague, wagering that returning to conflict-ridden Afghanistan is safer than staying in hard-hit Iran. But Afghan authorities say this trend is having the reverse effect, bringing the virus into a country that has limited resources and is hobbled by conflict. Many of the people now returning fled conflict in Afghanistan years ago in search of a better life in Iran. But as work for Afghan day laborers dried up amid coronavirus lockdowns, and news circulated about the inundation of Tehran's hospitals, some 243,000 have made the journey from Iran to Afghanistan in recent months. There are now over 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Afghanistan, including an outbreak at the president's palace, and at least 40 deaths (though this is likely a gross undercount as Afghanistan only has the capacity to perform around 100 tests a day for a population of almost 39 million). Afghanistan's COVID outbreak comes at a particularly precarious time for a country that has one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world: When cases were first spreading last month, the Afghan government was negotiating a historic peace accord with the Taliban insurgent group, which includes the withdrawal of US troops. The Taliban, meanwhile, has continued to wage war, carrying out more than 500 attacks in recent weeks in provinces that are already hit by COVID-19.


Beijing cracks down on Hong Kong: It was just three months ago that millions of Hong Kongers were protesting Beijing's attempts to extend mainland control over the semi-autonomous city. Now, with the streets quiet and the world distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, China appears to be turning the screws. Last week, Beijing's local representative office asserted its right to interfere in local affairs, based on a controversial interpretation of Hong Kong's constitution. Local authorities then arrested 15 prominent pro-democracy activists, drawing rebukes from the United States. And Beijing is also calling for a new national security law that democracy activists fear could be used for further crackdowns. The mainland's muscle-flexing comes ahead of legislative council elections set for September, in which pro-democracy candidates are poised to do well, judging by the last local voting results. But if Beijing overplays its hand, it could reignite the protests — but then again, who wants to be in a massive crowd these days?

Australia calls for global probe of virus response: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been leading calls for an international investigation into the responses of China and the World Health Organization (WHO) to the coronavirus pandemic. In a series of phone calls this week, Morrison lobbied US President Donald Trump, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to band together in demanding a probe. China is believed to have covered up the initial outbreak, while the WHO has come under fire in recent weeks for being too differential to Beijing and for dragging its feet in responding to the pandemic. President Macron rejected Morrison's appeal, saying that now is not the time for an investigation, but rather for global cooperation. Meanwhile, Morrison said that he had "a very constructive discussion" with President Trump, who has sharply criticized both Beijing and the WHO. Chinese officials responded that Morrison was simply acting as "the mouthpiece" of the Trump administration. While Canberra and Beijing have maintained strong economic ties (China is Australia's leading trade partner) the political relationship has been tumultuous in recent years, and Australia's foreign minister warned that the coronavirus fallout could cause bilateral relations to change for the worse in more enduring ways.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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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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