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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.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Iran rules out nuclear talks… for now: Iran has reportedly rejected an offer to join direct talks with the US and EU over its nuclear program, saying it won't start the conversation until sanctions on Iran's economy are eased. To be clear, this does NOT mean that prospects for reviving the Iran nuclear deal are dead. Europeans and the Biden administration want a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and Iran certainly needs the economic boost that would come from a removal of sanctions. But Tehran is going to try to maximize its leverage before any talks begin, especially since this is a sensitive election year in in the country. Iran's leaders are going to play hard to get for a while longer before edging their way back to the bargaining table. Still, it's high stakes diplomacy here between parties that have almost no mutual trust — and one misstep could throw things off track quickly.

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18: A week after threatening protesters with a severe crackdown, Myanmar's ruling junta killed at least 18 people across the country in the bloodiest day of clashes since the generals staged a coup last month.
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The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he'll talk about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He'll also offer some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

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