Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran's parliament convenes, Americas become epicenter, India lifts lockdown

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran's parliament convenes, Americas become epicenter, India lifts lockdown
Iran's parliament sits (at a distance): They arrived in masks. They had their temperature taken. And then 268 members of Iran's newly elected parliament were sworn in, convening for the first time, with the appropriate distance between members. The body, which has no influence over foreign policy but does shape economic policy and the annual budget, is this time dominated by religious conservatives who are suspicious of engagement with the West, after many moderates and reformers were disqualified ahead of the most recent election in February. The new parliament has its work cut out: Iran's economy is in freefall as a result of US sanctions, low oil prices, and a coronavirus outbreak that was one of the worst in the Middle East. According to official data, which are widely suspected of being spotty, there have been 141,000 confirmed cases and 7,500 deaths. Two of the dead were newly elected members of parliament.

The new pandemic epicenter: First, it was East Asia. Then Europe was ravaged by COVID-19. The United States followed. And while the death tolls continue to creep upwards in all of those places, Latin America is now the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. There are close to 2.5 million confirmed cases and at least 143,000 deaths in the region. Brazil, which earlier this week registered the world's highest daily increase in COVID-19 deaths, leads the region with more than 375,000 confirmed cases and 24,000 fatalities. But WHO officials are concerned about surging numbers in Peru, Chile, and Central America. As we've written, the pandemic poses an acute double-edged challenge to Latin America: underfunded health systems will strain to cope with a public health crisis, while the economic impact of measures meant to contain the virus could plunge tens of millions of people back into poverty. It's about to get very real.

India eases as infections rise: In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a sudden lockdown of the entire country, giving India's more than 1.3 billion people a mere four-hours notice. Chaos ensued. In recent weeks, Modi has begun easing the lockdown, not because the number of coronavirus infections is falling, but because the country's economy is imploding. There are still no large public gatherings allowed and no flights arriving from outside the country, but people are again on the streets, in stores, in factories, on trains, and on domestic flights. The number of new cases, meanwhile, is still on the rise. Only Brazil, Russia, and the United States are adding more new cases each day. Hospital authorities in Mumbai and Delhi are scrambling to prepare for a likely surge in cases. At the same time, more than 100 million Indians have so far lost their jobs, and the country's already thin social safety net is nowhere near meeting the challenge. By mid-July India may have a million COVID cases, according to a University of Michigan model. If so, India may simply have traded one form of deadly chaos for another.


Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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