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.


"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary's far-right populist prime minister, likes to shock people. It's part of his political appeal. Orbán has proudly proclaimed that he is an "illiberal" leader" creating a frenzy in Brussels because Hungary is a member of the European Union.

It's been over a decade since the 58-year old whom some have dubbed "the Trump before Trump" became prime minister. In that time he has, critics say, hollowed out Hungary's governing institutions and eroded the state's democratic characteristics.

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Why do (most) world leaders drink together? It can get them to agree on stuff they wouldn't while sober. Booze "helps people get cooperation off the ground, especially in situations where cooperation is challenging," says University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland. Alcohol, he explains, allows you to "see commonalities rather than just pursuing your own interest," which may put teetotaler politicians — like Donald Trump — at a disadvantage. Watch his interview on the next episode of GZERO World. Check local listings to watch on US public television.

In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

QR codes are everywhere. Are they also tracking my personal data?

Well, a QR code is like a complex barcode that may be on a printed ad or product package for you to scan and access more information. For example, to look at a menu without health risk or for two-factor verification of a bank payment. And now also as an integral part of covid and vaccine registration. QR codes can lead to tracking metadata or personal data. And when your phone scans and takes you to a website, certainly the tracking starts there. Now, one big trap is that people may not distinguish one kind of use of QR codes from another and that they cannot be aware of the risks of sharing their data.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky bits of color from a Games like no other…

Today we've got— the best freakout celebrations!

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Tanzania reverses course on COVID: Just four months ago, the Tanzanian government was completely denying the existence of the pandemic. Then-President John Magufuli insisted Tanzania was COVID-free thanks to peoples' prayers, and refused to try to get vaccines. But Magufuli died suddenly in March — perhaps of COVID. His successor, current President Samia Suluhu, has acknowledged the presence of the virus in Tanzania, and although she was initially lukewarm on mask-wearing and vaccines, Suluhu has recently changed her tune, first joining the global COVAX facility and now getting vaccinated herself to kick off the country's inoculation drive. Well done Tanzania, because if there's one thing we've all learned over the past 18 months, it's that nowhere — not even North Korea, whatever Pyongyang says — is safe from the coronavirus.

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16: A new study tracking Earth's "vital signs" has found that 16 out of 31 indicators of planetary health are getting worse due to climate change. Last year's pandemic-induced shutdown did little to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, stop the oceans from warming, or slow the shrinking of polar ice caps.

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How booze helps get diplomacy done

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