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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Italy closes ports, Spain floats UBI, Libya cases grow

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Italy closes ports, Spain floats UBI, Libya cases grow

Italy closes its ports to migrants: After a boat carrying 150 Libyan migrants was intercepted off the Italian coast this week, the Italian government rushed to pass an eleventh-hour law barring migrant ships from docking on its shores during the coronavirus crisis. Italy, the main port of entry for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, has seen more COVID-19 deaths than any other country to date. Members of Italy's political right and left – including the country's health minister, who belongs to a leftist party that has long supported migrants' rights – joined forces to support the legislation, on the grounds that Italy can't ensure the safety of migrants during the outbreak. But non-government groups that patrol the Mediterranean to rescue migrants say that even in the midst of a global crisis, the rights of asylum seekers should be safeguarded. Rome's move to close the ports comes just six months after a new Italian government reopened them to migrants, overturning the anti-migrant policies spearheaded by former interior minister Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Lega Party. Before Europe became the epicenter of the pandemic, efforts were underway to implement some sort of bloc-wide policy on migrants. But as COVID-19 cases soar throughout the union, this has undoubtedly been put on (the furthest edge of) the back burner.


Spain readies cash for…everyone? The catastrophic economic and social impacts of the coronavirus crisis are sure to force fresh thinking about governments' responsibilities to their citizens. In Spain, which has the highest COVID-19 death rate of any country on earth, the leftist coalition government has proposed a bold step: introducing a Universal Basic Income scheme, under which Spaniards would permanently receive monthly payments directly from the government. A government minister said Tuesday that moves are afoot to implement the measure as soon as possible. It's not clear whether it would target all Spaniards or just people with low income. What's also not clear is how it would be paid for in the long run. Local level experiments with UBI have been tried in a number of countries, but at the nationwide level, there are few examples. Finland scrapped a 2-year nationwide UBI plan in 2019 after finding that it did little to boost employment. At the moment, the only country we know of that runs a nationwide, government backed cash transfer scheme like this is Iran.

COVID-19 in Libya: The UN called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in war-torn Libya after the Libyan National Army (LNA), the defacto government that controls eastern Libya, confirmed its first COVID-19 case Tuesday in Benghazi. The LNA's opponents, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which rules the capital city of Tripoli, has also reported dozens of infections and one death from the virus. Six years of civil war have destroyed Libya's already fragile health infrastructure, and aid agencies, including the World Health Organization, have warned that an outbreak could devastate the country. Calls for a ceasefire seem far-fetched: this week the LNA, headed by the wily warlord Khalifa Haftar, attacked a coronavirus-designated hospital in Tripoli. Here's a reminder of who's who in Libya's intractable civil war.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

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Even as vaccines roll out around the world, COVID-19 is continuing to spread like wildfire in many places, dashing hopes of a return to normal life any time soon. Some countries, like Israel and the UK for instance, have been praised for their inoculation drives, while still recording a high number of new cases. It's clear that while inoculations are cause for hope, the pace of rollouts cannot keep up with the fast-moving virus. Here's a look at the countries that have vaccinated the largest percentages of their populations so far – and a snapshot of their daily COVID caseloads (7-day rolling average) in recent weeks.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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