Coronavirus Politics Daily: Mexico's deadly healthcare, South Korea's lockdown, Qatar's contact tracing fiasco

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Mexico's deadly healthcare, South Korea's lockdown, Qatar's contact tracing fiasco

Mexico's healthcare system kills: Years of underinvestment in its healthcare system has left Mexico woefully underprepared for the emergency now plaguing its 128 million people. As a result, many Mexicans are dying not from the virus itself, but from medical malpractice or other mistakes as overstretched hospitals fail to manage the surging caseload. Anecdotal evidence from cities like Mexico City and Tijuana reveals that a shortage of medical workers means patients in critical care units can go up to eight hours without a visit from an attending physician. That has resulted in otherwise preventable deaths from clogged breathing tubes and septic shock. Meanwhile, scarcity of basic equipment to monitor patients' vitals, like heart monitors, for example, has resulted in what one Mexican doctor called "dumb deaths," referring to patients dying as a result of improper medical care. Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has acknowledged that the country has 200,000 fewer healthcare personnel than it needs to manage the crisis, but has done nothing to meaningfully address the problem. The stakes are climbing. Mexico has now recorded more than 8,500 deaths from COVID-19 (and has one of the highest daily death tolls in the world), though authorities acknowledge this is likely an undercount because of the country's low testing rate.


South Korea reimposes lockdowns: South Korea, long praised for its successful handling of the pandemic, reinstated some lockdown restrictions this week after Seoul experienced its largest surge in COVID-19 cases in seven weeks. Museums and galleries will now be closed until at least June 14, while residents are advised not to gather for social events in the capital, home to half of South Korea's population of 51 million. Several new coronavirus clusters have been identified in the metro area since the government eased restrictions in early May, delaying the much-anticipated reopening of schools amid fear of a second wave of infections. South Korea's coronavirus response strategy – which includes a widespread testing scheme and meticulous contact tracing – has been hailed globally for its success in curbing the virus' spread. But recent events show that the country that had the first reported case of COVID-19 outside China back in January is not yet out of the woods.

Qatar's contact app fiasco: In a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus, the government of Qatar last week ordered everyone in the small, gas-rich Persian gulf state to install a contact tracing app, under penalty of a $55,000 fine or three years in prison. The app uses Bluetooth technology to determine whether users have been within six feet of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The government didn't realize, however, that the app was built in a way that gives hackers ready access to loads of personal data. The government says it has fixed that problem, which was discovered by researchers at the human rights watchdog Amnesty International. But there are still concerns about whether Qatar's authoritarian government itself might use the app to snoop on its citizens. How governments balance the need for contact tracing with the protection of privacy is a big deal, but some experts point to a more basic problem: for all the hype about contact tracing apps, no one is sure if they really work.

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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