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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Nicaragua's coverup, Russia's plea, Sweden's death toll

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Nicaragua's coverup, Russia's plea, Sweden's death toll
Is Nicaragua covering up COVID cases? As other countries across Latin America have imposed strict lockdowns to stem the spread of COVID-19, Nicaragua's nominally socialist strongman president Daniel Ortega has continued to encourage mass gatherings, citing the country's low caseload as justification for carrying on with business as usual. But Nicaraguans who have lost loved ones to respiratory illness in recent weeks say the government isn't counting them, and that their deceased relatives were whisked away for "express burials," accompanied by members of pro-government paramilitary groups. Taken together with reports that hospitals are packed with people showing coronavirus symptoms, the official toll of just 10 people is looking like a gross cover up. Meanwhile, although Ortega and his wife, the powerful vice president Rosario Murillo, have said the crisis is overblown, they haven't made a public appearance in months, a sign, critics say, that they are seeking to prevent their own exposure to the outbreak.

Russia's search for supplies: As Russia now records the second highest number of cases in the world, the Kremlin has asked the United States for much-needed medical supplies. You may recall that it was barely a month ago that Russia was lavishing medical aid on the US, in what was viewed as a propaganda coup for the Kremlin. Washington now says it will send Moscow a shipment of test kits and excess ventilators in the coming days. For months, medical workers in Moscow and St. Petersburg have warned that the virus was spreading like wildfire in hospitals because of an acute shortage of protective equipment, even as President Putin and other top officials claimed the situation was "under control" and cracked down on critics of the government's response. President Putin has pointed to Russia's low death toll as proof that things are going well — it has registered fewer than 2 deaths per 100,000 people, against 27 in the US and more than 50 in the UK, Italy, and Spain. But critics say the Kremlin is undercounting COVID-19 deaths, and that the toll could be 70 percent higher than official data show.

Deaths in Sweden: Sweden's approach to COVID-19 continues to be a source of intense controversy. Its government has not ordered citizens to stay home or wear masks. It has closed universities and banned large public gatherings, but it hasn't shuttered schools, bars or restaurants. The hope is that by allowing the virus to work its way through healthier peopleeven as precautions are taken for the elderly and people with underlying health problems—a large number of people will develop immunity. Thus, a future wave of the virus will kill far fewer people—leaving less human and economic damage in total. Is it working? On the one hand, more Swedes died in April than in any month in the past 27 years, and its death rate is much higher than in other Scandinavian countries. On the other, it has avoided the death tolls we've seen in Italy, France, Britain, and New York City, where lockdowns have been the rule. Whether there's a lesson here for other countries is another question.

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.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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