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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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