Coronavirus Politics Daily: Polio eyes a comeback in Africa, Malawi's corona mess, America's economic bounce back

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Polio eyes a comeback in Africa, Malawi's corona mess, America's economic bounce back
Polio eyes a comeback in Africa: The public health impacts of COVID-19 will go far beyond the number of people that the disease kills directly, especially in developing countries that are still struggling to contain other infectious diseases at the same time. The West African nation of Niger, for example, has now become the 15th country on the continent to report a fresh outbreak of polio, as mass immunization programs against the disease are suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Polio was largely eradicated in industrialized countries by the 1960s, but as recently as the late 1990s, it still affected as many as 75,000 people annually in Africa. Since then, immunization has virtually eliminated wild strains of the virus on the continent, but isolated outbreaks can still occur when recently vaccinated children transmit the virus to the unvaccinated. The challenge of keeping polio in check during the coronavirus pandemic comes alongside the potential resurgence of measles. As at least 24 countries have suspended their vaccination programs against that disease due to social distancing requirements.

What will the US economy's bounce back look like? The US economy contracted at least 4.8 percent in the first quarter of this year because of coronavirus lockdowns, the US Commerce Department said Wednesday, the swiftest economic decline since the Great Recession over a decade ago. With consumer spending plunging and shuttered businesses causing mass layoffs, the US economy has likely entered a recession, analysts say. When the economy began to nosedive back in March many predicted that the economic comeback would be much faster than 2010 with businesses clamoring to reopen and quarantined consumers keen to socialize and spend again. It's now clear, however, that in the absence of a vaccine we're not going back to anything resembling "normal life" any time soon. The economic revival of the country in the near-term, therefore, is contingent on two things: how quickly a vaccine is developed – which could take 12 –18 months – as well as when the US rolls out a widespread testing program so that people who have developed immunity can reenter the workforce. While the federal government has stepped in with $2 trillion in financial aid to assist unemployed Americans and struggling businesses, this won't be enough to help mom-and-pop stores, gyms, restaurants, and cafes around the country weather the COVID storm. In sectors like retail, meanwhile, where jobs were already disappearing as shopping moved online, it's hard to imagine that giants like Macy's will rehire many of the nearly 125,000 employees furloughed when the chain closed some 750 stores in March. So, what does Q2 have in store, you ask? An economic decline of at least 30 percent – or more – economists say.

A corona mess in Malawi: The landlocked country of Malawi in southeastern Africa, where about half the population of 19 million live below the poverty line, made headlines in recent days over the constitutional clash between the courts and the government, which has been blocked from implementing a national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. A human rights group said that people would not be able to provide for their families during a lockdown, and home quarantine orders have been banned while the case is reviewed by the country's Constitutional Court. Much of the criticism directed at the government centered on the fact that it had not directed financial aid to offset the loss of income for millions who work in Malawi's agriculture and informal sectors. With help from the World Bank, the government has since set up a $37 million funding package for 1 million people (which would come to a monthly allowance of about $40), but analysts say it's unclear that the cash-strapped Malawi government can even pay for its share. In a country with limited capacity to test for COVID, weak government infrastructure and distrust between the courts and government after a contested election last year, Malawi represents a ticking time bomb scenario.


People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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