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.


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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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