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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.

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.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

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Even as vaccines roll out around the world, COVID-19 is continuing to spread like wildfire in many places, dashing hopes of a return to normal life any time soon. Some countries, like Israel and the UK for instance, have been praised for their inoculation drives, while still recording a high number of new cases. It's clear that while inoculations are cause for hope, the pace of rollouts cannot keep up with the fast-moving virus. Here's a look at the countries that have vaccinated the largest percentages of their populations so far – and a snapshot of their daily COVID caseloads (7-day rolling average) in recent weeks.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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