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.


Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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