Coronavirus Politics Daily: Spain's blame scandal, Wuhan's testing scheme, Nigeria's food crisis

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Spain's blame scandal, Wuhan's testing scheme, Nigeria's food crisis

Spain blame game begins – As Spain slowly moves beyond the worst public health phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first big political crisis of the finger-pointing phase has arrived. On Monday, Spain's left-wing government sacked the head of the Guardia Civil police in Madrid. Conservative opponents of the government immediately pointed out that the Madrid police had recently filed a report alleging that the government's decision to approve a massive March 8 rally for women's day contributed to the virus' devastating spread in the weeks afterward. The approval for that rally is currently under investigation by a Spanish court. The government denies that the sacking was related, but the second in command of the national Guardia Civil has already resigned in protest as well. Meanwhile, as Spain's notoriously sluggish and fragmented judicial system comes back online, courts are facing a deluge of cases involving bankruptcies as well as lawsuits alleging that the national government mishandled the crisis. The cases could take years to adjudicate.


Nigerians need food – Nigeria's government has issued a clear message to the country's farmers: produce more food. The authorities say the country has run out of funds to import food for its people to eat, but workers say that years of chronic under-investment in the country's agricultural sector has meant that even before the pandemic they were struggling to supply enough produce for Nigeria's 200 million people. They warn that millions could now starve unless the government itself brings in more rice and other staples. Food prices in Nigeria have surged since the coronavirus crisis hit Africa, while the already-flailing economy has taken a massive hit from falling oil prices, a crucial revenue stream for the continent's largest economy. Even before the pandemic, famine-induced food shortages had pushed millions below the poverty line, while ongoing conflict with Islamist militant groups have displaced more than 2.5 million people. The IMF now predicts that Nigeria's economy will contract by at least 1.5 percent this year, a massive blow for a country where 3 million people already depend on food aid to survive.

Wuhan's testing miracle – Authorities in Wuhan, China, appear to have pulled off the impossible, testing almost 7 million residents for COVID-19 in 10 days after a handful of new infections was detected in that city earlier this month. The ambitious testing scheme, dubbed a "10-day battle" by state officials, is an attempt to prevent a second wave of infection in the city where COVID-19 first surfaced back in December. Indeed, it was an impressive operation: to put the feat in perspective, testing 7 million people in 10 days means testing 8 people every second of every day. How did they do it? Medical booths were set up in every neighborhood so that all residents could easily access testing, while technicians paid home visits to elderly and disabled residents who were unable to leave their homes. On Friday alone, Wuhan performed around 1.47 million tests, compared to 394,296 tests performed throughout the entire US on the same day. Some countries have pointed to Wuhan as a model for mass testing schemes, but researchers say that it's not a foolproof system and that it risks overwhelming labs, while the push to rush through testing batches could produce faulty results.

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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