Coronavirus Politics Daily: Trump's grim trade-off, corona vs protests, and a boon for Kenya's fishermen

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Trump's grim trade-off, corona vs protests, and a boon for Kenya's fishermen

Trump wants the US "open" by Easter: US President Donald Trump today said he wants the coronavirus-related lockdowns lifted by mid-April, because he is concerned that the economic costs of these measures is too high. Trump's earlier caution that "the cure can't be worse than the problem itself" is a central principle of public health responses to pandemics, but most serious epidemiologists and public health experts say that easing the lockdown measures makes sense only once hospitals are fully prepared and there is sufficient testing to detect new outbreaks – neither of which is yet true in the US. The idea sets up a macabre calculation of how many lives are worth saving vs the economic impact of doing so, but it could also put governors on the spot: the lockdown measures have been imposed by states, not the federal government. Local authorities may be reluctant to relax the rules for fear of generating a fresh spike in cases. But if Trump is serious, he could also threaten to withhold federal aid from states that defy new, looser guidelines. Something nasty is coming, one way or another.


Coronavirus and protest politics: No matter how angry people may be at their governments, few are eager to gather in the streets to lift their voices against authority these days. We've seen lots of recent examples of how fear of coronavirus can undermine protests, while governments are also using new rules against public gatherings to disperse even the bravest of crowds. In India, for example, police have broken up a months-long peaceful protest against a new citizenship law and its prejudicial effect on the country's enormous Muslim minority. The easing of virus fears in China may soon revive long-running protests in Hong Kong. But some in Israel aren't waiting for news that the COVID coast is clear. In response to health regulations banning public gatherings, critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have staged a virtual rally of hundreds of thousands of people to accuse him of using the public health crisis to remain in power. How coronavirus changes the norms and avenue of political mobilization is going to be a big story in the coming months.

Kenyan fishermen's coronavirus boon: Kenyan fishermen have long lamented cheap frozen fish imports from China, which have strangled a local industry that supports thousands of people. But the coronavirus crisis has suddenly changed the picture as Chinese exports have slowed to a trickle amid that country's lockdowns, while Kenyans worried about contracting coronavirus began shunning fish from China anyway. As a result, Kenya's fishermen, who used to complain of having to barter or even give away their catch, are now celebrating as demand for Kenyan fish has surged 80 percent in the past two weeks. But there's a catch, so to speak. Experts warn that Kenyan supplies aren't enough to meet demand, and Kenya could soon face shortages if those Chinese imports don't resume.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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