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.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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