Coronavirus Politics Daily: Ventilator shortage in Africa, India's risky reopening, exodus from the Gulf

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Ventilator shortage in Africa, India's risky reopening, exodus from the Gulf
Bleaker projections for Africa: For weeks, global health experts have been warning about the possibility of a coronavirus catastrophe unfolding in Africa. Now, as cases rise across the continent, the bleakest projections yet come from a Reuters report on the African countries' dilapidated and insufficient health care infrastructure. Africa has fewer than one ventilator and one intensive care bed per 100,000 people, while the continent's three most populous countries – Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt – have fewer than 2,000 intensive care beds for their combined 400 million inhabitants. The World Bank, for its part, says it has secured medical equipment for 30 African nations, but the shipments are still en route. Testing capacity in Africa is also extremely limited. Countries such as Kenya and Chad say they simply don't have enough testing kits on hand and are waiting for aid to arrive. To date just 685 tests per million people have been conducted in Africa compared to 23,000 tests per million people in Europe. UN models now predict that the outbreak could surge from thousands of cases now to 10 million in the next six months, causing up to 3.3 million deaths.

India's premature reopening? When India implemented the largest human lockdown in history back in March, it appeared to have averted a disaster, curbing the spread of COVID-19 before it swept the world's second most populous country. (To date, India has some 53,000 confirmed cases, a much lower per capita rate than most countries, though its testing capacity is limited.) But as the government – concerned about the devastating economic impact of the lockdowns on hundreds of millions of poor or low-income families – moved to lift some restrictions this week, COVID-19 infection rates quickly spiked, and the daily death rate from the disease surged from a handful in mid-April to over 100 in recent days. Most of India's coronavirus cases are in bustling urban areas where some people already seem to be suffering social distancing "fatigue" – including police who have been laxer in enforcing measures. While public health experts don't know whether recent numbers represent a definitive upward trajectory of COVID cases in India, they agree on one thing: the coronavirus outbreak there has still not peaked.

The great Gulf exodus: For decades, foreign workers – mainly from South and Southeast Asia, but also from Egypt and the Levant – have formed the economic backbone of the Persian Gulf economies. In the UAE, for example, the foreigners who drive the buses, care for the kids, run the shops, and toil on construction sites outnumber Emiratis by a staggering ratio of 9 to 1. But now, as coronavirus shutters economies across the region, many of the 35 million foreigners in the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait want to leave, as their jobs vanish and COVID-19 rips through the cramped workers compounds where many blue-collar foreigners live. With hundreds of thousands of them now seeking to leave, there's a big dilemma for their home countries. On the one hand, they are under pressure to bring their own citizens back – India, for example, has readied plans to bring home a million or more. But as they struggle to control outbreaks of their own, they also fear introducing more vectors of the disease from heavily infected countries abroad.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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