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.

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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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

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

US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?

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55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

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