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.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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