Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus eliminated down under, Mexico’s AMLO defies gravity, Belarus plays ostrich

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus eliminated down under, Mexico’s AMLO defies gravity, Belarus plays ostrich

AMLO's approval: Mexico's populist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has been criticized for initially dragging his feet in response to the coronavirus crisis, which critics say cost the country precious time in containing the outbreak. But despite a surging death toll (the number of COVID related deaths in Mexico doubled in the past week alone to more than 1,300) AMLO appears to have defied political gravity, with a large majority of Mexicans, some 82 percent, saying they approve of his handling of the emergency situation. Unlike other Latin American leaders, AMLO hasn't imposed a strict national lockdown, though he has extended recent school and non-essential business closures until the end of May. According to the same poll, however, Mexicans were less enthusiastic about the president's handling of the economic fallout. In recent days he has imposed budget cuts so severe that critics have compared the lifelong left-winger to austerity icons Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, while also rebuffing calls to provide tax relief for businesses. Given that Mexico's economy was already in trouble before the pandemic hit, it remains to be seen whether AMLO will pay a price for his economic policies in a way that he hasn't (so far) for his public health response.


Australia and NZ pave the way on virus containment: Despite being led by politicians with vastly different political views, the island nations of Australia and New Zealand are both on track to eliminate the coronavirus from their countries — for now. While both countries have had the advantage of geographical isolation and additional time to enforce national lockdowns, they also have another feature in common: the ability to put partisanship aside to weather a crisis. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, a conservative, and New Zealand's leftwing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have listened to public health experts and worked pragmatically with local officials to respond to the crisis. Both governments have rolled out generous social safety nets for workers, and boosted healthcare capacity. In Australia, where new daily COVID cases have hovered in the single digits for days, more than 2 million Australians (8 percent of the population) recently downloaded a new contact tracing app within hours of its release. Contact tracing has proved critical to subduing outbreaks in Singapore and South Korea. New Zealand, for its part, documented only one new case on Sunday. Both countries are not only on track to flatten the curve, but to crush it.

Belarus' COVID denial: Alexander Lukashenko is the only president Belarus has ever had. Since the office was created in 1994, he has dominated his country's politics so thoroughly that he's been called "Europe's last dictator." He rarely makes news outside Europe and Russia, but his handling of the coronavirus has brought him lots of international attention. In short, he is NOT handling the virus, which he insists does not exist in his country. He also says, for the record, that it can be kept at bay with vodka and saunas. Belarus is officially open for business, spectator sports continue, and people are expected to show up for work in person. We can't know for sure what Lukashenko is thinking. Maybe it's a deep fear that his already weak economy can't withstand a lockdown as he gears up for a stage-managed election this fall. Or maybe it's something to do with his never-ending personal rivalry with Russia's Vladimir Putin. The two countries are negotiating a kind of limited merger right now. Perhaps Lukashenko's insistence on ignoring COVID-19 is his way of saying that while Putin has given in and ordered precautions, real men don't fear invisible germs.

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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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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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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