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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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