Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus origin stories, the mob reaps rewards, Venezuelans go home

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Virus origin stories, the mob reaps rewards, Venezuelans go home

Venezuelan refugees flee to...Venezuela: Over the past several years, more than a million Venezuelans have fled the humanitarian and political crisis in their country and settled in neighboring Colombia. Now, with much of the Colombian economy shuttered due to coronavirus lockdowns, some of them are returning home. Over the last week, at least 600 Venezuelans crossed back into Venezuela, many to reunite with family left behind there. It's a fraught choice: Venezuela's health system is a shambles, and there are still major shortages of water, food, electricity, and testing – complicating the government's ability to respond to the pandemic. But there's little work in Colombia these days, and only 40 percent of the Venezuelan refugees there are registered to receive government benefits.


Debates over the virus' origins: Since the coronavirus crisis first became international news late last year, there's been global consensus that it first leaped into a human body in a wet market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. But now US intelligence agencies have confirmed that the US government is probing the possibility that the virus actually originated in a Wuhan science lab, and that it was unleashed on the public accidentally, perhaps due to poor handling of substances by researchers. The theory that COVID-19 was lab-made, first reported by Yahoo and Fox News, is just one possible origin theory under investigation by US intelligence agencies, sources have said. Leaked cables from the State Department obtained by the Washington Post this week reveal that the US has long been worried about the safety standards at Wuhan labs, which study bat coronavirus. Back in 2004, for example, samples of the SARS virus were reportedly leaked from Chinese labs on multiple occasions. For its part, the Chinese government denies the novel coronavirus is lab-made, saying that the theory lacks scientific evidence. Bottom line: we probably wont know the whole truth for some time.

Italian mobs reap covid rewards: Members of the Italian mafia are using the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Italy particularly hard, to curry favor with vulnerable families who have suffered financially because of the national lockdown. The mobsters (mostly based in the country's south) are offering loans and food deliveries to ingratiate themselves to small business owners and poor families in desperate need of a handout. The Italian government, which has spent years trying to crush the mob, has designated 400 million euro in food aid to deter needy Italians from turning to organized crime for help. While quarantines make it harder for Italian criminal organizations to conduct their usual business of trafficking and smuggling, as we noted here, Italian officials warn that they might seek repayment for their loans by forcing recipients to perform illegal favors, like transporting drugs.


A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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