Coronavirus Politics Daily: Yemen ceasefire, Slovakia walls off the Roma, and rats return

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Yemen ceasefire, Slovakia walls off the Roma, and rats return

Tenuous cease-fire in Yemen: The Saudi-UAE led coalition that has been battling Houthi rebels in Yemen announced Thursday a unilateral ceasefire, responding to a UN call for a halt in hostilities as coronavirus threatens one of the poorest countries in the world. Details are murky but the measure is to last for at least 14 days. The coalition's Houthi insurgent opponents, for their part, seem to have agreed to a cessation of hostilities but only if the Gulf states lift a yearlong air blockade. While there are potentially crossed signals, the ceasefire itself is still the most significant step towards peace in a five year civil war that's already killed some 100,000 people and left millions exposed to disease and starvation. Though no COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Yemen (likely because of a lack of testing), the country's decrepit medical system could not withstand a serious outbreak of disease. The UN hopes this lull in fighting will pave the way for broader peace talks. Past attempts at halting the conflict have failed, and recent months actually saw increased fighting in a war that is largely viewed as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Will the specter of a pandemic finally bring these bitter rivals to the table?


Slovakia walls off Roma villages: Amid coronavirus fears, Slovakia's government has walled off several Roma settlements in the country's east, preventing their people from leaving, even to access essential services. Many of Slovakia's 500,000 Roma live in crowded and impoverished shantytowns, which the government says are a "high risk" for spreading COVID-19. Roma leaders point out that although testing has been scarce, only 31 out of Slovakia's 700 cases have been reported in Roma communities, and say that the isolation measures are just another example of the discrimination long-faced by Europe's 12 million Roma, the EU's largest ethnic minority. The Slovak prime minister said he would ensure food and medical deliveries to these enclaves despite restrictions on movement, but the Roma communities argue that if the government insists on blocking off their villages, which prevents them from getting to essential jobs in the informal economy, it needs to ensure a more generous social safety net for them.

Stars of the Black Plague return: You've probably seen pictures of animals around the world reclaiming urban and suburban spaces abandoned by quarantining humans. Goats roaming the streets in Wales. Monkey brawls in Thailand. Coyotes leaving their hearts in San Francisco. But one aspect of nature's return might be less fuzzy and fun and endearing. Robert Corrigan, a famous rodentologist in New York City has warned that as restaurants close and streets fall silent, public spaces and people's homes could be overrun by rats in search of scarcer food. We've already seen video of the pests having a party on a deserted street in the heart of New Orleans. If the rats are unable to turn up the usual survival scraps by running through our homes, Corrigan told The Hill, they could turn to cannibalism – devouring each other instead. Rats of course have a bit of a history with pandemics. They are remembered as the villains of the Black Plague – though the rats we've spoken to are quick to point out that fleas were the real culprit then. Keep your trash tightly covered, readers.

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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