Coronavirus Politics Daily: Yemen's new cluster, South Korea hits zero, and is Sweden a good model?

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Yemen's new cluster, South Korea hits zero, and is Sweden a good model?

Yemen's COVID cluster: Growing concerns about the coronavirus reaching some of the world's most vulnerable populations are playing out this week as Yemen's port city of Aden reported its first cluster of cases. Although the country has recorded only a handful of cases overall, the UN says that given the near absence of testing, the disease is likely spreading undetected, and has issued a new call for an immediate ceasefire in the five-year civil war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed coalition forces, in order to deal with the pandemic. We note that a similar call from the UN Secretary General last month still hasn't had much effect. A COVID-19 outbreak is just one of many woes facing Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, which has faced a deadly cholera outbreak in recent years and unprecedented levels of hunger, with some 24 million people relying on some form of aid to survive. The combination of a shattered healthcare system and zero testing capacity against the backdrop of constant conflict places Yemen in a uniquely dangerous situation.


South Korea hits zero: No new locally-transmitted cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in South Korea for the first time in ten weeks. South Korea was one of the first countries outside of China to report a coronavirus outbreak, and has since emerged as a global model for containment, using thorough contact tracing, social distancing measures, and widespread testing to curb the disease's spread. The country even managed to pull off a seamless parliamentary election on April 15, in which at least 66 percent of eligible voters took part without anyone contracting the disease. (Compare that to the Wisconsin presidential primary, in which at least 52 voters or poll workers got sick with COVID-19 at polling stations, according to health officials in that state.) Still, South Korean authorities are keeping a close eye on what happens during several holidays that are approachingincluding Buddha's birthday, May Day, and Children's Day – in which people often travel or visit family members.

Who wants to be Sweden? As countries around the world debate when and how to reopen their economies, many are looking to the example of a place that hardly even closed its own. Sweden, rejecting the drastic lockdowns seen elsewhere in Europe, has closed universities and banned large gatherings, but left elementary schools, bars, and restaurants open, while asking the Swedish people to observe social distancing practices on their own. Has it worked? Compared to Nordic neighbors with stricter lockdowns, Sweden's rate of 24 deaths per 100,000 people is high: Denmark's is just 7 deaths per 100,000, while Norway's is a scant 3. But Sweden's rate is still lower than those of heavily locked-down countries like Italy, France, and Spain. There are two things to remember as the Sweden debate rages: first, lockdowns are meant primarily to slow the speed of the outbreak, so that hospitals aren't overwhelmed – Sweden's have not been. While critics say Sweden has needlessly let people die, supporters say the government smartly front loaded the inevitable fatalities without crushing its healthcare system or its economy. Second, Sweden is a unique case: it's a country with superb public healthcare (for all), relatively high trust in government, and one of the second highest work-from-home rates in the world. In other words, unless you are Sweden, DON'T TRY THIS APPROACH AT HOME.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the biggest act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

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Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

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