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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.

Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on what to expect from President Biden's first 100 days:

It's Inauguration Day. And you can see behind me the Capitol Building with some of the security corridor set up that's preventing people like me from getting too close to the building, as Joe Biden gets sworn in as our 46th president. Historic day when you consider that you've got Kamala Harris, the first woman vice president, the first woman of color to be vice president.

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On Wednesday, Joe Biden will become president because eighty-one million Americans, the highest tally in US history, voted to change course after four years of Donald Trump's leadership. Like all presidents, Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, take office with grand ambitions and high expectations, but rarely has a new administration taken power amid so much domestic upheaval and global uncertainty. And while Biden has pledged repeatedly to restore American "unity" across party lines — at a time of immense suffering, real achievements will matter a lot more than winged words.

Biden has a lot on his agenda, but within his first 100 days as president there are three key issues that we'll be watching closely for clues to how effectively he's able to advance their plans.

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Kamala Harris was sworn in today as the first woman Vice President of the United States. That means she's only a heartbeat away from occupying the Oval Office — and could well be the Democratic candidate to replace Joe Biden if the 78-year-old president decides to not run for reelection in 2024. Should Harris — or another woman — become US president soon in the future, that'll (finally) put America on par with most of the world's top 20 economies, which have already had a female head of state or government at some point in their democratic history. Here we take a look at which ones those are.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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