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 more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

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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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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