Coronavirus Politics Daily: Zimbabwe's plea, Gaza's unexpected boom, Bangladesh's terrible dilemma

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Zimbabwe's plea, Gaza's unexpected boom, Bangladesh's terrible dilemma

Zimbabwe pleads for aid: Zimbabwe's government has appealed to international creditors for urgent help as it battles a rising COVID-19 caseload while lockdowns push its ailing economy to the brink of collapse. International lenders including the IMF and World Bank have snubbed the southern African country ever since it defaulted on debt repayments some two decades ago. Even before the pandemic, Zimbabwe's economy was in terrible shape as a result of decades of corruption, economic mismanagement, and recurrent droughts. The country's inflation rate is nearing 700 percent, and more than half of its 15 million people depend on food aid to survive. The government has reportedly appealed to organizations including the African Development Bank, European Investment Bank and the IMF to "normalize ties" and find a way to clear its old arrears so it can access urgently needed funding. But with demand for financial support surging as the pandemic plunges developing countries into unprecedented economic crises, it's unclear whether these international organizations will acquiesce.


An economic boost for Gaza: The coronavirus crisis has exposed political rifts between states, but it has also provided opportunities for cooperation between unlikely partners. This is precisely what's playing out between Israel and the Gaza Strip, where Israeli PPE merchants have flooded Gazan manufacturers with orders they can't fill quick enough. The demand has been a boon to the garment industry in Gaza which has long struggled to export reliably through tight Egyptian and Israeli border controls that were imposed after Hamas took power in the enclave in 2007. Many Gaza-based manufacturers are now hiring fast to meet the increased demand and have so far produced millions of masks and tens of thousands of gowns. But as the virus will pass, so too will the demand for protective gear. Israeli rights groups have called for the permanent easing of restrictions that govern entry in and out of the Gaza enclave, home to some 2 million people, so that the economy can function more normally even after the pandemic.

Bangladesh's garment factories reopen: After an eight-week hiatus, more than 2,000 garment factories in Bangladesh have reopened, causing thousands of people to crowd public transport and flood the streets of Dhaka, the capital, much to the chagrin of health experts who say the move is premature and puts low wage workers at risk. Bangladesh's COVID-19 caseload has surged in recent weeks, and now exceeds 10,000, likely a significant undercount because of its poor testing capacity. Indeed, for Bangladesh's leaders, it's a catch-22 between economic health and public health. When factories shuttered in March, around 1 million Bangladeshi workers lost their jobs, and the country, the world's second largest apparel exporter after China, has lost over $3 billion in export revenue. In a country where poverty is already widespread (one person in five lives below the poverty line) the economic fallout from the pandemic alone could be catastrophic. But prematurely sending workers back to crowded factories could fuel a surge in cases that would overwhelm the country's feeble healthcare system and prolong the crisis even further.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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