COVID-19 and global political risk

On January 6, we wrote about the annual Global Top Risks report from Eurasia Group, our parent company. At the time, there was not yet a single confirmed death from COVID-19 in China or anywhere else.

That was 11 weeks ago.

You can now read a coronavirus-related update to that report, which details the many ways this global pandemic has altered the world's biggest political risk stories.

Some highlights…


Back in January, Eurasia Group's Top Risk #1, titled "Rigged!: Who Governs the US?" argued that the legitimacy of the 2020 US elections will be widely questioned, given that political polarization in the US has become so intense that millions of Americans now believe that courts, federal agencies, the media and US political institutions like the Federal Reserve have no credibility.

Coronavirus has made this problem worse by forcing a number of upcoming primaries to be postponed and making it nearly impossible for candidates to campaign. It's not clear if the party nominating conventions will take place. But most importantly, the coronavirus itself has become a bone of partisan contention in ways that hamper the unity that is needed to defeat it: a recent poll shows that Democrats see the threat in much more urgent terms than Republicans. Meanwhile, some Republicans have charged that media coverage of COVID-19 is a ploy to discredit Donald Trump.

Top Risk #2, titled "The Great Decoupling," detailed how the US-China rivalry would cause the two countries to decouple their economies from each other, not only in strategic technologies like semiconductors, cloud computing, and 5G, but in broader trade and investment too. COVID-19 has given fresh urgency to Western companies' efforts to cut China-dependent supply chains.

Top Risk #3, titled simply "US/China" focused on the growing likelihood of clashes over national security, influence, and political values. Sure enough, the coronavirus crisis now has President Trump and other US officials referring to COVID-19 as the "China Virus," since it originated inside China, while some Chinese officials claim that actually the US planted the virus in Wuhan. In a better world, COVID-19 might have encouraged the US and China to work together to contain the threat it poses. But for now, each side's approach to coronavirus is stoking acrimony with the other.

We encourage you to read the full report, because it also includes Eurasia Group's updated thinking on how COVID-19 can aggravate US-EU tensions, overwhelm India's public services and worsen sectarian tensions, undermine governments in Iran, Iraq, and Syria, inflame public anger in Latin America, and add one more area of unpredictability and political pressure in Turkey.

On all these subjects, here's a video of Ian Bremmer in his own words.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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