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Hard Numbers: Sri Lanka's cremation policy, Swedes admit COVID failure, EU halts aid to Ethiopia, Brazil's COVID milestone

Muslims wearing protective masks practice social distancing as they attend a prayer to mark the Hajj festival, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 1, 2020.

35: Sri Lanka has come under attack for implementing a national cremation policy for all COVID deaths, even though the ritual is forbidden by Muslims, who make up 10 percent of the country's population. To date, 35 percent of people who have died from COVID in Sri Lanka identify as Muslim.


109 million: The European Union has suspended $109 million in pledged budget support to Ethiopia because Addis Ababa has blocked humanitarian access to the country's Tigray region amid an ongoing conflict with the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front. The Ethiopian government will have to address its game plan fast because the EU is one of its largest donors, allocating 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) for development projects in Ethiopia over the past six years.

7,800: In a stunning admission, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf said that the country's COVID containment strategy has been a failure, citing the "large number who have died" from the disease — at least 7,800 — as proof of the botched policy. Sweden's government has been criticized for its pandemic strategy, whereby it has refused to implement lockdowns, instead offering "recommendations" to the public, and relying on people's sense of civic duty to modify their own behavior.

70,000: As COVID-19 vaccines begin rolling out in some countries, Brazil is still grappling with an uncontrollable outbreak of the disease, recording more than 70,000 COVID cases on Wednesday alone, a daily record since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, Google data shows that in some places in Brazil, public transport and workplaces are even busier than before the pandemic.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

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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Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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