Ian Bremmer: COVID-19 Is A Global Crisis

The lack of international political response, the politicization of the crisis, leads to less efficiency, to longer shutdowns, and extensive economic impact.

In the US: governors and mayors are doing different things. If decisions on what is or is not an essential good differ from state to state, it's hard to put together a supply chain for goods produced across states. The implications are larger. You can shut down all of California, but if you don't have control over the state borders (and you don't), people can move. What happens when you try to restart, & there are outbreaks in other states?


This is not a national crisis. It affects the entire world. We've not seen a crisis to this extent in our lifetimes. The 2008 financial crisis was a piece of the economy that racked global markets, but didn't impact every sector in the global economy. This is affecting the supply chain and global consumption. It's stopping people from traveling, from engaging in livelihoods.

If you want to respond to a global crisis, you need a global response. If you have cancer and you see an ophthalmologist who says, "I know how I can fix your eyes," - the cancer is still spreading. You've got to focus holistically, and we don't have a holistic response globally.

We have a lot of finger-pointing between the United States and China. President Trump sees that if we blame the Chinese, we can be on a war footing. Fighting an invisible war against the "Chinese virus". That's a way to improve Trump's approval ratings. Being on a war footing domestically usually leads to an improvement in popularity. We see that in South Korea, where they've been pretty effective, but also in France and Italy, where they're experiencing disaster economically. But the popularity of the governments has been going up - patriotic response, "we're at war." You can't win a war against terror, but you can win a war against coronavirus. You can find a vaccine. You can get rid of it, even at vast personal costs. That's why Trump is doing it. But - it needs to be a global war because it is a global pandemic and there is no global leader. We don't have global soldiers. There's no global arsenal to fight a global pandemic. The likelihood that this continues to spread gets higher.

This conversation about extending the curve, makes sense, because you want to ensure that health care systems are not overwhelmed, you need time to build them up so that the people racing to ICUs because they desperately need it, aren't turned away - that would lead to people with critical care needs untreated. But if they're not globally connected, then the likelihood that one country is successful, but cases pop up; we're now seeing that South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan are seeing larger numbers of cases again. I have no doubt they will respond effectively, but secondary outbreaks are coming in large part because the rest of the world isn't coordinated.

As the weather gets warmer in our part of the world, New York, the northern hemisphere, in sub-Saharan Africa, and South America, it's much more likely that you're going to have new breakouts. Those breakouts will be larger without international coordination. We are a year minimum away from functional vaccines. We're much closer to that to the ability to, at scale, treat people that have coronavirus. But reducing some of the effects of coronavirus is not healing it. If we had something that responded well to flu, we'd be giving it to people with flu. We don't.

And so, the early stage, medicines being talked about, including at press briefings by President Trump, may have some success for people that have already already gotten the virus. But that's very different from saying that this is somehow going to change. So, I do think that we're now looking at a shut down in the United States, not just for a matter of weeks, but for months. You're going to see that in Europe and the potential that hitting the southern hemisphere is growing.

The human spirit is indomitable. I have no doubt we will eventually get a vaccine. But this is going to be a very trying time, made much more trying by the fact that the politics are so inefficient & so misaligned. I wish I could say it was just about the US election. It's not. It's a global and structural issue.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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