Ian Bremmer: US response to COVID-19 is mediocre

I continue to see incredible polarization: the United States is a hot mess, a disaster, vs no, best response ever, depending on what side of the political agenda you're on. I think that the US response so far, continues to be mediocre.

The big story: people dying. Trump should not have been a cheerleader. He said less than 100,000 would be great. Now, even the most conservative model the US government is using is now expecting 147,000 deaths by August. Well over 150,000 by election day. Trump will say, if I had done nothing, we would have 2.2 million deaths, framing for advertising. But it's hard to sell that.


On the messaging front, the US is a hot mess. On Twitter, the American president is more divisive than anyone in developed world, though less so than Bolsonaro in Brazil. But actual per capita deaths in the United States compared to all of Europe - slightly better than average. Worse than Germany, which is best of the large economies. But considerably better than Spain, Italy and France. We should be looking at per capita death, not overall. Given the size of your population, how many people are suffering? Especially as you're thinking about opening the economy and how quickly. Spain opening earlier, their numbers are going up. That shows what we can expect in parts of the US with similar caseload. If you look just at New York, we look a lot worse. If you look only at cities that are the worst hit, they look a lot worse than the United States.

I wish we could have Merkel type response; I'm glad we don't have Macron or Boris Johnson response. What's in between? On the economic front, the United States so far has been strong. Why? We have a federal government that functions. The Europeans don't. As a consequence, you've got talk about lawsuits between the German High Court and Europeans. Von der Leyen from the European Union saying this won't stand. The fiscal environment is incredibly contentious in Europe. So far early days, US bipartisan support for the economy has been strong. Same from the Fed. That's one of the reasons the American markets are performing well, right now.

Concern that I have with an election coming up in November is that we're not going to be able to sustain that. Most Senators that I talk to are worried about that, even though the Senate is pretty moderate and there's good connections between Republicans and Democrats. Not everyone is like Rand Paul, disruptive, irresponsible. But they're worried that we're not going to be able to get the trillions necessary to keep the unemployed and underemployed afloat. To keep businesses from going bankrupt. And to keep large companies that don't have a profitability model, like in hospitality, entertainment, airlines, other companies that get hit the worst on the back of this crisis. This is going to get a lot more problematic and the US economic response, which earns an A-minus so far, probably looking like a B, a C or even a D, as we get closer. Bill Gates famously gave Trump a D-minus for his response. I think Bill is focusing mostly on the lack of health care coordination side early, plus the communications.

Short of a vaccine, almost everything on treatments so far doesn't look like it changes how quickly we can reopen economies. It's more about how comfortable you feel about caseload and tracing. And contact tracing, even though we do have apps that are coming online - wonderful to see Google and Apple working together, but if you're going to need 60-70% minimum compliance for populations for that to work effectively - Facebook has 70% penetration. There is no way you get that voluntarily from Americans, major European populations. Even in Singapore, which is a tiny population, very wealthy, and doesn't care as much about democracy, only had 15-20% compliance with their contact tracing app.

Contact tracing works, but you need to have data in one place and share it. People doing the work, making phone calls, contact tracers, millions of people across the developed world. We are nowhere close.

A vaccine needs to not only be developed but proven and manufactured at scale, distributed with education. That process, start to finish, is three years. That's why I continue to think that the economic implications of this are going to be much worse than we've seen.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

More Show less

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

More Show less

More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

Watch the GZERO World episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?

More Show less

55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal