UK vaccine rollout a key chance to learn; Brexit trade deal is razor close

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

COVID vaccine rollout has begun in the UK. What's next?

Well, I was so pleased to see that the second person to get the vaccine in the UK is William Shakespeare. Some 86-year-old guy living in the UK. Of course, of course he is. It's also nice for the UK, finally have some good news about something. It's been all Brexit and economic disaster and Boris Johnson, bad news on coronavirus. First, it's herd immunity, then it's not. It's lockdown, it's not. But the first advanced industrial democracy to start getting vaccines out there and capping off an extraordinary year in terms of vaccine development. Really Moore's law for vaccines. It's very, very, very exciting. What happens next is we learn a lot. One of the big mistakes that we made in the United States is we had a couple of weeks when the virus was exploding in Europe and we were twiddling our thumbs in the United States. We weren't prepping, we weren't watching what was happening in Italy and making sure that we understood the type of coordination we needed, the type of testing we needed, the type of contact tracing we needed. As a consequence, some critical time was wasted. We need to be watching very carefully what problems the UK has, challenges in rolling out this vaccine. First vaccine we see right now from Pfizer, that's the one that's most challenging from an infrastructure perspective. It's the one that needs the proprietary cold chain capability, super low temperatures, South Pole type temperatures. It needs labor on site that can dilute the vaccine right before it is administered. Those are things you can do easily in good hospitals. It's not an easy thing to roll out across a countryside.


And so, it's going to be very interesting to learn from the UK. Their successes, and also their failures. We're going to need them in the United States real, real soon. Also of course, seeing how they deal with misinformation, disinformation. How they deal with people talking about side effects that they get that are real side effects and actually do cause fever, for example, will take you out of work for a few days. All of that stuff we need desperately to get right. Especially in the United States, the world's largest economy with a very divided franchise here. We're very politically divided. We've been so divided on coronavirus. We don't want to be divided on vaccines. We've already started to see some of the nationalism play out. This New York Times story that Trump had an opportunity to buy a bunch of Pfizer vaccines in June or August and didn't. And so now the US isn't going to be able to get as many until summertime. We really don't want that to lead Trump to say, "No, we don't like the Pfizer vaccine. We only want the Moderna vaccine." We don't want Americans to think that one is good and one is bad. Because you're not going to have options. As soon as you can get a vaccine, you should be taking that vaccine that's available in the United States. So watching this rollout is going to be incredibly important. And again, lots of things that could go wrong.

Staying in the UK. Will a Brexit trade deal be reached before the end of year deadline?

It's close. The fact that Boris Johnson is going to meet with Ursula Von Der Leyen and negotiate in person gives him more flexibility, means that he wants personal responsibility for getting the deal done, it means it's more than 50/50. He's a very capable and charismatic leader and it's easier for him to do this individually than dealing with all of the politics within his own conservative party at home.

So, it makes me feel a little bit more optimistic. But things can go wrong. There are hard red lines, and the Europeans are negotiating for the entire group, not just for the EU as a whole. And while Boris Johnson suggested that Merkel and Macron be on the phone, in a call with Von der Leyen, she said, "No, you'll just talking to me." So, it's not done. So many of these things, they're razor edge, they're right at the end, and yes, we're still talking about Brexit. Kind of kills me.

Why are farmers in India going on strike?

Nationwide strike across India because Modi wants to create more efficiency in the agricultural sector. That means more market mechanisms and more ability for big corporates to do effective business. And the farmers are concerned that that will mean that they're going to lose income, they're going to lose pricing power. They're not going to be protected. And they have been protected. It's quite a protectionist ag sector in India. And so, they're angry and they started by demonstrating on Delhi and now they're engaging in shutdowns across the country. So, it's probably the most significant nationwide social dissent that we've seen economically under Modi and we'll see how he responds to it. If it's going to affect what he's doing with his own legislation. We saw it with Macron, big protests across France. They're used to big protests, made him pull back on his policing and surveillance, no surveillance law from people doing videos and the rest. We'll see if Modi decides to back down.

The Arecibo observatory telescope collapsed. Yes, it's true, in Puerto Rico. Should they rebuild for the next James Bond movie?

I hope they do. What an extraordinary thing. It was at the end of GoldenEye. It was an iconic telescope, watching it fall apart was so depressing. Just implode in on itself. Puerto Rico, of course, has had more than its share of disasters over the past few years. It's not like there's a lot of infrastructure money that's going into that territory. But I really would like to see it rebuilt. The first message that was ever sent by humanity to outer space, as far as supposed extra-terrestrials, was from Arecibo. And if it's gone and we don't rebuild it, then you know, they're going to look back and they won't know who it came from. You know? You got to have return address on this stuff. So, I'd like to see it rebuilt. I'm kind of a space buff. Not like a Star Trek space buff, though Trouble with Tribbles is a good episode and all that. But more just I think we should be investing in NASA. I like having public support for our space program.

I will also say, it's kind of interesting, you saw that in the last week in China, they've just gotten a lander on the moon and they've got a Chinese flag that's now on the moon. Unless you think that's all fake news, like the American space landing in 1969, of course. And taking some space rocks, going to bring them back to the world, to here to earth. The reason that China's space program is doing so well now is because back in the '80s and '90s, the United States didn't want to cooperate with China anymore. Said they were taking advantage. And so, we cut them off and that became a big moment for the Chinese to invest in their own program. And it led to a much more robust Chinese space program that we have today, much more competitive with the US. There's a big question as to what the United States has been doing on 5G, for example, is going to end up forcing the Chinese to cooperate more with the United States. Will it make them change their red lines? Will it destroy their advanced technology sectors around 5G infrastructure? Or will it force them to invest so much more to become more effective competitors in five to 10 years' time? If it's the latter, this will have been a big mistake. So, something worth thinking about and something worth talking about as we see this observatory that we may or may not be rebuilding.

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But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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A Green Party-led government for the world's fourth largest economy? That's no longer far-fetched. As Signal's Gabrielle Debinski wrote last month, most current polls now show Germany's Greens in first place in federal elections set for September 26. And for the first time, the Greens have a candidate for chancellor. Annalena Baerbock is vying to replace Angela Merkel, who has led Germany for the past 16 years.

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India and Brazil are currently the world's top two COVID hotspots. But while India's crisis is — at least according to official statistics — a relatively recent one, Brazil's COVID disaster has been an ongoing train wreck. Where India seemed to have kept the pandemic under control until some bad missteps about two months ago, COVID has been wreaking havoc in Brazil almost constantly for over a year now. And President Jair Bolsonaro's macho-posturing and COVID denialism has clearly not helped. We take a look at average daily new cases and deaths in both countries since the pandemic began.

US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

How big of a blow is Apple's new privacy feature to companies like Facebook, who depend on tracking users?

The long-awaited update, including enhanced privacy features, actually empowers those users to decide not to be tracked. So that's great news for people who are sick of how the data trail they leave behind on the web is used. But it has to be said, that simple feature settings changed by Apple cannot solve the problem of misuse of data and microtargeting alone. Still, Apple's move was met with predictable outrage and anti-trust accusations from ad giant Facebook. I would anticipate more standard setting by companies in the absence of a federal data protection law in the United States. That's just to mention one vacuum that big tech thrives on.

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India’s COVID crisis hits home

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