UK’s new COVID strain problematic but economic pain is a greater risk

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

Number one, what's the story with the new COVID strain in Britain?

Well, I mean, it's a mutation. Apparently, it is equally combatable by the vaccines that we've developed, and I've heard that directly by some of the people that are running those companies. So, it's not a concern about the ability that we have to stop the disease once we get vaccinations, thank God. But it is a problem in terms of how much more quickly the virus can be transmitted. Now, in the United Kingdom, they do an awful lot of testing, especially compared to many countries in Europe, and they have found an extensive amount of this new strain, which has led them to bring the UK into Tier 4, as they call it, which means basically Christmas is canceled. No one's going anywhere. Everything's locked down. That also has meant that a lot of countries have suspended travel to the United Kingdom, which I understand, but we've already seen some of this new strain in Italy, for example. I suspect it's going to pop up in a bunch of other countries in the continent. If it's everywhere, do you really want the additional pain economically?


Look, one thing I would say is that over the course of the next couple of months, as we see much more vaccinations, and we're going to, we've got 500,000 people vaccinated already in the United States which is a fantastic number, frankly, so quickly. These are the people that are most vulnerable. Mortality rates are going to go down significantly. As it does, there needs to be much more focus on the economic side of the equation. $600 in the pocket of the average American that is suffering on the back of all of these lockdowns is not adequate for them. And I think the new coronavirus task force under Biden should be doctors and epidemiologists, should also be economists and business leaders. You need a balance between both, and I am worried that especially as we do a better job, finally, in fighting the healthcare impact of this disease, we are not doing nearly an adequate job for the average American in fighting the economic consequences, and that is something we're going to live with for a very long time.

Okay, next question. Did Aleksei Navalny really prank his poisoner?

I don't know that I'd call it a prank in the sense that Navalny only could have died, but he did pretend to be the boss of this one Russian spy, got him on the phone, and was chewing him out with the fictitious name and say, "How was it that, Navalny, you didn't kill this guy?" And I'm sure at least psychologically it was good for Aleksei to feel like he was able to do that and get it out there. And apparently, they put this agent, this chemical agent inside the seams of Navalny's boxer shorts. I mean, I didn't need to know what kind of briefs Navalny wears personally, but now it's all out there. He wore them, it got into his body. He immediately fell very ill. Apparently when the Russians provided his body, they allowed it to fly to Germany, all the clothing was of course not there because that's evidence. And now he's trying to get that clothing. And I'm fairly certain that that clothing no longer is gettable. But does Putin care? Probably not. Navalny's considered a pest, but also, if Putin really wanted Navalny dead, Navalny would be dead by now. I think that's also pretty clear. Putin likes to show that he can play a cat and mouse game with these dissidents, that he is so much more powerful than them. I feel fairly confident that if there were more significant threats to Putin's power, the level of direct repressive measures against a lot of these people would be even greater. It's not as if Putin has any respect for human life in this context, a very depressing thing.

Did you see the Christmas Star?

I actually did. This is Jupiter and Saturn coming as close together as they've ever been since the 1600s, apparently 1623. Galileo's time. And you look out and it was right after sunset. And even in a city like New York with all the ambient light, you could actually see this very bright, two planets kind of look like stars, right? Because how the hell would we know, right where the sun had set for a couple of hours? And I mean, it was nice. It didn't excite me, but I thought it was kind of a cool thing. Interestingly, everyone talks about how it's the first time since 1623, but the astronomers are saying that back in 1623, they were too close to the position of the sun so no one could have seen it. It's like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? Does it matter? And the answer is, well, yeah, maybe, but it's not as exciting as if the humans can put it in context, document it, has experience for us. And that's important because this does happen every few hundred years. In fact, it happened back in the early 1200s when people could see it. And then, that was the time of Genghis Khan. And that was the kind of world that we have today, more GZERO, more kind of like mass destruction, and we don't care about people. And it just feels more appropriate generally that the last time we've had this kind of a convergence of the two largest planets in the solar system... People saying Jupiter and Saturn, but they're the two largest planets. It's like the United States and China, but on a solar system kind of scale, right? I'm just going to stop right now because I clearly know nothing useful about astronomy, but you asked this question and so I'm giving you what I have.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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Listen: India's latest COVID explosion hits home as one Delhi-based journalist speaks with Ian Bremmer about her own father's death from the virus. Barkha Dutt has been reporting on the pandemic in India since it began, but nothing could prepare her for the catastrophic second wave that has hit her country in the last few weeks—and that has now shattered her own family. Would her father have survived if the oxygen tank in his ambulance had been working, or if the ambulance hadn't gotten stuck in Delhi traffic?She asks similar questions of her national government. Why was it caught so unprepared by this second wave, well over a year into the pandemic? Why has India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, been so slow to vaccinate its own citizens? And how much of the blame falls at the feet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's going on between the United Kingdom and France over fishing rights?

Yes, good question. Why on earth are they sending the Royal Navy to chase away some French fishermen from the island of Jersey? Fishing rights is very controversial. It was one of the key issues in the Brexit negotiations. Extremely divisive. Fishermen are fairly determined people but sending the Royal Navy to handle the French fishermen was somewhat excessive. I guess it played rather well with the English nationalists for Boris Johnson in the local elections, though.

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COVID has officially killed almost 3.5 million people around the world since the beginning of the pandemic. But some public health experts believe that the real number could be more than twice as high, because of challenges to accurately reporting the death toll in many countries around the world. A new study from the University of Washington contends, for example, that actual deaths are nearly 60 percent higher than reported in the US, twice as high in India, more than four times as high in Russia... and a staggering ten times higher than the official tally in Japan. Here's a look at how official figures compare to actual estimated deaths in the 20 countries where COVID has claimed the most lives.

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

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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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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