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.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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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.

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

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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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?

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