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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

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