Latin America's two big coronavirus challenges

Latin America's two big coronavirus challenges

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, many Latin American countries were struggling with low prices for their commodities exports, a Venezuelan refugee crisis, and a surge of street protests across the region.

Then came the worst global public health crisis in a hundred years.

So far, there are about half a million confirmed cases in Latin America and about 25,000 deaths, but spotty testing and reporting mean both figures are too low.


Now the region faces a twin challenge. First, dilapidated and highly unequal health-care systems risk becoming overwhelmed if the disease spreads widely. And in a region where 30 percent of people live in poverty and half the labor force toils in the informal economy, working from home is not a ready option for tens of millions of people. Cash-strapped governments are scrambling to help those left without work and food.

Second, the economic and social impacts will be severe. Shutdowns in China, Europe, and the US have cratered demand for Latin America's exports while also decimating remittances, a lifeline for countries in the Caribbean and Central America. Tourism, an economic engine for the region's island nations and Mexico, has vanished too. The IMF says the region's economy will shrink more than five percent this year.

The stakes are high. Over the past 20 years, 100 million Latin Americans rose out of poverty. Now, the UN warns, as many as 24 million of them could slide right back.

Here's a look at a few big stories in the region.

Brazil, the region's biggest economy, has handled the crisis the worst. President Jair Bolsonaro has rightly raised concerns about the economic toll of state-ordered lockdowns, but he's mocked the pandemic threat, clashed with governors over quarantines, and stoked protests against social distancing. Two health ministers have resigned in the past month. As Brazil grapples with the region's biggest outbreak and its steepest economic contraction since 1901, the epitaph for Bolsonaro's handling of the crisis could well be, "Some people died. So what? I'm sorry. What do you want me to do?"

Chile, which locked down early and has recently extended its measures in the capital region, recently made headlines for being the first country to introduce an "immunity passport" as part of a plan to get people back to work safely. Good idea, or not?

Colombia moved early to get tests and impose a nationwide lockdown, and it's now slowly reopening select regions. One big question: How will the crisis affect Colombia's ability to integrate the more than 1 million Venezuelan refugees still in the country, or to make progress on an already-stumbling peace process with the FARC? A snapshot: Colombia's poor are raising red flags on their houses to let the authorities know they need food.

Mexico's still-popular President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador dismissed early warnings about the virus because of his concern about a lockdown's effect on the poor. That hurt efforts to contain its spread, and though he has since declared a national emergency, there are big questions about the real death toll in Mexico City and other regions. As the economy faces a historic 6 percent collapse, will he still have the money he's promised to spend on infrastructure and social initiatives? He's beginning a phased re-opening of Mexico's economy this week.

Peru won early praise for swift lockdowns, but it now faces a mounting health crisis as workers who lost their jobs in Lima return to poorly-equipped rural villages, taking the virus with them.

Central America, already plagued by violence and hugely dependent on remittances, is in a tough spot, even if reported deaths are still fairly low. El Salvador's authoritarian-minded young president has triggered a constitutional crisis with some of the strictest lockdown measures in the region. Next door in Guatemala, villagers have violently rejected migrants trying to return home for fear they carry the virus.

Make way for the little 'Guay! Despite minimal forced lockdowns, the 3.4 million people of Uruguay broadly adopted social distancing measures on their own, and the country's well-developed public health system hasn't been strained. So far, the death rate has been about on par with New Zealand's.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

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Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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