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.

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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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.

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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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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

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55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

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