Quick Take: On masks & mishandled US response

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Got through the Fourth of July. Pretty rough one for 2020 here in the United States. Still in the thick of it as we see caseload exploding in the United States. But really, the virus is all about developing markets right now. Poor countries around the world very soon, with the exception of the US and the UK, all of the top 10 countries around the world in terms of coronavirus caseload will be poorer countries. Let's keep in mind, these are countries that test a lot less, which means the actual numbers, in the United States the experts are saying probable likelihood of total cases is about 10x what we've actually seen in the US, in emerging markets and most of them, it's more like between 20 and 100. In other words, this is really where the virus now is.


Those countries have nowhere near the money to be able to ensure that people can stay locked down and out of work and safe for a long period of time as we have been able to in the United States and Europe and Japan. They aren't going to get enough aid to make up the difference internationally. And, you know, populations are younger. Life is cheaper in these countries. A lot more people die from, they have lower life expectancy, they have worse health care, and so the willingness to, you know, tie yourself in knots over the latest dangerous disease is much less than in a country where every additional person that dies drives political outrage. And it should not be that way. But it is that way. So, you're seeing different policies as a consequence.

That means de facto herd immunity strategy. Doesn't mean de facto herd immunity, because we still don't know that herd immunity is something that you'll be able to get to. We don't know how long antibodies last. Your first studies now, with just a few months, this disease has been with us as humanity for six months, so we have no idea if herd immunity would apply and if so, to how many people, do you have to have symptoms that are hard or can it can asymptomatic people also have herd immunity? We hope we're going to get to a vaccine. I worry that the Chinese and the Indians are rolling out vaccines before they have adequate human trials, which means that the quality of the vaccines that lots and lots of people get may be considerably substandard and have second-order health effects that are negative. And it also means much more of a fight internationally. The biggest tragedy of coronavirus globally is the fact that the world is so uncoordinated, is so not working together either to ensure that people have treatment, that we have adequate medical supplies, that we have adequate economic response, or that we eventually have adequate vaccine. That is going to continue to make this much worse as a crisis than it otherwise would have been.

Now, here in the United States, of course, it is certainly good to see that the Trump administration, however late, is now tilting towards telling everyone you should wear a mask. If it was up to me, I would make mask wearing mandatory and I would enforce it and I would have significant fines if you don't. And I would also be looser in opening up economies. So that people could get jobs back, we could go back. I mean restaurants would be a challenge. Bars probably still no go because you can't keep masks on when you're doing that. But certainly stores, office places, all of that, places where people can come and get the economy moving. I want them to do it. But everyone has to wear a mask. And if not, it's really going to cost you. And yeah, you're going to lose some personal liberties, but you're going to maintain your job, your well-being. The economy will do better. And soon enough, we won't have to do it anymore because we'd then be able to get low enough numbers of new cases that we could do the contact tracing that we don't have the people for right now. We could do the quarantining, that we don't have the tests and the people for right now. You've got far fewer cases before the number of tests and contact tracing that America presently has is adequate to actually get to a "we've defeated this virus."

Short of that, I'm glad that the Trump administration is saying "wear a mask." That's Ivanka. That's Kevin McCarthy. Even Trump in his soon to be rallies, they're handing out masks to everyone and they're going to tell people that you should be wearing them. That's a good thing. And I wish it was happening three or six months ago, but better now than three months from now, especially for an administration that thinks they're losing on coronavirus and doesn't want to talk about it very much. I mean, you saw the Mount Rushmore speech, and this was a pretty significant electoral rally speech and coronavirus was really not even mentioned. And that's in large part because they recognize that it's not a winner for them. They're doing badly on it. So, given all of that, the fact that they are now pivoting towards "wear a mask and get everyone to do it," does show that they want to have more of a handle on this or they fear losing in November. And for the good of the American population and the global economy or the largest economy in the world, I'm really glad for that.

You know, even Dr. Fauci, who's someone I like quite a bit personally, but remember when at the beginning he was saying, "don't wear a mask, we're not sure does anything." And the reason he was saying that is not that he thought that was true. He knew it wasn't true. But America didn't have adequate numbers of masks. They were concerned people were going to have a run on them and there wouldn't be enough for people in hospitals. That's unacceptable in a country like the United States. A couple of months after we knew that there was a pandemic in place in China. And I mean yes, we lost a month because the Chinese covered it up. But we need to know better. We need to do better than that. So, deeply frustrating from my perspective. Plenty of blame to go around.

People asking me why I don't focus on the states, it's because mostly I focus on the national level and around the world. But certainly if you focus on the states big mistakes made here in my own New York in terms of getting people out of the hospitals and forcing those with coronavirus to be taken back in elderly homes, assisted living facilities led to vastly more people getting killed than otherwise would have happened. We've seen big mistakes and opening too fast in a lot of states like Texas and Florida, despite Centers for Disease Control guidelines, they were being ignored. And as a consequence, much more spread than we otherwise would have seen. These are horrible things and they're leading to the United States right now, leading the developed world in terms of numbers of cases and also having considerably more deaths per capita than in Japan, than in South Korea, than in Canada, than in Germany. And then in Europe as a whole, though there are European countries that have more per capita deaths than the United States does. But we should be leading.

We should be doing much better than Europe. Remember, the pandemic only hit the US in scale 10 days after it hit Europe. Therefore, we should have learned from them. Two weeks matters, an immense amount in a pandemic. Our numbers should be better. They're not. And why not? Because at every level of government, we've done a bad job. And the media and social media are also helping people not know what to believe, not know if this is something they should really worry about or if it's fake news. And when you're not leading with science, when the country is immensely divided, then you politicize coronavirus, too. And that ends up killing and enfeebling a lot of people.

Final thing I would say, it is certainly true that our death toll in the United States looks a lot better right now than our caseload. There are two things you really should focus on: First is that death is by definition a lagging indicator. And especially when mostly young people are getting the disease right now. But the next order people, when they come home, they have the disease. They don't know they have the disease because they're asymptomatic. And we don't test enough. 10 times more people have the disease than we know about in cases that older people will get it. So, then you'll actually have fatality rates go up. And also, let's keep in mind, we do not know what the long-term implications for health and for the economy of people that have this disease and don't die from it. And certainly, we've seen lots of people, including young people, continue to have significant challenges with their own personal health, with their breathing, with their sense of smell, with their energy levels, with heart, other issues for months. And we've only had six months and only three months in the United States with large numbers.

So, I don't feel really good about the fact that we've got, you know, a few million cases in the United States and maybe 10 times that in actual numbers of people who got the disease. We have no idea what that's going to do to their health in 10 and 20 years time. Their life expectancy. Their ability to work. Their ability to live functional, happy, productive lives. So, none of this makes me particularly happy right now. But at least top down, you get a feeling like they're taking it more seriously now than they were two weeks ago. I think that's true with the governors. I think that's true with the president and the administration. That's better than the alternative.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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