Quick Take: COVID latest update (The Good, The Bad & The Fauci)

Ian Bremmer 's Quick Take:


We're still in the middle of a plague. A major pandemic. You know, no locusts, no frogs, not in the United States anywhere. Lots of locusts in sub-Saharan Africa. But coronavirus is still very much with us.

I was so happy to see that in New York City, we finally had a day, the first day since the pandemic broke out here, with no deaths, just yesterday. And obviously a lot of hard work on the part of health workers at low wages and at great personal cost. A lot of patience on the part of all the citizens of New York City and a lot of frustration. And finally, getting to the point where slowly, slowly, slowly the economy is reopening.

I wish I could say that was true for the rest of the country. When New York City has zero deaths, Florida with deaths increasing. Still, I mean, you know, only had a couple of days with over 100 but 15,000 cases. Young people right now, that's the largest number of cases any state has had since this whole thing started. And would put Florida as, if it were a country, is number four in the world after the US, Brazil and India in terms of numbers of cases that day, which is really quite something. Governor DeSantis, a lot of people said he was doing a great job a couple months ago, people are not saying that anymore.


I don't think this is a red versus blue state issue. There have been big mistakes made by our own governor here in New York. In the early days, Governor Cuomo, as well as Mayor de Blasio, allowing those instead of going to hospitals, allowing people with coronavirus symptoms to go back to effect, forcing old age homes, assisted living facilities to take those people into those homes. And as a consequence, massive spread, which led to the largest numbers of deaths here in New York. Much worse than anything we're seeing right now in Texas, in Florida, in Georgia and Arizona. I worry that we're now going to see similar sorts of things in some of those states because we're starting to run out of ICU spaces.

But it's not just the United States. The United States, over three million cases, over 130,000 dead. Latin American and the Caribbean, over three million cases, over 130,000 dead. Big difference is Latin America not testing nearly as much. So actually, total caseload and their stats aren't as good, total death count, certainly more in Latin America than in the United States right now. And that's where you'd say the epicenter is.

Other thing that's happening is, of course, much more politicization in the United States. People complaining, I see all these people complaining, how could these people be outside and not wearing a mask? You know, don't they have any respect? I don't think it's just red versus blue. I don't think it's Democrat versus Republican. I think that legitimately, most people that are just casually watching or reading the news in the US in the last five months would not know who to believe in terms of wearing a mask. I think that what we've heard from the World Health Organization, from the CDC, from the surgeon general, from Dr. Fauci, they've been very inconsistent over the course of the last few months.

I'm a fan of Fauci. I know him. I've been following him for years. I think he's a smart guy. I certainly think he's done a better job than others in the Trump administration, given how little has been known. But he's been far from perfect. And I think it's hard to know. I mean, I've also seen that people are saying, "oh, I wouldn't take a vaccine when a vaccine is first available." And then I hear others saying, "how could they possibly say that?" Well, I mean, if we think that the early vaccines are probably only going to be effective from 40 to 60 percent of the population and they'll reduce symptoms, but they won't get rid of them. And people that get vaccines, we don't necessarily know what the second order symptoms would be, consequences would be for people that are, side effects for people that are taking them? You know, you get a vaccine. It's been injected. You don't get a vaccine, especially if you're cautious in temperament. Maybe you say, "well, I just won't go to a restaurant and I won't get on a plane." Not to mention all the people that think vaccines are bad and anti-vax and education, which is horrible and anti-science. But it's widely believed in the US and even more widely in other countries like France. I'm not surprised at all that people don't believe in a vaccine, day one. It's politicized. The information, even outside of the politics has been inconsistent. There's still an enormous amount we don't know that we're still learning about this virus. And of course, people only follow folks that they agree with. So, social media and cable news is only giving people, any people, just a small subset of the information that's out there. And all of those things are making it so much harder for us to respond effectively to this virus.

Another thing I've seen, which is worrisome, is now three studies on antibodies, the latest one from the United Kingdom, that after a few months, the antibodies in your system, if you've gotten coronavirus, are considerably reduced from what they were and also from what one would have expected from other types of coronaviruses. Which means you potentially can get the disease again. And that having gotten it, doesn't necessarily make you immune for any significant period of time. That makes it much harder, of course, to have immunity passports. It makes it much harder to get people back into the economy, and on planes, and traveling, and going to restaurants, and going to work and all the rest. So, these are all very, very challenging things and does make me think very clearly that this is very far from a v-shaped recovery. It's very far from new normal, even when we have a vaccine.

When a vaccine comes, it will be an important tool that we can use to help bring people back into the economy, people back into schools. But that's very different from before vaccine and after vaccine. I think this entire process is going to be incremental. It's going to take years and it's not easy. It's hard work that requires political leadership, both at the domestic level and the international level. And we are short on that right now, especially if you're talking about coordination around the world.

I will say I've seen that President Trump and the White House are now going after Dr. Fauci a little bit. Everyone says how horrible this is. I'm on the other side. I don't think it's a disaster because it actually shows that Trump is concerned that mishandling the coronavirus is a problem for him. His approval ratings on coronavirus, the biggest crisis of his presidency and of our lifetimes is only 30 percent right now. A couple of weeks ago, I think they were thinking, "well, we'll just reopen the economies and it'll go away and we'll look good." Well, I don't think red state governors, most aren't saying that right now. You've got folks like Abbott in Texas saying, "you've got to wear masks, we've got to shut down, this is a serious problem." I see that in a number of red states across the country right now. And that makes the Trump administration realize they need to start wearing masks. They need to send a different message. And, of course, they're not going to take responsibility. They'll blame Fauci. But I would rather them blame people and get it right than not pay attention. So actually, I see this as a pivot where the Trump administration is starting to take this more seriously than they had because they know they have to and it's punishing them at the polls.

The winner, the big winner internationally continues to be Angela Merkel. Simply noncontroversial, lead by science, nothing, you know, nothing grandiose, just tough messaging around how hard it is to respond. And incremental, you know, this is the data, here's what we can do, we can't suddenly reopen and everyone pretty much following what she has to say. And a population that's prepared largely to listen. And some of that is cultural, of course, but a lot of that is leadership. And I think that really has mattered. And it's meant that Europe has more leadership now and less populism, less Euroscepticism than we saw before the crisis. And we will get, probably in the next weeks, but certainly by the end of the year, a 750 billion dollar package that is going to come from the wealthy north and go to the south and the east to actually redistribute money to the people that most need it. That's a great thing. And no one would have expected that before this crisis hit.

China, I will say has had a couple of really bad weeks. I mean, you know, Xi Jinping certainly getting what he wants in terms of Hong Kong, but a lot of backlash from the United States, from Europe, from Australia, from Japan. He's got a fight going on his hands in the Himalayas with the Indian government. The Indian government has responded with economic backlash. Xi Jinping is in markedly worse position today, and China is, than they were six months ago. And some of that is because of the coronavirus crisis and the deterioration of their own economy. But a lot of that is because their diplomacy internationally is seen as heavy handed, is seen as focused more on communication on marketing than substance, and a lot of countries don't like it. It's creating more conflict between China and other countries around the world.

So on the one hand, they have shown they have the capacity test millions of people in one weekend. The Americans can't quite do that. The Europeans can't quite do that. They can quarantine. They can get their economy back up and running, their supply chain back up and running. But politically, both domestically and internationally, it's been tough. And I think Xi is increasingly leading from a position of insecurity, not from security. President Trump obviously is not doing a great job in terms of governance at home or internationally. But the US is objectively in a much stronger position at both domestically and internationally, and ultimately, that matters a lot in terms of, if you asked me in the next four or five years "who you bet on more, the United States or China?" it's you know, governance is a piece of it, but a lot of it is, you know, sort of baseline how the economy is working, relevance of your currency, resilience of your institutions and how you're aligned or not aligned with other countries around the world. And the US certainly has antagonized a lot of allies. But the Chinese are actively, fights with a lot of countries right now. You can't say that about the United States in terms of countries that have been allies over the last few years.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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