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A GZERO pandemic

This week, the World Health Organization’s governing body agreed to begin multinational negotiations on an agreement that would boost global preparedness to deal with future pandemics. The WHO hopes that its 194 member countries will sign a treaty that helps ensure that the global response to the next pandemic is better coordinated and fairer.

The specifics remain to be negotiated over the coming months – and maybe longer – but the stated goal of those who back this plan is a treaty that will commit member countries to share information, virus samples, and new technologies, and to ensure that poorer countries have much better access than they do now to vaccines and related technologies.

Crucially, backers of the treaty insist it must be “legally binding.”

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Omicron variant unlikely to lead to lockdowns by governments

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the omicron variant, the Honduras presidential election, and the pros and cons of getting stuck in a UK pub for three days in a snowstorm.

As the omicron variant emerges, is a return to lockdown next?

The answer is, only in a few play places, because people are exhausted from lockdowns. They're angry with their governments from doing it. Governments are going to be very reluctant to have the economic hit as a consequence, especially when they know they can't pay out the relief money that they've been paying over the last couple of years, and they're not yet sure about just how much of a danger omicron is. I think all sorts of travel restrictions, but unless and until you see that the spread starts leading to significant lethality, hospitalizations, and once again, the potential for ICUs to be overwhelmed, I do not expect many significant lockdowns that are countrywide at this point. Not least in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the populations are very young and as a consequence, you can have a lot of spread and they're not paying attention to it, frankly.

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Who’s politically vulnerable to omicron?

The new COVID variant, omicron, has already spread around the world. Though there are more questions than answers about its characteristics, omicron is already spooking global leaders who had hoped that the era of snap lockdowns and travel bans was a thing of the past.

After almost two years of disruptions to lives and economies, the stakes for world leaders are very high. So, who’s vulnerable to the political fallout from new cases and costly precautions?

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What We're Watching: The Omicron variant sparks panic and restrictions

The Omicron wars: Can we really afford to lock down again? In response to the new omicron variant first discovered by South African scientists, many countries have reintroduced pandemic travel restrictions that we thought were long behind us. Israel and Morocco have banned all foreign visitors, while tougher rules on quarantining and travel have also been enforced in the UK, Australia, Singapore and parts of Europe. Meanwhile, travelers from southern African countries have been banned from entering almost everywhere. Scientists say that it is still too early to say how infectious the new variant is, or how resistant it might be to vaccines. This disruption comes just as many economies were starting to reopen after more than 20-months of pandemic closures and chaos. The new restrictions are already triggering a fierce debate: some say that we are now in the endemic stage of the pandemic and that it is both unsustainable – and economically and psychologically harmful – to keep locking down every time a new variant surfaces. Others, like Israel's PM Naftali Bennett, say we are in the throes of a new "state of emergency," and that we can't afford to take any chances. What do you think?

Concerns increase over Russian military activity near Ukraine

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What are the Russians up to with Ukraine?

Well, we don't know. But what we do know is that they are concentrating quite substantial military forces, moving towards the borders with Ukraine at the same time as they are de facto stopping the diplomatic dialogue with them. Very strong message coming from Washington and from the European capitals that they should abstain from early military operation. But you never know. It is a fairly sort of worrying situation.

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What We're Watching: Anti-lockdown protests turn violent in Europe

Europe anti-lockdown protests get violent. Pockets of unrest spread across Europe in recent days as tens of thousands gathered in several cities across the continent to protest government measures aimed at curbing a fast-spreading wave of COVID-19. Violent clashes broke out between demonstrators and police in The Hague and Rotterdam where Dutch cops opened fire at an increasingly aggressive crowd protesting the tightening of restrictions. Meanwhile, more that 35,000 people turned out in Brussels, while large crowds rocked Vienna, protesting fresh lockdowns that initially targeted only the unvaccinated, as well as new vaccine mandates. The state of the pandemic in Europe is not good. Germany recorded more than 48,000 new cases Sunday, the highest on record, prompting new lockdowns in the lead-up to Christmas, while deaths across the continent are also rising since the summer months, though they remain well below pre-vaccine levels. What's more, far-right groups, like Austria's Freedom Party, are taking advantage of COVID fatigue and anti-vaxx sentiment to encourage people to defy government rules and sow chaos.

Europe can show solidarity with Ukraine despite depending on Russian gas

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

Can Europe have solidarity with Ukraine while also being dependent on Russian gas?

Yes, it can. There is no question that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine is of fundamental interest for European security. And you see that both Europeans and America are expressing concerns over what they see as possible moves on the Russian side. And clear signals are being sent in the direction of Moscow irrespective of anything that has to do with gas.

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Biden's vaccine mandates caught in a growing culture war

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is happening with Biden's vaccine mandates?

Well, Biden put in place a mandate for employers to vaccinate or test, on a weekly basis their employees, if they have more than 100 of them. And there's been pushback from a lot of corners of society. Some smaller businesses have objected. Some governors, particularly Texas, Louisiana, have objected.

Texas said the mandate doesn't apply for large employers in its state, even though that puts the employers in a terrible situation of having to choose which level of government they should listen to. And these states have sued in federal courts. The federal courts have stayed the mandate, meaning it won't be implemented until the decision is made probably by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Labor Department overstepped its authorities in issuing this mandate, claiming that they have the ability to protect workplace safety.

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A GZERO pandemic