"When we already have enough challenges with people understanding the science behind vaccines, we cannot afford to allow the development and approval of a vaccine to be further politicized," Dr. Vivek Murthy told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. The former US Surgeon General expressed concerns that politics could hurt the process of development and distribution while shaking public confidence. He also discusses the current state of development for a COVID-19 vaccine, and possible scenarios for its efficacy once available.
Embattled journalist Maria Ressa talks with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World about how the COVID-19 pandemic has bolstered President Rodrigo Duterte's authoritarian approach to governing the Philippines, and how the lockdown there has sparked a social movement among citizens. Duterte's order to kill those breaking quarantine rules, she says, "fueled Filipinos who are stuck at home to go out online, and for the first time, the day after President Duterte said that, #oustDutertenow trended number one overnight and globally as well."
GZERO World takes viewers to Colombia as Venezuelan refugees risk everything once again—this time to cross back into their home country. As pandemic lockdowns and economic downturn threaten jobs and livelihood in Colombia, many are left with no choice but to return to Venezuela and an uncertain future.
Kendry Fernando tells his story as he walks hundreds of miles with his family, looking for work, and considering a return home to repressive conditions in Maduro's Venezuela.
Imagine you're a crew member aboard a space craft. Beyond the safety of the hull lay a hostile wilderness, devoid of oxygen and home to a deadly mix of photons and cosmic rays. That's the thinking behind an old philosophy to which the Covid-19 pandemic has breathed new life. It's called Spaceship Earth. The idea: we're all hurdling through space together with no escape capsule, so planetary problems have to be addressed for everyone's sake.
In commentary for the latest episode of GZERO World, Ian Bremmer is taking a look at the challenges and opportunities of the COVID-19 pandemic. The worst crisis of our lifetime is affecting every country, race, and ethnicity. More than 10 million are infected. More than half a million have died and economies and health systems have been devastated. But it may have also given us a rare opportunity to fix our ship. That is, if politics doesn't stand in the way. Case in point: Arguments over wearing a mask have proliferated across the U.S., even in some of the most heavily impacted states.
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.
The panel featured Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media President Ian Bremmer, and Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The conversation was moderated by Africa No Filter's Moky Makura.
Watch the full video above.
Has the pandemic strengthened or weakened multilateral organizations?
- It has reinforced and strengthened them, not weakened them, by creating space for larger collaborative platforms. At the UN, we are bringing in some of the leading economists and think tanks in the world to think about how we can respond to this crisis differently. Questions about inclusion and participation are already starting to come to the table, as the UN's open platform brings in civil society voices on this subject. The World Health Organization has been a shining light, guiding us in terms of the scientific evidence, while other institutions, like the Centers for Disease Control in Africa and elsewhere, have been particularly important.
- But resources are slim. We need to shore these multilateral institutions with more professional and scientific staff, as well as more financing for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, so they can respond in a timely manner to the economic aspect of this crisis.
How do we ensure that if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, it can reach every corner of the globe?
- Let polio be an example. Last week, Africa was officially declared polio-free by the WHO, meaning the only parts of the world that still have the disease are Afghanistan and Pakistan. That shows you what can be done, even in very challenging logistical environments. The world knows how to do it. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, has probably saved more lives in the last 20 years than any collaborative effort in human history. I'm relatively optimistic. It is challenging, but we know how to do it. We have the constructs, we have the supply chains, we have the health systems.
- What we don't have is the money and resources to be able to procure at scale in sufficient volume. What is equitable distribution and how do you do it rapidly at a time when so many individual countries may try to lock up supply for their own citizens. It's an understandable impulse, but there's a risk that this kind of "vaccine nationalism" actually sets the world back.
Should low- and middle-income countries be entitled to debt relief amid the pandemic?
- Sure, but under what conditions? Austerity-based reforms that Western economists believe will create more sustainable long-term growth can cause enormous hardship for populations that you don't really want to hurt. Loans are also often attached to political reforms — and that's where China is going to be critical to the debt relief equation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where Beijing isn't going to demand the same kind of economic or political liberalization in exchange for support. Frequently the Chinese conditions are much more opaque, sometimes beholding these countries to China's economic and political interests, which may not be good for either the world or these countries' populations.
- I think we have to worry that as the global order is fragmenting, especially as the US and China are at much greater odds with each other. We could well be fighting over conditionality and debt for some of the most vulnerable countries, and that's something that we're going to have to pay attention to.
What's the new normal going to look like? Now that numbers are at least plateauing, if not leveling off in hard hit countries in Europe. An effective lockdown may last 4 - 8 weeks. Once you start pulling back on quarantine measures, what's life look like? What's the economy look like? The idea that life is back to normal anytime soon is really, really overstated.
Assuming workplaces get fully functional with suitable personal protective equipment, feel comfortable that we're not going to get significant additional cases. In the workplace, you organize social distancing in offices, you give people more flexibility on work from home, and everybody in contact regularly with people gets masks. You should be able to get to that point within 3 months in the world's developed economies. They're there functionally in China. That allows you to get the economy going again.
It's hard to imagine people going back to bricks and mortar the way they did. People that weren't yet users of digital retail services, over 2-3 months had to get used to that, signing up with accounts, suddenly finding it's convenient. Many are not going to feel comfortable jumping back into a crowded store if they don't absolutely have to. Not when you don't yet have full information on who does and does not have the disease, who is and is not immune. If you don't have a vaccine, how many people are going to be willing to go and watch a live sporting event or go to a crowded bar or restaurant? These things do not get back to real normal until you have a vaccine that is distributed globally with the technology information on individual people to back it up. That's a year and a half out.
The artificially depressed economy - you've changed people's psychology around the economy. Like tourism. Who wants a middle seat and bring their family to Disneyland in this environment?
Emerging markets can't engage in social distancing because people don't have space. Don't have the money to shut down their economies fully and won't have the technology to ensure that everyone is or is not going to be identified as being a carrier, asymptomatic or not. Those economies are going to be depressed for a lot longer. Secondary outbreaks that come seasonally are likely to be much more significant. Shutdowns of travel, from the developed countries and China, last a lot longer. Supply chains and travel chains are going to be broken - like a year or a year and a half.
You will get a "new normal" once you have a working vaccine and the tech. That's more like mid 2021 than later in this year. We'll feel like society functions more effectively, but will have taken a lot of people out of that economy. The working class and the middle class, already saw growing inequality in the United States, it's going to grow much more significantly in the US and Europe. A global middle class in emerging markets that benefited from globalization is going to get hurt by globalization.
CEOs I've talked to over the course of the last week have all made it clear that they will be running more efficiently with fewer people and smaller real estate footprints. This hits commercial real estate. It hits the working and middle class. People that weren't as capable of working from home to begin with. The knowledge economy, no problem streaming on Zoom, no problem continuing to pick up your paycheck in most cases. But an "essential worker" in sanitation or retail or driving, making $10, $12, even $8 an hour - is most endangered by the environment of coronavirus, and most dispensable when suddenly we come back to full functioning of the economy. That's going to require significant redistribution in social safety net benefits.
If that's not done at the government level, we'll see much more political polarization. Remember how we got Trump, Bernie Sanders, Brexit. This is a much greater shock to those people. Disempowerment, economic destruction to come. We in the developed world have enough money to keep people afloat for 6 months of the worst contraction in the economy. They're not going to be doing better when we've run a 20% to GDP deficit. Where's the money for 2021 when they're still hurting? If you don't fix that longer-term (after 2008-2009, we did not), political polarization will grow vastly more toxic.
Ben White, Chief Economic Correspondent for Politico, provides his perspective on the coronavirus-related news in US politics: What's the coronavirus update?
Well, we've gotten at least a little bit of good news that perhaps the rate of deaths in New York City is plateauing and may start to come down. God willing, we'll see if that comes to pass. Also, some indications that if we keep social distancing in place through the end of May, we could see fewer deaths than we worried about and fewer hospital beds need it. So, God willing, that happens.
Do I expect to see any significant movement in the coming weeks that would impact the economy?
I think yes, Congress will at some point come back with another coronavirus package that would be more money for small businesses, more money for states, possibly some infrastructure, but I doubt it.
Is there any other legislation coming out of Washington besides coronavirus?
No, there's not. Congress isn't even in D.C. They'll come back just to do another coronavirus package. But nobody is particularly interested in anything else at this point.