Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.
Ian's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Happy Monday. Good to see everyone and got a Quick Take for you as we kick off this week. Thought we would talk today about Brazil. It is the epicenter today for coronavirus. The healthcare system in the country is getting overwhelmed. Over 90% of ICU beds are filled in most of the states in the country. As a consequence, you are triaging healthcare. This is what you remember happened briefly in Northern Italy at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. It's what we feared could happen in New York City, though never quite did. You've got nearing 4,000 deaths a day in Brazil right now, per capita that's worse than anything we've seen in the United States. And yeah, we blame the government. We blame President Bolsonaro.
And you know, in part, this is someone who like former President Trump said, don't worry about this. It's just a little flu, was telling the population that we don't need lockdowns. We don't need quarantines. He didn't want to wear a mask. He didn't like social distancing. And as a consequence, all of that became deeply politicized across the country in Brazil as well. Those governors that engaged in lockdowns were sharply criticized for it. And a lot of people weren't wearing masks. A lot of people didn't take it seriously. Bolsonaro, of course, got COVID himself. He said hydroxychloroquine was a miracle cure. He even questioned the vaccine at the beginning, said that it was dangerous, potentially you can't trust the health care companies. He sits tilted on that as his popularity has gone down significantly. And as a consequence, he's more worried about finishing out his term and being able to win a second term late next year with elections.
But all of this has gone very badly in the country. And indeed, as a consequence of all of that, Brazil today is feeling a lot like the United States at the end of last year, massively politically divided with the potential for impeachment efforts against Bolsonaro that would be incredibly divisive. And with a president who could easily lose reelection, but will not accept that outcome and will claim that he has indeed won. Now, last week was a watershed in that regard. You saw six members of the Brazilian cabinet suddenly removed, including the Minister of Defense replaced with a Bolsonaro loyalist and the three heads of the military services very unhappy about that. Threatening to resign, they're fired the next day.
Does this mean that Brazil is heading for a coup or revolution? The answer is no. It's actually similar to the United States in the sense that the senior military leadership in the country is independent and would not support loyalty to Bolsonaro, no matter what. And the judiciary in the country is still largely independent. These institutions are stronger than what you see in most developing countries around the world, but they're not as strong as the United States. And the fact is that if Bolsonaro were to go down the path of "burn it all down" and "these elections are no good," and "this impeachment is completely unacceptable," if that were to occur, you would get members of state police. You would get low-level members of the military that could come out in support, the former military member, Bolsonaro, himself with a lot of former military around him as senior advisors. So the potential for major social unrest and for a lot of violence is greater than what we saw in January 6th in the United States.
Although, the likelihood that Brazilian democracy is suddenly going to fall apart in my view is just as remote as it was in the United States. This is a deeply, deeply problematic leadership. There's an incredibly divided country. Next year's elections are going to be easily as ugly, maybe even worse than last November's in the United States, and are likely to be very severely contested. So, I mean, if Brazil was the largest economy in the US like the United States is, this would be our top risk out there. Because it's just the largest economy in South America, it's a big deal. It deserves to be talking about it, but it's not the top risk globally.
The funny thing is I have not been universally critical of Bolsonaro because on some counts I've been more sympathetic. For example, economically as much as he is a knee jerk, hardly expert reactionary on a bunch of things, he allows his economic team to take the lead on issues that he doesn't know anything about, whether it's pension reform or tax reform or micro economic reform. A lot has actually gotten done in Brazil over the course of the last couple of years. On climate, Bolsonaro is widely criticized for being one of the worst climate skeptics, climate deniers in the world.
And I obviously think that's a horrible thing, especially when you see all this clearcutting happening in the Amazon forest, but I'm sympathetic for a middle income economy, where the wealthy countries in the world suddenly say, why aren't you doing anything to save your environment? When for decades, we were paying no attention to it. We were, of course, emitting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We had no problem with exploiting global economies, including Brazil, for our own benefit. And Bolsonaro's basically saying, look, if you want us to pay attention to climate, pay us. Now that this matters to you, how about taking some of the equity here and giving it to the average Brazilian. Something that's very popular inside Brazil, that almost any Brazilian leader would be aligned towards.
But when it comes to responding to the worst crisis that we have seen in our lifetimes, Bolsonaro has been the worst leader of any major economy in the world. No, he's not the former Tanzanian president, Tanzanian President Magufuli, who's now dead of COVID. No, he's not Belarusian dictator, Lukashenka, who said, take a sauna, drink some vodka, and you'll be fine. But of the G20 economies, he's the worst. He's the worst by far and Brazil's suffering for it. And I feel really badly about that. And I hope, I hope, I hope vaccine rollout will happen quickly in Brazil, but so far not so fast, not the United States. They don't have the drug companies, they don't have the infrastructure. They aren't able to pay the money for the vaccines, the way the advanced countries have. And so, as a consequence, the Brazilian people are really suffering. So that's a little bit for me this week. Everyone be safe, avoid fewer people. I'll talk to you all real soon.
The EU acted swiftly, decisively, and effectively to respond to the pandemic's economic fallout. A nearly trillion dollar bailout package, agreed to late last July, has kept much of the continent afloat. But it failed on the public health response, first on testing and then rolling out vaccines. Enrico Letta, Italy's former prime minister, shares his thoughts on the reasons why in a conversation with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting this Friday, March 26. Check local listings.
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Listen: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director for UN Women, joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to discuss the toll COVID-19 has taken on the global fight for gender equality, especially on girls. In fact, the UN estimates that as many as 11 million girls who left school because of the pandemic will never return. At the same time, it is women who occupy the majority of frontline and healthcare jobs.
This week's horrific Atlanta shooting, which took the lives of six women of Asian descent, stirred outrage and fear across the US at a time when Asian and Asian American women are facing an onslaught of verbal and physical violence. But violence against women has been skyrocketing across the world since the start of the pandemic, says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. Mlambo-Ngcuka joined Ian Bremmer on GZERO World to talk about how COVID-19 has turned back the clock on the global fight for gender equality and the toll that it has taken on girls, in particular.
In fact, the UN estimates that as many as 11 million girls who left school because of the pandemic will never return. At the same time, it is women primarily who have been getting the world through the worst pandemic, as they occupy the majority of frontline and healthcare jobs. You can catch Mlambo-Ngcuka's interview on the latest episode of GZERO World, which starts airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 19. Check local listings.
One the many reasons Fauci offers: "One of the most common is they say, 'Well, it was so fast.' We always talk about vaccines requiring years to develop...And when we explain to people that this is just a reflection of the exquisite advances in the science of vaccine platform technology and immunogen technology...we can win more people over than you can imagine." Dr. Fauci also tackles the question of when, and how, to start exporting vaccines abroad.
Watch the GZERO World episode: Dr. Fauci's Pandemic Prognosis
The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he'll talk about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He'll also offer some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).
Today President Joe Biden held his first bilateral with Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau. To discuss the road ahead for the US-Canada relationship, and what it might foreshadow for the many bilaterals we're going to see in the coming weeks as Biden rolls out his foreign policy agenda, Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of US political and policy developments, is joined by Eurasia Group Vice Chairman Gerald Butts, who was Trudeau's Principal Secretary until 2019, in a special edition of US Politics In (a little over) 60 Seconds.
Could you give us a little color on the significance of this meeting for both Biden and Trudeau, and maybe take us behind the scenes of kind of how you prep for this, and what the first meeting with the president means?
Well, it's obviously a more significant meeting from the Canadian perspective than it is from the United States perspective, which is not to diminish the value of the Canadian relationship to the United States. I think I'm constitutionally obliged to tell every American I know that it is your largest trading, second largest trading relationship overall, and Canada remains the largest market for US exports. So, having got that constitutional responsibility out of the way, it's a much bigger deal for the Canadians than it is for the Americans, obviously. By far the most important international relationship that any Canadian prime minister has, and one on which he or she is judged politically, is the relationship with the president of the United States, and how they're able to constructively manage that relationship, regardless of their political differences.
It's pretty normal for the first meeting with the Canadian prime minister, right? Like it would kind of be a snub if the US president went in a different direction?Gerald Butts:
Yeah, there'll be a huge sigh of relief in the opinion leading circles here in Canada that the new president has chosen to have his first bilateral with Canada. Obviously, Joe Biden, as a Midwestern Democrat in origin, if a senator from Delaware, is very well skilled in Canada. He's called himself a friend of Canada, had very successful visits here as vice president with Prime Minister Trudeau. So, as we said to many people around the world, Jon, Joe Biden, looks, talks, sounds, feels a lot like more people outside of the United States want their US president to look.
Sure. And I guess in Canada, much like a lot of other places around the globe, it's a bit of a sigh of relief that they're no longer dealing with President Trump, which is probably the most important thing about President Biden, at least for the very short term.
Yeah, not being Donald Trump is a good thing for the United States's bilateral relationship with China. It's impossible to overstate how unpopular Donald Trump was in Canada. It would make him look popular in the bluest of blue states in the United States. All that said, there remain very difficult, nettlesome issues for Canada and the United States. While we've got the big piece, macro piece of the puzzle in place with bipartisan support for the new NAFTA agreement, there are still some significant issues. The new administration's rejection of the Keystone Pipeline on day one was of course a major irritant for the government here. But the bigger picture challenge is how does Canada reorient itself toward the new president's most significant change in policy direction, and that's of course on climate change and energy.
Yeah, I was going to ask about that next. You know, you look at the relationship with the Europeans, for example, and obviously Biden's got a much more multilateral approach. And I think initially there was some thought that that would lead to a lot of reproachment with the Europeans, but it's become pretty clear that there's some deep divisions between the Americans and the Europeans over issues like Russia, China. And that's the case with Canada, as well. You've got Buy America, procurement issues. You've got the existing 232 tariffs. There's the perennial issues of lumber and dairy that I think have yet to be resolved between the US and Canada. So, which one of these things do you think is going to be a big irritant, and what kind of progress can be made that hasn't been made under other presidents?
Well, without question... And it's funny you mentioned the traditional irritants. Those dairy policy and soft wood lumber have the status of an annuity within the bilateral trade relationship between Canada and the United States. No matter who's in the White House or who's in the prime minister's office here, they're always a challenge.
But by far the biggest short-term issue for Canada... And we probably got a little bit of clarity about this today. Both sides will reap positives in it... is the Buy America policy, no question, that every prime minster, going back to the prime minister's father when he was prime minister and President Nixon was president, has managed to come to some sort of mutually agreeable arrangement, where Canada is for all intents and purposes considered part of the United States for procurement and trade purposes. And the Biden team's domestic political objectives are a little sharper than they have been in the past on this front, given all of the big economic trends around reshoring and the context of the campaign, of course. So, they've got to be very careful on this. I'm one who believes that reasonable people usually arrive at mutually agreeable outcomes when there's one to be had, and they probably will in this case, as well.
Yeah, the politics of this have shifted as well, because President Trump kind of shocked the system in terms of making protectionism of the US cool again for both sides, for Democrats and Republicans. And Biden kind of …
I didn't see that on too many hats.
Yeah, exactly. Everyone sees that. Yeah, it's a famous slogan. Yeah. And Biden's going to have to live with that legacy now, and it does affect... I mean, obviously it would affect Canada.
Yeah, without a doubt. And I think relatedly, on the climate front, the big challenge for Canada here of course is that the supply chain... And it's been the big benefit for Canada over time economically, that our supply chains are just so integrated. Right? That the average automobile created by Detroit OEM crosses the border several times before it becomes an auto. It grows from parts into an automobile is the most obvious example. We have a very big, deep energy relationship.
And I think personally, as someone who's kind of been through these wars from the inside out, the biggest challenge that Canada is going to have in the Biden era... Say what you want about Donald Trump. At the end of the day, there was no way for him to renegotiate NAFTA without Canada agreeing to the final outcome. I think that that was a key piece of leverage that Canada maintained, and used pretty skillfully throughout the conversation, throughout the negotiations. But when it comes to climate change, Joe Biden doesn't really need Canada to implement his domestic climate policy.
Personally, as someone who spends a lot of time on the issue, I would argue that his objectives, in particular the 2035 decarbonization objective that was the main headline of the climate platform during the campaign, is a lot easier if you're doing it in concert with Canada, where there already is a lot of low and zero carbon electricity available, some of which of course already powers major American cities like New York. That's another constitutional obligation as the Canadian, Jon. But we're Canadians. We're cooperative. We like to think that we can help the United States achieve its objectives, especially when they're mutually held north of the border.
And before I let you go, Gerry, there are two kind of new issues that have come up between the US and Canada. One is vaccines, where vaccine distribution... You know. The US has procured this large stockpile and isn't sharing it just yet. And Canada I believe is a little bit behind the US in terms of rates of vaccination, and could use some help here, and that's unlikely to be coming. And the second is China, where Canada for a while now has been caught in between the US and China, and kind of has to navigate a really delicate role. I know you work on that issue, so I'd love to hear your thoughts on those two issues.Gerald Butts:
Yeah. Well, the second one is obviously the longer-term issue that, knock on wood, will certainly be with us over the longer term. Look, you and I talk to people around the world about this issue all the time. Canadians, one of our endearing qualities, we tend to think we're unique in the world on a lot of the things. And there are a lot of Canadians who think we're uniquely caught between the US and China as they reexamine their strategic security and economic relationship. I always invite those people to call their closest Japanese friend or South Korean friend, and ask them the same question... Or Australian friend, for that matter, and ask them how they feel about it.
Look. At the end of the day, this is a big structural realignment, both from a security and an economic perspective. Canada's going to have to find its way through that transition, like every other country is in the world. There are probably not too many that I would trade places with.
And on the vaccines, obviously the United States has domestic manufacturing capacity, as does the U.K., and it's given it kind of a head start. There have definitely been some problems with the vaccine rollout here. In particular, like most federal estates, there have been, charitably call them "disputes" between orders of government about how the pandemic overall should be managed, the degree of the lockdown. We have, on the far east coast here where I grew up in Atlantic Canada, it's kind of the New Zealand North America, where the pandemic's been managed very, very well. Very few people have died, and very, very few people have caught the virus. And we have other provinces, like back in Ontario where I live, where the situation has looked a lot more like it has in sort of median of the United States. So, it's a challenge to federalist systems everywhere.
All that said, it's a big couple of months coming up for both the federal government here and the provincial government. The vaccine supplies are starting to flood into the country, and all orders of the government are going to be judged by how efficiently they deliver them and get those, as our British friends would say, jabs in arms.
Great. Well Gerry, thanks for joining us. I hope next time we do this; we can do it in person once they've opened the border again. But good to talk to you.