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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Prisons opened, borders closed, China helping

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Prisons opened, borders closed, China helping

Read our roundup of COVID-19 themes and stories from around the globe.

Prisoners' dilemma: The coronavirus can't wait to go to jail, where large numbers of people are crammed together in close and often unsanitary quarters with limited healthcare options. And when jails get sick, so do the towns and cities around them. So what's to be done? Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19, has tried simply opening the gates: it has now temporarily released some 85,000 inmates including, interestingly, some political prisoners. Elsewhere, convicts are taking the initiative themselves: jailbirds in Brazil, angry about new coronavirus-related restrictions on their furloughs and visiting hours, recently busted out of prison on their own. "Come back Monday!" shouts an observer who filmed their escape here. No one is sure what will happen in the US, which has the highest incarceration rate of any country on earth, but concerns are acute. Some local jails have already begun releasing people awaiting trial in order to decrease the prison population. Meanwhile New York State has put prisoners to work making hand sanitizer.


Borders closing: Since we hit publish on Signal just 24-hours ago, several more countries have closed their borders to non-citizens and are restricting movement for all but the most essential services. In Europe, the new epicentre of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, half of the 26 member countries have plans to shut their frontiers soon. The closures are a startling development, bringing an end (for the foreseeable future, at least) to Europe's visa-free Schengen zone, which allows more than 400 million people to move freely without border checks. Beyond Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, and Russia have closed their borders or enforced strict border control measures. It's easy to close borders in a crisis, but when, and under what conditions, they open again will become as much a political question as an epidemiological one.

China steps into the breach: China's early failure to deal transparently with the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan is well known, but in recent weeks Beijing has become an important partner for countries in the West that are now grappling with the pandemic – all while reaping some easy public diplomacy wins. Last week, a Chinese aircraft flew doctors and medical supplies to Italy, the worst hit country outside of China. The Czech Republic has sent a plane to China to ferry home 100,000 rapid test kits. Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, who is close to China's leadership, donated 500,000 test kits and 1 million masks to the US. The president of Serbia, meanwhile, has declared the EU a "fairy tale" and appealed to China for help in fighting the disease (Serbia is still in the waiting room for EU membership so Belgrade is unhappy with Brussels to begin with.) Broadly, Western governments and doctors alike are increasingly looking to China for best practices and help in squelching the disease. Who, exactly, was the "world's only superpower" again?

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

UNGA Livestream