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?

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.

Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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Guilty: Eleven months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, on a Minneapolis street corner, we finally have a verdict in the murder trial. On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all three charges: second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was celebrated by advocates for racial justice and police reform. Last summer, video footage of Floyd suffocating to death as he cried out "I can't breathe" galvanized anti-racism protests across America (some of which turned violent) that went global. We're watching to see if the jury's verdict gives fresh impetus to the nationwide movement for police accountability and broader criminal justice reform, both of which have been met with fierce resistance from law-and-order conservatives and police unions. And we'll also be keeping an eye on the sentence, as Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for his crimes.

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120,000: Ukraine warns that Russia will soon have as many as 120,000 troops on its eastern border, a larger presence than when Moscow seized Crimea in 2014. Kyiv wants to join NATO to deter the Russian forces from invading the Donbas region, where about half the population are ethnic Russians.

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During a pandemic, the work of reporters around the world is particularly important to ensure transparency about the scope of outbreaks and the measures that governments are taking to contain them. But in many countries, press freedom has been declining since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Press freedom took a bit hit over the past year, as governments across the world doubled down on censoring media that criticized their handling of the pandemic, and locking up reporters for reporting the facts. Reporters Without Borders today published its annual World Press Freedom Index, which takes a microscope to every country, ranking the ability of its media to report freely and independently. Here's a look at how countries' scores have changed over the past year.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) and discusses Xi Jinping's message to the US, Russia's buildup at the Ukraine border, and Cuba's new leader.

What did you make of Xi Jinping's message to the US at China's annual Boao Forum?

Well, he didn't mention the United States directly, but he basically said that we don't accept hegemonic powers, we don't accept people that are setting the rules for other countries. Basically, consistently Xi Jinping saying that the Chinese want to be treated as equals with the United States. They're going to be rule makers for themselves. The Chinese political and economic system, every bit as legitimate as that of the United States. This is going to be a real fight. The American perspective is that the relationship between the two is going to be very competitive, whether it's a happy competition or an unhealthy competition depends on the Chinese. Xi Jinping's perspective is the Americans are not treating the Chinese with due respect. And that's going to play out on security, it's going to play out in climate, on the economy. I mean, you name it.

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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.

Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.

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