Coronavirus Politics Daily: US-China tensions, migrants in danger, and Venezuela isolated

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

The pandemic deepens US-China tensions – Rows over trade and technology have put a massive strain on US-China relations in recent years, tensions that the coronavirus pandemic appears to have deepened. On Tuesday, the Chinese government expelled 13 American journalists from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times. The move is part of a tit-for-tat over journalists that has already seen each country kick out a handful of the other's reporters. But the coronavirus crisis has now stoked fresh acrimony, with each side accusing the other of spreading "disinformation" about the virus (a Chinese official recently claimed that the US military brought the infection to the region). It's not entirely clear why China took this step now. As we've noted here, Beijing has become an important partner for countries in the West, particularly in Europe, that are now grappling with the pandemic. So it's entirely possible that China wants to keep the focus on that, while avoiding any more independent scrutiny from foreign journalists of its own handling of the outbreak, especially as it prepares to lift some of the quarantine measures.


COVID-19: the perils for migrants – Lacking access to healthcare and often stuck in precarious living conditions, asylum seekers are especially vulnerable to the spread of contagious disease. But they are also vulnerable to the measures that governments are taking to stop the spread of coronavirus. The Trump administration is floating fresh restrictions on migrants seeking refuge in the United States, according to reports, just as healthcare workers warn of a potential coronavirus outbreak near the US-Mexico border. Meanwhile, the European Union's decision to shut its borders over COVID-19 heightens the anguish for thousands of asylum seekers and refugees, many fleeing violence in Syria, who are now trapped in no-man's-land on the Aegean islands amid ongoing tensions along the Greek-Turkish border. Although several European countries recently agreed to take in more migrants – unaccompanied and "very sick" minors – the UN refugee agency is now temporarily suspending resettlement for thousands of refugees because of the new EU border restrictions. That means many more refugees will languish in camps where, even in the best of times, diseases and superbugs thrive.

Venezuela forced into COVID-19 isolation – In recent days, both Colombia and Brazil have shut their borders with Venezuela, over fears that the steady stream of refugees fleeing the country's grinding humanitarian crisis could be a major vector for the spread of COVID-19. The concern is understandable, especially for Colombia, which has already absorbed more than 1.3 million Venezuelan migrants. After years of economic mismanagement and crisis, Venezuela's healthcare system is severely depleted, hospitals can't count on running water or power, and the government is all but broke. It certainly doesn't help that prices for oil, Venezuela's main economic engine, have plunged as a result of the ongoing Saudi-Russia price war (which you can read about here.) Venezuela has already reported several dozen cases, but the numbers could soon rise catastrophically. Underscoring the severity of the crisis – as well as the topsy-turviness of the world right now – President Nicolas Maduro has sought $5 billion worth of help from a most unlikely source (at least from the perspective of the die-hard Chavista revolutionary): the International Monetary Fund. The fund, which his predecessor Hugo Chavez once wanted to destroy, promptly rejected the request, saying it can't move until there is international consensus on who is actually president of the country. Much of the world recognizes the head of the legislature, Juan Guaido, but Maduro is still functionally in charge.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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