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

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.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

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It's easy to judge the Pompeiians for building a city on the foothills of a volcano, but are we really any smarter today? If you live along the San Andreas fault in San Francisco or Los Angeles, geologists are pretty confident you're going to experience a magnitude 8 (or larger) earthquake in the next 25 years—that's about the same size as the 1906 San Francisco quake that killed an estimated 3,000 people and destroyed nearly 30,000 buildings. Or if you're one of the 9.6 million residents of Jakarta, Indonesia, you might have noticed that parts of the ground are sinking by as much as ten inches a year, with about 40 percent of the city now below sea level.

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Viktor Orbán, Hungary's far-right populist prime minister, likes to shock people. It's part of his political appeal. Orbán has proudly proclaimed that he is an "illiberal" leader" creating a frenzy in Brussels because Hungary is a member of the European Union.

It's been over a decade since the 58-year old whom some have dubbed "the Trump before Trump" became prime minister. In that time he has, critics say, hollowed out Hungary's governing institutions and eroded the state's democratic characteristics.

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Why do (most) world leaders drink together? It can get them to agree on stuff they wouldn't while sober. Booze "helps people get cooperation off the ground, especially in situations where cooperation is challenging," says University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland. Alcohol, he explains, allows you to "see commonalities rather than just pursuing your own interest," which may put teetotaler politicians — like Donald Trump — at a disadvantage. Watch his interview on the next episode of GZERO World. Check local listings to watch on US public television.

In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

QR codes are everywhere. Are they also tracking my personal data?

Well, a QR code is like a complex barcode that may be on a printed ad or product package for you to scan and access more information. For example, to look at a menu without health risk or for two-factor verification of a bank payment. And now also as an integral part of covid and vaccine registration. QR codes can lead to tracking metadata or personal data. And when your phone scans and takes you to a website, certainly the tracking starts there. Now, one big trap is that people may not distinguish one kind of use of QR codes from another and that they cannot be aware of the risks of sharing their data.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky bits of color from a Games like no other…

Today we've got— the best freakout celebrations!

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