The grand (economic) reopening debate is on!

The grand (economic) reopening debate is on!

Barely a month ago, the big debate about quarantines in Europe and the US was about whether it made sense to close much of the economy in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But this week, with the increase in COVID-19 deaths seeming to slowin some of the major early epicenters, the debate about when, and how, to "reopen" our economies is getting a boost, for two big reasons.

First, the global economy is officially in a tailspin. The International Monetary Fund has just released a grim new global outlook that minces no words: "The Great Lockdown" has pushed the world into the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The numbers are staggering. The global economy will contract thirty times more than it did during the 2009-2010 recession. Among major economies, only China and India will grow this year, and just barely.

Second, companies and banks have bad news. This week we'll get quarterly earnings reports from some of the largest companies and banks in the world, giving us a better sense of how the quarantines have hit their revenues, their balance sheets, and their hiring plans. E-commerce giants and disinfectant companies probably have great news to share – but major sectors like manufacturing, tourism, and hospitality are crushed.

The double-dose of tough economic news will inflame an already burning question: given that a vaccine is (at best) a year away from widespread availability, when is the right time to re-open the world's devastated major economies, and what does that look like? Here are a few things to consider as the debate unfolds.

First, it's not simply a trade-off between public health and economic health. Absent public confidence that the virus is at least under control, many businesses and workers won't be comfortable heading back to work, no matter what politicians say. And from a political perspective, no mayor or governor or president wants to rush to reopen, only to have to shut down again if the (inevitable) second wave overwhelms hospitals again. That would make both the economic and epidemiological crises much worse.

Second, it's not about flipping a switch. Reopening of economies will happen in small steps, as public health officials and political leaders – especially mayors and governors – and businesses work to establish the basic conditions for a return to economic activity. On the one hand, that requires a clearer picture of who has the disease and where it is spreading so that new outbreaks can be stopped. It also means equipping workplaces, public spaces, and public transportation to meet social distancing guidelines that will remain with us in some form until we're all vaccinated.

Third, there will be a huge fight over privacy. Most reasonable reopening plans involve a mixture of widespread testing to determine who is sick and who is immune, as well as extensive contact tracing in order to swiftly isolate new outbreaks. Either of these things would require a massive expansion of centralized authority (on the part of governments or tech companies) to administer tests, compile and access the results, and trace contacts. Questions about privacy and government reach will come to the fore very quickly, as we've already seen in responses to the recently announced Google/Apple partnership on contact tracing.

Bottom line: The debate over reopening will be contentious, and progress will be slow. One thing is certain: nothing that we think of as "normal" is coming any time soon.

Here's a thought: What does a sports stadium look and sound like if there are three blocked-off seats between each fan who's there? And do the smaller number of seats go to the highest bidder?

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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