The pandemic was declared 6 months ago. How is the world doing?

The pandemic was declared 6 months ago. How is the world doing?

"Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death," World Health Organization chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on March 11, when the WHO declared the new coronavirus a global pandemic. Six months later most of the world is still struggling to contain COVID-19, which has already infected more than 27.4 million people and killed over 894,000.

So, what's the state of play half a year after the coronavirus upended the world as we know it?


New hotspots. Different countries are emerging each week as new coronavirus hotspots. Although the center of gravity has shifted from developed to developing countries, the US still has by far the most cases and deaths worldwide, and some developed countries are seeing a surge in rapidly rising cases.

India, where social distancing is virtually impossible for most and the government has made the calculated risk of opening up despite the health risk so its battered economy can recover, has just overtaken Brazil as the second country with most infections. Spain, on the other hand, an early COVID-19 hotspot which largely succeeded in bringing down its death toll, has seen its caseload surged over the past few weeks as Spaniards resumed their social gatherings once the strict lockdown ended in May.

This might explain why developing countries simply cannot afford to remain as vigilant on the coronavirus if they must choose between sickness or survival, and why developed countries risk a deluge of cases when they lack a coordinated reopening strategy (and have short memories of fearing the virus).

Pandemic politics. In many countries, far-right movements and conspiracy theorists have taken to the streets to protest pandemic-related restrictions and express — like for instance in Germany — their own anti-government views on issues from mandatory mask-wearing to immigration.

Some world leaders, meanwhile, have approached the global vaccine race as an opportunity to exploit the pandemic for political gain. The Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro have both volunteered their populations to be guinea pigs for Russia's Sputnik V vaccine (the former because he wants to get Vladimir Putin's miracle cure for free, the latter because he has almost no friends left). In the US, President Donald Trump aims to start vaccinating Americans right before the November election to improve his reelection odds.

But having a proven vaccine is no guarantee that people will actually take it. In a recent global poll, 26 percent of people surveyed said they will not.

Back to school. As summer ends in the Northern Hemisphere and winter holidays come to a close elsewhere, there is enormous uncertainty over students going back to schools and universities.

Fear of adults catching the virus from kids and young people means the new normal will probably be a mix of virtual and in-person classes involving regular testing for all. A high school in the US state of Georgia tried to return business-as-usual but soon had to close after an outbreak, while many Israelis blame a resurgence of the virus on reopening classrooms too quickly once the lockdown ended in May.

The economy. It's clear that the world will take a long time to recover from the economic crisis the pandemic has unleashed worldwide. After a somewhat rosy forecast in April, the International Monetary Fund now anticipates that the recovery will be more gradual.

East Asian economies — where mask-wearing and other prevention measures are seldom questioned by citizens — have weathered the storm better than the rest (China and Vietnam are actually growing), while the European Union has approved an ambitious rescue package to pull its hardest-hit economies out of the hole. The immediate future of the US economy is still unclear, and a swift recovery will largely depend on the country avoiding a second wave in the fall.

Finally, a growing concern among economists is that a pandemic-fueled depression will result in societies that are even more unequal, where the haves still prosper as the have-nots bear the brunt of lost jobs, lower salaries and shuttered businesses. That's the prediction for Latin America and the Caribbean, where COVID-19 is expected to push an additional 231 million people into poverty and wipe out decades of economic progress.

Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints from people who've been victims of tech support scams. But it's not just Microsoft's brand that the scammers leverage; fraudsters have pretended to be from a number of other reputable tech companies and service providers. These scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about how they work and how to avoid them.

To measure the scope of this problem globally, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for a new 2021 survey across 16 countries. Results from the 2021 survey reveal that, globally, fewer consumers have been exposed to tech support scams as compared to the 2018 survey. However, those people who continued with the interaction were more likely to have lost money to the scammers than we saw in our previous survey. To read the highlights of the survey, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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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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Was the world so focused on climate change that warning signs about the COVID-19 pandemic were missed? Historian and author Niall Ferguson argues that, while the climate crisis poses a long-term threat to humanity, other potential catastrophes are much more dangerous in the near future. "We took our eye off that ball," Ferguson says about COVID, "despite numerous warnings, because global climate change has become the issue that Greta Thunberg said, would bring the end of the world. But the point I'm making in DOOM [his new book] is that we can end the world and a lot of other ways, much faster." Ferguson spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview for GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

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13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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