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.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly began from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

A few thoughts.

First, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already made clear they will move quickly toward a Senate vote to confirm a replacement before the election. Neither man cares about arguments that they should wait until after the election to move forward. Trump will name the nominee within days, and McConnell will begin lining up the votes. Four years ago, McConnell refused to give a vote to Obama's pick to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia because it was an election year, although for McConnell that argument doesn't apply now.

Second, this may set the scene for large-scale protests in many American cities. As for the election itself, this fight, however it plays out, is only likely to increase enthusiasm among voters on both sides by reminding them of the larger stakes that come with a lifetime appointment that can swing the ideological balance of a divided court. The partisan battle over the 2018 confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh could be child's play compared to what could happen if Republicans try to confirm a nominee before the election, or even after it (especially if Trump loses).

Third, there will be no replacement for Ginsburg until a nominee can get 50 votes in the Senate. Of the 53 Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) have said in the past they don't believe a nominee should be rushed through close to an election. There are other names to watch, including a few in close races for re-election that might benefit by saying no to Trump. There is also Mitt Romney (Utah), the man who has emerged as Trump's most frequent Republican critic.

Fourth, here's the potential wildcard: The Constitution stipulates that there must be a Supreme Court, but it doesn't specify how many judges it should include. There have been more than nine justices in the past.

In theory, if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the election and Democrats win a majority in the Senate, Biden could nominate six new justices of his own for a 15-judge court. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried this ploy in 1937, it failed and dealt his presidency a heavy political blow. But 1937 is not 2020, and Biden might succeed where Roosevelt failed.

The bottom line: The death of Justice Ginsburg is a major plot twist for what has so far been a remarkably stable election, and it will reverberate through American politics for years to come.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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The pandemic has forced this year's UN General Assembly to be mostly virtual, but will it prove to be an effective way for world leaders to discuss the critical issues of the moment? Ian Bremmer talks to UN Secretary-General António Guterres about the challenges of diplomacy in the Zoom where it happens. The exchange is part of a wide-ranging interview for GZERO World.

The episode begins airing nationally in the US on public television this Friday, September 18. Check local listings.

Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Does Trump's TikTok and WeChat ban infringe on American free speech rights?

I don't think that as a legal argument you could make the case that he's violated the law. But as a principle, potentially shutting down a vibrant platform where a lot of people say a lot of stuff, it doesn't look good. I think he's in violation of the spirit of the constitution, but I have a hard time viewing it as a legal matter.

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