Hi there,

Today we'll fight a disinformation pandemic, highlight the plight of Africa's informal workers, watch Wisconsin's crystal ball and detail a Brazil-China dustup. As a bonus, how many people are currently living in countries with closed borders?

-Alex Kliment

First, a farewell. Today we bid a bittersweet farewell to our colleague and friend Kevin Allison, who has piloted the Wednesday edition for more than a year. Kevin, one of the smartest people out there on the intersection between technology and politics, is returning to a full-time gig with Eurasia Group's geotechnology practice. Follow him on twitter at @KevinAllison. So long partner, we'll see you further on down the road (to the singularity.)

Why is Covid-19 the "Super Bowl of disinformation"?

Man types on a computer keyboard in front of the displayed cyber code in this illustration picture

Did you know that COVID-19 is caused by 5G networks? Were you aware that you can cure it with a hairdryer, cow urine, or a certain drug that isn't fully FDA-approved yet?

None of these things is true, and yet each has untold millions of believers around the world. They are part of a vast squall of conspiracy theories, scams, and disinformation about the virus that is churning through the internet and social media platforms right now.


The UN and World Health Organization have called this an "infodemic," which is spreading alongside the pandemic, complicating efforts to slow and treat the spread of COVID-19. They've even published this handy myth-buster (spoiler: drinking alcohol doesn't kill the virus, no matter what the President of Belarus says.)

This is a deadly problem. When disinformation warps people's perceptions ahead of an election, it's bad. But when it gives people false information about a deadly disease, it can kill them.

There are a few kinds of false info floating around out there.

Quack cures from the depths of the internet. These "miracle stories" spread like wildfire, warping people's understanding of what they need to do to avoid or treat COVID-19. Some of these theories are picked up by the most powerful people in the world. US President Donald Trump's embrace of hydroxocholoroquine as a coronavirus miracle cure, despite its lack of clinical trials, has caused panic buying and shortages of a drug that millions of non-COVID patients with weak immune systems need in order to stay alive. And the drug may have some nasty side-effects.

Political or geopolitically motivated disinformation. Earlier this year, some US and Chinese officials, for example, took turns accusing each other's governments – with no evidence – of having bioengineered the coronavirus pandemic. Iranian officials have also blamed Washington, as have Russian state TV channels.

Trolling for trouble. There are also people out there who are spreading disinformation in order to stir up social or racial tensions – white supremacists have been particularly active in this respect. Across Africa, there are unfounded rumors that European companies are using Africans as guinea pigs to test coronavirus vaccines.

Given the extent of all this false information and the human stakes involved, the coronavirus is the "Super Bowl of disinformation," according to Danny Rogers, co-founder of the Global Disinformation Index, a non-profit that tracks and flags malicious disinformation and scams.

The fact that government officials are playing this game is particularly dangerous, he says, because those are precisely the people we want and need to trust at a moment like this.

Social media platforms are struggling to keep up. On the plus side, stamping out clearly false information about coronavirus is an easier call to make than, say, policing political ads or content, and the platforms have been taking action. Prominent cases include Google booting conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Twitter erasing quack cure tweets from former NYC mayor and Trump loyalist Rudy Giuliani and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, or Facebook taking down two videos by Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro that disputed the need for social distancing. The messaging platform WhatsApp, for its part, has restricted users' ability to forward posts, a blanket measure meant to flatten the curve of disinformation's spread.

But it's still a game of whack-a-mole, Rogers says. The wave of false information is simply too gigantic, and the demand for information that is comforting or reassuring, irrespective of whether it's true, is simply too great.

So, if this is the Super Bowl of disinformation, who's going to win the Vince Lombardi trophy?

You can watch our full interview with Danny Rogers of the Global Disinformation Index here.

The Graphic Truth

As countries around the world struggle to combat the coronavirus pandemic with increasingly scarce medical supplies, we've seen many nations extend a helping hand, donating supplies like masks and gowns, as well as sending planeloads of medical personnel to help hard-hit countries. So far, China and Russia, which have enthusiastically sent aid around the world, have garnered much attention, while the US has been criticized for not doing more to help the international community deal with the coronavirus crisis. But a fuller account of how relief has actually been divvied out over the past few months actually reveals a more nuanced picture than that. Take a look here.

Supporting efforts to combat Covid-19 around the world

Microsoft On The Issues

Family, friends, co-workers and neighbors around the world are facing an economic crisis. Dealing with it requires the cooperation of every sector of society – governments, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals. As a global company, Microsoft is committed to helping the efforts through technology and partnership including those with the CDC, WHO, UNESCO and other companies.

For more on our collective efforts to combat Covid-19 around the world visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Informal workers in danger, Wisconsin’s omen, Brazil-China spats

Gabrielle Debinski

The danger to informal workers grows: Coronavirus lockdowns have created a world of uncertainty for businesses and workers around the world. But one group of people that could be hit particularly hard are those working in the so-called "informal economy," where workers lack formal contracts, labor protections, or social safety nets. Nowhere is this challenge more widespread than in Africa, where a whopping 85 percent of the work force toils in the informal sector. These workers, which include street vendors, drivers, and the self-employed, don't have the luxury of working from home, which makes social distancing unviable. As a result, many continue to go to work, risking exposure to the virus, because not turning up is often the difference between putting food on the table and starving. What's more, even where governments are trying to provide support, many people lack bank accounts, complicating efforts to get them aid. In Nigeria, for example, some 60 percent of people do not even have a bank account, according to the World Bank.


COVID stirs fresh Brazil-China tensions: The coronavirus pandemic is stoking tensions between Brazil and its largest trading partner, China. Last month Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's son accused China's "dictatorship" of botching the initial outbreak response, drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing. More recently, the beef has centered on medical equipment procurement. Last week, Brazil's Health Minister said China, the world's largest supplier, had cancelled several agreed-upon orders. Then Brazil's Education Minister (and close confidant of President Bolsonaro) accused China of using the pandemic to "dominate the world" and profiteer, in a tweet that also mocked Chinese pronunciation in Portuguese. He later deleted the post, but China's embassy in Brasilia promptly decried Brasilia's "racist" and "despicable" representation. For his part, President Bolsonaro has repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus threat, and evidently came close to firing his health minister (a trained doctor) over the issue. Now, as Brazil battles a surging number of COVID-19 cases, there's no hiding that his country of 212 million people needs medical supplies, and fast. Spats with China won't help.

As goes Wisconsin, so goes the nation? The US election will return to the news for about 10 minutes today as Wisconsin holds presidential primaries. Attention will be limited because former Vice President Joe Biden's near-insurmountable lead in national delegates has all but ended the race for the Democratic Party nomination — and because officials will not report any results until April 13. That will allow extra time for voters to file absentee ballots. But today's vote in Wisconsin offers a preview of the coming bitter national fight over the act of voting itself. Turnout today will be impacted by fears of COVID-19. Democrats and Republicans have fought over voting rules, and courts have intervened more than once. Results will be delayed and possibly contested. In all these ways, Wisconsin today may foreshadow the entire United States in November.

Hard Numbers: China claims zero dead, deadly attack in Mali, and borders closing across the globe

Gabrielle Debinski

15: So far, 15 US states and territories have delayed their primaries amid coronavirus fears, with many expanding vote-by-mail options to protect voters' health. Six of them have picked June 2, which is now an important date to watch.


0: For the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak began in China late last year, China reported zero new coronavirus-related deaths. Still, authorities worried about a second wave of infections, have recently placed dozens of communities in Wuhan back under lockdown even as broader restrictions in the city are eased.

39: Around 39 percent of the global population, some 3 billion people, live in countries whose borders are now completely closed to non-citizens and non-residents, according to a Pew study. A smaller number of countries, including Ecuador, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, have even closed their borders to their citizens stuck abroad.

25: Insurgents attacked a military site in northern Mali Tuesday, killing twenty-five soldiers. While no one claimed responsibility for the attack, the government said it resembled the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. Mali's government recently announced its readiness to open dialogue with al-Qaeda-linked groups that have wreaked havoc in that country for years.


Thanks for reading to the end. Follow us on Twitter and, for the artier approach to global affairs, on Instagram too.

This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks. The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel – one last time for the road – from Kevin Allison.

Hi there,

Today we'll worry about coronavirus' toll on poorer countries, mull an emergency in Japan, sound a domestic violence alarm, and watch as a European government relaxes its quarantines.

For all of GZERO Media's coronavirus in one place, head here, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

-Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

A coronavirus catastrophe for the developing world

Alex Kliment

As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:


First, their healthcare systems are generally weaker. They have less testing capability, fewer hospital beds, and lower stocks of ventilators and other specialized equipment. There are also far fewer doctors per capita. Among the top 25 health systems in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Global Health Security Index, there are just four in emerging market economies. (Can you guess which they are? Answer below the Hard Numbers at the bottom.)

We've already seen how quickly the disease has challenged and in some cases overwhelmed even advanced healthcare systems in major European and American cities. We can expect things to be worse in countries with fewer resources.

Second, the population of working poor or people living in poverty is higher. In countries where people's daily bread is tied so closely to daily work, it's much more difficult to simply order everyone to stay home or to enforce social distancing in densely populated urban slums. In India and Brazil, for example, between a fifth and a quarter of the urban population lives in slums, according to the World Bank. In Nigeria, the figure is 50 percent. Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, it can soar above 70 percent. Shanty towns are less than ideal for social distancing.

Third, the crisis' economic blow is likely to be even greater in developing countries, where critical revenues from commodity exports, tourism, and remittances are already plummeting as demand from the US, EU, and (to a lesser extent) China collapses. And while governments and central banks in the rich world can uncork stimulus packages that run into the trillions of dollars, developing countries have much less financial firepower, and their borrowing costs are also higher. Investors have already pulled $90 billion out of emerging markets since mid-January.

The tragedy of it: Developing countries have been the biggest beneficiaries of global economic growth over the past 20 years. It's there that we saw the emergence of a new global middle class. Even after the global financial crisis, the world's middle income countries mostly came roaring back. Now the coronavirus pandemic is poised to swing a (spiked) wrecking ball through all of that.

EXCLUSIVE: Chinese envoy to US refutes claims of hidden death toll

As reports swirl from sources in the US Intelligence Community that China vastly underreported the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths, China's top diplomat in the US, Ambassador Cui Tiankai, joined Ian Bremmer for an exclusive conversation in which he responds to the claim. "How can you hide them?" he asks. See the full interview here.

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Japan's emergency, domestic violence, LatAm seeks IMF help

Gabrielle Debinski

Japan declares state of emergency: Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe declared a "state of emergency" because of the coronavirus pandemic, giving some local governments the authority to request people stay in their homes, and shutter businesses and schools. Japan has so far managed the crisis without the kinds of sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere, but a surge of new cases in recent days – particularly in Tokyo – has put pressure on the government to do more. Japan has one of the world's oldest populations – a third of its people are older than 65, the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19. The emergency decision comes at a tough time. Japan's economy has been hurting for several months now, as China's massive lockdowns in January and February cratered demand for Japanese exports. In order to deal with the fallout that comes with putting his economy on life-support, PM Abe said the government would push through a 108 trillion yen stimulus package.


Covid lockdowns spark uptick in domestic violence: "Violence is not confined to the battlefield," the UN secretary-general said in response to reports of a surge in domestic violence as lockdowns force women around the world to stay at home with abusive partners or family members. According to reports, instances of domestic violence have risen in countries including France, Australia, Turkey, and Malaysia as a result of quarantine measures. Meanwhile, in South Africa, authorities said there were 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of lockdown alone. Warning of a "horrifying global surge" in domestic violence, the UN has appealed to governments to step up efforts to protect women. But with resources in many countries spread thinner than ever, it's hard to imagine governments making this a priority.

Latin America looks for IMF help: Coronavirus cases have soared in Latin America over the last month, with the highest tallies reported in Brazil, followed by Chile and Ecuador. Scenes of bodies lining the streets in the overwhelmed Ecuadoran industrial hub of Guayaquil, an emerging regional epicenter, are a grim omen. Even beyond the public health toll, the economic impact could be catastrophic. As lockdowns and social distancing risk triggering the worst recession in 50 years, 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries have already asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial lifelines, seeking a collective $4.48 billion in economic relief. Even before the coronavirus hit, many of the region's economies were suffering from low prices for oil and other commodities, with some countries already flirting with outright recession. In total, around 80 emerging economies have so far requested financial relief from the IMF, which has earmarked around $1 trillion for relief.

Hard Numbers: Austria takes a gamble, corona drives divorces, Rwanda's grim find

Alex Kliment

25: A divorce lawyer in Shanghai told Bloomberg News that his business has surged 25% since the city began easing its lockdown in mid-March, as being cooped up on lockdown evidently exposed irreconcilable differences in people's marriages.


70: As countries around the world scramble to get the necessary gear to fight COVID-19, as many as 70 national governments have recently restricted the export of that medical equipment, Simon Evenett of the Global Trade Alert tells us. His analysis warns that a trade war over medical equipment could be devastating for hospitals around the world.

2.8: With a daily infection growth rate that has fallen to just 2.8 percent from a high of 40 percent last month, Austria is set to become the first European country to ease its lockdown restrictions, beginning next week.

30,000: As Rwanda prepares to mark the 26th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 members of the Tutsi ethnicity were murdered, authorities have discovered a mass grave that could contain the remains of as many as 30,000 people.

Trivia answer: The four emerging market countries whose health systems rank among the top 25 globally are Thailand (#6), Malaysia (#18), Brazil (#22), and Argentina (#24).

This edition of signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks. Spiritual counsel from a sick tiger who got a test.

Today, we'll kill globalization, hunt COVID through the jungle, shelter Ethiopia's voters, drop in on Norway, expose some China bots, and wash our hands 73 times.

For all of GZERO's coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in one place, check out our coronavirus coverage page here.

And now, a few thoughts on COVID-19 from Samuel L Jackson.

Best,
Willis Sparks

Will COVID-19 kill globalization?

Willis Sparks

When this health crisis is over, will we remember COVID-19 as an historic turning point for globalization? We're talking here about all the processes that move goods and services, people, money, information, and ideas across borders at historically unprecedented speed. It's a trend, like all important trends, composed of plenty of both good and bad. It has lifted billions of people from poverty and given each of us a new stake in the success of others. And it has also dirtied our air and water, warmed the climate, and disrupted lives and livelihoods as millions of jobs cross borders too.

It's the defining force of the post-Cold War world.


But in recent years, and well before a novel coronavirus first made the leap from animal to human sometime late last year, plenty of people on both the right and the left had begun to question the virtues of globalization. Some of those people have since become major world leaders. The coronavirus pandemic will create new incentives for political leaders and business decision-makers that accelerate the move away from globalization.

Political leaders will find themselves responsible for reversing a sharp economic slowdown and high unemployment. Some will respond to rising public fears over insecure borders by building new barriers to immigration with promises to protect jobs and public health. They'll also protect jobs with new tariffs, and they'll pressure companies to move more of their production "home."

Business leaders will simplify multinational supply chains, which now account for about three-quarters of global trade, to reduce their vulnerabilities to unexpected crises. (That process has already begun between the world's largest and next-largest economies in response to the US-China trade war.) They'll also have new incentives to automate production to reduce the cost of disruptions. And now that they've discovered the extent to which it's possible to conduct business online from home, they might spend less on travel.

This deglobalization trend will create a more dangerous world. As Eurasia Group's Robert Kaplan pointed out in a recent column, the US and China were already starting to disengage their economies from each other, particularly in advanced technology. The bad blood that COVID-19 has added to the relationship will further dismantle the economic interdependence that's given Washington and Beijing good reason to avoid direct conflict — economic or military.

COVID-19 won't kill globalization, but it will expose globalization's profound political and economic vulnerabilities like nothing we've seen before. It will accelerate trends already underway, sparking new debates about the costs and benefits of physical and economic boundaries. The movement towards interdependence that has defined the past 30 years will be thrown into reverse.

That's the argument. Tell us what you think.

The Graphic Truth

Ari Winkleman

With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week reached 6.6 million, by far the highest number on record. Over 10 million people filed unemployment claims in the last two weeks of March alone, more than were filed in the first six months of the Great Recession. The surge in jobless claims, which may still be a vast undercount of the number of people without work, is sure to cause a spike in the overall unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Some economists now warn that it could reach over 15 percent in the near term. Here's a look at the historical context.

New Docuseries Shows How Eni Collaborates with Top Research Institutions

Eni

Eni opens the use of its supercomputers to centers of excellence in scientific and technological research, both in Italy and abroad. "By opening up, we need even more computing capacity because we have to share the evolution of new research with other researchers," says Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi.

Watch Eni's new docuseries on HPC5

Ben Smith on how the media is falling short in the age of coronavirus

The New York Times columnist and former editor in chief of Buzzfeed News sits down with Ian Bremmer to talk about what the media is covering amid the pandemic, and how. The biggest story in this country right now, he says, is not Trump. Watch the clip here. See the complete interview on the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, which begins airing today, Friday, April 3, on US public television. Check local listings.

Coronavirus Politics Daily: COVID in the rainforest, Ethiopia ballot delayed, Norway feels different

Gabrielle Debinski

Coronavirus reaches the rainforest: Brazil has reported the first case of coronavirus within one of its more than 300 indigenous tribal communities, after a 20-year old medical worker deep in the Amazon rain forest has tested positive. Officials believe the woman, who lives more than 500 miles from the nearest major city, was infected by a doctor in the area who had recently returned from a vacation in southern Brazil, where the virus has already spread rapidly. Brazil's 850,000 indigenous are at high risk, as they live in highly communal fashion, in remote areas that lack extensive healthcare infrastructure. For some historical context, these people are, themselves, the descendants of the barely 10 percent of indigenous peoples who survived the scourge of infectious diseases brought by European colonizers half a millennium ago.


Norway feels different now: For decades, Norwegians have though of themselves as annerledeslandet, "the different country." Between the smart use of oil revenues that began pouring in back in the 1970s, and the country's lucrative fishing industry, Norway has enjoyed a much-coveted quality of life and economic stability. But the recent tumble in oil prices, a result of a Saudi-Russian price war and coronavirus lockdowns, has thrown the economy of Europe's largest oil producer, into disarray. In the past month, Norway's currency, the krone, has fallen by about 15 percent against the US dollar, while around five percent of the population has filed for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks alone, producing the highest unemployment level since WWII. Luckily, Norway has the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, a rainy day cushion of around $950 billion, which the government can use to boost the economy. Still, the pandemic is a real test of one of the world's most well run social democracies. After this is all over, will Norway still be different?

Ethiopia elections stalled over COVID: Ethiopia's August presidential and parliamentary elections have been postponed as the country tries to rein in its growing coronavirus outbreak. The long-anticipated polls were largely seen as a referendum on the reformist agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising to spearhead a democratic awakening, and has since released thousands of political prisoners while lifting the country's ban on opposition parties. But Ahmed is also accused of cracking down on journalists and stifling dissent. Some observers warn that delaying the ballot could further inflame a recent resurgence of religious and ethnic tensions that has left dozens dead and displaced around three million people. Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous country, and one of its fastest growing economies, has an uphill battle in fighting the pandemic as it grapples with limited testing resources and a neglected medical system (there are just 0.3 hospital beds per every 1,000 people, and around 435 ventilators for a population of 114 million).

Hard Numbers: US jobless record, Forza Chinese bots, Afghan prisoner swap, and an EU wrist slap

Gabrielle Debinski

46.3: As China was delivering crucial medical supplies to hard-hit Italy in March, the uplifting hashtag #forzaCinaeItalia, which means "Go China and Italy!!" appeared to go viral, with help from Chinese official accounts. Turns out, around 46.3% of posts using the tag were pushed out by bots.


10.4: As the US economy goes on life support, around 10.4 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last two weeks of March alone. In February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent — economists warn we could be at 15% before long.

3: The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that three EU countries – Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic – had violated a bloc-wide mandate to absorb a certain amount of the asylum seekers who arrived in the EU at the height of the migrant crisis back in 2015. The ruling, however, appears to be mostly symbolic.

100: Afghanistan's government began the process Thursday of exchanging 100 Taliban prisoners for 20 of its own security personnel held captive by the insurgent group. This is the first in a series of prisoner releases negotiated as part of a broader US-Taliban peace deal.

Words of Wisdom

"If you're going through Hell, keep going."

- Attributed to Winston Churchill


Give a friend the Signal here, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, Gabrielle Debinski, and Alex Kliment. Graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel from Kevin Allison and an Anthony Fauci bobblehead doll.

Hi there,

In today's edition, we give the EU a coronavirus test, check Trump's offer to Maduro, map vulnerable refugees, and wonder why two dictatorships deny any COVID-19 cases at all.

Thanks for being a Signal reader. Tell us how you are coping with the times here.

- Kevin and The Signalistas

A COVID-19 test for the European Union

Kevin Allison

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.


Today, Europe has already unleashed some serious financial firepower to fight the current crisis, mainly through its central bank. But some of the other steps that may be necessary to prevent an economic collapse, like an EU bailout fund or crisis bonds, have reignited long-standing disagreements between North and South. A meeting of Eurozone finance ministers next Tuesday will be an important sign of whether Europe can pull together on the financial front.

The border crisis: In a bid to stop the spread of the virus, countries across the union have imposed border controls, some banning all entry to non-nationals. Although measures like this are technically allowed during emergencies like pandemics, they've caused huge traffic jams and disruptions to the flow of important goods. Relatedly, some member states have restricted shipping critical medical supplies with fellow EU-members, for fear that they will be needed at home.

When and under what circumstances these borders are relaxed again will be a very thorny political question, which raises concerns about whether one of the EU's great achievements — the vaunted Schengen area allowing unhindered, passport-free travel across the EU – will survive the crisis intact.

A crisis of democracy: Hungary's lurch towards "illiberal democracy" was the subject of serious hand wringing in Brussels well before the pandemic hit, but member states never took sufficient action to deter it. Now that the strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used the crisis to grab nearly unlimited executive powers, Hungary has become an existential test of the EU's commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Other illiberal forces in Europe and beyond will be watching to see how Brussels and the other member states respond.

Bottom line: For now, the EU is holding together amid the biggest crisis in the continent's post-war history. But it's still early days. As the death toll and economic destruction mount, tougher tests of the EU's ability to function as a bloc, rather than a collection of states with competing interests, may be yet to come.

The Graphic Truth

The coronavirus pandemic is already wreaking havoc on developed countries where residents are able to socially distance themselves and self-quarantine. So what would happen if the contagion spread amongst the most vulnerable populations – refugees and asylum seekers in jam-packed camps? Many in refugee camps don't have access to running water or soap, which would make it all but impossible to slow the spread of the disease by washing their hands. Human rights advocates are bracing for a potential deadly outbreak at one these sites, where even ordinary infections spread like wildfire. Here's a look at some of the world's largest refugee camps, where the stakes are highest.

Finally, progress on regulating facial recognition

Microsoft On The Issues

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Autocrats claim no cases, and Trump baits Maduro

Gabrielle Debinski

North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.


Trump's overture to Venezuela: The Trump administration released a proposal Tuesday to ease US sanctions on Venezuela, but with a catch: it demands that long-time strongman Nicolas Maduro relinquish power to rival Juan Guaido, who heads Venezuela's parliament, in exchange for financial relief. Guaido, recognized as Venezuela's legitimate leader by the US and most of the world's democracies, would join a temporary government and oversee fair national elections in the near-term, the US hopes. While Maduro has given no indication that he's willing to accept this invitation to political suicide, President Trump is hoping that plummeting prices for oil, Venezuela's main export, will force Maduro to the bargaining table at a time when his government (and its wrecked healthcare system) badly needs resources to get through a growing coronavirus crisis of its own.

Word games in Turkmenistan: Not to be outdone by fellow former-Soviet strongman Alexsander Lukashenka's prescription of "vodka and saunas" as coronavirus antidote, the government of Turkmenistan, one of the most extravagantly repressive countries on earth, has taken a novel approach to fighting the novel coronavirus itself: don't say its name. According to Reporters Without Borders, the authorities in Ashgabat have largely discouraged state organs from referring to coronavirus or COVID-19, and official statistics show zero infections in the former Soviet Republic of nearly 6 million people. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, known abroad primarily for DJing, shooting guns while on a bicycle, and falling off his horse, has prescribed fumigating public areas – and nasal passages – with the smoke of the yuzarlik plant, though quarantines and lockdowns are reportedly gaining steam. Crazy as this all is, it's also very dangerous: Turkmenistan has a long border with Iran, which is home to one of the worst COVID-19 epidemics in the world. An outbreak in Turkmenistan, which is already reeling from a collapse in its lucrative gas exports to China, could quickly turn into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Hard Numbers: Americans split on Trump's virus response, billions in lockdown, food scarcity in East Africa

Gabrielle Debinski

3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.


19: Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen carried out 19 air raids on Houthi rebels in Saana, Yemen's capital, in a single day. The Saudi-UAE strikes came after Houthi fighters, who are backed by Iran, launched a series of rockets at Riyadh.

48: As the US now grapples with the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, 48 percent of Americans surveyed say the Trump administration has done a good job preventing the spread of the disease, according to a new CNN poll.

69: A once in a generation locust infestation is devastating crops and scuttling food supplies throughout swaths of East Africa that were already suffering as a result of a 2019 drought. Only a few months ago, 69 percent of Kenyans polled said they lacked money for food in the past year – that's about 35 million people.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks. Spiritual counsel by Lukas, Micah, and Willie Nelson.

Hi there,

Today, we've got wave worries in Wuhan, the US and EU coronavirus tolls, Hungary's democracy infected, Moscow locked down, and detained migrant kids in the US getting sick.

Send love/hate here. And keep your distance.

-Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

Watching Wuhan – but can you believe your eyes?

Alex Kliment

As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.


Some key questions:

First, will there be a second wave of cases in Wuhan? Almost inevitably, yes. The key questions are how big a wave and whether hospitals are now better prepared. A recent study published in The Lancet, a respected medical journal, suggests that lifting the Wuhan lockdown now will produce a second wave by August, while leaving it in place until the end of April would push that off until October, allowing more time for prep.

Second, how will the Chinese government respond to this second wave? Following intense international criticism of its mismanagement of the first outbreak, Beijing is now determined to project an image of competence and experience in dealing with COVID-19, as the disease's epicenters have shifted to Europe and the US.

But if many more people than expected are infected in the coming weeks, will the Chinese government be honest about what's happening? There are already reasons to question the Chinese government's official statistics. Also, this recent report on the number of ash urns recently stacked at Wuhan funeral homes is an eye-opener. China has officially reported about 2,500 deaths, but some unconfirmed estimates put the true death toll in the tens of thousands.

The world is now in an extraordinary and precarious situation. In a global public health crisis where transparency is critical in order to craft effective responses, we now wait for essential information from a government that has strong incentives – both domestically and internationally – to again keep damaging information secret.

The Graphic Truth

The United States now leads the world in reported coronavirus cases in a single country, with around 160,000. This dwarfs the figures from other leading hotspots in Europe such as Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. But how do the US numbers match up with the EU as a whole, where the population is more comparable?

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Moscow lockdown, migrant children, Orban's power grab

Gabrielle Debinski

КОВИД-19 lockdown: Seems like it was just a few days ago that Russian president Vladimir Putin was telling his people that the coronavirus epidemic was under control and that a week off of work would do the trick to slow its spread. Things have changed. Over the weekend, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, who had publicly warned Putin that the official number of cases was a vast undercount, locked down the Russian capital, giving its 12.5 million residents just four hours notice. It's not clear how long the measures will last, but there is talk of issuing scannable digital codes to people in order to determine who is permitted to be outside. Russia had earlier showed a curiously low number of cases for a country of its size – we are about to find out what the real picture is. As a side note, keep an eye on the political fortunes of Mayor Sobyanin, who is now in many ways the public face of the Kremlin's efforts to squelch "КОВИД-19."


Coronavirus and detained migrant children: After several children in a migrant shelter in New York tested positive for COVID-19, a Los Angeles-based federal judge warned of the epidemic's dangers for migrant children in detention facilities. The judge (responding to an earlier lawsuit brought by immigration advocates) urged the federal government to "make continuous efforts" to release many of the roughly 7,000 migrant children whom the federal government currently holds in custody. As of March 15, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which operates some of the detention facilities, had not put social distancing, sanitation, or adequate testing protocols in place. Agencies detaining migrant children now have until April 6 to demonstrate to the court their intention to safely release thousands of children. But considering that a crackdown on immigration has been a central plank of President Trump's political platform, it seems unlikely that he will accept the release of migrants (even children) without one hell of a fight, particularly as the election looms.

COVID-19 sickens Hungary's democracy: Last week, we wrote that Hungary's strongman prime minister, Viktor Orban, was using the coronavirus crisis to justify changes to the country's emergency laws that would allow him to rule by decree indefinitely. Now, Hungary's legislature – where Orban's Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority – has approved the measures, granting Orban unchecked power to suspend parliament, cancel elections, and jail people for five years if they spread misinformation about the pandemic. These exceptional measures put Budapest at loggerheads with the European Union, which had already launched action against Hungary in 2018 for breaching the bloc's "core values." (Hungary walked away with just a slap on the wrist.) The question now is: what will the EU do about one of its member states using the pandemic as an excuse to undermine democratic institutions, indefinitely and on a massive scale? Brussels has a lot on its hands these days…

Hard Numbers: Spanish health workers bear the brunt, Wuhan's legit death toll, and ISIS escapees

Gabrielle Debinski

40,000: As a months-long lockdown on the Chinese city of Wuhan – ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic – is slowly being lifted, skeptics are throwing shade on the official government narrative, which puts Wuhan's death toll at just 2,500. As funeral homes release cremated ashes to family members of those who succumbed to the disease, residents say there have likely been over 40,000 deaths in Wuhan from COVID-19.


12,300: About 12,300 Spanish healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19 as they grapple with one of the biggest outbreaks in the world. Medical professionals now account for-some 14 percent of all cases reported in the country. It's harder to fight a disease when the people fighting the disease are laid low by the disease.

1,000: Kurdish forces said Monday that 1,000 ISIS fighters were rampaging through a prison facility in northeastern Syria after staging an uprising. The prison in the Syrian city of Hasaka houses around 5,000 former ISIS members detained after the self-declared Islamic State was mostly overrun last year. Kurdish forces said this morning that the revolt has now mostly been contained.

0: Out of dozens of prominent economists surveyed in a new University of Chicago study, precisely zero of them supported the idea that leaving severe lockdowns in place is worse for the economy than releasing them, for as long as the risk of infections remains high. President Trump has recently backed off his idea of "reopening" the economy by Easter and has prolonged social distancing guidelines through the end of April.

This edition of signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks. The graphic was made by Ari Winkleman. Spiritual counsel from…you tell us this time, where are you looking for even-keeled wisdom these days?

Today, we'll detail some emerging COVID-19 danger-zones, gamble in Sweden, name-call at the G7, and put Saudis in the dock.

For all of GZERO's coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in one place, check out our coronavirus coverage page here.

Best,

Willis Sparks

The COVID-19 risks you're hearing less about: India, Nigeria, and refugee camps

Willis Sparks

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.


This week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown of the entire country, "a total ban on venturing out of your homes." His words triggered an immediate run on shops for all kinds of supplies, and some police have already used force against violators of Modi's order.

Bottom-line: Coronavirus risks to public health (and public order) in India are enormous and growing.

Next to Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and largest economy. Early headlines told a good news story. At the beginning of this week, this country of nearly 200 million people had confirmed fewer than 50 cases of COVID-19 infection. Some have lauded Nigeria's Centre for Disease Control as a model for other countries.

The bad news is that it appears that just 152 people had been tested as of March 22. Compare that with some 15,500 tests conducted in South Africa.

Bottom-line: While Nigeria's health officials have valuable experience in dealing with Ebola, Lassa Fever, and other infectious diseases, it probably lacks the equipment needed to manage a health emergency as broad as COVID-19. And it doesn't help that oil-exporting Nigeria is struggling with the current crude price crash.

Finally, to refugee camps inside Turkey. Concerns are growing for the health of the more than 3 million refugees living in close quarters in camps inside Turkey. Forget the 20-second handwash. Reports from the camps say large numbers go a week without showers, and hundreds share water taps and toilets.

Earlier this month, Turkey's President Erdogan threatened to send large numbers of these desperate people toward Europe in response to events inside Syria that threatened to overwhelm Turkey's ability to cope. That crisis has been averted for now.

But fear is growing that living conditions inside these camps make them an ideal breeding ground for the rapid spread of COVID-19 — and with precious few resources to treat the infected.

Bottom-line: If coronavirus begins sweeping through these camps, how will Turkey cope? Will refugees find themselves caught in a lethal trap between Turkey, Syria, and Europe?

The coronavirus cures Israeli deadlock

FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows Gantz, leader of Blue and White party in Tel Aviv and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Kiryat Malachi

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 either defense or foreign minister, until September 2021 at which time Gantz will take over as prime minister.

It's a full about-face for Gantz, who had previously vowed never to serve under a prime minister facing formal corruption charges. But Gantz's inability to form a coalition government of his own, and the need for an "emergency unity government" in the face of the coronavirus crisis, forced his change of heart.

"These are not normal times and they call for unusual decisions," Gantz explained, much to the anger and dismay of some of his political allies. The virus outbreak has also delayed the opening of Netanyahu's trial until May 24.

New Docuseries About the World's Top Industrial Supercomputer

Eni

Eni's industrial supercomputer HPC5 is at the top of the world rankings for computing power: 58 million billion operations per second. This is made possible in part by its home at the Green Data Center, which benefits from a unique cooling system that improves energy efficiency.

Watch Eni's new docuseries on HPC5

The Graphic Truth

With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.

Shake Shack founder on how Covid is killing the restaurant biz

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact globally, few industries have been as hard hit as restaurants and hospitality. In the U.S. alone, losses north of $225 billion are projected over the next three months.

This week on GZERO World, Ian Bremmer interviewed famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of Shake Shack. Meyer discusses the toll coronavirus has taken on his own business, his decision to let go 80% of his workforce (2,000 employees) and the dimming prospects of survival for many restaurants in America, including some of his own. He also explains why he believes his controversial "no tipping policy," which raised hourly wages for his employees, could help them as they apply for unemployment benefits. Watch the clip here.

The episode begins airing nationally on public television on Friday, March 27. Check local listings and visit gzeromedia.com for more.

Coronavirus Politics Daily: G7 name game, Rohingya at risk, and Sweden's gamble

Alex Kliment

What's in a name? Nothing on dealing with coronavirus: The foreign ministers of the G7 group of the world's leading industrialized democracies failed this week to issue a joint statement on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Why? Evidently because US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on calling the virus the "Wuhan Virus" rather than the internationally recognized "COVID-19" or "coronavirus." The White House, which has been particularly at odds with Beijing over coronavirus, is keen to link the outbreak explicitly to China, where it was first detected, and to fight what Pompeo described as Chinese "disinformation." The virus, for its part, doesn't care what you call it, but it's happy to see seven of the world's leading powers not doing much leading at all.


Fears for Rohingya refugees: The town of Cox's Bazar, in south-eastern Bangladesh, abuts the world's largest refugee camp, home to almost 1 million Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar in 2017. Now, a resident of Cox's Bazar has tested positive for COVID-19, sending aid workers into a frenzy as they prepare for what they say is the "inevitable" spread of the virus amongst one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. Many believe the coronavirus is already sweeping the refugee camp, but in the absence of testing it's impossible to be certain. Many in the camps don't have access to running water and only around 67 percent of people have access to soap, making it all but impossible to slow the spread of the disease through constant hand-washing. Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, is also nearing monsoon season, which regularly brings its own host of challenges to the camps, including regular spikes in infectious disease.

A Scandinavian gamble: "We cannot take draconian measures that have a limited impact on the epidemic but knock out the functions of society." That wasn't President Trump, or Jair Bolsonaro, or Putin, or any of the other world leaders who've been criticized for underestimating the threat of the coronavirus. It was the head of public health in Sweden. Although the country's vast social benefits system is in theory better positioned to cushion the economic blow of a massive lockdown, the government has taken a lighter approach: universities are closed and gatherings of more than 500 people are banned, but schools remain open, there are no explicit work from home orders, ski resorts are still humming, and you can get served in restaurants (but not at the bar). The government is confident that the country's health system is capable of absorbing a surge in cases if they come, but critics say the policy making has been too opaque and is a huge gamble. Fingers crossed that it's a winning one.

Hard Numbers: Sikhs killed in Kabul, EU's scant medical resources, and Khashoggi's killers

Gabrielle Debinski

20: Turkish prosecutors have charged 20 Saudi officials with the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkey will proceed with a trial in absentia for the suspects after Riyadh rejected Ankara's calls to have those involved extradited to Turkey to face trial.


10%: The stockpile of medical equipment and resources available throughout the European Union will only serve about 10 percent of demand as the coronavirus continues to sweep the 27-nation bloc. A leaked EU memo warned that a lack of ventilators and personal protective equipment could impede Europe's ability to curb the virus' spread.

66: Amid coronavirus fears, 66 percent of American adults say they're less likely to travel outside of the country for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the travel industry fears that it could take months for business to bounce back even after the virus curve flattens.

25: Militants associated with the Islamic State stormed a Sikh temple Wednesday in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, killing 25 people. Ongoing violence by Islamist groups in Afghanistan serves to scuttle a fresh peace deal with the US, as well as undermine Afghanistan's ability to manage a surge of coronavirus infections.


Words of Wisdom

"If we don't handle these 21 days well, then our country, your family, will go backwards by 21 years."

- India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi explaining his decision to lock down the country for three weeks.


This edition of Signal was written by Willis Sparks, Gabrielle Debinski, and Alex Kliment. Spiritual counsel from Kevin Allison and Keep Calm and Carry On.


















Hi there,

Today in Signal: should you sacrifice your privacy to help stop coronavirus? Also, Trump's macabre calculation, and an unexpected boon for Kenya's fishermen.

Keep washing your hands and try to stay sane everybody.

- Kevin and The Signalistas

Your data or your life?

Kevin Allison

As governments around the world scramble to manage the coronavirus outbreak, the location data tracked by your mobile phone has become a highly sought-after commodity. Authorities in China, Israel, Russia, the US, and even the uber-privacy-conscious European Union have either secured access to mobile phone location data that they can use to identify people at risk of infection, or they are trying to get their hands on it.

But is this really a good idea? Here are the arguments for and against:

This is an emergency, track everyone: If there were ever a time to set concerns about privacy aside, this is it. Giving public health authorities access to everyone's location data gives them a better chance of tracking down people who have been in contact with confirmed cases – and helps ensure that those who are already sick stay in quarantine. Right now, governments need all the help they can get. Give them the data. Debates about the privacy implications can wait.


China is in this camp. So are other countries in Asia, like South Korea and Taiwan, that have had better success containing the epidemic – although it's still too early to say whether access to mobile phone location data was the deciding factor.

The risks to privacy are too great. Plus, there's no guarantee this will work: Anybody expecting governments and citizens to engage in level-headed debate about the potential trade-offs between public health and personal privacy during a raging crisis is probably smoking something. Governments will be looking to grab as much power as they can and history shows that they rarely give special powers back even after crises subside. Plus, all the data in the world isn't much use without a plan to put it to work. By the time governments figure it out, the pandemic may already be too widespread for digital tools like this to make a big difference.

Of course, politics is rarely so black and white. Europe, for example, is trying to carve out a middle way – it's asking mobile phone companies to share anonymized location data to help stem the spread of the virus in a way that still adheres to the bloc's tough data protection laws, while also issuing guidance to those member states who do want to pass emergency legislation that would allow for more detailed tracking.

Who's got it right? Is there another approach here that we are missing? Let us know your thoughts here.

Microsoft to join White House-led consortium to fight COVID-19

Microsoft On The Issues

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to provide COVID-19 researchers worldwide with access to the world's most powerful resources that can significantly advance the pace of scientific discovery in the fight to stop the virus. As part of Microsoft's AI for Health program, the company will provide grants to ensure additional access for researchers to our Azure cloud and high-performance computing capabilities.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Trump's grim trade-off, corona vs protests, and a boon for Kenya's fishermen

GZERO Media

Trump wants the US "open" by Easter: US President Donald Trump yesterday said he wants the coronavirus-related lockdowns lifted by mid-April, because he is concerned that the economic costs of these measures is too high. Trump's earlier caution that "the cure can't be worse than the problem itself" is a central principle of public health responses to pandemics, but most serious epidemiologists and public health experts say that easing the lockdown measures makes sense only once hospitals are fully prepared and there is sufficient testing to detect new outbreaks – neither of which is yet true in the US. The idea sets up a macabre calculation of how many lives are worth saving vs the economic impact of doing so, but it could also put governors on the spot: the lockdown measures have been imposed by states, not the federal government. Local authorities may be reluctant to relax the rules for fear of generating a fresh spike in cases. But if Trump is serious, he could also threaten to withhold federal aid from states that defy new, looser guidelines. Something nasty is coming, one way or another.


Coronavirus and protest politics: No matter how angry people may be at their governments, few are eager to gather in the streets to lift their voices against authority these days. We've seen lots of recent examples of how fear of coronavirus can undermine protests, while governments are also using new rules against public gatherings to disperse even the bravest of crowds. In India, for example, police have broken up a months-long peaceful protest against a new citizenship law and its prejudicial effect on the country's enormous Muslim minority. The easing of virus fears in China may soon revive long-running protests in Hong Kong. But some in Israel aren't waiting for news that the COVID coast is clear. In response to health regulations banning public gatherings, critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have staged a virtual rally of hundreds of thousands of people to accuse him of using the public health crisis to remain in power. How coronavirus changes the norms and avenue of political mobilization is going to be a big story in the coming months.

Kenyan fishermen's coronavirus boon: Kenyan fishermen have long lamented cheap frozen fish imports from China, which have strangled a local industry that supports thousands of people. But the coronavirus crisis has suddenly changed the picture as Chinese exports have slowed to a trickle amid that country's lockdowns, while Kenyans worried about contracting coronavirus began shunning fish from China anyway. As a result, Kenya's fishermen, who used to complain of having to barter or even give away their catch, are now celebrating as demand for Kenyan fish has surged 80 percent in the past two weeks. But there's a catch, so to speak. Experts warn that Kenyan supplies aren't enough to meet demand, and Kenya could soon face shortages if those Chinese imports don't resume.

Hard Numbers: Afghan aid cut, humanizing Italy, covert corona cases

Gabrielle Debinski

60: Scientists believe that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus are spreading the disease at staggering rates. Some estimate that as many as 60 percent of all infections globally are "covert cases" – that is people who aren't even aware that they have the disease, and go about their everyday life.


1 billion: In a major blow to the Afghan government, the US State Department said it was cutting $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan this year, and potentially another $1 billion in 2021, after rival leaders – who both claim to be Afghanistan's legitimate president – failed to support a unified government, a condition that U.S. diplomats consider crucial for peace talks to make progress.

7: Teleworking while under quarantine just isn't possible for most Americans. In 2019, only 7 percent of the country's 140 million civilian workers said that working from home was a feasible option for them.

2,000: More than 2,000 Italians died from the coronavirus in the four days leading up to March 24. With the influx of horrendous news it's sometimes hard to remember that these are people, not statistics. Watch this clip where a man flips through 10 pages of obituaries in his local newspaper.

Give a friend the Signal here, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks.

Today, we look at how COVID-19 divides us, and check in on Iran's overlooked anguish, viral authoritarianism in Hungary, and Gaza on the brink. Bonus: Tweets from the 14th century!

-Alex Kliment (@saosasha)

Coronavirus is tearing us apart, together

Alex Kliment

Pandemics are great equalizers. The coronavirus doesn't discriminate based on your passport, your tax returns, or your political party. It doesn't care how old you are, where you live, or who you voted for in the last election. It just wants to kill you.

And yet, while we are all one humanity from the perspective of the virus, the pandemic – and the responses to it – are opening deep fissures in our societies that may persist even after the wave of infections subsides. Here are a few to watch out for.


Rich vs Poor: In the US, athletes and celebrities are getting preferential access to scarce tests. In Russia, the "one percent" are hoarding ventilators. Mexico's outbreak has been traced to a luxury ski lodge in Colorado. Locals in the Hamptons are angry as wealthy New Yorkers bring the disease "out East." Across the world, the rich and famous not only have vastly better access to care, they are also more shielded from the economic fallout than ordinary folks and the working poor, who don't have the benefit of "teleworking," or who are – at huge risk to themselves – staffing hospitals, grocery stores, delivery services, drugstores, and public infrastructure. The class antagonism will grow.

Local vs National: In many countries, but particularly ones with federalized political systems, there is tension between national governments that should be leading coordinated responses to the pandemic, and the local officials on the front lines, often coping with scarce resources. This is even more of an issue in countries where the initial national-level response has been slow—Brazil, the United States, Mexico, or the Czech Republic, for example.

Democrats vs Republicans: In the United States, everything is polarized, even a pandemic. The latest polling shows that Democrats – more concentrated in the urban centers that have been hit hardest so far – are far more concerned about the virus' spread than Republicans, though the gap is closing. A month ago nearly half of Republicans said they weren't concerned – now only about a quarter say that. Only 5 percent of Democrats say they aren't worried.

US vs China: The world's two largest economies have their differences, but where the global threat of coronavirus might have been a practical opportunity to work together to save the planet, Beijing and Washington have instead sniped at each other about the origins of the disease, kicked out each other's journalists, and limited their cooperation on searches for a vaccine.

Globalists v Tribalists: Some people see the COVID-19 crisis as an overdue wake-up call for more global coordination and unity. Others see it as a confirmation of their sense that globalization had gone too far, and that a future of higher walls and less economic integration is a safer and healthier one.

When it's all over, whose view will prevail, and where?

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran's anguish, Gaza on the brink, Orban pulls a fast one

Gabrielle Debinski

Iran's corona quagmire: As the coronavirus death toll climbs in Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected US offers of humanitarian aid, citing a bogus conspiracy theory that the virus was manufactured by the United States. In a televised address marking the Persian New Year, Khamenei denounced President Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" since the US walked away from the nuclear deal in 2018. Iran's leaders say that the Trump administration should instead lift crippling sanctions that block Tehran from exporting crude oil and accessing global financial markets. Iran is battling one of the world's largest COVID-19 outbreaks, with some 23,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,800 deaths. One person in Iran dies from the virus every 10 minutes, according to an Iranian health official. The message from Washington: we'll offer humanitarian help if you want it, but sanctions aren't going anywhere.


COVID-19 reaches Gaza: Late Saturday, Palestinian authorities confirmed at least two coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, both recent returnees from Pakistan. Officials have now moved to isolate all travelers returning to the coastal enclave, but many say the quarantine facilities (schools, medical facilities) have extremely poor sanitary conditions that would allow the virus to thrive. Gaza, home to some 2 million people, is one of the most densely populated places in the world, complicating efforts at social distancing, and its healthcare system is already in disarray after years-long blockades by both Israel and Egypt. If the virus sweeps Gaza – which is already grappling with spotty electricity, corrupt leadership, and scarce resources – the outcome will be catastrophic.

Coronavirus infects Hungary's democracy: Hungary's defiantly "illiberal" Prime Minister Viktor Orban knows that a proper strongman lets no good crisis go to waste. After staying on-message early by blaming the pandemic on immigrants, he has now proposed changes to the country's emergency laws that would allow him to rule by decree indefinitely, while mandating jail sentences of up to five years for spreading information that raises panic or impedes the government's response. Orban, who has come under EU criticism for violating EU rules on democracy in the past, says he needs these new powers to grapple with the enormity of the crisis, but critics and human rights watchdogs warn that the measures are open-ended and threaten free speech. Hungary's legislature, which is controlled by Orban's Fidesz party, will vote on the changes this week.

GZERO WORLD: "The most vulnerable are those on the run from war"

David Miliband, President & CEO of the International Rescue Committee and former U.K. Foreign Minister, spoke with Ian Bremmer about the terrible toll that the coronavirus could take for refugees from conflict zones. See the clip here.

Black humor interlude: Tweets from the Bubonic plague

In the 14th century, the black plague – spread by fleas who hitched a ride with rats who hitched a ride with sailors – killed a quarter of the global population and as much as half of Europe, radically changing whole societies, economies, cultures, religious beliefs, art, you name it. We can't help but wonder what it would have been like if that pandemic had unfolded in a social media environment as feverish and polarized as today's. And so, here, select tweets from the Holy Roman interwebs. (Click the links to learn the back story for each.)

@plaguedoc: So far Charles IV has provided only 25 leech kits to the entire Duchy of Brabant, a staggering failure of preparedness.

@whipforgod Flagellant here. Pretty sure George Soros is behind this plague, here's how we know. Thread/1

@pilgrimbro yo, if I get the bubonic I get the bubonic. We've been planning this pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela for 23 months and we aren't going to stop now!

Send us your best black plague tweets and we'll run them in a future edition of Signal. Also, if you want to branch out to the Athenian plague of 430BC, the Spanish Flu of 1918, or the biblical plagues of Exodus, be our guest. Just wash your hands before you send us the message.

The coronafiles: What we're reading and watching to learn more

China's ambassador to the US plays dumb: In an interview with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, China's top diplomat in DC, Cui Tiankai, claimed to have never heard of a Chinese citizen journalist who disappeared months ago after trying to sound the alarm on what was happening inside Wuhan. But the ambassador had been asked about the suspicious disappearance on camera before. Tiankai also tried to evade questions about Beijing's well-documented cover-up of coronavirus cases, which paved the way for the pandemic now sweeping the globe. It's a dogged interview, definitely worth a read/watch.

Fauci dishes on wrangling Trump while fighting COVID-19: Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has emerged as a hero, delivering clear information to the press and the public day-after-day. In this in depth interview with Sciencemag the usually low-profile Fauci discusses what it's like to work with the current White House, and cautions against drawing premature conclusions about America's pandemic preparedness. Read the Q+A here.

Italian mayors literally want to know "where the f*ck you're going:" A lot of Italians still aren't following the orders to stay home, prompting mayors across the country to record their own impassioned pleas to stay inside. Here is a collection of some of the best, with subtitles. Come for the guy who promises flamethrowers, stay for the one who loses his mind about "mobile hairdressers." Dovete stare tutti a casa!

Hard Numbers: Rwanda locks down, Italians defy orders, Colombian prisoners riot

Kevin Allison

23: At least 23 inmates were killed when a prison in Bogota, Colombia, erupted in violence over overcrowding and poor health conditions amid coronavirus fears.


33%: About a third of people living in the US are now under government orders to sharply restrict movement outside their homes, as states and local governments step up measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

40%: Italian authorities, analyzing citizens' mobile phone data, said that about 40 percent of people in the hard-hit northern region of Lombardy were still moving around "too much."

17: Rwanda reported its 17th case of coronavirus on Sunday as it became the first country in Africa to lockdown its population to fight the spread of the disease.

Words of Wisdom

"This is what the war was like, except nobody is bombing us."
– Nonna Delia, a Signal reader's 90-year old grandmother in Verona, Italy.

Give a friend the Signal here, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

This edition of Signal was written by Kevin Allison, Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks.

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