What We're Watching: Britain's new COVID strain, US Congress reaches stimulus deal, Nepal's political chaos

Police and port staff at the Port of Dover in Kent which has been closed after the French government's announcement it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48 hours amid fears over the new mutant coronavirus strain

Britain's new COVID strain: Just as the Brexit transition comes to an end and the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union on January 1, Britons now face a new form of isolation. Countries in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere have banned travelers from the UK in response to reports that a variant of the novel coronavirus is raging out of control in that country. The (relative) good news is that, though this COVID-19 variant appears more infectious than the strain it has replaced, there is no evidence to date that it's more deadly or more resistant to the vaccines now in use in the UK. The bad news is that there will be more people flooding into British hospitals, and the virus variant is another factor undermining economic and financial confidence in the UK at a time when its leap into the Brexit unknown already threatens market turmoil.


US Congress reaches stimulus compromise: After months of gridlock, Democrats and Republicans have reached a deal on a pandemic aid package, their first such agreement since the spring. Though smaller than the $2 trillion doled out by Congress in March, this $900 billion fund includes $600 stimulus payments to millions of Americans and will revive a lapsed loan program for small businesses. The bill also provides $25 billion in rental assistance for people whose incomes have suffered because of the pandemic. To reach this breakthrough, each side made painful concessions: Republicans dropped calls for liability protections for businesses, and Democrats gave up on hopes of getting funds to cash-strapped state and local governments. This stimulus is a welcome legislative accomplishment after months of stalemate, but it's no cure-all for the ailing US economy. More than 50 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since April.

Nepal's political chaos: Amid intense political infighting, Nepal's prime minister KP Sharma Oli moved to dissolve the lower house of parliament Sunday, paving the way for new elections to be held in April 2021, 18 months ahead of schedule. The prime minister's popularity has cratered in response to criticism that he has failed to root out corruption (his government itself has been mired in scandal), to boost the country's economy, and to manage pandemic response. Fear that he'll only become more unpopular in coming months has persuaded Oli to bet on early elections. Situated in the strategically important Himalayas, Nepal has become an important arena in China and India's intensifying battle for influence in the region. In 2017, Oli campaigned on a pledge to bring Kathmandu closer to Beijing, and should he fall in April, China would lose a crucial ally as it seeks to expand its footprint in South Asia.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

More Show less

More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

More Show less

Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

More Show less

900 million: Egypt has impounded the Ever Given, the ship that recently blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week, until its owners pay some $900 million in compensation for losses and the cost of the rescue operation. The blockage of this major naval chokepoint caused severe disruption to the global maritime shipping industry.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal