What We're Watching: COVID back in Vietnam, more Scots want independence, DRC violence spikes

What We're Watching: COVID back in Vietnam, more Scots want independence, DRC violence spikes

Vietnam vs coronavirus (round 2): After going three months with no local transmissions of COVID-19, Vietnam is worried about a resurgence of the disease after a recent outbreak in the coastal city of Da Nang that has already spread to 11 other locations throughout the country. Authorities in Vietnam — widely considered a global success story in handling the pandemic thanks to its aggressive testing, contact-tracing and quarantines — believe the Da Nang outbreak is tied to an influx of domestic tourism there after lockdown restrictions were recently eased by the government. As a precaution, they have converted a 1,000-seat Da Nang sports stadium into a field hospital to treat the sick in case local hospitals become overwhelmed. More than 1,000 medical personnel, assisted by Cuban doctors, have been sent there to screen residents, and the capital Hanoi plans to test 72,000 people who recently returned from Da Nang. Will Vietnam prevail again in its second battle against COVID-19?


Scottish independence pressures: Support for Scottish independence has surged to 53 percent in a new YouGov poll, as nationalists capitalize on what many perceive to be Scotland's much better response to the coronavirus pandemic than that of the UK government in London. Six years ago, a small majority of Scots voted to remain part of the UK in an independence vote that ended 55/45. But even before COVID-19 struck, Brexit — which was unpopular in Scotland — stoked calls for a second referendum. The question now is whether British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will agree to hold another plebiscite on Scottish independence. So far he's rejected the possibility, and his Conservative Party's comfortable majority in parliament means he's under little pressure to change his mind. But if the pro-referendum Scottish National Party sweeps next year's parliamentary election in Scotland (as expected), things could get more interesting.

Violent escalation in the DRC: Over 1,300 people have died in attacks by different armed groups in the resource-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the first six months of 2020, almost triple the amount of deaths compared with the same period last year. The violence is particularly intense in Ituri, a gold mining region where the Hema ethnic group, who are predominantly herders, are fighting Lendu sedentary farmers (19 civilians were killed in Ituri this past weekend alone). In 2003, a bloody ethnic conflict in Ituri prompted the European Union to deploy its first foreign peacekeeping mission, while the UN has warned that such attacks could be considered crimes against humanity. But such violence is not new for the people of DRC, where dozens of armed militias have been terrorizing local populations for over 30 years and war over control of mining resources has displaced over 5 million people since the early 1990s.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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Governments around the world are offering creative incentives for getting a jab.

If you happen to live in New York and are one of the city’s 18% of unvaccinated residents, now might be a good time to go get jabbed. But not just because of omicron.

In late December, now former NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the city would start offering gift cards, free roller coaster rides on Coney Island and trips to the Statue of Liberty to those who get their shots. And it’s not just the Big Apple.

As infections jump, vaccination incentive programs have been brought back around the world. Officials in vaccine-hesitant Missouri have earmarked $11 million dollars for gift cards worth $100. Vermont is awarding schools with per-pupil bonuses if they hit rates higher than 85%.

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What We’re Watching: China's problems, UAE vs Houthis, Nord Stream 2 split

China's mounting problems. Xi Jinping is not off to a good start in 2022. First, Chinese economic growth slowed down to 4 percent in the last quarter of 2021, almost a percentage point less than the previous period. While annual GDP was up 8.1 percent year-on-year, beating government expectations, the trend is worrying for the world’s second-largest economy. Second, annual population growth fell in 2021 to its lowest rate since 1949, when the ruling Communist Party took over. Although Xi probably saw this one coming, he's running out of ideas to encourage Chinese families to have more children — which the government needs in order to sustain growth and support the elderly over the long term. Third, and most immediate: the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics canceled ticket sales for domestic spectators — foreigners were not invited — as the more transmissible omicron variant has driven up COVID infections in China to the highest level since March 2020. It's only the latest sign that Xi's controversial zero-COVID policy is setting itself up for failure against omicron without mRNA vaccines. What'll it take for China to reverse course?

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Hard Numbers: Tongan volcano, Ukrainian cyberattack, Zemmour fined over hate speech, NK-China border reopens

100,000: We're still waiting for news from the Pacific nation of Tonga, two days after a massive underwater volcanic explosion triggered a tsunami that was felt thousands of miles away and sent a plume of ash 100,000 feet into the sky. With communications mostly cut off, Australia and New Zealand have sent airplanes to assess the damage.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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Omicron is here. The bad news is that it's more contagious. The good news is that mRNA vaccines work against death and hospitalization. COVID may soon become endemic in some parts of the world.

Not in China, where Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

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