What We're Watching: Latin America's deepening recession, DRC beats Ebola, Macron's next move

What We're Watching: Latin America's deepening recession, DRC beats Ebola, Macron's next move

Latin America's economic pain: Back in April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that the pandemic would push Latin America into its worst recession in half a century, plunging a third of the population into poverty. That, it turns out, was the rosy view. The IMF now says, "the human toll has gone up," projecting that the region's economy will contract by 9.4 percent in 2020, a sharp drop from April's forecast of a 5.2 percent recession. Government-mandated lockdowns and travel restrictions have hit emerging market economies in the Caribbean and Latin America particularly hard because many of them rely on jobs in the informal sector and tourism industry to keep afloat. Taken with the effects of shutdowns in China, Europe, and the US, which have cratered demand for Latin America's exports while also decimating remittances, the region's economic recovery could take many years.


Ebola eradicated in DRC: The Democratic Republic of the Congo's worst Ebola outbreak in history, which has ravaged that country for two years, is officially over, the World Health Organization said Thursday. Ebola, an infectious disease that kills around half of those who contract it, has claimed more than 2,000 lives in that country since August 2018. Treatment and containment efforts have been complicated by decades of conflict (more than 100 armed groups operate within the DRC's borders) as well as government corruption. A team of more than 16,000 front line workers, along with a new effective vaccine program, helped eradicate the outbreak, the tenth Ebola epidemic in the DRC since the 1970s.

Macron's next move: With two years remaining of his five-year term, President Emmanuel Macron is already firmly in election mode. While no French head of state has clinched a second term since Jacques Chirac won in a landslide two decades ago, Macron faces a particularly grueling battle in trying to convince the electorate that he can resuscitate the country's pandemic-battered economy. French media is abuzz with conjecture regarding what big moves the president might have up his sleeve. After Macron earlier this month hinted at a post-pandemic "government reset," some predicted that the president might ditch his all too popular Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, replacing him with a new PM who can help him gain credibility with the left. Macron's poll numbers have been sliding since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, with a majority of French people disapproving of the government's handling of the pandemic. We're watching to see what happens when Macron elaborates on his new agenda in a much-anticipated address scheduled for next month.

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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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