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What We're Watching: Status of COVID in the US, China wants a reset, Indian vax-makers under pressure

Lila Blanks holds the casket of her husband, Gregory Blanks, 50, who died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), ahead of his funeral in San Felipe, Texas, U.S., January 26, 2021.

Making sense of 500,000 COVID deaths in America: The US was on track to pass another grim milestone Monday, as it nears half a million deaths from COVID-19, the highest total death toll in the world. (To put that in bleak perspective: carrying 500,000 people would require a caravan of buses that would stretch 94.7 miles, the Washington Post finds.) Still, while the grief is being felt across the entire country (President Biden and VP Harris planned a moment of silence to mark the milestone), there's also some good news on the horizon: cases across the US are at their lowest level since the fall, while hospitalization rates are also plummeting (there's been a 50 percent decline in just over a month). The US vaccine rollout has also picked up steam, though recent volatile weather disrupted the rollout in many parts of the country. While some analysts say that the worst of the pandemic has now passed in the US — with some even suggesting herd immunity could come by April — others urge caution, saying that complacency could usher in a dreaded fourth wave.

China wants a fresh start with the US: Beijing's top diplomat says it's time for a reset of US-China relations after four years of rapidly deteriorating ties between the world's two largest economies. Foreign minister Wang Yi on Monday called on the US to lift the sweeping sanctions that the Trump administration imposed on Chinese goods, and to ease up on Chinese tech companies that Washington has targeted over national security fears. How will the Biden administration respond to this olive branch? By now it's largely the consensus in Washington, for better or worse, that China should be treated as a rival. That means Biden can't afford to look weak, particularly with Trump and the GOP ready to pounce on anything that looks like a sop to Beijing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Biden has kept in place most of the Trump-era pressure on China for now. But at the same time, he wants to distinguish his approach by working more effectively with US allies to pressure China over commercial, strategic, technological, and human rights issues. What's more, big picture global challenges like post-pandemic economic recovery and, above all, climate change will require significant cooperation with Beijing in order to succeed. Biden's in a tough spot on a big issue that could define his foreign policy — can he craft a coherent strategy?

Indian vaccine maker in a tight spot: The Serum Institute of India is set to produce hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines for COVAX, the global initiative that aims to make the shots available to more than 90 low and middle income countries. But in a cryptic weekend tweet, Serum's CEO said his company had been "directed to prioritise the huge needs of India." He didn't name names, but the statement points to massive competing pressures facing the Indian government. On the one hand, India, which was already making some 60 percent of global vaccines even before the pandemic, is keen to use its biotech bonafides to win friends and influence people across the developing world. On the other, India itself is part of that world, and with more than 1.3 billion arms to jab — and the second highest confirmed case total in the world — Prime Minister Narendra Modi certainly can't afford to look like he's prioritizing Bangladesh over Bangalore.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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In the fall of 2019, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, Ian Bremmer asked Dr. Fauci what kept him up at night and he described a "a pandemic-like respiratory infection." Fast-forward to late February 2021 and Dr. Fauci tells Ian, "I think we are living through much of that worst nightmare." Dr. Fauci returns to GZERO World to take stock of the nightmare year and to paint a picture of what the end of the pandemic could look like—and when it could finally arrive.

Catch the full episode of GZERO World, where Dr. Fauci discusses the latest in vaccine roll out, schools re-openings, and plenty more, on US public television stations nationwide, beginning Friday, February 26. Check local listings.

Egypt and Sudan want some dam help: Cairo and Khartoum have called on the US, EU, and UN to intervene in their ongoing dispute with neighboring Ethiopia over that country's construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile. Egypt and Sudan, which are downstream of Ethiopia and worry about their farmers losing water, want binding targets and dispute resolution mechanisms, while Ethiopia, which sees the dam as a critical piece of its economic future, wants more flexibility and has given little ground in talks. Efforts by the African Union to mediate have failed as Ethiopia presses ahead with filling the dam even after being sanctioned by the Trump administration last year for doing so. The dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as it is called, has threatened to spill into military conflict at several points in recent years. Can the "international community" turn things around?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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