What We’re Watching: UK vaccine rollout, Eritrea in Tigray, football diplomacy

Margaret Keenan, 90, is the first patient in Britain to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospital, administered by nurse May Parsons, at the start of the largest ever immunization program in British history, in Coventry.

UK rolls out COVID vaccine: The United Kingdom on Tuesday kicked off the first COVID-19 vaccination campaign in a Western country amid global hopes of seeing a light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. "Go for it," said the first patient to be inoculated, a woman who turns 91 next week. Great Britain is pioneering a vaccine jointly developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech which has proven to be 95 percent effective against COVID-19 infections. Meanwhile, Russia "launched" its own national vaccination campaign just ahead of the UK despite the fact that its miracle drug, Sputnik V, is still in the midst of clinical trials to test its safety and efficacy. With the US thought to be next in line to start vaccinating large swaths of residents, the success of these national vaccine rollouts — which will likely take way longer to carry out in developing nations — will be crucial towards global efforts to end the pandemic as soon as possible.


Is Eritrea aiding Ethiopia in Tigray? US government officials say they have plausible evidence that Eritrean soldiers have entered the volatile Tigray region, a hotbed of violence between the Ethiopian government and Tigray rebel groups, in order to help bolster Addis Ababa's military effort there. Eritrean troops are believed to have entered Tigray in mid-November and are lending weight to Ethiopia's crackdown on the radical Tigray People's Liberation Front, a clash that's led to thousands of deaths in mere weeks. Indeed, this development presents a major predicament for Washington and other Western governments who have long criticized Eritrea's government for its anti-democratic politics, but rely heavily on a security alliance with Ethiopia to maintain a foothold in the turbulent Horn of Africa. It's an interesting turn of events considering that Ethiopia and Eritrea were longtime foes until a peace accord was signed in 2018. We're watching to see how Washington and Brussels respond to this diplomatic quagmire in the days ahead.

World Cup draw gets political: The qualifiers draw for the 2022 men's football World Cup in Qatar will see Kosovo face three countries that don't recognize it as an independent state: Georgia, Greece, and Spain. In fact, Kosovo was first picked to play in another group against its bitter enemy Serbia — which Kosovo used to be a part of, and fought a bloody war with in the late 1990s before declaring its independence in 2008. However, the rules of UEFA, European football's governing body, prohibit matches between countries in "conflict," such as Armenia vs Azerbaijan or Russia vs Ukraine. Of its three rivals to win a place in Qatar, Spain has traditionally had the strongest position against Kosovo's independence because it worries that recognition would set a bad precedent for Catalonia, the Spanish region that tried (and failed) to break away from the rest of the country in October 2017. UEFA must now come up with a solution that all parties can live with, which will likely entail playing some games in neutral countries or without displaying national flags.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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