Who’s politically vulnerable to omicron?

Who’s politically vulnerable to omicron?

The new COVID variant, omicron, has already spread around the world. Though there are more questions than answers about its characteristics, omicron is already spooking global leaders who had hoped that the era of snap lockdowns and travel bans was a thing of the past.

After almost two years of disruptions to lives and economies, the stakes for world leaders are very high. So, who’s vulnerable to the political fallout from new cases and costly precautions?


Italian PM Mario Draghi

Italy suffered one of the worst early outbreaks of COVID in 2020, but since coming to power 10 months ago, Mario Draghi has ushered in a rare period of stability in a country long plagued by big political swings. Draghi, a banker, cobbled together a stable coalition, fending off a general election that might have been a boon for far-right factions.

Known as "Super Mario" for helping to save the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the EU sovereign debt crisis, Draghi has won praise across the political divide for his political competence in helping steer the country’s pandemic recovery, giving him a 60 percent approval rating.

Indeed, Draghi has made economic recovery a cornerstone of his prime ministership, and it’s working: Italy’s economy is set to grow more than 6 percent this year, while the number of new COVID cases remains low. But Draghi has recently come under fire for enforcing some of the strictest vaccine mandates in Europe, which has given rise to a whole lot of negative sentiment domestically. In January, Italian MPs will vote for a new president to replace Sergio Mattarella. Draghi has been floated as a choice to replace Mattarella or could stay on as PM, but his honeymoon period could be derailed if further lockdowns or disruptions send the economy into a nose-dive.

US President Joe Biden

Rising inflation and supply-chain chaos have become massive headaches for the Biden administration in recent months, just as next November’s midterm elections come into focus. Now, uncertainty over the new variant threatens to make things even dicier for Biden, whose approval rating has slumped in recent months thanks partly to a wobbly economy and a shambolic departure of US troops from Afghanistan. Most starkly, Biden has taken a hit in the polls over his handling of the pandemic, which was once the category that inspired a lot of voter confidence in his leadership.

It seems very unlikely that Biden will take any risks that could inflict further harm on the US economy – and give Republicans more ammunition on the campaign trail. But if omicron does prove more transmissible and more vaccine-resistant than past variants, Biden might have to contend with another deadly wave of infection that could disrupt the economy anyway.

For now, the Biden administration has banned flights from southern African nations – a low stakes political move – using this perilous moment to push for vaccine uptake. But if some 60 million eligible Americans weren’t swayed when the delta variant emerged earlier this year, is omicron really going to move the needle on vaccines? With a disapproval rating of more than 51 percent, Biden can’t afford to put a pinky toe wrong.

British PM Boris Johnson

The stakes are very high for Boris, too, who is in a more vulnerable spot politically than at any other time since the pandemic began.

For months, dozens of Tory MPs have rallied against further COVID restrictions, and Johnson might be disinclined to impose new restrictions on movement since he is already facing a party backlash for a series of blunders in recent months, as well as his perceived failure to address Brexit-related shortages that spiraled out of control.

So far, Johnson has banned flights from southern African nations and reinforced mask-wearing mandates and new testing rules for travelers. Even though Johnson has expressed concern over the new variant, it seems very unlikely that he will take drastic measures that could further imperil the economy and his polling numbers (he currently has a net approval rating of -18 percent). After Britons spent last Christmas in isolation, the appetite for any sort of restrictions, even among the COVID cautious, is… nearly non-existent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping

President Xi doesn't have to worry about angry voters, but the omicron variant still presents a risk for the CCP as it continues to pursue an increasingly elusive zero COVID strategy. If omicron does in fact prove to be more transmissible than previous variants, China's leadership could take a big credibility hit domestically when cases slip in through the cracks.

What’s more, with China imposing even stricter restrictions at ports and on air crews to limit the virus’ spread – a move it’s taken in response to the emergence of new mutations in the past – this further complicate its efforts to meet export demands at a time when Beijing is trying to assert itself as crucial to the global recovery effort.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
More Show less
The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

More Show less
The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

More Show less
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.

More Show less
A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

More Show less

China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal