Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good
The Key Omicron Indicators to Watch
“It could go either way,” one immunologist told the Financial Times, of the Omicron variant now dominating headlines. Its myriad mutations could spell big trouble, or perhaps a “more benign” virus.
As scientists race to assess the risk, there are three key indicators to watch, University of Edinburgh global public-health professor (and past GPS guest) Devi Sridhar writes for The Guardian: Omicron’s transmissibility, the severity of health outcomes it causes, and its potential to “erode” immunity gained from vaccination or past illness.
“For governments,” the uncertainty over Omicron “means having to plan for several scenarios,” Sridhar writes. “The first (and best) would be that Omicron can’t outcompete Delta, or results in milder forms of the disease, or vaccine effectiveness remains high. The worst would be that an updated vaccine is urgently required (scientists could theoretically deliver one in a matter of weeks), followed by a massive vaccination campaign to get this variant-specific booster out to populations as quickly as possible. Governments have learned that it’s better to move earlier with precautionary measures rather than waiting and watching a crisis unfold.”
Omicron may carry a lesson, regardless of what scientists discover about it: “Airlines, investors, hospitals, and heads of government will be forced to keep peering over their shoulder for the next variant in the global health agency’s Greek alphabet-based system,” Gabriele Steinhauser, Drew Hinshaw, and Daniela Hernandez wrote for The Wall Street Journal. As the Financial Times editorial board put it, Omicron “shows the virus is not beaten.”
Still, things have changed since Covid-19 first arrived. “We have lots of tests that’ll detect Omicron,” Brown University public-health dean Dr. Ashish Jha tweets, ruling out a pandemic reboot. “We have therapies that’ll work … Our vaccines MAY take a hit but will still provide some (may be a lot) protection … We are in a MUCH better place … This isn’t March 2020.”
Can Germany’s Center Hold?
Germany’s new governing coalition—an amalgam of the center-left Social Democrats, Greens, and free-market-oriented Free Democratic Party—stands to usher in some bold and needed centrist reforms, Helmut K. Anheier writes for Project Syndicate: a looser attitude toward deficit spending, a revamping of welfare, a higher minimum wage, and a larger share of renewable energy.
But at Der Spiegel, a long article identifies nascent fissures, as the Greens find themselves with less influence than some expected. The Free Democrats have taken a hard line on upholding the country’s debt limit and have outmaneuvered Greens for control of the Finance Ministry, the 16 Der Spiegel authors write, foreseeing potential clashes between the two parties.
In Pandemic Politics, Everything’s up for Grabs
The pandemic has brought with it a new era of American politics, Gerald F. Seib writes in a Wall Street Journal essay that sketches a shifting ground.
Incumbents could be more valued or tossed aside as a result of Covid-19, Seib writes, but we don’t yet know which. After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2008–2009 financial crisis, and now the pandemic, millennials have come of age without seeing government work effectively, Seib argues. Education has shot to the top of voter concerns after parents’ experiences with remote school; the rise of telework has distributed city voters beyond city limits; and populism is turning its ire at government and corporations alike. To Seib, the 2022 midterm elections will see many of these trends play out.
‘Triangle of Corruption’
When the US dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris to Central America this year, with a focus on addressing the “root causes” of migration from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, some argued the region needed support, not a “wagging finger” over its corruption issues.
But at Foreign Affairs, Claudia Escobar Mejía writes that corruption is core to the region’s problems and a major obstacle to the maturing of its democracies. To help the region, the US should focus on limiting its role as a home for illicit assets and on using what leverage it can to push for independence of Central America’s judiciaries, Mejía argues.
Paris Terrorism Trial Yielding Few Answers
The unfolding, high-profile trial of alleged collaborators—and of the lone living alleged perpetrator—in the 2015 Paris terrorism attacks is yielding few insights into motivations for jihadist violence, Britta Sandberg writes for Der Spiegel.
“The Paris attacks are among the worst terror onslaughts that Europe has seen since World War II,” Sandberg writes. “But now, the victims must somehow accept the fact that the perpetrators are far less sophisticated and more banal than one might think. ‘They are almost normal people, they’re not monsters,’ says [lawyer Gérard] Chemla [who represents 140 victims in the trial]. ‘Neither their childhoods nor poverty nor indoctrination from their parents can explain what they did. Which makes it all the more important that we ask in this trial what it was that radicalized them.’”