In Our Never-Ending Crisis, Attention Turns to Mandates
Just when it seemed the world might make it out of the Covid-19 pandemic—rich, highly vaccinated countries first, followed by the still-largely-unvaccinated developing world—consensus seems to be changing.
As Fareed argued on Sunday, politics is blocking America’s way out of the crisis, as vaccination rates lag amid politicized attitudes toward the shots. Policy-wise, that has led to a raft of state-level bills seeking to ban vaccine mandates in various contexts.
At Der Spiegel, nine authors write that Europe, too, is struggling with how to nudge more citizens to get vaccinated, as rising estimates of necessary inoculation seem to indicate that “herd immunity,” the unicorn chased by policymakers throughout the pandemic, is not realistic.
“Are mandatory vaccinations plausible?” the authors ask. “So far, that rule has only been applied in states like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which generally aren’t big supporters of human rights. The Vatican has also instituted mandatory vaccination for all residents and employees.” France will require health workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 15 and will soon require citizens to display a “health pass”—indicating vaccination, recovery from infection, or a recent negative PCR test—for anyone entering a restaurant.
The move is testing politics in more ways than one. President Emmanuel Macron, who campaigned as a free-market liberalizer, is “increasingly relying on regulations,” the Der Spiegel authors write, and the new requirements have been controversial. “Starting in the fall, the French will also need to pay for their own PCR tests. … That’s not a mandatory vaccination, but it does increase the pressure—and pushes things close to the edge of what is possible in a free society.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Health Minister Jens Spahn, they write, oppose mandates but seem interested in ways “to ratchet up the pressure.”
Between the vaccinated and vaccine-skeptical, the bitter recriminations have begun. At The New York Times, Roni Caryn Rabin reports on resentment at the risks unvaccinated people pose; Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, meanwhile, says “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.” That animus is set against uncertainty as to where the pandemic is headed: At The Washington Post, John M. Barry writes that previous influenza pandemics included subsequent waves deadlier than the first—and that “Covid-19 may still surprise us” by evolving into a variant even more troubling than Delta.
Is Tunisia Turning Back?
After protests against the government’s handling of Covid-19, Tunisian President Kais Saied has dismissed the Prime Minister and suspended parliament for 30 days. As Francesca Ebel writes for Middle East Eye, experts disagree as to whether this is legal, but observers have been quick to call it a disturbing sign for the country seen as the Arab Spring’s lone democratic success story.
“Saied’s decisions effectively terminate a decade of democracy in Tunisia, but his coup could still be reversed, if enough Tunisian constituencies rally against renewed dictatorship—and if they receive international backing,” Thanassis Cambanis writes for the World Politics Review. The Economist portrays Saied as broadly popular, while warning that the dramatic move entails risk; the IMF “may now think twice about making any commitment” for a “much-needed” loan, the magazine suggests.
Full Nord Stream Ahead
After US President Joe Biden said the US will not use sanctions to block the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline—which would carry natural gas directly from Russia to Germany, sidelining Ukraine as a transit point—Josef Joffe writes for American Purpose that this was the obvious move.
The US-opposed pipeline project had set “ally against ally just while [Biden] was desperately trying to reunite the Western world against two adversaries, China and Russia, at once. Given increasing U.S. demand for allies, Berlin just had to sit back and wait for Nord Stream 2 to drop into her lap. … Biden had a bad hand at the Nord Stream 2 table, and he wisely chose to fold. Why expend more chips on a losing game?”
Following explosive reports by international news outlets connected with the Pegasus Project—reports that CNN has not verified—Steve Coll writes for The New Yorker that the apparent hackability of journalists’ and dissidents’ phones is a bad sign for the arc of global politics.
“In this gathering age of digital autocracy, it is hard to avoid the impression that the dictators are winning,” Coll writes. “A decade ago, the Arab Spring fostered hopeful visions of social-media-enabled people-power movements toppling anachronistic strongmen from Beijing to Riyadh and Caracas. Facebook, Twitter, and other messaging platforms remain transformative tools for mobilization in many countries, yet autocratic regimes have fought back ruthlessly by unleashing legions of loyalist censors, bots, and trolls to control online discourse, and by using spyware to watch and harass troublesome journalists and dissidents.”
Given all that, Coll suggests world governments might want to rein in the sales of private spyware. “Effective worldwide regulation is a tall order, yet the … disclosures have again made plain that everyone is vulnerable,” Coll writes. “At issue in the unchecked proliferation of spyware is the future of dissent.” At the World Politics Review, Emily Taylor quotes experts who want to see spyware treated like “dual-use” technologies that have both civilian and military applications, exports of which governments scrutinize more closely than regular goods and services.nil