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Coronavirus: how the outbreak is changing global politics – Financial Times

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There is a plaque in the English seaside town of Weymouth which records, matter-of-factly: “The Black Death entered England in 1348 through this port. It killed 30-50 per cent of the country’s total
population”.

International epidemics are a centuries-old phenomena that have often changed the course of history. The Black Death, which some believe originated in China and others trace to the Crimea, caused devastation across Europe — bringing social, economic and political turmoil in its wake. Centuries later, it was European explorers who carried new diseases across the Atlantic — creating epidemics that decimated indigenous populations in the Americas.

Since the coronavirus appears to have a mortality rate of around 2 per cent it will not have the impact of history’s worst pandemics. But, for a modern society, the worst-case scenarios are still shocking. This week a leaked British government estimate outlined an extreme case in which 80 per cent of the UK public is infected, leading to 500,000 deaths. Professor Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health has predicted that between 40 and 70 per cent of people worldwide are likely to be infected in the coming year — although many will have only mild symptoms or none at all.

A public health emergency, combined with a global recession, has the potential to change politics around the world. At this stage, the most obvious risks concern China, the US presidential election, a rise in international tensions, and the threat to the world’s poorest countries and to refugees.

US election:
Trump vulnerability

President Donald Trump seems anxious that a potential pandemic could upend the US election in November © Carlos Barria/Reuters

Donald Trump, US president, said this week that “coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” and suggested that now might be a good time to buy stocks. Mr Trump has always believed a soaring stock market would be a huge asset in his bid for re-election in November. Now he seems anxious that a potential pandemic could upend the election. But if the president’s predictions that the epidemic will be contained prove over-optimistic, he may have increased his own political vulnerability.

The Trump administration’s record on preparing for epidemics is also vulnerable to attack. After the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014, the Obama administration hosted an international summit to set up global arrangements to deal with future epidemics — and it created a unit in the National Security Council to focus on the issue. But that unit was disbanded by the Trump administration in 2018 and America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also suffered drastic cuts to its epidemic prevention activities.

A pandemic — if one is eventually declared — could increase calls for more government direction of the US health system, which might bolster the arguments made for nationalised healthcare by Senator Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

Given the strong libertarian tradition on the American far-right — and the popularity of conspiracy theories about the federal government’s plan to remove the liberties of ordinary Americans — the US government would struggle to quarantine towns in the manner seen in China and on a smaller scale, in Italy.

Any effort to do so could potentially spark violence between the federal authorities and gun-toting militias.

China:
A threat to legitimacy

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, wearing a protective face mask receives a temperature check as he inspects the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work at a neighbourhoods in Beijing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. China reported a rise in new virus cases on Monday, possibly denting optimism that its disease control measures like isolating major cities might be working, while Japan reported dozens of new cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship. (Pang Xinglei/Xinhua via AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping receives a temperature check as he visits neighbourhoods in Beijing © Pang Xinglei/AP

Unlike Mr Trump, Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, does not have to worry about re-election. Yet, the coronavirus still poses a threat to his popularity and legitimacy — and even, conceivably, to his leadership.

With travel outside the country sharply curtailed and major Chinese cities effectively shut down, it is clear that Xi’s China is simultaneously facing a health emergency, an economic crisis and international embarrassment.

The government in Beijing has sought to portray the virus as a natural disaster — with no fault attached to Mr Xi or his administration. The official line stresses Beijing’s ability to take rapid and effective action, and the social solidarity displayed by ordinary Chinese people as they battle to contain the epidemic. With more than half the country of 1.4bn facing some restrictions on their freedom of movement and 150m facing controls on leaving their homes, China has arguably initiated the largest cordon sanitaire in history.

Nonetheless, the official story is clearly open to challenge — as was demonstrated by the outcry sparked by the death of Li Wenliang, a young doctor working in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic. In the early days of the crisis, Li had raised the alarm in an online chat group. This earned him a visit from the police, who forced him to promise to stop spreading rumours and to sign a confession. On his deathbed, Li made a statement that later went viral — “I think a healthy society should not only have one kind of voice”. Without mentioning China’s president, Li’s dying testament was an elegant and poignant condemnation of the style of strongman politics that Mr Xi has pursued.

International tensions:
Virus feeds enmity

2B0666W Sydney, Australia. 19th February 2020. Students at the university of Sydney protested against the decision by the Morrison government to deny all entry to Australia for people travelling from China (apart from Australian citizens and permanent residents) in response to the coronavirus. Credit: Richard Milnes/Alamy Live News
Students at Sydney university protesting against the government decision to deny entry to people travelling from China © Richard Milnes/Alamy

The global blame game has already begun to intensify tensions between nations as conspiracy theories proliferate and borders close.

In internet chat rooms in China, speculation that the virus was manufactured in America to damage China is common. Officials in Beijing have not voiced conspiracy theories of this sort, but some of their counterparts in the US have not been so restrained. Senator Tom Cotton, a hawkish Republican with presidential ambitions, has suggested that the coronavirus was spawned by a bio-weapons programme in a government laboratory in Wuhan. In Iran, where senior members of the government have become infected with the virus, President Hassan Rouhani has called the fears spread by coronavirus “a conspiracy by the enemies of Iran”.

Directly blaming other countries for the manufacture or spread of the virus remains comparatively rare. But the adoption of quarantines and travel bans across the world is causing friction between nations.

Chinese officials have criticised the Trump administration’s decision to deny entry to foreign nationals who had been in China in the previous 14 days — as well as a travel advisory warning Americans not to visit the country — saying the measures had “triggered unnecessary panic”. Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, has criticised China and Iran for withholding information. Yet Beijing wants praise from the international community for its efforts to contain the virus. Wang Yi, Chinese foreign minister, insisted: “China is not only protecting its own people but also the rest of the world.”

For coverage on the novel coronavirus and up-to-date graphics please visit ft.com/coronavirus-latest

But as the situation rapidly deteriorated in South Korea there was a proliferation of anti-Chinese sentiment, in part directed at Beijing but also at President Moon Jae-in for his government’s reluctance to ban Chinese visitors. Despite their difficult relationship, Japan has studiously avoided any criticism of Beijing over the outbreak. But Japan’s public reaction has been more hostile, with some restaurants putting up signs refusing Chinese customers.

With a major outbreak of the virus confirmed in Italy, the EU is now concerned about a threat to the Schengen border-free travel zone, which covers 26 European countries. The continent’s refugee crisis has already put Schengen under strain — with countries such as France and Austria re-establishing border checks. Under EU law, countries are allowed to close their frontiers in the case of a public health emergency. But such actions are meant to follow clear guidelines issued by Brussels. The danger is that, as the political pressure mounts, EU countries may take haphazard and uncoordinated actions.

International trade could suffer as much as international travel. Globalisation has not been a fashionable cause for some years — as protectionists blame trade for job losses, and Green politicians highlight the environmental costs. The epidemic gives the anti-globalisers another argument, allowing them to highlight the dangers of relying on supply chains vulnerable to the kinds of disruption caused by the virus.

Refugees and poor countries:
Can health systems cope?

TOPSHOT - A womancarries her child as she crosses a wooden bridge in the refugee camp of Moria, on the island of Lesbos on November 26, 2019. - Conditions remain difficult in the overcrowded Moria camp in Greece with winter fast approaching. The government announced on November 20it will shut down the three largest of its overcrowded migrant camps on islands facing Turkey, and replace them with new closed facilities with much larger capacity. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Overcrowded refugee camps such as the one in Moria, Greece, are vulnerable to the spread of contagion © Aris Messinis/AFP

Up to now, the biggest confirmed outbreaks of the virus have mostly taken place in rich or middle-income countries with strong central governments — such as China, Japan, Italy and South Korea. But the virus will be much harder to contain, if and when it spreads to poorer nations, with less-developed health systems. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has reported its first case. And there are fears that there may already be significant numbers of cases in nations such as Indonesia and India — which have not yet been reported. Indonesia, with a population of 270m and close economic and transport ties to China, is a particular concern.

In Europe and the Middle East, refugees are often living in crowded camps in unhealthy conditions, with 12m scattered across Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria — and a further 1m (mainly Afghans) in Iran. The situation of the Syrians fleeing the current military assault on Idlib — many of whom are living in tents along the Turkish border — is already desperate, and looks vulnerable to the spread of contagion. In that context, the Turkish government’s announcement this week that it will no longer restrict the flow of refugees to Europe will alarm the EU.

The past week has seen the coronavirus mutate into a truly global crisis. The worst-case health scenarios will probably be avoided. But the political effects of the outbreak are only just beginning.

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WATCH: For the record, Tim Hudak is not returning to politics – BradfordToday

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Tim Hudak spent more than two decades as a provincial politician at Queen’s Park, including five years as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. He is now CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA), a position he has held since 2016.

Would the former Opposition Leader ever consider a political comeback?

Hudak was asked that question during a recent appearance on Inside the Village, a news podcast produced by Village Media. His answer was pretty unequivocal. 

You can watch the full interview here, or download the episode wherever you find your favourite podcasts.​

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Marc Garneau on enjoying political life after cabinet ouster, writing his memoirs – The Globe and Mail

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Marc Garneau says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered him an opportunity to be Canada’s ambassador in France, but he turned it down for reasons that he was not going to discuss.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Had things gone as he hoped, Marc Garneau would be foreign affairs minster today, carrying on with a run in the cabinets of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that began when the Liberals won power in 2015.

But the 73-year-old former astronaut – once one of the highest-profile members of Mr. Trudeau’s cabinets for his roles as transport minister for five years and foreign affairs minister for nine months – was left out after the Liberals won a minority government last fall, a turn that caught many by surprise.

In an interview, the MP for the Montreal riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount declined to say whether he would have run for his fifth term had he known he wouldn’t make it back to cabinet.

“Obviously, when I went into the election I was hoping to continue my work in foreign affairs, but I am also grounded in reality and know every new government is a new decision point for the prime minister to decide how he wants to compose his government. I was aware of these things, but I decided that I wanted to run again,” Mr. Garneau said from his Parliament Hill office.

Now, Mr. Garneau says, things are fine, and he is enjoying his roles as a chair, joint chair and member of various Parliament Hill committees.

“I am fully occupied with things that I do care deeply about so you move on in life and you enjoy what you have the chance to do, and as long as you feel the desire to serve you continue to do that.”

His roles include chair of the standing committee on Indigenous and Northern affairs, and joint chair of a Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying.

“For me to have had an opportunity to work, in essence, on reconciliation through this standing committee and to work on a topic that is so important it can affect everybody, which is medical assistance in dying, those are very rewarding new responsibilities I am enjoying tremendously.”

For seven years of his political career, he was asking the questions on committees as a member of the opposition, and then for six years he was taking questions as a cabinet minister. “I was the one, if you would like, in the hot seat,” he said. Being the chair is a new experience. “It does require you to have a certain level of impartiality so the committee can function properly in the way it should and everyone has a voice. That was a bit of a learning curve for me.”

Peter Trent, the former mayor of the Montreal suburb of Westmount, is a long-time friend of Mr. Garneau. He was so taken aback by Mr. Garneau being left out of cabinet that he wrote a column for The Montreal Gazette that ran last October under the headline: “Marc Garneau, the ‘anti-politician,’ deserves better.” It was sharply critical of Mr. Trudeau’s judgment.

But, he says, Mr. Garneau has taken his fate well. “He’s accepted what happened in a very Zen way,” Mr. Trent said. “The rest of us aren’t as Zen and still harbour a strong resentment as to the way he was treated.”

Mr. Garneau is writing his memoirs, drafting a narrative on a life story that saw the Quebec City native serve in the navy and become, in 1984, the first Canadian in space when he served as a payload specialist on the Challenger space shuttle. He returned to space on subsequent missions, and was president of the Canadian Space Agency.

But elected politics beckoned. Mr. Garneau was first elected to Parliament in 2008, while Stephen Harper was prime minister. In 2012, he ran for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party, competing with, among others, his eventual boss at the cabinet table. He eventually left the race and endorsed Mr. Trudeau, who won.

Mr. Garneau stepped up work on his memoirs over a few weeks in December and January while recovering from hip-replacement surgery.

“I got quite a bit done,” he said. “I got the chapters from the beginning of my life up until I entered politics done, and I have had those reviewed by my dear wife and my daughter so those are in pretty good shape.” He does not have an agent or publisher.

When he was left out of cabinet, Mr. Garneau says his constituents and the media reacted more intensely than colleagues on Parliament Hill. “Here in Ottawa, I think people understand the way things go and that these are possible outcomes.”

Mr. Garneau says the Prime Minister offered him an opportunity to be Canada’s ambassador in France, but he turned it down for reasons that he was not going to discuss.

As for seeking another term, he notes the next election is three years away. “My health is good,” he said. “We’ll see.”

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Ex-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith reannounces UCP leadership bid as next step in Alberta politics – Global News

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Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith reannounced that she will run in the upcoming United Conservative Party leadership race on Thursday.

She thanked Kenney for the work he has done for Alberta’s energy industry and added she wouldn’t mind seeing Kenney stay on as premier until a new leader has been elected.

Read more:

UCP begins search for new leader with Jason Kenney stepping down

“I want to start off by thanking Premier Jason Kenney for all the work that he’s done over the last number of years.

“I’ve decided to jump back into politics, seeking the leadership of the UCP. That is just a continuation of my last political life,” Smith said.


Click to play video: 'Jason Kenney announces intention to step down as UCP leader'



2:28
Jason Kenney announces intention to step down as UCP leader


Jason Kenney announces intention to step down as UCP leader

Smith spared no time getting into her platform, saying she will fix and restore faith in Alberta politics. She also said she will attempt to unite the UCP and pointed to the large number of people who registered to vote in Kenney’s leadership review.

“If you look at what happened during the UCP leadership contest, there were a lot of people who got brought into the UCP who had never been in politics before and I think that’s what has occurred,” Smith said.

“I think there has been a lot of division that has happened between friends and family, and we need to stop dividing people along identity lines… We are stronger united and that holds for our conservative movement as well.”

Read more:

Kenney’s plan to step down as UCP leader shows how hard merging 2 parties is: political commentator

Smith also said she wants to see more people run in the leadership race and noted she respects the role of individual MLAs in Alberta politics.

“I would love to see Todd Lowen and Drew Barnes throw their name in the race for UCP leadership. We need to start unifying the movement again and that’s going to require all hands on deck over the next couple of years,” Smith said.


Click to play video: 'UCP caucus meeting to discuss future after Jason Kenney announces plan to step down'



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UCP caucus meeting to discuss future after Jason Kenney announces plan to step down


UCP caucus meeting to discuss future after Jason Kenney announces plan to step down

But Smith also spent time talking about her own credentials, saying she has a lot of experience as the former party leader for the Wildrose Party, which merged with the UCP in 2017.

She also talked about her time as a former radio host on 770 CHQR as proof she can “take the heat” in Alberta politics.

Read more:

Ex-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith returns to Alberta politics, will vote against Kenney leadership

“I’m not going to enter a contest thinking I’m going to come in second place… This is a real opportunity for the UCP to make sure that we’re selling memberships, that we’re getting people excited again.

“I can handle the heat. I have handled it for a lot of years, and that’s the way I conducted myself on the radio,” Smith said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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