Apr 6, 2020

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Hello and welcome to another edition of Axios World. We've got the 1,590 words (6 minutes) you need to get up to speed.

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1 big thing: Boris Johnson in intensive care

Stepping in: Raab arrives at Downing Street today. Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in the intensive care unit of a London hospital 10 days after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Driving the news: Downing Street says Johnson “remains conscious at this time" but was moved to the ICU in case a ventilator is required. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will stand in for Johnson “where necessary.”

The backstory: When Johnson, 55, was admitted to the hospital on Sunday, Downing Street said it was for “routine tests” and insisted he was still managing the U.K.’s response to the crisis.

  • Raab stuck to that script in a press conference this afternoon, but acknowledged he hadn’t spoken to Johnson since Saturday.
  • That deepened the confusion, particularly as Raab had chaired the morning’s top-level coronavirus meeting.
  • Raab, who serves as Johnson's de facto deputy prime minister, faced persistent questions as to whether Johnson really was running the government — or should be, given his condition.

Hours later, the situation changed dramatically. The Downing Street statement revealing Johnson was in the ICU noted that Raab would be empowered to deputize for him (though not formally as interim prime minister).

  • Raab, 46, rose from backbench Brexiteer into Theresa May's Cabinet three years ago, serving as Brexit secretary (he later resigned). Johnson named him foreign secretary upon taking office last July.
  • A close Johnson ally, Raab has courted controversy in the past, including by saying some feminists are "obnoxious bigots" and most people who use food banks simply face “a cash flow problem.”
  • Raab addressed the media briefly this evening, saying there was a “strong team spirit behind the prime minister" and "the government’s business will continue."

Johnson was the first world leader to announce he’d tested positive for the virus, on March 27. He continued to lead meetings and briefings via videoconference before his condition worsened in recent days.

  • Around two-thirds of COVID-19 patients are placed on a ventilator within their first 24 hours in the ICU, according to James Gallagher, the BBC’s health and science correspondent.
  • Johnson's fiancee, Carrie Symonds, said on Saturday that she had been self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms but was beginning to feel better. Symonds is pregnant with the couple's first child.

The big picture: Johnson’s approval ratings have climbed during the crisis, even after his government abandoned its initial approach when cases rose faster than expected.

2. China turning away from U.S.-style democracy

Chinese views of the U.S. have soured dramatically over the past year, according to polling from the Eurasia Group Foundation.

Adapted from Eurasia Group Foundation; Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: Most respondents in the 2019 survey said they’d like to see China’s system of government become much or somewhat more like America’s over the next 20 years. Respondents one year later were about half as likely to feel that way, and twice as likely to want China’s system to become much less like America’s.

  • Respondents were split over whether they approve of American ideas of democracy, with 21% disapproving (up from 16% in 2019), 28% approving (down from 44%) and 52% neutral.

Between the lines: The 2020 survey was conducted between Feb. 15 and March 3, when China was in the midst of its coronavirus crisis but the pandemic had not yet hit the U.S. with full force.

  • The authors point to the U.S.-China trade war and America’s support for protests in Hong Kong as likely causes of the shift.

Our thought bubble: Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian says the data fits with what she’d been hearing anecdotally about a hardening of opinion toward the U.S. and was likely influenced by the “intense and highly successful Chinese propaganda” against the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

  • “It's been a long project of the [Chinese Communist Party] to get Chinese people turned off to the idea of democracy. For a long time, it was an uphill battle. That’s less and less the case these days,” she says.
Bonus: America in one word

Pew asked Canadians and Mexicans for the first word that came to mind when thinking of the U.S.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 Canadians picked "Trump" or "president." Next came "chaos," "confused," "bully," "disappointing," "divided," "powerful" and "sad."
  • Mexicans chose "money" and "work" most often. Then came "bad," "Trump," "migration," "economy," "wall" and "discrimination."
3. State of the outbreak

Countries around the world quickly followed one another into lockdown, but there have been some notable outliers.

Sweden has defied the trend in Europe and kept schools, restaurants and shops open. The government is advising people to limit their gatherings to 50 people. Yes, 50.

  • The approach is similar to the one the U.K. abandoned last month, but the Swedes have stuck with it. The Netherlands has taken a similar approach.
  • Pressure is growing to tighten restrictions soon.

Peru is attempting to enforce its lockdown by gender, with men only leaving the home on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and women on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Sunday, everyone is to stay home.

  • President Martín Vizcarra has seen his approval ratings spike to 87% as he's responded decisively to the crisis. Draconian measures have proved popular elsewhere too.

Cuba is expanding one of its most valuable exports: doctors. Medical teams have arrived in at least 14 virus-struck countries, per the Economist.

  • Cuba trains a huge number of doctors for a country of its size. It dispatches them around the world, confiscating their passports and keeping the bulk of their salaries.

South African police report that crimes like murder and sexual assault have fallen sharply during the lockdown, perhaps because of limits on the sale of alcohol.

4. Ending the oil price battle royale

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The world’s major oil-producing countries are hoping to strike a deal this week to limit the damage from the gravest crisis the industry has faced in recent memory.

How it happened: An increase in supply, driven by the shale boom that’s made the U.S. the world’s biggest producer, collided with an unprecedented fall in demand due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Next came the split between the world’s next-biggest producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

  • After Russia balked at Saudi demands to cut, the Saudis vowed to ramp up production instead. The Russians followed suit. Prices plunged.
  • Oil-dependent economies in the developing world are getting crushed, and the U.S. shale industry looks vulnerable.

What to watch: The shutdown of the global economy could cause a 20% decline in demand in April, Daniel Yergin writes in Foreign Affairs.

  • “[V]irtually every available gallon of storage space in the world will be full by late April or early May.”
  • “When that happens, two things will result: prices will plummet and producers will shut down wells because they cannot dispose of the oil.”
  • “Among the hardest hit is U.S. shale oil. As a consequence, the United States will likely have to give up share in the global market, to others’ gain.”

That explains why President Trump, long a fan of cheap oil, is also intent on striking a deal that will raise prices, Axios’ Ben Geman and Amy Harder explained today on the Pro Rata podcast.

But, but, but: The Russians and Saudis want the U.S. to commit to cuts too, but "nobody can just flip a switch and tell U.S. oil companies to cut their production,” German says.

  • However, a U.S. production cut is going to happen regardless due to market forces, he continues. So there may be a “wink and a nod” route to a deal.

Go deeper: Coronavirus crisis tests Trump’s love for cheap oil

5. Perspectives on the post-virus world

Is it better on the other side? Photo: Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images

"The coronavirus, I believe, will be seen as a chapter break between Globalization 1.0 and Globalization 2.0," author Robert Kaplan said today on a Council on Foreign Relations conference call.

  • The first phase of globalization ushered in stronger international institutions and tremendous economic benefits, Kaplan said.
  • But globalization has been "weakening gradually," particularly after the 2008 global recession. Supply chains are decoupling, great powers are competing and middle classes in the West feel left behind.
  • What to watch: "Crises like wars put history on fast-forward," Kaplan said, "and history is now on fast-forward." He's not optimistic about where it's headed.

Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute argued on the same call that while this crisis will have a "long shadow," that could ultimately be a good thing.

  • The 9/11 attacks led to 15+ years of "preoccupation with terrorism," she said. In this case, the concerns will be about inadequate health care systems and ineffective political leaders.
  • "Expertise will come roaring back into fashion," she predicted.

Arundhati Roy, the Indian novelist, writes in the FT that it's ultimately up to us:

"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."
6. Meanwhile, in the Darién Gap

A Haitian family at the edge of the Gap. Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images

War brought them to a jungle thousands of miles from home. They had little idea just how far they were from the United States.

In a breathtaking feat of reporting, Nadja Drost joined migrants from Cameroon and Pakistan as they traversed the Darién Gap — "one of the most dangerous regions in the world: a corridor for drug trafficking and home to jaguars and venomous snakes," as she writes in the California Sunday Magazine.

The Gap — so named because this ungoverned expanse is the lone missing link in the Pan-American highway — straddles the border between Colombia and Panama.

  • The migrants Drost navigated it alongside had purchased flights to Ecuador or Peru, made their way through Colombia, hired guides at the edge of the wilderness, and ventured in.
  • Along the perilous route, they found exploitation, hunger, pain, death, determination, deliverance.

This is ultimately a story of human suffering and of just how far people will go to reach the United States. It's also a reminder that even when the world appears frozen, some have little choice but to press onward.

Dive in

7. Stories we're watching

Journeys deferred, in a locked down Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP via Getty Images

  1. Pandemics worse than wars
  2. Our new era of uncertainty
  3. Keir Starmer elected to lead U.K. Labour Party
  4. Trump considers billionaire ally for senior intel role
  5. Chinese Starbucks competitor Luckin admits to inflated data
  6. More of U.S. foreign-born population now college educated
  7. Good news: World's marine life rebounding


"We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again."
— Queen Elizabeth II in a rare national address
Dave Lawler