World

New Zealand travel bubble with Australia suspended after outbreak of UK variant. Indian activists arrested over farmers’ protest. WHO plan to vaccinate poorer nations. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Acquitted Trump attacks divided Republicans

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference during the impeachment trial of former US president Donald Trump.
Credit: Reuters / Al Drago

Great power rivalry

United States: Donald Trump was acquitted in his impeachment trial over charges of inciting an insurrection, but the breach of the Capitol on January 6 continues to cause fierce division in the Republican Party.

On Tuesday, Trump launched a bitter attack on Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader, describing him as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack”. Trump suggested the senator was weak on China because of the business interests of Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife, who resigned as Trump’s secretary of transportation after the attack on the Capitol.

McConnell – along with all but seven of the 50 Republican senators – voted to acquit Trump but then delivered a speech in which he described Trump as “practically and morally responsible” for the attack. He said he supported acquittal only because Trump was no longer in office.

The split between Trump and McConnell highlights broader fissures in the Republican Party, particularly over whether to continue to show allegiance to the former president.

Trump has hinted that he may remain in politics and could consider running for president in 2024. Following his acquittal, he said his movement “has only just begun”.

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who is close to Trump, told Fox News he had urged the former president to lead the Republican campaign in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond. “Trump-plus is the way back in 2022,” he said. “We can’t [win] without Donald Trump, so he’s ready to hit the trail.”

A Quinnipiac University national poll this week found 75 per cent of Republicans believed Trump should “play a prominent role” in the party. Just 32 per cent of independent voters and 3 per cent of Democrats agreed.

The neighbourhood

New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, ordered a lockdown in Auckland this week after a family of three – including a woman who works with laundry from incoming flights – tested positive for Covid-19.

New Zealand has been widely praised as one of the world’s most successful countries in dealing with the pandemic after it imposed a strict 51-day lockdown. The country experienced more than three months without community cases last year, before an outbreak in Auckland in August.

The lockdown this week prompted Australia to suspend its trans-Tasman travel bubble, which had allowed people arriving from New Zealand to enter Australia without undergoing quarantine.

Authorities in New Zealand are unsure exactly how the latest outbreak occurred as no members of the family had any direct contact with international arrivals. Testing showed that the cases involved the British variant.

New Zealand is due to start immunisations from this weekend, using the Pfizer vaccine. The first doses will be given to thousands of people who work at quarantine hotels and airports, followed by their household contacts.    

Welcoming the arrival of the first Pfizer doses on Monday, Ardern said the government had ordered enough supply to immunise all those in New Zealand.

“This will be the largest full-scale vaccination campaign in this country’s history,” she told reporters.

Democracy in retreat

India: Earlier this month, Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old environmental activist, voiced support for a mass protest by India’s farmers against controversial new agriculture laws that they say will destroy their livelihoods.

In a tweet, Thunberg included a link to an online “toolkit” – a standard document used by campaigners which, in this case, outlined the farmers’ arguments and suggested strategies for showing support, such as tweeting with the topic #StandWithFarmers.

Following Thunberg’s message, police last weekend raided the home of Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate activist who was accused of using the toolkit to “spread disaffection against the Indian state”.

At a court in Delhi, Ravi expressed solidarity with the farmers and insisted she had only edited two lines of the toolkit.

“They [the farmers] are the ones who are providing us with our food,” she said. “And we all need to eat.”

The arrest of Ravi, who works for a vegan food company, has prompted criticism from human rights groups and added to concerns about the Modi government’s growing crackdown on support for the farmers and, more broadly, on free speech. On Monday, arrest warrants were issued against two other activists.

The farmers’ revolt has embarrassed the Modi government, which typically presents itself as supporting the beleaguered masses. The government claims its laws will improve the efficiency of the farming sector and has blamed foreign critics such as Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna for stirring resentment and spreading propaganda.

Spotlight: Vaccinating poorer nations

Britain: In the two months since Britain became the first country to conduct a mass rollout of a fully tested Covid-19 vaccine, more than 170 million people have received doses in dozens of countries. But no vaccines have yet been administered in almost 130 of the world’s poorest nations, despite many of these suffering serious outbreaks.

The challenge of ensuring equitable access to vaccines is being addressed by an international scheme, Covax, which is led by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with global vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. The WHO says Covax is on track to provide two billion doses this year. But the scheme failed to achieve its original aim to deliver vaccines at the same time as better-equipped countries began immunisations. As of Tuesday, 55 million vaccine doses had been administered in the United States, 41 million in China, 16 million in Britain, and eight million in India.

Covax has struggled to secure supplies of vaccines but has also been waiting for WHO safety approvals. This week, WHO approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will finally allow Covax to begin distributions. The only other WHO-approved vaccine is that produced by Pfizer. But the Pfizer vaccine requires deep cold storage and will be harder to distribute in less developed countries.

Covax is yet to reveal which countries will receive the first vaccine shipments. Doses will be provided free to 92 lower-income countries. The remainder will be paid for by countries such as Australia, which joined the scheme to ensure access to vaccines but, in many cases, separately secured their own supplies.

Meanwhile, China has been distributing its own vaccine to try to build goodwill among poorer countries. Zimbabwe received 200,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine this week. Other countries to have received Chinese vaccines include Egypt, Equatorial Guinea and Indonesia. Medical experts have raised concern about the lack of transparency surrounding China’s and Russia’s vaccines, but initial data reportedly indicates that their vaccines are effective. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 20, 2021 as "Acquitted Trump attacks divided Republicans".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.