China has approved Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine for general use. The new border arrangement between the UK and the EU will be tested after the holiday season. Ghana’s president will officially start his second term. In Italy, tensions within the coalition could bring down the government.
Meanwhile, negotiations between protesting farmers and India’s federal government will resume, Germany will extend the current lockdown, Venezuela’s National Assembly will be sworn in, and South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout strategy has been announced.
The Covid-19 vaccine rollout has started in most advanced economies and some emerging markets. However, it appears to be behind schedule in most countries, including the US and most European countries. For instance, in France only around 350 people have received the first dose of the vaccine, while Spain has only administered 18% of the vaccine doses received last week. The reasons behind these delays are still unclear, but might be related to the lack of planning, staff shortages during the holidays, as well as distribution and logistical challenges. In addition, low state capacity will negatively affect the speed at which countries manage to roll out vaccinations. Meanwhile, many governments might be forced to implement new restrictions or prolong existing ones in the coming weeks as the daily number of new cases remains high. Given that less tests were conducted over the holidays in many countries, the true state of the pandemic might only emerge over the coming two weeks.
What to Watch
Health authorities approved a vaccine developed by state-owned Sinopharm for general use, after the company said interim data showing 79% efficacy. More than 4.5mn doses of the vaccine have already been administered under an emergency use order issued in July, and a health official said the government is aiming for 60-70% vaccine coverage. Given the lack of detailed clinical data from Sinopharm, however, some governments may remain reluctant to use the company’s vaccine.
The new arrangements at Great Britain’s borders with the EU will be in spotlight this week. At English Channel and Irish Sea ports, disruptions from new customs declarations and controls were minimal on the first day of the UK’s new trading relationship with the EU on 1 January. However, many companies had been stockpiling, and traffic was subdued due to the holiday season. As transport volumes are expected to return somewhat closer to normal this week, this will give a better indication of the efficacy of the new customs regime. Under UK guidelines for phasing in new rules of origin declarations until end-2021, companies may have to retroactively produce evidence for compliance with the new requirements.
President Nana Akufo-Addo will officially commence his second term on 7 January, despite a legal challenge to the election result by the main opposition candidate. Akufo-Addo had won the 7 December 2020 general election with 51.3% of valid votes cast, against 47.4% cast in favor of his main opponent and former president John Mahama. Mahama subsequently filed a petition at the Supreme Court on 30 December challenging the election results which may take months to resolve.
A political crisis that could bring down Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government is expected to erupt this week. This would follow the likely withdrawal from the cabinet of two ministers associated with Italia Viva, a junior partner in the ruling coalition. If the government falls, the coalition parties could seek to draw up a new pact and agree on a new government, with or without Giuseppe Conte as prime minister. Early general elections are the least likely scenario.
On the Horizon
The seventh round of meetings between protesting farmers and the federal government is due on 4 Monday. Meanwhile, farmers have threatened to scale up their agitation by blockading shopping malls and petrol pumps on 6 January unless their demand for the repeal of three agri-marketing laws is met. In addition, farmers also demand a guarantee that foodgrain procurement subsidies will continue. The farmers are camping on the outskirts of India’s capital, New Delhi, and have blocked several highways impeding access to the city.
The ruling Nur Otan party is set to win the parliamentary election on 10 January. The party is headed by Nursultan Nazarbayev, former president and current chairman of the country’s security council. The vote, however, cannot be considered as free and fair, and there are no real opposition parties running in the electoral contest. The outcome of the vote might trigger some protests, but authorities could swiftly disperse any large gatherings citing public health concerns amid the continuing pandemic.
A snap presidential election will be held on 10 January alongside a referendum on the country’s form of governance. Former acting president and prime minister Sadyr Japarov, an independent, is a clear favorite in the poll. He gained influence and popularity amid public unrest and political instability after the annulled parliamentary election in October 2020. After the vote, Japarov will likely seek to consolidate power, which could trigger public unrest and further limit transparency in political and economic affairs. affairs.
The current lockdown will be extended when Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 regional state leaders meet on 5 January. The only question at this stage is whether there is sufficient political support for an extension straight until 31 January. Meanwhile, slow progress on the vaccination front has led to criticism of Health Secretary Jens Spahn and the European Commission. However, the regional states are in charge of vaccine roll-out on the ground, and the Commission’s procurement occurred amid limited visibility on the eventual efficacy of the various vaccine candidates.
The recently elected National Assembly (AN) will be sworn in for a five-year period on 5 January. President Nicolas Maduro’s coalition will have 253 out of 277 seats in the incoming legislature. Maduro has already indicated that the new assembly will work on laws aimed at making investment more flexible in a bid to end a seven-year recession. However, international sanctions will remain a huge constraint. Meanwhile, opposition leader Juan Guaido has extended the life of the outgoing assembly, though how much longer the opposition can pursue the symbolic role “parallel government” is moot; yesterday, 3 January, the AN voted in favor of joining the Covax vaccine facility. Internal opposition rivalries are also set to intensify as Guaido’s authority continues to fade.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
Total, an oil company, evacuated most of its personnel from Palma and the Afungi peninsula last week, ahead of insurgent attacks very close to its LNG site on 1 January. Total’s evacuation and extensive insurgency-related disruption to transport along mainland and maritime routes represent a major setback for the LNG project, on which Mozambique’s sovereign and debt outlook hinges.
On 3 January, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout strategy. While the Ramaphosa administration hopes to begin vaccinating healthcare workers by February, details and timeframes are still uncertain, particularly as the government has been slow to negotiate with vaccine manufacturers. The first vaccines to which South Africa will have access under the Covax initiative are only expected to arrive by April, and the government has been publicly criticized for being slow to act.