A Pandemic Tourism Pivot From Cool to Wellness

  • Hotel entrepreneur Valeri Chekheria helped build the nation of Georgia into a post-Soviet tourist gem with a reputation for cool.
  • As the country reopens to tourists amid the coronavirus pandemic, he faces his biggest challenge yet: welcoming visitors with an image of health and wellness.

If you stay at one of the hotels Valeri Chekheria runs in the mountainous, stunningly beautiful country of Georgia, you’re bound to have a good time. Given his philosophy, how could you not? “We treat all our guests like they’re a gift from God,” he says, invoking an age-old Georgian belief.

Now, with the tourist business resuming after a devastating pandemic stoppage, each guest exists on an even higher plane.

Anyone who’s roamed the enchanting streets of the capital Tbilisi — or wound their way up the majestic Kazbegi Mountain, then feasted like royalty on mouthwatering cheesy bread and drowned in top-shelf wine — can tell you that Georgia has always been great at welcoming visitors. It’s woven into the country’s social fabric, as it was long a prized Black Sea getaway for Russian and Soviet elites. But Chekheria has helped turned it into a thriving, forward-looking business, with tourism making up 7.6 percent of the nation’s economy in 2018.

As CEO of hospitality firm Adjara Group, the stylish 39-year-old’s portfolio includes a half-dozen hip hotels that are helping transform the post-Soviet nation of 3.7 million into a must-see spot for culturally curious travelers.

In August, Georgia — which has reported only about 1,250 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths — is expected to begin crawling out of international isolation after reopening to commercial flights. Navigating a post-pandemic world will be Adjara’s biggest challenge yet, one that’ll test Chekheria’s business acumen and organizational leadership, as well as his perseverance amid adversity.

We want to keep Georgia a secret, but a secret that we want to share with friends.

Valeri Chekheria

So far, though, he has proved himself capable. A former chief of staff to reform-minded government ministers, Chekheria is part of the change-starved generation that helped Georgia shake off its communist shackles, looking West for cultural and political pointers and applying those lessons back at home. Now, he says, it’s time to show off the progress. “We want to keep Georgia a secret, but a secret that we want to share with friends.”

Chekheria’s global outlook belies his humble origins. His family’s apartment was destroyed in the early-1990s civil war that engulfed the nation. That led to a twist of fate whose irony would only later become apparent: Alongside other refugees, Chekheria and his family spent the better part of a decade living in a repurposed hotel.

Those tough times shaped his hunger for something better, both for himself and his wounded country. Chekheria graduated college in Tbilisi with a law degree just a year before another revolt, the Rose Revolution of late 2003. Except this one had a happier ending. Shooting up through the government bureaucracy, he landed key postings at the ministries of economic development and finance, where, as chief of staff, he helped oversee privatization programs and spearheaded tax reforms. 

Sure, he and his like-minded peers may have lacked deep experience. “But we were the generation that never got a taste of the money and corruption,” Chekheria says, “and we had an idea of how to build a country.” Georgia won widespread praise for its reform drive, and these days it ranks seventh in the World Bank’s ease of doing business list.

After polishing off his expertise in public administration with a master’s degree from Columbia University, Chekheria returned to Georgia. According to childhood friend and cultural anthropologist Nutsa Batiashvili, going back to the small, tight-knit country “gives you a chance for whatever you’re doing to mean just a little bit more.” Chekheria took charge of the Adjara-run Holiday Inn Tbilisi as general manager before rising to the top job at Adjara, which was founded by influential Georgian philanthropist and entrepreneur Temur Ugulava.

The group operates six hotels, the most prominent of which is Rooms. With three locations across the country, including one in a northern mountainous region with stunning views of Kazbegi, the brand has become known among savvy travelers for an ultra-modern, smart design it calls “industrial chic.” It regularly tops global travel lists.

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The lobby of the Stamba Hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Hostel-Lobby

Fabrika Hostel used to be a Soviet era sewing factory, which the group converted into a design-centric multi-functional space with one of the biggest hostels in the region.

Another gem is the Fabrika complex, which was transformed from a Soviet-era sewing factory into a multipurpose hostel and hangout space that’s quickly become the nucleus for Tbilisi’s creative class — and much more. “Many young people are coming to Georgia,” says Keti Ebanoidze, who helps run Impact Hub, a co-working space inside the Fabrika complex. “People are even saying Tbilisi is the new Berlin.” In recent years, she adds, Tbilisi has spawned a new crop of free-thinking youngsters planning their own startups.

But the coronavirus pandemic has upended the global travel industry, and like everyone else, Chekheria and Adjara are adjusting. Banking on the international travel industry pivoting toward “health, wellness and eco-tourism,” says corporate communications chief Tina Kavadze, the company is doubling down on its emerging “agropreneurship” business — in which it’ll increasingly source food from local farms. It’s also developing an urban vertical farming project purported to be the region’s first. Meanwhile, Kavadze adds, Georgia’s rich natural beauty will be more instrumental than ever.

Obstacles of a more local nature remain too. Caught between European aspirations and historical traditions, it’s a country that’s home to one of Eastern Europe’s coolest clubs — but also where a woman’s virginity is still a subject of widespread concern, and where gays are regularly targeted for abuse. And its democracy is still a work in progress. Ranked only “partly free” by watchdog Freedom House, Georgia’s score for civil liberties clocks in at an uninspiring 37 out of 60.

Still, Chekheria and his team remain committed to the cause of making their country the envy of the former Soviet world. In the end, he says, they’re not just building a new and exciting kind of business: “We’re building the whole history of Georgia.”

Where You Can Find the Best Folk Music Out There

When Anthony Simpkins hunts for new musicians to feature on his wildly popular YouTube channel, the music itself is almost secondary. “I guess I’m looking for a story,” he says, “kind of like I imagine a journalist would.”

That’s probably why each video seems like an intimate experience: The camera dances gracefully around the performer (or performers), as they croon and drawl — or warble and wail — their way through tunes that capture the essence of the restless and wandering American soul.

Perched near a creek bed, beside railroad tracks or between the pews in an empty church, the artists physically express their personal stories, usually with a heavy dose of melancholy or swagger, more than merely singing about them. With nearly 106,000 subscribers, and approaching 53 million views since its inception eight years ago, GemsOnVHS is a stunning audiovisual diary from the undiscovered corners of American folk music. 

You probably won’t find the artists that Simpkins, 28, posts in too many other other places. And that’s the point: His platform gives voice to a little-known collection of salt-of-the-earth performers from around the country, usually with compelling tales to match their soul-stirring music. 

In their respective videos, for instance, songwriters such as Tennessee train-hopper Benjamin Tod and Texas native Casper Allen — both of whom have battled addiction among other life-altering challenges — muse on the trials they’ve faced with a maturity far beyond their years. “Thread a needle through your arm, tryin’ to stitch it back together again,” Allen sings in “Paper Ships.”

Funded by Patreon donations and earnings from commercial video work, Nashville-based Simpkins criss-crisscrosses the U.S. to team up with promising artists on his projects, occasionally finding himself abroad in places like Scotland — a country with a musical heritage interwoven with America’s own. For now, as the coronavirus pandemic keeps everyone indoors, he’s catching up on loads of unedited footage, with plenty of time to crack away on long overdue projects.

These days, GemsOnVHS is well-known enough that he doesn’t have to do much recruiting (which he hates). Most artists reach out to him, Simpkins says, since the channel is “a dog whistle to people who like the same stuff as us.” In other words, he’s created something of an independent musician’s online dream. “Good music just comes with the other stuff that I end up finding,” he says.

Visitors to his channel will find a new clip every two weeks or so. But Simpkins’ plans are becoming bigger: “We’re going to take over the world, and soon all music will be released through our channel,” he says with a wit drier than the sawdust-covered floor of a Kentucky watering hole. “Spotify and Apple Music are going to shut down in defeat.”

Seriously, though: Besides hoping to release several records this year, he’s also setting his sights on a podcast to continue building on Gems’ storytelling efforts — so long as the talent keeps rolling in, that is.

“I’m looking for geniuses,” Simpkins says, “and I think people with a certain amount of genius happen to write really good songs.”

The Sudanese Slave Who Became a Servant of God

Considering the ordeal she lived through, Josephine Bakhita couldn’t have been bestowed a more ironic name by her Arab captors. Kidnapped from her childhood home in Sudan’s Darfur region by slave traders in the late 19th century, Bakhita (meaning “fortunate one” in Arabic) spent more than a decade in captivity. 

In the end, the name proved uncannily prophetic. Winding up in the possession of a European diplomat, Bakhita embarked on a journey that led her to an Italian convent and, eventually, to freedom and a new life, one marked by her devotion to faith.

Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking victims, is one of the more remarkable characters in the history of the Catholic Church. Described by Pope John Paul II as “a shining advocate of genuine emancipation,” her saga still resonates as her home country continues to struggle with its painfully recent legacy of slavery. “This is the longest-running type of abuse that human societies have exacted upon some of the weaker portions of those populations,” says Jok Madut Jok, a professor of anthropology at Syracuse University and co-founder of the Sudd Institute in South Sudan.

A life marked by hatred and despair became a model of love and hope.

Raymond J. de Souza, a Catholic priest, on Josephine Bakhita

Born in 1869 into a relatively comfortable Sudanese home, Bakhita wasn’t the first member of her family to endure forced labor. Several years before Bakhita’s abduction at the age of 8 or 9, her sister was also snatched from their village. A lucrative slave trade in the region was being contested by rival foreign rulers. When Bakhita was kidnapped, she was playing with a friend in a field near her home. 

Legend has it that Bakhita was so traumatized by the episode that she couldn’t remember her birth name, spurring the traders — possibly in mockery — to bestow her with her new one. Bakhita spent the next 11 years or so being passed from owner to owner, none of whom showed much mercy. “I do not recall a day that passed without a wound,” she later said about her time with a Turkish slave owner. During her decade of enslavement, Bakhita accumulated many scars.

But Bakhita’s fortunes began to change in her late teens, when she was purchased by an Italian consul to Sudan named Callisto Legnani. So began her journey to Europe.

A picture of Josephine Bakhita, the only Sudanese Saint and a national heroine to catholics in the S

A picture of Josephine Bakhita, the only Sudanese Saint and a national heroine to catholics in the Sudan, surrounded by Regina Nataniel’s rosary beads.

Source Getty

Gifted by Legnani to another Italian family in need of a caretaker for their daughter, Bakhita accompanied the young woman when she left Sudan and entered a convent school near Venice run by the Canossian Daughters of Charity, a religious order. There, Bakhita was given a crucifix; one of the first things she ever owned, it is believed to have helped spark her curiosity about Jesus Christ and the tenets of Christian faith. Perhaps even more important was the kindness extended to her by the sisters, the sort of kindness she hadn’t received in years.

The experience wasn’t without its tribulations, though. Technically still a slave, Bakhita was ordered home by the Italian family. By then, however, she had been swayed by the sisters, who helped make her case to an Italian court, which declared that slavery was illegal in Italy — and that it had been banned in Bakhita’s homeland before she was even born, according to the Encyclopedia of Blacks in European History and Culture. She was finally freed.

Baptized shortly after, and following a few more years as a resident of the convent, Bakhita took her vows in December 1896. She spent the next several decades performing odds jobs around the convent, from cooking and cleaning to welcoming guests. 

It’s unclear whether she performed any miracles, usually a key requirement of sainthood. Rather, church historians note, Bakhita’s experiences — especially her refusal to return to slavery — served as examples. “A life marked by hatred and despair became a model of love and hope,” wrote Raymond J. de Souza, a Catholic priest, in the National Catholic Register earlier this year. Bakhita died on Feb. 8, 1947, a date which later became her feast day. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Fast-forward a few decades, and few things have changed in Bakhita’s homeland. Yes, Sudan and South Sudan are no longer torn between foreign conquerors as they were during Bakhita’s lifetime. But the vicious civil war that precipitated their split was marked by violence inflicted on often innocent locals, especially by the Sudanese government, as leverage against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. “In a sense,” says Jok, “you were fighting a war by destabilizing communities of the noncombatants.”

Bakhita herself harbored no grudges. Asked later in life if she would face her captors, she said she’d “kneel down to them to kiss their hands.” Why? “Because if it had not been for them,” she said, “I would not have become a Christian and religious woman.”

Welcome to the World’s First COVID-19 Art Museum

With entire populations around the world locked inside, museums everywhere have closed their doors until the deadly coronavirus pandemic passes.

Not this one. Which actually opened.

Since crisis fuels artistic inspiration — and lockdowns provide artists plenty of time to realize it all — three Barcelona-based advertising professionals came up with a bright idea: the Covid Art Museum (CAM), an Instagram account collecting the best COVID-19-related work out there.

Launched in mid-March, just as Spain was careening into the health crisis, this volunteer effort showcases the creative fruits of mostly European artists who have something to say about how society’s changing before our eyes. Musing over the ways social distancing has altered daily life, or simply poking fun at it, creators from Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere have weighed in with their keen artistic wit.

After all, “we are now in a period of very important reflection on everything,” says CAM co-founder Irene Llorca, creative art director at marketing agency Honest Barcelona.

Toilet paper features prominently too.

Popular themes include creative pleas for consumers to stay home, as well as playful takes on the newly ubiquitous face masks. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, toilet paper features prominently too. Virtually every art form — photographs, illustrations, installations and much more — makes an appearance in the museum’s quickly growing archive, which now includes more than 250 posts.

London-based art director Thomas Ollivier, also known as Tom le French, has turned his attention to a series of photographic manipulations that comment, among other things, on what face masks might tell us about our future. Even after the crisis ends, he says, the objects might find their way into our normal routine. “Surely it will start to become like a handbag or an accessory, and obviously brands will step in and create their own version of it,” he says. 

Receiving dozens of submissions each day, the museum has enjoyed a surge in popularity — in less than a month, it’s already amassed 19,000 followers — while Llorca says the team’s getting tons of positive feedback from artists and ordinary consumers alike.

For creators, it’s a free platform for their art. For everyone else, Llorca adds, “it’s a space that can give them strength and help them realize that they are not alone in this.

“Maybe they’ll see that artwork by a Spanish person in Bilbao speaks directly about their current situation. It’s a way to connect people virtually.”

Just like with every other aspect of life these days, it feels pointless to talk about future plans. But at the very least, Llorca says, a digital book might be in the works — plus a physical exhibition, for when it’s all over.

For now, though, she encourages art lovers to follow along. And Ollivier, the London-based art director, suggests there’s plenty more to come.

“Even noncreative people are getting creative,” he says.

Why Russia’s Coronavirus Fate Is Complicated

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued its deadly global march last month, Russia drew skepticism over its low infection numbers. It was the same old story, critics claimed: Eager to stem the flow of negative information, an authoritarian government was suppressing the true scope of the problem.

Sure, the Kremlin’s no stranger to massaging or manufacturing information, whether to sideline its political opponents at home or fuel a war abroad. And President Vladimir Putin has indeed appeared eager to play down the severity of his country’s outbreak — saying the situation was “under control” and early measures like closing the country’s land border with China had contained the outbreak.

But this week, the official tally has spiked — with at least 2,700 people infected as of Wednesday. But here’s a thought: Maybe Russia’s ready for what’s coming. After all: 

Russia has around three times more hospital beds per capita than the United States.

That’s according to the latest available statistics from the World Bank, which found that Russia’s state-run health care system boasts 8.2 beds per 1,000 people, compared to America’s 2.9. Meanwhile, it’s also got four physicians per 1,000 residents, whereas the U.S. has 2.6.

But there’s a catch, says Vasiliy Vlassov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow: The quality of that workforce isn’t exactly stellar. “But it is definitely better than in China or any other traditional developing country,” Vlassov adds. In recent years, for example, cardiologists in heart disease-rich Russia have shown some success in treating heart attacks, leading to a reduction in hospital mortality, says fellow researcher Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

And that, in a nutshell, is the paradox of Russia’s chronically underfunded health care system: Sprawling yet underdeveloped, it’s theoretically equipped for an impending coronavirus crisis — yet not at all prepared. First, consider the number of hospital beds. Along with other former Soviet countries, Russia leads Europe in the amount of beds per capita. But experts have questioned how many of them can be converted for intensive care, since that’s where severe coronavirus cases will inevitably end up.

Ivanovo Region Clinical Hospital

A recent bombshell report on child health care found that 52 percent of Russian medical facilities don’t have hot water, while 30 percent don’t have running water at all.

Source Vladimir Smirnov/Getty

Then there’s the recent bombshell report on child health care by Russia’s Audit Chamber, the government’s financial oversight body. It found that 52 percent of Russian medical facilities don’t have hot water, while 30 percent don’t have running water at all. The Ministry of Health took issue with those findings, claiming government auditors were counting places like storage spaces, garages and similar units. Its own figures are far different: Only 3.5 percent have no running water, while a mere 6.5 percent (not the audit’s 35 percent) lack indoor plumbing.

Meanwhile, both World Bank figures were collected either before or during the government’s campaign to restructure the health care bureaucracy. According to Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Doctors’ Alliance, it led to the disappearance of some 30,000 jobs and the closure of several thousand facilities. So while Russia is well-stocked with around 40,000 ventilators, or roughly 27 per 100,000 people — compared to 18 for every 100,000 people in the U.S, according to an estimate from Johns Hopkins University — they may not matter if there aren’t enough specialists to operate them, Vasilyeva adds.

Disparity is also a major issue. Outside Moscow or St. Petersburg, many clinics and hospitals scattered across far-flung settlements through the vast country lack even basic supplies, such as masks and gowns, says Andrei Konoval, the leader of a health workers union. Despite that fact, the Kremlin has shipped off medical aid to various countries — including Italy, China, Venezuela and, just this week, the United States — in what most assume is a geopolitical muscle flex.

Yet the country’s geography might also play to Russia’s favor: Its population density, around 22 people per square mile, is a small fraction of hotspots like the U.S. (94 people per square mile) and Italy (532). About two-thirds of the coronavirus cases reported in Russia are in Moscow. Epidemiologists have theorized that while coronavirus may be more difficult for rural areas to treat due to lack of facilities, they may stay virus-free longer by virtue of their isolation.

But in general, says Konoval, “there’s not a sense that our health care system has been developing in the right direction in recent years.” And as the pandemic digs through the world’s largest country by land area, we’ll find out soon enough how much that’s true.

Special Briefing: Coronavirus: A Lesson in Creativity?

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? The U.S. is now the global capital of the coronavirus, surpassing China and Italy, with more than 86,000 cases as of Friday morning. And it’s taking its toll on the economy: A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, almost five times the previous high. That’s why businesses ranging from restaurants and museums to advertising and sex work can no longer count on traditional modes of operation. But some sectors are adapting smartly, and swiftly. 

Why does it matter? The economic crisis and unprecedented global restrictions on movement are forcing businesses that haven’t changed in decades to embrace new models that could fundamentally reshape those industries for the future. Their success, or failure, could determine whether we emerge from the pandemic stronger — or weaker.

Some Restaurants Close, Others See Increase in Sales

An employee of Carmelina’s in the North End of Boston tapes up paper in the windows of the restaurant, which is temporarily closing during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

New (virtual) realities. With galleries closed and major fairs canceled, art dealers are turning to innovations like internet sales and private online viewings to hawk their work. In the long run, insiders say, that could help democratize an industry dominated by major galleries otherwise resistant to change. Meanwhile, many of the world’s leading museums, such as Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, have begun offering new virtual tours. London’s National Gallery, which already boasted a similar feature, clocked a 1,000 percent increase in digital traffic compared to the same time last year.

Back to basics. Others are innovating in the opposite direction. With commercial video and photo shoots on hold, creative agencies are relying more and more on basic tools like user-generated content to realize their ideas. One agency cobbled together a Buffalo Wild Wings ad using video footage of folks playing made-up sports at home. Stock footage and animation are also options, further forcing producers to sharpen their creativity with minimal resources. “It’s a challenge a lot of creatives secretly cherish,” one director told Adweek.

Male influencer recording for video blog about VR goggles

Many of the world’s leading museums, such as Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, have begun offering new virtual tours.

Source Getty

Stay hungry. While restaurants around the world are closing their dining rooms, they’re keeping their kitchens open. Take-away orders and contactless delivery are now the norm — with restaurants from New York to Kyiv offering do-it-yourself assembly kits that allow customers to prep their meals at home. But the shift poses a unique challenge to fine-dining establishments: Adapt to the decidedly less elite format of delivery, or close up shop. Meanwhile, it’s a gravy train for third-party delivery apps, which one Manhattan restaurateur says “have become one of the most powerful forces in the industry.”

New pleasures. The global sex industry is changing too. And in many places, like the Ivory Coast — one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies for the past seven years — it’s facing a major test of survival, OZY reports. Small businesses like massage parlors are still catering to moneyed customers making frantic, last-minute appointments for their guilty pleasures. But now, with streetside solicitation of sex workers bound to diminish, some are sending videos in exchange for mobile money.

WHAT TO READ

Coronavirus: Now Is the Perfect Time to Get Creative, by Grant Stevenson in Stuff

“Just as we gear up for the health emergency, so too we can gear up for the biggest chance for self-development and passive recreation since the invention of the internet.”

How Restaurants Can Survive Right Now, by Rafi Mohammed in Harvard Business Review

“My advice to restaurateurs — after ensuring the safety of their food — is simple: Lower Your Prices Now.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Coronavirus Has Put These People Out of Work

“If I actually go out there and get sick, I’m screwed.”

Watch on VICE News on YouTube:

Media Organizations Get Creative About Coronavirus

“Every network and local news outlet has made dramatic changes in operating procedures, reducing studio crews and making sure anchors are at a safe distance.”

Watch on WGBH News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Keeping the faith. A range of religions have also been forced to adapt in the pandemic. Services — including Buddhist meditation sessions — are being live-streamed on various platforms, while Jehovah’s Witnesses have reportedly stopped going door-to-door, holding smaller meetings where possible. Jewish ceremonies, like bar and bat mitzvahs, have gone virtual too.

Special Briefing: The Next Coronavirus Victim? Civil Liberties

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? Lockdowns and self-isolation might help contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus — but those measures could also play into the hands of governments that weren’t so keen on civil liberties in the first place. Whether in Chile, India or Russia, authorities and protesters alike are navigating uncharted territory to determine just how much this new, COVID-19-induced reality could alter the dynamics of power.

Why does it matter? Even in ordinary times, finding the balance between maintaining order and guaranteeing personal freedoms isn’t exactly easy. So how governments handle this unfolding crisis could speak volumes about their plans for the future.

People wearing face masks in Moscow

A police officer and a man in a gas mask seen in Moscow’s Red Square. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images)

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Momentum matters. Chile’s protesters were likely rattled by President Sebastián Piñera’s announcement yesterday that the military would oversee a 90-day “state of catastrophe” to deal with a local outbreak that’s infected nearly 250 people. For months, they’d staged demonstrations over economic and social inequality that left 31 dead and thousands injured, allegedly by abusive police. And while they compelled the authorities to hold a public referendum on a new constitution in late April, those plans may well be scuttled. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old student who became a rallying point after being blinded by rubber bullets late last year has vowed to press on until Piñera quits. The only question is, how?

Off the streets. India’s protesters, angered by a controversial citizenship law they believe discriminates against Muslims, face a similar challenge. But they appear more defiant: In Delhi, demonstrators affiliated with the female-driven Shaheen Bagh sit-in movement have refused to call off their protests despite an order banning gatherings of more than 50 people. Instead, they’ve demanded that officials tend to those displaced by recent deadly riots in the city. And yesterday, thousands of protesters reportedly turned out in the eastern city of Chennai despite local authorities refusing to sanction such demonstrations. It’s anyone’s guess what might happen after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement Thursday of a “citizens curfew,” which begins Sunday.

Police practice. For leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s looking to extend his two-decade rule, proving he can maintain order is a top priority for his propaganda effort. That’s why a lockdown is great training for his security apparatus, which has recently beefed up its technical capabilities. In Moscow alone, some 200 people have reportedly been caught flouting quarantine rules by facial recognition systems. A member of the Kremlin’s human rights council called it “a happy time” for Russian law enforcement — but one that’s also dangerous for authorities if they flub the moment. Next month, Russia plans to hold a nationwide vote to green-light constitutional tweaks that would effectively allow Putin to hang on through 2036.

CHILE-CRISIS-PROTEST

A demonstrator throws a tear gas can back to Chilean riot police during a protest against Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s government in Santiago. (Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images)

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Shifting strategies. Many groups are quickly realizing that it doesn’t take an autocrat to derail protest movements. Climate activists are among them: The Sunrise Movement has told its followers, who advocate for the Green New Deal, to stay off the streets, while prominent teenage climate crusader Greta Thunberg similarly urged her disciples to take their fight online. And while digital democracy is more effective than ever, activists themselves concede it’s just not the same without filling the streets with screaming humans. Says one climate protester: “We’re going to be fighting with one hand tied behind our back.”

Will the West do it better? As Western democracies scramble to enforce their quarantine rules, China’s bragged about how its draconian policies have been a magic bullet against coronavirus. Yesterday, the original epicenter of Wuhan recorded zero new infections for the first time ever. But the West shouldn’t fret. “Wartime democracies are fearsome things,” one political scientist told Axios — arguing that those governments tend to enjoy broader popular mandates, which theoretically make them more powerful.

WHAT TO READ

Sisi and Erdogan Are Accomplices of the Coronavirus, by Steven A. Cook in Foreign Policy

“These are strongmen who command significant amounts of resources, but they are hardly the strong leaders that people need now.”

Trump’s Coronavirus Response Isn’t the Work of a Dictator, by Rich Lowry in National Review

“Trump declared an emergency last week and has now issued national guidelines against gatherings of more than ten people, but his initial instinct was to urge people to stay calm and carry on.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Chile Protesters Move Off Streets Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

“It also means that starting Thursday, the army will be back on the streets — a sensitive decision, given their checkered human rights record.”

Watch on Al Jazeera on YouTube:

Will Efforts to Combat Spread of Coronavirus Threaten Civil Liberties?

“The real power of government here to handle an epidemic like this that’s not localized in one place, but spreading out throughout the country, is in the state governments. That’s the way our constitution was designed.”

Watch on Fox News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Fight for your right … to party? Despite reports that COVID-19 targets younger people just as much as the elderly, they’re defying official mandates for social distancing by holding “lockdown parties” in places as diverse as Berlin clubs and Argentine beaches. Police are left to bust up speakeasies like it’s 1929.