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Forecast: Blizzard hits northern U.S., China faces coronavirus spike, and Colombia’s ELN declares Christmas ceasefire

A sign warns of heavy snow on New York's Long Island Expressway in January 2022

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

Our Forecast newsletter and podcast are taking a break next week, and we’ll resume in the new year. Follow Factal on Twitter for breaking news and subscribe to The Debrief for next week’s newsletter analyzing recent border clashes between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Week of Dec. 23-30
A Look Ahead

Dec. 22  – Blizzard in U.S. Midwest, Northeast  

A powerful winter storm is projected to impact much of the United States starting Thursday, jeopardizing holiday travel plans.

What’s happened so far 
The storm is forecast to first hit the Midwest and Great Lakes region, prompting major blizzards, before moving across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, directly impacting many of the busiest travel routes in the country. The arctic air sweeping south is could also drop temperatures below freezing in parts of Texas, Florida and the Gulf.

The impact 
The weather will coincide with an uptick in holiday travel, with widespread impacts to both air and ground travel anticipated. With parts of Texas, including the Dallas/Fort Worth area, expected to experience multiple days of freezing temperatures, Texas’ power grid operator issued a statement saying it is monitoring the situation and expects to meet consumer demands. 

Dec. 23 – Pakistan’s Imran Khan to dissolve two local assemblies  

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), will dissolve the assemblies of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces Friday.

What’s happened so far 
Khan has been demanding early general elections since his ouster in April, using various pressure tactics, including a long march to the capital Islamabad. The march was first interrupted when Khan was shot in the shin during a rally and later called off over security concerns before it could reach the capital. 

The impact 
If the PTI acts on its threat of dissolution, both provinces will have to trigger elections within 90 days under the constitution. Since Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous province and combined with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa comprises more than 50 percent of Pakistan, Khan is hoping the country will be forced to call early general elections, which he says he is confident of winning.

Dec. 23 – U.S. government funding deadline  

The U.S. House and Senate have until Friday to pass a funding deal for the government in order to avert a shutdown.

What’s happened so far 
Both chambers already passed a stopgap measure in the form of a continuing resolution, which acts as a short-term funding bill, guaranteeing funding through Dec. 23. This was done to give both parties more time to agree on a deal that would fund the government through September. Lawmakers are looking to pass an omnibus bill of $1.7 trillion in spending, including $858 billion for the military and $772 billion for domestic programs.

The impact 
If no deal is passed, government funding runs out, meaning non-essential services will shut down or be severely limited. National Parks and museums will be closed, and some two-thirds of federal workers will be furloughed until a deal is passed, leading to delays at agencies like the IRS. Programs and agencies that receive guaranteed funding or are self-sufficient due to their ability to charge for services, such as the U.S. Postal Service, will continue to operate.

Dec. 24 – Colombian guerrilla group declares Christmas ceasefire  

Leftist guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) declared a unilateral ceasefire starting Friday morning amid talks with the Colombian government (members’ link).

What’s happened so far 
The ELN and Gustavo Petro’s government closed the first round of peace negotiations in Caracas, Venezuela, on Dec. 12. The group announced the release of some 20 hostages as a sign of commitment to the process at the end of the talks. The negotiations aim to demobilize the guerrillas that have operated in the country since the 1960s. The ceasefire follows an “armed-strike” period imposed by the group in Chocó and Valle del Cauca earlier this month.

The impact 
The ceasefire will last from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2 ahead of the second round of negotiations between the guerrillas and the government due to take place in Mexico at the start of 2023. During the ceasefire the ELN has unilaterally committed to halt all attacks on Colombian police and military but reserves the right to respond to attacks from other guerrillas and paramilitary groups claiming “self-defense.” The government has welcomed the move while urging other armed groups to join the ceasefire and peace talks as part of Petro’s “total peace” initiative.

Dec. 24 – U.K. rail strike underway amid labor unrest  

Workers throughout the United Kingdom, including thousands of rail workers, will be walking off the job on Saturday to protest low pay and high inflation

What’s happened so far 
In June 2022, Britain’s Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers went on its first national strike since the 1990s over planned changes to their pay and working conditions. Workers from many other sectors, notably nurses and ambulance drivers, around the country joined in. The strikes have continued through the summer and the fall with no sign of slowing down. Things may be coming to a head this week during the holiday travel season. The government has already announced it would use the military to cover ambulance and border patrol workers on strike.

The impact 
With this being the first Christmas with no restrictions due to coronavirus, travel plans could get scuttled because of all of the strikes. It’s possible thousands of people will get stranded around the U.K. and unable to be with their families during the holiday. If that happens, it could lead to more government disapproval, especially if Parliament passes laws to keep people from striking.

Dec. 25 – Deadline to form Nepal government  

Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has given lawmakers until Sunday to form a coalition government

What’s happened so far 
General elections in Nepal in mid-late November led to a standstill between the two main political parties, the center-left ruling Nepali Congress, led by current Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, and the CPN-UML party, a communism/Marxist-Leninist alliance. With neither party receiving enough support to achieve a majority, both will now have to team up with smaller parties in order to create a ruling coalition.

The impact 
With looming political instability in a country that has been rife with it for decades, Prime Minister Deuba will now be looking to see which smaller parties most favor its social democratic system to maintain his and the party’s position. A low-turnout in November’s elections paired with a spread of votes cast shows that Nepalese citizens are growing tired due to inflation, unemployment and a lack of clear policies from the two main parties. Whichever coalition becomes the next government will have a sizable impact on whether the country leans more toward the sphere of influence of India or China. 

Dec. 30 – Informal meeting of EU trade ministers 

Trade ministers from European Union countries will convene for two days in Prague for an informal meeting starting Friday to discuss trade agreements and digital trade.

What’s happened so far 
The Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency, announced it would hold the two-day meeting in its capital, Prague. Minister of Industry and Trade Jozef Síkela will welcome counterparts on Friday for a gala dinner, before a series of meetings on Saturday that will focus on trade relations with the United States.

The impact 
Czech officials have been focusing the country’s EU presidency in strengthening the European economy. These talks just before the new year hope to address some trade issues as Europe continues to face challenges brought by the war in Ukraine, with members trying to diversify supply chains and reduce dependencies on hostile regimes such as Russia. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is also expected to attend to discuss mutual trade relations ahead of the third meeting of the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council.

What Else Matters

Residents in the Fengjing area of Shanghai, China, shop for groceries on a temporary access pass in April 2022, when coronavirus restrictions were in place
Residents in the Fengjing area of Shanghai, China, shop for groceries on a temporary access pass in April 2022,
when coronavirus restrictions were in place. (Photo: China News Network)

Coronavirus surge in China
A surge of coronavirus cases is underway in China and experts are worried the world’s most populated country may not be prepared to deal with it. The wave comes after China loosened its restrictions, including stepping back from its “zero Covid” policy, and is already leading to a spike in death tolls

Watch for: One example showcasing China’s new approach to dealing with coronavirus is the megacity Chongqing (population 31 million), where public sector employees are now clear to go to work even if “mildly ill” with the virus. It remains to be seen if that type of policy shift will lead to more cases, but Chinese authorities are working to ramp up vaccinations and bolster the health system. Still, a global health research institute at the University of Washington projected cases could peak around April, with the death toll possibly spiking to more than 322,000.

Afghanistan resumes public executions
An Afghan man was publicly executed on Dec. 7 in the southwestern Farah province, in the country’s first such instance since the Taliban retook power in August last year. The man executed had been accused of murder and theft in 2017 and was fatally shot by the alleged victim’s father under the supervision of Taliban officials. The execution follows a series of public floggings of both men and women accused of crimes such as adultery and running away from home. Afghan officials decried the subsequent international outcry and defended their stance by saying the execution follows the Islamic law of “qisas” which is interpreted as retributive justice. This allows for a perpetrator to serve punishment for a crime in the same manner as the said crime was committed. An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, and a life for a life. 

Watch for: In the weeks that followed the Taliban’s Kabul takeover last August, the group portrayed itself in a moderate image that promised a departure from its regressive practices, including the ones it utilized while previously in power between 1996 and 2001. These claims of a more moderate rule directly contradict Afghanistan’s reality which has seen a plethora of new restrictions placed on women, including, but not limited to, a total ban on education. Women are also required to wear head-to-toe clothing in public, are barred from entering gyms and parks and have been restricted from most fields of employment. Nearly a year and half since the takeover, the Afghan Taliban have appeared to drop all pretense of a non-oppressive rule, marking a shift in their governing approach.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Dec 23-30

Dec. 23

  • U.S. government funding deadline
  • Pakistan’s Imran Khan says his party will dissolve two local assemblies
  • Colombia ELN guerrilla group declares Christmas ceasefire

Dec. 24

  • U.K. rail strikes
  • Christmas Eve

Dec. 25

  • Christmas Day
  •  Deadline to form Nepal government

Dec. 30

  • Informal meeting of EU trade ministers

Dec. 31-Jan. 6 

Dec. 31

  • Germany stops buying Russian oil
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Pope Francis DR Congo and South Sudan visit
  • Stage of Dakar Rally 2022 begins
  • Local elections in Islamabad, Pakistan

Jan. 1

  • New Year’s Day
  • Border between Colombia and Venezuela fully reopens
  • Brazil’s president inaguarated 

Jan. 3

  • Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos starts multi-day state visit to China
  • Philadelphia schools to require masks

Jan. 7-13  

Jan. 7

  • Biden, Trudeau in Mexico

Jan. 8

  • Benin legislative elections

Jan. 9

  • Nigeria cash-withdrawal limit goes into effect
  • College Football Playoff National Championship

Jan. 10

  • France presents pension reform bill

Jan. 13

  • Czech Republic presidential elections

Jan. 14-20 

Jan. 16

  • World Economic Forum
  • World Future Energy Summit

Jan. 17

  • North Korea Supreme People’s Assembly session

Jan. 20

  • Start of electoral campaign in Tunisia

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