In Python asyncio land it's always a bit of a hassle when you have existing code which runs in sync mode which needs to be retrofitted to run in async, but it's usually doable -- in many cases, slapping async on the top of a bunch of definitions and adding the needed await statements where needed does the trick -- even though it's not always that easy.
Now, unfortunately a debugger has no such option. You see, a debugger needs to work on the boundaries of callbacks which are called from python (i.e.: it will usually do a busy wait from a line event from a callback registered in sys.settrace which is always called as a sync call).
Still, users still want to do some evaluation in the breakpoint context which would await... What now? Classic questions of how to go from async to sync say this is not possible.
This happens because to run something in asynchronous fashion an asyncio loop must be used to run it, but alas, the current loop is paused in the breakpoint and due to how asyncio is implemented in Python the asyncio loop is not reentrant, so, we can't just ask the loop to keep on processing at a certain point -- note that not all loops are equal, so, this is mostly an implementation detail on how CPython has implemented it, but unless we want to monkey-patch many things to make it reentrant, this would be a no-no... also, even if possible, it's not possible in asyncio to force a given coroutine to execute, rather we schedule it and asyncio decides when it'll run afterwards).
My initial naive attempt was just creating a new event loop, but again, CPython gets in the way because 2 event loops can't even coexist in the same thread. Then I thought about recreating the asyncio loop and got a bit further (up to being able to evaluate an asyncio.sleep coroutine), but after checking the asyncio AbstractEventLoop it became clear that the API is just too big to reimplement safely (it's not just about implementing the loop, it's also about implementing network I/O such as getnameinfo, create_connection, etc).
In the end the solution implemented for the debugger is that to support await constructs for evaluation, a new thread is created with a new event loop and that event loop in that new thread will execute the coroutine (with the context of the paused frame passed to that thread for the evaluation).
This is not perfect as there are some cons, for instance, evaluating the code in a thread can mean that some evaluations may not work because some frameworks such as qt consider the UI thread as special and won't work properly, checks for the current thread won't match the thread paused and probably a bunch of other things, but I guess it's a reasonable tradeoff vs not having it at all as it should work in the majority of cases.
Keep an eye open for the next release as it'll be possible to await coroutines in the debugger evaluation and watches ;)
p.s.: For VSCode users this will also be available in debugpy.