By Hassan Elsebai
June 8, 2020
The Coronavirus death toll now exceeds one hundred thousand in the United States and is far ahead of every other country with respect to both deaths and confirmed cases. Followed by the UK with almost 40,000 deaths(June 1st). Italy and Brazil take third and fourth place, respectively. To understand how we got to this point it is imperative to examine the early actions taken by these countries’ leadership.
the U.S., the U.K., and Brazil—all three of which are currently run by a conservative government or administration— have been criticized for failing to act in both a responsible and timely manner.
President Trump insists the U.S, is “leading the way” in combatting the pandemic, and a role model for other countries to emulate. But the U.S. had fumbled an opportunity to act fast after grave reports of the COVID-19 death toll emerged out of Wuhan and Italy before the virus spread to the rest of the world. Trump in late February called the Coronavirus a Democrat “hoax.”
The federal government was slow to react and introduce central policy in the early stages of the pandemic. Individual states were given the responsibility of shutting down. Testing and contact tracing—the most robust methods of containing the spread of the virus— were absent from the federal policy. Trump promoted the use of a certain medication even when many medical experts said there was no proof of its effectiveness.
The early U.K. response was ambivalent. The leadership on Downing Street was still wrapping their heads around Brexit and clearly had no organized plan for the pandemic. Boris Johnson’s early statements assured there would be no ‘Wuhan style’ lockdowns. Talks arose of an unconventional ‘herd immunity’ approach by the U.K. in a unique attempt to flatten the curve. Top U.K. officials and cabinet members continued to underplay the severity of the Coronavirus.
On March 18, Johnson announced the closure of all schools. All restaurants and bars were ordered to close on March 20th, long after other nations imposed their own shutdowns. A former cabinet minister called it a “screeching u-turn.” Prime Minister Johnson finally took advice from the scientific community but only after putting his country in a dangerously precarious position and before he himself would contract the Coronavirus.
The Greek newspaper Ethnos described Johnson as “more dangerous than coronavirus”, saying one of the crisis’s greatest tragedies was that “incompetent leaders” such as Johnson and Donald Trump were “at the helm at a time of such emergency”.
Brazil has seen a steep increase in cases and is expected to be —if not already— the world’s most infected country. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro like Trump and Johnson, is characterized by the adjectives: populist and conservative. Another thing they all have in common is their skepticism of science and early action. Bolsonaro has been reluctant to implement shutdowns or any social distancing guidelines while the countries healthcare system struggles to fight the virus and administer testing.
Sweeping poverty and extreme inequality further debilitate Brazil’s healthcare system and catalyze the spread of the virus, in a country rampant with favelas where social distancing is virtually impossible.
Andy Slavitt, Obama’s former health official, drew comparisons between the U.S. and Brazil’s handling of the pandemic “Brazil is [a lesson] in what the U.S. would look like if Trump had been allowed to continue to ignore the outbreak as he was through mid-March”
The Trump administration, and the far-right, have long put business profits over common sense and public health. Skepticism of the scientific community manifests itself in Trump’s policies through deregulation. The New York Times writes “The president’s COVID-19 response has extended the administration’s longstanding practice of undermining scientific expertise for political purposes.” Environmental concerns are thrown out the window and the EPA is continuously gutted.
Many countries have exemplified proper remedies to combat the spread of the virus. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, Germany, and New Zealand had brought in controls on travelers from infected regions and strict contact tracing to help understand who could have been exposed, inform them, and require self-isolation. Face masks became widespread in east Asia, long before it was recommended elsewhere.
Germany’s Angela Merkel has been praised for her effective leadership since the start of the pandemic. Germany has been hailed for its model response for introducing early testing and consistent planning. The German Health Ministry has said that it was testing 80,000 people per week in early March, and about 400,000 tests per week in April. Early testing coupled with Germany’s robust public health infrastructure made the country better equipped to handle a crisis.
New Zealand has reportedly ‘eliminated’ COVID-19 from the country and has begun returning to ‘normal.’ The nation accomplished this by installing an early and aggressive lockdown followed by effectively managing its borders, contact tracing, testing, and surveillance.
Now, compare these leaders and stories with the populist strongmen using the crisis to spread messages of authoritarianism, blame others, and demonize journalists.
Many experts have stated that the U.S.’s severe death toll was avoidable. Had the United States followed a timely, scientific, and central approach, the COVID-19 death toll would not be as high as it is today.
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- Environmental Integrity: A government watchdog that reports and combats any environmental deregulation on the part of government officials.
- Health Policy Watch: Reports on global health policy. Transparent reporting highlights important government responses to infectious disease outbreaks and other health concerns.