Coronavirus is a stress test that many world leaders fail


If a leader has weaknesses, the new coronavirus will expose them. It is too early to assess countries on the basis of their overall response to the pandemic, as the life cycle of the health crisis can take years. Still, it is clear that some prepared and acted in the critical early stages of the epidemic, while others did not respond immediately, Bloomberg writes in its analysis.

In China, the new virus has exposed the secrecy of local authorities and President Xi Jinping. The approach of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson not only lost valuable time, but also led to his coronavirus infection. In the United States, President Donald Trump’s chaotic style of governing seems to have hampered a rapid and coordinated response at the federal level.

“There has been a debate for centuries about whether the leaders’ decisions matter to history, with the first few months of 2020 proving that this is the case,” said Francois Heisburg, a former French Foreign and Defense Ministry official and now an adviser. of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

To date, more than 330,000 people have died as a result of coronavirus infection, global supply chains have been destroyed and millions of jobs have been destroyed. A Bloomberg Economics estimate based on optimistic recovery scenarios predicts the pandemic will wipe out $ 6 trillion from the global economy.

However, most of the political effects of the mistakes are not visible at the moment, but on the contrary, the popularity of the leaders is growing – a model known during the war. But this protective effect begins to disappear.

On Wednesday, the leader of the UK’s opposition party, Kier Starmer, attacked Johnson in parliament for being late in protecting social care homes from Covid-19, for being too late to expand testing and now for delaying the introduction of tracking and isolation policies that helped Germany and South Korea to control the pandemic.

The contrast between Johnson’s early efforts to fight the virus and Germany’s, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is remarkable. The virus was detected in both countries in late January, but by early March, a time when Johnson was still doing a show, shaking hands with crowds of people, Germany was urgently providing security equipment and developing mass-produced tests. The number of Covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants is now four times higher in the UK than in Germany.

Beyond the Atlantic, the crisis has strengthened the president’s tendency to reject science, politicize even the most technical issues and institutions, and avoid international cooperation. Trump often diverts attention to other issues with up to 126 tweets a day.

It is unclear whether voters will see the resulting chaos as a failure on Trump’s part when deciding whether to re-elect him on November 3. In a recent Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday, 50 percent of registered voters said they supported Democrat Joe Biden’s proposed nomination against 39 percent for Trump.

China’s response has revealed two major weaknesses in Xi Jinping and the one-party system he leads, said Willie Lam, an assistant professor at the Center for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The first is a lack of transparency – from lower-level officials who are reluctant to pass on bad news upstream for fear of hurting their careers, to Xi and other party leaders determined to declare success.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained strong popular support so far, even as the economic hardships of a 50-day blockade of the nation began to be felt.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continues to deny the seriousness of the virus, while the number of those infected in the country is growing rapidly.

Leadership is just one of the factors that can explain the huge differences in the impact that Covid-19 has in different countries. But, of course, there are other factors, such as recent experience with such epidemics – a reason why countries in Asia and Australia tend to be more confident in their responses. Other factors include age demographics, population density, health system capacity and culture.

Still, leadership matters. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s reputation in crisis management is deteriorating, not necessarily because of Covid-19. Anger in the country is rising because of the damage to the economy, with a forecast of a 5.5% contraction this year. As the government budget already suffers from low oil revenues, exacerbated by Russia’s price war with Saudi Arabia, and sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin is unable or unwilling to release enough funds to stop the economic shock.

A recent survey by the independent agency Levada showed support for Putin of 59%, down 63% a month earlier, its lowest estimate since 2000.

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