World Leaders Failed to Take Action Against COVID-19

World+Leaders+Failed+to+Take+Action+Against+COVID-19

Zinnia Wery

Elaina Martin, Opinions Editor

 The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has painted a grim picture of the world’s political priorities. Despite the incoming threat of a pandemic, country after country failed to protect their citizens, including several world leaders, namely China, the United Kingdom, and the United States. If one thing has become clear during this crisis, it’s that the world’s leaders are poorly equipped to deal with something truly threatening.

    China dealt with the virus in a way only an authoritarian regime could: by suppressing initial accounts of the virus, silencing those who spoke out against it, and purposely not revealing how many people had died. The virus originated in China, in December of 2019, where according to the BBC, China silenced the doctor who saw the initial case: “Dr Li, 34, tried to send a message to fellow medics about the outbreak at the end of December. Three days later police paid him a visit and told him to stop” (bbc.com). The BBC also stated that Dr. Li was one of eight doctors forced to sign a statement saying they would “stop spreading rumors” (bbc.com). This only begins China’s gross mishandling of COVID-19; had they not forced doctors to keep quiet about the novel virus, then it might not have reached pandemic status and fewer lives would have been lost. Even worse, China has been refusing to accept help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, despite private pleas from Chinese doctors stating they need outside help. No one can explain why China refused help, but “…some experts say that outsiders could discover aspects of the outbreak that are embarrassing to China: for example, the country has not revealed how many of its doctors and nurses have died fighting the disease” (nytimes.com). It’s evident that China’s mismanagement of this crisis reflected not only poor outcomes for its citizens, but for the world as a whole.

    UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to take the threats of the virus seriously, insisting that closing British businesses was wholly unnecessary (nytimes.com). According to the Guardian, he even went as far to say that he would still greet COVID-19 patients with a handshake, despite how contagious the disease was. It finally took an open letter, signed not only by Britons, but by 33 experts, including some from Harvard and Cornell universities. In this letter, “…nearly 350 scientists warned that the British approach was putting lives at risk. [It stated that] ‘additional and more restrictive measures should be taken immediately, as it is already happening in other countries across the world’” (nytimes.com). Shortly after, Johnson begrudgingly announced enforced shelter-in-place plans. He contracted COVID-19 and was recently released from intensive care, proving that even the most arrogant of officials aren’t invincible.

   At a recent news briefing, President Donald Trump stated, “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before”; however, a drill conducted by the White House last year suggests otherwise. Dubbed the Crimson Contagion, the drill’s “virus” was remarkably similar to COVID-19, according to the New York Times. The White House failed the drill on all accounts, exposing their unpreparedness for disaster (nytimes.com). This follows the Trump administration’s 2018 dissolvement of the White House’s Pandemic Office which, according to the Washington Post, was an organization permitted to “…do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the US government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic” (washingtonpost.com). Finally, Reuters reported that the “…Trump administration eliminated a key American public health position in Beijing intended to help detect disease outbreaks in China” merely months ago, effectively isolating the US from information necessary to protect public health (reuters.com). Between the failed drill, the Pandemic office, and the eliminated health position, it almost appears as though Trump was purposely stripping the United States of any protection it had against COVID-19.

   Furthermore, Trump himself is a menace to society as he exudes falsehoods about the virus and its statistics in order to promote good public opinion of himself. This could be seen immediately in the beginning stages of the pandemic, when Trump blatantly lied that the crisis would be over in a few days: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine” (nytimes.com). It wasn’t fine. Even as the pandemic began rapidly spreading across the US, Trump only retreated further into disillusionment, propagating that the pandemic wasn’t a threat, most likely to uphold his reputation. He even went as far as to assert that passengers of a cruise ship should not be allowed to disembark, in order to prevent the amount of US cases from rising, according to Newsweek magazine (newsweek). None of this should come as a surprise, since this parallels Trump’s behaviour during his entire presidency, as the Atlantic stated: “Trumpist media outlets, by contrast, have created a bubble of unreality where nothing but the most effusive praise of Trump is acceptable… and where the only facts that exist are those that reflect well on the president” (theatlantic).

    Not every country massacred attempts at containing the virus. For instance, the Guardian reported that following China’s infection, South Korea “…took rapid, intrusive measures against COVID-19… Strict quarantine measures and testing have helped to curb [the virus]” (theguardian). It’s true that in certain cases, rapid action was taken; however, most countries failed to realize the seriousness of this threat. Junior Omar Vazquez stated, “Our government could have done a better job at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Actions could have been taken to lower the spread, even if it wasn’t an immediate issue.”

   The virus has exposed the darkest side of politics and has pushed some of the most powerful people in the world to lie to and mislead their citizens, forcing average people to underestimate the true magnitude of COVID-19, often resulting in dire consequences. Unfortunately, this means that society is going to take a lot longer to heal than it would have if the world’s political leaders had accepted the situation and taken action rather than focus on protecting their reputations.