Image: Sofía Jaimes Barreto
As we approach 800,000 COVID-19 cases all over the world, it’s evident that some governments are controlling the pandemic better than others. The successful experiences in places like South Korea, Singapore or Taiwan contrast the reports from most European countries, the United States or even China, revealing a truth that some might find painful: Honesty, trust and a science-based decision-making process, rather than ideology, will defeat this disease.
China, the place where this all started almost four months ago, was the first country to respond to the epidemic, but the Chinese authorities’ refusal to admit that a sanitary emergency was brewing in the middle of Wuhan costed the country (and the world) valuable time. Instead of paying attention to the concern of local doctors, authorities dismissed their warnings and harassed those who dared to speak. When the Chinese government decided to act, the disease had already left Wuhan.
Honesty, trust and a science-based decision-making process, rather than ideology, will defeat this disease.
Three months later, and using draconian social distancing measures that have effectively paralyzed one of the biggest industrial centers in the world, the Chinese Communist Party celebrated the apparently successful containment of the epidemic, as it started to prepare to lift the most stringent aspects of the imposed lockdown on Wuhan. The decision comes after China reported only 54 new cases in the province last Friday, all of them imported. In the following days, images of people getting back to Wuhan’s train station have made it to media outlets all around the world.
Nonetheless, China’s numbers should be analyzed carefully, as there’s already a shadow on their fidelity: Authorities aren’t reporting positive asymptomatic patients, which according to some models could represent up to 90% of all infections. This strongly suggests that domestic transmission in the city has not been interrupted and raises concerns about a potential second wave after the lockdown is lifted. Similarly, large numbers of urns being shipped to the city and reported in Chinese social media raise doubts on the official number of deaths.
In Venezuela, where 135 cases and 3 deaths have already been reported, the Bolivarian Revolution has used the Armed Forces and paramilitary groups to impose quarantines in impoverished areas of Caracas. Our country currently holds the lowest case per million people rate in the region, but this number should be interpreted very carefully, since we don’t have any information regarding the total tests performed in the country and it’s safe to assume that there many more undiagnosed cases, especially considering that one of the patients who died started showing symptoms almost two weeks before the first couple of cases in the country were detected.
In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s reluctance to impose any form of social distancing and his constant downplaying of the crisis have been heavily criticized and are likely to have consequences in the coming weeks. Surprisingly (or not), on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, Jair Bolsonaro has behaved pretty much the same way. The Brazilian president, who has accused the press of “fear-mongering,” has called COVID-19 “a little flu,” while urging businesses to reopen as fast as possible and regional governors impose quarantines by themselves.
The situation has escalated to the point where political opponents demand Bolsonaro’s resignation while a federal judge banned the government from campaigning against quarantine measures. This has produced bizarre, contrasting scenes in Brazilian cities, with Bolsonaro supporters driving through the streets honking to celebrate businesses that remained open, while in a fashion similar to the one seen in Venezuela, criminal gangs impose curfews in favelas. Brazil has confirmed more than 4,900 cases, more than any other country in the region.
The new coronavirus doesn’t understand ideological differences and it highlights the inherent flaws of different political models.
A similar situation is occurring in the United States. President Donald Trump has imposed social distancing measures, but tweeted last week that the U.S. should be open for business as soon as possible, claiming that the “cure could not be worse than the disease,” following reports indicating the American economy could shrink up to 24% following the lockdown, and unemployment could reach a daunting 20%. The country has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with 163,000 cases, and the White House ended up admitting that containment measures will be needed at least until April 30th.
Sweden, the only European country to abstain from imposing a lockdown so far, is already having a significantly higher death toll than neighbouring countries like Denmark or Norway.
The new coronavirus doesn’t understand ideological differences and it highlights the inherent flaws of different political models, either authoritarianism and opaque management of information, or economy-centered views and unequal access to health services, defining traits of both right and left-wing governments that make an already difficult situation considerably worse.