The 3 Best Corona Leaders… and the 3 Worst

Let’s start with the worst.

3. Boris Johnson – UK

Best Corona gaff: I was at a hospital where there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody’. 

The quote above sums up pretty well Boris’ attitude of British exceptionalism in the face of Coronavirus. The virus may be causing havoc everywhere else, but it can’t hurt us – we’re British! His lack of any kind of policy or agenda in mid March, those crucial two weeks where we saw with horror what was unfolding in Italy, Spain and France is largely responsible for the UK  on course to have the worst death toll in Europe. 

Despite our headstart on many of our European neighbours, Johnson failed to heed the advice of the WHO – test, track, isolate. To be fair, this advice was probably discussed at the series of emergency COBRA meetings that Boris missed whilst on holiday, so we should be more sympathetic. Corona who?

Instead of heeding the quite good advice from the WHO, Johnson decided to listen to Dominic Cummings, (who is interestingly enough not a scientist), and tackle the problem of Corona with a herd immunity strategy. And so, on the same weekend most European leaders banned any kind of event with over 50 people, Johnson gave the go ahead to Cheltenham, which had more than 150,000 attendees over 4 days. On top of that, there was absolutely no method of tracing people who had returned from countries with high cases of Covid-19. My friend returned from Italy the day after the entire country went into lockdown, and strolled through customs without a single question. The more people get it, the better! 

Johnson finally reversed the herd immunity strategy he’d been pursuing, after scientists sat him down and modelled out the death toll should he continue with this. According to reports, this number would surpass 200,000, if social distancing measures were not introduced. But by now, we’d lost our head start. And this poor preparation has translated into inadequate testing and PPE, and  almost 30,000 recorded deaths. 

Last week, Johnson made his grand return, stood in front of a podium and proudly claimed that: ‘other countries are looking at our current success.’ I’m not too sure which world Boris is living in, or maybe those early nights with a newborn have rendered him totally delusional. But having the highest death toll in Europe is a strange indication of success. 

Izzi from Gogglebox summed it up nicely –  ‘Success?! It’s been an absolute shitshow.’ 


2. Jair Bolsonaro – Brazil 

Best Corona gaff: On whether Brazil will go into lockdown: “I don’t think it will reach that point. Brazilians… They don’t get anything. You see the guy jumping into the sewer there, going out, diving, right? And nothing happens to him.”

What can you say – the man’s a nutter. Unfortunately, this nutter happens to be president of a population of 210 million. 

I don’t think many had particularly high hopes for Bolsonaro’s Coronavirus strategy. The far right Brazilian President’s entire career has been plagued by controversies – racism, misogyny, homophobia, championing human rights abuses, and destruction of the Amazon. The list is too long – for a full rundown, click here. Pretty shocking. 

From day one Bolsonaro has refused to treat Coronavirus seriously, repeatedly dismissing it as ‘just a cold’, and criticising ‘mass media hysteria.’ On Tuesday, when questioned about the rising death toll, he replied: ‘So what? I’m Sorry, what do you want me to do?’ 

Bolsoaro hasn’t completely been resting on his laurels since the outbreak. He has been doing some things – attending anti lockdown protests for example, promoting unproven drugs on social media, and firing his health minister for supporting social distancing measures. 

Bolsonaro’s dangerous response to covid-19, refusal to heed any scientific advice and repeated prioritisation of the economy over public health has so far resulted in 92,000 cases, and 6,500 deaths. This number looks set to explode, as the virus makes its way through the favelas. But sadly, despite impeachment threats, Bolsonaro isn’t yet showing any signs of changing his tune. 


1. Donald Trump

Best Corona gaff:  And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”

To be honest, this was an incredibly close one to call. Bolsonaro so almost took the top spot as the world’s worst Corona leader… but then Trump, on national television, told the world how he thought injecting yourself with bleach might be the revolutionary cure to Coronavirus we’d all been waiting for. 

But it’s not just ridiculous comments like this that have landed Trump the top spot. His entire Coronavirus response has been strikingly similar to Bolsonaro’s – in other words, and an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. But one that has resulted in far more fatalities; the US death toll currently stands at a staggering 71,000. In February, Trump predicted that total deaths would be ‘near zero’. 

So what went so wrong for him?

If Boris dragged his feet, Trump crawled. In the 10 weeks where he downplayed the seriousness of the virus in the hope that it would miraculously disappear overnight, Trump failed to prepare tests, ventilators or PPE. Health care staff in New York, the worst hit city in the world, have been going to hospitals in bin bags. Promises that America would be ‘re – opened by Easter’ have underlined his entire approach – get the economy back on track, whatever the cost. But of course none of this is Trump’s fault. In March, despite the spiralling death toll, in another circus of a press conference he stated: ‘I don’t take responsibility at all.’ His list of scapegoats range from the Democrats, to China and the WHO. Anybody but himself, obviously. 

Coronavirus has undoubtedly been Trump’s biggest test (and failure) to date. It is not Trump’s fault that the virus arrived in America. But it is his fault that so many have died. His disastrous response – from failure to act, to verbally attacking journalists holding him to account and withdrawing funding to the WHO has confirmed (not that we needed it) his arrogance and ineptitude as President. 

Gogglebox, yet again sum it up more poetically: ‘he really hasn’t got a fucking scooby, does he.’ 

And now for the good…


3. Angela Merkel – Germany

Angela Merkel is a scientist. Not only that, she is a pragmatic, intelligent and rational politician. This combination helps explain Germany’s success in their Coronavirus approach. 

Germany has become the poster child for Coronavirus in Europe. Top of the class. The envy of much of Europe – what are they doing that we aren’t?

The answer lies in Germany’s forward thinking and early preparation. In January, while Covid-19 was just a faint blip on Johnson’s radar, Merkel was busy preparing tests. Anyone who showed symptoms was tested immediately, and anyone they had been in contact with were tracked and isolated. Their quick movement from the start with their trace and track strategy looks to have worked –  German death rate stands at 1.6% compared to Italy at 12% and Britain at 10%. 

Germany has lived up to their ruthlessly efficient reputation, moving fast and effectively after recognising the threat of Covid-19. Most importantly, Merkel listened to early advice. In March, the WHO reinforced their golden piece of advice: ‘test, test, test.’ By mid March, Germany had tested 400,000 citizens; the UK at this point had tested only 40,000.

A department of health source told the Sunday Times: ‘we could have been Germany’. Indeed, Britain and Germany registered their first corona death within 2 days of each other, but since then we have taken wildly divergent paths.  If we’d have had a Merkel in charge – a listener, a scientist and a rationalist – maybe we could have indeed been a Germany. 


2. Tsai – Ing Wen – Taiwan 

Taiwan’s leader, Tsai – Ing Wen’s handling of coronavirus has been nothing short of incredible. Despite Taiwan’s proximity to mainland China, the country has registered less than 450 cases, and suffered only 26 deaths. Taiwan’s lack of cases has meant that the country has escaped lockdown measures; schools, restaurants and shops remain open, people are going into the office, and citizens can socialise freely with friends and family. Taiwan’s economy will not suffer the same way most others will.  In fact, with the exception of no foreign travel, life for the Taiwanese is not much different to how it was before covid-19 caused such havoc. 

How did Wen achieve this? 

Again, her success lies in swift action. Taiwan was one of the first countries to close its borders, and anyone returning home from outside the country was tracked, to ensure they abided to strict quarantine measures. Masks and other PPE were prepared – but as the country currently has no use for this equipment, it has donated 10 million masks to the US and Europoe. 

Taiwan is not the only Asian country to have come off relatively lightly against Coronavirus. Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore have also managed to contain the virus much more effectively than the US and Europe. A friend who used to live in Hong Kong cited the 2003 SARs outbreak as the underlying cause of this. These countries, who had witnessed the devastation of a pandemic only 17 years previously, have all acted with clinical decisiveness. Before the full extent of Covid-19 could be felt, Wen and other leaders enacted the lessons they had learnt in 2003 to ensure there would be no repeat. The memories of SARs has clearly taught these countries valuable lessons in fighting pandemics – lessons which have effectively been put into practice this time round. 


1. Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand 

Last week, Jacinda Ardern became the envy of politicians everywhere, by speaking the magic words: ‘we have eliminated Coronavirus.’ New Zealand have had no new cases of Coronavirus for two days. Clearly, Ardern’s strategy seems to be working.  

A common theme is occurring here. New Zealand implemented some of the earliest and strictest lockdown measures in mid march, when they had only 6 recorded cases. On top of that, Ardern also enforced an extensive testing and contact tracing policy. Sound familiar? Only in the good leaders list. 

But it’s not just Ardern’s successful implementation of social distancing measures that have earned her the top spot – it’s how she implemented them. Ardern led her country through this crisis with empathy, honesty and perspective. She treats her citizens with respect, ‘checking in’ on Facebook, speaking candidly about the exit plan, and even taking a pay cut along with the rest of her government, in solidarity with those who can no longer work.  

As a result of all this, Ardern’s popularity has soared. She currently holds a personal approval rating of 65% – showing that  having a brilliantly executed policy and being a thoroughly decent human being , really does pay off. 

To sum up…

Being a woman does not automatically make you a good leader. But women are undoubtedly showing the world how to effectively contain the virus. 

The main difference between the women in this list and their male counterparts? 

Merkel, Wen and Ardern listened and treated the virus seriously from the start. They learnt lessons from the past, and from other countries suffering the implications of the virus. They listened to advice on how to contain Covid-19, and enacted the test, track and isolate strategy quickly and efficiently. As a result, they have started to re – open their countries and economies.  

In contrast, Johnson, Bolsonaro and Trump have all at some point dismissed Covid-19 as nothing more than flu, which would not affect their countries as it had others. Ironically, their arrogance and eagerness to prioritise their economies will cause far more long term damage, socially and economically.

One last reason why as to why these three women have been more successful – they are far more qualified and capable of running a country. Merkel is a quantum physicist, Wen a law professor, and Ardern a grassroots campaigner. None of them were born into families of big money or power. As a result, they have had to work a lot harder to get to where they are now. Not only will this have taught them valuable political skills, but also other skills needed to lead a country through a crisis – empathy, rationale, science and of course the ability to listen.  



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