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World’s worst pandemic leaders

5 presidents and prime ministers who badly mishandled Covid-19.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko visits a hospital for Covid-19 patients, unmasked, in Minsk on November 27, 2020. Image: Andrei Stasevich\TASS via Getty Images

Covid-19 is notoriously hard to control, and political leaders are only part of the calculus when it comes to pandemic management. But some current and former world leaders have made little effort to combat outbreaks in their country, whether by downplaying the pandemic’s severity, disregarding science or ignoring critical health interventions like social distancing and masks. All of the men on this list committed at least one of those mistakes, and some committed all of them – with deadly consequences.

Narendra Modi of India

Sumit Ganguly, Indiana University

India is the new epicenter of the global pandemic, recording some 400,000 new cases per day by May 2021. However grim, this statistic fails to capture the sheer horror unfolding there. Covid-19 patients are dying in hospitals because doctors have no oxygen to give and no lifesaving drugs like remdesivir. The sick are turned away from clinics that have no free beds.

Many Indians blame one man for the country’s tragedy: Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In January 2021, Modi declared at a global forum that India had “saved humanity … by containing corona effectively.” In March, his health minister proclaimed that the pandemic was reaching an “endgame.” Covid-19 was actually gaining strength in India and worldwide – but his government made no preparations for possible contingencies, such as the emergence of a deadlier and more contagious Covid-19 variant.

Even as significant pockets of the country had not fully suppressed the virus, Modi and other members of his party held jampacked outdoor campaign rallies before April elections. Few attendees wore masks. Modi also allowed a religious festival that draws millions to proceed from January to March. Public health officials now believe the festival may have been a superspreader event and was “an enormous mistake.”

As Modi touted his successes last year, India – the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer – sent over 10 million vaccine doses to neighboring countries. Yet just 1.9% of India’s 1.3 billion people had been fully inoculated against Covid-19 by early May.

Modi and Bolsonaro shake hands

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are both accused of mishandling their countries’ Covid-19 outbreaks. Pavel Golovin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil

Elize Massard da Fonseca, Fundação Getulio Vargas and Scott L. Greer, University of Michigan

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro did not just fail to respond to Covid-19 – which he derides as a “little flu” – he actively worsened the crisis in Brazil.

Bolsonaro used his constitutional powers to interfere in the Health Ministry’s administrative matters, such as clinical protocols, data disclosure and vaccine procurement. He vetoed legislation that would have both mandated the use of masks in religious sites and compensated health professionals permanently harmed by the pandemic, for example. And he obstructed state government efforts to promote social distancing and used his decree power to allow many businesses to remain open as “essential,” including spas and gyms. Bolsonaro also aggressively promoted unproven medicines, notably hydroxychloroquine, to treat Covid-19 patients.

Bolsonaro used his public profile as president to shape the debate around the coronavirus crisis, fostering a false dilemma between economic catastrophe and social distancing and misrepresenting science. He has blamed Brazilian state governments, China and the World Health Organization for the Covid-19 crisis, and has never taken responsibility for managing his own country’s outbreak.

In December, Bolsonaro declared that he would not take the vaccine because of side effects. “If you turn into a crocodile, it’s your problem,” he said.

Bolsonaro’s pandemic mismanagement created conflict within his government. Brazil cycled through four health ministers in less than a year. Brazil’s uncontrolled outbreak gave rise to several new coronavirus variants, including the P.1 variant, which appears more contagious. Brazil’s Covid-19 transmission rate is finally starting to drop, but the situation is still worrisome.

Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus

Elizabeth J. King and Scott L. Greer, University of Michigan

Many countries around the world have responded to Covid-19 with tragically inadequate policies. However, we argue that the worse pandemic leaders are those handful who chose total denialism over ineffective action.

Alexander Lukashenko, the longtime authoritarian leader of Belarus, has never acknowledged the threat of Covid-19. Early in the pandemic, as other countries were enforcing lockdowns, Lukashenko opted not to implement any restrictive measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Instead, he claimed the virus could be prevented by drinking vodka, visiting the sauna and working in the fields. This denialism essentially left preventative measures and pandemic aid to individuals and crowdfunding campaigns.

Over the summer of 2020, Lukashenko stated that he had been diagnosed with Covid-19 but that he was asymptomatic, which allowed him to continue insisting that the virus was not a serious threat. Allegedly thwarting the disease and visiting Covid-19 hospitals without a mask also supported his desired image of a strong man.

Belarus has just started vaccination efforts, but Lukashenko says he won’t get vaccinated. Currently, fewer than 3% of Belarusians are inoculated against Covid-19.

Donald Trump of the United States

Dorothy Chin, University of California, Los Angeles

Trump is out of office, but his mishandling of the pandemic continues to have devastating long-term consequences on the United States – particularly on the health and welfare of communities of color.

Trump in front of a crowd

Trump at a campaign rally on Oct. 17, 2020, in Muskegon, Michigan, after recovering from Covid-19. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Trump’s early denial of the pandemic, active propagation of misinformation about mask-wearing and treatments and incoherent leadership harmed the country as a whole – but the outcome was much worse for some groups than others. Communities of color suffered disproportionate illness and deaths. Although African Americans and Latinos make up only 31% of the U.S. population, for example, they account for over 55% of Covid-19 cases. Indigenous Americans were hospitalized 3.5 times more and suffered 2.4 times the mortality rate of whites.

Unemployment rates are also disproportionate. During the worst of the U.S. pandemic, they soared to 17.6% for Latino Americans, 16.8% for African Americans and 15% for Asian Americans, compared with 12.4% for white Americans.

These crushing gaps amplified existing inequities such as poverty, housing instability and quality of schooling – and will likely continue to do so for some time to come. For example, while the overall U.S. economy shows signs of recovery, minority groups have not made equivalent progress.

Finally, Trump’s blame of China for Covid-19 – which included such racial epithets as calling the virus the “kung flu” – immediately preceded a nearly twofold increase in attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the past year. This disturbing trend shows no signs of abating.

The Trump administration supported the country’s initial development of the vaccine, an achievement few world leaders can claim. But the misinformation and anti-science rhetoric he broadcast continues to compromise America’s path out of the pandemic. Latest polling suggests 24% of all Americans and 41% of Republicans say they will not get vaccinated.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico

Salvador Vázquez del Mercado, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas

With 9.2% of its Covid-19 patients dying from the disease, Mexico has the highest case fatality rate in the world. Recent estimates show that it has likely suffered 617,000 deaths – on par with the U.S. and India, both countries with much larger populations.

A combination of factors contributed to Mexico’s prolonged, extreme Covid-19 outbreaks. And inadequate national leadership was one of them.

Throughout the pandemic, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sought to minimize the gravity of the situation in Mexico. In the very beginning, he resisted calls to enact a nationwide lockdown and continued holding rallies nationwide before eventually, on March 23, 2020, Mexico shuttered for two months. He frequently refused to wear a mask.

Mexico's president speaks at a lectern on a stage with a small crowd of government officials sitting nearby

López Obrador, maskless, announces a national lockdown on March 23, 2020, after weeks of encouraging Mexicans to keep up their regular routines. Adrián Monroy/Medios y Media/Getty Images

Having inherited an underfunded patchwork of health services when he took office in 2018, López Obrador increased health-related expenditures during the pandemic only slightly. Experts said hospital budgets are insufficient to the enormous task facing them.

Even before the pandemic broke out, López Obrador’s policy of extreme fiscal austerity – in place since 2018 – had made tackling a health crisis much more difficult by significantly limiting the Covid-19 financial aid available to citizens and businesses. That, in turn, aggravated the economic shock caused by the pandemic in Mexico, feeding the need to keep the economy open all last year, well into the ferocious winter second wave, from which Mexico is only beginning to emerge.

Eventually, another lockdown became inevitable. Mexico shut down again briefly in December 2020.

Today, mask-wearing is up and Mexico has fully vaccinated 10% of its population, compared with 1% in neighboring Guatemala. Things are improving, but Mexico’s road to recovery is long.

Sumit Ganguly, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations, Indiana University; Dorothy Chin, Associate Research Psychologist, University of California, Los Angeles; Elizabeth J King, Associate Professor in Health Behavior and Health Education in the School of Public Health, University of Michigan; Elize Massard da Fonseca, Assistant Professor, Brazilian School of Public Administration, Fundação Getulio Vargas; Salvador Vázquez del Mercado, Conacyt Research Professor, National Laboratory of Public Policy, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, and Scott L. Greer, Professor, Global Health Management and Policy and Political Science, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.


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Have the awards already been awarded or can we still enter our esteemed comrades? Zweli Mkize, NDZ, Bheki Cele and “The Family Guy” Ramaphosa. They messed up royally but then again… that is what one would expect.
They seem to be aiming to maximize the misery they can inflict on the population whilst maximizing the theft of resources.

What is funny. We all need to practice social distance(the virus is so contagious & spread easily), but to test for the virus, they need to put the swop so deep in you, to make sure they get a sample.
Then they also run the PCR test for 35 cycles…Now countries that have a good vaccination rate, started to run only 25 cycles during the PCR test
Come on people….open your eyes, this is a “plandemic” for control over you and freedom (to remove your freedom).

Trump was definitely the worst.

I hope my question doesn’t get misinterpreted (I am against the wearing of masks); but to what extent can the wearing of masks – daily – cause cerebral hypoxia?

According to WHO, it’s fine for prolonged periods, but shouldn’t be worn during exercising. The Facebook posts claiming Hypoxia, I’ll take with a pinch of salt.

Oh my!! WHO is a confused entity. I am not sure if anything it says is worth taking seriously.

Looking at lamestream media and the reaction of the “general” population, quite a large extent I’d say.


Wokeism tripe from champagne socialists

Trump accelerated vaccines development resulting in delivery before Biden entered the WH

Belarus may have a dictator but it exposure to covid was at an a low considering the size of the country and sparse population

Sheer size of Brazil, sheer size of its population, doubtful any NGO let alone organisation would succeed like tiny Switzerland. Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of Brazilians annually

This article is hype rubbish

Cyril Ramaphosa, Zweli Mkhize, and the ANC just stole all the funds.

And banned cigarettes. That made such a difference, guys. Hooray for science.

This is one of those cases where efforts and results can be confused as well as plenty of hindsight.

You couldn’t state at the beginning of the pandemic what the correct course of action was, nor could you apply the same rules to each country. It’s a bit disingenous to state that these 5 presidents made the wrong choices at the time, when there wasn’t any indication of length of the pandemic. Their mistake was probably the arrogance displayed that they were right, more than the choice that they made.

This comment deserves so much love.

Obviously the leftists had to find a way to critise Trump. As if old senile Joe is any better.

Biden is a lot better judging by the fact that he has hit 63% approval rating in his first 100 days where as Trump never reached 50%..ha ha haaaa

are you high? nobody goes to his events. mind you, he does not even speak anymore
Tell me what he actually does?

Are you one of those guys who have to pretend that you are a girl so that you can compete in sports against women in order to win something for a change? If so, I understand why you love the Democrats and hate Trump. Shame, that is sad.

63% approval ratings published by the same pollsters who said Killary Klintoon had a 95% chance of winning the 2016 election.

Shees you libtards are dumb and deluded.

Oh boy, the ex-Rhodesian Trump brigade are out en masse. No use replying to people who clearly are no friends of reality!

And having 64 Terms that Describe Gender Identity is “reality”? It is very simple: either you are male or female. End of story.


Calm down and go and change your tin foil hat!

If they don’t work then why do doctors wear them when operating in theater?

Surgeons wear masks to prevent coughing or sneezing into open wounds.


It’s “dissent”, not descent”.

I completely understand your frustration. The mask “debate” has been all over the place, and here we are: still not certain about its effectiveness. All I know is the American CDC said if you get vaccinated then the mask is no longer warranted, except maybe to prevent you from coughing up your stuff onto someone else.

Strange article after the Fauci e-mail dumps.

As for Lukashenko.

“Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said last month via Belarusian Telegraph Agency, BelTA., that World Bank and IMF offered him a bribe of $940 million USD in the form of “Covid Relief Aid.” In exchange for $940 million USD, the World Bank and IMF demanded that the President of Belarus:

• imposed “extreme lockdown on his people”
• force them to wear face masks
• impose very strict curfews
• impose a police state
• crash the economy

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko REFUSED the offer and stated that he could not accept such an offer and would put his people above the needs of the IMF and World Bank. This is NOT a conspiracy. You may research this yourself. He actually said this!”

Exactly- this article that was published is fake news. Not even a journalist name behind it.
You are spot on with the bribe the Belarus president was offered and rejected.
SA was offer one too and guess what, ANC took the ~$4.5b and wasted it and put 60% of people out of a job.

A more accurate title would have been – 5 leaders who attempted to act in their own nations sovereign best interests in the face of the latest financial assault on the common man by that self-elected clique of global 3pst3in buddies.

Always remember, he didn’t kill himself.

End of comments.





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