The coronavirus pandemic has seen leaders across the globe attempt to control the spread of the virus in their home nation, all with varied methods and levels of success.
Prior to the pandemic, the Global Health Security Index was released in October 2019. This revealed how prepared countries were to handle a significant disease outbreak.
Each nation was given a score decided using various criteria, such as how quickly they would respond and how effectively the health care system would “treat the sick and protect health workers”. The nation ranked first was the U.S. and the United Kingdom came second.
This finding would have once been unsurprising. However, these two countries were by June 2020 two of the world’s worst at handling COVID-19.
Excess deaths are those that fall above the usual weekly average. The U.S. had 273,000 excess deaths by September 2020. The UK had 67,500.
The poor handling of the pandemic in the United States has been widely reported in the U.K. The first American death from COVID-19 came in February, when the White House was continuing to deny that the nation was facing a health crisis.
The moment that defined what a failure the U.S. government’s handling of the pandemic came recently, when COVID-19 infected the President and much of his inner circle
President Trump did accept the state of emergency in March; however, him referring to coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus” demonstrated his ignorance.
Enemies were then made of the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.), Joe Biden and Democratic governors who, along with China, were victims of the President’s attempts to deflect blame for the failing COVID-19 response.
As the death toll reached 100,000 in May, Trump was still insisting his government had succeeded.
The moment that defined what a failure the U.S. government’s handling of the pandemic came recently, when COVID-19 infected the President and much of his inner circle.
This followed an event held at the White House, where guests were seated close together and refrained from wearing masks.
While it is undeniable that the United States has had a poor response to coronavirus, it should not give us, in the U.K., a sense that we have done better
With this happening six months after the first measures were put into place, and with COVID-19 cases still rising in at least half of states, it only signals what a failure the Trump administration has been.
While it is undeniable that the United States has had a poor response to coronavirus, it should not give us, in the U.K., a sense that we have done better.
Coverage of the United States may give us a falsely positive view of our own government. However, the U.K. government has themselves shown weak handling of the pandemic.
This is easy to overlook when we may not be the worst. Yet, while the U.S. has had more excess deaths in total, the U.K. has had more per million people. The ignorance and incompetence shown by the Trump administration has also been displayed within our own government.
Britain and the U.S. both hold great pride in their own exceptionalism. When warned of the risk of a pandemic developing by the World Health Organisation in early 2020, these two nations were naïve in the belief that fast action was not required.
Their leader, Jacinda Ardern, was clear and confident in her policies, making no apologies for such harsh restrictions
They appeared to believe they were above listening to the W.H.O.. This did nothing but leave them gravely unprepared. Given that they were once considered the world’s leaders in their ability to handle a pandemic, this seems ironic.
The irony is clear when the U.K. coronavirus response is considered in comparison to those nations that have had great successes. Perhaps the most widely publicised is New Zealand.
New Zealand took action quickly, being one of the first nations to make self-isolation mandatory upon arrival in the country. They then closed all borders to non-residents. This came in March, when the U.K. and U.S. governments were publicly floundering.
Their leader, Jacinda Ardern, was clear and confident in her policies, making no apologies for such harsh restrictions. This in stark contrast to the confusing messaging we have been victim to.
The nation’s policy has been so effective that it has been referenced as an example to follow by the World Health Organisation. Unsurprisingly, Ardern won a landslide victory in the recent New Zealand election.
Another impressive nation has been Taiwan. Their government quickly implemented a successful tracing system and precautions, such as temperature checks and hand sanitiser, were mandatory for entrance to businesses.
With an epidemiologist as vice president, their leadership has been outstanding.
It must be considered that the U.K. has a much higher population density than New Zealand, and a higher overall population than Taiwan.
On the world stage, the British government has proven to be behind many others in their ability to handle a pandemic
However, experts do believe that the U.K. could have implemented similar successful strategies by utilising their own great scientific expertise. Yet, is it surprising that we failed at this, given the catalogue of mistakes we have seen?
On the world stage, the British government has proven to be behind many others in their ability to handle a pandemic.
Whilst comparisons are not always useful, due to differing circumstances in each nation, they do allow us to critique our own leaders. We can be both grateful that President Trump is not our leader, whilst also hoping our government begins to take inspiration from those such as Jacinda Ardern.
What we can conclude is that reports such as the Global Health Security Index are only estimations. Reality can paint a very different story.
Featured image courtesy of Isaac Quesada via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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