PARIS – As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic, the main question for most is simply: “When will it end?” But other, troubling questions are starting to be asked of governments.
Why did Western governments not predict the risk of an epidemic in their territories after the novel coronavirus first emerged in China? Were sufficient preparations made to secure masks and test kits? Did lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus start too late?
Such questions have burning importance at a time when the world is at a political crossroads. The United States in November is set to decide if Donald Trump gets another term as president, autocratic and semi-autocratic societies across the world are increasingly challenged, and the EU is seeking to prove its credibility post-Brexit.
Politicians around the world have made statements they may live to regret as they sought to reassure supporters in February and early March that the virus would have little impact on their countries.
Trump described concern over the coronavirus in late February as a “hoax” perpetrated by Democrats. British Premier Boris Johnson, who later tested positive for the virus, boasted in early March that he “shook hands with everyone” even at a hospital. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro downplayed the virus as a “little flu”. Carine Milcent, Professor of Health Economics and Econometrics at the Paris School of Economics, said that in February and even in early March some experts doubted the pandemic would reach such magnitude.
“When public opinion is not convinced of the gravity and if scientists themselves were relatively divided, it is difficult for a political decision-maker to create consensus,” she told AFP. “The figures announced by China at the start did not scare people and many asked why so many actions were being taken.” - Nampa/AFP