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Leadership in the Conditions of COVID-19 Report

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Updated: Feb 18th, 2022

Brief History

The novel coronavirus called Covid-19 has killed more than 280, 000 people and has spread to 177 countries all over the world in less than four months (Taylor, 2020). Its history has begun in China, where the first infected person was detected on December 8, 2019. Beijing confirmed to the WHO that its healthcare authorities are dealing with patients who contracted a new type of virus. In January, the first death in China was reported, whereas the virus transferred to South Korea, Thailand, Japan and the US. The WHO declared a global health emergency and the Chinese government isolated Wuhan City, while other countries restricted travel from China. The coronavirus pandemic still adversely affects not only the health of people but also brings negative consequences for economic and political life.

February was marked by the first COVID-19 death in Europe (France) and the rapid growth in cases, particularly in Italy. At the end of the month, Italy became the leading area of concern with 800 people infected (Taylor, 2020). At the beginning of March, the US officials decided to close the country to stop travelling from Europe, as the WHO declared the global coronavirus outbreak a pandemic (Ravelo & Jerving, 2020). It was a time when authorities initiated restrictions on their citizens to decrease the pace of coronavirus dissemination. For instance, France postponed elections, imposed a nationwide lockdown, while the EU leaders decided to close their external borders. On March 19, for the first time of the pandemic, China reported that there are no new local cases. Then the UK, India and other countries announced the isolation measures.

At the end of March, the US became a leader in terms of COVID-19 number of infections, overtaking China and Italy. On April 2, the novel coronavirus reached its first million cases worldwide, killing approximately 51,000 (Ravelo & Jerving, 2020). At that moment, the rapid outbreak of the virus was seen in Russia. In the mid of April, European countries started to lift some lockdown restrictions by reopening particular stores and industry sites. On April 19, Europe reached 100,000 deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while the US continued to lead the world in terms of reported deaths. However, more and more countries presented their plans to ease the quarantine.

Despite facing criticism from the US government, the WHO extended the global health emergency declaration. Some countries, including the US, Australia, UK, and Germany, demanded to investigate the origins of the crisis and blamed China for the initial mishandling of the issue. Currently, situations in Italy, Spain and other European countries are stabilized, so governments start to implement their plans to ease coronavirus restrictions. More than 4,000,000 cases of infections in the world were confirmed by May 11 (Muccari et al., 2020). The US, UK, and Russia are the most affected states at the moment.

Possible Effects of COVID-19

The world seemingly enters the stage of recovery from the pandemic, which took many lives of people and deteriorated the world’s economy. However, its further repercussions will change almost every aspect of human life and international politics. For instance, the EC made a forecast suggesting that the European economy will decrease by 7.5%, which will mark a record recession ever (Muccari et al., 2020). GDP is expected to decrease in the majority of countries all around the world. Production and operation in many economic fields were suspended, which significantly hit businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises.

Apart from economic consequences, some changes to international politics can be forecasted. The notion of globalization will be criticized in the short future, and its recent rapid development might be deliberately hindered. Countries realized that such a fast spread of the virus was possible due to the free movement of people and global supply chains. For instance, when coronavirus caused initial stagnation of China’s economy, many other countries felt adverse economic outcomes because they strongly depend on China’s supply chain. Nation-states proved to be the most effective and legitimate institutions that are able to wage war on COVID-19 with the help of internal social policies (Oğuzlu, 2020). All the measures, such as strict lockdowns, social distancing, tracing of people’s movement, supporting various economic sectors, isolation and treatment of ill people in special hospitals, could be handled only by states. Other binding entities, such as the WHO are usually just making some recommendations. The current pandemic will likely induce future geopolitical rivalry between China and the US. However, the US is expected to follow Trump’s nationalist and isolationist ideas, while China will pursue a more claimant role in IR.

The COVID-19 outbreak pointed at drawbacks of being a part of the global supply chain, so regional integration can be an answer to the issue for national economies, which will enjoy safer economic relations within the region. For instance, the EU has been criticized for inappropriate measures to help its members deal with the pandemic, but eventually, more ready member states rescued their severely affected neighbours. According to Smith and Cheeseman (2020), despotic authorities use pandemics to foster their power; thus, the post-COVID-19 era may be marked with an authoritarian surge where dictators will violate the principles of democracy. For instance, the recent shift to dictatorship was seen in Hungary, while Russia and Belarus continue their authoritarian consolidation. Moreover, terrorist movements, such as Al-Qaida and ISIS, may threaten the national security of Western countries who will be weakened and distracted following the troubled times.

Leadership VS. COVID-19

Nation-states proved to be effective in fighting COVID-19, but now it is time to present and compare how different leadership styles cope with the issue. The main types of leadership are democratic, laissez-faire, autocratic, paternalistic, transactional, and transformational styles (Lussier & Achua, 2015). Democracies have been found to deal with healthcare issues better than autocratic political systems in the long run due to investments in durable healthcare policies, free media, transparency, and international cooperation (Bollyky, 2019). However, Bollyky (2019) revealed that democracy is not better at combatting infectious diseases. China’s aggressive and well-structured response to the pathogen spread showed why autocratic leadership is more suitable in such cases.

Beijing, of course, can be blamed for the late warning of the WHO and failure to stop the international spread of the infection, but their further approach to combat local problems can be admired. Communist Party of China managed to contain the virus in less than three months from its initial detection applying at least twelve extreme measures (Brueck et al., 2020). Chinese officials rapidly isolated entire cities, erected two new hospitals in ten days, halted travel, closed businesses and institutions, and imposed severe restrictions on internal movement. Moreover, state-owned media and Chinese robust surveillance systems were consolidated to trace contact among people and spread recommendations, which played an important role in containing the outbreak. The Chinese government made testing easily accessible and free for everyone. There was also a chain of widespread fever clinics, where all inhabitants who had a suspicion of being infected were welcomed to be initially screened. Despite raising doubts concerning the respect for individual rights and transparency, this mixed approach of severe autocratic style of state’s management and the communist idea of collectivism proved to be effective in time of the outbreak.

Nevertheless, not every country with an authoritarian style of leadership was effective. For instance, leaders of Russia and Belarus, who have already established dictatorship regimes, use the coronavirus issue to enhance the authoritarian consolidation and strength their influence and control, instead of leading a timely response (Smith & Cheeseman, 2020). President Alexander Lukashenko, who is continuously in charge since 1994, went even further by refusing to impose major preventative restrictions. Hence, Belarus at the moment suffers from one of the highest per capita infection rates in the region. It did not prevent the parade on May 9 to celebrate Nazi Germany’s loss in World War II of taking place (Bienvenu, 2020). The iron-fisted leader created a repressive state apparatus which made him able to downplay the Covid-19 pandemic and utilize “do not panic” policymaking.

He wants to show himself as a strongman before elections, decrease the threat of losing sovereignty to Russia, and shield the uncertain Belorussian economy. Lukashenko’s response to the pathogen spread was criticized by 86% of people who participated in the survey (Bienvenu, 2020). With a worsening epidemic situation, more strict measures in the near future may be implemented, but it means that authorities just wasted much time downplaying the problem.

However, developed and democratic countries, such as US and UK, can justifiably be criticized for their leadership’s failure to respond to the issue in a timely and proper manner. Democracies showed that they are prone to assess economic consequences, threats to individual freedoms, and possible health implications for an unacceptably long period. For instance, it took six weeks for Trump Administration to suspend travel from Europe and other hotspots entirely (Strasser, 2020). Moreover, the national lockdown still has not been declared, while European countries did it within a few days. The majority of states ordered local restrictions and applied needed measures, but some of them did it faster than others.

The nationwide lockdown was difficult to implement because of a decentralized type of leadership and insufficient testing that lead to a lack of information. In six weeks since the first case was detected, only 3,000 Americans had been tested, that is 1 to 100,000 inhabitants (Strasser, 2020). Initial delays and downplaying messages from the president constituted the main reasons for failed response. The national emergency was declared only on March 13, and three days later, the authorities issued their social distancing guidelines (Ravelo & Jerving, 2020). The US failed to keep its death tolls down because of Trump’s underestimation, neglect of warning signs, low testing, and insufficient measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 during the initial six weeks.

It seems that the laissez-faire style of leadership and decentralization on the example of the UK and the US has adverse outcomes in dealing with outbreaks. Trump is more concerned with the political and economic aspects of the epidemic and blames others, including the WHO and China, for his own miscalculations. The WHO provides the same information to all members, so the US problem is in leadership and public health readiness on the national level. Intelligence agencies were not used in the way China deployed it, hence; the US failed to devise a timely and coherent response to the epidemic and now has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus in the world.


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