Only 4 virus outbreaks were labeled as “pandemics” by the WHO in the past 100 years, including the current coronavirus crisis.
According to the WHO, the total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 reached more than 140,000 and it brings the overall toll to more than 5,000 as of 14 March, 2020. 135 countries or territories are under the gloom of coronavirus, with the most cases detected in China, followed by Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, Spain, France, Germany, the U.S. and so on.
As WHO officially announced that Covid-19 can be characterized as a pandemic on 11 March, how did the world leaders respond to the unprecedented global pandemic and lead their countries through the plight?
President Xi Jinping, leader of China, is no doubt the center of the news these days, as the country is considered the origin of the outbreak with over 80,000 people contracted with the virus so far, and found most serious in the epicenter in Hubei Province.
President Xi took the hard road. On 23 January, the central government imposed a lockdown in Wuhan in a bid to contain the spread. All the public transportation stopped their services, whilst companies and schools were shut down. Wuhan has abruptly turned into an isolated and dead city.
President Xi visited Wuhan in person for the first time in early March. Xi expressed his sincere gratitude and respect to the medical workers who have been fighting the virus in Huoshenshan Hospital through telecommunication and called for resolute effort in combating the disease.
“Wuhan will win, Hubei will win, China will also win,” President Xi said.
Aside from inspecting the control work, Xi also visited and talked with the residents and front line workers in the community to gain a better understanding on the preventive measures. Xi complimented Wuhan as a heroic city, and the citizens are regarded as hero too. Xi believed that the victory of fighting the disease will be recorded in the history, showing the confidence of Xi in curbing the spread and the pivotal role of stabilizing people and society.
The president has regarded the coronavirus outbreak as seriously as a national battle and takes the highest discretion to wear masks all times.
There has been conflicts and controversies going on in this city and the government is constantly being criticized for its incompetence in containing the spread, especially after they experienced SARS in 2003.
Citizens have been demanding a complete closure of borders since the beginning of the Chinese New Year holiday, worrying that people returning from mainland China would carry the virus to Hong Kong. The medical workers even went on a strike for 5 days to appeal to the government not to turn a blind eye towards the deteriorating situation in the hospitals. However, the government only closed the border bit by bit and reluctant to shut down entirely.
During early February, citizens were seizing face masks everywhere despite the unreasonable high price. Long queues can be found outside pharmacies or stores selling face masks and sanitizing tools, triggering the problems of shortage, poor quality, and absurd price of these products.
When all the people are expecting the government to intervene and help resolving the crisis, chief executive Carrie Lam said the government failed to procure any face masks, and even asked for advice from the business people. Political parties like Demosisto successfully imported thousands of face masks to Hong Kong, and some entrepreneurs even started to develop local plants to produce face masks. It can be observed that the government has been playing a relatively passive role in confronting the virus, spurring discontent and grievance among the public.
2. The U.S.
With more than 1,600 confirmed cases emerged in the State according to CDC, President Donald Trump declared national emergency over coronavirus on 13 March, which is “two very big words” as Trump said. The federal government is allowed to free up $50 billion for emergency relief funds, and speed up testing by providing more test kits. Besides, the U.S. imposed travel bans on 26 European nations, showing that the Trump government started to put more emphasis on combating the disease.
“I think that Donald Trump is overly positive and underestimate the impact of coronavirus. People here do not have high awareness as they believe that it is just a flu,” Wendy Wong, an exchange student in San Jose said.
After Trump being found contacted with officials from Brazil who contracted the virus, lots of people concerned his health status. Trump publicly said that he is not worried about it, and would not test for the virus.
The President had shaken hands with Brian Cornell, the CEO of the Target corporation before Mr. Cornell coughed to his hand in 10 seconds. This gesture triggered heated discussion on the internet condemning the president’s careless attitude towards the virus.
Although claiming that he has no need to go through a coronavirus test, Trump eventually did it and luckily tests negative for coronavirus, according to a statement from White House.
The coronavirus sweeps through EU countries like Italy, France and Germany, while Italy is suffering the most with over 20,000 confirmed cases so far. Being the second worst-hit country after China, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended the lockdown from the northern region to the whole country.
Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that the country will increase social distancing by closing non-essential places including restaurants, cinemas and clubs. Spain also declared a nationwide lockdown owing to the surge of coronavirus cases.
However, the U.K. received the most criticism in battling the disease. The country has yet to close its borders, schools, or banning large-scale gatherings, and just advising citizens to self-isolate for 7 days if they have mild symptoms like coughing or fever. Moreover, the government did not encourage citizens to wear face masks, and even put forwards the strategy of “herd immunity”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that people should be prepared “to lose loved one before their time”, yet the situation will only exacerbate if the government continues to delay necessary action.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) March 16, 2020
“Even he knows the fact that the virus will result in such situation, he still doesn’t act promptly. I feel scared and helpless,” Tyana Yee, an overseas student in London said.
By and large, the outbreak of coronavirus unveiled the lack of experience of different governments in handling public health situation. It can be understood that the world leaders have to put other factors into consideration like economy, market, productivity etc., but human lives should outweigh these factors and be put as the first priority at all times. It is now hoped that government in different places endeavor to fight the disease and protect the health of citizens.