During major pandemic outbreaks like the very prominent COVID-19, there is a sudden need for unusual collaboration between state and citizens, governments and the governed. But the method through which a government governs its people has tremendous effects or impact in handling a pandemic outbreak. In the light of recent happenings surrounding COVID-19 outbreak which originated from Wuhan, China, late 2019, we can see the strengths and weaknesses of one of the world’s most glorified systems of governance – Democracy – and its stark opposite – Autocracy.
Two nations have been at the forefront of talks (more of name calling and blame throwing) concerning COVID-19. China, where the outbreak began and the USA, which is one of the most affected nations in the world. Many have pointed to the failure of the United States to handle the virus better, accusing its democratic system of playing a major role in stifling the nation’s efforts to handle the crises. This reveals a need to take a closer look at how the USA has managed the crises heretofore.
Handling of covid-19 in the US
By June 10th, the number of people who had died of COVID-19 in every one million residents had risen to 340 in the US. And as at that date China had registered and reported 100 times less deaths from the pandemic. A striking contrast, especially because many would have, for several reasons expected better results from the USA.
From its outbreak, many analysts agree that the US response to the disease was slow. According to Forbes’ analysis of results obtained by researchers at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, the stringency index (which is simply a measure of how strict governments implement preventive measures) had initially been lowest in the USA compared to the 6 most affected nations in the world. And even though things have long gotten out of hand, the nation is still wanting in the implementation of more stringent measures.
One thing which may be responsible for this is the bureaucracy - largely owing to the nation’s strong democratic system - involved in response initiatives to curb the spread of the virus. The country’s more than average number of political offices and civil servants with varying political affiliations and ideologies have brought about rigidity in responding to the crises.
Consequently, unlike Japan and Singapore which can produce test results in fifteen minutes and three hours respectively, it can take up to a week in the US. This also means delayed assessment of results and slow implementation of required measures.
Handling of covid-19 in Europe
In Europe the response to COVID-19 has been much the same like in most countries around the world. The routine wearing of face masks, tests, lockdown and indoor stay are the order of the day. But most European nations have been slow and lax in the way they deal with the spread of the virus, causing a terrible rise in death toll in countries like Italy, Russia, France and Spain. The European Union on its part has been dabbling between sustaining trade and keeping strict measures, settling on allowing only “essential” travels.
Protests movements against masks
Since the need to order mandatory measures to stop the spread of the virus became apparent to national leaders, there have been protests against one of those measures- wearing of masks. In some nations around the world, including the US, citizens have risen up against the mandatory wearing of masks. While one will expect people to be more concerned about their health (and those of the people around them), many see the imposition of masks as an attack against their freedom. There have been growing concerns amongst protesters that lockdown and mandatory wearing of masks are moves to slowly steal away their freedom and fundamental rights.
But as you will expect, these protests have only come up because people, especially in democratic nations, have a strong sense of their rights and determination to protect those rights. That is besides the fact that most of these protesters strongly believe COVID-19 is simply a propaganda to give governments more control over citizens. In other cases, such protests will be reasonable, but when the rights of individuals become greater than the collective good of a whole nation, then we have to stop and think.
Handling of COVID in China vs the US
Even though the disease originated from china, the effectiveness of its response is indeed admirable. Earlier in April, the country opened up Wuhan, the city in which the outbreak originated, stirring concerns across the globe. While some speculated this to be a bad move, time has shown that it wasn’t after all. How was China able to react so fast and so effectively in handling the virus?
First, China as a response to the aftermath of previous pandemics had set up an effective response system that was ready to spring into action upon alert. In the US however, it took days for the government to rally health professionals and response teams after its government was alerted.
One thing that was certain after the discovery of the virus was the need for strict measures to be implemented to curb its spread. Mandatory wearing of face masks, lockdown of public places and orders to stay indoors. But how effectively were they implemented?
In China, from the onset the instructions were very strictly implemented and the policies seemed harsh. While other nations, including the US opted for gatherings of no more than 10 people, China’s response was extreme; Zero contact.
Besides, Beijing is said to have embarked on one the largest mass mobilizations campaigns in history. Schools closed immediately, millions of people were forced to stay indoors, temporary hospitals built in a matter of days and thousands of medical personnel deployed to Wuhan while carefully testing everyone and isolating anyone who showed signs of the virus.
Is democracy overrated
Democracy has a good place in the heart of modern society but the so-called “rights of people” in democratic nations could sometimes be taken to extremes. Democracy is a concept of government that gives people power to decide the affairs of their nation. But power, as we have seen in history can be abused, even to the disadvantage of those who wield it.
It may seem that in the face of a crises like COVID-19, autocratic governments are better able to keep things under control, but a closer look at the case of china shows that the driving force behind the success against COVID-19 has not really been the presence of a totalitarian regime, but the solidarity, unity and promptness of the people to act besides other factors mentioned above.
Is totalitarianism sometimes necessary?
You may have wondered if we all needed a little more totalitarianism, like many other people who have admired North Korea and China for handling the spread of COVID-19 and the low death in these places. But mind you, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, the answer has not necessarily rested entirely on the regime as in the effectiveness of administration.
For example, unlike the US, several other democratic nations like Germany, and Greece have significantly lower mortality rates owing to COVID-19. And by the way, the reports from countries like North Korea are speculative at best.
As the US struggles to handle the crises, minimum support and even resistances from some Americans may seem to be selfish, but the concerns of some resisting groups are simply an effect of the culture and political system they live in.