We all know by now that the coronavirus pandemic should be viewed with the utmost seriousness. Twelve million people around the world have been sickened by it and 553,000 have succumbed to its ravages. Like the Spanish flu outbreak a century ago, COVID-19 poses an extremely dangerous threat to the health and welfare of even the most advanced countries.
So it’s incumbent on governments to treat it for what it is — a calamity of the first order that must be contained and, hopefully, eradicated in the not-too-distant future so that all of us can resume our normal lives.
In the face of this enormous challenge, the majority of national leaders have acted sensibly, knowing what the consequences would be if city-wide lockdowns are not enforced, social distancing measures are flouted, and the reopening of economies are carried out prematurely.
The curve will not be flattened, now or ever, if we react to this contagion cavalierly.
Unfortunately, the presidents of two major nations, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Donald Trump of the United States, have not been role models. They have failed miserably to set good examples of leadership as this existential crisis has developed since the early months of this year.
Bolsonaro, who has recklessly dismissed its gravity, tested positive for COVID-19 two days ago. It is supremely ironic that he was infected by a virus that he stupidly downplayed as a “measly cold.” When asked less than two months ago about the rising toll it was exacting in Brazil, he replied, “So what? Sorry, but what do you want me to do?”
If Bolsonaro had not been so out of touch with reality, he would have taken measures to ensure that Brazil was ready with an effective response. After the United States, Brazil, with 1.6 million confirmed cases and some 65,000 deaths and counting, has been most affected by this scourge.
Until very recently, Bolsonaro laughed off the necessity of wearing masks in public places, ridiculed social distancing rules, neglected to establish a rigorous regimen of testing and contact tracing, quarrelled with governors who called for lockdowns and quarantines, sacked two health ministers who challenged him, and sanctioned the reopening of beaches, bars and restaurants way too soon.
Boasting that his physical fitness and that doses of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine would protect him from the effects of the virus, he behaved as if Brazil was not even struggling with an emergency situation.
A day before he tested positive, he attended a Fourth of July luncheon at the residence of the U.S. ambassador, Todd Chapman, wearing no mask and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with other guests.
In a word, Bolsonaro was clueless.
Even now, he foolishly claims that the virus is no threat to supposedly healthy people like himself. One must wonder whether Bolsonaro’s infection is not a case of poetic justice.
Regrettably, Trump’s behavior has not been much better.
From the outset, he grossly underestimated the severity of the looming pandemic, though he did close off the United States to Asian travellers and injected a whopping $3 trillion into the sagging economy.
Trump, however, did not assert his leadership, failing to centralize the campaign against COVID-19 and thereby allowing state officials to manage it, resulting in an inefficient patchwork approach to the mounting problem.
Comparing it to the common flu, he resorted to inappropriate ethnocentric language to describe it as a peculiarly “Chinese” outbreak.
At one point, much to the visible chagrin of one of his scientific advisors, he suggested that the virus could possibly be kept at bay if people drank bleach, a wildly inane claim that embarrassed the industry that manufactures it.
Contrary to the advice of his chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Trump urged governors to reopen much earlier than feasible, causing a tremendous spike in infections in states ranging from Florida to California.
And thinking only of his political prospects come the presidential election in November, he spoke at rallies where social distancing regulations were ignored and masks were not required. It remains to be seen how many more Americans will be infected due to Trump’s recklessness.
Last but not least, Trump has resisted recommendations to wear a mask in public. The reason is clear. He’s a super narcissist who cares only about appearances. He wants to give Americans the impression that the contagion has been tamed when, in fact, it is virtually out of control.
The facts speak to the truth: 133,000 Americans have died so far and three million have been infected. By Fauci’s estimate, 50,000 or more new cases are expected to emerge every day in the foreseeable future, an appalling figure that should send chills up the spines of every American.
Neither Trump, nor his lackadaisical Brazilian counterpart, have acquitted themselves competently in this hour of duress. One can only hope that voters in the United States and Brazil will remember their lackluster performances with indignation and outrage when they head to the polls.