Leadership and responses to the coronavirus

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

In every crisis, there’s opportunity. The legacies of political leaders are often defined by how they handle crises. The new coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic is such a crisis and demands leadership to prevent the spread of new infections and to allay public panic that amplifies damage to health outcomes and the economy.

The initial response in China highlights the flaws of authoritarian systems that curtail free speech. When Dr Li Wenliang at the Wuhan Central Hospital attempted to sound the alarm he was censored and admonished for his efforts. Public grief and anger exploded on Chinese social media after his death five weeks later from the virus and calls for freedom of speech momentarily evaded censorship.

Even worse, argues Ryan Manuel, is that ‘Wuhan authorities failed to prepare a health system response and were preoccupied with a major political conference’ that lost crucial weeks in containing the virus at its epicentre. Local officials were slow to sound the alarm. In the months since China has significantly curbed the spread of COVID-19 within its borders by putting entire cities on lock-down on a scale never before seen, affecting the movement and everyday life of over half a billion people.

Leadership and health systems in other countries around the region and world are now being tested — and with much more warning than the Chinese leadership got — in dealing with COVID-19.

In the United States, the Trump administration is sending mixed signals as it seeks to mitigate panic and emphasise that things are business as usual. That has slowed preparation, especially for testing suspected cases, and an outbreak in Washington state has already seen at least eleven people perish. More concerning is that the high price of testing under the US …continue reading