- As of April 10, the COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 1.6 million people and killed at least 102,000 worldwide, leaving countries scrambling for protective resources and struggling to treat new patients.
- Even as outbreaks have stormed the globe, many world leaders denied the severity of the virus at first.
- Mixed messaging from politicians across the globe led to a late start for countries containing the virus outbreak in China, Italy, the US, and others.
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Doctors weren’t sure how to treat this new coronavirus, and the Chinese government eventually locked down an estimated 50 million people to contain the disease.
But it took some world leaders months to take the threat seriously.
As death toll creeps higher every day, over one-third of the world has now been placed under lockdown, and countries are scrambling to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Here are eight world leaders who didn’t take the novel coronavirus seriously at first, possibly putting their countries at greater risk for infection during crucial early moments.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the virus, calling it a “hoax” early on and claiming to have everything completely under control.
Throughout January, February, and March, Trump consistently downplayed the coronavirus outbreak in the US, saying things like, “We have it totally under control,” “It will disappear,” and, “America will again and soon be open for business.”
At a campaign rally in late February, Trump referred to the coronavirus as a “new hoax” formed by the Democratic Party, and in early March, he minimized its threat by comparing it to the seasonal flu.
The US is now the global epicenter of the outbreak, with more than 486,000 confirmed cases and at least 18,000 deaths as of Friday. Many attribute the surge in cases to a lack of federal guidance and blunders from the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force early on.
In the first few weeks of the outbreak, the US experienced a severe lack in testing, mixed messaging with social distancing protocols, and confusion over when the nation would return to normalcy.
The country still doesn’t have a nationwide lockdown — each state has set its own guidelines and eight states have yet to issue stay-at-home orders. With the existing orders, about 95% of America’s population, or about 306 million people, are now under some form of lockdown.
Iranian officials confidently told the country that the virus would not be a problem, and have been accused of withholding crucial information.
In late February, Iranian officials boasted that the coronavirus problem devastating China would not happen to them, and even bragged about sending face masks to aid China.
But just two weeks later, Iran found itself among the top infected countries in the world. In early March, the government began scrambling to contain the outbreak by proposing sending the military to conduct door-to-door sanitation, and threatening the death penalty on any individual accused of hoarding masks or medical supplies.
Authorities began worrying about the spread of information, and attempted to control the narrative of the outbreak by threatening nurses and healthcare workers to stay silent.
According to The New York Times, one nurse described receiving a letter that said discussing information about infected patients would cause “public fear mongering,” and constitute as a threat to national security.
A severe lack of testing in Iran has raised doubt as to how many cases the country actually has. Johns Hopkins’ tally records the number of infections has exceeded 68,000, with at least 4,200 deaths as of Friday.
As COVIS-19 cases soared, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez allowed large gatherings to proceed in sports stadiums and rallies.
In early March, as cases of the coronavirus began to rise in Spain, Sánchez continued to allow people to congregate in massive crowds at sports games and permitted 120,000 to gather at a feminist rally in Madrid.
In the beginning of the outbreak, the government perceived the coronavirus as an isolated threat, dismissing notions that it could soon become a domestic crisis, Vox reported.
Sánchez did not initiate a nationwide lockdown until March 14, which many viewed as too late. In defense, he cited the failures of other nations to quell the outbreak and noted that Spain declared a lockdown at a time when it had fewer infections than when Italy, Britain, or France declared theirs.
Spain is now the second most infected nation in the world, with more than 157,000 cases and at least 15,900 deaths as of April 10.