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Coronavirus one year on: two countries that got it right, and three that got it wrong

While some leaders were swinging into action, Boris Johnson was shaking hands with COVID patients. Will Oliver

Coronavirus one year on: two countries that got it right, and three that got it wrong

While some leaders were swinging into action, Boris Johnson was shaking hands with COVID patients. Will Oliver

Coronavirus one year on: two countries that got it right, and three that got it wrong

While some leaders were swinging into action, Boris Johnson was shaking hands with COVID patients. Will Oliver

Coronavirus one year on: two countries that got it right, and three that got it wrong

While some leaders were swinging into action, Boris Johnson was shaking hands with COVID patients. Will Oliver

One year on, we have now seen 115 million confirmed cases globally and more than 2.5 million deaths from COVID-19.

Darren Lilleker, Bournemouth University

On March 11 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 public health emergency had become a pandemic: 114 countries were affected, there were 121,500 confirmed cases and more than 4,000 people had succumbed to the virus.

One year on, we have now seen 115 million confirmed cases globally and more than 2.5 million deaths from COVID-19.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” said the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on that day in 2020. But in the year since that announcement, the fates of many countries have depended on how leaders have chosen their words.

The impact of the pandemic was unprecedented and all governments faced challenges dealing with a severe but highly unpredictable threat to the lives of their citizens. And some governments responded better than others.

My colleagues and I recently carried out a comparative study of how 27 countries responded to the emergence of the virus and first wave, and how they communicated that response to their citizens.

We invited national experts to analyse their government’s communication style, the flow of information on coronavirus and the actions taken by civil society, mapping these responses onto the numbers of cases and deaths in the country in question. Our work reveals contrasting responses that reflect a nation’s internal politics, suggesting that a government’s handling of the pandemic was embedded in existing patterns of leadership.

With news of the spread of COVID-19 flowing across international borders, domestic preventative measures needed to be explained carefully. The WHO proved ill-equipped, provided equivocal and flawed advice regarding international travel, even from Hubei province, and equivocated on the efficacy of wearing masks. So much came down to how individual leaders communicated with their citizens about the risks they faced.

Experts in crisis management and social psychologists emphasise the importance of clarity and empathy in communicating during a health emergency.

So who did well and who missed the mark?

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