Covid-19 Responses Compared

At the Institute for Discovery we support early stage researchers like Dr Dolores Resano, who came to UCD from Barcelona University in 2018 with a PhD in American Studies. Dr Resano, who works at UCD Clinton Institute, got an Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellowship for her work on contemporary American literature in the era of Trump. Earlier this year she was awarded a Marie Curie Global Fellowship to expand on this research, which will see her move to Ivy League research university Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA, for two years in September. Originally from Argentina, here Dr Resano looks at how different leaders have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

 

It is probably fair to say that most of us can just about keep a handle on the exploding coronavirus numbers in our own jurisdictions. But when you are from Argentina, went to college in Barcelona, live in Dublin and are moving to America, you probably have more reason than most to expand your perspective. 

Besides, Dr Dolores Resano is a politics fanatic, whose academic passion rose from a horrified fascination with the US president. 

“Back in 2017 I started thinking about what Trump’s presidency could mean for contemporary literature. Now with this current crisis that seems a bit quaint,” she concedes.

“I’m not an epidemiologist or a communications expert but he has responded disastrously to this pandemic. Though I have to say that he was one of the first to take early measures like when he stopped flights from China. But the time he could have gained by this measure was wasted by his downplaying and denying of the possibility of the virus spreading and causing a crisis.”

Trump’s statements like “We have it totally under control - it’s one person coming in from China”, “We’ve pretty much shut it down” and “It’s like a miracle, it will disappear and you will be fine” are what Dr Resano calls his “usual free flowing aggrandisement”.

She adds: “Now after finally accepting the crisis he has shifted to his usual xenophobia, calling it the Chinese virus.”

She praises his advisory medical team, led by “national hero” Anthony Fauci, who has been head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for nearly four decades. 

“But the daily briefings are a constant stream of mixed messages between Trump’s hopes and desires and Fauci’s down-to-earth facts.”

She is pessimistic about the USA’s ability to tackle Covid-19.

“It doesn’t look good because they have the worst healthcare protection imaginable and it will leave a lot of people out. 25% of the population does not have paid sick leave so how can you voluntarily stop working? It is the First World country least prepared for this pandemic in my view.”

But Dr Resano is “disappointed” at how slow Europe has been to react to the crisis too.

“Italy was there for all to see but everyone has been late at implementing measures, including Ireland.”

Dr Resano is “very struck” by how different countries have framed the crisis and how leaders have communicated those narratives. 

“I have to say in Ireland Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s St Patrick’s Day address was really very good leadership. It was short, it was sensitive and I loved the part where he addressed children.”

Our need to form a government “is another hurdle” but early measures around unemployment benefits were decisive.   

“I’m not saying the Irish response is perfect but it seems calm and controlled and people seem to be complying and very responsible.”

Another of Ireland’s challenges was having an open border with Northern Ireland while it had a divergent Covid-19 strategy. 

“In the case of the UK, being a country so prone to their own exceptionist logic and national superiority led them to take an exceptional approach - herd immunity - which was a clear outlier among all the other strategies. I have to say it sounded risky but the science was there. It’s not like Prime Minister Boris Johnson just came out with a crazy idea. Now they have totally changed course after seeing the toll would be too much. It was too cold. Now I think they are running late.” 

Having lived in Barcelona for fourteen years, Dr Resano is particularly unsettled by the response in Spain where relations between Catalonia and Madrid are already strained. 

“It was all about framing the crisis in military terms and recentralising power to Madrid. For me this shows an acknowledgement that territory cohesion may not be what you want it to be and your priority is to keep authority.”

She finds it “really shocking” that daily Covid-19 briefings have “at least three people in uniforms” alongside the medical experts.

This military framing “stifles critical thinking because any dissent or criticism of the government is portrayed as a lack of loyalty, an act of treachery”.  

She is also dubious about this notion of Coronavirus as social equaliser. 

“It’s not the same to be confined to a house with a garden as it is to be confined to a tiny apartment with five other people. The measures are harsh in Spain; you can’t go out for a jog but you can walk your dog. Children have fewer rights than dogs. And yet it is not a total lockdown - people can still go to work.

She is “very impressed” with the response in her native Argentina, which, at the time of writing, had 502 cases and eight deaths.

“When they had 70 cases they took early measures, based on science, facts and numbers... They know they cannot afford to have the health system collapse. But perhaps no one can.” 

She singles out El Salvador as another country that could not afford to take any chances. It is the smallest, most densely populated country in Central America.  

“A week ago when they had only three cases, they shut the borders with Guatemala and Honduras. The president said nobody has to pay rents or for services like water and electricity for one month and everyone is being paid $300 each just to stay put. He knows the other option is not viable.”

Written by Patrice Harrington on 26/03/2020