Emmanuel Macron and Edouard Philippe, March 19, 2020 at the Elysée Palace. - LUDOVIC MARIN -POOL / SIPA

The Covid-19, from the Chinese “flu” to a global pandemic… The discontent rises against governments accused of not having sufficiently protected their populations, at a time when the coronavirus now affects almost the whole world.

"The time will come for responsibility, this time will come, it is legitimate and democratic," French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged on Tuesday, calling on everyone to be "humble". As of March 6, the International Journal of Medicine (JIM) wondered in a forum about "suspicions of unpredictability" which "are increasing" in France. At that time when only two deaths were recorded in the country, the article already pointed to "worrying" situations of shortage of FFP2 masks evoking the "denial" of the authorities.

The leaders' awareness too late

This management of the authorities upstream of the epidemic is pinned: in Spain for having authorized very late large gatherings, in France for its shortage of masks, in the United Kingdom for the very late awareness of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, recently tested positive, who "shook everyone's hand" in hospitals in early March.

At the end of this crisis, the threat of a sanction of governments at the ballot box could therefore become a reality. Starting with the United States, which must elect its president at the end of the year. "It is too early to draw conclusions, but this crisis could do more harm than good to Trump. His management was slow and clumsy, "said Charles Kupchan, who teaches international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington.

Difficulties that could also be experienced by his Brazilian ally Jair Bolsonaro, who speaks of "psychosis" and outrightly rejects the doctrine of containment. A risky strategy in terms of health that worries a part of Brazil where the word "dismissal" is spoken by parliamentarians from the opposition or from the center.

Complaints of "manslaughter"

But beyond the political fate of the rulers, the question of legal proceedings is also beginning to emerge. In France, complaints have been filed against members of the government for manslaughter. "The multiplication of remedies is a sign that citizens remain vigilant," points out constitutionalist Dominique Rousseau, even if the chances of succeeding in these procedures remain slim, according to several magistrates.

One question fuels the debate: was it possible to take drastic measures of containment earlier? A delicate mission in a democracy without the support of a large part of the population.

"If opinion is not convinced by gravity, if the scientific corpus is relatively divided, it is difficult for you as a political decision maker to create a consensus", stresses for AFP Carine Milcent, researcher and systems specialist health. "The figures that were announced by China at the start were not scary and many people wondered at the time why we were doing so," she recalls.

Lack of Chinese information

Voices are also raised in China to denounce the total lack of transparency of the authorities on the actual assessment of this epidemic, raising fears of a figure much higher than the 3,300 deaths announced. "The lack of information at the beginning of the spread of the virus by China had even more impact than the underestimation of the balance sheet," abounds Charles Kupchan. “Governments on both sides of the Atlantic have taken a long time to relax. But if China had sounded the alarm earlier, these countries could have had a better response and been better prepared, "he said.

And even in the countries cited as an example, such as South Korea, which was able to curb the epidemic at the cost of liberticide measures such as the digital tracing of the contaminated, the method is not easily transposable. “Western democracies did not want to take these measures because they are extremely invasive. It is a level of state surveillance with which they are not comfortable, ”concludes Jeremy Shapiro, expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.


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