Apr 13, 2020 - World

See no virus, fear no virus: The world leaders still in denial

A mural to Nicaragua's missing man. Photo: Inti Ocon/AFP via Getty

While some politicians have been criticized for a lack of leadership during the coronavirus crisis, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega takes that to an extreme.

Driving the news: Nicaragua’s government continues to encourage crowds at stadiums and on beaches during the pandemic, though Ortega has personally stayed away. In fact, Sunday marked one month since he last appeared in public.

  • Instead, the response has been led by Ortega's vice president, chief spokesperson and first lady. Those roles are all filled by the same person: Rosario Murillo.
  • As for Ortega, "Nicaraguans are nervously wondering if the former Marxist guerrilla is ill, dead or simply avoiding human contact," the Washington Post notes.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov can probably relate, and not only because he was recently rumored to be dead after a prolonged public absence.

  • One of the most secretive countries on earth, Turkmenistan claims to have zero cases of the virus and is fiercely suppressing any evidence to the contrary, Foreign Policy reports.
  • But the government isn't entirely complacent. After Berdimuhamedov said a certain herb could keep viruses at bay, it reportedly began burning it to fumigate public buildings.

Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko is also fighting the virus with machismo rather than science.

  • “There are no viruses here. Did you see any flying around?” Lukashenko said of the threat from COVID-19, particles of which are about 0.125 micron in diameter. "It’s better to die standing than to live on your knees.”
  • Belarus is currently dealing with another risk — of nuclear radiation potentially being blown toward the country from wildfires near the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
  • Lukashenko was already rising through the Communist Party ranks at the time of the meltdown. That may be where he honed his approach to government transparency.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also continues to downplay the threat, to the extent that some former allies are now backing calls for him to be impeached.

  • Unlike the other denialist leaders, the Economist notes, Bolsonaro is "the elected president of a great, if battered, democracy."
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