In the coming months, the decisions world leaders make — and their ability to communicate them effectively — could determine whether millions live or die, and whether the global economy stays afloat.
What to watch: Nations are judging their leaders on a daily basis. They may ultimately be revered or reviled based on the decisions they make now. Some may emerge with new powers that last well beyond the outbreak.
The big picture: The battle against the coronavirus has effectively been every nation for itself.
- That’s just how President Trump likes it — few expect him to play the global leadership role that past U.S. presidents have assumed in international crises.
Even in Europe, now the focal point of the pandemic, individual countries are charting their own paths.
- For Germany's Angela Merkel, this is the gravest test in a career full of them — prompting her first emergency national address in 14 years as chancellor.
- For other leaders, the test comes far earlier, and it could define their tenures.
Italy's Giuseppe Conte was until recently viewed by many as an accidental prime minister who could fall within months. Now tasked with combating the world’s deadliest outbreak, he was the first EU leader to quarantine his citizens — and he's seen the public largely rally around the government and tune out the far-right.
- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson quickly abandoned his less draconian approach after cases rose dramatically and models suggested hundreds of thousands could die. He announced strict new rules tonight after being criticized in the media as indecisive.
- President Emmanuel Macron declared that France was now “at war,” and he's seen an unprecedented spike in approval ratings this month (from 38% to 51%) as he ordered a nationwide lockdown.
The first lockdowns came in China, but those drastic steps followed a slow initial response in which President Xi Jinping was shielded from public scrutiny.
- Believing it’s now past the worst, though, China is positioning itself (and Xi) as a global leader.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes to avoid a crisis on the scale of China's or Europe's.
- Modi ordered a trial run of a national lockdown on Sunday. He's urging Indians to stay home when possible, knowing the country’s health care capacity lags far behind its population of 1.3 billion.
- Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan initially attempted to tamp down concern about the virus. He’s now asking citizens to self-quarantine, but he says he needs to balance the threat of contagion with those of poverty and hunger, which lockdowns will only exacerbate.
- In Africa, several leaders have closed their borders and banned mass gatherings despite having few documented cases. (Go deeper)
Russia's Vladimir Putin recently insisted the situation there was “generally under control,” while attempting to boost turnout in a constitutional referendum through which he could retain power until 2036.
Those who moved quickly, such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now look prescient. Even those who initially downplayed the threat, like Trump or Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, have stepped up their rhetoric and policy responses.
- One exception is Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. He’s shaking hands, taking selfies and warning against “hysteria” — even after members of his inner circle fell ill.
- Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is also still holding public rallies and encouraging supporters to hug. His job, he says, is to keep people’s spirits up.