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While Jair Bolsonaro sabotaged quarantine efforts in Brazil, Jacinda Ardern was quietly impressive in New Zealand. Observer writers assess premiers reactions to the pandemic

Jair Bolsonaro Brazil

Brazils president, Jair Bolsonaro, is one of only a handful of world leaders who have played down Covid-19s threat, for instance by sabotaging quarantine measures imposed by nearly all of the countrys state governors.

Its raining. Were going to get wet. And some are going to drown in the rain, the far-right populist shrugged last week, after dismissing the pandemic as a fantasy. That cavalier attitude has sparked nightly pot-banging protests and daily media condemnations. They accuse Bolsonaro who apparently thinks shutting down the economy will wreck his chances of re-election of putting his own political future before Brazilian lives.

Bolsonaros reckless behaviour has earned him a position never previously enjoyed by a Brazilian president that of international villain, one conservative broadsheet recently declared. Another paper, the Folha de So Paulo, said Brazil needed a Winston Churchill-like statesman to offer blood, toil, tears and sweat. Unfortunately, the newspaper lamented, it had nothing of the sort.
Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

Mette Frederiksen Denmark

Denmarks prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, has been described as a once-in-a-lifetime leader because of the way shes handled the crisis. Photograph: Philip Davali/EPA

While many of her European neighbours were fumbling around for a response, Mette Frederiksen closed her countrys borders on 13 March. A few days later she closed kindergartens, schools and universities and banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

This decisiveness appears to have spared Denmark the worst of the pandemic: its death toll stands at less than 250, and the number of patients being treated in hospital for coronavirus is falling. It has also marked out this skilled and successful politician, who was already the countrys youngest-ever PM, as a once-in-a-generation national leader. A poll at the start of this month found that 79% of Danes thought she was doing a good job, a 40 percentage point rise on the month before.

Her straight-talking speeches and clear instructions to the nation have been widely praised. She has even managed to show a sense of fun, posting a clip on Facebook of herself doing the dishes while singing along to 1980s Danish popsters Dodo and the Dodos during the nations weekly TV lockdown singalong.
Richard Orange

Donald Trump United States

America is divided over Donald Trumps handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Oliver Contreras/Consolidated News Photos

Donald Trump has benefited from a rally round the flag effect which, in a crisis, tends to give US presidents a boost, irrespective of performance.

But although 50% of Americans say they approve of his handling of the pandemic, only 37% believe he has shown strong leadership or taken decisive action.

And Trumps approval rating lags some 22 points behind that of state governors and a similar margin behind many other world leaders cause for concern in an election year.

Democrats accuse the president of squandering a crucial six weeks, when he played down the virus instead of preparing for it. Ron Klain, who led Barack Obamas fight against Ebola in 2014, said: The US response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort.

But the presidents allies take the opposite view, praising him for imposing early travel restrictions on China and Europe and overseeing a government effort that included sending hospital ships to New York and Los Angeles. America, as ever, is divided.
David Smith in Washington

Xi Jinping China

The Covid-19 crisis was a huge threat to President Xi Jinpings authority. Photograph: Li Xueren/AP

Chinas initial cover-up of the emergence of Covid-19, just when the new disease might have been easiest to contain, overshadows everything it has done since. However, its move to quarantine millions in Wuhan, the centre of the crisis, was bold, unprecedented and ultimately successful in halting the spread of the disease inside China, although at considerable human cost.

The outbreak was a huge threat to Xis authority, because of the high economic costs and the inevitable questions about governance prompted by the crisis, and he initially stayed very much in the background of containment efforts. However, once it became clear they were working, Xi has re-emerged to take full credit for the turnaround.

The countrys international propaganda machine is also working overtime to focus on Chinese support for countries in the middle of intense outbreaks, and muddy the waters over the origins of the virus, in a bid to counter rising anger abroad about Chinas initial handling of the outbreak.
Emma Graham-Harrison

Jacinda Ardern New Zealand

There have been only two deaths in New Zealand, thanks to priime minister Jacinda Arderns decisive measures. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is good in a crisis. The mosque attacks in Christchurch, the eruption of Whakaari White Island, and now the Covid-19 crisis, which has brought only four deaths in the country so far, have proved that beyond doubt.

Choosing to go hard and go early, Ardern placed the country in total lockdown on 25 March. The decisive move shocked many Kiwis, but Ardern softened the blow using clear, empathetic language and urging everyone to be kind to one another a slogan now emblazoned on billboards around the country. On the first night of the lockdown, she appeared in her tracksuit on Facebook live to reassure the nation.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says New Zealands elimination strategy would not have been possible without Ardern at the helm. The brilliant, decisive and humane leadership of Jacinda Ardern was instrumental in New Zealands rapid change in direction with its response to Covid-19, and the remarkably efficient implementation of the elimination strategy.
Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin

Tsai Ing-wen Taiwan

Taiwans schools and economy are functioning largely as normal thanks to president Tsai Ing-wens handling of the virus crisis. Photograph: Taiwan Presidential Office/EPA

Taiwans close economic and cultural links with China should have made it extremely vulnerable to Covid-19, but it has one of the most impressive track records on containing the virus. Nearly three months after its first confirmed patient, Taiwan has recorded fewer than 400 cases, and just five deaths; its economy and schools have continued to function largely as normal.

Tsais government, helped by the lessons learned during the Sars crisis in 2003 and having Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist, as vice-president, took an extremely proactive approach. Screening of travellers from Wuhan began in late December, as soon as China warned of a mysterious new pneumonia.

At a diplomatic level, the crisis has also helped Taiwan highlight Beijings heavy-handed approach to excluding it from international bodies, including the World Health Organization. The world health watchdog failed to share an early Taiwanese warning of human-to-human transmission of the new virus, which could have helped global efforts to contain the disease.
Emma Graham-Harrison

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/12/covid-19-how-world-leaders-responded-to-the-crisis